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New soundcard? or DAC?

Discussion in 'Computer Audio' started by registradus, Aug 6, 2018.
  1. registradus
    my Xonar DG finally decided to die. what should I replace it with? my budget is $100. I'm looking at a Sound blaster z or an ASUS Strix Soar. or also open to the possibility of buying a USB DAC. my main pair of headphones are a Sony MDR-1A
  2. monini13
    hmm i think a usb would be better, something like an ifi idsd nano. new or perhaps you can find a second hand one around here
  3. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    Save up a bit for the SBX AE-5. As much power as the old Magni, comparable THD+N (other than if it picks up computer noise, but you didn't have a problem with the other components with your older soundcard, so this is likely not going to be an issue), low output impedance, and most important, it has RGB.
    registradus likes this.
  4. Logistics
    Were you running your headphones directly, off your Xonar? By the way, what Operating System are you using?

  5. registradus
    Yeah, just using the built-in headphone amp in "exciter mode". I'm using Windows 10
  6. PurpleAngel Contributor
    The Sony MDR-1A headphone is only 24-Ohms and the Sound Blaster Z's headphone jack has a 22-Ohm output impedance, not the best way for driving 24-Ohm headphones (impedance issues)

    Unless you have a need for the headphone surround sound feature of a sound card, might as well just get an external (USB) DAC/amp.
    FiiO Q1 MK II or Schiit Fulla 2
  7. Logistics
    The issue is not really, whether the Xonar or similar can handle the impedance, it's more a power issue. I have run my MDR-V700's (which are 24-Ohm, and likely, very similar is spec to your MDR-1A's) directly, off of the Sound Blaster Live!, Audigy, Audigy2, X-Fi, and I always, assumed they weren't very good headphones (as everyone kept trying to make me believe) because they didn't sound very good off of a soundcard. In fact for years I ran a pair of Skullcandy Ink'd Smokin' Buds (IEM's) directly, off the soundcards because they had so much more power and bass. But then their power handling was a mere 73mW maximum or so so the paltry output of a soundcard wasn't so paltry in that case. However, my V700's have a power-handling of between 1W-3W depending on where you searched on the internet.

    Skip ahead several years, and I've since began using things such as stereo receivers to power my headphones, while outputting from my soundcards to the receiver. This was already, a huge upgrade from running directly off the cards because the receiver had more power handling. Then skip ahead even further, I've upgraded from an X-Fi PCI to a M-Audio Delta 410 PCI, which was a night and day difference in audio quality, alone. Now, skip ahead even more, and I've pulled out my Dads old Yamaha pre-amplifier, which has its own headphone stage. WOW! The headphone stage on this piece of 80's vintage quip was very powerful, the likes of several hundred milliwatts--IIRC it put me in the realm of around 600mW given my headphones' 24-Ohm load, and the internal IC's given input voltage. Suddenly, my headphones sounded like something entirely new, with much more power, and much warmer than the anemic headphone outputs of the receivers I was using.

    In-between all that, I had gone to CanJam in San Francisco and tried my Sony's on several amplifiers. The best experience I had was on the Schiit Magni 3 headphone amp, which put me closer to 2W! I compared several popular headphones, which were floating around the event from Sennheiser and Beyer, etc. and didn't like the sound of any of them compared to my Sony's. (everyone hears differently, so there's going to be times when nobody else can tell you what's better) I've since been trying to save up enough to buy one, but just haven't made it happen, yet.

    In your case, if $100 is your maximum budget, you might spring for a Schiit Fulla 2, but you'll exceed $100 with taxes and shipping. If you want to try something to just get you going, I'd look around on craigslist for a modern receiver that has its own headphone jack, can use an S/PDIF input or even USB input so you can just use it as a DAC/AMP combo. This is actually, what I had to do because the Yamaha pre-amp fried one channel so I'm using a modern Sony receiver as a DAC/AMP. Sounds good for now.
  8. registradus
    Don't most modern soundcards have a 600mW headphone amplifier? or am I getting confused. I have a decent denon receiver. but it's analogue. and takes up too much space
  9. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    No. They advertise "capable of driving (sic) 600ohm headphones!" but most don't even say the actual specs, and then instead of "High Gain Mode" they call it "Pro G4M3R MaX1muM P4Wage Mode" or something like that.
  10. Logistics
    As ProtegeManiac said, they usually, quote the ability to drive 600-Ohm headphones. Where are you located? Maybe you can attend a local Head-Fi events by other users and test your cans out on an amp proper.
  11. registradus
    I'm in Melbourne, Australia.
  12. Logistics
    Isn't there a Can Jam in Sydney? I forget! As a note, I just got the Schiit stack consisting of the Modi 2 Uber and Magni 3, and it pairs so well with my MDR-V700's--sound beautiful. There is so much detail in every recording, and the midrange is rich and delicious. It fits my tastes very well as I lean towards rock and metal, but it also goes to the next level with albums from the likes of Al Stewart, such as Year of the Cat. If you can spring for at least the Fulla, I would highly recommend it.

  13. Chrisrd
    I'm also using a Xonar DG that I bought used for cheap to power my recently aquired HD58Xs, I don't know what dac it uses but I've started wondering what kind of improvement could I expect going the external dedicated dac/amp route, things get expensive fast that way so I don't know, for little to no improvement it may be a waste.
  14. PurpleAngel Contributor
    I would say improving the headphone amplifier, would be the first thing to do, over improving the DAC function.
    Did you disable the motherboard's on-board audio, in the BIOS, when you installed the Xonar DG?
    Have you tried the Unified Xonar Drivers?

    How much would you be willing to budget for a headphone amplifier, or DAC/amp?
    How about a Schiit Magni 3 ($99 + tax/shipping)?
    S3nsoryDeprivati0n likes this.
  15. Chrisrd
    Thanks for answering!

    To be fair I got the Xonar DG solely because of the "built in headphone amplifier" feature but I guess it was a rookie mistake. If it's amp is not good the dac must not be that good either, don't know what dac chip it uses but it appears to be limited to 96khz files max, so it is an entry level one at best, right?

    I disabled the Realtek Digital Output under the Realtek HD sound manager toolbar icon and thought it was enough, fiddling around with the bios setup never crossed my mind but if there's still a Realtek icon on the toolbar I'm assuming my motherboard on-board audio is not completely disabled, I'll look into the bios to see what else I can do.
    I haven't tried the Unified Xonar Drivers either, I'll check them out too.

    99$ (Schiit's european page is selling them for 110 pounds though) for a noticeable sound quality increase seems reasonable to me but how do I plug it to my PC?, the sound card's rear line out output is shared with the front speakers so I cannot use it, maybe with an rca to 3,5mm jack cable hooked to the front panel audio jack?

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