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Total computer audio beginner needs some advice

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 
As the title suggests, the most I've done with computer audio before is jam a creative sound card onto a mobo. Well, I'm now looking to get a little bit more, but I only have a laptop with an ExpressCard slot at the moment (and for the foreseeable future).

So, where to start? All I know is that I'll be listening through headphones, but might get some studio monitors later.

Help me, Head-Fi
post #2 of 18
As for laptops you could buy an External DAC or for the cheaper option, you could try these:

Creative ExpressCard Sound Blaster X-Fi Notebook SB0950 70SB095000004 Upgrade your notebook to Xtreme Fidelity and make your music, movies, and games sound their best.

Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Go! SB1100 70SB110000000 Easily connect to any PC or laptop with 3D surround and EAX effects for your games, music and movies.
post #3 of 18
Thread Starter 
I've had enough of Creative, thank you very much. I'm not looking to play any games so I'd rather get something with better SQ.

Tell me about the external DAC, though. Will I need an amp to go with it? And what's the advantage of a DAC over something like the Indigo IOx?
post #4 of 18
There are two kinds of USB amps - the kind with an independent power supply (which you absolutely need if you want to power monitors), and the ones that leech power from a USB port. Those are good "on the go" for headphones, but begin to stumble on more demanding output. If you're a gearhead like me, you'll know what I mean when I say "like a Pentium 4 Mobile".

I have a really good amp hooked up to my file server called the Tianyun Zero. I bought it from a solid seller on eBay called "coolfungadget". It has USB, S/PDIF, and RCA input, and can push RCA or headphone output as a preamp or standalone sound card/amp (no drivers required, any XP or Vista PC will instantly cuddle with it). The seller ships from Hong Kong, so don't be startled by the 2-week delay.
post #5 of 18
P.S. "USB amp" means a simple DAC (digital-to-analog converter, the core chip on any sound card), whose output is hardwired into amplifying circuitry inside the same device, which can then output to a variety of audio ports.
post #6 of 18
Thread Starter 
I didn't quite get all of that. Does your amp have its own DAC? Because I'm pretty sure hooking up an amp to onboard audio isn't the best idea.

And if USB amps with independent power supplies are more expensive I guess I'll just get a USB powered one for now until I get those monitors.

e: Of course. So, separate DAC + amp combo, or a USB amp?
post #7 of 18
Yes, the amp has its own DAC board behind the USB port (see the photos on ZERO (Tianyun) 24/192 DAC + Headphone Amp (OPA2604) - eBay (item 350226990067 end time Nov-12-09 17:54:09 PST)). To reduce noise, it's even separated physically from the amplifying circuitry.

No, it isn't a good idea at all to hook an amp into onboard audio output, especially on notebooks. Most notebook motherboards don't even have a true DAC, they have a "codec" which offloads as much as it can on the CPU to save power. Any amp sounds better with a quality source signal.

As for price, the difference isn't that much - you can get a Hot Audio NG27 for a decent price, and it's independently powered (HA NG27 USB Sound Card + Mini Headphone Amp - eBay (item 350240031937 end time Nov-12-09 03:42:35 PST)). Personally, I prefer having more output choices, but it may work for you.
post #8 of 18
Thread Starter 
The Zero is a bit larger than I'd like. It's pretty cramped here, plus I'd like the option of tossing it in my notebook bag and using it on the go. I guess a USB powered amp/DAC is my best bet? Any suggestions for that? And what about the Indigo IOx?

Actually, something like the NG27 would be ideal.

e: Thanks btw matt. You're super helpful
post #9 of 18
I have a headdirect ef2 ( usb DAC-AMP combo). It requires its own power adapter, but it is quite a bit smaller than the Tianyun Zero. I have using it for about a month with Sennheiser hd580 and am quite happy with it. However it isnt very portable, especially with the exposed tubes. For that check out the ibasso D2 or D10.
post #10 of 18
Thread Starter 
Looking at the D2 now. Looks like what I need. Any other options?
post #11 of 18
Hey mattveksler, what do you think of the ZERO compared to Musiland 02US for driving 2.0 active speakers?
post #12 of 18
Originally Posted by queuewindow View Post
Looking at the D2 now. Looks like what I need. Any other options?
There is actually quite a few portable amps out there, and there a subforum on headfi devoted to portable amps also. Check it out there.
post #13 of 18
You might try the Fireye II (and not just because I'm selling one!) it is small, portable, and REALLY capable for its price point. Takes USB in or a DC adapter if you want to get one at radio shack when you've got some more room. And it can be used as a component later on to convert USB to optical for a bigger setup.

It's a really nice starter piece of kit, I don't think you'd be disappointed.
post #14 of 18
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the help guys. I've got to research some amps now
post #15 of 18

Fubar III 2009 model

Does anyone have any experience with the new 2009 fubar III from Firestone audio?
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