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DAC Recommendation to replace soundcard

post #1 of 2
Thread Starter 
So, my old-ass pci emu 0404 died last night in a blaze of glory. Not being a big fan of spending money on **** I already owned, I am now looking to upgrade, instead of replace. Currently I'm leaning toward just getting an external DAC. My setup is as follows:

Windows 7 PC->?->Shanling ph100(I think that's the number, the $200-300 headphone amp)->Hifiman HE-5s as well as a Marantz integrated amp hooked to a pair of Dali Mentor 2 speakers.

What I'm considering are the following:
Xonar STX (least interesting to me, but has to be considered)
KingRex UD-01 USB DAC
Citypulse DA2.03e II DAC USB
Pop Pulse PCM1796 DAC 24/192

The Citypulse is obviously more expensive, but solves another problem for me by providing fixed and variable out, which would let me ditch the marantz integrated and just get some bad ass monoblock amps for my speakers instead, but my main concern is getting the best DAC for my situation. My PC has a sigmatel HD audio chip in it that works, so I'm not sure if I'm better off with a USB dac, or using the spdif on the sigmatel to go to a non-usb dac. Recommendations are appreciated.

Also, if none of the parts I mentioned would be an upgrade from the emu, what would? I don't want to just spend money to spend money, but the actual price isn't that much of an issue, if none of those are real upgrades over what I had before.

post #2 of 2
I compared the DAC section of my Pioneer SC-25 with the DAC section of my Cambridge 840C player, and could not find any significant difference to tell the two units apart with my set up.

They do sounds different if you really want to hear that difference(if you know what I mean), but that's not enough to tell which is better or worse. They all sounded like they supposed to... well to my ears at least.

I hence conclude and a dac, if designed properly, meaning not over engineered and over-priced, should provide you a enjoyable listening experience as long as your source amp and headphones/speakers are up to the task. If I can go back I would just settle for an external dac around 300-400 bucks max. I wouldn't care who made them.

Of course my conclusion is only based on two dacs, but since these are the dacs manufactured by very different vendors, I expected some very different sound signatures... but not........ the differences aren't that apparent.
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