External Sound Card/Amp for Laptop?
post-1408267
Thread Starter
Post #1 of 18

lmm

Head-Fier
Joined
Oct 27, 2003
Messages
90
Reaction score
15
Joined
Oct 27, 2003
Posts
90
Likes
15
Current Situation
IBM T series Laptop -> Airhead -> Beyer 250-80s (and sometimes SR225s)

Problem
Too much base noise with signal - I want silence when there's no music playing. And I'm looking for an amp upgrade too.

My Ideas
-Amped external sound card (Echo Indigo, Total Bithead)?
or
-USB sound card (Xitel Hi-Fi, M Audio Transit) to portable amp (Airhead or something better)

I'm leaning towards a USB sound card like the transit because I'm not convinced of the quality of the Echo Indigo and Bithead as amps, and getting a cheap external DAC would let me spend some money upgrading my portable amp (which I could then use away from my computer). But I'm worried that the transit wouldn't give me the completely clean signal I want (as I've heard the Echo Indigo would) and that the extra link in the system (card -> amp) would introduce new noise.

Any ideas on the best solution for this situation? Maybe better suggestions for the external DAC device? I don't want to spend a ton on that, as this laptop setup isn't a long term one.
 
     Share This Post       
post-1408329
Post #2 of 18

SockMan!

Head-Fier
Joined
Apr 2, 2005
Messages
60
Reaction score
0
Joined
Apr 2, 2005
Posts
60
Likes
0
There's also Meier Audio's Porta Corda III USB, which looks to be competing with the Total Bithead as a USB headphone amp.
 
     Share This Post       
post-1408431
Post #3 of 18

aseltzer144

100+ Head-Fier
Joined
Apr 17, 2005
Messages
152
Reaction score
10
Joined
Apr 17, 2005
Posts
152
Likes
10
I know what you mean about base noise without a signal and it was starting to bother me. What's more, the external USB sound card that I found on clearance was introducing its own base noise.

While I have my eyes on the M-Audio Transit at some point, I started looking into the dongle style cards that resemble those flash jump drives. Several exist but I with brand recognition and bought a Turtle Beach Audio Advantage Micro. Its a USB "card" that outputs either analog or S/PDIF digital signals from a single output port. I'm on a Mac which the included software does not support, but the card is driven by driver native to the Mac OS.

Before leaving the store, I confirmed that the card was returnable just in case it proved to be unacceptable or if it did not improve upon what I already had (which retailed for more than the Turtle Beach card). Within seconds of attaching the device and doing some listening I immediately knew that I would not be returning the card.

The Audio Advantage made a huge difference. Not only was then noise floor lowered, but the there was greater clarity across the entire spectrum, as if a curtain were raised on my prior card. The card also has a built-in headphone amp which is actually not bad on its own. However, I do have the card going into an amp. I have the volume coming out of the card reduced to maybe 50% of max or so, so it effectively acts as a preamp.

Turtle Beach does not publish much in the way of specs for the card although they do hype the Dolby 5.1 potential of the card which is useless to me. Nevertheless, my immediate sound problemn is solved. At a very reasonable $30 cost, there's not much to question about the card. I will likely still pursue a higher end card like the Transit, but this card has made a big enoughj difference that I don't need to do so right away. If I do, it will be interesting to hear how that further improves things, if so. In any case, for achieving better USB audio, this card represents a very pleasing solution.
 
     Share This Post       
post-1411432
Post #4 of 18

Johncan

New Head-Fier
Joined
Jul 28, 2004
Messages
29
Reaction score
0
Joined
Jul 28, 2004
Posts
29
Likes
0
Do you know if the Turtle Beach Audio Advantage is bit-perfect? Does it appear to automatically upsample to 48 or does it play at 44.1

Thanks!

John
 
     Share This Post       
post-1411454
Post #5 of 18

yage

1000+ Head-Fier
Joined
Oct 29, 2001
Messages
1,218
Reaction score
407
Joined
Oct 29, 2001
Posts
1,218
Likes
407
The Echo Indigo DJ has a line level output for a stand alone headphone amp. I have mine coupled with a CI Audio VHP-1 and the match delivers superb results - the card is dead quiet even when I turn the volume all the way up and the sound is balanced and clean.
 
     Share This Post       
post-1411755
Post #6 of 18

aseltzer144

100+ Head-Fier
Joined
Apr 17, 2005
Messages
152
Reaction score
10
Joined
Apr 17, 2005
Posts
152
Likes
10
Quote:

Originally Posted by Johncan
Do you know if the Turtle Beach Audio Advantage is bit-perfect? Does it appear to automatically upsample to 48 or does it play at 44.1

Thanks!

John



I believe the Audio Advantage upsamples to 48khz, as do all the "cards" in that class as far as I am aware. That being the case, it is not bit perfect. Nevertheless, I can't say that it degrades the sound, and technically does not necessarily imply compromised sound, although thats a topic for another discussion. Bear in mind, the Audio Advantage is a $30 card the size of "jump" drive. In that sense, what it does is impressive. I bought it is an interim step to replace an ailing Creative card until I can get something more sophisticated. Quite frankly, the Turtle Beach card is my new standard of comparison and may be hard to beat for computer-as-source type listening.

You can also address your question directly to Turtle Beach. I spoke to a very helpful guy over there in technical support named Anthony who seemed to have good product knowledge beyond what's published on the web site.
 
     Share This Post       
post-1412589
Post #7 of 18

cmirza

1000+ Head-Fier
Joined
May 31, 2005
Messages
1,145
Reaction score
10
Joined
May 31, 2005
Posts
1,145
Likes
10
I have not heard the Echo Indigo, Total Bithead, etc... But I picked up a Turtle Beach Audio Advantage Micro today for use on a work machine. I wasn't expecting to much of it, but I'm fairly surprised at the sound quality. It is definately clearer and has less noise than the SBLive that the machine came with. There are a few reasons I think that I have had a good experience with this device whereas others haven't. First, the card is running on a USB 2.0 PCI card. I belive those who have heard breakups in the sound and other interference is due to congestion of their USB bus on the system. If you are running several other USB devices on your system, the USB bus will probably be too congested to keep the stream to the TBAA unbroken. Second, I have the device plugged into a USB extension cable and places away from the computer. I believe RF and EM noise around the computer could be another cause of interference on this device. Espcially since it is not a high end device, it is probably more susceptible to RF and EM noise than other more high quality devices. I have yet to try it with an amp yet, so I can't give any imrpessions on that yet. But, for $30 I'd say its a good source as long as you don't have very high end headphones that expose the weaknesses it has, you take precautions to keep it away from potential noise and don't have a congested USB bus.
 
     Share This Post       
post-1412650
Post #8 of 18

NeoteriX

100+ Head-Fier
Joined
Mar 23, 2005
Messages
219
Reaction score
12
Joined
Mar 23, 2005
Posts
219
Likes
12
I've got an Audio Advantage, and it's a great setup for me -- sounds way better than my Turtle Beach Santa Cruz soundcard output, and I have it hooked up to a Govibe amp. I like the audio advantage + amp setup more than my ipod/lineout/amp setup.
 
     Share This Post       
post-1415126
Post #9 of 18

gratefulshrink

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
May 12, 2005
Messages
1,687
Reaction score
15
Joined
May 12, 2005
Posts
1,687
Likes
15
Quote:

Originally Posted by NeoteriX
I've got an Audio Advantage, and it's a great setup for me -- sounds way better than my Turtle Beach Santa Cruz soundcard output, and I have it hooked up to a Govibe amp. I like the audio advantage + amp setup more than my ipod/lineout/amp setup.


I just read about this product at the web-site. It says it has a "built in headphone amp", but a) I don't see how that is possible given it's size; and b) your are using it with a headhphone amp.

Am I missing something? I have been toying with the idea of a new portable amp, and I am wondering about getting one with USB capability (for use with my G4 powerbook). But this solution looks really cheap,since I already have a pocket amp V2.
 
     Share This Post       
post-1415176
Post #10 of 18

gratefulshrink

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
May 12, 2005
Messages
1,687
Reaction score
15
Joined
May 12, 2005
Posts
1,687
Likes
15
Quote:

Originally Posted by aseltzer144
Several exist but I with brand recognition and bought a Turtle Beach Audio Advantage Micro. Its a USB "card" that outputs either analog or S/PDIF digital signals from a single output port. I'm on a Mac which the included software does not support, but the card is driven by driver native to the Mac OS.



Can you explain how you would use the Turtle Beach Audio Advantage Micro with a G4 powerbook (OS 10.2.8), if it doesn't list itself as a prodcut compatible with mac OS?

Thanks.
 
     Share This Post       
post-1417293
Post #11 of 18

japes98

New Head-Fier
Joined
Jun 1, 2005
Messages
4
Reaction score
0
Joined
Jun 1, 2005
Posts
4
Likes
0
I'm using the Xitel and it sounds great -- very quiet, very clean..
 
     Share This Post       
post-1417564
Post #12 of 18

cmirza

1000+ Head-Fier
Joined
May 31, 2005
Messages
1,145
Reaction score
10
Joined
May 31, 2005
Posts
1,145
Likes
10
The Turtle Beach Audio Advantage Micro under MacOS X I believe would use generic USB Audio drivers. You probably won't be able to use the 'fancy' 3D effects advertised on the packaging. But if you're serious about music, you won't be using those anyway. BTW: Great USB sound for the price.
 
     Share This Post       
post-1417609
Post #13 of 18

cmirza

1000+ Head-Fier
Joined
May 31, 2005
Messages
1,145
Reaction score
10
Joined
May 31, 2005
Posts
1,145
Likes
10
Out of curiousity I removed the official drivers on my Turtle Beach Audio Advantage Micro (in WinXP) and reinstalled the device with generic USB Audio drivers. The sound is even better now. I don't know what the official drivers were doing but they added a bit of a noise that the generic drivers lack. If you are using, or plan to use the Turtle Beach Audio Advantage Micro, ignore the little warning in the box to install their drivers first. Just plug the device in (under WinXP) and let Windows install the generic USB Audio drivers. If you're using Mac, you have no choice.
 
     Share This Post       
post-1417705
Post #14 of 18

aseltzer144

100+ Head-Fier
Joined
Apr 17, 2005
Messages
152
Reaction score
10
Joined
Apr 17, 2005
Posts
152
Likes
10
Quote:

Originally Posted by gratefulshrink
Can you explain how you would use the Turtle Beach Audio Advantage Micro with a G4 powerbook (OS 10.2.8), if it doesn't list itself as a prodcut compatible with mac OS?

Thanks.



Mac OS X recognizes the presence of a USB audio device and drives it as a generic USB audio device. As such it is only possible to vary the volume and channel balance. The included software is installable only on Windows, but that's not of concern as I would not be using the audio effects anyway. I use the device for its analog out, so I am not sure how well it works with digital sources on a Mac. In theory, I imagine Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS would still pass through. By the way, this is also the way the Creative MP3+ worked with a Mac. Creative does not support their products on a Mac.

It does have a built-in headphone amp, which you regulate with the included software or the sound preferences panel on Mac OS X. Since I have the TBAA feeding into an amp, I have the volume in set around 40%. In essence, the TBAA is acting as a preamp and as such, allows me to reduce volume slightly on the amp, thus reducing any amp noise further.

I was skeptical that the TBAA, being as small as it is, would be capable of high fidelity but I have been pleasantly surprised. Unless I find out that my MP3+ was defective, it outperforms that card noticeably. In particular, the high frequencies are much smoother and extended where the MP3+ seems to constrict them. There is no audible noise produced.

I confirmed that I could return the TBAA, but there will be no need to do so. Eventually, I will probably purchase an M-Audio Transit or equivalent, but for now I am unsure that USB audio can be improved much beyond what the TBAA can deliver. In any case, its a quality device that offers much value for the modest price.
 
     Share This Post       
post-1419403
Post #15 of 18

cmirza

1000+ Head-Fier
Joined
May 31, 2005
Messages
1,145
Reaction score
10
Joined
May 31, 2005
Posts
1,145
Likes
10
I'd like to see someone with the proper skill and resources take a look at the TBAA and compare it's quality with other more high end USB audio solutions.
 
     Share This Post       

Users Who Are Viewing This Thread (Users: 0, Guests: 1)

Top