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why buy soundcard with dedicated amp along with desktop amp?

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

I am planning on getting some 600 ohm headphones (probably the dt880 or 990), mainly for computer use, and am planning on buying a new soundcard, and desktop amp. I don't want to 'waste' the headphones so I want to drive them properly and well(enough). I watch movies, play games, listen to music, and sometimes connect to speakers so a usb DAC is not preferred.


I've been looking at a few sound cards, namely the HT | Omega Claro Halo, Creative ZxR, Asus Xonar Essence ST, which all have dedicated headphone amps. I've seen conflicting reports about whether their amps can drive 600 ohm headphones. Some say they do, some say they dont (especially the zxr), and some say they do, but not well.


So I've also looked into some of the cheaper desktop amps, namely the fiio e9k, Schiit Magni, and Objective2 amps, which seem to be able to drive the 600 ohm headphones decently.


Now, my question is, is there any benefit of having both the integrated amp as well as the desktop amp?(I don't really need big volume, just don't want it to be so low that I lose quality)  If not, why buy ($200)xonar essence ST + amp over ($90) xonar dx  + amp? I've been doing a lot of browsing and it seems most people are buying the cards with integrated amps, even if they are buying desktop amps.


Also, if indeed the essence st is better than the xonar dx because of reasons other than the headphone amp, is there another card that is as good(or better), just without the headphone amp?


conversely, anyone think just the soundcard with integrated is the way to go?


in the end, I just want the best but most cost-efficient option:

soundcard with dedicated amp

soundcard with dedicated amp + desktop amp

soundcard without amp + desktop amp


any specific soundcard/amp combos you may recommend are appreciated as well :)

Edited by hpfalcon - 6/9/13 at 3:17pm
post #2 of 6

Not sure if u had bought your soundcard but for a soundcard + desktop amp combo why not consider Titanium HD?

post #3 of 6
Thread Starter 

Yes, I did read up on the Titanium HD, and it does seem very good. However, I've been thinking of just getting the zxr along with a magni amp. I've heard that the zxr is marginally better than the titanium hd, and since its just newer and supposedly has better components, why not.


The only thing is, what happens when the headphones are connected to 2 amps (the soundcard + desktop amp)?

I do know the zxr has a low and high impedance setting, should I set it to low impedence when im using an external amp? What kind of setup is best?

post #4 of 6
You will not be hooking anything up to both amps. You will use the RCA output of the card to the RCA input of the Magni. The RCA output of the card is not amped. So you do not need to worry about that. You will be bypassing the amped headphone output of the card entirely.
post #5 of 6
Thread Starter 

oh I see. That makes sense and clears things up a lot haha. I've never bought an amp (or soundcard+amp), so wasn't sure how they work paired together. The thought of amping an already amped signal was confusing the heck out of me.


So all the software stuff like any effects, cms3d, gaming settings, music settings, etc, processed by the soundcard is still done, but then directly passed through to the amp via RCA?

post #6 of 6
Yes. You do not HAVE to use the RCA output. It is possible to use the headphone output, and then use an adapter to convert it to RCA, and then go into the Magni amp. But there is not much point to that.

The Titanium HD and ZxR both have RCA outputs, so it is best to use those to plug into the Magni.

A lower card like the Creative Z does not have RCA outputs. In that case you would need to use the adapter as mentioned above.

To help you understand other posts here, all of the processing that gets done to the sound signal, like the 3d positional affects, equalization settings, etc., is all referred to as DSP (digital signal processing). That is done by the sound card. It is done while the signial is still digital.

The DAC (digital analog conversion) is the device that takes the digital signal and converts it to an analog signal that your speakers can understand and reproduce for you. This can be done in your sound card. If you are outputting by headphone jack or RCA, you are (almost always) outputting an analog signal. Therefore, your soundcard did the DSP portion, and then did the DAC portion. But if you are outputting from your sound card via an optical cable, for instance, your sound card is doing the DSP portion, but is not doing the DAC portion, and just outputting the signal in digital still.

If you output from your sound card in digital, you will need an external DAC (like the Schiit Modi for instance). Then that device will be your DAC.

The amplifier takes the analog signal and amplifies it with power to drive your speakers/headphones. The Schiit Magni is an external amplifier. The ZxR card has one built into the soundcard. So if you use the headphone jack on that one, the ZxR is doing the DSP, the DAC, and then the amplification.

So in summary, you need the soundcard to do the DSP portion, otherwise you will not get the 3d positional effects. That is the only thing you need the sound card for. You can use and exteral DAC and Amp if you wish. However, nearly all sound cards are capable of performing the DAC as well, some arguably better than others, and some would argue that external DAC do a better job than internal sound cards. You can also use an external amp. Most sound cards do not do much amplification, though the ZxR and Asus STX cards do a decent job (but they still are not the best).

An external ampThis is usually a good choice if you have decent headphones, and a must if you have passive speakers (active speakers actually have an amp built into the speaker itself, so technically you still do have an external amp, it is just inside the speaker instead of a seperate box on your desk - side note, I am talking about amps in general, a headphone amp usually is not powerful enough to power speakers, nor does it have the proper connections.). The headphone amps on the ZxR and Asus STX are ok, but they are nothing special - they are just relatively cheap OPAMPs. They may power your headphones they may not. Do not get stuck on the 600ohm thing either. Because you need to know what the power output is at 600ohms, and the ZxR and STX are not that powerful at 600ohms. So they can do it, but an external like that Magni should still do a better job. It really depends on what headphones you are going to use.
Edited by Goride - 6/11/13 at 1:36pm
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