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Best cheap sound card with headphone amp?

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 

I am looking for an inexpensive sound card to amp headphones around 80 ohms.  Dolby Headphone would be a plus (for headphone surround), but I don't necessarily need Dolby Live functionality as I am not planning to hook up to surround receiver to need encoding for optical out.  Just looking to get better sound than standard on-board from Dell and also to power Beyerdynamic headphones.  I would really like the headphone amp feature to work in conjunction with the front audio connector on my tower if possible.

 

Also I cannot use the Xonar DG as my computer doesn't support legacy PCI slots, only PCI-e.

 

Any recommendations?

post #2 of 15
Quote:

Originally Posted by livngston View Post

 

Also I cannot use the Xonar DG as my computer doesn't support legacy PCI slots, only PCI-e.

 

It has a new PCIe version, the Xonar DGX.

post #3 of 15
Thread Starter 

Has anyone found the Xonar DGX or any other dedicated sound card really make an appreciable difference in audio quality (for stereo only - not so much for virtualization or surround sound) over the integrated audio?  From the latest reviews I read in the last couple of years, it looked like the RealTek chipsets had finally caught up to the dedicated sound cards.  While there were some objective differences in signal to noise ratios (that might be more a factor of the recording ability and not the output), at least in blind listening tests most listeners (from the Apple fanboy hacks to the Head-Fier audiophiles) did not discern an appreciable difference (it seemed like a number of the subjective tests went 50/50 between dedicated or integrated audio chipsets being better).

post #4 of 15

In my experience, an external DAC was instantly discernible.

Good soundcards have similar specs, so I feel it should be pretty easy to distinguish.

 

However,

-- Your audio equipment (headphones/speakers) makes a difference. If they're not sensitive enough, they won't present the differences as clearly.

 

-- What you're comparing against. Integrated sound also has varying levels of quality. If you buy your own motherboard for example, some high end ones come with better codecs. OEMs are usually run-of-the-mill stuff.

post #5 of 15

There are some quite decent onboard codec chips like the ALC898 that can even outperform some low cost sound cards and DACs. However, the actual implementation on the motherboards is of highly variable (and not uncommonly rather poor) quality, and even the front panel headphone jack on the PC chassis is often badly implemented (ground loops). Therefore, it is anyone's guess whether the onboard audio in your particular machine is worth using.

post #6 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by livngston View Post

I am looking for an inexpensive sound card to amp headphones around 80 ohms.  Dolby Headphone would be a plus (for headphone surround), but I don't necessarily need Dolby Live functionality as I am not planning to hook up to surround receiver to need encoding for optical out.  Just looking to get better sound than standard on-board from Dell and also to power Beyerdynamic headphones.  I would really like the headphone amp feature to work in conjunction with the front audio connector on my tower if possible.

Also I cannot use the Xonar DG as my computer doesn't support legacy PCI slots, only PCI-e.

Any recommendations?

If you don't mind going with a DAC, the Behringer UCA202 got a rave review from NWAVGuy, especially with headphones with high impedance (like your 80-ohmers).
post #7 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by livngston View Post

I am looking for an inexpensive sound card to amp headphones around 80 ohms.  Dolby Headphone would be a plus (for headphone surround), but I don't necessarily need Dolby Live functionality as I am not planning to hook up to surround receiver to need encoding for optical out.  Just looking to get better sound than standard on-board from Dell and also to power Beyerdynamic headphones.  I would really like the headphone amp feature to work in conjunction with the front audio connector on my tower if possible.

 

Also I cannot use the Xonar DG as my computer doesn't support legacy PCI slots, only PCI-e.

 

Any recommendations?

Do you have a budget?

 

Asus Xonar DX sound card (used $50) comes with Dolby Headphone surround sound, half-way decent at driving 80-Ohm headphones.

The Xonar DX's DAC (CS4398) should be far better then whatever DAC is built into your motherboard.

Muse single tube headphone amplifier, lots of voltage for driving 80-Ohm headphones, $50 at Amazon.

So, for around $100 your 80-Ohm headphones (Dt770 Pro 80-Ohm?) will sound nice.

 

Or just get the Asus Xoner DGX, still better then whatever is built into your motherboard and can easily drive 80-Ohm headphones.

post #8 of 15
Thread Starter 

Does the DX even have a headphone amp?  It looks like the DGX does (up to 135 ohms).  But the DX does not list a headphone AMP (which I would assume would be the standard 32 ohms). 

post #9 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by livngston View Post

Does the DX even have a headphone amp?  It looks like the DGX does (up to 135 ohms).  But the DX does not list a headphone AMP (which I would assume would be the standard 32 ohms). 

 

The Xonar DX does not have a real headphone amplifier, it is a standard ~2 Vrms line output (driven by an NJM5532) with 100 Ω impedance and is capacitor (220 uF) coupled. Because of the high output impedance, you do not really benefit from driving low impedance headphones, and the damping factor will be poor. Here is a list of approximate maximum power outputs into various loads:

16 Ω: 4.5 mW

32 Ω: 7 mW

80 Ω: 9.4 mW

250 Ω: 7.8 mW

600 Ω: 4.7 mW

I do not have the Xonar DG/DGX, and detailed specs are not available either, so I do not know exactly how it performs compared to the DX and STX.

post #10 of 15

Xonar DG / DGX use a TI DRV601 for the headphone output.  It's a so-called DirectPath part, so the output need not be capacitor coupled, at least.  All the datasheet shows is performance into 10 kohms and 600 ohms.  I don't know more than that.

post #11 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by livngston View Post

Does the DX even have a headphone amp?  It looks like the DGX does (up to 135 ohms).  But the DX does not list a headphone AMP (which I would assume would be the standard 32 ohms). 

The DX does not come with a headphone amplifier, I use to use an Xonar DX with the Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro 80-Ohm and the combo worked decently (limited voltage), but not great.

So you can get the Muse tube headphone amplifier and plug it into the Xonar DX, the Muse tube amplifier provides way more voltage for 80-Ohm headphones then the Xonar DX.

 

"standard 32-Ohm"?

post #12 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by mikeaj View Post

Xonar DG / DGX use a TI DRV601 for the headphone output.

 

That could be the case, although from the datasheet it does not look like this chip is great at driving low impedance loads, it even has an "absolute minimum rating" of 100 Ω. There seem to be resistors marked with 01X (10 Ω) on the outputs of both DRV601's, so that might be the output impedance (see pictures: 1, 2, 3, 4). These audio ICs are on the PCB:

- 1xCS4361 (6-channel DAC)

- 1xCS4245 (2-channel DAC and ADC, multiple selectable inputs)

- 1xRC4580 (dual op amp)

- 1xNJM5532 (dual op amp)

- 2xDRV601

It looks like, but I am not sure, that they are used the following way:

- the 4 surround output channels come directly from the CS4361

- the line input goes to one input of the CS4245

- the microphone input (front panel) goes to another input of the CS4245, through the RC4580 (not sure exactly why)

- the front panel headphone jack is driven by one of the DRV601's (using the CS4245 DAC)

- the rear panel front channel jack is driven by the other DRV601 in headphone mode, also using the CS4245 DAC

- in line output mode, it is driven by the NJM5532 (47 uF output capacitors), using the CS4361 DAC

These assumptions may not be correct, for example the NJM5532 or RC4580 could be better headphone drivers, but they obviously need sufficiently high and preferably bipolar supply voltage.

post #13 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by CashNotCredit View Post


If you don't mind going with a DAC, the Behringer UCA202 got a rave review from NWAVGuy, especially with headphones with high impedance (like your 80-ohmers).

I own a little low-end Behringer Xenyx 802 audio mixer that I run from my Cakewalk UA-1G. The UA-1G can power my DT770 pro's just fine by it self but I like the warmth of my Behringer sound to.

post #14 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by kid vic View Post

I own a little low-end Behringer Xenyx 802 audio mixer that I run from my Cakewalk UA-1G. The UA-1G can power my DT770 pro's just fine by it self but I like the warmth of my Behringer sound to.


I'm powering a 600Ohm set of AKG K240Ms from my Presonus Audiobox USB, and it's working very well, with plenty of gain to spare. You can get them used from Guitar Center's website for about $60, tops.

post #15 of 15

We don't have Guitar Center in Canada our equivalent is long & mcquade where the usually only sell new stuff. But they don't sell used stuff usually.

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