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Amp and/or sound card for $200

Discussion in 'Computer Audio' started by ivantoar, Aug 28, 2012.
  1. ivantoar
    It's been a while since my last post here. I avoided head-fi (for economical reason) and managed to save myself some money and built a new PC earlier this month.
    I need help on deciding an amp and/or sound card for $200. This time, budget is strictly $200 or under (if possible).
    I have 2 choices:
    1. To go with a headphone amplifier + cheap sound card combo for $200, or
    2. Buy a better sound card that has integrated headphone amp for $200.
    Which one do you think is better?  The headphone amplifier that I want to buy is Fiio E9 or JDS Labs O2. The cheaper sound cards that I have in mind are Asus's/Creative's (I don't know which one is better). The better sound card that I want to buy will be Asus Xonar Essence STX.
    Currently using Fiio E10 with AKG Q701. I don't mind if my E10 will become unusable after I make this purchase.

    I usually play FPS games and listen to Rock/Metal/Pop music.
  2. paullindqvist
    You can add the E9 to being with and use your E10 as a pure DAC.
    Is this setup purely for music ? If so i would stick to good dec/head amp.
  3. ivantoar
    This setup is going to be all-purpose (gaming and music). Sorry I forgot to mention that.

    I would also like to enhance my game sound quality that's why I'm considering a sound card.
  4. paullindqvist
    Ah gotcha!
    Then i would get a decent gaming card, and still opt for a dedicated dac/headphone amp. 
    So something like your first suggestion.
  5. stv014
    For $200 total, you can get the O2 (it is better than the E9 for low impedance headphones), and either the Xonar D1/DX or the X-Fi Titanium (not HD). You will probably have to buy a used card to fit within the budget.
  6. PurpleAngel Contributor
    Asus Xonar Essence STX
  7. ivantoar
    @paullindqvist I see. Any particular card you would like to recommend?
    @stv014 I heard that Creative drivers are bad. Is that true? Anyway, what's the differences between Asus's card and Creative's card? They look almost the same to me..
    @PurpleAngle Will it amp Q701 properly?
  8. stv014
    The X-Fi has better and hardware accelerated 3D audio support for games. If that is not important for you, it is safe to choose the Xonars (they do have support for Dolby Headphone, which is useful for gaming). The Essence ST/STX include a headphone amplifier that is comparable to the FiiO E9, and therefore technically not as good as the O2 for the Q701, but should still work reasonably well.
  9. cel4145
    I have both the Xonar D1 and the Xonar Essence STX in different machines. While certainly the DAC is better in the STX, the D1 is no slouch. Very satisfying audio quality. Then also in this budget if it would be advantageous to have, you could get the FiiO E17 along with the D1/DX and have a portable amp/dac option. 
  10. ivantoar
    Alright, thanks for your opinion guys. I think I'll get a DAC and a sound card. I might pick up X-Fi Titanium as it's better for gaming. For music, I think I'll just use my E10 + new amp in case X-Fi isn't good at it. Any more advice is appreciated :)
  11. NamelessPFG
    They had some teething issues in the past, but current X-Fi drivers are fine, especially those of the Titanium HD.
    For that matter, even the Asus Xonar drivers aren't complaint-free either, otherwise this driver package wouldn't exist.
    The main differences are that Creative has a lot of good PC gaming audio tech in their iron grasp, so only their hardware tends to support it properly...but there's a lot of people here who don't really care about the games that use said audio tech in the first place, and for the same price as the Titanium HD in most circles, the Xonar Essence STX practically has a FiiO E9 amp built-in (they use the same amp IC).
    Your current approach of the X-Fi Titanium feeding an external S/PDIF DAC feeding a new amp should work out pretty well. You might also be able to keep using the FiiO E10 in the meantime in conjunction with the sound card (set the "What U Hear" recording device to play back through the E10 and set the sound card as the default playback device), but this may or may not result in a sound quality hit and/or added latency.
  12. ivantoar
    @NamelessFPG That's a relief. Glad to know that current drivers are not troublesome. I don't think I will use my E10 when I'm using the sound card. However I might use my E10 if I'm not using my sound card as a DAC. So my idea is to use the sound card +amp for gaming, and E10 + amp for music. Will that work?.

    Anyway, just a quick question. Is X-fi Titanium (not HD) is discontinued? I can't find it on Creative's website. I only found the HD on their site
  13. PurpleAngel Contributor
    Refurbished X-fi Titanium (non-HD) are selling for $42.99.
  14. NamelessPFG
    That'll work.
    I actually just linked you to that $43 shipped X-Fi Titanium deal earlier, but maybe it wasn't clear enough that the "X-Fi Titanium" bit of my post was a Newegg link. PurpleAngel has posted it above for your convenience.
  15. stv014
    Depending on how good the X-Fi Titanium is, and whether you encounter any interference problems, you may not need the E10 for music playback. At least compared to the Xonar D1 the DAC on the E10 is a downgrade technically. I do not know much about the X-Fi, though.

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