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Super cheap DACs - are they any good?

post #1 of 26
Thread Starter 

Ive been wondering if a cheap DAC might be a good way to improve sound quality for my laptop, while still remaining light and portable.

 

Did a ebay searcha nd saw a number of cheap USB ones :

 

http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/New-f-Computer-PC-Virtual-8-1ch-USB-Sound-Card-USB-DAC-Headphone-Amplifier-/181181705513?pt=AU_Laptop_Accessories&hash=item2a2f456d29

 

http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/MUSE-HiFi-PCM2704-USB-to-S-PDIF-Converter-DAC-Sound-Card-Silver-/200899172656?pt=AU_Electronics_Audio_Amplifiers&hash=item2ec6861930

 

http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/Portable-HI-FI-USB-DAC-Audio-Sound-Card-PCM2704-Audio-Headset-Amplifier-Decoder-/170965942928?pt=AU_Electronics_Audio_Amplifiers&hash=item27ce5d4290

 

But how do i know whether they will be any good? For example is it possible that they will make the sound worse? Do different DACs provide better sound compared to each other?

post #2 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Question2 View Post
 

Ive been wondering if a cheap DAC might be a good way to improve sound quality for my laptop, while still remaining light and portable.

Did a ebay searcha nd saw a number of cheap USB ones :

http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/New-f-Computer-PC-Virtual-8-1ch-USB-Sound-Card-USB-DAC-Headphone-Amplifier-/181181705513?pt=AU_Laptop_Accessories&hash=item2a2f456d29

http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/MUSE-HiFi-PCM2704-USB-to-S-PDIF-Converter-DAC-Sound-Card-Silver-/200899172656?pt=AU_Electronics_Audio_Amplifiers&hash=item2ec6861930

http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/Portable-HI-FI-USB-DAC-Audio-Sound-Card-PCM2704-Audio-Headset-Amplifier-Decoder-/170965942928?pt=AU_Electronics_Audio_Amplifiers&hash=item27ce5d4290

But how do i know whether they will be any good? For example is it possible that they will make the sound worse? Do different DACs provide better sound compared to each other?

 

The latest 2 come with the PCM2704 DAC chip (16-bit/44.1K) and I own the ELE EL-D01 USB DAC and a DAC Destoryer USB DAC which also come with the PCM2704 DAC chip.

The PCM2704 for the price provides some good audio quality.

 

The ELE USB DACs can power low Ohm (like 32-Ohm) headphones

 

The ELE EL-D02 comes with a basic headphone amplifier.

.http://www.ebay.com/itm/PCM2704-USB-DAC-TDA1308-Headphone-amplifier-Volume-Control-ELE-EL-D02-BLACK-/230963476750

post #3 of 26

it would all depend on what you are upgrading from... IE how capable the headphone circuit currently is on your laptop.  It would not surprise me if a lot of laptops use the same chipsets and similar analog outputs circuits as the small DACs in question.

 

If you are trying to alleviate clicks, ticks and digital noise from hard drive motors, wifi / bluetooth RFI signals... then most definitely an external DAC can alleviate those kinds of problems, by just physically separating them away from noise sources in the laptop chassis.

 

You might want to research your laptop, and find out what DAC chip it uses... and baseline from that.

post #4 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by PurpleAngel View Post
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Question2 View Post
 

Ive been wondering if a cheap DAC might be a good way to improve sound quality for my laptop, while still remaining light and portable.

Did a ebay searcha nd saw a number of cheap USB ones :

http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/New-f-Computer-PC-Virtual-8-1ch-USB-Sound-Card-USB-DAC-Headphone-Amplifier-/181181705513?pt=AU_Laptop_Accessories&hash=item2a2f456d29

http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/MUSE-HiFi-PCM2704-USB-to-S-PDIF-Converter-DAC-Sound-Card-Silver-/200899172656?pt=AU_Electronics_Audio_Amplifiers&hash=item2ec6861930

http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/Portable-HI-FI-USB-DAC-Audio-Sound-Card-PCM2704-Audio-Headset-Amplifier-Decoder-/170965942928?pt=AU_Electronics_Audio_Amplifiers&hash=item27ce5d4290

But how do i know whether they will be any good? For example is it possible that they will make the sound worse? Do different DACs provide better sound compared to each other?

 

The latest 2 come with the PCM2704 DAC chip (16-bit/44.1K) and I own the ELE EL-D01 USB DAC and a DAC Destoryer USB DAC which also come with the PCM2704 DAC chip.

The PCM2704 for the price provides some good audio quality.

 

The ELE USB DACs can power low Ohm (like 32-Ohm) headphones

 

The ELE EL-D02 comes with a basic headphone amplifier.

.http://www.ebay.com/itm/PCM2704-USB-DAC-TDA1308-Headphone-amplifier-Volume-Control-ELE-EL-D02-BLACK-/230963476750


Just an FYI, but the PCM 2704/5 chip has a built-in headphone amplifier.  It most likely does fine with efficient, low-impedance phones such as those that might be used for portable applications.

 

As for the ELE, looks to me like it's simply quoting the typical specs from the PCM2704/5 - it already has 5V and 3.3V power supply conversion/regulation.  The sampling is standard with the chip (32, 44.1, 48 KHz). However, S/N ratio and dynamic range are better than quoted by TI's own specs on the chip: 98 dB and 98 dB.  Translated, this means impossible.;)

 

 

I'm not sure the ELE has anything to offer that's much different (or noticeably better) if it still uses USB for the power supply.

post #5 of 26
Thread Starter 

Hmm i see, so its possible that i could end up with a DAC that wont improve sound quality at all?

 

Im using a clevo p151sm1b, but theres not much info available for clevo laptops. Realtek manager just tells me the audio codec is ALC892...

post #6 of 26

good thread... subscribing

post #7 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Question2 View Post

Hmm i see, so its possible that i could end up with a DAC that wont improve sound quality at all?

Right. Laptops can vary widely in headphone output sound quality. And it's dependent on the entire build of the laptop, not just the particular DAC/sound chip inside of the laptop, since the laptop build could induce interference that degrades sound quality. So it can be hard for anyone to predict whether or not there would be an improvement. Then what one person thinks is a good improvement, you may feel is not much of an improvement at all.

I'd personally wait until you an afford something better. The Hifimediy Sabre USB DAC is a popular low end DAC that many people on Head-Fi has found to be a good value: http://www.head-fi.org/products/hifimediy-sabre-usb-dac
post #8 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Question2 View Post
 

Hmm i see, so its possible that i could end up with a DAC that wont improve sound quality at all?

 

Im using a clevo p151sm1b, but theres not much info available for clevo laptops. Realtek manager just tells me the audio codec is ALC892...

That laptop uses a SOUND BLASTER X-Fi MB3, thats as far as I could dig though.  So not sure what chip (or set) it uses to convert.

 

But yes, not only possible but theres a good possibility of it not being an upgrade.

post #9 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by cel4145 View Post


Right. Laptops can vary widely in headphone output sound quality. And it's dependent on the entire build of the laptop, not just the particular DAC/sound chip inside of the laptop, since the laptop build could induce interference that degrades sound quality. So it can be hard for anyone to predict whether or not there would be an improvement. Then what one person thinks is a good improvement, you may feel is not much of an improvement at all.

I'd personally wait until you an afford something better. The Hifimediy Sabre USB DAC is a popular low end DAC that many people on Head-Fi has found to be a good value: http://www.head-fi.org/products/hifimediy-sabre-usb-dac

Some really informative discussions on this DAC here...  One things for sure, entry level has really stepped up from just 6-7 years ago.  Some of the numbers/measurements folks are reporting used to only be available  at a very high $$$.

 

http://www.diyaudio.com/forums/digital-line-level/219140-hifimediy-es9023-te7022-24-96-usb-dac.html

post #10 of 26
Thread Starter 

So realtek ALC892 isnt the chip?

 

The hifemediy looks like its about $60+ including shipping....

post #11 of 26
Thread Starter 

bum

post #12 of 26
Thread Starter 

bump,

post #13 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Question2 View Post
 

So Realtek ALC892 isn't the chip?

 

The Hifemediy looks like its about $60+ including shipping....

 

You laptop uses the Realtek ALC892 audio processor, but uses Creative Labs software.

Cost, not audio quality is what makes the final decision on what audio is gong to built into the laptop.

So you really can't expect anything more then something just good enough to provide decent sound quality.

So chances are anything using the PCM2704 DAC chip should be better audio quality then the audio hardware built into the laptop.

 

The Muse Hifi DAC you listed appears to be a relabeled ELE EL-D02 USB DAC.

I bought a ELE EL-D02 DAC several months ago and I would use it with my parents computer (which has a low cost 6 year old motherboard).

I dropped it a few too many times so it stopped working, but I liked it enough that I just ordered two more yesterday.

post #14 of 26
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the info. Are all the PCM2704 DACs the same as each other then, just different housings? Some of the DACs are obviously much larger (square box housing vs USB stick housing) and i cant help but wonder if the samller circuit board size wont affect the sound quality in some way.Do you just plug them in with a USB cable and plug the headphones into the DAC?


Edited by Question2 - 3/26/14 at 3:21pm
post #15 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Question2 View Post
 

Thanks for the info. Are all the PCM2704 DACs the same as each other then, just different housings? Some of the DACs are obviously much larger (square box housing vs USB stick housing) and i cant help but wonder if the samller circuit board size wont affect the sound quality in some way.Do you just plug them in with a USB cable and plug the headphones into the DAC?

With the ELE EL-D02 you just plug the headphones straight into the jack and does fairly good at driving headphones.

The ELE EL-D02 comes with a separate built in headphone amplifier.

Where as other PCM2704 DACs do not come with the add-on amp and can only really drive headphones that are around 32-Ohms.

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