Will a separate sound card make a noticable difference?
May 25, 2015 at 6:28 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 18

FieldEffect

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My motherboard is an Asrock Z87 Extreme 4: http://www.asrock.com/mb/Intel/Z87%20Extreme4/
 
I'm using the onboard sound, which as far as I can tell, is pretty good. But then I don't really have anything extremely high end to compare it to. The onboard sound goes to a passive preamp, which outputs the signal to a pair of Dynaudio BM5a mkII monitors. I love how the Dyn's sound and just want to make sure I'm getting the most out of them, so I'm interested to hear opinions on whether one of those $200 high end sound cards (e.g. Asus Xonar) really make a difference.
 
Another option, I suppose, would be a DAC like the Schiit Modi. So same question, different equipment.
 
May 27, 2015 at 1:42 AM Post #2 of 18

PurpleAngel

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  My motherboard is an Asrock Z87 Extreme 4: http://www.asrock.com/mb/Intel/Z87%20Extreme4/
I'm using the on-board sound, which as far as I can tell, is pretty good. But then I don't really have anything extremely high end to compare it to. The on-board sound goes to a passive preamp, which outputs the signal to a pair of Dynaudio BM5a mkII monitors. I love how the Dyn's sound and just want to make sure I'm getting the most out of them, so I'm interested to hear opinions on whether one of those $200 high end sound cards (e.g. Asus Xonar) really make a difference.
Another option, I suppose, would be a DAC like the Schiit Modi. So same question, different equipment.

 
As your only using 2 speakers (no 5.1 or headphone), you really have no need of the extra features a sound card would provide, so your better off just getting a DAC.
 
Hifimediy USB DAC, $57
Schiit Modi 2 DAC, $99
Used Schiit Bifrost, $230
 
I'm assuming this passive pre-amp comes with a balanced output?
What is the make and model of this pre-amp?
 
May 27, 2015 at 7:10 AM Post #3 of 18

FieldEffect

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No, no balanced output. The passive preamps I've seen with balanced outputs are insanely expensive and also relatively featureless (two inputs tops, one output).
 
I found a china-special on ebay that does what I want. It doesn't have any brand, but it has 4 inputs, 2 outputs, and (important) a volume bypass output.
 
http://www.ebay.com/itm/190836562928
 
It hasn't arrived yet. Right now I'm making due with a Schiit Sys passive preamp and some y-cables.
 
May 28, 2015 at 11:01 PM Post #4 of 18

Kodhifi

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$230 bitfrost? On what planet lol. A stripped down one with no USB is $350. Add a USB front end and it's more like $500 shipped.
 
I would avoid the modi2 like the plague. I sent mine back, it was mud in a box.
 
 
I have several mid quality DAC's and when I use speakers instead of headphones, I use the built in realtek sound on my motherboard. It's great for gaming and rocksmith because for some reason, on board audio has less latency than any add in card I've ever found. I'm using Klipsch THX 2.1 speakers on my main PC and they sound fine with the realtek.
 
I use an HRT musicstreamer 2 plus going into a Schiit Lyr 2 for my headphones, and a Creative Labs E5 DAC/AMP when I'm not using the speakers.
 
The sound quality of on board sound is usually good enough for pc speakers as long as there is no computer noise leaking in and the gain levels are sensible.
 
May 30, 2015 at 1:02 PM Post #6 of 18

cel4145

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I guess I'll stick with the onboard sound. It's cheaper in any case.


You have a much higher grade of speaker than the previous poster's Klipsch Promedia speaker who was happy with his onboard sound. Those are good $150 desktop multimedia speakers, but they are nowhere near the class of good Dynaudio monitors.

Could you hear a difference? Your Realtek audio onboard chip is very good. So it depends on the rest of your computer implementation. Could be it's getting some EMI; could be not. If there is some EMI from your build, then an external DAC could certainly provide an improvement in SQ.
 
May 30, 2015 at 8:48 PM Post #7 of 18

Kodhifi

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You have a much higher grade of speaker than the previous poster's Klipsch Promedia speaker who was happy with his onboard sound. Those are good $150 desktop multimedia speakers, but they are nowhere near the class of good Dynaudio monitors.

Could you hear a difference? Your Realtek audio onboard chip is very good. So it depends on the rest of your computer implementation. Could be it's getting some EMI; could be not. If there is some EMI from your build, then an external DAC could certainly provide an improvement in SQ.

Um, I also have $600 Maudio BX8 bi amped studio monitors, and several other smaller monitors on various pc's. The klipsch are transparent and better for use on one of my pc's, it doesn't mean I'm tone deaf. And the on board audio with cheap Klipsch speakers still sounds better than the Schiit Modi 2 uber into a Lyr 2 amp and HD650 headphones. The modi is absolute crap, even on board is better.
 
May 30, 2015 at 9:14 PM Post #8 of 18

cel4145

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Um, I also have $600 Maudio BX8 bi amped studio monitors, and several other smaller monitors on various pc's. The klipsch are transparent and better for use on one of my pc's, it doesn't mean I'm tone deaf. And the on board audio with cheap Klipsch speakers still sounds better than the Schiit Modi 2 uber into a Lyr 2 amp and HD650 headphones. The modi is absolute crap, even on board is better.


I'm just responding to what you said:

I'm using Klipsch THX 2.1 speakers on my main PC and they sound fine with the realtek.


I've owned the Promedias. They are good for $150 desktop speakers. But that's the same class as his Dynaudios. I stand by what I said.
 
May 30, 2015 at 10:03 PM Post #9 of 18

bgentry

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Kodhifi said:
 The modi is absolute crap, even on board is better.


You are the first person, anywhere, in any review, on any forum that I've heard with that opinion. Further, I own a Modi 2 (not uber) and I heard a noticeable improvement from it over the built in output of my macbook pro. I'm not doubting what you heard. I'm saying you must have gotten a bad unit. Because NO ONE says the modi sounds like "mud" or "crap". Just sayin.

Brian.
 
May 30, 2015 at 11:28 PM Post #10 of 18

Kodhifi

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You are the first person, anywhere, in any review, on any forum that I've heard with that opinion. Further, I own a Modi 2 (not uber) and I heard a noticeable improvement from it over the built in output of my macbook pro. I'm not doubting what you heard. I'm saying you must have gotten a bad unit. Because NO ONE says the modi sounds like "mud" or "crap". Just sayin.

Brian.


You should read more posts. The first post below is a FLAC recording comparison of the Modi 2 uber's output VS a sound blaster and an HRT music streamer, night and day difference in dynamics. I'm using a fairly good Schiit Lyr 2 hybrid tube amp and HD650's so your mileage may vary on less transparent rigs.
 
http://www.head-fi.org/t/766815/comparison-flac-recordings-of-modi-2-uber-and-musicstreamer-ii-plus#post_11632612
 
http://www.head-fi.org/t/197776/sennheiser-hd650-impressions-thread/24945#post_11585787
 
http://www.head-fi.org/t/197776/sennheiser-hd650-impressions-thread/24930#post_11585727
 
May 31, 2015 at 1:17 AM Post #11 of 18

cel4145

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You should read more posts. The first post below is a FLAC recording comparison of the Modi 2 uber's output VS a sound blaster and an HRT music streamer, night and day difference in dynamics. I'm using a fairly good Schiit Lyr 2 hybrid tube amp and HD650's so your mileage may vary on less transparent rigs.

http://www.head-fi.org/t/766815/comparison-flac-recordings-of-modi-2-uber-and-musicstreamer-ii-plus#post_11632612

http://www.head-fi.org/t/197776/sennheiser-hd650-impressions-thread/24945#post_11585787

http://www.head-fi.org/t/197776/sennheiser-hd650-impressions-thread/24930#post_11585727


Did you volume match the DACs when you compared them? Seems like the flac files you posted are a different volume. If you didn't volume match your testing of the DACs, of course the Modi 2 would sound worse. Even .5 db difference could make the Modi sound worse.
 
May 31, 2015 at 8:54 PM Post #12 of 18

Kodhifi

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Did you volume match the DACs when you compared them? Seems like the flac files you posted are a different volume. If you didn't volume match your testing of the DACs, of course the Modi 2 would sound worse. Even .5 db difference could make the Modi sound worse.


I stated it in the post, kind of long so you might have missed it. Recordings were made at maximum volume and normalized to -3db. No other editing, or modifications. You're hearing the direct analog out at just below clipping level. You might make sure replaygain isn't messing with your FLAC's.
 
May 31, 2015 at 9:51 PM Post #13 of 18

pl4stik

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Your onboard sound is perfectly fine for audiophile level listening.  I have the same setup on a different board from Asrock.   The NE5532 amp supports up to 600 ohm headphones, which means it can drive even the highest end Sennheiser headphones.  it's also designed to shield from interference from other components, ensuring you only hear what you're supposed to in your audio.  
 
Basically, you won't notice the difference between this onboard audio and any third party dedicated DAC/AMP.  These come on pricey motherboards in the $120+ range to begin with, so this isn't bargain bin hardware.  the NE5532 is actually the basis for a lot of dedicated AMP's, it's just that it's in a PC motherboard rather than a dedicated little box with its own power supply.    
 
I've even seen people on here who have had multiple AMP's payed $500 for them, and can't tell the difference.  Truth is, you don't need to pay big bucks like that to get quality.  
 
May 31, 2015 at 10:35 PM Post #14 of 18

cel4145

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I stated it in the post, kind of long so you might have missed it. Recordings were made at maximum volume and normalized to -3db. No other editing, or modifications. You're hearing the direct analog out at just below clipping level. You might make sure replaygain isn't messing with your FLAC's.


If your recordings were made at maximum volume, then the Modi's volume level shoud have probably been less. So what do you mean by "normalized to -3db?"
 
Jun 1, 2015 at 3:04 AM Post #15 of 18

Kodhifi

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If your recordings were made at maximum volume, then the Modi's volume level shoud have probably been less. So what do you mean by "normalized to -3db?"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audio_normalization
 
It sets peak normalization at -3db, ensuring volume is consistent from track to track. They have the same peak, dynamics are left alone, no compression is applied etc. Basically makes the 3 flac files as much alike in level as possible.
 

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