Will an external sound card improve the SQ and if so which one should i buy (iMac owner)?
post #1 of 23
8/9/09 at 11:25am
Hmm. I don't know about the $200-300 range. Truthfully, I've had my eye on both the Duet and the Pico. I've been out of the headphone game for a while, but looking to get back into it. I just want to find something that mates well the SA5000.
If I should stumble on something else during the course of my research that fits your price range I'll give you a heads up.
I think the "external soundcard" term should be abolished, as it causes confusion. Something along the lines of, say, the EMU0404 I would call an "external audio interface". Inside of it, obviously, is a DAC, as it takes digital signals and outputs analogue ones, when playing music.
External DAC/amp combos are only different in that they don't record and are designed for listening to music and driving headphones at least reasonably well.
Since you have a Mac, you have four methods of getting audio out:
Analogue via the headphone socket (which you've been using).
Digital via USB.
Digital via the optical from the headphone socket.
Firewire (used mostly on pro-audio gear).
That gives you access to a lot of gear. The best bang-for-the-buck in that regard is probably the Apogee Duet (via Firewire) which has sometimes sold as low, second-hand, for $350. It's almost as good as well-known DACs such as the Lavry DA-10 and Benchmark DAC1, both of which are around $1000. There's also the new Apogee One, which uses USB, which look promising too, though I don't know how good the headphone out is. The Duet seems to be great with some headphones, and just ok with others. However, it could be later used as a DAC for a better headphone amp.
Going cheaper, there's the Head Direct/Hifiman EF-2 USB tube amp. Going more expensive and a lot larger, there's the Audio-gd Compass.
Importantly, I think that if you reviewed all the headphones on your site again using proper amplification and a good DAC, your impressions of them would change dramatically.
The Corda 3move was good for my iMac, but you pay for portability. For not that much more I got the DACmagic, which was a considerable upgrade. As mentioned before, you can connect this via USB or optical.