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Do I need a DAC

post #1 of 23
Thread Starter 

I have a HP tower computer (2 years old) with a JDS O2 amp and I listen to Spotify (free service) often. I sometimes run this through my sound system and it sounds great. I've recently purchased several pair of headphones connected to the headphone amp. Will the sound improve by adding a external DAC?  I have no idea what sound card I have in my computer but when I purchased I upgraded it to listen to music. Thanks in advance for any recommendations.

 

Gary

post #2 of 23

Yes, try something simple as a starter and see how you like it. I would recommend the Audioquest Dragonfly ($100), it compares with DAC's up to $250 so it's also a great value. What kind of headphones are you using?

post #3 of 23
Is there something about the sound from your current system that you think needs improvement? Or are you just wanting to spend some money?

IMHO, if you want to change your sound, then change your headphones. That will make the most significant change to the sound you hear. Use an external amp if you need more volume and/or your headphones need more power or dynamic headroom. Use an external DAC if your soundcard does not support the high resolution & bit depth files you are using, or if your sound card does not support a line-out connection to your amp.

I think the order of importance of the HW as far as the overall impact on the sound you hear is:

1) Headphones
2) Amp
3) DAC
4) Snakeoil (cables, etc)

I believe the headphones set the primary character of the sound you hear. The amp (if required) allows the headphones to provide the sound they were designed to provide. The amp and DAC may also provide more minor tuning of the basic sound character.

YMMV... smily_headphones1.gif
post #4 of 23
Adding an external DAC can make a small difference. You might hear more details or get better separation in the soundstage. Then again, if you have a good soundcard and you buy a cheapish DAC, you might not hear much improvement in these areas at all. But if you want to upgrade, headphones make a much larger difference.
post #5 of 23
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the input.  Headphones, Beyer.....DT990 Pro, Audio T..... ATH-M50 and Grado SR60.  I like them all for different reasons. The Grado's are uncomfortable, on ear. The DT 990 very comfortable and the sound quality is nice, lite on the bass but that's OK most of the time. The Ath-m50's have nice bass even at low volume and they will rock at volume. I've just purchased a used pair of AKG Q 701's.  I thought I'd try a Schiit Dac as they have a 15 day trial with a 15% and shipping penalty.  Any thoughts?

post #6 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by gary ocock View Post
 

Thanks for the input.  Headphones, Beyer.....DT990 Pro, Audio T..... ATH-M50 and Grado SR60.  I like them all for different reasons. The Grado's are uncomfortable, on ear. The DT 990 very comfortable and the sound quality is nice, lite on the bass but that's OK most of the time. The Ath-m50's have nice bass even at low volume and they will rock at volume. I've just purchased a used pair of AKG Q 701's.  I thought I'd try a Schiit Dac as they have a 15 day trial with a 15% and shipping penalty.  Any thoughts?

The audio hardware that comes built into a motherboard is chosen by it's low manufacturing price, not really quality.

Some of the newer $200 aftermarket motherboards (Fall 2013), are starting to get fairly decent built in audio hardware.

 

Asus Xonar DX or D1 sound card, used $60, comes with a nice CS4398 DAC chip and Dolby Headphone 7.1 surround sound.

Hifimediy Sabre U2 USB DAC, $57.

Schiit Modi USB DAC, $99.

USB DACs bypass sound card features (both on-board and add-on).

 

The O2 can easily be plugged into the above listed.

post #7 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by gary ocock View Post
 

Thanks for the input.  Headphones, Beyer.....DT990 Pro, Audio T..... ATH-M50 and Grado SR60.  I like them all for different reasons. The Grado's are uncomfortable, on ear. The DT 990 very comfortable and the sound quality is nice, lite on the bass but that's OK most of the time. The Ath-m50's have nice bass even at low volume and they will rock at volume. I've just purchased a used pair of AKG Q 701's.  I thought I'd try a Schiit Dac as they have a 15 day trial with a 15% and shipping penalty.  Any thoughts?

I own the schiit modi and its pretty nice,

The ODAC is also another option around that price.

post #8 of 23
Thread Starter 

I just installed the JDS Odac. All is OK except it made my DT990 Pro sound muddy or slightly unclear. Prior to the ODac the DT990 pro was what I used most. Is this possible?

post #9 of 23
I just received the O2 + ODAC combo. I am listening to it now. I am finding it has transparent sound that is not muddy at all, not by a wild stretch of my imagination. :-) I am using DT880Premium headphones I also recently purchased. IMO I really do not think it is the DAC. It may be the difference in volume levels, source material, or other things that someone more knowledgable can help you with.

Bob Graham

PS: Customer support from JDS Labs is fabulous!
Edited by r010159 - 1/28/14 at 5:49am
post #10 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by gary ocock View Post
 

I just installed the JDS Odac. All is OK except it made my DT990 Pro sound muddy or slightly unclear. Prior to the ODac the DT990 pro was what I used most. Is this possible?


Can you give more detail on exactly how you have it set up?

Are you using spotify free or premium, or lossless files?

Do you have EQ, digital volume, surround sound, spatialization, loudness, or other sound effects enabled?

post #11 of 23
Thread Starter 

Set-up  -  ODac from my HP tower via USB cable, Odac to the O2 amp via cable. Phones connected to the amp. Using spotify free, a couple of years. Tower speakers sound great, via big amp and phones sounded nice before the ODAC. The DT990 phones are the only ones that changed when the Dac was introduced.   I don't have sound effects enabled.

 

I do see under advanced speaker properties

Allow apps to take exclusive control of this device

Give exclusive mode apps priority

 

The 2 above were checked, not by me this was done automatically.

 

BTW I just ordered a pair of Hifiman HE-400.

post #12 of 23
In your "playback devices" I'm assuming you can see your odac, and it is the default device, correct? Highlight the odac device and then click on properties and make sure the supported formats and Advanced->default format all look good. Unless there is something wrong with the DAC, I can't think of anything else it could be.
post #13 of 23
Thread Starter 

All are good suggestions. However, all the other headphones work well with my set-up. It's got to be the DT-990's. They just don't match up with this set-up.  Thanks for the help. BTW I ordered a pair of HiFi HE-400's this morning.

 

G

post #14 of 23
Yes, makes sense in the way you stated it. But I find it difficult to believe the DT990s are having this problem because of the design of the headphone is inadequate. Either there was this "problem" that can be heard before the ODAC was hooked up, or you are getting caught up in your critical analysis and now fooling yourself something is wrong with what you are hearing. This part has happened to me. I think this may be a placebo effect type of problem. For that matter, the DT990s may just sound different from the other headphones. Perhaps you have not noticed this before. Just a thought.

Bob Graham
Edited by r010159 - 1/28/14 at 9:52pm
post #15 of 23
I just don't see how the DAC, feeding into an amp, can selectively sound poor with one set of headphones, but the same headphones, plugged-in to the same amp, sound fine without the ODAC. What that tells me is that the signal being fed to the amp without the DAC is much different than the signal being fed to the amp by the DAC. I could understand if the volume was lower when using the DAC - because it is providing a lineout signal to the amp, but without the DAC the amp is being fed from the headphone out on your PC - which can be a hotter signal. But you should be able to adjust volume - unless you are already at the top of the volume scale on the PC and the amp. Something just doesn't make sense here.
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