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Do I need an amp or just a dac?

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 

I need a little help with a new amp or maybe just a dac.  I've been using the xonar dx in my pc for about a year now and just recently I switched to the sennheiser hd 558 headphones.  The xonar dx card did not have a dedicated headphone amp in it, so I'm selling it now.  It did have a pretty good dac for the price.  

 

The problem now is, I have to use the onboard alc892 and it's horrid.  I can't believe the difference, and I have to turn it up all the way and it's still a little quiet on movies.

 

So that got me wondering, do I really need an amp or can I get away with just a desktop dac?  The xonar provided provided plenty of sound, and I never turned the volume past about 60%.

 

I would really like a desktop dac, preferrebaly usb.  I'm into quality over volume.  Will just a dac provide enough volume for 50 ohm hd558's?  

 

If so, I was looking at schiit products for the $99 dac.  I really can't spend $200 for a dac and amp, and around $150 would probably be my max.

 

Please help, thanks!

post #2 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Justinf89 View Post

I need a little help with a new amp or maybe just a dac.  I've been using the xonar dx in my pc for about a year now and just recently I switched to the sennheiser hd 558 headphones.  The xonar dx card did not have a dedicated headphone amp in it, so I'm selling it now.  It did have a pretty good dac for the price.  

 

The problem now is, I have to use the onboard alc892 and it's horrid.  I can't believe the difference, and I have to turn it up all the way and it's still a little quiet on movies.

 

So that got me wondering, do I really need an amp or can I get away with just a desktop dac?  The xonar provided provided plenty of sound, and I never turned the volume past about 60%.

 

I would really like a desktop dac, preferrebaly usb.  I'm into quality over volume.  Will just a dac provide enough volume for 50 ohm hd558's?  

 

If so, I was looking at schiit products for the $99 dac.  I really can't spend $200 for a dac and amp, and around $150 would probably be my max.

 

Please help, thanks!

I can't help you with specifics - you'll most likely get plenty of suggestions here.  However, "I have to turn it up all the way" is a classic symptom of not enough amp.  I would suggest that even with your xonar, "I never turned the volume past about 60%" is probably a symptom of not enough amp, either - 60% sounds pretty high compared to the headphone amps I've used for the last seven years.  Of course, that can all be related to a mis-matched gain relative to the headphone efficiency, but with both cards having you turn the volume past half-way, an amp is probably needed.

 

As for the DAC, that really depends on whether you hear sufficient detail, adequate frequency response, etc.  An amp can only deliver (or enhance) the sound that exists at the source.

post #3 of 17

If you are going to have a desktop DAC, you will either need an "all-in-one" DAC/amp combo or separate DAC and headphone amp.  In your price range, you are probably going to do the best with a DAC/amp combo.  

 

Two combos I have experience with in your pricerange are the FiiO E17 and Aune T1.  The Aune is the better combo in my opinion, but the E17 has the option of portability if you want to use it as a portable headphone amp for mp3 player, phone, etc.  

 

If you can stretch your budget to the $200 range I would take a look at the Schiit Modi & Magni combo.  It will be a significant step up and will have enough power to amp a number of headphones if you decide to upgrade in the future.  If this is not possible, I think you will be satisfied with the e17 or t1 as both should have enough power to do pretty well with your HD 558.

 

Hope this helps!

post #4 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by tomb View Post

I would suggest that even with your xonar, "I never turned the volume past about 60%" is probably a symptom of not enough amp, either - 60% sounds pretty high compared to the headphone amps I've used for the last seven years.

 

The Xonar DX does not have excess gain, and does not clip even at 100% volume. Which is not surprising given that it is intended to be used as a line output, where setting the maximum volume is normal. So, running it at 60% is not an issue when driving headphones (it will not current limit with low impedance loads either); the high output impedance is, however.

post #5 of 17

Bravo Ocean $95 plus Asus DGX $30

post #6 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by stv014 View Post

 

The Xonar DX does not have excess gain, and does not clip even at 100% volume. Which is not surprising given that it is intended to be used as a line output, where setting the maximum volume is normal. So, running it at 60% is not an issue when driving headphones (it will not current limit with low impedance loads either); the high output impedance is, however.

OK, that may be true - granted, I'm no expert on sound cards (nor do I want to be).  However, if its line out is the only output connection used for a headphone ... that's a pretty poor way to drive one.  Line output is designed for a specific standard - 100 ohm output impedance is part of that standard (can vary to 600 ohm), but so is the connected load - 10K ohms, minimum usually.  Without a separate headphone out and circuit designed into the card, It's a substandard way to drive headphones in any case.  A headphone amp is needed.wink.gif

post #7 of 17
A dac is a line output device. Yep, need an amp. Or maybe an outboard dac with headphone amp.....
post #8 of 17
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the help guys, looks like I might have to up my budget.  What are the favorite brands for a single amp/dac combo?  I feel like the fiio products aren't really made for desktop apps.

 

Edit:  Just looked at the e17 a little closer. It would be nice to have a portable dac.  Any good reviews on it?


Edited by Justinf89 - 8/13/13 at 4:15pm
post #9 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Justinf89 View Post

 

 

Edit:  Just looked at the e17 a little closer. It would be nice to have a portable dac.  Any good reviews on it?

 

Here:

http://www.head-fi.org/products/fiio-e17

 

You can buy the E09K and you have a decent setup. 

post #10 of 17

Grab a E10 for cheap (<60$) and you will be set.

post #11 of 17

Have you sold the DX yet? I use the same card--it does have a headphone amp.

post #12 of 17

I think you should go with Audio GD DAC+headphone amp is more worth. You will get both DAC and Amp that make your more sound quality.   

The smallest model is just around $250 but you can looking for the used that selling. 

You can chose if you pay a little more you will earn higher level or pay less but does not see any effect. 

post #13 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Justinf89 View Post

Thanks for the help guys, looks like I might have to up my budget.  What are the favorite brands for a single amp/dac combo?  I feel like the fiio products aren't really made for desktop apps.

 

Edit:  Just looked at the E17 a little closer. It would be nice to have a portable DAC.  Any good reviews on it?

The Asus Xonar DX is a good sound, except it's does not have a headphone amplifier and the line-out/headphone jack has an impedance of 100-Ohms :(

But for $60 you can get the PAV2V (Pocket Amplifier 2 Version 2) off eBay.

Works as a desktop (AC) amp or can run off it's batteries.

So plug the PAV2V in the Xonar DX's green jack and the HD558s into the PAV2V.

 

Have you removed the black rubber tape from inside the cups of the HD558?

Bass may not be a loud, but mids & treble quality should improve (at least a little).

 

Sometimes the Fiio E17 goes on sale for around $105.

post #14 of 17

PurpleAngel actually covered a similar question in great detail here: 

http://www.head-fi.org/t/606826/asus-xonar-dx-needs-a-headphone-amp-dac

 

OP, I just want to check: your issue is that the DX has no dedicated headphone amp?

Because it does have a headphone output. I've used it frequently with my HE-400 (35 ohm, 92.5dB) and DT 880 (250 ohm, 96 dB). Have never gone past 60% of the DX's volume, Windows volume set at max. 

post #15 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Eric_C View Post

Have you sold the DX yet? I use the same card--it does have a headphone amp.

 

It depends on your definition of what a "headphone amp" is. But it is electrically very similar to the RCA outputs of the more expensive Xonar Essence cards:

- Xonar D1/DX: ~1.94 Vrms full scale (unloaded), ~100 Ω output impedance, 220 uF output capacitors, driven by NJM5532

- Xonar Essence ST/STX: ~2.15 Vrms full scale (unloaded), ~100 Ω output impedance, 220 uF output capacitors, driven by LM4562 (swappable)

- ST/STX headphone output (for comparison): ~7 Vrms full scale (unloaded), ~10 Ω output impedance, DC coupled, driven by TPA6120A2

Now of course you can still decently drive many headphones with these "line outputs", as long as the output power is enough for you; the op amps can handle low impedance loads reasonably with low distortion, since they will always "see" more than 100 Ω load impedance because of the resistors. But regardless of the volume, the sound can be affected by the output impedance, for example, it causes a mid-bass resonance in the Sennheiser HD5xx (which some people may like, given that these headphones are not particularly bass heavy otherwise).


Edited by stv014 - 8/14/13 at 5:46am
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