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Potential evolution of my home music setup.

Jedi

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Good evening.

I'm looking for some ideas.

I currently have the following setup:

ASUS Xonar Essence STX II (has a custom 10 band +/- 20dB graphic EQ built in to "Audio Center")
ASUS Mini Tower PC
Windows 10
Microsoft Media Player (latest one)
Logitech Z-2300 2.1 speakers
Music ripped @ 320Kbps MP3

I'm very happy with this setup in terms of accessing music and sound quality, and whilst I can keep this beyond the end of Windows 10, I am considering how I might move on as it's really now the only reason I have an unnecessarily large mini tower computer with a non-silent fan.

My original plan was to switch to a small HP Mini desktop with an external ASUS Xonar U7 but these soundcards are quite old now and I suspect support will cease imminently. Already I've read people struggling with Windows 11 and I know from my own experience that ASUS support is not the best. I also suspect these are not as good as my STX II from a spec comparison.

I looked at Creative Labs but none of their software seems to have more than graphic EQ pre-sets meaning I can't set it how I want (Media Player has one built-in but it's not great).

I'd consider a third party graphic EQ if there is one that will work and is at least equivalent of that with the Audio Center.

There doesn't seem to be a lot of other manufacturers I've heard of producing external sound cards so my suspicion is they are not popular anymore and the industry has moved on. I have had my setup for probably 15 years now albeit with predecessor hardware in some cases so I wouldn't be surprised.

The research I've done so far seems the advice these days is to buy a DAC, run from USB and cut out the soundcard altogether.

I would prefer to maintain or improve what I have assuming I would buy an HP Mini desktop running Windows 11 and Media Player and carry on with the Logitech Z-2300 speakers and same MP3s.

TIA!
 

NTK

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Welcome to ASR!

If your use case is limited to listening to music/YouTube/podcast (and not contents creation/production), getting a USB DAC would probably be the default choice these days. You can get a DAC + headphone amplifier that will not be surpassed sonically for US$100 (if you don't have very inefficient headphones), for example a Topping DX1. If you don't want/need a headphone amplifier, there are many choices for inexpensive USB DAC's that are also basically sonically perfect. You can go to the review index page and search for them under "Audio Electronics" heading.


For EQ, the popular choice for Windows here is Equalizer APO which is much more capable than the Creative Labs Audio Center for audio EQ. @Doodski has a big list of EQ software if you desire other choices.

 
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Jedi

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Thank you!

Indeed, it would be music mostly but then YT etc. and TV streaming mainly.

I don't need headphones as I don't use them so I will focus on units without initially.

Thanks to all those who contributed to all the different reviews pages... I can appreciate the amount of work that has gone into that!

Is there an easy way to identify where the Asus Xonar STX II rates in terms of it's competition with USB DACs or is this comparing apples with pears?

I would prefer to at least sidestep or step up in terms of quality although I doubt given the cost of the card that it sits particularly highly in the hierarchy.
 

NTK

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Here is Amir's review of the Asus STX II. Even though its measurements were not good, but I'm pretty confident that it would be audibly indistinguishable from a SOTA DAC under most circumstances.
 
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Jedi

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Many thanks indeed!

The dynamic range for the ASUS card being nowhere near advertised is very interesting indeed.

I went from an STX to an STX II (when the headphone socket on the STX became faulty when I used to use headphones) believing it would be a step forward as the STX was so good but even my amateur ears suspected the STX II was not as good... at least now I can see why. :facepalm:
 
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