Yeah, don't let the people here convince you that you need an external DAC or a dedicated headphone amplifier. If it sounds good then it is good!
If you're looking to upgrade your source, then you could get an external DAC. Also, for clarification, there is already a DAC (digital to analog converter) in your X-Fi (you have to convert digital sound, such as in mp3s or music CDs, to analog in order to be able to listen to them). It's just that some DACs are better than others, either technically or on sonic merit (the two don't always go together).
The reason why people get external DACs is because sound cards are not ideal hosts for DAC chips. Noisy computer electronics and all that. More ideal to have the DAC outside the computer where it won't be affected by spinning drives and EMI.
Make sure you connect your amp to the X-Fi's line out, not the headphone jack, because that would be bad.
Also you should max out all the software-based volume sliders, because that digital control of volume is just software-based attenuation.
A DAC really isn't necessary unless you find your computer really noisy. Another reason to use a DAC is if it has a built-in amp, like the 0404. It lets you use the X-Fi's processor for games and have clean sound from your amp.
If the only reason to get an external DAC is to combat computer noise then there would be no need to upgrade any sound card above about $200. My Juli@ and the X-fi (especially with the DAC from the E-mu M series) are both dead quiet. Would there be a big difference in detail level between those cards and a high end external DAC?
Originally Posted by Chris_Himself /img/forum/go_quote.gif ok so would it be better to run the amp from the card or from a dedicated DAC.
it doesn't matter. the x-fi is also a DAC. of course, there are better-sounding external DACs but the modded x-fi can easily compete in the $500 class of external DACs. i'll stand by this statement until i hear something eye-opening in this price category.
Upgrade the opamps on your X-Fi. What you're mostly hearing is the poor opamps. There are other options like using a passive out from the X-Fi DAC itself (ala iMod). Running an amp from your X-FI is amping the output of the X-Fi opamps. Since that's the weakest link, getting rid of it or replacing it will do wonders. After that you can decide what's best for you. The DAC choices are vast. Everytime I think I've settled, something new comes along and makes me go hmmm.