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Best Headphone DAC to replace or add to my set-up?

Discussion in 'Computer Audio' started by coltello, Jul 2, 2012.
  1. coltello
    First let me say that I realize there is plenty of information out there, I have been searching for about a month now and really need help making a decision that is specific to my situation, I hate creating new threads.
    My situation:
    1. I only use Headphones (Sennheisser 555's currently).
    2. Will be upgrading to Sennheisser 650's or another set of 555's in the next 3 months (555's are cracked and breaking over years of abuse).
    3. Currently using a Creative Labs SB0880 PCI Express Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium Sound Card.
    4. I get some static on my microphone and headphones if I don't use the headphone front-headers and plug it into the soundcard directly (I'm guessing it's due to the placement next to my videocard).
    My question is should I go for a 3.5mm-3.55mm source-to-amplifier upgrade or ditch the soundcard entirely and get a Headphone USB DAC.
    Currently I have my eyes on a Audioengine D1, NuForce uDac2 or Fiio E17. I have funds of up to about $200. Should I ditch the soundcard or add on to my setup for the best upgrade for a balanced sound reproduction that isn't specific to any genre or type of music.
    Thank you guys!
    Edit: I'm also willing to replace the soundcard if that's within a reasonable budget and would be a better alternative.
  2. proton007
    Soundcards can give you more options (speakers/surround/line-in), with good DAC performance at a reasonable price. Asus Xonar ST/STX is a pretty good option, comes with dedicated headphone amp. You can get it for ~180 (even less) if you're in US.
    USB dacs have portability, choice, and you can use any amp you want. But for decent sound, your expense may go slightly higher.
  3. NamelessPFG
    You lose out on gaming features big time if you use anything else, but especially USB DACs as primary audio devices. Is that something you would be comfortable with? Undesirable noise on both mic and headphones plugged directly into the sound card doesn't seem right at all, though. Haven't had that problem on the X-Fi Prelude, Forte, or Titanium HD. Is it possible to move the sound card to a different PCIe slot? Also, I'd generally recommend separate DAC/amps if you go that route. You have more flexibility that way, especially if you decide you want to try out an electrostatic setup (which means you'll need a specialized amplifier), and for the cost of an HD650 + amp, you can most certainly afford a used Stax Lambda or Koss ESP/950 (with amp, of course). Even for dynamic/ortho headphones, matching the amp to the headphone makes more sense to me. EDIT: What the heck is with Head-Fi lately? These line breaks aren't showing up in my post at all, making it look like one big block of text.

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