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Looking for a DAC/amp to drive HD650/HE-400 for the HTPC...

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 
I'm upgrading my mini-ITX HTPC build with better audio and a video card for some gaming. Since I won't have any PCI slots available, I will need a DAC/AMP to drive my headphones (Sennheiser HD650/Hifiman HE-400/other, have decided yet). My budget is anything under $500, but, I don't have to spend that much. What do you recommend?
post #2 of 19
Thread Starter 
Shameless bump.
post #3 of 19
If you want to save some money, check out the Schiit Modi and Magni for $100 each. They are getting rave reviews from people. Or if you want something smaller, the O2 and ODAC from JDS Labs (you can buy them separate or combined into one unit). I'm sure there are more expensive options, but these are as good or better (I would argue better) than the SQ for sound cards you could put in your HTPC if you could fit one. Either of these options would leave you some money for a tube amp, too, if you wanted to experiment with that.
post #4 of 19
Thread Starter 
Holy schitt, thank you for the great reply, my ninja. Now tell me, what would you argue about those DACs being better than the HT Omega Claro Halo sound card? Biiiizzaaaang!!
post #5 of 19
In all the discussions I read about the ODAC vs the Asus Xonar STX here on head-fi, people either said that they couldn't hear a difference or that the ODAC was better. I just got the ODAC a couple of weeks ago and will be selling my STX. I think the sound is improved in that there is a little more depth and slightly better detail when used with my Little Dot I+ amplifier, which itself was an improvement over the STX headphone amp output. So I'm leaning towards the camp that says that the USB output is better than using an internal sound card when you get to this level of DAC.

Sorry. I don't have experience with the HT Omega cards. But since you don't have a slot for one, seems a moot point to worry about that.
post #6 of 19

Check these files If you are interested in testing how well (if at all) you can hear the difference between the sound recorded from various sound card DACs and amplifiers, and the original sample. Also recommended for "op amp rolling" believers. tongue_smile.gif

post #7 of 19

Sound cards generally have better specs on their DACs than DACs in an equal price range. For example the Titanium HD is going to outperform the modi.

 

At any rate, in this day and age most DACs, built in or external, are pretty darn good. It just depends on how much overkill you want.

 

Sound cards have the advantage of simulated surround sound/crossfeed tech that is useful for gaming. Although from what I understand that's not an option for you since you have no PCI slots?

post #8 of 19
Thread Starter 
I could go with the Silverstone SG10 and mATX, which would give me enough PCI slots, however, I want to look at all possible options--mITX or mATX.
post #9 of 19

I'd maybe start of with either the HRT Music Streamer II or the Schiit Modi for a DAC and the Schiit Asgard headphone amplifier.  When you feel the need to upgrade your DAC, shoot for the Schiit Bifrost. Your HTPC should have an Optical output, so you would be set to go.

 

Destroysall

post #10 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by chewy4 View Post

Sound cards generally have better specs on their DACs than DACs in an equal price range. For example the Titanium HD is going to outperform the modi.

Is their measurement data out yet that confirms this? In subjective listening tests, the Modi is being described as equivalent to the ODAC. Of course, we know those are not necessarily reliable (an understatement). But without measurements, it seems difficult to make that claim if the Modi does end up performing as well as current user expectations.
post #11 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by cel4145 View Post

Is their measurement data out yet that confirms this? In subjective listening tests, the Modi is being described as equivalent to the ODAC.

 

Under controlled conditions, many DACs will sound the same, even those that do not have great measurements (I mean something like "only" 100 dB dynamic range instead of 120, for example) may in fact be good enough that their noise etc. is not audible in practice. If you do not believe, try this, this, or this test. Here are some sound card measurements:

 

Stereophile Xonar Essence STX test (Audio Precision)

Titanium HD Audio Precision measurements (at the end of the PDF)

My Xonar D1 test (not using a high end audio analyzer, but fairly extensive, and the results seem to be reasonably consistent with the specs)

 

It is entirely possible to match, and in some aspects outperform the measurements of the ODAC with sound cards. The Titanium HD seems to have relatively high noise modulation, though (could indicate high jitter ?), the Xonars do not have this, even if they are more noisy when playing silence. There are no measurements available for the Modi, but the manufacturer's specifications are worse than the measurements of the other devices. Again, keep in mind, however, that none of these measurements show any issues that should be of much concern (i.e. audibly degrade the sound) when using the devices for the purpose of listening to music. So, with the usual subjective biases removed, they are likely to sound the same if performing optimally (no software issues, no interference, no ground loop, etc.).


Edited by stv014 - 2/5/13 at 9:24am
post #12 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by stv014 View Post

So, with the usual subjective biases removed, they are likely to sound the same if performing optimally (no software issues, no interference, no ground loop, etc.).

That's what I would imagine, too. I told the OP when I researched the ODAC, most people thought it sounded the same or a little better than the Xonar STX. I feel it's a little better. That could be subjective bias or just the slight difference in the op amp sound (assuming one can discriminate that), although I am betting that there could have been a little bit of a noise floor added by interference from the PC hardware configuration. That's fairly impossible for most people to predict or measure in their setup. So under optimal conditions, the same sound for internal vs external, but the external may have the edge in real world implementation.
post #13 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by cel4145 View Post

although I am betting that there could have been a little bit of a noise floor added by interference from the PC hardware configuration.

 

Did you actually hear any noise when nothing was playing ? Were you using the built-in headphone amplifier, or an external one (if the latter, then exactly what) ? With the built-in amplifier, noise performance is degraded by the digital gain and volume control (unless you use the 600 Ω gain setting and 100% volume - something that is not recommended for those who want to avoid hearing damage), while with some external amplifiers, ground loops can be a source of problems.


Edited by stv014 - 2/5/13 at 10:03am
post #14 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by stv014 View Post

Did you actually hear any noise when nothing was playing ? Were you using the built-in headphone amplifier, or an external one (if the latter, then exactly what) ? With the built-in amplifier, noise performance is degraded by the digital gain and volume control (unless you use the 600 Ω gain setting and 100% volume - something that is not recommended for those who want to avoid hearing damage), while with some external amplifiers, ground loops can be a source of problems.

Yep. Internal amp on the STX. External amps connected to the line out (see my sig). And an HK 3390 with Energy Veritas speakers. The end result is that the ODAC did seem an improvement to me, with both headphones and the Energys. Now having tried the ODAC, it just seems to me for most people, it would be simpler just to avoid speculating about/predicting whether or not there could be issues, or having to troubleshoot problems after purchase. Unless someone needs the extra DSP capabilities for gaming, why bother worrying about it? Go external. Be done with the whole conversation (not trying to tell you to go away.smily_headphones1.gif ).

Of course, if someone can pick up the Titanium HD for around $110 on sale, than budgetary concerns could easily still make it the best choice. Otherwise, it seems more effort than it's worth when external DAC can sidestep potential problems. Near full retail for the Titanium HD, the Xonar STX/ST, or the HT Omega Claro cards, something like the Schiit Modi/Magni stack seems the better choice for 2 channel audio.
post #15 of 19

I would recommend to used Essence One, or go over the budget by $75 to get a new one with free shipping on ebay.

 

They sound great on HE-500,HE-400, and HD-650.

 

Tim

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