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Need a little help... Sound card or amp for desktop?

post #1 of 37
Thread Starter 
Hello all! First off, thanks for clicking on my thread. Secondly, this is my first post and I am a brand new member! Thirdly, I have a slight problem with a brand new pair of, what I guess most of you would consider entry level headphones, but to me and my relatively virgin ears they are probably the best headphones I have ever heard!

I just purchased the Phillips Fidelio X1 after reading Madlust Envy's gaming headphones thread on this sight and deciding that they were the best to suit my needs. I bought them for use at home on my desktop computer. For what it's worth, I have replaced the stock cable with a Vmoda cable due to what I read about the cable having too high a resistance and dousing some distortion such as crosstalk and muddy bass. I use my pc for gaming, listen to music, watch movies/TV/YouTube, and do other general computer related stuff.

So, here's the problem, when using the headphones with my current onboard sound solution they just don't get very loud. If anyone wants to know, my motherboard is a gigabyte 890gpa ud3h rev 2.0. It uses the Realtek ALC892 codec (not exactly sure what chipset or anything, this is the best info I could dig up on the website). I have tried everything I can think of to get the output of the headphones just a little higher but I can't seem to find a solution. I have used the jacks in both the front and back of the PC, and the one on the front of my 5.1 speaker controller. I have looked for a software solution and haven't really been able to find anything that increases the gain without some distorted sounds, although I'm open to suggestions on a software option (preferably free ūüėČ). When using the headphones on my laptop they are at a very comfortable noise level, (albeit maxed out in windows sound) only the desktop gives me issues with volume.

So here's where you guys come in. I'm not sure what to get, a new sound card, or a dedicated headphone amp? The jacks in the back of the onboard option currently supports both analog out (up to 7.1 with dedicated line out) and optical out which is S/PDIF. I do currently use the analog jacks in the back of the PC for connection to my Logitech 5.1 speakers, which are relatively rudimentary and don't have a dedicated headphone amp. I watch movies, play games, and listen to music on my PC.

If I get a soundcard l would like my current speakers, that use 5.1 analog jacks, to be supported, so no xonar essence st/x. I was looking at the Phoebus, but it would seem that there are a few issues with its drivers; if anyone has any input on this I would appreciate it (FYI: Running Windows 7). EMI from the GPU does cause some issues with the front jacks due to the cables passing so close and being unshielded so any internal soundcard would probably need shielding due to the close proximity of the PCIe slots.

If I get an amp I would like something with a DAC included so I can get some better quality than what the onboard solution outputs. It is my understanding that if I output through optical than I bypass the onboard DAC (not 100% sure on that). I am open to USB options also but am a little weary as my past experiences with USB soundcards have not been the greatest.

So now I leave it to you here at the head-fi community. Please let me know what I should do. I would like to keep the cost around $100 US, but am willing to go up to $200 if necessary; I'd rather get something quality that I can keep around for a while and will be happy with than end up with something I hate just because I tried to save a buck. If you have a preference one way or the other please, explain why. I'm really new and have very little experience or knowledge about this stuff, so pretend you're explaining it to a child that won't stop asking "why?" Please, post links of products if you want to endorse them; being so new I often don't know where to find stuff. If I need to daisy chain a list of components please, tell me how to do it; chances are I've never done what you're describing. Lastly, if you've gotten this far, thank you for reading my very long post and helping me. I really appreciate any input you can give on this topic because I'm basically lost at this point.

Thanks in advance for the help and guidance,
-Greg
post #2 of 37

First of all, you are correct in saying that outputting from a digital optical/coaxial port will bypass the equipment's DAC.

 

 

There are plenty of solutions for 100-200USD both in terms of a dedicated internal sound card and both an external sound solution.

 

But you're saying that you already have a 5.1 setup and want something to be compatible with that right of the bat so I think the best thing for you would be an internal sound card with 5.1/7.1 support.

 

 

 

 

ASUS makes a few different cards, other than the ST/X, that support 5.1 natively.

 

There's the ASUS Xonar DX PCIe x16 for ~80USD on Amazon

http://www.amazon.com/PCI-Express-Channel-XONAR_DX-XD-90-YAA060-1UAN00Z/dp/B00198DM2K/ref=sr_1_10?ie=UTF8&qid=1396788521&sr=8-10&keywords=asus+xonar

 

This one is cool because it's a very good sounding card, and it supports up to 7.1

 

Now, it's true, ASUS really dropped the ball on the drivers for their Xonar series cards, but you can download 3rd party "hacked" drivers from different websites.

 

 

You could also go with a card from Creative like the Sound Blaster Z for ~60USD

http://www.amazon.com/Creative-Blaster-Beamforming-Microphone-SB1500/dp/B009ISU33E/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1396788853&sr=8-1&keywords=sound+blaster+z

 

This one has support for 5.1 and you won't need any adapters or anything for your powered/computer speakers.

post #3 of 37
A Creative or Xonar sound card would give you the advantage of their virtual surround processing for gaming and movies. The X1 are easy to drive, so a soundcard with a built in headphone amp might give you the extra volume you seek.

The Xonar DX by itself is not a great choice for you because it only has line output--it does not have a built in headphone amp, so the impedance output is not great for your headphones. However, you could consider getting the Xonar DX and a Schiit Magni, which is an awesome headphone amp and is generally considered by most head-fiers to be the best one for $100. It would likely give you more volume than an internal soundcard. Or you could look into one of the Soundblaster Z model series cards which do have headphone amps built in.
post #4 of 37

Actualy the Asus Xonar Essence ST has a add-on card that makes it into 7.1 card.

Asus Xonar H6 7.1.

 

The Asus Xonar DG / DGX is 5.1 soundcard, has a amp to drive 32 ohm - 150 ohm headphones.

post #5 of 37
Thread Starter 
Thank you guys for the suggestions! As far as I can tell the xonar DX 7.1 does not have an amp included with it, so it is my understanding that this probably would not output at a volume significantly better than the current onboard sound. It also lacks emi shielding. I get a pretty large amount of noise interference (ends up sounding like a high pitched squeal in thebackground) from emi generated by the GPU on the front headphone jack on the case due to their proximity during the cable run from the back of the motherboard to the front of the case. Because I have noticed the interference and am worried about something similar happening with a sound card, I think the shielding is kind of necessary.

For the creative option, the only reason I have been avoiding creative is that their reputation has seemed to have been severely diminished over the last few years. They used to be top dog, so to speak, in the computer sound industry. Now, from what I have read on forums and reviews, it seems they have lost a step. Granted I haven't heard a sound blaster card in about 10 years, I'm just echoing what I have read.

Does anyone have any personal experience with the sound blaster card in question? Also if there are any more suggestions I would love to hear them. Thanks again to the two first responders! ūüėÄ
post #6 of 37
Thread Starter 
The xonar h6 7.1, is that a daughter board to the essence?
post #7 of 37

I think the cheap Xonar DG would be enough if all you need is more volume.

post #8 of 37
Thread Starter 
The xonar DG has no emi shielding though.
post #9 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by MacGuyver View Post

The xonar DG has no emi shielding though.

I've had no issues personally.

post #10 of 37
Thread Starter 
For some reason my GPU outputs a ton of interference to the cable from the front headphone jack--its super frustrating to listen to--I'm worried that an unshielded card might pick up some of this interference.
post #11 of 37

You need to EMI protect the wires going to the front jack if you want to use it. Its not the Sound card that gets the interference. Also the Amp wont work from the front jack at all.

I have the Asus Xonar DG and its directly under my GPU and it has the worst Coil whine in the history of coil whines, i can hear it when i sit next to the computer.

And the Xonar is dead silent when i listen with headphones with maxed volume. Also nothing will fix the issues with Front panel jacks. If you care about sound quality at all you wont use it ever.

post #12 of 37

Front audio outputs always sound worse than rear outputs anyway, don't bother with them.

post #13 of 37
Quote:
 The xonar h6 7.1, is that a daughter board to the essence?

Its more like an expansion card to give the Essence ST 7.1 surround sound options.

post #14 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by MacGuyver View Post

For the creative option, the only reason I have been avoiding creative is that their reputation has seemed to have been severely diminished over the last few years. They used to be top dog, so to speak, in the computer sound industry. Now, from what I have read on forums and reviews, it seems they have lost a step. Granted I haven't heard a sound blaster card in about 10 years, I'm just echoing what I have read.

Actually, they were only top dog for gaming. For years, Creative was known for NOT being the best choice for serious 2 channel audio listening. It wasn't until the Titanium HD that they began to be taken seriously in that regard.

I haven't owned a Creative card in at least probably 15 years. But if I was looking for a card for your needs, I would not write off the Soundblaster Z series.
post #15 of 37
Thread Starter 

What is the difference in sound quality between the xonar essence and the DG or DX? It seems like a pretty drastic price difference to only be a slight difference in quality. If I could future proof myself by forking out the cash for the essence and the additional H6 add-on I would be willing to do so, but only if it makes sense using a quality to cash ratio(yes I just made that up :p ). At what point do you start to see diminishing returns? I do listen to a lot of music on my computer while working and will probably be doing so a lot more if I have a nice system to listen to. Like I said before, I'd rather go quality than just get something because it works. I kinda got the bug once I heard the Fidelio, it was like hearing music for the first time all over again. I would like a good sound card or amp/dac to accompany my new baby. If that requires I spend a little extra to do so than so be it. I'm not willing to spend over $1000 yet, ;) but if I have to spend a bit more than $200 I don't mind waiting until next paycheck. So, basically what I'm asking now is if the xonar essence is all it's cracked up to be? (Close to $300 now that I would also be purchasing the H6 add-on) Or is there another option I should be considering that will cost slightly less but still allow for enjoyment with both my headphones and speakers (they don't have to play simultaneously or play different streams). 

 

Also, I noticed that essence and the H6 connect via a cable. In my current configuration this would require that the be mounted on opposite sides of my gpu with the cable connecting the two by either running it over the top or around back of the gpu. Would I have to worry about emi causing interference with this cable? Is the cable shielded? does anyone know the length of the cable? I may need to measure if this is even possible in my rig.

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