PC audio gear + closed headphone advice?
Nov 24, 2020 at 4:58 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 25

enomiss

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Dear Head-Fiers,

I have browsed this forum a lot a decade ago and decided to buy an AKG K271 Studio and a Prodigy HD2 sound card.
I have enjoyed this experience a lot, but now it is time for an upgrade. I believe this forum is the place to be! I'm trusting you experts.

About me:
  • I am not an audio expert nor audiophile, but I do appreciate good audio and I can't stand bad audio.
  • I do not produce music.
  • I listen to a wide range of music.
  • I watch movies.
  • I play PC games.
My AKG K271 Studio + Prodigy HD2 sound card experience:
  • The sound was very clear. I enjoyed voices and when people talked. But I've always had the feeling that there was bass lacking. Music sounded a bit shallow/empty sometimes. Hard to describe, but if audio can be described as cold versus warm, I would like it to feel warmer. Fuller perhaps. I don't know if this makes sense.
My new gear on which I want to expand for a good audio experience:
  • A small form factor PC. It has an ITX motherboard, there is no room for a dedicated sound card.
  • There is the following audio solution on the motherboard: AMP-UP Audio with ALC1220-VB for Rear 120dB SNR
  • There is 1 line out on the motherboard.
  • There is Bluetooth on the motherboard.
  • There is a dedicated graphics card: Asus TUF Gaming GeForce RTX 3070 (audio through HDMI)
The motherboard manual has this to say about the audio:
94MZBv0.png


Gear I would like to add to this setup:
  • A closed headphone in 2020 / early 2021.
  • 2 speakers and/or a sound bar somewhere in the future. (I'm mentioning this to keep future compatibility in mind)
  • Additional gear required in a minimalistic form to let these perform well.
Headphone requirements:
  • Closed headphones.
  • Comfortable enough for wearing all day.
  • I'm leaning more towards a wired headphone because they are still better(?) and cheaper at the same time.
    Unless you can convince me that wireless is good these days. Know: I do hate replacing batteries.
  • A headphone that is a step up in terms of bass and warmth/fullness of the sound compared to the AKG K271 Studio.
  • Preferably a little smaller and more compact than the AKG K271 Studio so I look less like an alien from space.
My questions:
  1. What would be the best way to connect to my PC for audio?
    I assume it is the line out port on the motherboard.
  2. If this is the way to go, does AMP-UP mean I can replace it with something better? Is it worth it, and if so, do you have a recommendation?
  3. Depending on the answers above, what extra gear would I need to improve the onboard audio, and for plugging in my headphone and speakers?
    I would prefer this to be one single device, not two separate devices. It should also be small and not ugly.
  4. I'm also wondering how I would set the volume separately for the headphone and the speakers with such a device?
    I do not want my ears or headphones to explode after having turned up the volume for the speakers.
  5. What extra gear would you recommend or could you lead me in the right direction what to look out for?
    Is there a reliable top list for 2020 with the best rated devices in this space? And/or perhaps a poll in this forum?
  6. Do you have a recommendation for a closed headphone or could you lead me in the right direction what to look out for?
    Is there a reliable top list for 2020 with the best rated headphones in this space? And/or perhaps a poll in this forum?
What I'm willing to spend:
  • My budget for the headphone and the extra gear required is around 400 euro. So this is without the speakers or sound bar.
    It is not a strict budget, but more what I'm willing to spend, unless you can convince me to spend more.
  • In the future I'm planning to spend roughly another 400 euro on speakers or a sound bar.
I know I'm asking a lot, but I would greatly appreciate any help.
 
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Dec 2, 2020 at 4:23 PM Post #3 of 25

redi1972

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Speaking as a fellow non-audiophile-but-still-wanting-good-sound person, how about the Sony WH-1000XM3? You can use them wired, they're very comfortable, compact and have great sound that I myself would definitely describe as warm and full with a good bit of low-end punch. And as a bonus you'll have wireless, mobile, noise-cancelling cans in case you need them :)
And with the WH-1000XM4 already out, the XM3 have had a nice price drop so you'll save some money as well :).
 
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Dec 2, 2020 at 4:26 PM Post #4 of 25

silent-circuit

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Not a bad recommendation.
 
Dec 2, 2020 at 5:12 PM Post #5 of 25

enomiss

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Speaking as a fellow non-audiophile-but-still-wanting-good-sound person, how about the Sony WH-1000XM3? You can use them wired, they're very comfortable, compact and have great sound that I myself would definitely describe as warm and full with a good bit of low-end punch. And as a bonus you'll have wireless, mobile, noise-cancelling cans in case you need them :)
And with the WH-1000XM4 already out, the XM3 have had a nice price drop so you'll save some money as well :).


Thanks for the recommendation.
A few questions:
- Is the XM4 worth it over the XM3?
- Is the audio better when using wired and does it not need battery then?
- Do I need a dac/amplifier device to plug it in for best audio? One that I could also use for plugging in speakers? Any recommendation?
 
Dec 3, 2020 at 2:37 AM Post #6 of 25

redi1972

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Thanks for the recommendation.
A few questions:
- Is the XM4 worth it over the XM3?
- Is the audio better when using wired and does it not need battery then?
- Do I need a dac/amplifier device to plug it in for best audio? One that I could also use for plugging in speakers? Any recommendation?
You'll have to read some reviews or see if people here have opinions over the XM4 over the XM3, but from what I remember the differences are mainly in the active noise cancelling (ANC) department and some slight hardware changes. As far as audio quality is concerned, I don't think that you'll notice a difference (unless people here have other experiences). So personally I'd get the XM3s at a much lower price than the XM4s unless someone else has strong arguments for getting the XM4s.

The general idea is that wired quality is better than wireless because no data compression, but in practice I think the differences will be very subtle if audible at all if you're using a high-quality Bluetooth protocol like AptX or LDAC (but again perhaps people here have different experiences). I haven't tested this myself, I'm using my XM3s only wireless. It would be good to know what Bluetooth protocol(s) your new PC supports, in case you consider using them wireless with your PC. (One other thing to consider there is that 2.4GHz wifi can interfere with Bluetooth, so if you're sitting next to a router or access point working at 2.4GHz you could get sound stutters and other funky effects.)

What will probably have a bigger influence on the quality or 'coloration' of the sound is the fact that when using them wireless, the headphones' internal DAC/amplifier will do the translation to analog signal, and when using them wired the DAC/amplifier of your source will determine audio quality and color.
When using them wired, it will function like a normal set of headphones so no battery usage IF you have not switched on ANC. You can switch on ANC while using them wired if you want.

Regarding an external DAC/amplifier, it will be exactly the same as with normal headphones. To get the best audio, I would say that a decent DAC/headphone amp will give better sound than the onboard sound chip of your PC. As for recommendations, I'm not the guy for that but plenty of people here to give advice I'd say :) And you could always read some reviews on desktop DACs in your price range and ask around here for user experiences.
 
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Dec 3, 2020 at 2:25 PM Post #7 of 25

enomiss

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You'll have to read some reviews or see if people here have opinions over the XM4 over the XM3, but from what I remember the differences are mainly in the active noise cancelling (ANC) department and some slight hardware changes. As far as audio quality is concerned, I don't think that you'll notice a difference (unless people here have other experiences). So personally I'd get the XM3s at a much lower price than the XM4s unless someone else has strong arguments for getting the XM4s.

The general idea is that wired quality is better than wireless because no data compression, but in practice I think the differences will be very subtle if audible at all if you're using a high-quality Bluetooth protocol like AptX or LDAC (but again perhaps people here have different experiences). I haven't tested this myself, I'm using my XM3s only wireless. It would be good to know what Bluetooth protocol(s) your new PC supports, in case you consider using them wireless with your PC. (One other thing to consider there is that 2.4GHz wifi can interfere with Bluetooth, so if you're sitting next to a router or access point working at 2.4GHz you could get sound stutters and other funky effects.)

What will probably have a bigger influence on the quality or 'coloration' of the sound is the fact that when using them wireless, the headphones' internal DAC/amplifier will do the translation to analog signal, and when using them wired the DAC/amplifier of your source will determine audio quality and color.
When using them wired, it will function like a normal set of headphones so no battery usage IF you have not switched on ANC. You can switch on ANC while using them wired if you want.

Regarding an external DAC/amplifier, it will be exactly the same as with normal headphones. To get the best audio, I would say that a decent DAC/headphone amp will give better sound than the onboard sound chip of your PC. As for recommendations, I'm not the guy for that but plenty of people here to give advice I'd say :) And you could always read some reviews on desktop DACs in your price range and ask around here for user experiences.

Thank you so much for this. Sounds like a good headphone that allow for best of both worlds, wired and wireless.

If not for a recommendation, could you point me in the right direction for what kind of device I need? I mean with what word can I best search for it? I'm always confused about this. Dacs... amplifiers... headphone amplifiers... does there exist a small device all in one?
 
Dec 3, 2020 at 3:00 PM Post #8 of 25

redi1972

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Well I'm no expert at all here but you could start with reading these to get an idea of devices and prices, and get some references for further searches:

https://www.whathifi.com/best-buys/hi-fi/best-dacs
https://www.themasterswitch.com/best-dacs

I recently bought a Dragonfly Cobalt and the step up in sound quality was great. But that's a headphone DAC + amp only, selected for portability. And actually I'm now thinking about a desktop DAC, not because I need it but for fun :)

I'm looking at this one, but it's waiting to be restocked again:
https://www.schiit-europe.com/product/modi-3-affordable-do-all-dacs/

Seems to be good price vs performance, but needs an extra headphone amp/volume control device for use with headphones from what I read.
 
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Dec 3, 2020 at 9:37 PM Post #9 of 25

legcramp

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If I can only have one pair of headphones strictly for my PC that does everything I need including gaming... I would pick up an Audeze Penrose if it sounds identical to my Mobius and I would be perfectly happy.
 
Dec 4, 2020 at 4:31 PM Post #10 of 25

enomiss

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These Audeze Mobius and Penrose headpones are for gaming right? Well I don't need a microphone or gimmicky features, how is music on them?
I think I'm stepping away from the Sony WH-1000XM3 or XM4, it has too much gimmicks and software things that I don't need at all. Don't need portability and that battery will just die and render it useless after several year. I've seen some bad reviews saying that sound is actually not good at all.
So what would be a good wired headphone where I'm not paying for gimmicks but for sound?
600 euro is my absolute max.
Or which websites are good to check for reviews?
 
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Dec 5, 2020 at 3:11 PM Post #12 of 25

legcramp

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Why would you take the Audeze Penrose over the Mobius? The Mobius is still more expensive everywhere, is it considered to be better?
The 2.4Ghz wireless dongle that the Penrose uses is better for sound and gaming. You get the lowest latency using 2.4Ghz vs. bluetooth only on the Mobius and the bluetooth for gaming sucks.
 
Dec 5, 2020 at 3:34 PM Post #13 of 25

enomiss

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One thing that I really dislike about all these headphone recommendations is that I have to charge them all the time. And that using and charging at the same time is sometimes problematic I've read?
I'm also disliking the limited lifetime of these headphones due their batteries. If I pay over 400 euro or more I expect them to last for at least 10 years. With headphones like these the experience will probably be worse after already 3 years, and render them useless after maybe 5 years.
Battery replacement is probably not easy or it will cost a lot by having to send it to some other country (I live in the Netherlands).
Since the Penrose is mostly for PS5 and XBox, and the Mobius for PC, the Penrose seems useless for my purpose. I only use PC. Also the colors on Penrose are ugly as hell.
I've also read a lot of bad experiences with the build quality of these Audeze headphones.

Oh man, the search for the right headphone is so hard. Isn't there a great wireless headphone with good build quality and which can be used without battery so that you don't have the charging stress and it is not rendered useless after a few years?
 
Dec 5, 2020 at 3:53 PM Post #14 of 25

redi1972

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The Sony isn't going to be useless if (and that's IF) the battery ever dies, as it can still be used wired which does not rely on the battery at all.
 
Dec 5, 2020 at 4:04 PM Post #15 of 25

enomiss

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The Sony isn't going to be useless if (and that's IF) the battery ever dies, as it can still be used wired which does not rely on the battery at all.
Of course the battery will die... for as far as I know it has standard battery technology.
I've read that you can't listen and charge at the same time, or that you hear a bussing sound while charging. And you have to plugin both 3.5 and usb-c cable?
I've read and seen a lot of bad reviews. Like this: Sony WH-1000XM4 Review - Great noise cancelling, but how does it sound? - YouTube
I don't use microphone. I always sit at my desk with a headphone. I have a quiet environment. I feel like I'm paying for a lot of things that I don't need. Isn't there a better headphone in terms of audio under 600 euro where I'm paying pure for audio and build quality?
 

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