Head-Fi.org › Forums › Equipment Forums › Sound Science › Looking for clarification on DACs and amps
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

Looking for clarification on DACs and amps

post #1 of 26
Thread Starter 

Hey Head-fi Sound Science Community! I am currently running my HE-400's through an Onkyo HT-R330 receiver to my laptop, a HP Compaq Presario CQ60. I do not know what sound card it has, but I assume it is pretty crummy. I was looking at buying a DAC for my set-up with a cap of 200$ (new or 200 used). I would like advice for what to buy based of the following:

1. I am skeptical as to whether or not an external DAC will make a noticeable or objective difference in my music. 

2. How ``Good`` a DAC can even get, or if after a certain point it becomes obsolete to upgrade. I don't want to waste money for no reason. 

All my music is 320kbps or CDs and CD rips with Youtube being used about 1/3 of the time. 

Josh

post #2 of 26
Thread Starter 

Forgot to add the Amp section of this thread. I was wondering if an amp upgrade would be useful. I once more, I do not know if changing the amp would change the sound. I find that playing through my laptop sounds different than through my amp (laptop is harsh or bass light, while being more laid back with the amp). What is the explanation for that? Is it simply Placebo? Thanks to however can address my inquiries. 

post #3 of 26

It's extremely doubtful you would get any improvement in sound quality going to a separate DAC. Perhaps an amp, but my guess is that your receiver does just fine.

post #4 of 26
Thread Starter 

May I ask as to why? I am curious as to how DACs can have a market when they have no real addition value (at least in my price range). Is it all just Placebo? 

post #5 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by tacgunner1 View Post
 

May I ask as to why? I am curious as to how DACs can have a market when they have no real addition value (at least in my price range). Is it all just Placebo? 

 

If it's the DAC chip itself, most of them - properly implemented of course - can measure flat. The problem is the part of the circuit after the DAC - either they have a crummy output stage or some brands deliberately color the sound there, which is where it gets tricky, because people will either hear little difference because there's no tonal difference (and they can't hear the smaller improvements in detail, timing, etc) or they will rave about how much better it is when in fact it is EQ-ing the sound. Case in point - I tried a few CDPs, one of them getting rave reviews for headphone users, when I had a Burson Soloist review unit (to compare to my Cantate.2 in terms of transparency), and all of these had serious issues ranging from too dark/warm sound off a $1,000+ CDP to a lauded budget CDP turning the drummer into Mr. Fantastic. People call that "wider soundstage," but it's clearly not accurate when the rest of the band is generally in their proper place in front of your forehead but the drums go around the head like he has arms that stretch towards where the audience is. My Meier Cantate.2's PCM2702-based 16-bit DAC (this chip is used as a USB receiver in other DACs) had a more natural sound stage and more neutral tone than all these other  CDPs. In fact, surprisingly enough, the only one I liked was the Cayin CD-50T, which actually used tubes but sounded more neutral (if a little "sweeter" in the midrange) than nearly all the other solid state CDPs, but I wasn't into spending $1,100 on a CDP and have to swap out the tube at some point when I can just get a music server with a decent analog output like the Aune S1 (not locally available though but I'm waiting for some upgrade-itchy audiophiles to sell theirs on the cheap). For DACs specifically they seem to be less varied than these, but some can still seem off - like the HDP, which has a too warm lower midrange used as a DAC, and if I plug my headphone into it, the bass drum hits and bass guitar slaps end up with some over excursion on the driver.

In the case of your computer I'd bet on the real problem, if any, being the output stage designed for driving an earphone, not like they would really even design it to do that well with 2.1 speakers.You can try the Schiit Modi - at $100 you can get a decent DAC circuit (assuming your USB port can run it properly - some don't produce enough power and some home made PCs and even laptops get noise through there) and when you compare just make sure you match the output levels. Full Windows volume with a DAC, then match that with using an analog cable from the laptop to the amp.

In my case, just eliminating that annoying mix and match of preamped line level signals out of a computer headphone output is just enough reason to get a cheap but relatively good DAC if my amp didn't have one. I do enough gain matching/leveling on my car set-up, but at least there after one afternoon it's set for the next few years until I replace anything.

post #6 of 26

A lot of computer outputs, especially laptops, are noticeably noisy, if nothing else. And sometimes there's possibly concerning linearity errors, distortion, and/or rolloff even on the cheapest dedicated DACs or other issues. I'm not going to guarantee any of these are usually audible.

 

You can try something like X-Fi Go around $30 for starters.

post #7 of 26

Amping is a requirement of particular models of headphones. It's related to impedance. But the Mac has a first class DAC built in. I use my headphones direct through the headphone out of my iMac and it sounds perfect. But your particular model may be different. Just plug an amp in-between the output of your Mac and the headphones


Edited by bigshot - 2/10/14 at 8:01pm
post #8 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by tacgunner1 View Post
 

Hey Head-fi Sound Science Community! I am currently running my HE-400's through an Onkyo HT-R330 receiver to my laptop, a HP Compaq Presario CQ60. I do not know what sound card it has, but I assume it is pretty crummy. I was looking at buying a DAC for my set-up with a cap of 200$ (new or 200 used). I would like advice for what to buy based of the following:

1. I am skeptical as to whether or not an external DAC will make a noticeable or objective difference in my music. 

2. How ``Good`` a DAC can even get, or if after a certain point it becomes obsolete to upgrade. I don't want to waste money for no reason. 

All my music is 320kbps or CDs and CD rips with Youtube being used about 1/3 of the time. 

Josh

I would think an external DAC would be the best chance for an improvement in audio quality, for a given budget.

As chances are both the laptop and Onkyo come with a very low costing DAC chip.

 

Hifimediy Sabre U2 USB DAC, $57

Schiit Modi USB DAC, $99

ODAC USB DAC, $150

post #9 of 26

Sound quality and price aren't very much related with DACs. The Onkyo likely has a much better DAC than a standalone one because an AV receiver is designed to play all digital formats.

post #10 of 26

Oh yeah, probably getting a USB -> S/PDIF converter is a better and cheaper idea.

 

I didn't check but most laptops like that won't have S/PDIF output.

post #11 of 26
Thread Starter 

I have another concern that I hope can be answered. While playing CD's, there is a minor buzz (kind of fuzzy static, if that helps) in the background. Is it the CD or my amp, or something else? 

post #12 of 26

Do you have any other source you can plug in instead of your computer?

post #13 of 26
Thread Starter 

I noticed that the issue vanishes when I play CDs. I guess it was just sub-par MP3 files which were generating the noise (weird, because they are all 320kbps). My other available sources are a Samsung Galaxy Ace ll x and a separate sony CD player. 

post #14 of 26

Probably ripped on a computer that had a faulty optical drive. Did you rip them yourself on your Compaq? That may be the source of your problem. If you have an iPod, perhaps you could use that to play mp3s.


Edited by bigshot - 2/11/14 at 7:33pm
post #15 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by bigshot View Post
 

Sound quality and price aren't very much related with DACs. The Onkyo likely has a much better DAC than a standalone one because an AV receiver is designed to play all digital formats.

I really doubt the Onkyo receiver has anything more then a barely decent DAC chip.

It's a low cost receiver.

The DAC chip in the Sabre U2 should be a fair bit better then the Onkyos

Also using an external DAC should hopefully remove back ground noise that might be generated inside the computer.

New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: Sound Science
Head-Fi.org › Forums › Equipment Forums › Sound Science › Looking for clarification on DACs and amps