Need advice on usb sound adapter/dac

  1. JoeS
    I am looking to upgrade sound from my computer. The onboard sound is not good. I have been doing some research and am thinking of a usb sound adapter or DAC. I have a bit of an idea, but would like some clarification: what is the difference between a sound adapter and a dac and how does an internal sound card differ from these? Which will give a better sound?

    Looking for something that will drive a pair of headphones (still researching), and also input into an amp. Will be using this for computer video and audio, and listening to music. Only need stereo sound.

  2. PurpleAngel Contributor
    USB sound adapter, best guess, a lower costing USB DAC or USB "sound card" (best guess), something that might sells for $12 (give or take).
    A sound card (internal or external) is like a DAC, but also comes with a DSP audio processor, a ADC and several analog and digital ports and some sort of control panel (software).
    As you only need stereo audio, a USB DAC (USB DAC/Headphone amplifier) would make sense, over a sound card (internal or external).
    A USB DAC/Headphone amplifier that also comes with a line-output jack (3.5mm or RCA), to connect to an amp (speaker amplifier?).

    It might help to know your combined budget for headphones and DAC/head amp.
    I would try and talk you into spend a bigger chuck of that over all budget, for headphones.
  3. JoeS
    How does this extra components affect the sound.

    I wanted to connect it to a stereo amplifier. (plan on looking for one soon).

    How much would a person need to spend for a good dac? I was thinking of around $100 hopefully. For headphones around $150.

  4. PurpleAngel Contributor
    USB DAC/head amp, with line output, FiiO Q1 MK II or Schiit Fulla 2.
    Headphones, Soundmagic HP150/HP151/HP200.
  5. harry501501
    Topping NX2 DAC/AMP in to Soundmagic HP100 or Yamaha MT20. Although there are plenty excellent headphones around the $150 mark.

    Something small like the Dragonfly Black or Cambridge Audio Dacmagic XS2 is also something worth looking at.
  6. JoeS
    From what I understand the processing of a sound card is not needed for good sound, especially music?

    Can someone refer me to information on the specifications that I should be looking at for quality?

  7. JoeS
    From what I understand the sound card is not needed for quality sound?
    Can someone refer me to specifications that I should be looking for?

    Would the dac matter with the computer operating system?
    I use Linux

    Last edited: Nov 12, 2017
  8. PurpleAngel Contributor
    For any source (music, video, games) that is 2.0 (2-channel) audio, a sound card is not need.
    (but a sound card can still do a good job with 2.0 audio).

    Audio quality usually comes down to budget.
    What is good audio quality can also depend on the indivisdual taste (lots of bass or clear vocals, preference for a big sound stage, etc).
  9. JoeS
  10. PurpleAngel Contributor
    I would guess Linux comes with USB drivers that would work with most USB DACs (but i'm not a Linux expert}.
  11. PurpleAngel Contributor
    That is too fancy for someone that is only looking at spending $250 for his whole DAC/amp headphone setup.

    Lets see, $100 for the ipurifier2, $100 for a headphone amplifier, that leaves $50 for buying a headphone.
  12. cossix
    Don't bother with the USB purifier. Those are for people who 1) have USB issues messing with sound quality in an obviously noticeable way, and 2) already have their dream setup and are looking for excuses to spend money and get an extra .5% increase in sound quality.
  13. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    DAC - Digital to Analogue Converter. May refer to a stand alone unit. or the specific DAC chip in it or in a soundcard or any similar equipment. Can also be integrated - ie an audiochip on mainstream devices has both a DAC and a headphone driver in one chip (like how AMD APUs have an Athlon CPU and an older Radeon GPU in the same die; and now, Ryzen and Polaris/Vega on the same die), or a stand alone unit that has a headphone amp circuit, speaker amp circuit, etc built into the same board or box. Works via USB or optical/coax SPDIF.

    "Sound adapter" - Likely just a very clumsy way of referring to a standalone DAC or DAC-HPamp unit. First time I'm encountering the term.

    Soundcard - has a DAC and likely a headphone driver circuit, but more importantly, typically comes with a DSP chip for digital processing. The only soundcards I know that has totally no DSP is that old Onkyo that was basically their CDP's circuit on an expansion card board instead of a controller board and a CD transport.

    Internal soundcard - goes on an expansion slot on a motherboard instead of using USB or SPDIF.

    Depends on the circuit. Natively some have limitations like PCI-E power quantity and quality for soundcards and USB power for external soundcards or DAC-HPamps,

    Fiio Q1 MkII

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