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Amp vs. DAC vs. Sound Card: What's the difference? - Page 2

post #16 of 31
Thread Starter 

Thanks I'll give it a read soon and check out those other forums.

post #17 of 31
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by PurpleAngel View Post
 

 

Older sounds cards really did not come with what someone would call a good quality headphone amplifier.

It was more like a line-output signal that could drive basic headphones.

As it's gotten cheaper to manufacturer a headphone amplifier chip, it's fairly standard now to have a headphone amplifier chip built into a sound card (on the newest models, past three years?)

I guess it was about five years ago high priced sound card ($200+) started to include what could be called a true headphone amplifier chip.

Sound cards like the Asus Xonar DS, DSX, DX, D1 do not come with what I would call a true headphone amplifier built in, but can still drive most of these "gaming" headsets and a decent share of headphones.

 

Modern audio is stored in a digital (zero & ones) form, but our ears are analog (wave).

(DAC chips are used in just about everything that outputs an audio signal).

So sometime from the audio coming off it's (digital) storage medium, to where it gets picked up by the human ear, it needs to be changed from digital to analog.

Amplifiers are analog, so the digital audio signal needs to be changed into an analog audio signal, before an audio signal can be sent to the amplifier.

 

I was actually gonna buy one of those cards! lol thanks.  Also, didn't know that about analog sound but the more info the merrier :D  and even though you mention that I know from people a quality DAC/Amp is the way to go.

 

Could any one recommend a DAC and Amp that is about wonderful soundstage?  also has a TOSLINK input?

post #18 of 31
Quote:
Originally Posted by PurpleAngel View Post

 

Modern audio is stored in a digital (zero & ones) form, but our ears are analog (wave).

(DAC chips are used in just about everything that outputs an audio signal).

So sometime from the audio coming off it's (digital) storage medium, to where it gets picked up by the human ear, it needs to be changed from digital to analog.

Amplifiers are analog, so the digital audio signal needs to be changed into an analog audio signal, before an audio signal can be sent to the amplifier.

I guess this is the reason why my father and uncles keep on telling my that vinyl players are much better than CD players (and music playing from computers and iPods and phones etc). If I understand it right, vinyl output analog signal directly. And the DAC chip on the first CD players that my father and uncles listened to must have been bad...

post #19 of 31
Quote:
Originally Posted by drago10029 View Post
 

 

I was actually gonna buy one of those cards! lol thanks.  Also, didn't know that about analog sound but the more info the merrier :D  and even though you mention that I know from people a quality DAC/Amp is the way to go.

 

Could any one recommend a DAC and Amp that is about wonderful sound stage?  also has a TOSLINK input?

 

The DS, DSX, DX, D1 are decent cards and you can always plug an external headphone amplifier into them.

The Creative Labs Sound Blaster Z sound card ($60-$80) is the best bang for the buck sound card

Comes with a half-way decent headphone amplifier and a good DAC chip (CS4398).

 

I would be helpful for you to list a budget, or budget range.

 

"Toslink input" is a S/PDIF optical input port (it's all digital).

Most sound cards and motherboards come with a Toslink output port.

Something like an external DAC would come with a Toslink input port.

post #20 of 31
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by PurpleAngel View Post
 

 

The DS, DSX, DX, D1 are decent cards and you can always plug an external headphone amplifier into them.

The Creative Labs Sound Blaster Z sound card ($60-$80) is the best bang for the buck sound card

Comes with a half-way decent headphone amplifier and a good DAC chip (CS4398).

 

I would be helpful for you to list a budget, or budget range.

 

"Toslink input" is a S/PDIF optical input port (it's all digital).

Most sound cards and motherboards come with a Toslink output port.

Something like an external DAC would come with a Toslink input port.

 

would (The DS, DSX, DX, D1) these be considered DAC's? I'm willing to play up to 100 big ones.  and my motherboard doesn't, I'm looking to invest in one to connect my PS4 to.  I'll look into the sound blaster z then.

post #21 of 31
Thread Starter 

speaker of older being better, I've constantly heard that older model Amps were way superior in build and quality to what we had now.  Just some internet rumors I've heard.

post #22 of 31
Quote:
Originally Posted by drago10029 View Post
 

 

would (The DS, DSX, DX, D1) these be considered DAC's? I'm willing to play up to 100 big ones.  and my motherboard doesn't, I'm looking to invest in one to connect my PS4 to.  I'll look into the sound blaster z then.

 

The DS, DSX, D1, DX provide the same function as a DAC.

 

With a gaming console, the Astro Mix-amp would be something to check out.

post #23 of 31
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by PurpleAngel View Post
 

 

The DS, DSX, D1, DX provide the same function as a DAC.

 

With a gaming console, the Astro Mix-amp would be something to check out.

ok and really the astro amp? Is it really that good sounding?

post #24 of 31
Quote:
Originally Posted by drago10029 View Post
 

ok and really the astro amp? Is it really that good sounding?

 

I'm not sure if the Astro Mix-amp has outstanding audio quality, I'm guessing more like decent.

The Astro is one of the few DAC/amps that actually work with a gaming console and offer headphone surround sound.

post #25 of 31
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by PurpleAngel View Post
 

 

I'm not sure if the Astro Mix-amp has outstanding audio quality, I'm guessing more like decent.

The Astro is one of the few DAC/amps that actually work with a gaming console and offer headphone surround sound.

I think If I was willing to go the Astro route (financially) I might be better off getting a high quality sound card, that 129 $ price for the Astro Amp only being decent isn't good in my opinion.  Especially considering both solutions are wired and I would use it at home anyway.

post #26 of 31
Quote:
Originally Posted by drago10029 View Post
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by snowlune View Post
 

 

Yes, most of the time it's a combo, like you described. Unless you have an amp like the O2 or the Magni which does not alter the sound itself.

 

You cannot amplify the signal digitally because at the end, more power = more voltage. If your mobo isn't outputting enough voltage, there's nothing you can do digitally about it. You can increase the volume by reducing the dynamic range, but the voltage still is the same. This means that if your headphones are underpowered by your mobo, they will still be underpowered.

coming from a PC background, that makes perfect sense!  and even more sense with Tomb's answer.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by tomb View Post
 

 

You're better off to think in terms of specialized devices to provide the optimum performance of each component in the audio chain.

 

DAC - this is the same as a source.  In the old days, this meant the turntable, the tuner, or the tape deck.  They were all sources and provided no amplification sufficient to drive speakers by themselves.  The focus of each device as a source was to provide the highest fidelity possible and preserve and faithfully reproduce everything that was on the music medium.  In each case, there was a small amount of pre-amplification and processing that took place within the device (or in the case of phono, industry standard pre-processors).  This was done to both compensate for the physical limitations of the medium and to bring the output into a manageable standard that allowed mix and match of standard components throughout the industry (line-level RCA standard).

 

A DAC does the same thing, but the conversion begins from a digital medium of some sort.  The DACs in a CD player, for instance, use the laser CD reader as input.  DACs in a television, A/V receiver, iPod or smartphone do the same thing with various media.  In the headphone and audiophile industry at large, "DAC" usually means an offboard device that can utilize a digital data stream of some sort - USB, SPDIF, optical, etc.  It may still have an amplification stage of some sort - opamp, discrete I/V, etc.  Contrary to the popular theory at the time CD's came about (the original emergence of digital media), everything is not simply 90dB S/N ratio and 20-20KHz.  The way a digital signal is processed into analog can be all important and each specific implementation's success can vary widely in quality.  There is a school of thought recently - fueled by NWAVGUY and others - that is bringing back the view that all's that needed is 90dB S/N ratio and 20-20KHz and things are as good as they can get.  More often than not, it's a way to justify a limited investment in one's own equipment rather than any basis in fact.  (Yes, I know 90dB is not the goal these days, but it was thought the best ever achievable when CD's came out, especially compared to the 50-60dB of turntables.)

 

Sound Card - these may encompass a DAC and even a headphone amplifier, but the comparison is like saying a boom box is an audiophile component system.  Yeah, it may have all the parts, but it will never compete at the same level.  It has always been so in the audiophile world when there were consoles or combination receiver/tape/turntable systems. Yes, you can get great performance sometimes with a sound card, but it will always be hampered by living in the PC environment and using the PC's power supply.  A lot of tricks are done (buck-boost circuitry) to make this happen and it can seem like a good alternative, but it will never be as quiet and it will never compete with a truly great desktop amp or DAC.  Quite simply, it's physically limited and there's a price for that.

 

Amp - this is more mixed than one would think than the first two.  Most people would think the reverse.  However, it's easy to point out that speakers require real power to drive and a sufficient amplifier is needed.  With a headphone, it's not quite as clear.  Some headphones are efficient enough that a source (with its own internal amplifier) can drive them directly.  With others, it's not so clear and you may see the extremes of speaker-amplifier-type-power recommended.  Then again, a headphone amplifier can be thought of as a pre-amplifier, where attenuation is one of the goals desired.  So, you can even think of a headphone amplifier being used to provide attenuation.  For what purpose, you might ask?  To control and preserve the detail coming from the source and at the same time control the drivers in the headphone. 

 

Yes, sometimes that means more power, but often times, it means a better match of amplifier topology with the characteristic drivers.  Drivers in the headphones?  What's to control, you might ask?  Run a test sometime of an amp with a simple resistor as a load vs. a headphone with supposedly equal impedance.  They're two different things and may result in huge testing differences.  This is why you see such a cottage industry built over esoteric parts (expensive volume pots, stepped attenuators, magic capacitors, and cables, cables, cables).  It's all about the optimum match of power-control and headphone drivers.

 

Just MHO, nothing more ... ;) 

 

So the DAC stuff was crystal clear but aside from the technological limits of the time, why was 90 SNR the goal back then?  I assume simply because it was better than the turtables you mentioned lol, seems like something a free enterprise company would market.

 

Now for sound card, "...sound card, but it will always be hampered by living in the PC environment and using the PC's power supply;;;" I've heard PC PSU's affect sound, and I've heard of EMI.  could you give me a better meaning for all that?

 

Lastly, Amp stuff, I understand Amps Drive headphones but is there a beginner friendly place to learn about amplifiers?  most of what you wrote went over my head.

 

1. Yes, 90dB was first achieved with CD technology.  That was the yardstick, not the turntable S/N.  If you got -60dB noise from a turntable, you were doing great.  BTW, that still does not approach the capability of the vinyl pressing master, which could go down to seismic frequencies and well beyond 20Khz - my memory says 35kHz, but I may be mistaken.  The point is, that vinyl mastering was superior to CD quality in terms of frequency response.  Whether a turntable could reproduce that is a different story, but there were always top-echelon audiophile who could get close.  It's one of the reasons that some people objected to the CD sampling frequency, then and now.  But I digress ...

 

2. No matter what a sound card does, no matter how sophisticated the circuit, it still uses the PC's power supply as its foundation.  EMI is an issue, but you may have noticed that better sound cards have metal cases that shield the majority of the PCB components on the sound card.  It's like a Band-Aid - it covers the wound, but it doesn't address the cause.  In the case of the power supply, things are limited unless the sound card replicates its own power supply.  AFAIK, there is no sound card that has a separate power supply that plugs into the wall socket.  That's what would be required to start at the same basis as a piece of quality audio equipment.  A linear-regulated power supply is best for audiophile quality, but those type of power supplies are 1. big, 2, produce a lot of heat, and 3. are more expensive because of the physical requirements (larger transformers, bigger heat sinks, etc.).  So the choice in PC's (like everything else these days) is to use a switching power supply.  Unfortunately, that's not the best choice for audiophile quality.  Under almost every scenario, a switching power supply is much noisier in the audio spectrum and it hampers ultimate performance.

 

3. Without writing a dissertation, I was trying to indicate to you that when someone says, "If the volume level is OK, it's driving the headphones adequately," is an incorrect statement.  Lack of voltage in an amplifier will result in clipping.  It is easily heard as increased distortion.  On the other hand, lack of current drive just results in lost frequencies.  Similarly, lack of adequate slew rate may result in some people referring to a headphone as having a "veil."  There again, it's all a lack of amplifier capability.  You might say it's a characteristic of the headphone if it needs a superior amplifier to prevent sounding as if there's a veil, but that's kind of a circular argument.  The amplifier (or lack of one) is still the cause.

 

Hope that helps some ...

post #27 of 31
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by tomb View Post
 

 

1. Yes, 90dB was first achieved with CD technology.  That was the yardstick, not the turntable S/N.  If you got -60dB noise from a turntable, you were doing great.  BTW, that still does not approach the capability of the vinyl pressing master, which could go down to seismic frequencies and well beyond 20Khz - my memory says 35kHz, but I may be mistaken.  The point is, that vinyl mastering was superior to CD quality in terms of frequency response.  Whether a turntable could reproduce that is a different story, but there were always top-echelon audiophile who could get close.  It's one of the reasons that some people objected to the CD sampling frequency, then and now.  But I digress ...

 

2. No matter what a sound card does, no matter how sophisticated the circuit, it still uses the PC's power supply as its foundation.  EMI is an issue, but you may have noticed that better sound cards have metal cases that shield the majority of the PCB components on the sound card.  It's like a Band-Aid - it covers the wound, but it doesn't address the cause.  In the case of the power supply, things are limited unless the sound card replicates its own power supply.  AFAIK, there is no sound card that has a separate power supply that plugs into the wall socket.  That's what would be required to start at the same basis as a piece of quality audio equipment.  A linear-regulated power supply is best for audiophile quality, but those type of power supplies are 1. big, 2, produce a lot of heat, and 3. are more expensive because of the physical requirements (larger transformers, bigger heat sinks, etc.).  So the choice in PC's (like everything else these days) is to use a switching power supply.  Unfortunately, that's not the best choice for audiophile quality.  Under almost every scenario, a switching power supply is much noisier in the audio spectrum and it hampers ultimate performance.

 

3. Without writing a dissertation, I was trying to indicate to you that when someone says, "If the volume level is OK, it's driving the headphones adequately," is an incorrect statement.  Lack of voltage in an amplifier will result in clipping.  It is easily heard as increased distortion.  On the other hand, lack of current drive just results in lost frequencies.  Similarly, lack of adequate slew rate may result in some people referring to a headphone as having a "veil."  There again, it's all a lack of amplifier capability.  You might say it's a characteristic of the headphone if it needs a superior amplifier to prevent sounding as if there's a veil, but that's kind of a circular argument.  The amplifier (or lack of one) is still the cause.

 

Hope that helps some ...


This helps plenty!  thank you for giving me so much info.  and as I read the issue of a Power supply with poor EMI shielding, correct me if I'm wrong the fix would be here.  I guess I'll keep researching, reading and asking.  I'm not looking for a solution necessarily but more of a best situation and just information like I said.  Thanks again Tomb!  If I could extract more info from your brain I would lol

post #28 of 31
I see volume as more of a "leading indicator" - if the desired volume isn't being achieved, then it's probably not worth asking any other questions about that amp. If it can't get over that minimum hurdle, then move on to something else. OTOH, if it *can* achieve that hurdle, then we can start asking other questions.
post #29 of 31
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by billybob_jcv View Post

I see volume as more of a "leading indicator" - if the desired volume isn't being achieved, then it's probably not worth asking any other questions about that amp. If it can't get over that minimum hurdle, then move on to something else. OTOH, if it *can* achieve that hurdle, then we can start asking other questions.

well since you mention how would one easily decipher the specs for an amp?  specs for heaphones?  for example Click here the only thing I understand on the tech specs aside from color, weight, etc. are freq. response, cable length, and connector.  What do the others mean?  or just link me to the right place, either is fine.

post #30 of 31

I for one can't never go external dac for my computer,  I need to have some kind of tone control to contour the sound to my liking.   For example, my gigabyte z170 g1 gaming 5 motherboard on board sound ( Realtek ALC1150) sounds excellent with a bit of EQ with my AKG K712pro.  I of course use a Tube amp with it.


Edited by swifty7 - 1/7/17 at 9:59am
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