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Headphone hiss: cause and elimination

  1. ValZakh
    My laptop is an HP 635 A1E29EA. As far as I could fathom, there is onboard audio only, no dedicated sound card. I recently bought the Sony MDR-V6, and am very happy with them - however, when they're plugged in there is a slight background hissing noise both when there is no audio playing and when some is (I can hear it during the quiet parts of tracks in the latter case). Unfortunately, I have no speakers to connect the headphones through (instead of straight to the audio output jack), so I can't know whether doing that would help, but I have a feeling it wouldn't (forgive my ignorance here). I've heard that a DAC may solve my problem, as well as improve the sound quality by a small bit. Is this true - should I be looking at getting one? Thanks in advance for your advice!
  2. MindsMirror
    What volume setting in Windows do you typically use? If it is a low setting, a headphone amp will help by letting you set Windows to 100% (you control the volume with the amp instead) which increases the signal to noise ratio. Connecting through speakers which have a headphone jack with volume control would do the same thing, so yes that would help. You shouldn't use just a DAC with headphones, but if you got a DAC and amp or a DAC/amp combo, that should also eliminate the hiss.
  3. ValZakh
    Yes, a DAC/amp combo was really what I meant. But you're saying I should only get one that has a volume control? Are there any inexpensive ones among those? Cos the ones I was looking at had no volume knob but even at that were in the region of $100
    And yes, I do usually use a very low Windows volume setting
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2017
  4. calvinus
    Having a similar HP laptop with the same Altec Lansing built-in speakers, I can vouch that it's actually a decent onboard sound system which at least shouldn't be producing any hiss.

    Have you tried a low-latency/ASIO driver and/or one of those "bit-perfect" audio players?
    nofacemonster likes this.
  5. MindsMirror
    I haven't owned any <$100 DAC/amps so I'm not the best person to give recommendations, but these are some that I've seen mentioned around here which seem okay.

    Behringer UCA202
    Fiio E10k
    Schiit Fulla 2

    The hiss is due to the headphones having high sensitivity. The same laptop might not produce audible hiss in your headphones or speakers. The hiss doesn't necessarily mean the onboard sound is bad, even a very good DAC may produce audible hiss if plugged directly into headphones or IEMs especially which have very high sensitivity.
  6. ValZakh
    Thanks a lot! Will try it.
  7. Dr. Hugo
    I have the Schiit Fulla 2 and I think it is one of the best products available at this price range. It is transportable and can run off usb power and has a very smooth volume knob. Plus, it has a rather low output impedance that will help with the hiss, if the hiss is the result of your headphone being too sensitive, like in the case of an in-ear-monitor.
  8. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    Electronic noise can come from anywhere upstream of the headphone/speakers and the easiest way to eliminate it isn't the cheapest, ie, trial and error. It can come from the amp circuit driving it due to some kind interaction with the headphoone's specs, typically due to too low impedance and high sensitivity; or sometimes even with low impedance and low sensitivity or high impedance and not high enough sensitivity tht it stresses the amp circuit and makes it produce more power at which point there is more noise. Or it's a really crappy amp circuit to begin with. Or it could come from upstream of the amp circuit.

    In your case that's a computer, and it isn't a soundcard or a nice motherboard, so most likely it runs an integrated DAC-HPamp circuit like what you'd see on a smartphone or tablet. You can get a DAC-HPamp and deal with bothbut note that there's no guarantee this can remove the noise. First, some motherboards can't deliver 5v, 500mA through all USB ports consistently, whcih is why Gigabyte for example has to come up with its "Amp Up!" marketing bit to let everyone know that their motherboards don't have that problem. Second, even if your DAC-HPamp doesn't draw power via USB, if the noise is coming from the computer itself, chances are it won't be eliminated by using an external unit, especially one that works via USB.
  9. ValZakh
    I'm guessing there's no test I can do to see whether my motherboard can deliver 500 mA consistently(?) Assuming it can though - I don't have to do anything specific to tell it it to draw that max parameter, right? The drivers I'll download for the DAC-HPamp should be responsible for that... Or not?
  10. ValZakh
    I was indeed looking at that one as a quite-possible option, but it seems my country stocks exactly zero of them, and I really don't want to go through the hassle of ordering from say Amazon via an American freight forwarder... But thanks anyway!
  11. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    There should be but you'll likely just blow money on the hardware for that so you might as well just put that towards a DAC-HPamp.
  12. ValZakh
    That's what I thought. Thanks a lot!
  13. nofacemonster
    I too have a HP Laoptop with altec lansing speakers and pretty good inbuilt sound system that is even capable of driving HD-6XX to an acceptable level of sound but when I use the IEM or VE Monk Plus there is hiss in the silence.

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