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Help with sound card and headphone amp combinations

post #1 of 4
Thread Starter 
Hi, people. Im just starting in the headphone amp world and I'm looking for help with some choices I need to deal with by now. I've never listened to anything better than a Xfi extreme music and a ordinary Phillis headphone. I'm Brazilian and once I'm spending some time by now in EUA, I can't miss the chance of investing in some real audio equipment.

I'm gonna buy a Beyerdynamic dt990 600 ohms and a new sound card, this is a fact. My audio source is my desktop PC and I don't think about changing that. I like to listen to all kind of music (but I valorize bass and treble impact, this is the reason of opting for a 990 and not a 880). Im also going to use the headphones to watch movies and play games.

I've never listened to tube powered song but I'd really like to try it after read about their characteristics plus my jazz and blues taste. But I have no idea in how much warmth it really adds to a song so I'm if I get a tube amp I also want a solid state option at the same time ( to guarantee my satisfaction with all kind of music and the movies and games).

Well, on the and I'm dealing with the following doubts after some days of researching on Internet:

Sound cards: Xfi Titanium HD or Xonar Essence STX

The Xonar has an internal headphone amp with 600ohms that can handle my dt990 600 but I have no idea about the quality of this combination compared to a dedicate external headphone amp

The Xfi doesn't have a powerful headphone amp but it seems to have best windows 7 drivers as I read over the Internet. And I'm a happy user of my actual Xfi extreme music drivers.

Headphone amps: Maverick D1 or Matrix MStage

The maverick is switchable between solid state amp and tube amp for headphones and the mstage has just s state amp. But I don't know if the solid state amp of the maverick device is as good as the solid state dedicated mstage device.

Both of the amps and sound cards have similar prices. The maverick D1 is a DAC but do I really need an external DAC if I have a XFi or Xonar great DAC? Isn't the mstage solid state so much better than the solid state maverick option that it would be better to choose just the solid state solution and give up about the tubes? If you tell me " the maverick solid state amp is as good as the mstage itself " than I choose the maverick and get the tubes option. If you say " the solid state dedicate mstage amp is better than the solid state option of maverick" so I may give up about the tubes and just get the better I can get in this value and go on mstage, whatever the sound card.

Well, this is it, kind of confusing I know, but if anyone would like to help with any kind of tips and experience with any of these devices, I would appreciate it so much.. Thank you for your attention.
post #2 of 4

Well, to start with, I've got a XFi Titanium sound card. However, I only really use it for the TOSLINK output. I've found every dedicated DAC I've tried (Beresford, LittleDot, DPA) to provide me with better sound quality.



You could still buy the XFi and use the TOSLINK like me to link to a better DAC (you can buy one that only has TOSLINK and forget about asynch/nonasynch USB).



You could buy a USB DAC.


If you did either of these, you'd need a separate headphone amp like the m-stage you mentioned.


The other option is to go for a DAC/Amp combo like the Audio-gd FUN, LittleDot DACII, NuForce HDP, Burson H160D etc.


I've mentioned a couple of names above but you'll have to go do some more research and find some proper reviews.


The one thing I would NOT do is buy an amp that switches from tubes to SS. You'll get a lot less for your money. You'd be better either getting a SS amp like the m-stage or a tube amp like a LittleDot (or Darkvoice, Audiotailor, Woo etc...)

Another thing I would NOT do is buy a sound card with a headphone amp and expect it to be as good as a desktop headphone amp worth the same money. You might as well buy a separate Headphone amp.


BTW, in the EU, you'll probably see a lot of Creek, Project and maybe B-tech and Rega. In my opinion, these aren't worth looking at. I've auditioned them all and I wasn't impressed. Go straight to the Lehmann and Graham Slee amps. All these brands are European but the last two are the ones worth checking out.


Hope that helps.

post #3 of 4
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the help, GrayArea. Well, I gave up about the idea of getting a tube amp. I'm just thinking by now about using the soundcard as DAC and get just an solid state amplifier around $250 or get a external DAC + amp combo. I'm just afraid of getting this combo and see no difference between the soundcard DAC and the external DAC. The little dot and also matrix sound have $250 solid state amplifiers and both have also DAC+amp combo models around $300. It's just $50 more and this make me think about the quality of the amp... Is the amp of a $300 combo as good as a $250 amp???
post #4 of 4

Well, I'm not sure about the LittleDot but I've read that the amp in the Matrix M-Stage is better than the Mini-i. The m-stage is loosely based on the Lehmann Black Cube Linear which is an expensive and popular German design.

I think you'll not get as good a headphone amp for $50. However, the addition of a good DAC might justify the additional cost.


To be honest, there's no way you'll get a straight answer to your question unless you find someone who has the same setup as you and bought a DAC/Amp to add to the chain and then reviewed it.

You could buy gear and sell it on if you don't think it's worth the price or you could go and audition gear in your local dealer. I did the latter to compare amps and then bought a source essentially blind but having done a lot of research.

It turned out to be all worth the money and effort IMO.


It's better to think of your setup like a chain. If there's a weak link, the whole thing won't perform to the best of it's ability. Although it's usually better to buy headphones, then an amp to match and then a DAC as a good source (in that order), until you get all three, you won't get the best performance out of any component.

You could rely on your soundcard but you might not get the best sound out of your amp or headphones. The amp will only amplify the source. If the source is bad quality, you'll hear it.

You're not going to like this but I heard just as big a difference when I upgraded my DAC from the X-Fi as I did upgrading my Amp from my IntAmp heapdhone out to my Dedicated Headphone amp.

It all counts towards the sound.


We have a saying here in Head-Fi, I'm sure you've heard it:


"Welcome to Head-Fi. Sorry about your wallet."

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