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Laptop Soundcard vs. USB DAC into external amp

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by sandman65, Oct 2, 2012.
  1. Sandman65
    It seems almost a universal opinion that all soundcard output is junk when compared to outboard equip. Whether it's internal power supply noise/interference or whatever...(wouldn't the soundcard power supply regulation filter just the same degree as what the PS regulation for outboard euipment does?)
    So, after reading posts on other forums/blogs I've got to ask the question...
    "Assuming proper impedance ratio (damping factor) matching between amp section and heaphone, adequate voltage output, etc....is there any real world sonic benefit to running seperates (dac and/or amp) vs. output from an onboard soundcard?"
    Reason I ask is in the limited comparisons I've done so far I've found the sonic improvement gained from running JRiver MC (with WASAPI exlusive & everything forced to 24 bit depth with source sampling rate vs. non-optimised PC settings) is far greater than the improvement above and beyond what I've heard thusfar with adding an outboard dac/amp under the same JRiver settings.
    I'm running ATH M-50's and maybe I've got tin ears(?)
    I'm wondering if stepping up to AKG K550's would offer a bigger difference vs. the same money spent on outboard seperates?
  2. autumnholy
    Source > Headphones > Dac / amp (for that matter)
  3. PurpleAngel Contributor
    Laptop (& motherboard) manufacturers are going to use the lowest cost DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) they can get away with.
    There is a good chance the output jack (line-out/headphone jack) on a laptop is going to come with a high impedance (resistance, measured in Ohms)
    Having an headphone output jack with low Ohms (impedance) is better for headphone audio quality (also dependent on the headphones Ohm rating).
    So, chances are with an external DAC and headphone amplifier, your going to get a better DAC and lower Ohms.
    Also inside laptops and desktop computer, you can have electrical noise which can negatively affect an analog audio signal.
    Using USB, optical and coaxial digital outputs, your taking the (digital) audio signal outside of the laptop/desktop before converting it to an analog audio signal.
  4. 69mustang
    I picked up a pair of ATH-A700's, which is my first pair of good headphones. I was using Sennheiser HD201's before. Once I plugged these into my headphone port on my PC I noticed the improvement right away, I actually had some bass and clearer voices. Then I hooked my PC line out and coaxial digital out to my AV receiver (it has a DAC and can also do 5.1 to stereo conversion) and did an A/B comparison. I was blown away by the difference with letting the AV receiver do the conversion. The line out (PC doing the conversion) had too much bass and sounded muffled and had a narrow sound stage, it sounded as if you and the band where in a closet compared to the spaciousness of the AV receiver being fed the coaxial digital out and doing the conversion. I could clearly hear the different instruments, the bass was still there but not overpowering.
    I have since picked up a DAC/amp combo because my receiver seems to cut the first 0.5 second of anything being played or resumed from pause, and it really bugs me.
    I also have an HTPC downstairs with a Stereo set up and picked up this little DAC, that too made a very noticeable difference in sound quality. The receiver connected to the HTPC is an old Marrantz 2265B from the 70's so it doesn't have a built in DAC.
  5. adamlr
    so say i only have a laptop, would a 40$ dac such as the one mentioned by 69mustang make a difference?
  6. 69mustang
    That DAC I linked to provides a line out, no amplification. You would still need an amp to power either headphones or speakers, unless you have self powered speakers.
  7. autumnholy
    unless u r listening to lossless, or it shall hardly matter.
  8. adamlr
    thats what i thought, thank you. i couldnt quite believe that a dac would make that much of a difference, it will be a while till i get one. 

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