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DAC+Amp Suggestions for DT 880 Pro

post #1 of 29
Thread Starter 

Hello everybody,

 

I am totally new to mid- to high-end audio and since I don't understand it very well yet, I would really appreciate your help. As an FPS gamer, I have completely neglected audio in favor of video, so much so that my current setup is an ASUS Xonar DG, a 5 year old set of 2.1 speakers and some earphones that came with my old Blackberry.

 

Recently, I've heard a lot about what a huge difference audio can make and decided I wanted to see for myself. I auditioned the Logitech G35s and Sennheiser PC350s for a week each and wasn't as impressed as I'd hoped. Then I discovered HeadFi and the "Holy Grail of Gaming" and "50+ Flagships" threads by Audioholic and DavidMahler. So, based in large part on these great reviews (and many others), I've decided to buy the DT 880 Pro 250 ohms ($230 on Amazon).

 

Originally I planned just to use them with my Xonar DG until I buy a new gaming rig next summer. Then I realized I need an adapter to allow me to plug both my speakers and headphones into the back of the sound card, because apparently my case would not allow the sound card to connect to the headphone jack on the front. Since everyone here seems to suggest an amp for these headphones anyway, I figured maybe I should get an amp instead of just a 3.5mm splitter. So here are my questions:

 

1. How does an amp improve sound quality? By how much? Is it more important than DAC?

 

2. What is the best DAC+amp combo for these headphones under $200 or maybe $250 if the improvement is justifiable? (If, for example, Audioholic's Xonar STX suggestion is the best option, I would be willing to wait until summer to plug that into my new rig. I don't consider an amp immediately and absolutely necessary because I assume the headphones alone should be a pretty big improvement for now.)

 

3. How close to the full potential of these headphones will I get on this budget?

 

Please note that my priorities, in order of importance, are gaming (especially online FPS), then movies, then music. Though great quality across the board would be fantastic, I want great positional audio and a competitive edge most of all.

 

Any help would be appreciated. Thanks in advance.

post #2 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by Valyrian View Post

I am totally new to mid- to high-end audio and since I don't understand it very well yet, I would really appreciate your help. As an FPS gamer, I have completely neglected audio in favor of video, so much so that my current setup is an ASUS Xonar DG, a 5 year old set of 2.1 speakers and some earphones that came with my old Blackberry.

Recently, I've heard a lot about what a huge difference audio can make and decided I wanted to see for myself. I auditioned the Logitech G35s and Sennheiser PC350s for a week each and wasn't as impressed as I'd hoped. Then I discovered HeadFi and the "Holy Grail of Gaming" and "50+ Flagships" threads by Audioholic and DavidMahler. So, based in large part on these great reviews (and many others), I've decided to buy the DT 880 Pro 250 ohms ($230 on Amazon).

Originally I planned just to use them with my Xonar DG until I buy a new gaming rig next summer. Then I realized I need an adapter to allow me to plug both my speakers and headphones into the back of the sound card, because apparently my case would not allow the sound card to connect to the headphone jack on the front. Since everyone here seems to suggest an amp for these headphones anyway, I figured maybe I should get an amp instead of just a 3.5mm splitter. So here are my questions:

1. How does an amp improve sound quality? By how much? Is it more important than DAC?

2. What is the best DAC+amp combo for these headphones under $200 or maybe $250 if the improvement is justifiable? (If, for example, Audioholic's Xonar STX suggestion is the best option, I would be willing to wait until summer to plug that into my new rig. I don't consider an amp immediately and absolutely necessary because I assume the headphones alone should be a pretty big improvement for now.)

3. How close to the full potential of these headphones will I get on this budget?

Please note that my priorities, in order of importance, are gaming (especially online FPS), then movies, then music. Though great quality across the board would be fantastic, I want great positional audio and a competitive edge most of all.

You might improve your FPS gaming by getting a Creative X-fi Titanium (non-HD) PCI-E sound card.

Newegg sells the refurb for $44.99

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16829102043

 

The Fiio E9 desktop headphone amplifier ($75-$95) can easily power the DT880 headphone and the E9 will plug straight into a sound card (like the Titanium or the Xonar DG)

The Fiio E9 is about equal to the headphone amplifier in the Essence STX.

 

So for $120 to $140 you can improve your gaming experience.

post #3 of 29
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by PurpleAngel View Post

You might improve your FPS gaming by getting a Creative X-fi Titanium (non-HD) PCI-E sound card.
Newegg sells the refurb for $44.99
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16829102043

The Fiio E9 desktop headphone amplifier ($75-$95) can easily power the DT880 headphone and the E9 will plug straight into a sound card (like the Titanium or the Xonar DG)
The Fiio E9 is about equal to the headphone amplifier in the Essence STX.

So for $120 to $140 you can improve your gaming experience.

Thank you for this information. I had been looking at the E9 before posting but had not read up on whether it is any good. If I do go ahead and buy it though, would it be redundant then to buy an STX for my next PC as I was planning or would the effects of both amps add on to one another?

Also, I have heard that this headphone scales up quite well as the source quality improves. One of the reasons I decided to buy is because it seemed to leave open the possibility of trying out some truly high end amps and such in the future. Is that accurate and if so how much of an improvement might I see in overall quality if I increased my budget to $300 or $400?
post #4 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by Valyrian View Post


Thank you for this information. I had been looking at the E9 before posting but had not read up on whether it is any good. If I do go ahead and buy it though, would it be redundant then to buy an STX for my next PC as I was planning or would the effects of both amps add on to one another?
Also, I have heard that this headphone scales up quite well as the source quality improves. One of the reasons I decided to buy is because it seemed to leave open the possibility of trying out some truly high end amps and such in the future. Is that accurate and if so how much of an improvement might I see in overall quality if I increased my budget to $300 or $400?

Once you have the Fiio E9, there is very little reason to get the Essence STX.

Amp wise, spending $155 for the O2 headphone amplifier, would be a good investment, it is roughly about the same as the E9 & STX for driving headphones in the 80-Ohm to 600-Ohm range.

But the O2 would be good if you ever bought low Ohm headphones, like the Denon AH-D2000 (used $300+) which is only 25-Ohms, or ATH-A900Xs ($225) which is only 40-ohms

And technically the O2 is a battery powered portable head amp. So you can use it where ever you sit down.

It also works just like a regular AC powered desktop amp.

 

Or there is the Little Dot MKIII tube amplifiers ($250), some people like the harmonics of tubes, the DT880 might respond well to a tube amp.

post #5 of 29
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by PurpleAngel View Post

Once you have the Fiio E9, there is very little reason to get the Essence STX.

Amp wise, spending $155 for the O2 headphone amplifier, would be a good investment, it is roughly about the same as the E9 & STX for driving headphones in the 80-Ohm to 600-Ohm range.

But the O2 would be good if you ever bought low Ohm headphones, like the Denon AH-D2000 (used $300+) which is only 25-Ohms, or ATH-A900Xs ($225) which is only 40-ohms

And technically the O2 is a battery powered portable head amp. So you can use it where ever you sit down.

It also works just like a regular AC powered desktop amp.

 

Or there is the Little Dot MKIII tube amplifiers ($250), some people like the harmonics of tubes, the DT880 might respond well to a tube amp.

 

OK, so I looked into the options you mentioned and narrowed it down to two. The MKIII and O2 are out because the tube amp is too big for my tiny desk and too expensive considering I'll need a sound card too, and the advantage of the O2 is wasted on me because I plan to stick with the DT880s for a few years.

 

So bottom line, which do you think is better? Xonar STX or some sort of X-fi Titanium + E9? Audoholic was really high on the STX in his review even though I think he used a much better amp with his Titanium Fatality Pro. A second opinion certainly wouldn't hurt though.

post #6 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by Valyrian View Post
So bottom line, which do you think is better? Xonar STX or some sort of X-fi Titanium + E9?

 

It really depends on the intended usage. The advantage of the X-Fi Titanium + E9 combination is better gaming support, and that you can use the E9 independently of the sound card to amplify other sources (DAPs, etc.). The Xonar STX technically has a better DAC (and ADC too), but in practice it might not necessarily make the difference many people claim it does. You would also not have an external headphone amplifier on your desk - but the E9 could be convenient for the volume control, and also because connecting your headphones to the rear panel of the Xonar STX would stretch the coiled cord of the DT880 Pro if you are not very close to the PC.

post #7 of 29
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by stv014 View Post

 

It really depends on the intended usage. The advantage of the X-Fi Titanium + E9 combination is better gaming support, and that you can use the E9 independently of the sound card to amplify other sources (DAPs, etc.). The Xonar STX technically has a better DAC (and ADC too), but in practice it might not necessarily make the difference many people claim it does. You would also not have an external headphone amplifier on your desk - but the E9 could be convenient for the volume control, and also because connecting your headphones to the rear panel of the Xonar STX would stretch the coiled cord of the DT880 Pro if you are not very close to the PC.

 

Thanks for the input. I guess that settles it then. If the Xonar STX is slightly better, that's what I'll go with. It's also slightly cheaper in Canada than the X-Fi + amp option, so I can spend the extra $20 for the DT 880 Premium (250 ohms). The only differences between the Premium and Pro versions seem to be less clamp force and a straight cable, both of which I prefer. Also, portability is not an issue for me as this setup meant only for my PC.

 

Thanks again for all your help guys. Maybe some day I'll try out some really expensive amp, to find out if there's a closet audiophile deep down somewhere, but for now I think I'll be very happy with this setup.

post #8 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by Valyrian View Post

 

Thanks for the input. I guess that settles it then. If the Xonar STX is slightly better, that's what I'll go with. It's also slightly cheaper in Canada than the X-Fi + amp option, so I can spend the extra $20 for the DT 880 Premium (250 ohms). The only differences between the Premium and Pro versions seem to be less clamp force and a straight cable, both of which I prefer. Also, portability is not an issue for me as this setup meant only for my PC.

 

Thanks again for all your help guys. Maybe some day I'll try out some really expensive amp, to find out if there's a closet audiophile deep down somewhere, but for now I think I'll be very happy with this setup.

With the Essence STX, you can connect your headphones to the computer case's front panel headphone jack and still get all the Dolby Headphone surround sound features.

Or just get a "premium" extention cable to leave connected to the STX's back panel headphone jack.

post #9 of 29
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by PurpleAngel View Post

With the Essence STX, you can connect your headphones to the computer case's front panel headphone jack and still get all the Dolby Headphone surround sound features.

Or just get a "premium" extention cable to leave connected to the STX's back panel headphone jack.

 

Don't extension cables and front panel jacks produce lower quality sound than plugging the headphones directly into the back panel? Either way, I think I'll go with Premium 250 ohm version because I forgot about clamp force and I have a pretty big head, so less is most likely better.

 

Also, I browsed the forums a little more and stumbled across quite a few recommendations for Auzentech and HT Omega cards, which I had never even heard of before. stv said the STX is better than the Titanium, but is it really the best in the under $250 category? If so I'm willing to wait and get that, but I would like to confirm first that my Xonar DG can at least make the DT 880s sound pretty good, if not great.

post #10 of 29
Quote:

Don't extension cables and front panel jacks produce lower quality sound than plugging the headphones directly into the back panel? Either way, I think I'll go with Premium 250 ohm version because I forgot about clamp force and I have a pretty big head, so less is most likely better.

 

I use a 16 foot Grado extension cable off the computer sometimes (this allows me to walk into another room or even go to the patio for a smoke) and the loss in sound quality is very very slight. It’s so slight, I wouldn't bet anyone more than $10 that the difference I’m hearing isn’t actually a placebo. What I think I hear is a slight loss in impact and dynamic, but it's so slight, like I said, could easily be placebo. 

 

Edit: Forgot to mention, that's with Grado SR-80s and DT880/600ohm. And yes, the STX can drive 600 ohm perfectly well. Compared to an OTL Little Dot MKIV I get stronger and tighter bass on the STX.


Edited by Strangelove424 - 11/26/12 at 10:08pm
post #11 of 29
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Strangelove424 View Post

I use a 16 foot Grado extension cable off the computer sometimes (this allows me to walk into another room or even go to the patio for a smoke) and the loss in sound quality is very very slight. It’s so slight, I wouldn't bet anyone more than $10 that the difference I’m hearing isn’t actually a placebo. What I think I hear is a slight loss in impact and dynamic, but it's so slight, like I said, could easily be placebo. 

Edit: Forgot to mention, that's with Grado SR-80s and DT880/600ohm. And yes, the STX can drive 600 ohm perfectly well. Compared to an OTL Little Dot MKIV I get stronger and tighter bass on the STX.

How about the front panel jack? Is it true sound quality is noticeably reduced as the cable goes through the case? Or is there just a very slight difference that only a true audiophile or a really high end headphone might pick up on?
post #12 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by Valyrian View Post

How about the front panel jack? Is it true sound quality is noticeably reduced as the cable goes through the case? Or is there just a very slight difference that only a true audiophile or a really high end headphone might pick up on?

 

Front panel jacks in some (many ?) computers tend to pick up interference because of badly designed grounding. That was the case in my PC, too, until I modified the front panel to fix the problem. But if you get a "premium" DT880, then you will have a 10 ft long straight cable anyway, so using the 1/4" rear jack would not be as much of an issue as with the short coiled cord of the "pro" version (I use a ~2 ft long external extension cable with that).


Edited by stv014 - 11/27/12 at 12:35am
post #13 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by Valyrian View Post


How about the front panel jack? Is it true sound quality is noticeably reduced as the cable goes through the case? Or is there just a very slight difference that only a true audiophile or a really high end headphone might pick up on?

 

The STX and most other "audiophile" cards have protective shielding for interference, and I've never heard any static, wining, or buzzing from mine so I trust that it works. The front panel audio wiring is intermixed with front power/reset, leds, and USB cables, (and whatever else your case might offer) which theoretically could add interference and pick up more as it makes its way through the case. The front panel is also usually a smaller 1/8" socket as well. That means fancy-shmancy 1/4" headphone jacks (like yours will have) and extension cables won't fit directly, and you won't have the gold-to-gold connection you get from the sound card. On a purely aesthetic note, the front panel needs to be plugged into the side of the sound card and if you have a window (and in my case an ugly yellow front panel connector) you won't be getting any props for a clean build and nice wiring, but that's purely aesthetic and relatively silly. Either way, I never messed with the front panel because I didn't want to defeat the STX's shielding features and the gold plated 1/4" jacks.      

post #14 of 29
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Strangelove424 View Post

The STX and most other "audiophile" cards have protective shielding for interference, and I've never heard any static, wining, or buzzing from mine so I trust that it works. The front panel audio wiring is intermixed with front power/reset, leds, and USB cables, (and whatever else your case might offer) which theoretically could add interference and pick up more as it makes its way through the case. The front panel is also usually a smaller 1/8" socket as well. That means fancy-shmancy 1/4" headphone jacks (like yours will have) and extension cables won't fit directly, and you won't have the gold-to-gold connection you get from the sound card. On a purely aesthetic note, the front panel needs to be plugged into the side of the sound card and if you have a window (and in my case an ugly yellow front panel connector) you won't be getting any props for a clean build and nice wiring, but that's purely aesthetic and relatively silly. Either way, I never messed with the front panel because I didn't want to defeat the STX's shielding features and the gold plated 1/4" jacks.      

Well then I guess I'll just plug the DT 880 premium into the back of the STX. If need be, I suppose I can plug my crappy old speakers into the front panel since looks don't really matter to me and I'll hardly ever use speakers any more anyway.

Can someone suggest a decent extension cord please? My front panel don't work on my current PC so I need a way to alternate between headphones and speakers without sacrificing what mediocre sound my DG will provide for the next little while.
post #15 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by Valyrian View Post

 

Don't extension cables and front panel jacks produce lower quality sound than plugging the headphones directly into the back panel? Either way, I think I'll go with Premium 250 ohm version because I forgot about clamp force and I have a pretty big head, so less is most likely better.

 

Also, I browsed the forums a little more and stumbled across quite a few recommendations for Auzentech and HT Omega cards, which I had never even heard of before. stv said the STX is better than the Titanium, but is it really the best in the under $250 category? If so I'm willing to wait and get that, but I would like to confirm first that my Xonar DG can at least make the DT 880s sound pretty good, if not great.

With the Xonar DG (& DGX), you would be almost at max volume when driving the DT880. So you may not be hearing the DT880 at their best.

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