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OK, this site has convinced me to use my PC as my headphone listening source, but where do I...

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 

Hello everyone,

 

I never thought I would be saying (or wanting) to do this, but this web site has opened my eyes to the idea of building my own "Head-Fi listening station" using my laptop as the source.

 

I have an Asus model X54C that I recently purchased. It is running Windows 7 for the operating system. 

 

Right now it is completely stock, and has a Realtek High Definition audio card built in.

 

For connectivity, it has one USB 2.0, and one USB 3.0 slot. It also has an HDMI output, and of course the analog input and output of the Realtek audio card.

 

I use Media Monkey and itunes software for playback, but I only use itunes to sync my ipods, so I actually don't really use it to listen, if that makes sense. Media Monkey is my main listening software.

 

Almost all of my music has been ripped to my drive using Windows Media Player as WMA lossless files. Some are MP3s though, or even lossy WMA files, that I was too lazy to re-rip to my drive after I decided to go lossless (I used to not know there was such a big difference in the sound quality).

 

What I would like to do with this is send a bit for bit digital signal to an external DAC, and from there to a headphone amplifier. Alternately, I would also not be opposed to sending a bit for bit digital signal to a DAC/headphone amp combo.

 

I figure doing this would give me the most flexibility in the long run, in case I want to try different amps or DACs in the future.

 

Portability is not a concern for me at all. For that, I will just use my ipod and portable headphones.

 

Right now I have Skullcandy Supreme Sound Aviator, and Grado SR80i headphones and I am currently saving for Sennheiser HD650 headphones.

 

My number one goal is sound quality.

 

I do not have a large amount of funds to work with, but I am willing to save up (within reason) and buy a great product, rather than buy the lowest cost option on the market and suffer from quality issues. 

 

I assume that if you can send a true bit for bit digital signal out of the computer of some way, then cost doesn't have such a large impact (if any) on the sound quality. If my line of thinking is correct, I would think the DAC and amplifier I choose to connect to (whatever it is I need) will ultimately determine the sound quality of the setup. Please educate me if I am mistaken.

 

Any and all input will be greatly appreciated.

 

Thanks. smily_headphones1.gif

 

EDIT: I am thinking that optical (toslink) or digital coax out would be my preferred choices, with digital coax being my number one preference, to help reduce jitter, if that's even applicable in this situation.


Edited by painted klown - 5/27/12 at 9:36am
post #2 of 16
Quote:
I assume that if you can send a true bit for bit digital signal out of the computer of some way, then cost doesn't have such a large impact (if any) on the sound quality. If my line of thinking is correct, I would think the DAC and amplifier I choose to connect to (whatever it is I need) will ultimately determine the sound quality of the setup.

You're correct. Your computer is fine; spend your funds on the DAC and amp.
post #3 of 16

A DAC will bypass your PC's stock sound card anyway. And I use my PC to burn a lot of lossless CD's to experiment with on different sources. One bit of advice I can give you is not to drive yourself crazy with your music libraries. I went to Foobar, wasted way too much time configuring, and now just went back to iTunes with all of its flaws, just because its so easy to play music. If I truly want a hi-fi experience, I will use external equipment. Thats one thing nice about CD's

 

I use a Total Bithead, and that works fine for what I do with it.

 

Also, you should look into getting software or plugins for your media players which enhance the sound quality, or allow it to pass modified to the DAC/headphones. An example of this would be WASAPI for Foobar. I don't know the exact explanation, but more experienced headfiers or a quick search will help you out.

post #4 of 16
Based on what you have and what you want to do, I'd look at an amplifier of some sort (to handle the HD 650), and potentially a better source device to drive said amplifier (if you get no hum/buzz from the analog outputs, then your computer is probably okay as it is, but it's always up to you if you want more). You can get combo devices as well. This doesn't have to cost a fortune - $200-ish should get you going (and there are plenty of options for devices - USB, S/PDIF (although it doesn't sound like you have this available) or HDMI (with full size components).

I wouldn't drive yourself crazy worrying about jitter and bit-perfect streaming - it's not impossible to accomplish, but after a point I really feel like it can be taken too far (basically: don't spend more money on the D-to-D or D-to-A section than you'd spend on a car or house). You can get equivalent or nearly equivalent performance to a good CDP (or whatever else - and I mean good as in reasonable, not P-01VU/D-01VU/G-0rb stack good) for relatively few bucks.
Edited by obobskivich - 5/27/12 at 10:29pm
post #5 of 16
Thread Starter 

Thanks for your input guys.

 

Perhaps my question wasn't worded properly as I seem to not be getting many responses, or I am getting DACs or DAC/amp combos as recommendations. I posed this question on an audio forum, and am getting the same type of responses.

All I am really looking for is a way to extract the digital audio from my computer without any scaling, re-sampling, or digital conversions/manipulations of any kind.

I want a device that I can run into a DAC of my choice. That way I have more flexibility in the long run.

Perhaps such a device doesn't exist. ???

 

post #6 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by painted klown View Post

Thanks for your input guys.

Perhaps my question wasn't worded properly as I seem to not be getting many responses, or I am getting DACs or DAC/amp combos as recommendations. I posed this question on an audio forum, and am getting the same type of responses.


All I am really looking for is a way to extract the digital audio from my computer without any scaling, re-sampling, or digital conversions/manipulations of any kind.


I want a device that I can run into a DAC of my choice. That way I have more flexibility in the long run.


Perhaps such a device doesn't exist. ???


 

You do not need some sort of sanctified D-to-D converter; there is no magical rock for this one. If your computer lacks digital audio out, get an interface that adds such a feature (if you want it), but it's just as easy to get such an interface that has analog outputs and a headphone amp as well.
post #7 of 16
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by obobskivich View Post


You do not need some sort of sanctified D-to-D converter; there is no magical rock for this one. If your computer lacks digital audio out, get an interface that adds such a feature (if you want it), but it's just as easy to get such an interface that has analog outputs and a headphone amp as well.


Hmmm...the reason I wanted something as a digital to digital converter is so that I would not have to buy a new DAC or new amp every time I wanted to try different combos.

 

For example, if I can get a digital coax signal from my comp, I could run it to the DAC of my choice, but have a couple different amps to swap out, to mate up with whatever 'phones I am using at he time.

 

Conversely, If I found a killer amp, that I just loved with every set of 'phones I own, I could then swap DACs to find the one that best suits my needs vs. having to buy a new dac/amp combo every time I wanted to try something new.

 

Maybe a sound card is what I should have asked about. ???
 

I tried doing some searches for USB sound cards, and I am finding some stuff, but it seems to be geared more for playing DVDs on your PC and sending the audio (via toslink) to a receiver. That is kind of what I am looking for, but not exactly. I would rather have a device that is geared specifically to high end (or really good mid-fi) music listening. Also, none of the devices I came across had digital coax outputs, toslink only...

 

I hope that makes sense...and thanks again for your input.  :o)


Edited by painted klown - 5/28/12 at 1:14am
post #8 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by painted klown View Post


Hmmm...the reason I wanted something as a digital to digital converter is so that I would not have to buy a new DAC or new amp every time I wanted to try different combos.

For example, if I can get a digital coax signal from my comp, I could run it to the DAC of my choice, but have a couple different amps to swap out, to mate up with whatever 'phones I am using at he time.

Conversely, If I found a killer amp, that I just loved with every set of 'phones I own, I could then swap DACs to find the one that best suits my needs vs. having to buy a new dac/amp combo every time I wanted to try something new.

Maybe a sound card is what I should have asked about. ???


 
I tried doing some searches for USB sound cards, and I am finding some stuff, but it seems to be geared more for playing DVDs on your PC and sending the audio (via toslink) to a receiver. That is kind of what I am looking for, but not exactly. I would rather have a device that is geared specifically to high end (or really good mid-fi) music listening. Also, none of the devices I came across had digital coax outputs, toslink only...

I hope that makes sense...and thanks again for your input.  redface.gif)

1. Do not get wrapped up in marketing "geared for hi-end."

2. TOSlink is perfectly fine, and in some ways better.

3. I highly doubt you want to "swap out" DACs and amps in normal usage; it's kind of a pain. Worry about headphones first.

Sounds like the X-Fi HD USB is probably the device for you, or something similar. It'll do everything you want, and can be used as a source for other devices.
post #9 of 16

A half decent DAC combined with a good amp and headphone is much better than a good DAC combined with a bad amp/headphone.

post #10 of 16
Thread Starter 

Thanks for your input everyone.

 

I finally found the device I was looking for.

 

It is a Musical Fidelity V-Link. Here is a link to what I am talking about. http://www.musicalfidelity.com/products/vSeries/v-linkii/

 

I do see that it is on the second (MKII) version now, but Stereophile reviewed the original version and found that it performs admirably. Perhaps that means I can find a used original version for a good deal.

 

Thanks again for all of your input everyone, I appreciate your efforts.


Edited by painted klown - 5/28/12 at 3:51am
post #11 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by painted klown View Post

I want a device that I can run into a DAC of my choice. That way I have more flexibility in the long run.

Perhaps such a device doesn't exist. ???

 

 

Get a highface2

http://www.m2tech.biz/hiface2.html

and roll a few DACs until u find your favourite.

If you need more flexibility of outputs (xlr), the v-link 192 has.

http://www.musicalfidelity.com/products/vSeries/v-link192/

 

Dont get an old DDC nor an overexpensive one (>500$).

Also dont use the spdif output of your notebook (or any onboard one) which is rather noisy.


Edited by Telstar - 5/28/12 at 4:09am
post #12 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by painted klown View Post

Thanks for your input everyone.

 

I finally found the device I was looking for.

 

It is a Musical Fidelity V-Link. Here is a link to what I am talking about. http://www.musicalfidelity.com/products/vSeries/v-linkii/

 

I do see that it is on the second (MKII) version now, but Stereophile reviewed the original version and found that it performs admirably. Perhaps that means I can find a used original version for a good deal.

 

Thanks again for all of your input everyone, I appreciate your efforts.

See my post. The newer v-link 192 is much better.

post #13 of 16
post #14 of 16
Thread Starter 

@Telstar: The M2Tech HiFace2 does look good as well, and is similarly priced. I will have to do some more research on the two and decide what one to ultimately go with.

 

The V-Link 192 indeed does look like the best option, but it is more than double the price of the V-Link II or the HiFace2. It is really too far out of my price range to be honest.

 

@estreeter: The audiophilleo units are also quite expensive (although full featured), thus putting them out of my price range at the moment as well.

 

I think either the V-Link II, or the HIFace2 will work for what I need, I just need to decide what one would be the best option.

 

Thanks again everyone for your input. It is greatly appreciated. smily_headphones1.gif
 


Edited by painted klown - 5/28/12 at 6:59am
post #15 of 16
Just to throw it out there:

There's the Firestone Bravo and ILTW; one is a full-fledged DtoA (and probably better than many standalone DtoAs at that), the other is a "Digital Processor" that can either act as a digital transport for your PC (what you're looking for is usually called a "USB to S/PDIF" or "Digital Transport") or S/PDIF reclocker/converter.

IMO anything over about $100 is too much for what you're after, it's just a bad place to put your money based on the state of your current equipment (you should concentrate on headphones and amplification first, not esoteric upstream components (http://en.goldenears.net/index.php?mid=KB_Columns&document_srl=1921)); something like this would be entirely suitable:
http://www.amazon.com/Creative-Soundblaster-Surround-System-SB1095/dp/tech-data/B0044DEDCA/ref=de_a_smtd

And there is no reason to avoid TOSlink - again, especially at this level (and I really hate to say it that way, but honestly it's just not very rational ime to dump a lot of money into a source without stepping into top-end transducers as well). Realistically you could go with something like the SoundBlaster or some other ~$100-$150 device, drop an amplifier in, and be finished with it. There is absolutely no need to "swap out amps" or "swap out DACs" for listening - find one that mates nicely with your cans and be done.
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