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DAC's. When is good enough, good enough? - Page 3

post #31 of 158
Originally Posted by Epoch View Post

The Essence STX does have an onboard voltage regulator and power supply filtering for the analog stage.  Sure it isn't as comprehensive as a large dedicated DAC, but most of the hard work is already done by the computer power supply.  As for having a noisy power source, a decent PSU will have pretty good output regulation and though it may provide power that isn't as clean as what you get in some standalone DAC designs, the additional onboard regulation should give you a fairly good result.
 

My point is that the same PSU which drives the STX also has to drive your motherboard, video card, cpu, hard drives, etc - all of which vary in loads over time, which causes noise and voltage instability in the power supply. This instability is generally not enough to affect your major PC components, but it will affect hi-end audio components. This is very different from having a dedicated power supply designed specifically for a standalone DAC/amp/output stage/etc.

 

Quote:
Having an external DAC may fix that specific problem, but it brings new ones.  Now you have transformer to deal with in the DAC, and whatever else you put the DAC near.  The EMI shield on the Essence STX shouldn't be vastly inferior to the casing on a DAC, so I don't think that should be a huge deal.

This is why transformers can be shielded, and also why high-end gear sometimes keeps the power supply in one box and the actual amp/dac in another. Likewise, any other gear you put the external DAC near will also be shielded in its own box. Say what you will, but I simply don't see an external DAC receiving as much EMI interference as one inside a computer. There is a lot going on in there. That is one of the reasons why on-board audio sounds so bad.

 

Quote:

This is incorrect, the RCA jacks are a line out connector.  When connect via the RCA jacks you bypass the onboard headphone amplifier, you cannot run the signal through the headphone amplifier and still get an audio output from the RCA jacks.

 

If you were getting tons of noise using the RCA connectors I would suggest that you were doing something wrong.  I have used the Essence STX with more than one headphone amplifier without any problems, and I expect that your issues were more of implementation instead of actual flaws in the product.

Ah, I did misspeak when I said that everything goes through the headphone amplifier stage. However, the RCA jack outputs still go through their own amping stage (you can hear the STX "click" over when you change the output method). You can still adjust the volume of this amping stage via the STX control panel (I'm not talking about the Windows audio mixer here). To be fair, I didn't encounter any noise problems when I hooked up my M3 headphone amp to the RCA outs, but, as I said before, I did when I connected them to my Denon stereo receiver, which drives some small B&W speakers. I know the Denon is not exactly the best quality speaker amp, but the double-amping problem did creep up here.

 

Don't get me wrong here. The Asus STX is a fine sound card for its price. It acts as a decent DAC and headphone amplifier because that is what is was designed to do. If I needed those capabilities in a computer sound card, I wouldn't look anywhere else. However, when you stray from that setup, such as using it just as a DAC, you may run into problems. It simply cannot compete with higher-priced external DACs and amps, but I don't expect it to at it's price.

post #32 of 158
Thread Starter 

A. Thorsen wrote:

 

I sympathize. Sorry if I added to the confusion.

 

Not to worry, I was dazed and confused long before starting this thread.

 

I see the STX in the light you do in that it's gotten a boatload of good write-ups.

 

I checked out the DAC that Jodet recommended and at first blush looked like a winner and then in reading the company literature, the Wyred 4 Sound is limited to 16-bit/48kHz and you have to step up to their next model to get 24-bit/192kHz.  Then I think......"First base."  Audio-gd DAC's such as their REF-7 or their NFB-7.  Then I think, who am I kidding, the STX is perfectly fine...... "Who's on first, What's on second and I Don't Know is on third.  And then again, maybe the Audio-gd, NFB-1 is good enough for my needs......"First base."
 


Edited by beeman458 - 9/14/10 at 6:17pm
post #33 of 158
Thread Starter 

Jodet, you mentioned having the W4S DAC-1.  Do you have any misgivings regarding the purchase of the DAC-1 and wish that you had purchased the DAC-2?

 

???

post #34 of 158
Quote:
Originally Posted by beeman458 View Post

Jodet, you mentioned having the W4S DAC-1.  Do you have any misgivings regarding the purchase of the DAC-1 and wish that you had purchased the DAC-2?

 

???


It's another five hundred bucks I didn't want to spend.  50% more is a lot of cash.  For my purposes the DAC1 is fine.  I'm not a computer audio guy - just cd's. 

 

post #35 of 158

All DACs features an amp stage to get the signal to line level so Chronomitch point is moot. Furthermore most discussion about the nasty EMI inside a computer and dirty power form PSU are largely exaggerated. If the voltage is good enough to let complex graphic card,  CPU and motherboard work flawlessly I can't see why it should be a problem for a soundcard. DAC chips  are relatively simple electronic components compared to GPU and CPU. 

Sure there will be benefit from getting an external DAC but improvement in SQ will be very subtle at best, but for many on this forum that means night and day.

post #36 of 158
Thread Starter 

Sure there will be benefit from getting an external DAC but improvement in SQ will be very subtle at best, but for many on this forum that means night and day.

 

Thanks for your above thought.  In discussing this thread with my wife, what I'm taken by is that folks are unable, or unwilling to articulate differences among price points in the case of DACs.  To me, it should be a cut and dried conversation.

 

At a $300 dollar price point, this is what you should expect.  Not much over the STX, but this is what the improvement should be.

 

At a $500-700 dollar price point, this is what should be improving above the cheap stuff.

 

At a $800-1,000 price point, this is what your were missing and will now be coming through.

 

And when you hit $1,500 dollars, all of your rose's blooms should be smiling.

 

So far, nothing that articulates the differences.  Maybe I'm being blind to the facts and don't know it because I'm not wanting to be pointed or polemic in my question or expectations.  I'm disappointed because I was holding out high hopes for folks to define the differences.  Why?  To me, throwing money at a product line is the easy part.  Knowing why you're throwing this amount of money at the question, is the hard part.

 

post #37 of 158

I have described differences to that degree, but scattered across this forum. I'm of the opinion that the benefits that very expensive audio gear can provide are things like microtransients, easily destroyed by any weak links in the chain. So when I see people wax poetic about how high end is folly like on this thread, I don't give any suggestions, because I don't think people who are so vocal of their lack of faith in high end equipment have the interest to make a high end setup without any weak links, neither do I think they have the interest for the sort of benefits to sound from very expensive gear.


Edited by haloxt - 9/15/10 at 8:41am
post #38 of 158
Thread Starter 

That is one of the reasons why on-board audio sounds so bad.

 

This comment, I'm not quoting the maker for the purpose that it's a representative comment, does not reflect what I'm hearing.  The on-board audio sound that I'm hearing is excellent.  Room for improvement, yes, but crappy sound, not even close.

 

???

 

My expectations for the system?  My expectations are, the amp which should arrive tomorrow, will help tighten up the bass at low volume listening levels with added expectations of sound stage improvement.  In the case of the DAC, my expectations are for an improvement with the sound stage and a polishing of the highs.

 

In real terms, when discussing the system's sound quality with my wife, I figure, numerically speaking, I'm at a ninety-five to ninety-eight percent of efficiency or sound quality.

 

???

post #39 of 158
Thread Starter 

haloxt wrote:

 

I don't give any suggestions, because I don't think people who are so vocal of their lack of faith in high end equipment have the interest to make a high end setup without any weak links, neither do I think they have the interest for the sort of benefits to sound from very expensive gear.

 

Go for it.  I put twelve hundred into the computer system so far, over what I had when I began.  I've got some excellent sound that could use some polish.  I picked up a used $700.00 amp and have a budget of up to $1,500.00 dollars for the DAC.  The point, I don't know about weak links, but I figure there's esoteric and then there the real "listening" world where I like to hang out; tight bass, decent sound stage, sweet, controlled highs.

 

Is my money limited?  Oh, you bet it is.  Am I willing to sell the farm to make this happen?  No.  Am I willing to spend a little?  Obviously.  Is this my only hobby, no.  And if you're challenging my ego, I don't go there as personally, I haven't shown any lack of faith as all I've done is say; "Hey, what's what with the what?"

 

Let's see you back up your above bravado.

 

 

What's what with the what?

 

 


Edited by beeman458 - 9/15/10 at 9:08am
post #40 of 158
Quote:
Originally Posted by zenpunk View Post

All DACs features an amp stage to get the signal to line level so Chronomitch point is moot. Furthermore most discussion about the nasty EMI inside a computer and dirty power form PSU are largely exaggerated. If the voltage is good enough to let complex graphic card,  CPU and motherboard work flawlessly I can't see why it should be a problem for a soundcard. DAC chips  are relatively simple electronic components compared to GPU and CPU. 

Sure there will be benefit from getting an external DAC but improvement in SQ will be very subtle at best, but for many on this forum that means night and day.


Yes, you are correct that all DACs require some kind of current to voltage stage or line stage. Everytime you add another amping stage, noise is produced - nothing you can do about that. However, this line stage should be relatively low and produce very little noise. I found that when I connected the RCA outs from my STX to my Denon receiver, I got tons of noise. I also tried running using a TRS to stereo RCA adapter and I got similar results. I'm just giving my experience here. Yours may vary.

 

As to the sensitivity of DAC chips, let me put it this way. A CPU interprets data digitally, meaning that it sends and receives data in the form of 1s and 0s. It does this by looking at the voltage level of an electrical signal. If the signal is below a certain threshold, it is interpreted as a 0. If it is above the threshold, it is a 1. For CPUs, motherboards, video cards, ram, and other devices that deal primarily in the digital domain, the power supply does not need to be incredibly stable. As long as that voltage is below the 0/1 threshold, say 0.5V, it does not matter whether or not that voltage is 0.1V or 0.05V or even 0.3V.

 

Now let's look at a DAC chip. Like a normal CPU, a DAC receives digital data in binary format. However, it sends data in a completely analog format. The data must be converted from a digital form (fairly insensitive to voltage/current stability) to an analog one (incredibly sensitive to voltage/current stability). The way in which the data is converted depends on the DAC type. Older R2R DACs actually try to output up to 2^24 different voltages 44,100 times per second (in the case of a 24-bit 44.1kHz DAC). Newer delta sigma DACs use modulation to do this. Regardless, I think you can see how small voltage changes can have an effect on the analog signal coming from a DAC chip.

post #41 of 158

I get your point Chronomitch but I think your experience with the STX is far from the norm. With my STX I can move the volume to max and I get absolutely no noise through my amp (also maxed) when no music is playing, which I find very impressive for a soundcard.

post #42 of 158
Thread Starter 

I'll acknowledge a bit of noise at 100%, at the end of a recording but no, it's not noticeable at normal listening volumes.  Listening at 100%, not knocking your above comment as I'm making a point, agreeing with you regarding the STX, listening at 100% means you're deaf.  And if that's the case, you're not going pick up on any sibilance anyways.

 

???

post #43 of 158

beeman458, all throughout this thread you say meaningless things like

 

Quote:
In real terms, when discussing the system's sound quality with my wife, I figure, numerically speaking, I'm at a ninety-five to ninety-eight percent of efficiency or sound quality.

 

Someone who is really interested in finding out what % he is at will test out higher end gear and judge for himself. No amount of chatter on internet forum will ever give you the information you need to make such a statement meaningful. I could describe the differences between different tier gear here, but it's been done many times by myself and others, and when you go and say something like we have never done it, it just shows me how futile it would be to keep participating in this thread. Unsubscribing.

post #44 of 158

To put it simply, you can stop when you are  satisfied. No one can tell you when that is or how much it is going to cost. Until you are content within, you will always look to upgrade.

post #45 of 158
Quote:
Originally Posted by beeman458 View Post

I'll acknowledge a bit of noise at 100%, at the end of a recording but no, it's not noticeable at normal listening volumes.  Listening at 100%, not knocking your above comment as I'm making a point, agreeing with you regarding the STX, listening at 100% means you're deaf.  And if that's the case, you're not going pick up on any sibilance anyways.

 

???


I think this is a good point. When I used my headphones strictly with the STX, I used the Windows audio mixer to change the volume. As such, I would never get near 100%. However, when running the signal to an external amp, I would put that audio mixer at 100%. Otherwise, the digital signal going to the DAC portion of the STX is not going to be bit-perfect (or anywhere near that if using ASIO, WASAPI, etc). The Windows audio mixer uses digital volume attenuation, which basically means it chops off bits from the signal when the volume is not set at 100%.

 

The moral of the story is to always set the windows audio mixer at 100% when you are using an external DAC or transport.

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