Originally Posted by m1dnight
I've been wanting to start upgrading my audio equipment but I don't know where to start. At the moment I have the following hardware:
Soundcard: Soundblaster Xfi Platinum (specs)
Amplifier: Marantz 1090 (specs)
Headphones: AKG 550 (specs(pdf))
Speakers: Cheap tower speakers. The specs on the back say "120W max power, 4 ohm, 87 dB, 45-20 Hz).
I know there is room for upgrades. I'd like to get an idea on what would be the best thing to spend a bit of money on. I'm not really looking for something that would fit in a budget here, but I'm just looking to gain some information on what would be the best thing to buy. I have been looking around on various websites but I can't really make sense what would be the most important component to upgrade w.r.t. my current hardware. As an audio noobie I find it rather difficult to get an idea of what has which importance in the chain of hardware or what the quality of certain hardware is.
If I understand correctly a DAC would be nice since that is the worst component in my setup, I believe? Or would the increased audio quality be undone by the rest of my hardware (e.g., amplifier or speakers) ? Another idea I had was for an amplifier for my headphones alone? This would imply upgrading the sound quality when using headphones. Perhaps that would be a cheaper path to good quality audio.
If this is the wrong forum to ask, I apologize. But I saw another thread where advice was being given so I thought I would try :)
First and foremost, transducers are almost always going to be the biggest variable in a sound chain (whether it's speakers or headphones). Of course, if you primarily listen via speakers, room acoustics is another major variable. Even simple things like placement of the speakers and arranging furniture to put you in the sweet spot might make a more noticeable difference than a different amp or soundcard/dac. Speakers and proper room configuration/treatment is your best bet to start.
If you primarily listen via headphones, you might consider a new pair of headphones. Your current set is only 32 Ohm impedance, and I don't know much about the headphone output on the Marantz amp. If it has high output impedance, you might find your headphone listening experience improves with a dedicated headphone amp with low output impedance.
Since it seems you are using a computer as a source, do you notice any back ground hiss or noise? Do you get extra humming and buzzing when your computer is loading programs or opening files? Does your speakers or headphones hum when your cable connecting your sound card to the amp is plugged in, but stops humming when the wire is disconnected? If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, then your computer source is also a source of noise, whether it is ground loop, electronic interference, or noisy sound card I don't know; however, a stand alone DAC could provide a blacker background. In my experience, my laptops sound card was noisyashell, and using a schiit usb modi completely cleaned up the hissing, humming, and (when my computer was processsing/loading/opening/etc) buzzing. When the background noise is eliminated (or drastically reduced) you can hear everything much more clearly.
Hope this helps point you in a useful direction.
Edited by ab initio - 6/27/14 at 2:43pm