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Help for "casual" listening to music and games (ca. EUR 400)?

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

Here it goes: I am trying to figure out what is the best but still reasonable solution for my personal audio needs. By "reasonable" I mean all in all roughly in the EUR 400 area. "Needs" are music playback - pop/rock/classic, no jazz/blues - and gaming (surround), all via headphones!


I already have a decently powered PC and the Mainboard comes with a Realtek ALC892 8-Channel High Definition Audio Codec (according to ASUS capable of such amazing things as "Absolute Pitch 192kHz/24-bit True BD Lossless Sound", "DTS Ultra PC II" and "DTS Connect"). Well, I am aware that this is probably not audiophiles' material...


In the past with the former PC I used the Sennheiser PC 350 headset (both for listening to music and for gaming) on a Creative X-Fi Platinum (PCI). Since that's no longer possible (no room for PCI card anymore), I thought it may be time for something new entirely. 


After spending at least two full days reading various howto's, guides and reviews both here and elsewhere, and both written by "professionals" as well as mere customers (e.g. on amazon) I still feel as clueless as before. 


I've also tried to figure out "how audiophile" I might be and played around with different playback software to check whether I can actually hear the differences - that a lot of people claim to exist - between the software players. Frankly, I can't, they all sound the same to me (be it foobar, MS mediaplayer, WinAmp...), at least if I adjust them all to the same volume (i.e. max) and deactivate all equalizers etc. I tried both with my laptop (Via High Definition Audio and Shure E2C) and the Desktop (Realtek ALC892 and Sennheiser PC 350), so I figure either I can't hear any difference or there is simply no difference to hear - at least with my current equipment.  


Now I am wondering, what I may have been missing in the audio department... is there really a whole new world waiting to be explored (and heard) by the inexperienced and untrained commoner's ear who's willing to spend ca. EUR 400? 


As I mentioned above, for music I prefer pop/rock (no jazz/blues) and classic (mostly piano pieces, I play myself). However, the quality of my favourite classic recordings is rather poor since they are quite old (from the 1950's, 70's and 80's) and I doubt that any new playback equipment could make them sound much better.


For gaming I'd like to have decent surround sound capabilities that are "useable" with headphones. Also, the equipment should decently "playback" both speech and game-sound at the same time. 


To sum it up, I currently have at my disposal:


Sennheiser PC 350 

Shure E2C 

Realtek  ALC892 8-Channel High Definition Audio Codec


Now what should I aim for with EUR 400 to spend? 


1. Should I go for a dedicated soundcard? I am currently rather reluctant to do so, since I really loathe driver problems (had them with the X-FI, hear they also exist, for example, with the Asus Xonar Essense XTS, Phoebus, etc.). I'm on Win7 64 btw.


2. Instead of a soundcard, why not use a USB DAC like Audioquest's Dragonfly, FiiO E17 or HRT Headstreamer? However, I am afraid that surround sound is not possible with a DAC, but maybe a viable option at least for music? Maybe then I could get a cheap(er) soundcard for better surround capabilities (compared to the realtek codec)?


3. Do I need new headphones? The Sennheiser PC 350 was considered quite decent for a consumer product at the time of release. I am also quite happy with the sound of the Shure E2C, but I prefer the Sennheiser. 


Or should I just grab my Laptop and headphones and go to a decent hifi store in my area to see...errr...hear whether I can make out differences depending on what I throw at my ears...?


Thank you all in advance for any help! I would understand though, if it is too much to bother you with my "cheap audio-newbie" questions. ("Shhh... off you go with your lousy EUR 400 budget!")

post #2 of 6

Yeah, compression does make a difference. Compressed a video and both the audio and video quality became worse by quite a bit. I'm not sure how bad it goes for audio-only though. Have heard that it's hard to tell. They also might have a higher end rig than you do.


A player like foobar2000 will use a program WASAPI to bypass the windows sound mixer. 


If you can test at a store (as you have the opportunity), I'd go for sure. 


As for the surround sound gimiki w/ headphones, it's more of a marketing thing. Most if not all the headphones here at head-fi are 2-channeled (stereo). 1 channel going to each ear. Though there are certain programs like Dolby Surroud, which MLE uses.


^his game guide for phones/mixamps/stuff.


Onboard sound should be fine as long as you don't hear any hiss. 


Most DAC/amps will be dual channel, so as far as gaming goes, you might want to ask MLE (on his thread). I'm not sure how the dolby surround works w/ stereo, so I can't help you here.


As for phones, if you don't mind open back (and aren't a basshead or need thumping bass), then the MA900 might be the way to go. $200. 


400 euro is a lot man! It could be someone else's yearly salary. Don't worry, there are a bunch of people starting out.

post #3 of 6

I'm inclined to recommend you not buy anything for now.

Note: I'm not a big time audiophile, i'm not one of the few who have spent thousands on gear.


That said, it seems like you're quite happy with your setup as it is. I wouldn't upgrade because of something i 'might be missing'. Now if there's something about your setup that you actually don't like, that's different.


So yeah, i recommend you leave your setup as it is for now. Hide away that money, keep browsing these forums, and soon enough you'll find something you desperately want, and you'll be glad you still have the money for it.


Just my two cents.

post #4 of 6
Originally Posted by Besterino View Post

Or should I just grab my Laptop and headphones and go to a decent hifi store in my area to see...errr...hear whether I can make out differences depending on what I throw at my ears...?


I would advice that, if this decent hifi store enabling you to audition enough gear really exists in your area

post #5 of 6
Thread Starter 

Well, that really seems the reasonable approach: By now I am also convinced I should dig a bit deeper and in particular try a few headphones before actually spending money. What I'd like to hear sometime include (for now):


Sony MDRMA900

AKG 550

AKG K 701

Sennheiser HD 650

Beyerdynamic DT 880

Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro


Unfortunately, I have not yet found a shop in my vicinity where I could try them out.


Also, I further played a bit with the software (in particular equalizer, surround and other driver settings) and boy it is truly amazing how differently stuff can sound while still using the same hardware...


Disadvantage is, though, I have to set up the the equalizer depending on what you want to do (game/music), sometime depending on the specific game you're playing or piece/recording you're listening to. However, this may still be true with higher class equipment...

post #6 of 6
With the right equalizer settings, you should be able to use close to the same settings for most of your music and games.

Is it a ten band graphic eq? You may find this helpful to get the gist of the FR of your phones, better understand the kind of sounds affected by each EQ band and get new ideas on tweaking the eq to your phones:
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