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Budget PC audio - $150-$300

post #1 of 28
Thread Starter 

Right now I'm using a Sennheiser PC 360, which isn't that great for music I believe, but that will get changed later, so I want a DAC/AMP that I can use in the future.


I was thinking a DAC & AMP all-in-one, like a Fiio E10 or Hegel Super USB.


Why I figured I "need" a DAC/AMP? Well, I tried my brother's PC which has a Asus Xonar D2X with my headset... OH GOD, that quality, I actually FORGOT I had my headset on when I stood up and were about to leave his room... I were 100% sure it was the speakers or something, just WOW. So as you can see, my level of music quality is probably rock bottom for some of you guys in here, so I don't need the top notch DAC/AMP/Pre-AMP or whatever you guys use, but that might change later, heh...


So for prices I believe Norway, where I live, stand close to the UK prices. So if you know any(I dont) UK web shop, use that for prices.

Just as an example, the Fiio E10 in US is $75, while in Norway its $150-160...


Main priority is music.


Fixed problems with links

Edited by MiiX - 3/13/14 at 12:29pm
post #2 of 28

I'm not sure but it might be more beneficial to simply buy a new set of open-ear headphones like the Philips Fidelio X1 and sell the PC 360's. Unless you're attached to the Sennheiser's, you probably will notice a difference in the performance of the X1's, and they're supposedly great for music as well.


I honestly have no idea how much of an improvement a dedicated sound card or amp/DAC will be for your 360's, but I predict a better set of headphones with an added microphone from someone like V-Moda or AntLion would be a greater increase in quality.


Someone else might be able to chime in on that though. Don't take my word for it.

post #3 of 28
Thread Starter 

Okay... So a new headset on this would be better than a headset I know has better quality when its powered from Asus Xonar D2X?


I don't actually need a quality mic, or any at all, really. But thanks for the names, love the AntLion ModMic consep


I'm trying to be future proof by buying a higher-end AMP/DAC than what my headset can utilize now and make up for it with a new headset once I sell off my speakers and some other stuff, which I don't use.

post #4 of 28

A better pair of headphones, such as an Audio Technica M50 for example, will sound much better through your integrated soundcard than your current PC360 headphones powered by a D2x or a good 300$ dac/amp.

The quality jump from the headphones will be more drastic than that  from your source.

I think this is what AngryGoldfish wanted to point out and I agree with him.


But if you want to take things further incrementally (dac/amp first and headphones after), normally it would be better to get the headphones first. This would give you the freedom to choose the right dac/amp for them.

Doing it in reverse (dac/amp first) there is the risk that what you would buy not might not be sufficient for a headphone that you'd crave for later, especially in terms of amplification.

This is why choosing the headphone first makes more sense.


If you are, however, determined on getting the dac/amp first my first recommendation would be Centrace Dacport.

It has probably the most potent amplification of all usb powered dac/amp out there, regardless of price, and it also commands excellent sound quality for the money.

It can drive with ease even my inefficient AKGs or the demanding Sennheisers HD650 ,which are notoriously finicky with amplification 

The price has also come down in recent times (250$ now vs. 350-400$, what it used to be), which makes it also very good value.

post #5 of 28

I'm not sure, to be honest. I don't want to give you my answers to those questions because I'm new to the site and have not developed my own opinions yet.

What I do believe, is that an amp and DAC are best utilized when you've already discovered a great set of cans, but feel, for instance, a slight treble boost and a slight waning in the bass would perfect them. You can invest in a tube-driven amp/DAC and match the tubes to those specific requirements and be happy as Larry.


However, if you're not happy with the performance of your current headphones, it may be better to invest in a whole new pair. Again, this is just my inexperienced opinion. I don't have a lot of knowledge in the headphone world. An amp is usually a way to 'fill out' the sound of high impedance, inefficient headphones like the Beyerdynamic DT 880 250 ohms. A DAC, then, is used to 'clean up' a slightly gritty signal. It's really more about sculpting than advancing anything.

post #6 of 28
Originally Posted by MiiX View Post

Well, I tried my brother's PC which has a Asus Xonar D2X with my headset..
Given you already know that your brother's computer sounded much better than yours, I think going for the dac/amp upgrade is worthwhile doing.

If I am not mistaken, the Asus Xonar STX replaced the Xonar D2X. I might be wrong, but I'm fairly certain you should be able to get just as good a sound with the STX as you did with his computer. You could google for comparisons of the two sound cards to verify I'm correct.

The Xonar STX will do a pretty good job driving most headphones, so that would work well for your later if you decide to upgrade. Also, with the Xonar STX you get Dolby Headphone which is a nice feature for gaming and movie watching (it mixes multi channel into stereo for headphones). But you will not get that feature with an external USB DAC/amp.
post #7 of 28

If you do want to upgrade the sound card inside your PC, the Asus Xonar Essence STX is a perennial favourite. It also happens to be one of the only high-end sound cards you can buy at a reasonable price from a big chain like Amazon. Creative Labs offer a cheaper card that does sound very good, but apparently its software support is lacking even more than the Asus. There used to be a company called Auzentech that people were highly fond of, but they are no longer in business.


Anyway, that's not my point. My point is: If you want to upgrade your sound card, you might want to consider waiting a wee while, because I just read Asus will be releasing the Xonar Essence II, an updated version of the STX and ST cards that have been around for a few years.

post #8 of 28
Thread Starter 

@Bobby S / AngryGoldfish

Well, what you guys are saying is making sense after reading a bit more around this. Since a set of headphones will be a longer jump in quality versus the amp/dac, This is the way I will go, as I'm looking for good sound now, and then at a later point I can add a dac/amp to improve the sound of something i already have.


Now, if we talk headphones and not DACs or AMPs, what would be a good headphone to start with and at a later point be able to add a DAC/AMP to the setup to further improve sound quality within my budget? Philips Fidelio X1 were mentioned by AngryGoldfish, and this a bit over my budget, but if its worth it, I can always push it a little!

I noticed the ATH-M50's closed, and some headphones are open, are there any advantage/disadvantage of having closed/open headphones?


@cel4145 / AngryGoldfish

Well, as I know they are sounding a lot better running of a quality soundcard, I cannot do this due to space limitation and upgrade-abilities later since I want to be able to take my sound with me, instead of the PC and sound, if you get my flow :)

Not sure if the STX were replacing the D2X, but I know it has a better AMP and DAC inside it, but IMO it were mainly for headphone users, where as the D2X were for speakers, etc.


I feel like a leech right now, leeching information about everything, but since I'm at it: Why not? :)

Edited by MiiX - 3/13/14 at 3:43pm
post #9 of 28
How portable do you need? Do you mean carry it in a laptop bag portable? Or carry it with a smartphone in your pocket portable? If the latter, than you have to make certain the DAC will connect with the particular phone.
post #10 of 28
Originally Posted by MiiX View Post


Now, if we talk headphones and not DACs or AMPs, what would be a good headphone to start with and at a later point be able to add a DAC/AMP to the setup to further improve sound quality within my budget? Philips Fidelio X1 were mentioned by AngryGoldfish, and this a bit over my budget, but if its worth it, I can always push it a little!

I noticed the ATH-M50's closed, and some headphones are open, are there any advantage/disadvantage of having closed/open headphones?


The main advantage of a closed headphone is better insulation from outside noise. So usually closed headphones are purposefully built in that regard, especially for professional or portable use, where noise insulation is preferred.

On the other hand open headphones usually sound more ...well.. open, with better soundstage abilities and sense of air in the music. 

If you look at the very best in the headphone world you'll see predominantly open designs. This is just a general overview ...

In terms of choice of headphones it depends a lot on the type of music you listen and the type of sound you're after. So it's a very personal and subjective decision.

If you can give us some details on that we can give you a few recommendations you can look up and read more about.

post #11 of 28
Thread Starter 


I want to be able to take it with me, to another PC in the house, etc. So not really that portable. It needs to be able to work with all/most computers, be able to use with a phone maybe, but using a 3.5mm jack or something simple like that. Does not need to fit in a pocket or bag.


@Bobby S:

I'm usually home or at someone's place if I listen to music. I don't need it to remove the crying baby in the bus or anything like that. my room is dead silent, except for my PC.

I don't have anything against closed or open headphones, as long as they are comfy, since I often have them on for quiet a while when I work.

I'm the kind of guy that listens to... well a LOT. Top 40's, Country, some Kvelertak, little/no dubstep or stuff along those lines. I don't have any specific genre/band I listen to.

My taste in music changes with time really...

post #12 of 28

OK, I'll make a short list of some 300$ -ish headphones which I believe are worth reading more about.

Sennheiser HD600 - very competent across all music genres and even though dated, they're still a reference at their price point. Open design and will improve with dac/amp significantly (though not as finicky as their newer brothers - hd650)

AKG K550 - I think it's the most likable headphone from the current crop of AKGs. Closed design, excellent insulation, very easy to drive out of anything (but will improve a lot, especially in extension with better dac/amp). 

There's also the K701, but it's a very polarizing headphone (love/hate affair) and also rather finicky with amps.

Beyerdynamic DT880 - like HD600 this one's also a classic recommendation in that price range. Versatile in terms of music. Comes in 3 flavours, with different impedances. The best is said to be the 600ohm version, also the most difficult to drive.


There are also others very well received models like: Philips Fidelio X1 or L1, NAD HP50, HifiMan HE-400, etc

With those I have no direct experience.

HE-400 is an interesting alternative, as it is probably the best sounding affordable orthodynamic. This particular model is discontinued now and soon to be replaced by a newer version.

So it's worth looking that up as well.

Edited by Bobby S - 3/13/14 at 4:47pm
post #13 of 28
Thread Starter 

The HifiMan ones are out of my price range, but the rest is well under or barely within what I want to spend, but there are one problem: Non of those can be found in a audio-shops where I live... So I cannot test them myself.


So I think I have to wait for a few more replies and read up on them and see what I end up with. Anyway, please continue posting info/suggestions/whatever, until I buy any of them, I'm open for everything.

post #14 of 28
The EHP-O2D Miniature Desktop Headphone Amplifier with USB DAC is the same as the ODAC and Objective 2 amplifier regular talked about on head-fi. It does need a wall plugin (unless you buy the dac and amp as separates), but is easy to pick up and take to another computer. Most on head-fi would consider it a better class of dac/headhone amp than the Xonar sound cards.

The Fiio E17 is a portable combined DAC/headphone amp that has a built in rechargeable battery. It is not much bigger than iPhone, so easy to carry in your pocket. It's built in amp did very well in this $200 portable amp shootout, not as well as the Objective 2.

BTW: Some of those headphones boobys rececommended to you need a headphone amp.
post #15 of 28
Thread Starter 

Im lost now... Not sure if I want/should/need a AMP/DAC first or Headphone... I dont need a portable amp, as long as I can use it on most PC's. I think "movable" is the right word...

But as Bobby S said earlier, buying an AMP now kind of "locks" me within a specific range of headphones that is "usable" with the AMP.


The EHP-O2D is tempting, but it may cost me a lot to get to Norway, not shipping, but taxes and such. I will have to check this a bit. Do you think the Epiphany Acoustics folks my write it down a bit?


Thing is, I will buy a AMP/DAC or a pair of headphones now, and the other in 2 weeks time. So whatever I buy now, its not long till I go ahead and buy the next in the line. I taught i should have said this a bit earlier, but diddn't remember to put it in when I posted before...


Edit: Seems like the EHP-O2D will be about $370-380 when shipped and everything is paid

Edited by MiiX - 3/13/14 at 6:25pm
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