The verdict is easy on this one based on some very extensive testing this card sounds excellent and provide sound quality well beyond its price point. This card produces sound quality on par with sources many times the listed price. The DAC's, filters, power section and circuit designs are all intended to produce the best sound for this price point. The card produces a warm "tubey" type of sound with balanced bass, smooth midrange and highs. The detail and clarity on this card is very pronounced, the card hides nothing allowing you to hear exactly what you have in your music.
There are a few aspects of this card that could have been better. We would have preferred if the opamps sockets were machined instead of pressed as the machined units can take many more replacement cycles.
We started using high quality JPS cables in the audio lab and the RCA jack bite in like a pitbull so when we connected up the H6 card we were worried about snapping off the RCA jacks from the PCB on the H6. We don't think this would be an issue unless you are using cables with very tight connections.
We also have mixed opinions on the EMI/RFI shielding on the card.
Although many thought that ASUS would put out one or two cards and then get back to other gear seemed to be incorrect. ASUS has proven time and again they are not going anywhere and are a serious force to be reckoned with for other manufacturers. The ASUS Essence ST Deluxe 7.1 is easily one of the best sounding cards we have had in our audio lab. If you are looking for a high quality cards for music, movies and some gaming then you should definitely put the Essence ST Deluxe 7.1 at the top of your list.
Based on options, component quality and sheer sound quality we are awarding the Essence ST Deluxe our Top Pick Award.
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