I have a Total Bithead USB DAC/AMP that I've owned and used with my Senn HD650s for years. I've been satisfied with the sound (I'm not at all a hardcore audiophile, obviously).
Recently I completed my first computer build, an mATX hackintosh running off of the ASUS Maximus V Gene motherboard. On a whim, I decided to plug the headphones into the headphone jack on the front panel, since the MVG board is advertised as having premium audio components / shielding / separation relative to typical onboard solutions.
I was rather shocked to hear sound that not only seemed comparable to, but perhaps even surpassed the quality from the Total Bithead. It seemed like there was more detail, separation (this is double-checking against the TBH with crossfeed both off and on) a nicer (better-balanced) frequency response and perhaps better-defined bass as well. I emphasize "seemed" because I am in the objectivist camp that believes subjective A/B comparisons of sound, when the results are already close, are completely unreliable — I've seen how extraordinarily malleable and flawed human perception is too many times. However, in the very least, it seemed as if the sound was more than comparable.
So my question is, does this result make sense? I know the prevailing wisdom is that onboard sound is going to be worse than an external dedicated solution, but I am asking more about the specific comparison between this motherboard's audio and a Total Bithead. Anyone with insight, opinions, or theories, please sound off... right now I am inclined to just keep using the headphone out jack, since it makes switching to my speakers a little less annoying and frees up a USB 2 port / desk space.
PS—For those interested, the build is here. I focused on Hackintosh compatibility, small footprint, and aggressive noise management.
Edited by gabedamien - 10/24/12 at 8:32am