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New to headphones, question about connections to sound card/computer/speakers

post #1 of 24
Thread Starter 

Hello there,

 

I just picked up some Audio Technica AD700's and I had some questions. I my goal is to achieve the best sound quality possible. I'll eventually get a dedicated sound card, but for now i'm using the on-board card on an Asrock extreme6 z87 motherboard (which actually has a pretty good on-board card including a 600 ohm headphone amp). I also use a set of Klipsch Promedia 2.1 speakers. 

 

Here is my question: should I plug the headphones directly to the sound card (motherboard) or can I plug them into the headphone jack located on one of the Klipsch speakers? Obviously the reason why I want to plug into my speaker is because it's much easier then going behind my computer whenever I want to listen to my headphones.

 

Is there a difference in quality between the two?

 

And if I need to plug directly into sound card (motherboard) can I get a splitter in order to keep both plugged in all the time? Will this decrease quality?

post #2 of 24

One option is to get a low cost external optical input DAC, connect it to the S/PDIF optical port on the motherboard and then run analog from the DAC to the speakers.

External low cost optical DACs start at $30

Then leave the headphones plugged into the motherboard's green jack.

post #3 of 24
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by PurpleAngel View Post

One option is to get a low cost external optical input DAC, connect it to the S/PDIF optical port on the motherboard and then run analog from the DAC to the speakers.

External low cost optical DACs start at $30

Then leave the headphones plugged into the motherboard's green jack.

Thanks for the recommendation, I'll definitely do that if it seems the best way to go. Question though, as everything is now what is the difference in quality compared to "green" jack on MOBO or headphone jack on speaker? 

 

When just listening, going through speaker is MUCH louder. So i'm assuming that it's utilizing the speaker's amp. But is this going to decrease the quality? Although I know a good sound card is in order, I can't at this moment. So for the time being i'm trying to optimize things. 

post #4 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by DScience View Post

Thanks for the recommendation, I'll definitely do that if it seems the best way to go. Question though, as everything is now what is the difference in quality compared to "green" jack on MOBO or headphone jack on speaker? 

 

When just listening, going through speaker is MUCH louder. So i'm assuming that it's utilizing the speaker's amp. But is this going to decrease the quality? Although I know a good sound card is in order, I can't at this moment. So for the time being i'm trying to optimize things. 

 

You are correct that it is utilizing the speaker amp.  Remember to change default of your sound card to process at 24bit 194khz (will run hotter).  I say save your money and get a used asus sound card when you can. As for now you should just get better quailty audio files which means Stereo beats joint stereo, bit rate should be 320kbps or 44.1khz or 92khz or above, bit depth should be 16bit or 24bit or above, if you have any CD's and use itunes extract again but extract as Apple lostless not compressed default extraction. 

When you do get a better sound card plug your headphones directly to it because the less crap it has to go through the better sound quality.  As for now plug it in to whatever you think sounds better.

post #5 of 24
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by David Chavez View Post

 

You are correct that it is utilizing the speaker amp.  Remember to change default of your sound card to process at 24bit 194khz (will run hotter).  I say save your money and get a used asus sound card when you can. As for now you should just get better quailty audio files which means Stereo beats joint stereo, bit rate should be 320kbps or 44.1khz or 92khz or above, bit depth should be 16bit or 24bit or above, if you have any CD's and use itunes extract again but extract as Apple lostless not compressed default extraction. 

When you do get a better sound card plug your headphones directly to it because the less crap it has to go through the better sound quality.  As for now plug it in to whatever you think sounds better.

Thanks for the advice friend! Although i'm new to the scene, I have always been an audiophile at heart and thus have been collecting music at 320 or WAV for a while now. I'm not familiar with the 44.1 khz etc or bit depth...I'll read up on that.

 

As far as limiting the number of devices the signal has to travel through, that is what I was thinking. Which is a disappointment because I wanted to get an extension cable so I can listen on the couch or ground. :)

 

But anyway, i'll get a sound card soon. What I have found so far is plugging into speaker seems to be much better. I should enjoy these headphones for a minute! 

Thanks again!

post #6 of 24

It is called flac or lostless or apple lostless.  It just means it has all the information from recordings and is the highest quality digital format as of this time.  16bit 44.1khz is what you find on CD's and all extractions will try and compress it for faster extractions unless changed (which is why if you can re-extract your CD's to applelostless format). 24bit 192khz is what most studios work with via editing/perfecting and is very hard to find.  32bit 384khz exist but I've never seen it outside of a studio. Any format above 24bit will becomes voodoo black magic only used but audiophile gods.  Analog is still better (slightly and requires a few grand and will be outdated soon enough) but that is another story.
 

post #7 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by David Chavez View Post

It is called flac or lostless or apple lostless.  It just means it has all the information from recordings and is the highest quality digital format as of this time.  16bit 44.1khz is what you find on CD's and all extractions will try and compress it for faster extractions unless changed (which is why if you can re-extract your CD's to applelostless format). 24bit 192khz is what most studios work with via editing/perfecting and is very hard to find.  32bit 384khz exist but I've never seen it outside of a studio. Any format above 24bit will becomes voodoo black magic only used but audiophile gods.  Analog is still better (slightly and requires a few grand and will be outdated soon enough) but that is another story.
 

 

So much wrong with this post that I'll just stick with the basics .....

 

  1. It's lossless - not lostless.  Lossless refers to the fact that no information is lost during compression - as opposed to lossy formats (eg MP3 / aac etc) in which complex algorithms are used to compress the file, by reducing eroneous information to get a smaller size.  High bit-rate lossy with a good codec (like nero-aac) can actually sound audibly transparent at high bit-rates - however the lower you go, the more chance of losing too much info in the encode, and introducing audible artifacting.  For the record - I use aac vbr 200 for my portable - and FLAC for my home listening.  Both sound the same to me. 
  2. OP - if you want to see for yourself the difference between lossy and lossless formats - try this link (http://www.head-fi.org/t/655879/setting-up-an-abx-test-simple-guide-to-ripping-tagging-transcoding).  It will also give you pointers on ripping and encoding.  @David Chavez - suggest if you have not done so - use the guide and abx yourself as well. 
  3. @David Chavez - using 24bit simply reduces the noise floor - and is invaluable for recording - but not really necessary for playback/listening.  Also - upsampling beyond 96khz is IMO a complete waste of time.  This thread is very useful reading - http://www.head-fi.org/t/415361/24bit-vs-16bit-the-myth-exploded.  Also - from the abx thread I initially linked - try this.  Buy any track at 24/192 or 24/96 from a site like HD Tracks.  Transcode it to ALAC or FLAC at 16/44.1 then abx it against the original.  Post the results - should be fun wink.gif
  4. Analog is not necessarily better.  If you have a well recorded digital track without the dynamic 'strangling' that occurs with being hotly mastered - and the same recording via analog - it is likely the digital version will be cleaner (less pops / noise).  The real culprit lies with the way music is mastered nowadays - with a lot of digital music mastered poorly (made louder than it should be).  This reduces dynamic range.

 

@OP - as already stated - going via the 3.5mm plug in your speakers means they are using the powered speaker amp.  If they sound OK - use it.  When you can afford it - you might want to upgrade to either a dedicated sound card (if positional gaming dsps are required - guessed this because of the AD700), or if for music, a dedicated dac/amp.  If it's just music - something cheap like the Fiio E10 to tide you through.


Edited by Brooko - 8/7/13 at 11:09pm
post #8 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by DScience View Post

Thanks for the recommendation, I'll definitely do that if it seems the best way to go. Question though, as everything is now what is the difference in quality compared to "green" jack on MOBO or headphone jack on speaker? 

When just listening, going through speaker is MUCH louder. So I'm assuming that it's utilizing the speaker's amp. But is this going to decrease the quality? Although I know a good sound card is in order, I can't at this moment. So for the time being I'm trying to optimize things. 

It' really going to come down to what your ears like best, headphones plugged into ProMedia or motherboard green jack.

post #9 of 24
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Brooko View Post

 

So much wrong with this post that I'll just stick with the basics .....

 

  1. It's lossless - not lostless.  Lossless refers to the fact that no information is lost during compression - as opposed to lossy formats (eg MP3 / aac etc) in which complex algorithms are used to compress the file, by reducing eroneous information to get a smaller size.  High bit-rate lossy with a good codec (like nero-aac) can actually sound audibly transparent at high bit-rates - however the lower you go, the more chance of losing too much info in the encode, and introducing audible artifacting.  For the record - I use aac vbr 200 for my portable - and FLAC for my home listening.  Both sound the same to me. 
  2. OP - if you want to see for yourself the difference between lossy and lossless formats - try this link (http://www.head-fi.org/t/655879/setting-up-an-abx-test-simple-guide-to-ripping-tagging-transcoding).  It will also give you pointers on ripping and encoding.  @David Chavez - suggest if you have not done so - use the guide and abx yourself as well. 
  3. @David Chavez - using 24bit simply reduces the noise floor - and is invaluable for recording - but not really necessary for playback/listening.  Also - upsampling beyond 96khz is IMO a complete waste of time.  This thread is very useful reading - http://www.head-fi.org/t/415361/24bit-vs-16bit-the-myth-exploded.  Also - from the abx thread I initially linked - try this.  Buy any track at 24/192 or 24/96 from a site like HD Tracks.  Transcode it to ALAC or FLAC at 16/44.1 then abx it against the original.  Post the results - should be fun wink.gif
  4. Analog is not necessarily better.  If you have a well recorded digital track without the dynamic 'strangling' that occurs with being hotly mastered - and the same recording via analog - it is likely the digital version will be cleaner (less pops / noise).  The real culprit lies with the way music is mastered nowadays - with a lot of digital music mastered poorly (made louder than it should be).  This reduces dynamic range.

 

@OP - as already stated - going via the 3.5mm plug in your speakers means they are using the powered speaker amp.  If they sound OK - use it.  When you can afford it - you might want to upgrade to either a dedicated sound card (if positional gaming dsps are required - guessed this because of the AD700), or if for music, a dedicated dac/amp.  If it's just music - something cheap like the Fiio E10 to tide you through.

Wow, the level of expertise contained within your post amazes me and I can't tell you enough how much I appreciate it. 

 

I'm aware of the benefit of lossless music. Like I said, i've been collecting 320kbs and WAV files for a while now. I have heard WAV is best, but I also like FLAC and apple lossless when I can't get WAV.

 

@Brooko - My original plan was to get the Asus Essence STX, with some M-Audio BX5 monitor speakers (no SUB because I live in a small apartment). This would suffice for a headphone amp/dac. However, do you think it would be better to look into a dedicated dac/amp? I do game, but I am more into quality music. If I went the amp route, what are your suggestions? And how would the amp hook to the computer?

 

I run all music from computer, don't have any sort of entertainment system.


Edited by DScience - 8/8/13 at 4:44pm
post #10 of 24

Just my 2c (others may have differing views)

 

  1. For a computer based system, you may as well go lossless - as disk space generally isn't an issue.  The reason I suggest this is simple - if you have lossless, and have to transcode to another format - you're best doing it from the original.  Your call on lossless preference.  Personally I use FLAC because the tagging is pretty good.  BTW - don't try and transcode your lossy back up to lossless (ie change your MP3 to WAV/FLAC) - once the info's gone you can't get it back again (hence the reason it's called lossy).
  2. WAV is not 'best'.  It's lossless  - just like ALAC is lossless and FLAC is lossless.  WAV is just not compressed.  Honestly - rip to ALAC if you're in an Apple eco system, or FLAC if it's Windows/Linux.  WAV has no sonic benefits - just a larger size.  When your PC decompresses the FLAC file - it outputs exactly the same PCM stream (as a WAV file) to the DAC.
  3. I haven't owned the STX (I have an x-fi)  - although I did own and enjoy the AD700.  Just be aware that the output impedance on the STX is ~ 10 ohms.  So it isn't an ideal damping factor with the AD700 (32 ohms) - ideal is about 1:8 or more.  However saying that, I've heard of many people pairing the two together - and haven't heard any critiques.  The STX are supposed to be good cards - and if you move up to something like a Q701 or HD600 later - the damping factor will suit better.
  4. If you're just going to use the STX (it should be good for movies, music and gaming), then I'd consider connecting the speakers to the rear RCA analogue ports, and getting a 6.3-3.5mm extension from the rear headphone out port and just loop it over the top of your desk.  When you want to use your speakers - turn them on.  When you want to use the AD700s, turn off the speakers, and plug the headphones into the extension.  Another alternative would be to always have the headphones plugged into the back port via the 6.3mm plug.  Final option would be to make sure the STX headers are correctly connected to the front ports of the PC, disable mobo sound, and plug AD700 into front ports (it should then be using the STX).  Only issue with that could be shielding - again I don't know enough about the STX - so maybe better to talk to an STX owner.
  5. If you're going to get the STX - my advice would not be to get a stand alone dac/amp - as the STX actually has a really good chipset & really you'd be paying far too much and not using the features it provides.

 

 

Hopefully none of that was too technical.

 

If I was making the decision - here's what I'd consider:

[a] How important is gaming - and I mean specifically directional queues (ie FPS)?

[b] How important is music?  Does it have more importance than gaming?

[c] How likely are you to upgrade - especially headphones?

 

If gaming is quite important - then either STX, or lower model Xonar which has the dsp features + an amp.  PurpleAngel might be able to help you with suggestions.

If gaming and music equally important - then STX alone.

If gaming not so important (especially if you don't play FPS and don't need the directional queues) - then I'd suggest forgetting the STX and get a reasonable quality external amp/dac.  You don't have to spend megabucks to do this either.

 

Disclaimer - my personal experience only.

I started with mobo sound, then went to a Fiio E7, then E9+E7.  I was never 100% happy.  Eventually I bit the bullet and bought an Audio-gd NFB-12.  It has dual wolfson WM8741 dacs, a very powerful class A amplifier (600 ohm headphones no problem), and a low headphone output impedance (so suitable for high or low impedance cans).  The equivalent now is the NFB 15.32 (click link).  I recommend this unit without hesitation.  I still think it is one of the best bargains around considering features for price.

 

I do game - and after I bought the NFB-12, I also added a cheap X-Fi (just for the DSPs).  So my set-up now is optical (from mobo) to NFB-12, and then either use the headphone out, or I have another amp (LD MKIV) feeding off the NFB12 dac line-out.  Even though I've added more expensive cans lately - I still have no intention of changing this dac/amp - it's that good IMO.  If you want this method - then you could run your speakers off the RCA at the back of the NFB-12.


Edited by Brooko - 8/8/13 at 5:38pm
post #11 of 24
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Brooko View Post

Just my 2c (others may have differing views)

 

  1. For a computer based system, you may as well go lossless - as disk space generally isn't an issue.  The reason I suggest this is simple - if you have lossless, and have to transcode to another format - you're best doing it from the original.  Your call on lossless preference.  Personally I use FLAC because the tagging is pretty good.  BTW - don't try and transcode your lossy back up to lossless (ie change your MP3 to WAV/FLAC) - once the info's gone you can't get it back again (hence the reason it's called lossy).
  2. WAV is not 'best'.  It's lossless  - just like ALAC is lossless and FLAC is lossless.  WAV is just not compressed.  Honestly - rip to ALAC if you're in an Apple eco system, or FLAC if it's Windows/Linux.  WAV has no sonic benefits - just a larger size.  When your PC decompresses the FLAC file - it outputs exactly the same PCM stream (as a WAV file) to the DAC.
  3. I haven't owned the STX (I have an x-fi)  - although I did own and enjoy the AD700.  Just be aware that the output impedance on the STX is ~ 10 ohms.  So it isn't an ideal damping factor with the AD700 (32 ohms) - ideal is about 1:8 or more.  However saying that, I've heard of many people pairing the two together - and haven't heard any critiques.  The STX are supposed to be good cards - and if you move up to something like a Q701 or HD600 later - the damping factor will suit better.
  4. If you're just going to use the STX (it should be good for movies, music and gaming), then I'd consider connecting the speakers to the rear RCA analogue ports, and getting a 6.3-3.5mm extension from the rear headphone out port and just loop it over the top of your desk.  When you want to use your speakers - turn them on.  When you want to use the AD700s, turn off the speakers, and plug the headphones into the extension.  Another alternative would be to always have the headphones plugged into the back port via the 6.3mm plug.  Final option would be to make sure the STX headers are correctly connected to the front ports of the PC, disable mobo sound, and plug AD700 into front ports (it should then be using the STX).  Only issue with that could be shielding - again I don't know enough about the STX - so maybe better to talk to an STX owner.
  5. If you're going to get the STX - my advice would not be to get a stand alone dac/amp - as the STX actually has a really good chipset & really you'd be paying far too much and not using the features it provides.

 

 

Hopefully none of that was too technical.

 

If I was making the decision - here's what I'd consider:

[a] How important is gaming - and I mean specifically directional queues (ie FPS)?

[b] How important is music?  Does it have more importance than gaming?

[c] How likely are you to upgrade - especially headphones?

 

If gaming is quite important - then either STX, or lower model Xonar which has the dsp features + an amp.  PurpleAngel might be able to help you with suggestions.

If gaming and music equally important - then STX alone.

If gaming not so important (especially if you don't play FPS and don't need the directional queues) - then I'd suggest forgetting the STX and get a reasonable quality external amp/dac.  You don't have to spend megabucks to do this either.

 

Disclaimer - my personal experience only.

I started with mobo sound, then went to a Fiio E7, then E9+E7.  I was never 100% happy.  Eventually I bit the bullet and bought an Audio-gd NFB-12.  It has dual wolfson WM8741 dacs, a very powerful class A amplifier (600 ohm headphones no problem), and a low headphone output impedance (so suitable for high or low impedance cans).  The equivalent now is the NFB 15.32 (click link).  I recommend this unit without hesitation.  I still think it is one of the best bargains around considering features for price.

 

I do game - and after I bought the NFB-12, I also added a cheap X-Fi (just for the DSPs).  So my set-up now is optical (from mobo) to NFB-12, and then either use the headphone out, or I have another amp (LD MKIV) feeding off the NFB12 dac line-out.  Even though I've added more expensive cans lately - I still have no intention of changing this dac/amp - it's that good IMO.  If you want this method - then you could run your speakers off the RCA at the back of the NFB-12.

Thank you so much for all the info! I've had to let it marinate a little bit over a few days. 

 

1 & 2: I am definitely collecting lossless music. However what sucks is I don't have any CD's so i'm having to search for the files everywhere (cough cough).

 

3: I'm a little confused about this. Can you explain a little more how output impedance works? I tried to look at the specs of the STX and say creatives sound blaster Z and I can't make the connection.

 

4 & 5: I do game (counter strike) so I think i'd like to go the soundcard route. One question though. Since my speakers us a single AUX plug, i'm assuming that connecting them the the RCA ports on the STX would be accomplished with a RCA - AUX ???

 

I think what i'll do is slowly build up a good system. Start with the sound card, which will suffice for my headphones and crappy speakers (for now). The next thing i'll get is the NFB 15.32 because eventually i'll want to upgrade my headphones.

 

Thanks again for the info! It really helps me.

post #12 of 24

I'm thinking you would be better off upgrading headphones, the AD700s are great for FPS gaming and they can do a good job for music (that does not need bass), but to me their lack of bass is a turn off, for movies and music.

 

Audio Technica ATH-A900Xs are selling refurb for $130 and new for $155.

 

The Asus Xonar DG sound card is $30 and there is a $10 mail in rebate.

 

I'm guessing once you hear the audio quality of the A900Xs, you will not want to use you ProMedia speakers ever again, sell off the Promedias and AD700s for some cash.

post #13 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by DScience View Post

Thank you so much for all the info! I've had to let it marinate a little bit over a few days. 

 

1 & 2: I am definitely collecting lossless music. However what sucks is I don't have any CD's so i'm having to search for the files everywhere (cough cough).

 

3: I'm a little confused about this. Can you explain a little more how output impedance works? I tried to look at the specs of the STX and say creatives sound blaster Z and I can't make the connection.

 

4 & 5: I do game (counter strike) so I think i'd like to go the soundcard route. One question though. Since my speakers us a single AUX plug, i'm assuming that connecting them the the RCA ports on the STX would be accomplished with a RCA - AUX ???

 

I think what i'll do is slowly build up a good system. Start with the sound card, which will suffice for my headphones and crappy speakers (for now). The next thing i'll get is the NFB 15.32 because eventually i'll want to upgrade my headphones.

 

Thanks again for the info! It really helps me.

 

  1. Just be careful with the 'cough cough' sources.  Some of them may not be as lossless as you think, and some will be from woeful masterings.  There is no substitute for ripping yourself from the CD - it's the only way to know the quality is perfect.  If you're in the US look for Amazon 2nd hand.  And it's worth it even to rebuy the music.  I own all of my music (some 300-350 CDs now) - it's worth it.
  2. Output impedance relativity - here's a couple of links to get you started:
    http://www.head-fi.org/a/headphone-impedance
    http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/meridian-explorer-case-study-effects-output-impedance
  3. Yep an RCA to stereo plug should do the trick. I used the same for a while with my Logitechs when I was running them off the back of the NFB-12.

 

I think you're going the smart route.  Upgrade as you can afford it.  Always spend the most on your headphones - they make the biggest difference.  You may even find the STX keeps you well satisfied in the meantime.  Be careful of the 'hype' especially on these boards.  Ignore post counts - and concentrate on what gear people have, and what reviews they've given.  Try to find someone who's heard the same headphones you have - and has similar tastes.  if they review with similar thoughts on lower quality headphones - you can then begin to trust them on higher quality ones.

 

Above all - have fun, and don't forget that it's ultimately about the music - not about the gear beerchug.gif

post #14 of 24

For music source you might consider Google Music. It's all 320 kbps and selection is very good. If you can get CDs by all means do so but they can be hard to find and not as easy as clicking a mouse. I'm not up on the debate of 320 vs lossless but for me convenience and variety often wins out over patience.

post #15 of 24
Thread Starter 

Well I have some things to report. 

 

First, I ended up getting a pair of the ATH-AD900X, in fact they just arrived and i'm giving them a listen. Initially I couldn't tell that big of a difference between these and the AD700's. The bass was obviously more pronounced, but it took a few songs to compare and now I am starting to realize. One way to explain the sound is the 900's seem cleaner, if that makes sense. The highs and mids don't sound as artificial. That's it! I think the main difference is the music simply sounds more realistic. Each instrument, and each different sound has it's own character. 

 

Well needless to say I really enjoy these and am glad I invested the extra bit. Now the next step is figuring out the input set up.

 

After considering all of the suggestions, I am considering the following possibilities:

 

1) Invest in a Asus essence STX, use it to power both speakers (Klipsch promedia 2.1 for now) and headphones (AD900X).

 

      a) Also get a FiiO E09K: STX -> E09K -> headphones; STX -> speakers

 

2) Use onboard sound card for gaming (it works fine for me) and get a nice DAC/headphone AMP for music. 

 

Suggestions??

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