which < $100 USB DAC? (M-Audio, Edirol, Xitel...)
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slchang

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I'm looking for a budget (< $100) USB sound card for hooking up my laptop to a Corda HA1. That's the *only* thing I'm going to use it for; I don't plan on ever carrying this around while traveling, or trying to run headphones directly out of it. So, I'm hoping to maximize audio quality by being able to minimize frills.

Basically, I just want good analog, ideally in stereo RCA format, from the DAC; optical out is a very minor bonus. Also, I listen to CD-quality audio at best, no DSP, no recording, so higher-res than 16/44 doesn't seem like it will be useful to me. It doesn't even have to be USB-powered, but I think all the low end cards are.

The options I'm currently aware of:

* M-Audio Transit, $70 - $80
* M-Audio Sonica (not Theater) -- discontinued, but I think there are still a few places you can find it for $60
* Edirol UA-1X, $80
* Edirol UA-1A, $80? (fewer features than above, but I guess not as popular so it doesn't get cut from its list price)
* Xitel Pro HiFi Link, $80
* Griffin iMic, $35

In this forum it seems like the M-Audio Transit has a good following, but I'm a little concerned with the 1/8" mini (instead of RCA) out, since I'm not planning on using the optical out. However, if I were to go with M-Audio, is there any reason not to go with the cheaper Sonica if I can find it?

Also there's the Edirol series, which I haven't seen discussed at all on this forum. I'm intrigued by it because more like M-Audio, Edirol is a pro-music company (not a computer or consumer electronics company). If anyone has any experience with the low-end Edirol USB sound cards, I'd be curious to hear your opinions.

Finally, I'm not using this on super high end equipment -- AKG K240S, Beyer DT250-80, both via the Corda. So another major possibility is that it doesn't matter much which one I buy, and you should feel free to say that too.
Thanks for any input.

(apologies if this thread is a repeat; google search didn't reveal as much as I was hoping)
 
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sleepkyng

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i use an m-audio sonica modded by Itzbitz, who put in some black gate capcitors.

i use a diy mini to rca cable with it and the sound is great.

sometimes i feel like the sound rivals my modded art dio/ nec cdr

you can get the sonica's for about 50 bucks, and the modding costs around 10 bucks
 
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Zoide

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Has anyone made a head to head comparison of the M-Audio Transit or M-Audio Sonica with the Xitel HiFi Link? The Xitel device is about half the price ($40 vs. $80) of the Transit, and although it is 20-bit instead of 24-bit like the Tranist, I was wondering how much of a difference this would actually make.
 
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slchang

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As for resolution, if you only listen CDs (or audio ripped from those CDs), then 20-bit vs 24-bit shouldn't make a difference, since uncompressed CD quality audio tops out at 16-bit/44.1 KHz. I think the main scenarios where higher res is useful are if you are using better-than-CD sources, or doing recording.

In summary, the criticisms of the Xitel HiFi link seem to not be with respect to its resolution, but instead due to the fact that it produces analog output with bad extension (rolled-off bass), possibly due to underpowering its DAC.
 
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clarke68

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Quote:

Originally Posted by slchang
if I were to go with M-Audio, is there any reason not to go with the cheaper Sonica if I can find it?


The big benefit (that I know of) is that the Transit supports ASIO, making it easier to bypass Windows' controversial kernel mixer.
 
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Permonic

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Well, I have never heard about Edirol and Griffin products before. Thanks slchang for the info. You might be the first one here to try it. Just be sure, that the soundcard you get is non-resampling one.

Having both Sonica and Transit, I can recommend both of them for the purposes you stated. In comparison, they sound almost identical despite the fact Sonica has AKM AK4353 DAC, while Transit has AKM AK4584 Codec. It's the same sound signature. Very subtle differences: Transit seems to have slightly more resolution while Sonica is a bit brighter then Transit.

With Win Me, Sonica's software and drivers had sometimes problems, with XP, both soundcards works well. Sonica has the option to activate the SRC Truesound, on the other side Transit's control panel enables to set the operating mode (upsampling). latency and Mic boost (for input).
 
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commando

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I have the black gate modded sonica and i'm happy with it. One advantage of it is it's optical out, which is handy because no-one here's ever satisfied with what they have (including me), so i'm trading up to a stand-along DAC
 
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Quote:

Originally Posted by Permonic
Having both Sonica and Transit, I can recommend both of them for the purposes you stated. In comparison, they sound almost identical despite the fact Sonica has AKM AK4353 DAC, while Transit has AKM AK4584 Codec. It's the same sound signature. Very subtle differences: Transit seems to have slightly more resolution while Sonica is a bit brighter then Transit.


Well, I'm trying to decide between these two for CD listening and DVD watching on my laptop. Does the Sonica really need an amp to power headphones. I read that the analog line out isn't powered, but is it any worse (power-wise) than my laptop's headphone jack?? Also, if I can get the Sonica for >$40 is it worth paying at least double for the Transit?

Thanks for the help.
 
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commando

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Quote:

Originally Posted by ticomojo
Well, I'm trying to decide between these two for CD listening and DVD watching on my laptop. Does the Sonica really need an amp to power headphones. I read that the analog line out isn't powered, but is it any worse (power-wise) than my laptop's headphone jack?? Also, if I can get the Sonica for >$40 is it worth paying at least double for the Transit?

Thanks for the help.



The sonica really needs an amp, as does any m-audio product marked "headphone out" - it's really a line out. You can plug your headphones in and get sound, but it sounds terrible - it clips, and has no power.
 
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Permonic

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EDIT: mistake
 
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Permonic

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Quote:

Originally Posted by ticomojo
Well, I'm trying to decide between these two for CD listening and DVD watching on my laptop.


Download pdf manuals of both soundcards from m-audio website, there're more details.
Quote:

Does the Sonica really need an amp to power headphones. I read that the analog line out isn't powered, but is it any worse (power-wise) than my laptop's headphone jack??


Like Commando said, Sonica has only line out. The signal isn't amplified. You can plug your headphones there and somehow listen to it, however there's clipping, especially when you use low impedance headphones like Grado.

As for DVD watching: Sonica has option to enable SRC TrueSound with different settings. Transit doesn't have this feature.
Quote:

Also, if I can get the Sonica for >$40 is it worth paying at least double for the Transit?


Even for $40 it's a good bargain. I would go for it. I paid around $60. The only problem here is that Sonica is discontinued, drivers wouldn't be updated.
 
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commando

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Permonic
Even for $40 it's a good bargain. I would go for it. I paid around $60. The only problem here is that Sonica is discontinued, drivers wouldn't be updated.


I hear the older drivers are better than the new ones anyway - the older drivers have bit-perfect CD output on the optical out, the newer ones don't.
 
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ticomojo

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Looks like I can actually get the Sonica for under $30. So I think I'm going for it. Thanks for the replies - always appreciated.

Now to look into building a small amp. Wish me luck (right now I wouldn't even now where to start). Guess I'll be spending some time on the boards doing the research. (I hope the search doesn't go down)

Thanks again.
 
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