Firing Squad writes: "The sound card seems to have fallen out of favor with the hardware enthusiast over the past few years, as on-board solutions have provided multi-channel surround sound that functions as well as dedicated cards. This has been further exacerbated by the decision to remove direct access of hardware from Vista, which left many audio cards, especially those from Creative, neutered in regards to hardware acceleration. The loss of hardware accelerated audio, and Creative's slow response to adapt, left a void that many manufacturers were more than willing to fill.
Asus began with their Xonar line of audio cards, each one designed for a specific market, from gaming to home theatres. Asus is also one of the only manufacturers designing cards that use x1 PCI-Express slots, which have been woefully underutilized since their inception 5 years ago. One of their newest cards is the Xonar Essence STX, which is being billed as a sound card for the audiophile. Featuring individual pre-amplifiers for each connection and an interchangeable op-amp, the Essence STX has some pretty impressive specifications that help gear it up to take on the most discerning audio user."