total n00b questions about DACs and digital outs...
Mar 28, 2006 at 12:18 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 6

cconroy

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I've just recently delved into the headphone world with a pair of Etymotic ER-4p IEMs, and I'm enjoying them greatly. However, I know that I will eventually want to purchase some good open phones with a decent amp. Of course, I don't want my source to be crappy if I'm spending possibly a few hundred dollars on an amplifier. I've read some good things about computer as source, and I have a few questions:

I know next to nothing about the differences between soundcards (even tho i'm a comp sci major). I have a Sound Blaster Audigy, and I dual boot between linux and Windows (although primarily I use linux due to my coursework).

My soundcard has a port labeled "digital out" which looks very much like the other 1/8" connections for the Mic in and the speaker outputs, etc. There is also an IEEE1394 Firewire port for the soundcard. All of my searches on DACs so far have led me to discussions on USB DACS which I'm wary of because of driver dependence and other weird issues. I've got a soundcard with digital out, why route it through USB?

Also, my mini-stereo setup has an optical out.

So, 1) are either of these ports up to par with the USB signal (I assume so as they are supposed to be digital and therefore exact) 2) what are some good, inexpensive pieces of hardware to convert these digital signals to an analog signal for an amp? Is there any setup that would let me switch between say, the optical out of my stereo and the digital out of my soundcard?

Thanks.
 
Mar 29, 2006 at 6:39 AM Post #2 of 6

Anilan

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From what I understand, USB can just be as good as optical out provided you use some generic drivers.

For your situation, it would seem the $299 Headroom Micro DAC will fit your needs. You can have your computer hooked up to it with the USB and have your mini-stereo hooked up to the optical-in on the DAC. There's a switch on the DAC that will let you switch between USB/optical. The Micro DAC however will not accept 2 optical signals, or 2 USB inputs. Also, the DAC can accept coaxial too, but that's the same hole as the optical-in.

You can then use a splitter from the line out to make it go to your headphone amp and to your mini-stereo.
 
Mar 29, 2006 at 7:15 AM Post #3 of 6

dopaman

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you can also try using a m-audio transit which will convert usb -> optical digital out to DAC/digital receiver. i am using the transit with an old dell laptop and it works very well!
 
Mar 29, 2006 at 6:07 PM Post #4 of 6

cconroy

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thanks for the replies. the micro dac looks like it will suit my my needs when I eventually feel masochistic enough to spend $300 on it (man you can throw ANYTHING at it!) how does it stack up to amps that are just amps and not dacs? Basically, how much of a value is the amp part of it?

the problem with USB audio as I understand it is to get a constant output stream (to avoid white noise and such being fed to the dac), the cpu has to be constantly sending data down the bus which is a big waste of processor and bus resources...whereas if you route it through the soundcard the hardware on the card (not your cpu) takes care of the work for you

edit>>upon re-reading the product page I have found out that this is JUST a DAC...and that you need to spend another $300 to hook it up to a micro amp (or whatever amp of your choosing)....so, I gues there is no amp part of it to be of value! :p
 

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