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Need help choosing a USB DAC + preamp + headphone amp for under $300.

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 

I bought a XianSheng DAC-01A 8 months ago to connect my M-Audio BX5a speakers to my PC and a couple other sources. It works great except for one small feature that is missing; the rear RCA outputs remain active when headphones are connected. There are internal jumpers to modify the output of the rear RCAs but they only toggle whether or not the volume knob alters the volume, doesn't achieve what I need to happen.

 

So, I'm looking for a different USB DAC that also has a preamp for additional inputs and outputs as well as a built-in headphone amplifier. There are a few devices I've found that would meet what I need, I'm just looking for advice on what would be the best use of my money. I would also like the device to be as compact as possible,the DAC-01A is relatively substantial. The DAC-01A cost me about $180 so I'd like to stay around that but am willing to spend a bit more. I'm willing to buy second-hand, no problem with that.

 

My leading choice is the Fiio E07k + E09k combo. I like the idea of being able to take the E07k with me for travelling but still having the E09k on my desk connected to me active speakers. The aux analog input would be used for temporarily connecting a portable device. Besides USB I don't foresee a need for another digital input or I would pick the E17 instead. From what I've seen this combo would cost around $250.

 

Next is the Nuforce HDP which I believe is discontinued. It has the analog input I want and another digital one. The only thing the Fiio combo has over this is the mudularity / portability otherwise I consider them equal.

 

Finally I'm also considering the Creative X-Fi HD USB because it has all the same features but also because it is by far the least expensive. In this case I'm aware I would get what I pay for and am not too thrilled about relying on Creative's drivers rather than native OS functionality the other two devices have.

 

I've also looked at the new Asus Xonar Essence III which would be perfect except for cost. The Emotiva XDA-2 is close except for the lack of analog inputs and size but its price is $270 on their website. 

 

Are there any other devices I should add to my list or should I exclude any?

post #2 of 8

I was also in the same boat with you a little while ago, with being able to switch between headphones and speakers, these were the DAC/AMP's that I found had an actual switch for change them. (So you can leave headphones plugged in, some DAC/AMP's turned on/off the rca's if the headphones plugged in or out, but I liked to leave them in all the time)

 

 

Audinst HUD-mx1/mx2

Audio-GD 15.32/11.32

post #3 of 8

Don't know if this will help but the new Sound Blaster Z has a switch in the software to quickly go from speakers to headphones and back. Never have to unplug the headphones. Also has a nice DAC/amp built in. The Zx comes with a remote puck deal and the ZxR is the top of the line model with a slightly better DAC if I recall.

 

To add: I have the Z and really enjoy it. I find my self using my headphones/Z combo more then my Yamaha receiver and 5.1 system that I run through the HDMI on my ATi video card.


Edited by Grandagony - 1/16/14 at 7:51pm
post #4 of 8
Thread Starter 

The Audinst devices don't have an aux / analog input which I consider pretty important, decent prices though. Those Audio-GD ones also don't have analog in but the Audio-GD Compass 2 looks to meet what I want but it's a bit too expensive.

 

My PC is a mini-ITX with only a single PCIe slot which I use for a video card so I can only use a USB device. Thanks for the reply though.


Edited by xraycat - 1/17/14 at 10:01am
post #5 of 8
Thread Starter 

I am now also including the Aune X1 MkII on my list. It has everything I'm looking for and I think I can live with the hardware volume knob not controlling the output of the line-out. 

post #6 of 8
Thread Starter 

I read a lot of confusing information on the E09k. I thought it was possible to 'switch' between the headphone and RCA outputs but evidently that is a feature of the E9. 

I need to be able to either mute the pre-out RCA outputs when I plug in headphones or be able to switch between outputs; I can't have sound coming from both because I'm not able to adjust the volume or turn off my active speakers easily.

If I get the E9 instead and use the line out it would be similar to the Aune X1 MkII by not having volume control. Using the E9 pre-out would require a 3.5mm to two-RCA adapter but I'd get volume control.

post #7 of 8

Here are a couple of slightly different suggestions for you to consider.

 

http://uk.focusrite.com/usb-audio-interfaces/scarlett-2i4/specifications

 

http://www.motu.com/products/motuaudio/microbook/specs.html

 

http://www.native-instruments.com/en/products/komplete/audio-interfaces/komplete-audio-6/specifications/

 

I don't think they have auto main mute when you plug in the 'phones. Obviously. You do get a individual physical volume control for both though.You can also mute and pad any channel in software.

 

These are the sort of interfaces your BX5a monitors were designed to work with so there are a number of extra benefits. Including balanced cabling, awesome effects and EQ packages and, best of all), you can output two different programs at the same time. i.e. listen to bit perfect audio on your mains and play games or chat on skype using your headset.

 

Sound quality is obviously excellent. These companies sell expensive software like DAWs. It's not in their interest to skimp.

post #8 of 8
Thread Starter 

The Motu MicroBook II looks interesting. I originally bought my speakers with an EM-U 0404 to try out making loops and mixing but the EM-U didn't support cueing from headphones with the software I was using so I switched to a Fast Track Pro. That worked perfectly until M-Audio didn't have any driver support in Windows 8 and I stopped mixing so I sold it for the DAC-01a. 

 

I don't need any of the recording features the MBII has but I like the balanced outputs and the multiple in's & out's, price is OK too. It doesn't look like I'd be able to use a standard desktop mic (3.5mm) with it though so I'd have to keep using the input on my motherboard. Thanks!

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