My old motherboard (ASRock Extreme4-m) had Realtek ALC-898 and overall the quality seemed alright. At the very least, I had no noise from its output with my IEMs or othwerise. Obviously nothing audiophile quality, but "good enough".
I replaced it with a Gigabyte G1.Sniper M3, which comes with a Creative CA0132 chip onboard and supposedly some other circuitry designed to provide good audio quality (including protection from interference). It has an amplified output that is VERY loud -- with my headphones (ATH-A500 or Aurvana Live), they're plenty loud at only about 15% volume, which actually is kind of annoying because it doesn't give me as much granularity in fine-tuning the volume. The sound is decent, and there's not much noise at all. My IEMs (meElectronics M6) on the other hand are a lot more sensitive apparently and the noise level is not acceptable.
Now, I can use the board's speaker output (rather than headphone) and get noise-free output, however the output is not quite loud enough. With the IEMs, at 100% volume they're still just a tad quieter than I want, and seem to be lacking fullness and impact.
So overall the only problem I have at the moment is I like to use my IEMs on my desktop sometimes but there isn't a good option using this board at the moment (unless there's someway to control the gain on the amplified headphone output). So, I'm considering either a sound card or external amp. All of my headphones are low impedance, and thus I would ideally get something with low output impedance.
Here's what I'm considering. I don't want to spend much money (<$75 I'd say) because I doubt spending much more would provide me noticeable benefit, and that kind of price tends to leave me with "good enough":
- Internal sound card (PCI-Express). I could get something cheap, like the Xonar DGX or DSX. It seems like the output impedance on these may be around 10 ohms though
- External headphone amplifier running from the board's "un-amped" speaker output. Fiio has a bunch, but one issue I've seen is that many of them are designed for portability and thus cannot be or ideally should not be used while charging (and since I'd only be using it at my desktop it'd be far more convenient to keep it plugged in at all times). I also ran across the Bravo AUDIO V2 -- would this be at all what I'm looking for?
- External USB DAC/AMP, like the Fiio E10
This would be for listening to music and also gaming, but as far as I know what's good for one should be good for the other because I typically have not used the virtual surround that comes with "gaming sound cards".
Edited by Gregory_WE - 8/15/13 at 4:59pm