***not sure if this should be in the dedicated source components forum section, mods please move if that subforum is more appropriate for this thread!
I've gone through several threads regarding the issue of whether to use an internal soundcard or an external DAC, but I've found nothing specifically geared towards SPEAKERS. All the comparisons between the two have been made with headphones or gaming in mind, but not solely music playback on speakers.
I'm currently using an Auzentech X-Meridian 7.1 2G, I don't know if it's EMI or I've just been using a defective unit all along, but whenever hardware volume through the Windows or soundcard software is set to over 60%, I get progressively increasing distortion as the volume goes up. At 100% hardware volume the distortion is unbearable. I've even swapped my front channel opamp to LME49720HA as I thought it might be a bad opamp but still getting distortion. Changed computer power supplies as I thought it might be a crappy voltage going to the sound card but it's still the same. Changed PCI slots, changed positions, changed speakers, tried headphones to no avail. As long as the sound card volume is over 60%, there is distortion. I haven't bothered contacting Auzentech as they're pretty much defunct now, and I can't RMA as my warranty is over, and I can't find my invoice as the card was purchased quite some time ago. I don't know if it's normal for distortion at high sound card hardware volumes or if I'm actually using a defective unit. Technically I could live with the 60% volume limitation, but at lower volumes I get channel imbalance if my actual speaker volume is turned down.
Could the distortion be caused from using low snr speakers? Like 60db or so?
With that being said, I do not need surround sound for gaming as all I play are MMOs, nor do I need any kind of "virtual surround DSP" of any sort. All I want it something that will allow me to experience pure musical enjoyment from listening to the songs on my computer.
The two options I've done research on which are plausible candidates for my next audio upgrade are the Asus Xonar Essence ST, or Fiio E17/E10/E09K/Schiit Modi to power my soon-to-come Fostex PM0.4n studio monitors. Which leads me to my main question: Should I invest in the Essence ST, or go for an external DAC? I have absolutely NO NEED for an amp of any sort as I seldom use my cans/IEMs while on my PC, and when I do, none of them need amping.
So this comparison is based solely on DAC quality I suppose. My budget is max $200, I do not want to spend anything over $200, so for that budget, what kind of setup would I be looking at to achieve top-notch quality, as much quality as $200 can get me?
I know my way around sound cards, but I'm clueless when it comes to external DACs. If anyone could lend me a hand with selecting the best possible external DAC given my $200 budget, or justify the $200 price tag of the Essence ST over an external DAC, I'd greatly appreciate it. So far the only DACs I've looked at are the Fiio E17, E10, E09K, Audinst HUD-mx1 and the Schiit Modi.
Long short short, I want a setup that will produce the same sound quality, or better than my current 60% volume Auzentech X-Meridian 7.1 2G, which already sounds pretty darn good with the LME49720HA.
For those who have heard the kind of sound the LME49720HA produces, will know the kind of sound signature I'm after. A brighter, sparkly high end, lush warm mids and a very tight low end that doesn't necessarily have to produce any thump, not that the Fostex PM0.4n produces any anyway. Essentially something that is analytical enough to still have an overall "fun" signature, with an awesome soundstage. Though I can easily use an EQ of some kind of achieve the sound I'm after. I was pretty much dead set on purchasing the Audists until I saw for line out they use the OPA2134 as an opamp which is definitely a step down from the LME49720HA I'm using right now.
Edited by akinari-kun - 4/16/13 at 1:55am