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Sound Card Vs. External DAC

post #1 of 29
Thread Starter 

I'm pretty new to the world of hi-fi audio, and I'm looking into improving my rig for music capabilities.  I'm looking into either getting a new sound card or an external DAC, but I'm not sure which is the better route.

To give you an idea for what I want to do, I'd like to set up my computer so I can have the Soundcard/DAC run to both a desktop headphone amp and a home theater receiver I'm currently using to run my bookshelf speakers.  I'm just wondering whether a soundcard or external DAC would be better in my situation.

Thanks for any help in advance, and if you need more information to give me an answer, I'll be more than willing to provide it.

post #2 of 29

I am sure there are some sound cards out there that are quite good but ultimately they are unable to compete with external DACs. One major problem with an internal sound card is that it is is directly connected to your motherboard which inevitably introduces noise into the circuit. This problem is much reduced with outboard power supplies on DACs, and even more once you move from a USB connection to optical or coaxial to connect your computer to the DAC. What sort of budget did you have in mind?   

post #3 of 29
Thread Starter 

I was thinking something under 200 USD, and in particular I've been looking into the Schiit Modi.

post #4 of 29

I have not heard it but lots of people on here are recommending it. Schiit has been coming out with great products. For 200 USD you can get the Modi and Magni combo. Pair that with a hifiman HE-400 in the future when your ready for an upgrade and you have a killer budget system. The only minor inconvenience is that the Modi only has one output but I think its something you should be willing to overlook. I am actually unplugging the RCA between my DAC and headphone amp/speaker amp constantly at the moment because I only have one high quality RCA. Its all about the sound on this form haha. 

post #5 of 29
Thread Starter 

I was already considering the M&M combo as I've seen it referred to, and I actually have a workaround to the single output problem.  I have a single input, dual output stereo RCA switch, so I figured if I wanted to have the amp and my receiver hooked up, I'd just route the Modi to the switch and just switch my outputs with the press of a button.

post #6 of 29

First off: do you play PC games? If so, external DACs that only have USB inputs are out of the question. (S/PDIF ones are viable since you can connect them to sound cards.)

 

Second, I've had personal experience A/B'ing a JDS Labs ObjectiveDAC against my X-Fi Titanium HD. I volume-matched 'em both, ran them through the same headphone/amp chain, and was hard-pressed to hear ANY difference between the two no matter how hard I tried. No noise, just a clean source on both.

 

The ODAC is nice if you just want a plug-and-play solution for music, though it lacks a lot of gaming DSP features I find critical, with no way to add them. Also, it's not of much use for A/V receivers, as is any other DAC, seeing as A/V receivers with HDMI and S/PDIF inputs have DACs of their own.

 

Come to think of it, if you're connecting both an A/V receiver and a headphone/amp setup to the same computer...how are you planning to connect them, exactly? S/PDIF -> DAC -> amp -> headphones and HDMI -> AVR -> speakers?


Edited by NamelessPFG - 4/3/13 at 6:30pm
post #7 of 29
Thread Starter 

While I DO play games, my rig is pretty terrible for gaming anyways, so I'm not worrying about gaining any sort of advantage in my games through sound.

For example, when I'm playing TF2 at pretty much the lowest possible settings, I average about 30fps with dips as low as 15fps.  Then there are the massive ping spikes that completely freeze me in place for 3 seconds.

In summation, I'm not worried about gaming sound so much when I can barely manage to go 10 minutes without dying for something I can guarantee was caused by my terrible computer/internet.

post #8 of 29
Thread Starter 

Oh, and to clarify, I intend to connect my rig as follows:
PC > USB cable to the Modi > Stereo RCA Switch.
From the Switch, I'll have RCA cables leading to the amp and another pair leading to my receiver's RCA inputs.  I got most of my rig for free, so I'm not gonna complain about it, but it's all quite old and definitely not up to par just yet.  I plan on replacing the majority of it over time, though.

 

Edit:  I forgot a fun fact about my receiver.  It's so old that it doesn't even have a single HDMI port.


Edited by kuhchuk - 4/3/13 at 6:36pm
post #9 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by NamelessPFG View Post

 

Second, I've had personal experience A/B'ing a JDS Labs ObjectiveDAC against my X-Fi Titanium HD. I volume-matched 'em both, ran them through the same headphone/amp chain, and was hard-pressed to hear ANY difference between the two no matter how hard I tried. No noise, just a clean source on both.

Yes, at this level I would defiantly still expect sound cards to be able to compete. 

post #10 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by kuhchuk View Post

 

Edit:  I forgot a fun fact about my receiver.  It's so old that it doesn't even have a single HDMI port.

Anything is better when its free, how old is it? If its more than 10 years I would recommend replacing the capacitors on the power supply. Its quite easy if you like doing a little DIY. 

post #11 of 29
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jasper9395 View Post

Anything is better when its free, how old is it? If its more than 10 years I would recommend replacing the capacitors on the power supply. Its quite easy if you like doing a little DIY. 


I'm not quite sure of the age, but I don't think it's quite at the decade mark yet.  There is some fairly significant noise that it introduces into the mix, as I've noticed.  On fairly quiet portions of song, it'll start playing static through my speakers.  When I plugged in my headphones to it recently (to avoid having to crawl behind my computer to reach the ports of my soundcard (that probably has reached the decade mark)) I found that when nothing was playing at all, there was a fair bit of white noise that persisted when I played some music. 

I'm gonna look into the age of the thing, and maybe look into replacing the capacitors, which I can have my friend help me with.

post #12 of 29

Well it could also just be the quality of the amp itself. In general after about 10 years electrolytic capacitors start to deteriorate quite a bit. Replacing them with some good quality ones always yields improvement. You can also increase the capacitance as much as you like for maximum effect. Its a fun little upgrade. Increasing the capacitance basically makes your amp less noisy and give it a little more punish and clarity all round. The power supply caps are really easy to spot. Just open the amp, they will be the largest caps by physical size and capacitance in there. 

post #13 of 29
Thread Starter 

Well, after a bit of research, I found that this receiver is nearly 10 years old, so I suppose it may be time to throw in a couple new capacitors.  Guess I'll be busting out the screwdriver tomorrow to have a look inside. 
 

 

Also, I'd like to thank the two of you for taking the time to help me out.  It's much appreciated, especially when I've only got a vague idea of what I'm doing.

post #14 of 29

Hello.
Who could  recommend me a DAC up to $ 200 for hi-fi system - Q Acoustics Q2050i and Yamaha A-S500. My goal is to improve the sound quality. I would listening a electronic music (house, deep house, tech house). I would greatly appreciate for your help. (Sorry if not here Signature)

post #15 of 29
If you would like a DAC that is also portable and so small you could hide it behind your amp, I would recommend the ODAC. The version with the 3.5mm connectors is about half the size of an iphone and twice as thick. I use it with my HK 3390 and Ascend Acoustics CBM-170 SE speakers, and it sounds awesome.

Otherwise, get the Schiit Modi that has already been discussed in this thread. My understanding is that it's equivalent in SQ to the ODAC, and so both are probably the best values you could get for $200 or less.
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