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suggestions for improving computer audio.

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 

I've honestly never thought about my computer audio setup before,  But after I got some nice speakers for my home theater, I think it's time to conduct some upgrades.

 

Right now, this is what I have:

 

Speakers: Logitech x-230 (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0002SQ0A4/ref=oh_details_o04_s00_i00)
Headphones: ATH-A900's

Sound: Realtek ALC888 (http://www.realtek.com.tw/products/productsView.aspx?Langid=1&PFid=28&Level=5&Conn=4&ProdID=135) - onboard audio from my Gigabyte motherboard

 

My usage is 100% music - no movies or games (I've got my HTPC/Xbox for that...).  I'm starting to re-rip my music to FLAC, but most of my music is higher quality MP3 at the moment.  I listen to everything, but mostly Alternative, Rap, Jazz and Electronic,  This is kind of my audio chain:

 

foobar2000 > Wasapi > headphones (sorry, I have never done this before).

 

Right now, I'm running both my speakers and my headphones through on-board audio.

 

For upgrades, I'm thinking the absolute extreme max I would want to go is $400.  But would rather go for the best value at this time and spend less.

 

1) For my cans, should I be looking at a better sound card (Asus XONAR DG/Sound Blaster Audigy SE), or a USB DAC/AMP?  To be perfectly honest, I knew nothing of DAC/AMP's three weeks prior, so are there any leading ones out there that wouldn't break the bank (if this were the option)?

 

2) My speakers cost $30 around 8 years ago, so they're due for an upgrade.  If I went the way of upgrading my speakers, would you suggest passive or active?  I asked this previously, and was suggested the AirMotiv5's along with the AKtimate Micro's I'm presently considering.  But that is going to run just at my budget. 

 

3) Would you suggest upgrading both my speakers/headphone setup and splitting between the two, or going one at a time?  I'm thinking the DAC/AMP combo could represent the best value, as it could be used for my headphones and for a future set of better speakers.

 

All opinions would be much appreciated.  Thanks.

post #2 of 7

You have a healthy amount of options. The question to ask here is if space is of a concern? If so, check out Audioengine's A2 desktop speaker set along with their D2 digital-to-analogue converter that features both an optical and USB input.

 

Destroysall

post #3 of 7
Quote:
Originally Posted by nl2134 View Post

I've honestly never thought about my computer audio setup before,  But after I got some nice speakers for my home theater, I think it's time to conduct some upgrades.

 

Right now, this is what I have:

 

Speakers: Logitech x-230 (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0002SQ0A4/ref=oh_details_o04_s00_i00)
Headphones: ATH-A900's

Sound: Realtek ALC888 (http://www.realtek.com.tw/products/productsView.aspx?Langid=1&PFid=28&Level=5&Conn=4&ProdID=135) - onboard audio from my Gigabyte motherboard

 

My usage is 100% music - no movies or games (I've got my HTPC/Xbox for that...).  I'm starting to re-rip my music to FLAC, but most of my music is higher quality MP3 at the moment.  I listen to everything, but mostly Alternative, Rap, Jazz and Electronic,  This is kind of my audio chain:

 

foobar2000 > Wasapi > headphones (sorry, I have never done this before).

 

Right now, I'm running both my speakers and my headphones through on-board audio.

 

For upgrades, I'm thinking the absolute extreme max I would want to go is $400.  But would rather go for the best value at this time and spend less.

 

1) For my cans, should I be looking at a better sound card (Asus XONAR DG/Sound Blaster Audigy SE), or a USB DAC/AMP?  To be perfectly honest, I knew nothing of DAC/AMP's three weeks prior, so are there any leading ones out there that wouldn't break the bank (if this were the option)?

 

2) My speakers cost $30 around 8 years ago, so they're due for an upgrade.  If I went the way of upgrading my speakers, would you suggest passive or active?  I asked this previously, and was suggested the AirMotiv5's along with the AKtimate Micro's I'm presently considering.  But that is going to run just at my budget. 

 

3) Would you suggest upgrading both my speakers/headphone setup and splitting between the two, or going one at a time?  I'm thinking the DAC/AMP combo could represent the best value, as it could be used for my headphones and for a future set of better speakers.

 

All opinions would be much appreciated.  Thanks.


You can do it in different ways:  

(a) Get a DAC and amp separately. The DAC provides the line out that can be used for either speakers or amp. 

(b) Get a DAC+ AMP that has line out and headphone out.

(c) Soundcard with headphone amp.

 

Option A gives you more choice, you can experiment with amps if you want to, and get amps with better specs than those in the second option.

Option C is the best value for money, and that leaves money for better headphones/speakers.

 

Usually, upgrading the hardware matters little if your speakers/headphones aren't good enough to highlight that difference. 

 

So, depends on your priority. If you want to get better speakers, then get a soundcard (Xonar DG), its cheap enough, the performance is alright, and you can always get a better combo later.

post #4 of 7
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by proton007 View Post


You can do it in different ways:  

(a) Get a DAC and amp separately. The DAC provides the line out that can be used for either speakers or amp. 

(b) Get a DAC+ AMP that has line out and headphone out.

(c) Soundcard with headphone amp.

 

Option A gives you more choice, you can experiment with amps if you want to, and get amps with better specs than those in the second option.

Option C is the best value for money, and that leaves money for better headphones/speakers.

 

Usually, upgrading the hardware matters little if your speakers/headphones aren't good enough to highlight that difference. 

 

So, depends on your priority. If you want to get better speakers, then get a soundcard (Xonar DG), its cheap enough, the performance is alright, and you can always get a better combo later.

 

Presumably option a would be the most expensive.  Could you give me some  good combos to get started with?

 

Noted regarding the hardware.  I'm guessing if I had to prioritize at this time, I'd go for headphones, since the A900's blow out my cheap Logitech speakers. When you mention better combo later, are we talking about the Xonar DS, or even more of a set up?

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Destroysall View Post

You have a healthy amount of options. The question to ask here is if space is of a concern? If so, check out Audioengine's A2 desktop speaker set along with their D2 digital-to-analogue converter that features both an optical and USB input.

 

Destroysall

 

Space is of no concern.  Would the A2's suffice over the A5's?  Would this be better than upgrading around the sound card?

post #5 of 7
Quote:
Originally Posted by nl2134 View Post

 

Presumably option a would be the most expensive.  Could you give me some  good combos to get started with?

 

Noted regarding the hardware.  I'm guessing if I had to prioritize at this time, I'd go for headphones, since the A900's blow out my cheap Logitech speakers. When you mention better combo later, are we talking about the Xonar DS, or even more of a set up?

 

I stated the Xonar DG because it has a headphone amp, the DS doesn't. A step up from the DG would be the STX, but for that kind of money, you can get good amp. (Just use the DG as a DAC, and use the line out / RCA into the headphone amp, but thats for later).

 

Your headphones are alright IMO, maybe you should upgrade your speakers. Since you have a budget of $400, the sound card is < 50, and you can get some pretty decent monitors for $350.

 

Remember, Headphone/Speakers > Amp > DAC.


Edited by proton007 - 1/17/13 at 6:21am
post #6 of 7
Quote:
Originally Posted by nl2134 View Post

 

Space is of no concern.  Would the A2's suffice over the A5's?  Would this be better than upgrading around the sound card?

The A5+ from Audioengine is a great speaker, but the A2 would fit your budget more and allow you to purchase an external digital-to-analogue converter/headphone amplifier combo (i.e. the Audioengine D1). In addition it is a powered active speaker, meaning it has a built-in amplifier that was made for the speaker itself. What is also notable about this speaker is how much bass this speaker can produce without the need of a sub woofer. If you feel the A5+ is the better speaker, go for it. If you plan on playing at loud volumes (which I don't recommend), then obviously the A5+ is the better option.

 

Another good option is to go with a passive loudspeaker. You will need a separate amplifier for the speakers (i.e. a stereo receiver), but its end results have proven worth it. Craigslist is a great place for deals on loudspeakers and receivers (especially vintage models). Also, cnet's Steve Guttenberg (a well known lad in the audiophile community) had constructed a nice loudspeaker and amplifier recommendation article(s) on cnet: http://news.cnet.com/8301-13645_3-20099395-47/the-audiophiliacs-top-10-speakers-from-$40-to-$400/

 

If you feel you can live without a heavy low-end (a sub woofer), the NHT SuperZero 2.0 speaker along with the Sherwood RX-4503 stereo receiver is a great combo. If you add in either the Audioengine D1 or even the FiiO E10, it would be a really nice setup within your budget. You can always add a sub woofer later for achieving those low-ends.

 

Another passive option is from Dayton Audio via Parts-Express. You can pair the Dayton Audio B652 with the SUB1000/1200 Dayton Audio sub woofer for a nice budget 2.1 stereo setup. Pair it with the Dayton Audio DTA-1 T-Amplifier along with either the Audioengine D1 or FiiO E10 and all your audio needs will be met. Both the D1 and the E10 feature a built-in headphone amplifier while still capable of acting as a digital-to-analogue converter to an external amplifier.

 

Like I said before, you have a healthy amount of options.

 

Destroysall


Edited by Destroysall - 1/17/13 at 11:46am
post #7 of 7

I would say to get the Creative Labs Sound Blaster Z sound card, has a built in headphone amplifier, separate headphone and front speaker output, and comes with the same DAC (CS4398) chip as the Xonar DX.

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