The Xonar Xense is so similar in terms of component make up to last year's Xonar Essence XT that it's hard to spot why some of the key ratings – like signal to noise ratio (SNR) – are different.
Both cards are based around a C-Media CMI-8788 OxygenHD processor, which is rebadged as an Asus AV100. Likewise, there's a Texas Instruments 6120A2 headphone amp with 192KHz/24bit DACs and a pair of JRC 2114D op-amps.
These latter chips can be removed and swapped for a different set. It's the current vogue for audio enthusiast gear, in the event that a particular piece of silicon has a signature sound that you prefer.
The Xense supports all the Dolby standards necessary, comes with ASIO drivers for low latency recording and, cheekily, a proprietary version of Creative's EAX 5.0 gaming API, DS3D GX 2.0.
Essentially, this does the work of Creative's ALchemy software, and adds in environmental effects lost when Vista dumped DirectSound, without the need for the dedicated DSP of an X-Fi card. DTS Connect is missing, but its absence unlikely to be mourned.
Physically, the bulk of the card is hidden beneath a shiny EMI shield to protect the sound processing hardware from the ambient noise of a PC chassis. It's around the back of the card that its true nature is revealed, though.
There's a coaxial S/PDIF port for hooking up to digital decoder, and an unusual DVI-like connector.
In the box, there's an adaptor that turns this into four 3.5mm jacks for 7.1 surround. The rear is dominated, however, by two quarter-inch jacks that serve as the headphone output and mic in.
To match them, the Sennheiser PC-350 headset is a slightly customised version of the retail kit, with matching quarter-inch plugs to fit.
The headphone amp, which requires a separate four-pin molex connector, is rated with an impressive SNR of 118dB, slightly less than the 122dB of the Creative X-Fi Titanium HD or 124dB of the Xonar Essence STX.
The key thing about the socket here, however, is that it can drive high impedance studio headphones up to 600ohms. Curiously, it doesn't have an unamplified line out socket.