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Affordable PC audio (bookshelf-speakers) set-up

  1. lmartinl
    Hi all,

    I am having trouble deciding on what I wish to spend my money on.

    Basically, I want a set that I will be content with for a few years. I'm looking for a good value-for price. Budget: around 200 euros. But it's variable. I don't want to buy something I will regret later on. So again, it's variable.
    Also: I think bookshelf speakers make sense for my small room. My desk itself has plenty of space (very big desk). My floor doesn't.

    Current setup
    At the moment I have a pc with the MSI Z97S motherboard with Realtek audio. No additional sound card. It provides decent sound I'd say. https://www.msi.com/Motherboard/Z97S-SLI-Krait-Edition.html

    I also have a cheap sweex 7 channel USB sound card. I mainly use it to use the SPDIF output for my Sony DS6500 wireless headhpones http://www.sweex.com/computer/audio/sound-card-usb-71-550512283

    I wish to have bookshelf speakers to be able to play music/watch movie without headhpones on. It is in a pretty small room. I'm not sure if it will be a good investement to buy an additional (quality) DAC.

    DAC / power amp?

    I have the option to buy a 2nd hand
    - Nuforce DIA (DAC+amp, inputs sound from a SPDIF cable, )
    • Outputs: Line Out (for Subwoofer) connection
    • Speaker Output: Peak power: 30W x 2 (4 Ohm)
    • Output power at 1% THD+N, A-weighted: 24W x 2 (4 Ohm), 18W x 2 (8 Ohm)
    Picture of the back: https://cnet4.cbsistatic.com/img/5-...c815d19-fdc8-11e2-8c7c-d4ae52e62bcc/Dia_5.jpg

    - Nuforce Icon HDP (DAC+pre-amp, inputs USB from pc, or SPDIF.)
    Backside: https://i.ebayimg.com/00/s/MjQ1WDcyNg==/z/xL8AAOSws0JafDPR/$_86.JPG

    - Nuforce Icon 2 Amplifier (2x24W)

    All three would cost me around 50 euros each, which would be a fair price I'd say. Idea is if I buy the DIA, i should be set for both the DAC as well as the amplification? I would need to use the sweex USB sound card to output an SPDIF cable to the DIA

    - Is 24Watt output enough to power bookshelf speakers? (They go up to 75W max i think usually?)
    - Would I suffer any notable quality loss if I plug my Sweex 7channel USB to my pc. Use that SPDIF output to plug into the Nuforce DIA. And then have a very nice DAC+integrated amp for only 50 euros? Even more, it has a sub out. Which I could hook up if I miss the base.

    Bookshelf speakers
    So basically. If I buy a DAC/Power amp, I would maybe not need powered amps? And perhaps could use them in the future if I ever plan to upgrade? Also with the Nuforce DIA I could hook on a sub if I miss lower tones.
    Or, if 24Watt is not enough, I would require powered bookshelf speakers but then I would have to make sure I can connect it to my DAC/Amp/PC

    I live in the Netherlands, so it could be that I can buy some recommended products for cheap, others for premium price.

    Sound preference
    I hate it when the bass is overly present, or interferes with other tones. I love being able to pick up individual instruments and details instead of it being mashed together. That said, I'm not an audiophile.
    I listen to piano music, classic, rock, metal, watch movies, play games.. Basically I'm looking for a balanced, clean sound.
    I have a VMODA Crossfade headphones (combined with Fiio x3) that i think is too bass heavy.
    I've had etymotic hf3 in-ears that I loved. Very nice highs. Not so much lows, but they were still there and accurate.
  2. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    Yes. If you don't need to run headphones you should get the DIA.

    If you need to drive headphones with it also the HDP will be your best bet. At MSRP I wasn't a fan of its headphone amp but at that price it's a fantastic value, just get a headphone that has fairly high sensitivity and not too high impedance.

    And you don't necessarily need to use the Icon2 to drive speakers. That will only be necessary if you get passive speakers. If you get active studio monitors with built in amplifiers then all you need is to set the HDP to preamp output.

    If you do go with passive speakers and still need to drive headphones, then get the HDP with the Icon2. Set the HDP to do fixed voltage output direct from its DAC output stage. It should be somewhere on the manual. You don't need preamp for this since the Icon has its own preamp to control its amplifier stage. That said, passive speakers do not automatically translate to doing well in a nearfield application, ie their dispersion patterns could make them tricky to angle properly for good imaging, so if that's what you'll do, you should look into studio monitors.

    Max input power is a useless rating. It doesn't really tell you how much the speaker actually needs, which is determined by sensitivity and affected by distance since it's measured at 1m. So basically if you have a speaker rated at 89dB/1watt at 1m, and if these will be used on your desk as nearfield speakers, you don't need to account for distance anymore as you won't be significantly farther than 1m. At that rating anything with roughly 15watts per channel of clean power should be enough if you're using them nearfield.

    That shouldn't be a problem. At worst maybe you might encounter latency issues with movies and games but for movies at least some media players have video delay settings (unless you stream all movies though). But there's no way to tell if you'll have this problem so might as well try it out. If it turns out you do then just try a soundcard.

    If you're using them nearfield I'd much rather use the HDP (which can do a decent job of driving headphones, in case you need it for that too) and studio monitors (that just need the HDP to be set to preamp output) since they're designed specifically for nearfield use. You'd still have to tweak the toe-in angles and make sure they're at the proper height or up/down angle towards your head, and room modes can still affect them, but given you're using them for how they were designed to be used, you're less likely to run into severe problems. Not to mention studio monitors already come with waaaaaaay more power than you'll need from the built in amps. These can cost more but if your goal is to keep them for longer then might as well save a bit more.

    If you're sure to not need headphones and would rather go with passive speakers then the DIA can work, just make sure the speakers are around 89dB/1mW at 1m sensitivity.

    That isn't necessarily due to the natural response of the speakers but can be caused by room modes. With passive speakers there's one other problem: as they're usually not designed for nearfield use they tend to need to be around half a meter away from the walls, and farther from the corners. Speakers with the ports in the rear will be the worst for nearfield use.

    For powered speakers I'd get the JBL LSR305. For passives, maybe go with whatever B&W, Focal, or Sonus Faber you can afford.

    All these are going to go for over that budget but you might as well save and get a good one. Unless you can order from smaller manufacturers that cut the middlemen, the performance tends to nosedive at a faster rate as you go down the price bracket on speakers than on headphones.
    lmartinl and PaganDL like this.
  3. lmartinl
    Thank you for the very detailed response!
    Unfortunately, I'm still left wondering what my best choice would be.

    I don't have a personal preference regarding active v.s. passive speakers. From what you're saying active speakers are better/easier to get right when you're sitting close to them? (I'll be sitting 1 meter, or 2 meters away from it)
    The JBL LSR305 look pretty perfect for me to be honest. So let's assume we go with that.

    Regarding the headphone input. I have the following wireless headset (with base station) https://www.cnet.com/products/sony-mdr-ds6500/specs/
    Can I expect a better sound out of it if I use a better DAC as opposed to either the built in one, or my sound card?
    If so, yes I'd be hooking these headphones up to them.
    So your suggestion would be, depending on whether or not I'd be hooking up the headphones, to go either with the DIA or the HDP.
    Right about now, I'm leaning toward the HDP.

    So how would I go about setting this up?
    Quick google search tells me the JBL has either XRS or TLR input.
    The Nuforce HDP has Left Right RCA connectors as output, the DIA has 4 (+/-, L/R) 'speaker wires' output.
    So for the HDP I'd get RCA to .. XRS? TLR? cables?
    And for the DIA?

    I could look for a DAC/pre-amp that has an XRS output but this seems like a pretty good deal for the HDP
  4. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    Likely easier. There's a possibility that there's a passive speaker out there that could do better, but unless you can afford to buy, pay shipping, pay return shipping, pay repacking fees, repeat, with sunk costs you can't recover, it's a lot safer to just go with speakers that were designed for nearfield use to begin with.

    The DAC can't help those headphones by a lot, if at all.

    If you were using SPDIF input to it then using a DAC and its analogue input would skip over the base unit's DSP that includes DTS and Dolby decoding.

    If you compare analogue inputs, there might be some improvement if whatever else sending a signal to it has too low voltage and/or has audible noise and distortion.

    Otherwise the main benefit to the DAC is just to provide a clean signal to an amplifier. If you're driving a headphone with the HDP then the improvement comes more from the HDP's headphone amp, not the DAC stage, although that is still critical if you want a short analogue signal path while sending a clean line signal to the amp stage. In the case of those wireless headphones, you have a DAC and DSP in the base unit, and it has its own amplifiers in the headphone itself. Low power, yes, but chances are Sony picked drivers that don't need a lot. That said, better headphones tend to sacrifice some sensitivity for more linear response.

    Just note I mean more of hooking up a headphone to the headphone amp output of the HDP, not a wireless unit that you can no longer hook up the base to the HDP since you need its RCA output to provide either a preamp signal to powered speakers or a fixed voltage signal to an amp driving passive speakers.

    Basically, if you plan on being able to use headphones for night listening and will upgrade to, say, a Massdrop X Sennheiser HD58X, then get the HDP.

    HDP: RCA to either XLR or TRS, depending on what the speakers have. LSR305 has both.

    DIA: Speaker cable. Strip the jacket, twist the copper, insert, tighten on the DIA, then repeat on the speaker. Make sure both speakers have the + and - terminals correctly wired or you'll get phase issues. And make sure the bare wires won't touch each other.
    PaganDL and lmartinl like this.
  5. lmartinl
    Right. In that case I have no future plans to hook up a high quality set of headphones. My wireless headphones suffice for any night time listening to me.

    So I guess I'd go with the Nuforce DIA then.
    So, I feel very noobish for asking, but I'm a bit confused, to make sure: you're telling me I can use the speaker wire output of the DIA and connect it to the back side of the 305's?
    How would I connect a speaker wire to this? It has no speaker wire input as far as I see? Just XLR or TRS.

    In case it's not possible, I guess I'd to with the HDP after all. Would there be any difference between going RCA to XLR or to TRS? (practically speaking, a yes/no would suffice :wink:)
    I googled some differences but they are are obviously not speaking about RCA to xlr/trs conversion.
  6. buke9
    You should not use that amp with powered speakers it is made for passive speakers. Shouldn't matter on xlr or trs. Xlr is mainly used if you have xlr out of a pre amp or dac but should not matter either would be fine.
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2018
    lmartinl likes this.
  7. lmartinl
    Okay. So I guess I get the HDP after all?
    It outputs 1x RCA right-channel, 1x RCA left-channel.

    So I guess I can best use a RCA->(mono)TRS cable that sends all Right-channel to the right speaker, all Left-channel to the left speaker.
    Sorry I'm new to these types of cables. Basically, this should be good? https://www.musicstore.de/nl_NL/EUR...l-3m-Rean-stekker-CFU-3-PC/art-ACC0003292-000
    As far as I can see this one has a 2-contact version of the plug. Or would the LSR305 require a 3-contact version?
  8. buke9
    You don’t want that cable the sides are connected you want two separate cables one for right and one for left.
  9. mbritt
    Just to chime in here about the Nuforce Dia. I had it in a bedroom rig for a while with some nice BW speakers and I enjoyed using it to drive speakers and some of my headphones. The 3.5mm connector is for headphones unless you activate it for a sub or vice versa, I can't remember but it is designed to drive a headphone. I ended up installing it in an art gallery that represents me up in the rafters with an airport express hooked up to it for streaming music. The small size lends itself to a lot of creative applications. For $50 it's a no brainer if you want to connect via coax/spdif, drive passive speakers and listen to headphones. It's really a nice little piece of kit.
    lmartinl likes this.
  10. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    You can't. The DIA's speaker outputs are amplified speaker outputs. The LSR305 needs a low level line signal controlled by a preamp, ie, not amplified, as inputs to its built in amplifiers.

    No difference. Get whichever is easier to find. Just make sure they're two runs with RCA on one side and XLR or TRS on the other.

    You have to look out for the XLRs though and make sure they're only two 3-pin XLRs (since some might sell an RCA to 4-pin - haven't seen something as useless as that but double check anyway). With TRS even two-pin TRS to RCA will work I think as the corresponding points are still the same.
    PaganDL likes this.
  11. lmartinl
    Yeah exactly. I decided to just buy both, could probably make use of it or it'll make a nice gift.

    Thanks all!

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