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6/ How does the machine ascertain bit-perfect transfer to indicate it as such with the LED? How does that verification differ between Windows and Mac?
While the system is in ASIO mode, the audio driver will recognize the USB audio controller chip, then pass the message to the MCU to light up the LED. Currently this only works under Windows. We’re exploring ways to also work on Macs. Although most people should know whether they are in ASIO mode or not, we added this so users can be reassured that the Essence One in fact works the way it’s supposed to.

Direct drive into Acoustic Imagery Ncore 1200-based Atsah monos and AudioSolutions Rhapsody 200 speakers

7/ What made you decide on an op-amp driven architecture over discrete? Was it for cost reasons, to enable rolling, other?
To enable op-amp rolling. The Essence One with its USB DAC nature and target price was designed for the relatively young PC generation and first-time audiophiles. This impacted some of the features we designed, i.e. dual volume controls, bit-perfect LED, XLR outputs and the emphasis on headphones. We recognize that people’s tastes vary. Then there should be room for customization even for those who can’t handle minimal soldering. Some have challenged this decision, suggesting we went with sockets because we weren't confident in our own audio tuning. We simply think it’s the right thing to do. It shows respect for the subjective nature of individual taste. There also were lots of discussions already on web forums about op-amp rolling or other mods for the Essence ST/STX sound cards. Thus we figured it was an attractive and popular feature to keep.

8/ Is this a fully balanced circuit terminating in true balanced outputs? And why the XLR outputs? This suggests some future products you mean to be compatible with? Or is the Essence Once also aimed at the pro market?
It is fully balanced. The reason for XLR outputs is that we found many people using active studio monitors and we were starting to also see USB DACs from other vendors equipped with XLR outputs. It might be that the simple nature of active monitors is beginning to sit well with contemporary listening habits. We personally have been long-time users of Line6 and M-Audio products but currently have no specific plans for the pro market,. We think that the expertise and design philosophy required there differ from products which are oriented solely at the listening experience.

9/ Can you talk of upcoming products aimed at the same hifi/audiophile market? What particular segment and distribution chain are you targeting? Will you attempt to sell your hifi products outside the type of stores which currently carry Asus laptops and computers? If so, what's the marketing strategy? What's your plan for overcoming the likely perception readers of my site and similar publications hold that Asus is for gamers and computer heads but knows nothing about high-performance audio?
For distribution strategy it will mostly depend on decisions made by our global sales department but we can provide an overall idea. We’ll mostly focus on where this product should be sold, i.e. hifi/AV stores and such. It will be new to both Asus and our existing distributors. Even so this investment is a must if we’re going to penetrate into a different product arena. For our current partners we’ll select those who have a decent understanding of these products. After all we’re looking at a channel margin structure significantly different from IT/CE products. This has to be handled with care.

We believe there are no shortcuts to changing brand perception. In some ways we still need to do this the old-fashioned way - have the product reviewed, listened to, discussed. If I now have a chance to speak to 6moons readers directly, here’s how I’ll put it: "Asus has a dedicated team for designing and conceptualizing audio products. We do not share R&D with our in-house teams for motherboards, laptops and such. We have designed audio products in other categories for years and with a great deal of success. In 2010 for example we collaborated with Sennheiser on a head set/sound card combo. It takes a certain level of expertise to have Sennheiser want to partner with you. The larger business scale between Asus and certain parts vendors also allows us to demand higher standards of quality control."

Another approach of ours is to actively pursue coop possibilities with vendors such as parts suppliers (the Muses edition is a good example), music player applications, headphone makers or content providers. We’re willing to work with anyone within our eco system who comes up with something that benefits our customers no matter whether it's a simple software bundle or a custom-made model. Most of these developments are still under discussion but we’re open to any real opportunities. For future products we’re looking at building out the Essence line with things like a new flagship for a higher-end segment or even more entry-level products. In the near future we’re still going to be focused on DAC/preamps with headphone outputs however since that’s our core competence.

Will there be a discrete website or dedicated sub site for hifi-targeted products to make it easier for such users to find them?
Currently not. We have a site for Xonar products but that includes other entertainment/gaming models as well. As the product line evolves, we may build a sub site for just hifi products.

11/ How about the world's first '8 x symmetrical upsampling' in your marketing materials? You're surely aware that Asus is far from the only company to not use asynchronous sample rate converters?
Prior to the launch of the original Essence One, our marketing team conducted a search of then available USB DACs to clarify whether this was actually the 'world’s first'. Our search at the time did not identify any competitors but we would like to apologize for the confusion and are working with our marketing team for a more suitable info flow in the future.