A USB-C Headset Powered by an ESS Quad-DAC
This ESS Quad-DAC powered option is premium in every way
The ROG Delta is a gaming headset from the Republic of Gamers division of ASUS that offers a Hi-Res audio certification thanks to its ASUS Essence 50 mm drivers with a 20-40,000 Hz frequency response and implementation of a high-end ESS Quad-DAC, and offers custom lighting effects via the circular RGB lighting on each ear cup. A wired headset exclusively, it connects via USB-C or standard USB 2.0 for use with PCs as well as compatible consoles and smartphones.
“ROG Delta is the world's first gaming headset with the industry-leading, hi-fi-grade ESS 9218 quad DAC, which delivers impeccably clear and detailed sound to give serious gamers the edge they need to win. ROG Delta features a USB-C connector and comes with a USB-C to USB 2.0 adapter to let you game on your PC, console and mobile device without changing headsets. A one-of-a-kind, circular rainbow RGB lighting effect provides a stylish look to set you apart on the battlefield.”
Features from ASUS ROG:
- Industry-leading hi-res ESS quad-DAC for impeccably detailed and true-to-life audio
- USB-C connector for true multiplatform support, including PCs, Mac, mobile phones and PS4
- Customizable, multi-color circular RGB lighting lets you shine in style
- Exclusive ASUS Essence drivers, airtight chamber and audio signal diversion technology for immersive audio experiences
- Upgraded comfort with ergonomic D-shape and ROG Hybrid ear cushions
Why a quad-DAC design? When ESS released the ES9218 they pointed to these “internally connected parallel quad DACs” as the key to delivering its rated 124dB DNR and -112dB THD+N, in addition to signal-to-noise of up to 130 dB, with ASUS stating that their implementation with the ROG Delta makes the headset “capable of achieving an unprecedented signal-to-noise ratio of 127 dB, a level untouchable by single-DAC gaming headsets.”
Another aspect of the ultra-low noise of the ROG Delta is a design feature that ASUS calls “Hyper-Grounding”, which is an ROG-exclusive technology with an intelligent multi-layer PCB design that prevents interference and shields the audio signals from any RGB lighting-related PWM switching noise.
So how does this very impressively-specified hi-fi gaming headset sound? I’ll offer my impressions after we check out the design and talk about fit and comfort.
- Driver diameter: 50 mm
- Driver material: Neodymium magnet
- Impedance: 32 Ohm
- Frequency Response (headphones): 20 ~ 40000 Hz
- Pick-up Pattern: Uni-directional
- Frequency Response: 100 ~ 10000 Hz
- Sensitivity: -40 dB
- Connector: USB-C, USB
- Cable Length
- USB-C cable: 1.5M (~59 inches)
- USB 2.0 cable: 1M (~39 inches)
- Weight: 387 g (13.65 oz)
- Detachable microphone
- User guide
- ROG Hybrid ear cushion
- USB-C to USB 2.0 (Type-A) adapter
- Mobile device
- PlayStation 4
- Nintendo Switch
Note: Support PCs and PS4 using included USB-C to USB 2.0 adapter; support 2018 iPad Pro by USB-C connection
- Pricing and Availability: $179.99, Amazon.com
Packaging and Contents
The packaging is properly deluxe for a high-end headset like this, and you certainly get a premium unboxing experience.
Included in the box of accessories are the USB cables (Type-C and a USB 2.0 converter cable), boom mic, and a pair of alternate ear pads (a thicker pad with a fabric mesh cover) – a very nice touch.
Design and Comfort
Two aspects of the ROG Delta design that is hard to convey are the impressively sturdy build quality, and the overall size. These are pretty big, though they felt smaller on my head due to the lighter than average clamping force and fairly light ~13.6 oz weight.
The ROG Delta features D-shaped ear cups that, as ASUS states, "more closely match the shape of human ears compared to oval ear cups", and I found them to fit very well. They are large enough that the padding complely surrounds the ear, without any pressure against the ear itself.
Controls are on the left ear cup, with a lighting toggle and combo volume rocker/mic mute
ASUS says this design reduces "unnecessary contact area by 20% for a better, more comfortable fit, especially when the headset is worn for long periods” and I can't argue as this earcup design – coupled with your choice of either a softer protein leather or the thicker fabric mesh option – allow for a very comfortable fit regardless of pad preference.
The soft headband and ear pads cusions help make these feel great even for longer sessions. The protein leather pads have a very soft feel and were my preference, and they gave the headset a very high-end look and feel as well.
The alternate pads were a bit thicker, and closer to what I've encountered from other gaming headsets with their more breathable mesh fabric finish.
The comfortable headband cusion offers the same soft feel as the default ear pads
Overall the construction feels very solid, with no creaks in this hybrid of plastic and metal parts. The top of the headband under the cusion is more flexible than I would have guessed, making these feel more adjustable than average for width, while the sides of the headband are more rigid, and their adjustment feels very solid and they hold their size setting well.
Finally, the ear cups swivel to fold flat, which I always prefer with gaming headsets as it makes them easier to stow.
Usage Impressions – Sound Quality
This headset uses angled drivers (tilted by 12 degrees) which helps match the angle of the ear, and ASUS says "this sloped design not only provides better comfort, but also helps improve sound quality by enabling the audio signal to travel directly into the ear canal.” The drivers themselves are 50 mm in diameter, and a proprietary design that ASUS calls "Essense".
“With ROG Delta, the exclusive ASUS Essence drivers have been updated with Audio Signal Diversion technology, giving them a circular wall that helps separate high, low and medium frequency sounds, reducing interference between frequency ranges for purer and clearer audio. Additionally, the drivers feature a wide frequency response of 20–40kHz to provide incredibly strong bass and optimized gaming sound, so you'll hear every detail while enjoying an all-around immersive acoustic experience.”
I first tested game audio with the sound set to "flat" and no effects enabled, and the ROG Delta provided a clear, full-range sound that didn't emphasize any particular frequency range notably. Channel separation and overall realism of audio was very good, and these drivers are certainly capable of reproducing the dynamics of gameplay audio, with sudden loud sounds providing impact, and the strong bass response and high freqency clarity making these a great 2-channel performer.
Having said all of that I actually preferred gaming with effects enabled, as these were very good and added to the ambience and perceived spaciousness of the sound. The "gaming" mode (appropriately enough) was my favorite, as it added some convincing surround effects (more front to side, less so side to rear), but more importantly it added to the feeling of space and had the potential to effectively give the impression of external speakers. The reverb effects can be very subtle, and the gaming mode's default "studio" reverb preset provided the "speakers in a room" effect that I grew to really appreciate.
I have heard simulated surround effects that produce an overall left/right stereo that remains fairly narrow, with varying degrees of success from the multiple channels in the virtual mix. I have heard better in the way of simulated back surround channels, but the basic 5.1-channel setup of front L/R, center, and surround channels on either side was convincing and totally adequate to foster immersion. There are multiple sound profiles available using the ROG Armoury II software (such as the more midrange-heavy "FPS" mode), and of course custom profiles can be created as well.
Hi-Res PC Audio
While gaming provided a platform to test out sound profiles and surround effects, I always test headsets using uncompressed music (making use of the highest quality source material available) to get a sense of the overall balance and detail level that can be extracted. To this end I tested the native capabilities of the ROG Delta’s ESS Quad-DAC with my usual recipe of the freely available foobar2000 program under Windows 10, configured with the WASAPI plugin. I played back both 16-bit and 24-bit lossless audio files of different sample rates (using the current HDTracks free sampler for 24-bit music).
Native bit-depth of 16 and 24 can be selected manually, with sample rates of up to 96 kHz
One thing you can’t do with the ROG Delta with this setup: play back 88.2 kHz high-res files natively. This is not really worth mentioning unless you happen to be an obsessive person like me, and unless you go to the lengths that I do with enabling the Windows Audio Session API with your playback software all files will play as expected, being re-sampled by the DAC as needed.
As to the sound using this direct method of playback, I found the presentation to be very balanced, nice wide stereo separation, and very good clarity throughout the frequency range. There was very strong bass with music that emphasizes it; bass did not feel enhanced at all so for those that want a strong low-end punch in all music some EQ will be required (which precludes using WASAPI – not that most people would). I was very impressed with the performance of the ROG Delta in a critical listening session given the "gaming headset" category it occupies, and it would give so-called "audiophile" headphones in this price range a real run for their money.
I can't improve on this photo from ASUS depicting the ROG Delta in use with a smartphone
This was a strong point for the ROG Delta, and I had a great time using the headset as a pair of USB-C headphones with a Samsung Galaxy S9+ smartphone, listening to various streaming sources. Sound with the ROG Delta was big and with modern music bass is punchy and powerful, and while I was listening exclusively to audio that had lossy compression the experience was still far more engaging than I expected. The built-in DAC, while offering great quality with lossless files (particularly those with 48 and 96 kHz sample rates), is forgiving enough to make lower-quality content enjoyable.
As good as these were for music in general and smartphone audio in particular, they really shine as a gaming headset. The implementation of a high-end ESS DAC made me curious about their utility as a hi-fi headphone alternative for digital music from the beginning, but they are built for gaming and this is where the surround effects and custom audio profiles and effects can be explored and really took them to another level.
“ROG Delta comes with a detachable, unidirectional boom microphone, tuned especially for clear voice communication and certified by leading communication apps. An indicator on the tip of the boom flashes red when the microphone is muted, letting you easily see the microphone's status.”
Here I was in for a surprise: a gaming headset microphone that sounds good! This is not your typical tinny boom mic that sounds like a pre-LTE phone call, instead providing a nice full sound. There are also a variety of features to enhance the sound using the software, with compression, noise gate, “perfect voice” enhancement, etc. to play with. These worked well and affect the sound during live streaming, with the various options making an instant difference during a recent vMix call when recording our weekly podcast.
Audio and lighting effects are controlled via the ROG Armoury II software program, which offers straightforward control for adjusting preset sound and lighting modes, as well as full customization of both with the option to create user profiles.
No complaints here as the changes to sound – both output to the headset and input from the mic – were instantaneous and the various effects are well implemented. There are additional capabilities for connected ASUS AURA Sync devices, but the lighting with the ROG Delta can of course be controlled independently (or disabled entirely with a switch on the headset itself).
With clear, powerful, dynamic sound complemented by outstanding design and build quality – not to mention great comfort – the ROG Delta is one of the finest gaming headsets I’ve ever tried regardless of price. The software is easy to use, and the understated presets (such as “gaming”) add a real sense of added space to the audio when playing games that didn’t affect quality and never sounded excessive or artificial.
As something of an “audiophile” myself and certainly appreciative of clean, accurate sound, this headset interested me immensely – due in part to the fact that my personal digital audio player (DAP) of the last five years, a Calyx M, uses an ESS mobile DAC (the 9018S-2M) that always offered fantastic sound. The ROG Delta’s ESS Quad-DAC does indeed provide a level of quality unexpected from something marketed to the gaming segment and not the hi-fi audio market, with the ASUS Essence drivers delivering clear sound throughout the audible range.
I can’t praise the overall experience with the ROG Delta enough, and with its outstanding sound, superior build quality, and great comfort, it occupies rarified air in the gaming headset space. If I had a headset “wall of fame”, this would be on it.