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On board vs sound card for digital output

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 
I currently run a Xonar STX on my gaming rig, currently hooked up to a set of Sennheiser PC 350's but I'm upgrading to a set of HD 650's, and debating purchasing a Schiit Bifrost DAC and matching Amp (either Asgard or Lyr, haven't decided yet)

I'm hoping to move my current system into an ITX case, using an ASUS P8Z77-I Deluxe, and using the onboard optical output on that motherboard to hook up to the Bifrost, but here's where my confusion lies

Would there be a difference in quality between hooking up my Xonar STX via coaxial to the Bifrost, and doing the same from onboard motherboard audio via optical? If so, how vast a difference would this be? Or would I be better served saving money from buying ITX components and putting it towards a higher end audio setup (Mjölnir/Gungnir, perhaps?)
post #2 of 5

Both coax and optical are implementations of the S/PDIF interface - the capabilities of both are pretty much the same. One of the properties of this interface is that the sender controls the master clock, and how good the master clock is has impact on jitter. My hunch is that the Xonar STX would have a more accurate clock than any given motherboard, but in practice the differences are too small for humans to notice.

The optical connection has an advantage of galvanically isolating the two devices, so you're less likely to have ground loop issues.

If you're dead set on going for the S/PDIF connection then perhaps you'd like to consider a DAC that buffers the data and uses it's own clock as a master. I have no idea if any of the Schiit DACs do that (Grace Design m903 is one of the solutions I really like).

post #3 of 5
Thread Starter 
Quote:
If you're dead set on going for the S/PDIF connection then perhaps you'd like to consider a DAC that buffers the data and uses it's own clock as a master. I have no idea if any of the Schiit DACs do that (Grace Design m903 is one of the solutions I really like).


I'd prefer S/PDIF, I've heard USB isn't quite as refined and requires drivers to get the highest resolution audio files through to the DAC. If USB provides equivalent sound quality to S/PDIF then this entire topic is moot, but given what I've gleaned so far in my research this doesn't seem to be the case

post #4 of 5
Quote:
Originally Posted by InternetSandman View Post


I'd prefer S/PDIF, I've heard USB isn't quite as refined and requires drivers to get the highest resolution audio files through to the DAC. If USB provides equivalent sound quality to S/PDIF then this entire topic is moot, but given what I've gleaned so far in my research this doesn't seem to be the case

 

I wonder what your sources are. Moon audio reviews? eek.gif

To convert digital data stream to analog audio signal, your DAC needs three things: the data itself, the clock signal, and of course power. Data stream is always the same, whichever way it gets there. Power source is also the same if we're talking about a unit that supports both USB and S/PDIF. Out of the three only the clock is really different, and here I'd say that USB should have an edge, as it uses clock on the DAC side - these tend to be more precise than what your typical motherboard provides.

USB is more prone to buffer underruns (which manifest themselves as gaps and clicks), but this is usually caused by poorly configured systems. It is also a bit more difficult (and costly) to implement, so some manufacturers claim it's inferiority just to make sure they can sell their S/PDIF-only gear.

My advice is not to stress too much over the interface: on good gear you won't hear any difference. Just use what is most convenient.

post #5 of 5

USB from an audio transmission standpoint is fine, if it's implemented like the ODAC. Plug-and-play at its finest.

 

The catch with USB DACs, though, is the total lack of gaming DSP features, hence why I generally wouldn't recommend one for a gaming computer.

 

It's a similar dilemma with S/PDIF in that your motherboard's audio codec probably won't output Dolby Headphone-mixed audio over S/PDIF like your Xonar Essence STX will. (Doing a bit of quick research suggests that it has a virtual surround implementation as part of the DTS UltraPC II software suite; whether that's better or worse than Dolby Headphone, especially for gaming, is another matter.)

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