Most equivalent ext. DAC to popular sound cards
Nov 28, 2008 at 9:10 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 23

slowpogo

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Whenever a sound card is brought up, someone is always ready to say "you'd really be better off with an external DAC for your purposes".

But then they usually recommend something that's probably better, but costs way more, like the Monica. Or else they recommend the Alien or Bantam which are cheap but probably not as good as the better sound cards (from what I've read).

So I guess this brings up a few questions...for the same price as the usual sound card favorites -- Juli@, 1212m etc., $125 or so -- what kind of DAC can you get? Will it really sound better?

Or another way to think about it, what ext. DAC is most on par with, say, the 1212m?
 
Nov 29, 2008 at 1:06 AM Post #2 of 23

ivant

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Whats the definition of "better"? It probably all boils down to preference and maybe even abit of placebo. The X-fi is said by many to be a "sub-par" sound card despite its excellent RMAA results(for a consumer card). On the other hand, there are also people who claim that poorer RMAA scoring sources like the Onkyo SE200 sound card or ibasso D2 Boa DAC/AMP pawns the X-fi. NOS dacs almost always have a rolled off treble but look at the popularity of MHDT, monica, valab etc. While one could argue that an accurate sound is not "musical", how does that explain the popularity of EMU 0404USB and various professional studio external/internal DAC solutions? No pun intended but there might not be a benchmark after all.
 
Nov 29, 2008 at 3:30 AM Post #3 of 23

slowpogo

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Whatever your definition of "better" is, give me some examples. What DAC do you think would compare, given your own criteria and judgment, to the usual suspects of sound cards?

I'm really just trying to get a general idea where these prosumer sound cards fall on the spectrum of available DACs. I have no point of comparison other than knowing they're thought to be better than the cheapest stuff (Alien DAC)--better DAC specs and better subjective sound--but not as good as the Opus, Benchmark, etc. I just have never seen anyone rate a DAC *inbetween* those areas.

If you were one of those who says, "Don't get the card, spend your $130 on an external DAC instead, it's 'better' " then well, which DAC? That is what I have not seen answered. I only ever see, "Don't get that sound card, spend $200 more and get the Buffalo DAC." Which is not helpful at all.
 
Nov 29, 2008 at 8:03 AM Post #4 of 23

obobskivich

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honestly, I love my X-Fi Prelude and its analog output, I could care less what "purists" want to argue in terms of how "horrible" the X-Fi is (or the Audigy 2 ZS (which is in my other system)) in terms of audio reproduction, because I've heard the same music thru ~$50k McIntosh stacks and imho the X-Fi doesn't skip a beat (the A2 isn't quite as nice, but i'd attribute that to the switch from Cirrus to AKM D/A's (since the Technics SS processor I have uses roughly the same Cirrus D/A as the A2 line (granted its a codec and not a D/A) and the SQ is similar imho (the flavor/feel of it), while the X-Fi is more "on")))


anyways, point being, its all in your/their head to spend $500+ on a USB solution (imho USB streaming audio is C-R-A-P, even if you own a Grace m902 or something equally ridiculous), its mostly a fear of opening the computer, or a fear of standing out in the least, yeah I realize the SE200 has slightly better SQ than the X-Fi Prelude for pure music, but the Prelude will trump the Onkyo in a number of things (gaming, ease of connection (personally, I just hate huge breakout cables hanging off of my PC), availability, price, tweakability, etc) which makes it a better deal (I'd bill the Onkyo as about $40 better than the Prelude, which is about the difference in reality)

the top arguements I hear about not getting a PCI soundcard:

- noise inside the PC case
- lack of quality
- some personal rant against X company

noise inside of the PC case:
if the noise was really so bad that it bled into the insulated leads on a soundcard, it would cause a lot more issues than bad audio, given that there are other operations inside the PC which are FAR more sensitive than audio, there is noise, but EE's make the big bucks by knowing how to minimize and isolate

lack of quality:
given that ANY multimedia soundcard in the $90 or higher range will exceed the dyn range needed by 16-bit audio, and is really source data limited (we're not talking audiophilia here, because I dont care about that clique), and most good multimedia/semipro cards in the $130-$180 range will downright outpace most "separates" in the $300-$800 range in terms of pure D/A quality, think about it, spending $150 and having something designed to take input and give output, or spending $180 and having something designed to take input, give output, convert a bunch of different non-related protocols, handle its own power supply, AND be an audio amplifier....which one is really going to have the higher build quality assuming a more or less similar mark-up % for CE devices?

personal arguements: who cares.


subjectively, each component will have its own "sound", however I've yet to hear a good source device that sounds "bad" (by good source device, I mean something thats worth owning, which generally means something that you can't readily buy at costco or target, if you get my point), for example my dead CDP X111ES was great sounding, my CDV-W901 is "better" but thats just my taste for it (I prefer its sound, but it isn't more accurate or whatever, I just like it better)

again, point being, any claims to the contrary is purely in the head of the person talking, or the need to defend a >$1k purchase, such as why someone bought a Benchmark DAC-1 for $1k and the guy next to them has an 1820 (both of which will measure ruler flat and 20-20 perfect, the 1820 costs ~$350 though), of course the guy who bought the DAC-1 wants to believe/say/whatever that spending >2x was worth it, now, to some ears, it may be (in terms of liking the sound of the DAC-1 more) however the 1820 is just as "good" from an objective/quantitative perspective (if that makes sense)

if any part of this makes coherent sense, I feel accomplished, if not, well, I don't know what to say in my defense, other than: I'm really really tired but don't want to go to bed yet because I'm a rebel
 
Nov 29, 2008 at 8:22 AM Post #5 of 23
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obobskivich, you make sense, however:

noise inside the PC case: My MacBook Pro adds very faint, but audible (with no music playing) beeps and whatnot to the signal. I think it's more a case of computer noise leaking through the circuits, not "noise inside the PC case".

Lack of quality: The analogue output of my MacBook Pro sounds "computery", unnatural and closed-in compared to even the cheap Zero DAC I own.

Personal arguments: WANNA FIGHT?!? FIGHT ME!!! (Bad Bruce Lee quote)
smily_headphones1.gif


If I had the spare cash to throw around, I wouldn't mind buying one of the popular soundcards and comparing to my DACs out of curiosity.
 
Nov 29, 2008 at 12:22 PM Post #6 of 23

fordgtlover

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I was in the market for output in the sub AU$200 range. I considered the usual suspects such as the EMU0404 and variations on that theme, but decided that a standalone DAC, for the reasons mentioned here - it only does one thing - was the way to go for me. There were a few DACs in teh price range I was looking as such as the Keces DAC, which review quite well.

I ended up going in quite a different direction and bought a cheap chinese DAC off ebay. I've done some mods to it (capacitors, op amps, etc), and I must admit that I'm pretty happy with it. It doesn't support USB input, so I bought a DIY HagUSB,which is used in the very well regarded Audio Note DACs, to convert USB to SPDIF.

Including the HagUSB, I have probably spent about AU$200, and apart from trying a few other opamps, I'm pretty well set for a while. Oh, I currently have it is an ugly Jaycar box. Maybe I'll upgrade the case to look a bit nicer.

In addition to the ebay DAC I also own a Monica USB and a Bantam. I prefer the ebay DAC to both.

So to answer the question, you might want to look at the Keces DACs.
 
Nov 29, 2008 at 12:49 PM Post #7 of 23

ivant

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Quote:

Originally Posted by slowpogo /img/forum/go_quote.gif
Whatever your definition of "better" is, give me some examples. What DAC do you think would compare, given your own criteria and judgment, to the usual suspects of sound cards?


I prefer an X-fi for my application(computer based audio) due to its versatility. It decodes audio up to 24bit 192khz and also dolby digital, DTS(concert DVD, movies). While its accurate in stock form, availability of EQ function also means that i can tweak the sound to my liking. For instance I roll the bass off a tad when I use my HD600 but on my HD595, I want less treble.

So, to answer your question, Yes, I believe an X-fi is "better" than audiophile DACs and prosumer cards based on my needs.
 
Nov 29, 2008 at 1:55 PM Post #8 of 23

pompon

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Computer soundcard are manifactured with high volume. Their price are very very low.

DAC are almost hand made. You will pay a lot more for an external dac.

I tried :
- Fubar III
- Predator
- Citypulse DA7.2x
- Musiland
- Oritek OMZ
- 1 DIY (matching my soundcard)
- somes CD player in the 2K-6k range

My soundcard beat EASILY all the DAC and matched the 2-3K cd player in quality. Only the high end cd player was marginally better.

For 200$, you will have a VERY good soundcard (look Asus D2X or the upcoming Asus Xonar Essence).

Somes soundcard permit to change the opamp... like LM4562, AD8066 are very good opamp or burson audio discrete opamp are very nice too.

But remember, soundcard depend your OS / Driver ... external DAC bring more flexibility (but money should not be an issue).

Quote:

Originally Posted by slowpogo /img/forum/go_quote.gif
Whenever a sound card is brought up, someone is always ready to say "you'd really be better off with an external DAC for your purposes".

But then they usually recommend something that's probably better, but costs way more, like the Monica. Or else they recommend the Alien or Bantam which are cheap but probably not as good as the better sound cards (from what I've read).

So I guess this brings up a few questions...for the same price as the usual sound card favorites -- Juli@, 1212m etc., $125 or so -- what kind of DAC can you get? Will it really sound better?

Or another way to think about it, what ext. DAC is most on par with, say, the 1212m?



 
Nov 29, 2008 at 2:01 PM Post #9 of 23

pompon

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Computer audio is not that bad ... soundcard are able to output something like 124 dB signal/noise ... it's better than my 6000$ cd player (114dB).

Don't forget, to hear a hiss, you have to listen at 124dB ... ! Normal loud listening are around 85dB ... you very far to begin to hear the noise.

The worst thing about PC is MECHANICAL noise ... using external dac with squeezebox allow you to put your PC outside your listening room. If you have a laptop, you can feed your dac with it (laptop are very quiet).
 
Nov 29, 2008 at 3:37 PM Post #10 of 23

ROBSCIX

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I can comment on the sound of a Xonar Essence and I have heard quite a few external DAC's and other soundcards. I have a closet full of them. The new Essence is going to be a force to be reckoned with. Prior to this card you have the HDAV 1.3 which has been getting a bad rap by novices but has great analog quality in the area of 120db SNR and includes replacable opamps for each channel pair. The Essence is the same with replacable opamps for the analog outputs. Both card has great sound quality from what I have heard so far.
 
Nov 29, 2008 at 9:10 PM Post #11 of 23

obobskivich

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Currawong /img/forum/go_quote.gif
obobskivich, you make sense, however:

noise inside the PC case: My MacBook Pro adds very faint, but audible (with no music playing) beeps and whatnot to the signal. I think it's more a case of computer noise leaking through the circuits, not "noise inside the PC case".

Lack of quality: The analogue output of my MacBook Pro sounds "computery", unnatural and closed-in compared to even the cheap Zero DAC I own.

Personal arguments: WANNA FIGHT?!? FIGHT ME!!! (Bad Bruce Lee quote)
smily_headphones1.gif


If I had the spare cash to throw around, I wouldn't mind buying one of the popular soundcards and comparing to my DACs out of curiosity.




I was talking desktops and discrete cards only, integrated will have noise because of how the solution is handled, you have a southbridge controller that basically is a swiss army knife of peripherals, its got audio, in amongst networking, storage controllers, I/O controllers, thermal diodes, etc and so on, which means audio can suffer due to the thing overheating or just being a piece -> bad sound from integrated

as far as laptops go, the available onboard solutions spec'd for laptops == junk vs even whats available to desktops, because of TDP concerns and some other factors (most people who buy laptops could care less, gotta remember laptops are trendy right now, so its all the kids and college students who want them, and these are the same people who adore Bose and SkullCandy) ultimately this all contributes to the junk analog output

I wasn't saying that all analog outs are created equally, I was saying that discrete cards are a good value compared to external USB solutions

the mechanical noise is a valid factor for some, they don't like listening to the system, however silent systems aren't hard to do in 2008 (and if anyone is lost, just shoot me a PM and I've got no issues teaching), personally it doesn't bug me, even if I'm listening through my Grado's, but I also know what it is to work in a server room, or around racing cars, so right there the light whirr of my workstation is more or less not there for my ears
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Nov 30, 2008 at 10:26 PM Post #12 of 23

fzman

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lets compare apples to apples. if you look at the parts cost for a piece of audio gear, the chassis and the transformer/power supply are going to be the most expensive parts, and will represents a huge percentage of the overall cost of the piece.

computer sound cards don't need their own chassis or power supply-- the computer provides them.

computer parts are typically mass-produced while their audio couterparts are made in small quantities-- sound card enjoys economy of scale

computer parts are sold with much slimmer profit margins --

all these add up to the fact that you can buy a sound card with equivalent parts quality to an external dac for a great deal less $$$.

on the other hand, a computer board maker may not no squat about great sound, and figure that if they make up some BS s/n number, that will be enough to sell their product. this helps tilt the playingfield a bit toward the talented audio designers producing external dacs. none will be in the same price range as a good sound card (I favor the audiotrak prodigy HD2, with the opamps of my choice.
 
Dec 1, 2008 at 5:27 AM Post #13 of 23

obobskivich

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my only contest to your statement there, is that its becoming more and more prevalent (popular?) to cater to home theatre enthusiasts with sound cards, companies like HT Omega and Auzentech are accomplishing this quite well (and Audiotrak, which iirc is the consumer arm of ESI), so while your statement does bare some truth, it is quickly changing in favor of the PC board makers
 
Dec 2, 2008 at 10:08 PM Post #14 of 23

blue_lammer

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I have a question for the sound card experts. I know that the Audigy HD2 is being sold at $75. There is an upgraded version on ebay called the Audigy Advance with supposidly better caps, opamps and shielding. Would the sound quality be better than getting a basic DAC such as a FUBAR II?
 

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