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help a newbie .. headphones + DAC recommendations

  1. Salman2987
    hello everyone .. i'm new at this so , sorry if i'm too ignorant to understand some of your comments

    i have a budget of 400$ i could add an extra 100$ if necessary ..

    i would like to see your recommendations for a headphone + DAC/AMP

    i will be mostly using them for gaming and watching movies + music ..

    i read a lot the last couple of days and to be honest i'm lost it's too much information every time i think i understood something i realize that i lack ten times the amount .. thank you for your help in advance
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2018
  2. PurpleAngel Contributor
    A Creative Labs Sound Blaster Z card (used $70) will give you a decent DAC/amp and SBX Headphone surround sound.
    Maybe a Soundmagic HP200 headphones, $150.
    So well under your budget.
  3. buke9
    A bit more information would help. What is your source are you using a computer for this? Then on the headphone do you need isolation or is a open back OK? There is a thousand combinations either way but could help to narrow down a bit.
  4. Salman2987
    sorry like i said i'm not knowledgeable on these kinds of subjects .. i'm using a PC .. i'm into open-back to be honest most of what i have read almost recommended only open-backs .. i have seen reviews and read about all kinds of headphones but the sennheiser HD 600 stood out to me kinda .. also the fidelio x2 .. but still i'm lost ..
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2018
  5. buke9
    I would not pick the HD-600’s for gaming as they don’t have much of a soundstage and need a bit more power to run unless the amp you get has higher output impedance and then you limit yourself to using higher impedance cans. Unless you are getting a bunch of noise from the pc from your audio outputs a dac really isn’t necessary and then you’re options get a bit more open. Gaming, Movies and music do not always go with just one headphone depends on what you really want. Movies and games would be pretty close but music is a bit different for me.
  6. Salman2987
    okay if i would prioritize gaming and watching movies over music what would be a good pick in your opinion ? and if a DAC isn't necessary should i get a sound card ?
  7. buke9
    Does your PC have crappy sound or is it OK for you?
  8. Salman2987
    pretty crappy xD
  9. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    What motherboard is it and what headphones are you using? It could be more of using a headphone that is either too hard to drive or the headphone's response is the main problem.

    You'll need a headphone amp depending on how much power the headphone needs and how much you can hear the differences in lower distortion and noise performance.

    If you're just doing all that (ie including movies) out of a PC and you have spare expansion slots, and you're not using harder to drive headphones, you might be able to get away with just a Sound Blaster X AE-5. The amp circuit on that has a low output impedance and has a lot of power for a soundcard (IIRC around 500mW x 2 at 32ohms). Factoring in having spare power and not stressing it so you might keep the noise low enough, that's more than enough for something like the HE400S.

    Otherwise you can get any soundcard with virtual surround and SPDIF output for $60 and an AudioGD NFB-11 for $370.

    The soundcard is important here in case you have games that don't have built in surround simulation on headphones (it's just labelled "headphone" as a distinct 2ch setting vs normal 2ch) as well as for movies if you're not using VLC (IIRC latest version has Dolby Headphone or something, like on some laptops), which only works on files that you play directly out of it.

    Check your motherboard though because you might have that feature in there anyway so you can skip the soundcard and use its SPDIF output.

    You don't need that much. Worst case scenario you'll get a $60 soundcard and a $370 NFB-11, unless you're buying higher range electrostatic headphones and the amp for them.
  10. buke9
    Well then a sound card would be a good choice if gaming and movies is what your after. I believe @PurpleAngel already gave a suggestion for one of those so that is where I would start. I don’t do a lot of gaming and most of my movie watching is on home theater system. I do a bit of gaming but from my laptop and it is only about 3 months old so sound is very good for me but looks like a soundcard would help you out as a dac would not give you the surround sound stuff some will if you have spdif out on the computer but still a soundcard would probably be a better option as they will have maybe better surround sound implementation. I’ve been out of the soundcard game for a while so someone else would be better to help you out on that one. For headphones the X2’s and for mentioned HP-200 would be good and good for music also. My favorite gaming headphone right now would destroy your budget and they are closed but very open sounding for a closed back.
  11. Salman2987
    so i had an Astro A40 plugged in the mixamp but the mixamp broke so i had to blug the headphones into the PC and it sounds terrible so i decided i need an upgrade .. my motherboard is MSI M7 ..

    excuse my ignorance but i have to ask let's say i get a sound plaster and Beyerdynamic DT 900 (32 ohm) vs if i get a DAC and Beyerdynamic DT 900 (250 ohm) will there be no sound quality differences ?
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2018
  12. Salman2987
    thank you for taking the time and keeping up with me .. it's a lot to take in ..
  13. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    AFAIK the Astro MixAmp has a relatively high output impedance and the M7 either has it lower ergo less distortion due to damping factor loss, or it has much higher output impedance and ergo even lower damping factor. If it's the former, a DAC-HPamp will be even subjectively worse for you, since they'd have even lower output impedance and you won't get that innate EQ effect on those headphones (although the effect is highly variable depending on the circuit and headphone specs, ie, in some cases the low end is boosted or trimmed, but either way the bass notes aren't as precise as with high damping factor amps).

    Unless the problem is DSP features on the MixAmp were running and not the M7's. Did you tweak the DSP software settings on that motherboard? You have to delete all the drivers for the MixAmp and then do a clean reinstall of the motherboard audio software and drivers. Run the DSP programs that are approximately the same as what you were running on the MixAmp, particularly Virtual Surround. If overall output volume is also a problem look for High Gain Mode, although gamer marketing uses a misleading term like "High Impedance Pro G4M3R Ultimate P4Wn4Ge Yo Momma Mode" or something only a little less exaggerated than that.

    Response is slightly different on different versions of the same headphones when the impedance is also different. In some cases the sensitivity is affected too.

    On top of which those will interact differently with amplifiers. High output impedance amp circuits may trim or boost the low end on the 32ohm version, and boost the midrange on the 250ohm version. Power delivery can be different - most amps drop in output at high impedance loads and in most cases these just tend to have a higher sensitivity than other lower impedance headphones; however if the 32ohm version of the same headphone doesn't have that much lower sensitivity, then it won't offset the extra power (on the flipside, OTL ampifiers have very high output impedance and low output levels at low impedance loads).
  14. Salman2987
    i'm not gonna lie this is confusing to me i didn't understand all of it .. i might be just stupid so let's not dive in ..

    let me ask a question that is simple and try to come down to my intellectual level .. so let's just say i only had that motherboard (forget about the astros) what would your recommendations be considering that i would like an excellent sound-stage experience .. and just decent all around kinda headphone and what should i get to best compliment it .. "or if i shouldn't" i actually didn't know that i can get the full potential of "good headphones" without a sound card or a DAC ..

    and thank you
  15. Salman2987
    and if you don't mind explaining this to me .. why would i buy a sound card and a DAC ? and how does it work ?

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