External DAC or Computer Sound Card?
Jul 21, 2013 at 4:37 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 9

ScottRG

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I'm a newbie when it comes to audiophile and high end equipment, but for the last couple of months I've enjoyed my new stereo system I put together to play vinyl records. My next purchase I'm looking to make is on a DAC. I recently ripped my entire CD collection to flac on my desktop. I'm not sure if I should buy a new sound card for my computer or purchase an external DAC. I currently have a Marantz PM8004 integrated amp hooked up to a pair of Wharfedale Diamond 10.6 Loudspeakers. I'm only interested in playing 2 channel stereo music. Just looking for some suggestions on whether an external DAC or Sound Card would be better and what are the pros and cons for each. Also I'm big on the equipment being pretty neutral when processing the sound. That was one of my main reason for buying the Marantz integrated amp because of it's option to bypass the tone controls on the amp. As for price I'm pretty open, my main concern is the the equipment is on par or above in producing the quality of music I get from my current setup.
 
Jul 21, 2013 at 7:44 PM Post #2 of 9

NA Blur

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I always go external DAC because they have few components, can often easily control the master / slave issues that cause high jitter, are easier to install, and often sound cleaner because they isolate themselves away from the internal workings of a PC.
 
Jul 21, 2013 at 7:46 PM Post #3 of 9

PurpleAngel

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I'm going to guess you will go for an external DAC, which will depends on your budget?
If you had only wanted to spend around $50, then something like a used Asus Xonar DX or D1 sound card would work.
 
External DACs
Hifimediy Sabre USB DAC, $50-$70.
Schiit Modi USB DAC, $99
O2 (Objective 2) USB DAC, $150
 
Would you spend more then $150?
 
Did you have any plans on using headphones with the Marantz?
 
Jul 21, 2013 at 8:30 PM Post #4 of 9

Sapientiam

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Isolation is the must-have feature conferred by an external DAC. If your motherboard has optical out (Toslink) then go that route as it gives the best possible isolation. Try a Muse 4* TDA1543 if you're looking for something with vinyl-like sound.
 
Jul 21, 2013 at 9:41 PM Post #5 of 9

ScottRG

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Thanks everyone for your help so far. Great suggestion, I think I will be going with an external DAC. Let me answer some of your questions:
 
 
Did you have any plans on using headphones with the Marantz?

 
I haven't really been listening to my system through headphones, but I do plan on it in the future when I purchase a good pair. If I was to listen on headphones it would be out of the Marantz 6.3mm jack.
 
 
If your motherboard has optical out (Toslink) then go that route as it gives the best possible isolation.

 
My motherboard does not have an optical out, just USB. My motherboard uses an on-board sound not a sound card.
 
Would you spend more then $150?

 
Honestly I was expecting to pay a lot more for an external DAC. I was looking at the PS Audio NuWave DAC http://www.musicdirect.com/p-105704-ps-audio-nuwave-dac.aspx before my original post.
 
Is this DAC overkill?  
 
Should I still buy a sound card just to get the optical connection?
All my peripheral devices are all USB ( keyboard, mouse, external hard drive...).
 
With all those USB devices do you think I'll just get a lot of jitter on the DAC?

 
Jul 21, 2013 at 9:51 PM Post #6 of 9

PurpleAngel

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Quote:
Thanks everyone for your help so far. Great suggestion, I think I will be going with a external DAC. Let me answer some of your questions:

Any DAC over $150 is not an area I really follow.
 
The Asus Xonar DG (PCI) sound card is $30 with a $10 mail in rebate.
Come with a basic (2-channel only) S/PDIF optical output.
So you should be able to connect any external DAC with a S/PDIF optical input you want, to the DG's optical output.
 
Jul 21, 2013 at 10:46 PM Post #7 of 9

ProtegeManiac

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Quote:
I always go external DAC because they have few components, can often easily control the master / slave issues that cause high jitter, are easier to install, and often sound cleaner because they isolate themselves away from the internal workings of a PC.

 
Also if it's for stereo use, one other advantage of an external DAC over a soundcard is that the DAC doesn't have to get in the way of the airflow or the heatsinks in the PC case, but maybe that's just for the microATX and SFF users like me*. I even installed the HDD on the spare optical drive slot and on the bottom slot ahead of the fans - they don't heat up there with just the slightest air from the fans, which can blow directly on the graphics card. I do use a radiator though so that keeps the chassis interior relatively cooler - last May with the A/C on in the room (outside temp was around 42deg C in the shade) the CPU cores managed to run at only 38deg after three hours of gaming.
 
 
*If there's no processing involved that only a soundcard can do, an HT receiver can also be an option - in some areas you can get them for around the same price as a good soundcard, and passive speaker packages+active sub from some brands are usually not that much more expensive than TOTL surround PC speakers. The only problem then, of course, is space; and maybe connectivity problems (I'm not sure how you can run three monitors on wide angle if you're using the HDMI1.3 and up on the graphics card to send digital audio to the receiver, and some HD audio formats can't work off the bandwidth of SPDIF).
 
Jul 22, 2013 at 12:31 AM Post #8 of 9

Sapientiam

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If you go for a USB DAC, note it won't necessarily beat a sound card for isolation because most USB DACs don't isolate. The more expensive ones (like Ayre QB-9) do though. If you have no need for hires (i.e. above 96k) then a UAC1.0 DAC will be sufficient and these can be used with an external USB (full speed, 12Mbits) isolator which are fairly cheap nowadays.
 
Dec 18, 2013 at 4:51 PM Post #9 of 9

Xpl0sion

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Folks I have a similar question.
 
I primarily use my main PC for gaming and music (usually at the same time...).  I'm currently using ATD-AD700s with on-board sound on my EVGA 758 motherboard (previously had two Auzuntech Forte cards, both of which dies and had to be RMAd).  I would like to upgrade my setup and am thinking of an external DAC.  Have a couple questions:
 
- I plan only on both listening to music and gaming in stereo using the AD700s
- http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813188039 - specs of my motherboard, not sure if any of these influence the type of DAC I would want to buy or the setup I would need?
- How are the drivers/software for most DACs?  Asking because I despised the Creative drivers and keep this particular PC very clean/malware free in order to avoid any latency while gaming
- Even when gaming, I won't need accurate 3D positioning or anything that crazy.  I'm mostly casually gaming these days and prefer sound quality
- My budget is about $100-$150
 
Thank you in advance
 

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