Help me pick out a DAC on a tight budget!
May 11, 2012 at 4:42 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 4

Sniping

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I'm not too good with audio, at ALL, so would someone mind explaining everything to me? I want to improve the sound quality of my headphones and speakers, I have the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro's and my speakers are the KRK Rokit 5's. I heard that having a DAC can make them both sound better, but primarily for the headphones. I don't have any sort of DAC or amp right now, but I'm interested in getting one. I'm not sure if I'll be getting better headphones in the future, but I probably will. Which DAC would suffice for my headphones and speakers? I feel like since I have really low-end headphones, I won't go over budget. I just need something that has good value, any suggestions? 
 
And by the way, if I'm barking up the wrong tree by trying to get a DAC, please point me in the right direction! I'm open to virtually all suggestions.
 
May 11, 2012 at 5:20 PM Post #2 of 4

mikeaj

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To get audio from a computer or digital media player or other such source, you need a Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC), an (electric) amplifier, and transducers (headphones or speakers) that convert the electric signal to vibrations in the air for you to hear.  The DAC converts digital music data into an analog voltage waveform, and the amplifier takes this waveform and drives the transducers with it.  The larger the signal to the transducers, the more sound you get.  Your speakers are active monitors, so they include their own amplifiers inside—all you do is hook up a DAC to them and it will take care of the rest.
 
So if you're listening with headphones, whatever it is you're currently using already has some DAC and amplifier to drive those headphones.  It just might be a cheaper all-in-one solution on a noisy motherboard, with lower fidelity.  You can't expect perfection out of most devices, where audio is not a priority.  However, these days the audio quality can still be pretty good.  It depends.
 
The idea is that some dedicated DAC may be able to achieve higher fidelity (lower noise, less distortion, flatter frequency response, etc.) because of a more sophisticated design, more dedicated parts, etc.  What you're looking for is a DAC with some kind of integrated headphone amp so you can use the headphones as well.  A pure DAC won't be able to drive the headphones by itself.
 
 
Some okay options are FiiO E10 ($70) and Creative X-Fi Go ($30).  The FiiO is definitely an upgrade in many ways and would be definitely better if you get better headphones later.  These are both external USB devices that run using native OS software drivers, so no worries there.
 
May 11, 2012 at 8:26 PM Post #3 of 4

Sniping

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Quote:
To get audio from a computer or digital media player or other such source, you need a Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC), an (electric) amplifier, and transducers (headphones or speakers) that convert the electric signal to vibrations in the air for you to hear.  The DAC converts digital music data into an analog voltage waveform, and the amplifier takes this waveform and drives the transducers with it.  The larger the signal to the transducers, the more sound you get.  Your speakers are active monitors, so they include their own amplifiers inside—all you do is hook up a DAC to them and it will take care of the rest.
 
So if you're listening with headphones, whatever it is you're currently using already has some DAC and amplifier to drive those headphones.  It just might be a cheaper all-in-one solution on a noisy motherboard, with lower fidelity.  You can't expect perfection out of most devices, where audio is not a priority.  However, these days the audio quality can still be pretty good.  It depends.
 
The idea is that some dedicated DAC may be able to achieve higher fidelity (lower noise, less distortion, flatter frequency response, etc.) because of a more sophisticated design, more dedicated parts, etc.  What you're looking for is a DAC with some kind of integrated headphone amp so you can use the headphones as well.  A pure DAC won't be able to drive the headphones by itself.
 
 
Some okay options are FiiO E10 ($70) and Creative X-Fi Go ($30).  The FiiO is definitely an upgrade in many ways and would be definitely better if you get better headphones later.  These are both external USB devices that run using native OS software drivers, so no worries there.

I read some reviews on the Fiio E10 and I'm pretty convinced about getting that. I've heard that that won't work on mobile devices, is that true? And also, for the same price, do you think that the E10 will do better than a sound card? Thanks for explaining everything, it's much more clear to me now....
 

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