ASUS wants to appeal to the Hi-Fi audience with the ASUS ROG Delta S. This is basically the ROG Delta with an MQA renderer built-in. That said, it is still powered by an ESS DAC – albeit not the 9218 but the ESS 9281. These are commonly found on higher end phones and USB DACs.
For the uninitiated, MQA stands for Master Quality Authenticated. It is an audio codec made for digital streaming and is a pretty controversial one at that. I aint touching it on this review so that’s a disclosure from dear me right from the get go.
Disclosure: ASUS sent this unit as a return sample for the purpose of this review. The company did not ask me to say anything particular about it. All thoughts and opinion are of course my own.
- Product Page: ASUS ROG Delta S
- Price: ₱10,199 PHP (Retail)
- Release Date: Q4 2020
Packaging and Accessories
The Delta S is packed inside the usual ROG packaging. Not quite as extravagant as the ROG Theta’s but it is still a fine addition to the shelf.
The product should come with the following items inside:
- Main unit
- Detachable microphone
- User guide
- ROG Hybrid pads
- USB-C to USB 2.0 (Type-A) adapter
Design, Build and Connectivity
The ROG Delta S looks no different compared to the higher end ROG Theta. It comes with the same unorthodox “delta shaped” earcup design. Build is mostly plastic though and it creaks at the swivel joints. Not exactly the initial impression I’m asking for but for something with a DAC inside, this is pretty much one of the lightest headsets you could find.
Now the Delta S comes with two pads: A PU leather by default and another pair made out of a breathable material. Depth and width for both pads are decent. These are attached like most pads though, similar to how you attach Sony MDR-7506 and HyperX Cloud pads. Depending on your patience on a given time of the day, swapping pads could be hard.
This headset comes with controls built into the left earcup. Lighting, mute and volume could be adjusted here. Of course with a DAC built-in, there’s no reason for ASUS to create a headset with removable cables. A design decision that comes with its own issues. More on that later.
Since the ASUS ROG Delta S comes with its own DAC, USB power is definitely required to drive everything up. We have a 2 meter braided cable here terminating on a Type-C header so you could use this on devices with the such interface. ASUS also included a Type-C to Type-A adapter for the more obvious reason.
Overall build quality is somewhat just okay, even if compared to the similarly priced Sennheiser HD58X Jubilee – a headphone that I hold dearly as a reference under $200 USD. This thing has better looking plastics for sure but the creaking noise is just annoying.
The ROG Delta S mounts just like your typical headband style circumaural headphone. It is a bit fat though with the massive cups and the thick pads in place. Clamp force is barely there at all (>300 gram-force), with bias at the top of the pads. That makes it uneven or unsettling and could lead to sealing issues. Weight is about 293.5 grams without the cable though so this headset is pretty light for how it looks.
Now where ASUS actually failed here is the insulation between the electronics and the driver. A quick shot from our thermal camera after 15 minutes on the rig shows that the left side does indeed run hot – way hotter compared to your usual closed-back headset. External temperature reaches 35.2°C, while internal temperature rose by about 2.5°C over ambient which is 25°C at the time of this measurement.
Test Setup and Methodology
Our test setup relies on the measurements taken from Room EQ Wizard paired with MiniDSP EARS and UMIK-1 as our measurement rigs. Audio chain has been made simple with the Topping DX7 Pro as our DAC and Amplifier combo for balanced and single-ended devices. It is important to note that we are testing the sample after burn-in, with at least 24-hours of uptime. This is done so to negate the FOB state of the unit, yielding better benchmarking consistency.
|Audio Chain||PC > Topping DX7 Pro > Headphone|
|Sampling Rate||24-bit, 48KHz (PCM)|
|SPL||84dB @ 1KHz|
|Software||Room EQ Wizard|
|Measurement Rig||MiniDSP EARS, UMIK-1|
Measurements obtained from a headphone will vary with position, seal and the compensation curve to name a few. In our case, we measure headphones with the HEQ calibration files provided by MiniDSP. The headphone is also calibrated to 84dB SPL @ 1KHz for the entirety of the review process.
Note: The ASUS ROG Delta S only works with its onboard DAC and Amplifier combo, so we can’t really use our own audio chain setup for this review. Maximum SPL recorded is about 93.4dB at 1KHz. That is already loud for most consumers.
Frequency response dictates the tonal balance of a headphone. Measured below is the average frequency response taken from the left and right channel at different positions. For reference, this response is Harman Target compensated. Dead neutral for this particular measurement should be ruler flat.
Tonality: Overall, the ASUS ROG Delta S is a pleasant sounding gaming headset with an obvious emphasis around the bass to the midrange area. There’s this shelf between 50Hz and 1.3KHz that made it sound unnatural followed by a recess towards the upper midranges. This plays well with the peaks at the at upper mids and the treble region though – providing a more laidback listening experience.
Bass: Follows the target until 50Hz but goes into a shelf that gave it extra warmth. Possibly the best range this headset got – despite the sever lack of punch.
Mids: The shelf overpowered this area with the dip around 1-2KHz giving it a more laidback listening experience. I wouldn’t mind this had ASUS decided to tune the headset without the shelf extending to the midrange proper. Hurts clarity and timbre by a good bit. This could be nasal depending on some vocalists.
Treble: Smooth, with the slightest hint of brightness and sibilance with those peaks around 3KHz and 4.5KHz – latter could be EARS related. The dip between 5-6KHz showed weakness on the treble though, missing the details I used to hear from higher end gears – a bit dark, yet still engaging. Acceptable performance still especially with that added energy around 9KHz. Not as bad as the mid range and is possibly my favorite range of the headset next to the bass.
I also measured the headset using the stock and hybrid pads. There’s more energy with the stock pads around the bass region while we lose some at the upper mids. This headset sounds best with the hybrid pads – which is what I used for the duration of the review. If you like a more laid back listening experience, switch to the pleather pads.
Total Harmonic Distortion
Total Harmonic Distortion is the difference between the fundamental signal and the harmonic distortions it produced in the audible range. What we want to see here is the THD below the fundamental at 84dB SPL @ 1KHz.
THD at 1KHz is well below my headroom for distortion. Bass area however, distorts above 1% so I wouldn’t dare touch the region to boost even further. The right channel performed the worst in this measurement.
Group Delay and CSD
Group Delay essentially measures the time it takes the amplitude of each frequency to reach their maximum. This basically measures the attack across the frequency range.
Cumulative spectral decay (CSD) or waterfall plots measures energy content over time across the frequency range. We use this to checkout resonances and how the driver decays.
Some frequencies took a bit more time to reach the maximum amplitude particularly the lower mids and the sub bass of the right channel. This means that the bass is less punchy – way less punchy compared to other dynamic driver headphones. We also got weird resonance around the bass region and at the treble extension. Driver decays slower than what I expected up until the 2.5KHz mark. This is not a fast dynamic driver and it shows.
Frequency response, transients and a lot of stuff plays a major part into creating a headphone with a good spatial performance. I.e., what could be described as sound stage and imaging. Added here is the Phase Response. What we want to see here are how close the left and right channels are.
Driver matching or channel balance is also measured to check out the quality of the drivers and the acceptable tolerance from the manufacturer’s stand point. What we want to see here are matched frequency response amplitudes from both channels.
Channel balance is rather poor for the ASUS ROG Delta S. Take away here are the disgusting differences from the bass to the mid regions. This, along with the transients taken from the previous benchmarks should mean that the headset is not an excellent performer in this area. Subjectively, the ROG Delta S has a somewhat decent (useful) stereo image even with its right channel bias. Soundstage on the other hand is nothing to write home about.
Isolation and Leakage
Noise isolation and noise cancellation (if applicable) are also tested. For this measurement, we use the MiniDSP EARS to measure the attenuation from a sine sweep generated by a nearfield speaker calibrated to output an SPL of 74dB.
Leakage is measured with a different setup. This time, we use the headphone as the output with an SPL of 84dB @ 1KHz. The MiniDSP UMIK-1 is then used to measure the amplitude provided by the headphone.
Isolation is pretty decent with a gradual noise attenuation as we go further into the audible frequency range. Bass region for the most part stayed the same. Leakage performance on the other hand is great – for the most part. We see attenuation that goes well below the playback level.
Software, Lighting and Special Features
The ASUS ROG Delta S supports the once hailed Armoury Crate software. I find this software tedious to work with for a variety of reasons but if personalized utilization of the Delta S is what you are after, it’s a requirement.
Equalization via the bundled software works but I’d rather go with parametric EQ softwares for better accuracy and stability. I had troubles measuring the EQ profiles provided by the software due to the instability, I just decided to throw the towel and call it quits without testing them. Now lighting is of course also configured here. Lotsa effects here that you could use for the RGB LEDs located on the cups – as seen on the thumbnail.
Since I do not have a mouth simulator, I couldn’t measure the microphone properly. I made attempts with this using a nearfield speaker but I noticed it doesn’t replicated what it really sounds like in the real world. Regardless, I find that it blocks background noise really well even with its AI noise cancellation feature turned off.
This review is my serious take on the ROG Delta S and gaming headsets in general. Which means no more lazy “take my word for it” kind of review. I could imagine a different conclusion had I not been so meticulous or rather, if I haven’t even tried to improve my craft for the last few months. This is peak scrutiny at this side of the globe and I am happy that I made the right choice to improve myself.
So, what we have here is a generally decent sounding gaming headset that could be improved upon with minor EQ around the bass and mid regions. What bothers me are the following: The hot spot at the left and the channel imbalance. Both of these issues are located at the left channel or coupling but are totally unrelated to each other. We could say it’s just a coincidence but it amounts to a different kind of trouble for the Delta S. I cannot simply recommend it with confidence featuring these compounding issues. And don’t forget the creaking noise too.
In closing, the ASUS ROG Delta S is a pleasant sounding gaming headset but sadly, it is not worthy of your attention. Maybe get this once on sale. Make sure it’s at least half the price to get even.
ASUS ROG Delta S Gaming Headset
ASUS is onto something here but the issues with the headset far outweighs its positive aspects.