ASUS Xonar Essence STX for DT 770 pro80?
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Lucenzo

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Hello nice people of head-fi,
 
my friend is using a Beyerdynamic DT 770 pro 80 ohm headphone, plugged directly in to his desktop motherboard (ASRock Z87 Pro3).
 
It's his birthday next month and I was thinking of buying him this soundcard: ASUS Xonar Essence STX.
 
But I'm not sure if it's worth it, considering it's only 80 Ohm and he keeps saying it sounds just fine the way it is now..
 
Do you guys think there will be a big enough difference, sound quality-wise, that it is actually noticable with the human ear?
 
He likes to listen to his music at relatively low volumes, because he's got pretty sensitive ears, so the volume increase from the soundcard doesn't really matter, it's purely sound quality that I'm asking about.
 
 
 
Just in case it's important: He likes to listen to all kinds of electronical music like progressive house, vocal trance, hardstyle, etc.
 
 
 
Looking forward to your opinions!
 
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AlfredKeppler

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The mainboard he has is one of the newer models, right?
I'm askging because newer gaming-grade mainboards have good, isolated sound componments on them, they should really be enough for him to drive his DT 770s. The greatest problem for him could be hiss and distortion coming from non-isolated cables to the front headphone jack. But that's solved when he uses the jacks on the back, anyway.
Maybe, a DAC/Amp combo (Maybe FiiO E17? or E18?) would be better for him. It takes the audio out of the computer, making it completly distortion free from electrical interfereance. It's also portable and can serve as a DAC for, maybe, a second computer or a notebook without any hassle, or as a mere amp for mobile phones or mp3 players if they are too quiet.
I don't have any experience with internal soundcards myself, but I'm rather happy with my FiiO E17 and it's highly praised and upgradable (with the E09, a base station) and I would buy it again rather than a sound card for the around 150 bucks that both the Asus Xonar and the E17 cost.
 
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PurpleAngel

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  my friend is using a Beyerdynamic DT 770 pro 80 ohm headphone, plugged directly in to his desktop motherboard (ASRock Z87 Pro3).
It's his birthday next month and I was thinking of buying him this sound card: ASUS Xonar Essence STX.
But I'm not sure if it's worth it, considering it's only 80 Ohm and he keeps saying it sounds just fine the way it is now..
Do you guys think there will be a big enough difference, sound quality-wise, that it is actually noticeable with the human ear?
He likes to listen to his music at relatively low volumes, because he's got pretty sensitive ears, so the volume increase from the sound card doesn't really matter, it's purely sound quality that I'm asking about.
Just in case it's important: He likes to listen to all kinds of electronical music like progressive house, vocal trance, hardstyle, etc.
 
The Essence STX (new, $180) should provide some improvement in audio quality, over the motherboard's built in ALC892 audio chip-set.
The STX's PCM1792A DAC chip and TI 6120A2 headphone amplifier are both better then what is built into the motherboard.
Maybe find a good price on a used STX on eBay.
 
There is also the Creative Labs Sound blaster Z sound card, $85, should still be better then the ALC892.
 
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AlfredKeppler

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  The STX's PCM1792A DAC chip and TI 6120A2 headphone amplifier are both better then what is built into the motherboard.
[...]
There is also the Creative Labs Sound blaster Z sound card, $85, should still be better then the ALC892.
 
I believe that the chips themselves, especially the DAC chip, can be counted out of the equation of good audio quality, especially at the requested audio gear priece point.
The only exceptions from this would be the beforementioned electrical interferences that occour on a motherboard chip, or really poor engineering and design of the hardware (which improved in the last couple of years when we're talking about "better" motherboards".
I know of some A/B blind testing between different DACs on tomshardware; they couldn't tell the difference, so I guess it doesn't matter with the DT770.

I personally bought a DAC/amp because of electrical interferences and because I needed low output impedance, to get a high enough dampening factor for ear buds. And because of additional features.
Althought I must admit that I don't speak out of personal experience because I own just this one DAC and a few pairs of headphones, all well under 300 € and 80% with impedances at/over 80 ohms.
 
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derbigpr

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  It takes the audio out of the computer, making it completly distortion free from electrical interfereance.

I don't have any experience with internal soundcards myself
 
 
That explains it. People...internal sound cards have no noise. No interference, no distortions..., in fact, they're more silent than any separate headphone amp you'll ever try (that goes for even the Asus Xonar D1, the 60 dollar soundcard I recently got for my second PC). In fact, look at the measurements of the STX, it beats most external DAC's regardless of price in terms of noise, distortion, etc. And headphone output is completely silent, no hiss whatsoever, no channel imbalance whatsoever...two things that almost all external headphone amps suffer from...regardless of price, at least in my experience. Even my Musical Fidelity M1HPAP hisses on high  volumes and has some channel imbalance, and that's a 1k amp made for low impedance headphones.  With the ST, I can set the volume to full on highest gain settings, and there's not a hint of noise, hiss, interference even with in-ears, let alone full sized headphones.
 
And no, E17 won't be better. STX still has the best sound quality of any DAC/amp combo available under 500 dollars. I say that with confidence, having owned or tried pretty much everything worth owning or trying in that category, and as someone who has a 1000 dollar headphone amp and 800 dollar external DAC at moment, I can say that even with T1's, K701's, HD650's, or any of my higher end headphones, STX can hold it's own and always makes me question why I even need those other components.  It definitely sounds better than any of the amps or dac's I've tried in it's price range.  It's got very high quality components, it's connected to an excellent power supply in the PC and most importantly, it's very well design and very well made (which is what matters way more than the components used),  definitely a higher engineering, testing and manufacturing quality than Fiio or majority of hi-fi manufacturers for that matter. As I always say, Asus is a giant company with more resources than Schiit, Fiio, Hifiman, and the next 50 popular DAC/amp brands on head-fi put together, multiplied by 1000. That enables them to produce higher quality stuff at lower prices. They also make things like motheboards and graphics cards, MUCH more complex components than soundcards. Can you imagine graphics cards being made by your average hi-fi manufacturer? I don't think so....and they'd probably cost 10,000 dollars instead of 200.  The only downside to STX is it's not portable. But if you don't need a portable source,  ST/STX can beat just about anything on the market under 500 dollars, and hold it's own with gear that costs way more than a grand. Not to mention for a couple of 10's of dollars you can upgrade the op-amps which make it really easy to tailor the sound signature that you want, and in some cases even increase the sound quality overall.  On top of that, a soundcard gives you loads of other features other than a pure hi-fi source, it acts as a proper multimedia center which improves your gaming, movie watching, enables you to record, etc. So, for that money, you definitely cannot go wrong with a good soundcard, especially not with the best one (which ST/STX are, even though the new Creative cards look good too) when it comes to mainstream cards (of course, you can spend much more on pro-cards).
 
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AlfredKeppler

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[...] internal sound cards have no noise. No interference, no distortions..., in fact, they're more silent than any separate headphone amp you'll ever try [...]

In my case, it wasn't the sound chips itself, it was the front jack audio cable most of the times, acting as an electromagnetical antenna. It rendered the front jack useless because of extreme hissing when the computer itself was under any load. A computer case is a electrical "noisy" enviroment, because of the many circuits running through it.
And I guess that's a problem with any internal audio card, regardless of it's design and components. It has to be isolated very, very carefully.
Maybe, the Asus Xonar is 10x better that the standart mobo solution, while my external DAC is only 5x times better? I don't know, you're right. Just take any information regarding DACs and AMPs and cables and so on and on with a great grain of salt, there are many snake oil sellers out there. But Asus produces great components, you shouldn't worry too much if it's them. Just buy nothing less expensive, it's often shady and shabby, as I heard.
 
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Lucenzo

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Alright, thanks to everyone for posting in this topic. I feel much more confifent with my decision now. Hope he'll be happy with his new Asus Essence STX! :D
 
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