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Confused between new sound card vs tube headphone amp, etc

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 

I would like to make my PC system sound a bit better.  I've been doing a little reading but I'm still a bit confused and hoping you guys can point me in the right direction.  Media-wise, I use my PC for 95% Google Play Music streaming, with the occasional game here and there.  I have all of my CD's ripped into iTunes lossless, but I don't listen to them much anymore, as everything I ever want is on Google Play.  All of the music I've purchased the last few years has been thru Amazpn mp3.

 

Right now I just use the onboard audio out into some real crappy speakers.  My planned upgrades:

 

Speakers: AudioEngine A2+ or A5+ (still investigating - just need near-field sound)

Headphones: maybe start with something like ATH-m50x and then HD600 (I think most people want both a closed and open ear version)

 

All I've really had before are some $30 headphone that I couldn't even tell you the model number.

 

From what I've read:

 

1. Xonar STX - good for gaming and theater, can hook both headphones and speakers up to this at the same time

or

2. Xonar D1 + external amp (Schiit or Little Dot) - good for music - the tube amps intrigue me and I think it'd be neat to have a little tube headphone amp sitting on my desk, but I don't want to make a silly purchase if it doesn't make sense for me.

 

Are these the choices that make the most sense for me?  With option number 2 of the cheaper sound card and tube headphone amp, can I have both speakers and headphones hooked up at the same time?  Is the Dolby and other modes in the sound cards these days good?

 

Thanks in advance for any other suggestions you may have.


Edited by heckofagator - 5/11/14 at 9:45am
post #2 of 10

Monoprice 5" studio monitors, $170.

http://www.monoprice.com/Product?c_id=115&cp_id=11504&cs_id=1150401&p_id=605500&seq=1&format=2

 

AKG K612 Pro headphones, $150 to $170

 

Sound Blaster Z sound card, $85

or Asus Xonar Essence STX sound card, $130 to $185.

post #3 of 10
Thread Starter 

Thank you for the thoughts. I'll check out that other equipment.  I'm still def in the research phase.

 

So why just the sound card and not the desktop tube amp?

Is the Xonor worth double the Sound Blaster?

post #4 of 10
The STX is considered by many to be the best sounding sound card for under $200. Whether or not you will think it better to be worth the money over the Z is a personal judgment call.

I would also consider the Xonar D1 with the Schiit Magni. The Magni is definitely a better headphone amp than in the STX. Hybrid tube amps are a personal preference thing. They do tend to sacrifice a little bit of accuracy to have that tube flavor. Some people like that; some don't. Since you are new to this, unless you look forward to buying different tubes to experiment with tweaking the sound, I'd say stick with the Magni.

To hook up both speakers and headphones at the same time with the D1 and Magni, you can split the output from the D1 and run it to both the speakers and the Magni. With the Xonar, you get separate hooks up for the speakers and headphones, and then you switch the output using the software Xonar control panel.

Open headphones would be my choice unless you feel like you need closed headphones because of the isolation that they provide. If you don't need that at all, focus on open headphones. Better soundstage=better immersion in the music.

Skip the Audioengine A2s unless you want the smaller size; the small drivers are a compromise in sound quality over larger driver speakers. Look into the JBL LSR305s. Lots of positive reviews for them since they came out. More affordable than the A5+.
post #5 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by heckofagator View Post
 

Thank you for the thoughts. I'll check out that other equipment.  I'm still def in the research phase.

 

So why just the sound card and not the desktop tube amp?

Is the Xonor worth double the Sound Blaster?

 

As your using both speakers and headphones, you need two separate analog outputs (one amped headphone and one line-output).

So with the Xonar DX/D1, chances are you would be connecting the external headphone amplifier to the computer case's front audio panel jack,

Which means you might pick up electrical noise in the analog audio signal, or at least more noise then you would from connecting directly to the sound card's back panel.

I've tried a few lower costing tube amps, but I just found solid state easier to use and sound cards make everything easier.

Also just using a sound card for the DAC and amp leaves more of your budget for headphones.

post #6 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by PurpleAngel View Post

So with the Xonar DX/D1, chances are you would be connecting the external headphone amplifier to the computer case's front audio panel jack,
Which means you might pick up electrical noise in the analog audio signal, or at least more noise then you would from connecting directly to the sound card's back panel.

He can avoid that by just using an RCA splitter off the back outputs. No detriment to doing that.
post #7 of 10

Cut to the chase...

 

Paradigm MilleniaOne CT speakers/sub + Headroom Ultra Desktop DAC/Amp (I conveniently have for sale) + Beyer T1 (also conveniently for sale :bigsmile_face:).  This gives you an end game setup with world class headphone and speaker sound from your computer, no need for a sound card, will easily travel with you to your next computer.

post #8 of 10

Spend most of the money on headphones.

 

HD650 + Asus Essence STX or Creative Titanium HD or Creative ZxR will give you a killer sound for very little money.

post #9 of 10
Thread Starter 

thanks guys - I think I have a much better idea about all this now.  

 

Checked out the JBL monitors - those do look nice.  Also came across the Emotiva Airmotiv 4, which also look nice.  Off to do some more reading!

post #10 of 10
Thread Starter 

hey all, I picked up the JBL 305's this weekend.  Well, they're on order at least.  I want to make sure I have the right cable to hook up from my PC when they arrive.  Fow now, I guess I'll just be using the onboard audio from the motherboard until I get the sound card.

 

Is this the right cable I need to hook up the speakers?

 

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005HGM1D6/ref=ox_sc_sfl_title_3?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER

 

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