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Using an all-in-one mini Stereo sytem instead of dac

Discussion in 'Portable Headphone Amps' started by ruron, Oct 25, 2012.
  1. Ruron
    hi everyone,
    A have a pair of grado sr80i headphones. I have been using it with my pc internal sound card..a while ago it occurred to me that I have a perfectly fine functioning mini stereo system (ten years old compact all in one cd, tuner cassette tape made by Sony- nothing fancy probably costed me 200-300 dollars ten years ago) sitting around without getting any use.
    I decided to hook the pc audio (via speaker jack, without any external dac) as an auxiliary source to the compact system.
    And I connected the headphones to the mini stereo's headphone jack.
    I was pleasantly surprised with the improvement.
    I realize that I am still relying the pc's sound card for dac.
    But it still helped. Compared with direct output from pc the difference was huge,
    But I also tried the following.
    I would play a cd on the mini system. And later I would place the same cd on the pc and send the audio via on board soundcard to the mini system...and it sounded considerably worse. I tried the same with mp3 files. The cd player on the mini system can play mp3, and when played directly on the system it sounded much better than when played via pc.
    So by hooking a mini stereo to the pc, I improved the quality but obviously not the best output one could get from this simple budget mini set.
    I am using this primarily for headphone listening although the mini system also has shelf type speakers that I occasionally use.
    Here is my question.
    How can I get my pc audio quality match the mini set?
    1. Will placing a usb DAC on the chain be helpful, and how much, I wonder...I don't want to invest on a separate amplifier at this point, so it will be used in conjunction with the miniset's headphone output..will spending 200 dollars or so make a difference?
    2. Or forget about this mini set altogether and buy a simple headphone amplifier for the grado. But this is where it gets trickier: I did experience an improvement with the pc sound via mini set. Will the standalone headphone amplifier bring it altogether to a new level, or will it just be similar improvement to what I have at the moment...mobility is not an issue. So I don't mind using this old box at all..
    Of course this is all about trying and seeing...but I am thinking of spending 200 dollars max for this and I don't have the chance to try without buying. I am hoping that keeping the budget Sony mini system in the chain will be plus...if not, I rather go with a standalone headphone amplifier..

    Components I am considering;
    Audioengine dc1
    Hrt headphone streamer...
    Hrt music streamer 2
    Arcam r PAC
    ....or anything else you would recommend at this price range.

    Thank you! I hope this first post made some sense...
  2. DamageInc77
    I think your best bet would be getting a sound card for your PC. I am using the Asus Xonar Essence ST and it is excellent.
    It has an integrated amplifier and DAC, both of which are very good. It also has RCA out as well as SP/DIF and microphone port.
    Should be more than enough for you headphones as well as a lot better line out to your mini system.
  3. Ruron
    thank you damageinc...i assume that's also an option. 
    is there a reason you prefer it over external dac? i also see that it is a rather old card (although still available) 
  4. DamageInc77
    I don't prefer it over an external DAC. It's just a very good package for an all in one solution. Even though the card is old, it is still considered the best, sound quality wise.
    If you still want a DAC afterwards, you can just hook it up to the Essence ST/STX using the coaxial/toslink port. This will also provide a cleaner signal than using the motherboard audio toslink out.
    You can get the card in two versions. The ST uses an old-school PCI connection while the STX uses PCI-e. Other than that, there is pretty much no difference between them although some claim the ST has very slightly better sound quality than the STX and less jitter. 
  5. Ruron
    of course, the other question is will a grado sr80i be able to resolve the subtleties between these options.
  6. DamageInc77
    The sr80i will run very well out of both cards.

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