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New sound card for an audio noob

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 

Hey guys. A couple of months ago I bought a pair of Sennheiser HD 280 Pros - HUGE improvement over the crappy 8 dollar earbuds and cheap desktop speakers I used to use (and think were decent - d'oh)

 

I'm currently using an integrated audio card, a friend of mine (same guy that told me to get a real pair of headphones) said that I could get a decent improvement in audio quality with a dedicated card. Is there anything in particular you recommend for someone without any kind of real existing audio setup? What kind of improvement with this pair of headphones do you think I could expect? Or would it be better to get a better pair of headphones (from what I understand, these are pretty average quality, although I don't have experience with anything else) before improving any other equipment?

 

Music types I listen to (this matters, rite?):

Electronic-ish (I'll be honest, I don't know the actual musical genre of half the crap I listen to, I just listen to it)

Rock/Metal

Orchestral/Symphonic

 

I'm on a high school student's budget, so anything much over $100-150 is probably out unless it's really worth it. Really just recommend whatever you think is good and I can decide if I want to pay that much.


Edited by Hanyuu - 3/8/12 at 8:49pm
post #2 of 14

Well for cheap you can look either at traditional PCI/PCIe soundcards (am assuming your source is a desktop) like Xonar DG or DACs like Fiio E10? Both have headphone amp section

post #3 of 14

I say skip the sound card and get an amp/dac. FiiO e10 (desktop) or e7 (portable). I havent used them but you can find lots of posts about them using the search bar. And imo it just seems like the best way to go. Im looking into getting an e7 

post #4 of 14

Soundcard would offer him more features and more upgrade paths for the future.

post #5 of 14

Hanyuu, your listening habits pass through music alone or do you also game and watch movies? Depending on that, different devices might fit your needs better.

post #6 of 14

If you game: X-Fi Titanium HD

If you dont game: Asus Xonar Essence

post #7 of 14

If you need surround sound (Dolby Virtual headphone) for gaming and movies, get the Asus Xonar DG (PCI) sound card, only $30.

The sound should be better then what the motherboard provides.

The Fiio E10 USB/DAC/Headphone amplifier ($80) is better then the Xonar DG for powering headphones, but does not offer surround sound.

I'm thinking around $80-$100 is as much as you would want to spend for improving the sound of the Sennheiser HD 280 Pros.

Or the less you spend now, the more you will have saved up for the next headphone & amplifier upgrade.

post #8 of 14
Thread Starter 

Not much gaming or movies going on here, this is mostly for music.

 

So what's the primary difference between a decent sound card and amp, and the DAC/amp? Does the DAC work in tandem with a sound card, or does it replace it? The main difference I notice is that the DAC has a USB interface, so I guess I could use it with my laptop as well, if I wanted.

post #9 of 14

Oh, you didn't mention you were using a laptop before. That excludes internal soundcards. Soundcards also contain a DAC but have additional features, be it geared for games, movies or music.

 

If you listen to music for the most part, then going with something like a FiiO E10, which is a USB DAC-Amp combo, can be a sensible suggestion as it will both provide you with a far higher quality output from the DAC and more adequate amping from E10's amp section to your HD280 Pro.

post #10 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hanyuu View Post
Not much gaming or movies going on here, this is mostly for music.

So what's the primary difference between a decent sound card and amp, and the DAC/amp? Does the DAC work in tandem with a sound card, or does it replace it? The main difference I notice is that the DAC has a USB interface, so I guess I could use it with my laptop as well, if I wanted.

Audio today is stored in a digital (zero & ones) format, sound cards process gaming audio in a digital format, amplifiers are analog (wave), we human hear in analog (wave).

So a DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) has to be involved in the process.

All sound cards come with DACs and some come with true headphone amplifiers.

External DACs usually come with an analog line-out, RCA or mini jack output, some DACs come with a true headphone amplifier, mini jack and/or 1/4" output jack.

External DACs take in a digital audio signal, usually a USB or optical or coaxial input.
 

 

 

post #11 of 14
Thread Starter 

Ah, to clarify, I do use a desktop (I listen to most of my music there), but I do also own a laptop.

 

As far as sound card + amp and external DAC + amp, in the end they perform essentially the same function, just in a different place and two devices of "equal" quality would sound just about the same, right? 


Edited by Hanyuu - 3/9/12 at 5:34pm
post #12 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hanyuu View Post

Ah, to clarify, I do use a desktop (I listen to most of my music there), but I do also own a laptop.



If you want to use the DAC with both desktop and laptop alike, you can't get an internal soundcard, which isn't too much to concern over since gaming and movies aren't your priorities.

post #13 of 14
Thread Starter 

So to wrap things up, the internal sound card is a better all-rounder and works with multi channel speakers and such at the cost of not being able to move it from machine to machine, while an external DAC is a bit more portable and better with headphones, but doesn't work all that well for a speaker system.

 

In that case, I'll probably choose the external DAC.

post #14 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hanyuu View Post

So to wrap things up, the internal sound card is a better all-rounder and works with multi channel speakers and such at the cost of not being able to move it from machine to machine, while an external DAC is a bit more portable and better with headphones, but doesn't work all that well for a speaker system.

 

In that case, I'll probably choose the external DAC.

An external DAC should work just as well, if not better, with a speaker system.

Aftermarket add-on external DACs can cost anywhere from $30 to $500 (or more), to they can be better than what comes on a sound card.
 

 

 

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