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questions about dacs amps and sound cards

post #1 of 33
Thread Starter 

Hello guys as a noob in this i have a couple of questions.

 

Is a soundcard a combined DAC and amp.

 

if you have a dac and amp do you need a sound card or is a sound card and dac interchangeable and not dac+soundcard in one system?

 

And is an amp purely for increasing the volume, or is there a quality difference here aswell?

 

 

Thanks guys!

post #2 of 33

Almost all soundcards that I can think of are both DAC units with an amp section.

 

If you have a sound card and are pleased with how it sounds then there may not be a reason to upgrade.

 

An amp is not solely to increase the volume, but that is its primary function.  Many amps and devices with amps stages like iPods are not designed with studio headphones in mind.  These devices might not be able to supply enough current or voltage to the headphone, they may have too high of output impedance which can lead to poor control of the headphone driver ( look up audio damping factor ), and lastly amps with better designs tend to be quieter.

 

There are many thoughts regarding amps, but most studio professionals prefer their gear to be as revealing, neutral, and pure sounding as possible as to not hide what is actually in the recording.  Many amps can color the sound much like headphones differ from each other.  A good amp, in my opinion, should basically be "a wire with gain" and not add or subtract anything from the music.

 

These things are hard to tell unless they are measured because we all supply a subjective bias to the sound.  We all have different ears, hearing experiences, preference, and ways of enjoying sound.  This is why many of us relay partially on the measurements often conducted by outside sources to prove how the amp performs.  The same can be said of a DAC and soundcard, but there are not many people out there that measure equipment.

 

You can dig around here:

 

http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/headphone-amp-measurements-were-therei-think

 

and here

 

http://en.goldenears.net/index.php?mid=GE_GoldenEars&document_srl=405

 

for some examples.

 

It is also a way of keeping audio manufacturers honest.  If there is not measured difference from amp 1 compared to amp 2, and everything else is the same excluding price, then it is often in the best interests of the buyer to purchase the less expensive amp.

 

I hope that helps you understand a bit more.

post #3 of 33
Thread Starter 

awesome, ill check out the links thanks for the help.

 

very helpful

post #4 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by NA Blur View Post

Almost all sound cards that I can think of are both DAC units with an amp section.

Agreed. One of the only internal sound cards that doesn't have a headphone amp I can think of is the Xonar DX/D1. But that's extremely rare. If you find a sound card like and you are not certain if it has a headphone amp, someone here on Head-Fi will probably know smily_headphones1.gif
post #5 of 33
Thread Starter 

thanks guys

post #6 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by Aerathion View Post
 

Hello guys as a noob in this i have a couple of questions.

Is a sound card a combined DAC and amp.

If you have a DAC and amp do you need a sound card or is a sound card and DAC interchangeable and not DAC+ sound card in one system?

And is an amp purely for increasing the volume, or is there a quality difference here aswell?

All sound cards come with a DAC chip, a sound card may or may not come with a "true" headphone amplifier.

Even a sound card without a true headphone amplifier, can usually drive a headphone up to 60-Ohms (maybe 80-Ohms) decently.

But a true headphone amplifier usually helps with sound quality and/or for driving headphones above 80-Ohms.

Also lower impedance headphones, 32-ohms or less, really needs to be used with a headphone amplifier with a really low impedance.

As of lately, new sound card designs are all coming with a built in headphone amplifier.

post #7 of 33
Thread Starter 

Yea my sound card has a built in amp aswell, but everyone says it sucks and wouldnt be able to drive anything like the mad dogs :3

post #8 of 33
Does your sound card have a line out? If so, how about a Schiit Magni external amp? I'm guessing that should drive the Mad Dogs pretty well.
post #9 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by Aerathion View Post
 

Yea my sound card has a built in amp as well, but everyone says it sucks and wouldn't be able to drive anything like the mad dogs :3

What is the make and model of the sound card?

post #10 of 33
Thread Starter 

Xonar Phoebus, it says up to 500 Ohm but the mad dogs are quite power hungry im told

post #11 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by Aerathion View Post
 

Xonar Phoebus, it says up to 500 Ohm but the mad dogs are quite power hungry im told

The headphone amplifier on the Phoebus should work with headphones up to 600-Ohms.

(Same amplifier chip as used in the Essence STX & ST and Sound Blaster ZxR)

The Fostex TR50P Mad Dogs are 50-Ohm.

The TR50Ps use a Regulated Phase Technology, which is not used in most headphones.

So I'm not sure how well the Phoebus's amp works with it.

But ask here.

http://www.head-fi.org/t/666284/mrspeakers-mad-dog-impressions-and-discussion-thread

post #12 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by Aerathion View Post

Xonar Phoebus, it says up to 500 Ohm but the mad dogs are quite power hungry im told

The Mad Dogs have a sensitivity rating of 92db. That's not very high for headphones, but it is better than some others.

Sensitivity, if measured correctly and following the standard, tells you the volume output with 1 mw of power for comparing with other headphones. So a more sensitive amplifier needs less power to get loud.

Amps vary on how much max output they have, which is determined by how much power they have. I would wait until you hear the Mad Dogs with your Xonar. If the volume won't get loud enough for you, then you definitely want a better headphone amp. If you are running the volume near max, then there can be SQ benefits. What happens is that near max volume, many parts of a song (depends on the music), an amp might be able to reproduce perfectly. However, during peaks in the song, the amp might be distorting a lot, or even clipping. Plus, near an amp's limit, there will be more distortion. So it might be a little less clear if you are running it near the top volume, although this is not always true. Depends on the gain settings of the amp and the input signal (the song) as to whether or not it will distort.

Also, in my experience, if you listen to a lot of bass heavy music, an amp can be challenged if near full volume. Why? Because the amp can have enough power for music without heavy bass near max volume. Then add in the extra bass, and that has to draw extra power from the amp, pushing it harder.

Did that make any sense? LOL smily_headphones1.gif
post #13 of 33
Thread Starter 

Great! I think im gonna play it safe and get a less powerhungry headphone :D

 

Cant really say im an audiofile, i just love music :D

post #14 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by Aerathion View Post
 

Great! I think I'm gonna play it safe and get a less power hungry headphone :D

Can't really say I'm an audiofile, I just love music :D

The Phoebus gets it's power from your computer's power supply,

which provides more power then any external headphone amplifier you might buy.

So no shortage of juice for the headphones.

Get the Mad dogs, you can always swap the Phoebus for something else.

But I doubt you'll find the Phoebus lacking.

 

If not the Mad dogs, what type of headphones would you be looking for,

Best at music? or gaming? or movies?

Prefer good vocals? or just like a heavy bass?

Open or closed headphones?

post #15 of 33
Thread Starter 

I prefer music/very little bit of gaming i play league of legends but thats not really headphone dependant

i like a somewhat flat sound, but i enjoyed the signature of the senn momentums

i want closed hps

 

im a bit worried that the mad dogs with my phoebus would sound worse than with some portables. distorting and stuff

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