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Will the Sabre U2 Async be a noticable upgrade over the onboard Realtek ALC889A chip?

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 

Hello Everyone,

 

I assume that the answer to the above question is yes, but please allow me to give some background.

I'm new to the world of better audio quality. I'm currently using the Sure SRH840 (44 Ohms impedance) that are plugged into the motherboard, but looking to upgrade my listening experience a little and to get away from the onboard chip.

 

I don't consider myself and audiophile, but I think that I can appreciate a better sound experience. In the last week or so I researched this (and other) subject and understood that what I need is a DAC and perhaps even an AMP. I lack a lot of knowledge to even understand some of the explanations that are given in some of the threads so I don't want to spend a lot of money without understanding what I'm investing in and how it addresses my needs - which if to be honest, I don't even know how to define except for 'looking to improve my listening experience a little'. Therefore, I thought to get a good entry level DAC and go from there with time and as budget allows.

 

From my research into the DAC/AMP territory I read that the HiFimeDIY Sabre U2 Asynchronous USB DAC gives great value and is quite recommended. This brings me to my question: The HiFimeDIY Sabre U2 Asynchronous USB DAC seems like a great starting point, however, my main concern is that I'm not sure if it will offer a better experience over the onboard chip; at first I was quite sure that it will, but after reading some more on the subject a doubt crept in because some claim that the onboard chips are not that bad compared to the cheap DACs.

I'm still under the impression that the Sabre U2 DAC is significantly better than my onboard chip, and because the Sure SRH840 can benefit from a better DAC (and maybe AMP), I can expect an upgraded listening experience.

For its price the Sabre U2 seems like a bargain so I'm not concerned about that, it is just that I don't like redundancy (except for critical data storage :)) and don't want to invest in something that will give me pretty much what I already have.

 

I will appreciate any input and advice.

 

Thank you

 

Edited: to correct the subject line so it will show the entire question.

Second edit: my main uses are Music (lossless from various sources or not highly lossy) and some video (for which I don't expect much improvement in the audio quality department).


Edited by AboutBlank - 1/1/14 at 7:39am
post #2 of 22

You can plug your headphones straight into the Sabre U2, so you might not need an amp. I haven't heard that DAC, but IMO it's very reasonable to expect a sonic improvement over your stock computer audio. My first DAC was a completely different and older model (HRT Music Streamer II with a CMOY amp), but compared to my computer, it sounded cleaner and clearer, with more sense of space and more defined bass. Just don't expect a DAC to make it sound like you have completely new headphones. 

In any case, the only way for you to really answer your question is to try it yourself. It's not a huge financial risk considering the low price and the fact that you could sell it here if you don't hear any difference. 

post #3 of 22
Thread Starter 

Thank you for you answer, manbear.

 

The financial risk it indeed small and I'm not worried about that, I just wanted to make sure that I don't buy something that is generally known to be no better than what I already have.

 

As to the quality, I don't expect the DAC to work miracles. I'm not very good at describing sound, so I guess that by better audio quality I mean a more detailed experience throughout the different frequency ranges (or at least those the Sure SRH840 is known to be good at), i.e. to hear a little more details that I now might be missing, and overall to have a more refined listening experience.

 

During my research I noticed that there are several other "cheap" DIY-type of DACs (from Stoner Acoustics and various DIY kits on eBay). If I understood correctly, the core component that sets them apart is the chip. Do you happen to know if there is something more recommended - for any reason e.g. sound-wise, reliability, compatibility, technical, and so forth - than the Sabre U2 Async? I'm researching a little into the various DAC chips (the Sabre U2 Async is currently out-of-stock so I have a couple of days to research into this a little more), but read various opinions, which left me overall confused.

 

Unless an overwhelming evidence to the contrary will be presented, I think that I will stick with the Sabre U2 Async.

 

Thank you once again.

post #4 of 22

@AboutBlank,

 

i was recently doing the same sort of research as you: http://www.head-fi.org/t/696401/giant-list-of-sub-200-portable-dacs-w-their-chips-price

 

I ended up getting the Stoner Acoustic DAC (facebook msg em). I'll let you know how it sounds.

 

if you don't need portability, HifimeDIY has a new version of their desktop DAC with an external power supply (which I hear supposedly improves sound) and has a headphone amp in the 3.5 out.

post #5 of 22
Thread Starter 

Thank you, @money4me247.

 

I actually stumbled upon your discussion before. It is a great source of information, and this is what pointed me towards researching the different chips. From you research, did you have any conclusion about which DAC chip(s) is considered preferable in this point in time?

 

I saw the HiFimeDIY Sabre USB DAC 2 (external PSU), but I'm not sure about it. It doesn't work in Async mode and as far as I can tell the general consensus here is that Async is preferable; furthermore, I really want to keep my investing as small as possible - just to test the water so to speak - and because I don't need an amp at the moment I don't know if this is the better option for me as far as the DAC component and the overall investment are concerned.

Still, this is an option, I just have to look into it a little more, so thanks for bringing this up.

post #6 of 22
Thread Starter 

Thank you, @money4me247.

 

I actually stumbled upon your discussion before. It is a great source of information, and this is what pointed me towards researching the different chips. From you research, did you have any conclusion about which DAC chip(s) is considered preferable in this point in time?

 

I saw the HiFimeDIY Sabre USB DAC 2 (external PSU), but I'm not sure about it. It doesn't work in Async mode and as far as I can tell the general consensus here is that Async mode is preferable; furthermore, I really want to keep my investing as small as possible - just to test the water so to speak - and because I don't need an amp at the moment I don't know if this is the better option for me as far as the DAC component and the overall investment are concerned.

Still, this is an option, I just have to look into it a little more so thanks for bringing it up.

post #7 of 22
My advice is to either plan on getting an amp/dac combination unit or both a DAC and an amp. Plugging your phones into the DAC directly will work - but it won't be as satisfying. I think that I would want the gain & volume control from an amp to properly drive & control the headphones.
post #8 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by AboutBlank View Post
 

Thank you, @money4me247.

 

I actually stumbled upon your discussion before. It is a great source of information, and this is what pointed me towards researching the different chips. From you research, did you have any conclusion about which DAC chip(s) is considered preferable in this point in time?

 

I saw the HiFimeDIY Sabre USB DAC 2 (external PSU), but I'm not sure about it. It doesn't work in Async mode and as far as I can tell the general consensus here is that Async mode is preferable; furthermore, I really want to keep my investing as small as possible - just to test the water so to speak - and because I don't need an amp at the moment I don't know if this is the better option for me as far as the DAC component and the overall investment are concerned.

Still, this is an option, I just have to look into it a little more so thanks for bringing it up.

@AboutBlank, first question what pair(s) of headphones will you be using with it?

 

mmm... from my personal research, it seems like if you just want to dip your toes in the water, the cheap Behringer UCA202 Audio Interface ($30: PCM2902) would be the best option as it measures well & is super cheap & is available on amazon (hence you can hassle-free return it).

 

if you are buying to keep, then I guess it depends on your budget. If your trying to stay under $100, the Hifimediy sabre, stoner acoustic ud 110, and dac destroyer all have supporters here on the forums saying they like em.

 

it's hard to say whether the dac or amp will have a bigger impact on improving your sound quality depending on what kind of headphones you have. so i think starting off with the $30 UCA202 + some budget Fiio amp would probably a good way to test whether your headphones scale up/benefit from additional equipment.

 

Edit: the only thing that async does is eliminate jitter... personally, I am doubtful there will be a noticeable sound quality difference between async vs non-async. (maybe if you have some really high-end headphones, but then if you did, you wouldn't be looking at cheap dacs lol)


Edited by money4me247 - 1/1/14 at 12:52pm
post #9 of 22
Thread Starter 

I will be using the Sure SRH840 (44 Ohms impedance).

I know that an amp might change things and that testing the system sans amp could lead to the wrong conclusion, but I was under the impression that plugging an easy to drive headphones to a DAC should give me a general idea. I'm perfectly aware that there are far too many variables, including very subjective ones, that can affect the result and therefore I'm not looking for a conclusive answer; I'm just trying to understand if I'm on the right direction towards entry-level or budget improved audio experience.

 

As little as I know about DACs, I know even less about amps.

Are there any good (at least equivalent to the DACs mentioned above) entry level amp/DAC combos to consider in the 100$ or less price range besides the one from HiFiMeDIY?

 

My plan at the moment is probably to get the Sabre U2 or one of the other inexpensive DACs, and if I won't get the combo from HiFiMeDIY I might get a budget amp next (need to research this a little first).

post #10 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by AboutBlank View Post

 

Are there any good (at least equivalent to the DACs mentioned above) entry level amp/DAC combos to consider in the 100$ or less price range besides the one from HiFiMeDIY?


Check out the Fiio E07K or E10 for a DAC and a full amp in one box. There is also the Audioquest Dragonfly for $100. 

post #11 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by AboutBlank View Post
 

I will be using the Sure SRH840 (44 Ohms impedance).

I know that an amp might change things and that testing the system sans amp could lead to the wrong conclusion, but I was under the impression that plugging an easy to drive headphones to a DAC should give me a general idea. I'm perfectly aware that there are far too many variables, including very subjective ones, that can affect the result and therefore I'm not looking for a conclusive answer; I'm just trying to understand if I'm on the right direction towards entry-level or budget improved audio experience.

 

As little as I know about DACs, I know even less about amps.

Are there any good (at least equivalent to the DACs mentioned above) entry level amp/DAC combos to consider in the 100$ or less price range besides the one from HiFiMeDIY?

 

My plan at the moment is probably to get the Sabre U2 or one of the other inexpensive DACs, and if I won't get the combo from HiFiMeDIY I might get a budget amp next (need to research this a little first).

Fiio has a lot of budget standalone amps or amp/dac combos. At the sub-$100 price point your options for dac/amp combos are limited to basically Fiio E70K (or the old version E7 or the E10) I believe. You an get the Fiio E17 or E18 at $120ish. I do remember seeing that the Firestone Audio Fireye II is a dac/amp combo around $70ish maybe. The Audioquest Dragonfly version 1.0 can be found for $99 & it is an amp/dac combo. The newer Dragonfly is 1.2 at $150. Beyond that, I can't really think of anything else sub-$100 off the top of my head.

 

If you are looking to spend $200+, you can get desktop stacks such as the schitt modi/magni (highly recommended around here) or the JDS O2/Odac ($280).

post #12 of 22
Thread Starter 

Thanks guys, your help is really appreciated.

 

I need to look into some of the latest options that you have suggested, maybe read some reviews and comparisons about them.

 

Due to my lack of experience I'm looking to test the water, if only to get some solid reference point, but I would prefer to get something that I will likely want to keep. This is why the HiFiMeDIY (or similar DAC) seemed like such a good starting point for me: on the one hand there is no shortage of praises and good reviews about its quality and value, and on the other hand it is inexpensive enough not to become an issue even if things won't work out as expected (not to mention that it can be re-purposed or sold).

 

Well, I guess that I need to start with something and that I can't really go wrong with any of the options mentioned throughout the discussion, so I take a little comfort in that.

 

Thank you once again for your time and attention.

post #13 of 22
Also don't forget that the head-fi buy/sell forums are always available should you wish to try something else. There tend to be two types of head-fiers: those that accumulate gear and never really sell anything, or those that are constantly buying/selling/trading. Both methods work - and you will notice that I did NOT give the option of buying one thing and being happy - that is simply not the head-fi way!!! wink.gif
post #14 of 22
Thread Starter 

I heard something a little alarming yesterday that I hope you will be able to help clarify.

Someone told me that I will not be able to hear anything through the USB connected DAC (and the headphones connected to it) when playing videos or games (which is less relevant for me as I'm not using the computer for gaming, but still good to know about for general knowledge) with DD/DTS/AC3 encoded audio on the computer.

I assumed that the DAC passes only the Stereo channels to the headphones and that means losing the potential ability to use surround sound, given an appropriate output devices which are irrelevant to this discussion, but I'm a little confused now.

 

I searched Head-Fi in an attempt to find some more information, but got even more confused and didn't seem to find a straightforward answer. I have contacted HiFiMEDIY and they told me that the Sabre U2 can output DTS/AC3 through an optical output, that the 3.5mm jack also serves as an optical output, but not at the same time it is used for analog output - which makes sense, but I have no clue what it means in practice in terms of what I will or will not be able to do.

 

Originally I thought that a USB DAC is a "plug-and-play" type of solution that won't require switching sources depending on the use. Should I expect any audio issues with playing videos/games on the computer or did I just misunderstand it all? If it only means losing surround sound support then I'm fine with it as I will be only using the headphones anyway.

 

Thank you in advance for any clarification.


Edited by AboutBlank - 1/6/14 at 7:17am
post #15 of 22

I just got the Sabre U2 (sync version) yesterday and tried this out.  In Windows 8, the driver defaults to 16/44.1k only, and with DTS & WMA encodings enabled.  If you disable all of encoding types, and enable all of the bitrate options, windows will do the DTS/WMA/etc decoding in software and pass the DAC a standard 24/96k signal.  You can always use their 'test' button to verify that your configuration works.

 

I was able to play games just fine after configuring the driver.

 

I'm not sure how to do this in other operating systems but I'd bet there's a way...

 

FWIW, I also have a Realtek 889 onboard dac, Sennheiser HD598's and the AKC 702 anniversary edition, and IMO this DAC is money well spent.

 

 

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