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Intro + DAC/amp or soundcard to suit ATH-A900x

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 

Howdy - long time lurker, first time poster.  Got to thank headfi for years of advice.


Thoughts on DAC / Amp / soundcard for ATH-a900x

I understand ATH-a900x don't really need an amp, but wondering whether I'll notice much difference between buying a cheap soundcard with integrated amp (eg: Asus Xonar DG for ~AU$30+ph), a slightly better soundcard (eg Asus Xonar DX for ~AU$85+ph, SBZ for ~AU$120+ph) or a low end external amplifier (eg Fiio e10 - $70 delivered at mp4nation)?  Am I going to notice much difference using the a900x?


Is there much of a difference losing the cleverness of an on-board soundcard (surround sound stuff etc) by going an external DAC/amp?  I play mainly first person shooters so like to hear what's around me.


My gut feel is that I'm not going to see much of a difference adding a portable amp to my Samsung s3 phone and Klipsch s4 II - appreciate thoughts.


Don't need to future-proof it - I doubt I'll buy more demanding headphones than the a900x.  I'm in Australia.


What I have

- ATH-a900x, used pretty much exclusively on my desktop computer for games (70% of usage) and music when working from home.  Enjoying these even though I currently run them from a standard motherboard audio jack (no sound card / external DAC or amp).

- JVC-HAZ500z - went to Japan, I think you have to buy them for the price.  Doesn't get much of a run, I don't find them particularly comfortable and they have zero noise isolation (to be expected from portables, I guess)

- Brainwav HM3s - my old gaming headphones, probably give these to a mate.

- Klipsch s4 II IEMs with Samsung s3 phone for podcasts and music on the move.

- Various IEMs with phone for sleeping (UE600, Brainwav M5).

- FYI only a integrated bluray home theatre setup - Samsung HT-E6730W with LG 42LM6410 TV - only audio output is the optical out from the TV to the HT, no headphone jacks etc.  Spare HDMI input and stereo aux input, no spare optical inputs)


Music-wise, I listen to a lot of old blues, reggae, ska, old Indian classical and bollywood and northern soul (so original audio recording quality is generally pretty low) at one end, and hip-hop, dancehall, funk and hard rock/metal at the other end.  Music is generally in higher quality MP3s (tried to re-rip stuff into FLAC but found most of my CDs have degraded too far).


PS: Some other things that are annoying me, wondering if you can provide thoughts:

A.) I don't have an audio output from my HTS/TV I can use for headphones.  Best idea I've come up with is to put a splitter on the optical cable running from the TV to the HTS, but then I'd need to work out how to convert the optical signal to something I can plug the TV into.  

B.) not sure how to get computer audio into home theatre - spare inputs are RCA stereo and HDMI.  If I plug in HDMI, computer thinks it is managing an extra monitor, so I get weird delays and performance issues.  If I use stereo RCA, I lose surround sound.


Cheers, and pardon the name,


Edited by Poopifier - 7/20/13 at 11:20pm
post #2 of 5

Creative Labs SBZ (Sound Blaster Z) sound card, $80 (USA). comes with the same DAC (CS4398) chip as the Xonar DX/D1.

Also has a headphone amplifier.

You can run S/PDIF optical from the SBZ to the receiver (Home Theater), the SBZ can send 5.1 (6 channel) of compressed audio to the receiver.


The SBZ's headphone amplifier would be a better place to plug the 40-Ohm ATH-A900X headphones into, then the receiver.

post #3 of 5
Thread Starter 

Thanks for that - I edited my original post because I crazily said that I can get a Xonar DX for AU$30, I meant a Xonar DG.  DX will cost me closer to AU$100 shipped.  I assume the US$80 SBZ is the Amazon deal?  Unfortunately they won't ship that to me in Australia...  or is there another place you can get it for US$80?


In terms of running SBZ to receiver - could I use an optical splitter or switch to send both the TV audio and the computer audio into the receiver's one optical input?  I'd have to one of the sources muted or unplugged I guess.


You reckon SBZ ($135 delivered) will give me better results than the e10 ($70 delivered) for the a900x?


You reckon there's enough of a difference between Xonar DG and SBZ to justify paying the extra $100?

post #4 of 5

To the best of my knowledage, the Fiio E10 will not offer audio quality any better then the Xonar DG.

Also the E10's USB connection bypass the motherboard's on-board audio, which might (should) have a negative effect on surround sound gaming (like FPS)


I would say to just get the Xonar DG for right now, should be decent enough audio quality to hold you over for awhile.

The drawback on the Xonar DG is it's optical output is 2-channel only.


Now if it is important for sending 5.1 audio from the computer to the receiver, then really the Sound Blaster Z is needed.

post #5 of 5
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the advice.
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