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Old Feb 17, 2019, 03:51 PM   #1
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Mahjik
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Default PC-Based Sound (DAC's and AMP's)

The recent headphone threads had me thinking again about PC sound. I know we have some members with Schiit products so I'm curious what people are using and what they think based on the old school sound card route...

I currently have 3 sound devices in my PC. Sound Blaster Z for sound and the other two drive my tactile devices for sim racing. I've seen some people who just continue to use the DAC on the SB cards and then just use a headphone amp. I've seen others who just use an external DAC, amp and ditch their traditional sound card. Some use optical out from their sound card to an external DAC and amp, etc...

I'm curious hearing from those who have moved away from solely a PC sound card as to what you are using (and why)...
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Old Feb 17, 2019, 05:12 PM   #2
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If you have the Z, I’d go with a Schiit Magni (amp) and just use the Z as a DAC.

I run a similar setup but with a Xonar DX instead.
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Old Feb 17, 2019, 06:08 PM   #3
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Are you using a 3.5mm line out to the Magni?
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Old Feb 18, 2019, 05:27 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by Mahjik View Post
Are you using a 3.5mm line out to the Magni?
I have a 3.5mm line from the headset to the Magni, and then an RCA female/3.5mm male line from the Magni to the Xonar DX.
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Old Feb 18, 2019, 08:52 AM   #5
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Thanks. I'm thinking of using the Loki & Magni with the SB DAC.
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Old Feb 18, 2019, 09:39 AM   #6
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I have a 3.5mm line from the headset to the Magni, and then an RCA female/3.5mm male line from the Magni to the Xonar DX.
Awesome, this is what I wanted too know.
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Old Feb 18, 2019, 09:44 AM   #7
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Thanks. I'm thinking of using the Loki & Magni with the SB DAC.
I’d skip the Loki. For PC uses it’s largely unnecessary (in my opinion) and I’d reserve it for extremely high-quality setups strictly for audiophiles.
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Old Feb 18, 2019, 10:10 AM   #8
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strictly for audiophiles.
That'd be me (just on the cheap)....
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Old Feb 18, 2019, 10:44 AM   #9
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Optical out from motherboard to a Technics SH-AC300 digital processor. Then out to a Belles II amplifier feeding a set of Wharfedale Denton 50th Anniversary speakers and an Elac S8 subwoofer.

For gaming, I use a Xonar U7 USB DAC and a set of Philips SHP9500 headphones with a VMODA boompro mic.
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Old Feb 18, 2019, 10:55 AM   #10
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Thanks Fleksta. I've also been thinking about having a dedicated "music" setup and "gaming" setup for the outputs. I will always be using headphones, but I'm trying to determine what is the price point for an external DAC when it makes sense to move away from the SB Z.

If I have to spend $600+ on a DAC to get something better, then I'm just going to stick with the SB DAC. If I can do maybe $200 or so on an external DAC that is better/cleaner than the SB Z DAC, then that would be worth it for me. Not that I can't afford it, I just prefer spending my big bucks on car stuff.
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Old Feb 18, 2019, 11:13 AM   #11
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I'd have to think that at that price point you'll be hard pressed to notice a change in sound between your SB card and a budget DAC. Unless you actually notice any distortion or noise with your current setup, I'd stick with it.

The reason I went with the Xonar for headphones was that my motherboard analog audio was discernibly noisy, and decoupling via USB (digital) eliminated that.
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Old Feb 18, 2019, 11:43 AM   #12
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That'd be me (just on the cheap)....
Considering you will already have EQ settings through the SBZ, what purpose will the Loki serve? Not trying to ride you on this one, but if your music will be played through the PC (I do it this way as well with music ripped lossless from CDs), then you already have an EQ balancer through the SB software.

The Loki really only serves a purpose for those without a way to balance EQ through other means. Typically those who aren’t using their PC as the music source. I only bring this up because I don’t want you to waste money on a product that will be redundant!
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Old Feb 18, 2019, 12:37 PM   #13
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Considering you will already have EQ settings through the SBZ, what purpose will the Loki serve? Not trying to ride you on this one, but if your music will be played through the PC (I do it this way as well with music ripped lossless from CDs), then you already have an EQ balancer through the SB software.

The Loki really only serves a purpose for those without a way to balance EQ through other means. Typically those who aren’t using their PC as the music source. I only bring this up because I don’t want you to waste money on a product that will be redundant!
One of my goals is to disable any sound modifications of SB (for music). With that, I'd like to have tone controls without loading an app and possibly boosting areas I don't want it to.

FWIW, I grew up playing 4 instruments and studying music theory (my father was a professional musician). I'm looking at getting into music engineering/mixing in my free time (using a DAW like Studio One) which is why I'm even thinking of going down this route. If it ends up turning out to be more than just a fun diversion, I've dive neck deep into higher level equipment.
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Old Feb 18, 2019, 12:50 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by Fleksta View Post
I'd have to think that at that price point you'll be hard pressed to notice a change in sound between your SB card and a budget DAC. Unless you actually notice any distortion or noise with your current setup, I'd stick with it.
That was what I've mostly read so far. However, there are some of the "High Fidelity" types suggest that even when disabling the dsp options on the sound cards, the sound is not exactly pure.
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Old Feb 18, 2019, 01:18 PM   #15
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It looks like your sound card should have an option called "stereo direct" which claims to disable all DSP options.

Your sound won't be absolutely pure regardless of the hardware you use. It all colors the sound in some manner. That's part of the fun in this hobby; experimenting with settings and equipment combinations in pursuit of what we perceive as the perfect sound.
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Old Feb 18, 2019, 04:09 PM   #16
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I was considering doing something similar, going from the optical out on my X-Fi Titanium to a DAC, then to a headphone amp (or a combo DAC/amp). Even with the dedicated sound card, if my computer suddenly goes under heavy load (i.e. decides to do a virus scan, index a volume, or something like that) it does have some faint but noticeable noise.

My rationale is that if I use optical S/PDIF, my DAC/amp will be completely electrically isolated and not subject to any electrical noise from the PC, no matter what it is doing.

Sadly, there are many competing demands for my money right now, and high end audio is a bottomless pit.
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Old Feb 18, 2019, 08:35 PM   #17
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I have four devices.

Soundblaster ZxR for my main stereo speakers
Sennheiser GSX 1200 for my headphones
Reaktek built in driving speakers that are facing away from my desk (sometimes I reverse my monitor to use with my racing setup that faces the back of my desk).
Oculus built in headphones.
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Old Feb 18, 2019, 09:54 PM   #18
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What kind of headphones do you have? Because if it's just a $100-$200 pair then there's no point spending $500 on a DAC. The headphones themselves will likely just end up being the quality bottleneck.

The other thing I would caution is to be very careful when buying audio equipment. There's a lot of hype and basically complete bullshit involved with audio components--more so than I'd say with most other things, like say computers. Getting something of decent quality is one thing, but you quickly run into diminishing returns where you just end up flushing money down the toilet for a barely perceptible, or completely imperceptible difference.

Have you even noticed any particular problem with your SoundBlaster Z? Because, if not, maybe you don't need anything. SBZ is already a big step up from junky onboard audio.

If you have noticed a problem, or just want to see if you can get something better, then probably a $100-$150 headphone amp is more than sufficient to meet your needs. But whatever you do, just stop at a reasonable point. You can easily spend $500, $1000 or $2000, to end up with something that is barely better and which frankly may not make any difference unless you're also rocking $500-$1000 headphones. Even then you might not even be able to tell conclusively whether it's better--there's a difference between something sounding differently and necessarily sounding better
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Old Feb 18, 2019, 10:01 PM   #19
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I was considering doing something similar, going from the optical out on my X-Fi Titanium to a DAC, then to a headphone amp (or a combo DAC/amp). Even with the dedicated sound card, if my computer suddenly goes under heavy load (i.e. decides to do a virus scan, index a volume, or something like that) it does have some faint but noticeable noise.

My rationale is that if I use optical S/PDIF, my DAC/amp will be completely electrically isolated and not subject to any electrical noise from the PC, no matter what it is doing.

Sadly, there are many competing demands for my money right now, and high end audio is a bottomless pit.
If you're hearing noise when your computer is under load I wonder if it couldn't be more related due to insufficient power delivery from your PSU rather than any sort of EM interference? If it's actually a perceptible level of noise--you can hear it when music is playing--then that's pretty bad. I've certainly never experienced anything like that with my SB X-Fi Titanium.
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Old Feb 19, 2019, 08:15 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by Nagorak View Post
If you're hearing noise when your computer is under load I wonder if it couldn't be more related due to insufficient power delivery from your PSU rather than any sort of EM interference? If it's actually a perceptible level of noise--you can hear it when music is playing--then that's pretty bad. I've certainly never experienced anything like that with my SB X-Fi Titanium.
The noise is only audible with very quiet (think near silent) passages, and I sometimes obsessively key on "Hey, that doesn't sound right" and can't help but notice it every time it happens again. Kind of like when you spot a dark stuck pixel in the bottom left corner of your screen and you can never unsee it.

Bet you just looked

My PSU is getting older, but it's about 20% over spec for my current build so I'm not too worried. Having said that, it probably wouldn't hurt to keep an eye out for a deal on a replacement before the magic smoke eventually comes out.
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Old Feb 19, 2019, 08:39 AM   #21
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Originally Posted by Fleksta View Post
Your sound won't be absolutely pure regardless of the hardware you use. It all colors the sound in some manner. That's part of the fun in this hobby; experimenting with settings and equipment combinations in pursuit of what we perceive as the perfect sound.
Yep, I have what I believe to be all of the processing options disabled. I've never been a fan of unwanted boosts but it's always hard to know if it's happening outside of your own control without another control source.

I'll likely go the Loki & Magni for now and look at a better DAC next year.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nagorak View Post
What kind of headphones do you have? Because if it's just a $100-$200 pair then there's no point spending $500 on a DAC. The headphones themselves will likely just end up being the quality bottleneck.
I don't have cheapies, but they also aren't $1000. I use studio headphones, everywhere, as I dislike all the crap out there that overboosts bass and other ranges.


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Have you even noticed any particular problem with your SoundBlaster Z? Because, if not, maybe you don't need anything. SBZ is already a big step up from junky onboard audio.
I also listen to music differently than most. Since I have a background in music theory, I do tend to pick apart music rather than just 'listen' to it. I do notice that I can't hear all the parts of some songs through the SBZ as some instrumentation seems to get 'lost'. It's just not as clear as I would like. Disabling the SBZ effects has helped but I would like a cleaner sound.

To be fair, the only reason I haven't done this already is the fact that I don't spend that much time listening to music on the home PC. I typically find music on my PC, but listen to it on other (better) equipment around the house.

The plus side of starting with the Schiit products, is that they are compact. If I don't find they give me much better sound over the SBZ at home, I can take them to work to use with my Surface Book (and I have a set of studio headphones at work as well).
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Old Feb 19, 2019, 07:33 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mahjik View Post
Yep, I have what I believe to be all of the processing options disabled. I've never been a fan of unwanted boosts but it's always hard to know if it's happening outside of your own control without another control source.

I'll likely go the Loki & Magni for now and look at a better DAC next year.



I don't have cheapies, but they also aren't $1000. I use studio headphones, everywhere, as I dislike all the crap out there that overboosts bass and other ranges.



I also listen to music differently than most. Since I have a background in music theory, I do tend to pick apart music rather than just 'listen' to it. I do notice that I can't hear all the parts of some songs through the SBZ as some instrumentation seems to get 'lost'. It's just not as clear as I would like. Disabling the SBZ effects has helped but I would like a cleaner sound.

To be fair, the only reason I haven't done this already is the fact that I don't spend that much time listening to music on the home PC. I typically find music on my PC, but listen to it on other (better) equipment around the house.

The plus side of starting with the Schiit products, is that they are compact. If I don't find they give me much better sound over the SBZ at home, I can take them to work to use with my Surface Book (and I have a set of studio headphones at work as well).
From the reviews I've read on a bunch of gear, it seems like it would be hard to go wrong with Schiit. I've seen a few reviewers comparing $800 headphone tube amps against a Vali 2. To me, that suggests a lot of bang for your buck.
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Old Feb 20, 2019, 08:21 AM   #23
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I moved away from consumer audio equipment, and haven't looked back. Not only is the pro stuff cheaper on the high end, but it's surprisingly simpler to use.

I've got a simple home studio, but it's calibrated so that my in ears, over ears, and monitors are within a few dB of each other's sound signatures. All approach neutrality. Anything else will eventually sound wrong.

The way I see it on the high end, the audiophile world has become obsessed with trying to put you in the middle of the music, as if you were there. This is in contrast to simply playing what's there.
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Old Feb 20, 2019, 09:47 AM   #24
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Im not a serious Audiophile but I can definitely tell the difference between decent and bad.

My Schiit DAC died on me so I shipped it off to Schiit like 2 weeks ago and have yet to get it back. In the mean time I have been using a Corsair USB headset and man is it terrible compared to my Sens and Schiit stack. Theres white noise just when putting the headset on and the directional hearing also takes a serious hit(which I didnt think would be a problem for a Corsair gaming headset). Music sounds super flat to the point where I dont even listen to music.

The 500 bucks at the time I paid for the Schiit Stack + Sens HD650 has more than payed for itself over time in terms of enjoyability.
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Old Feb 20, 2019, 01:07 PM   #25
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I'm a bit late to the thread but if you haven't made a decision already the SBZ DAC is actually quite good. Just power it with the magni 2, IMO. No reason to spend more. You won't gain anything off of the compressed audio anyways. And the SBZ is already taking care of most of the legwork, and knocking out interference.

Anyone who pushes straight off the MB is generally using a 1150 or 1220 chip, since they are pretty identical to what Xonar, or Soundblaster is using in terms of resisting interferance, and DBA SnR. (113+). Some creative products offer 140 + but it's a bit unnecessary. Plus alot of motherboards now are also going with Nichicon Capicitors, or at least, higher quality ones.

Short story, the DAC is already in most motherboards, and since now they have been coming with good capacitors and great SnRs there really isn't much need for outside DACs.

The PC is still inherently bad about "quality" just due to anything, and everything is compressed, and the amount of introduced interference.

Cliffs.

For a PC, just get an amp. Magni 2 is the best budget mindful. Otherwise the Vahalla if you wanna spend a bit more. It'll give you a little more range, and a bit warmer sound that really benefits the PC enviorment.
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Old Feb 20, 2019, 04:07 PM   #26
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Originally Posted by CurrentlyPissed View Post
I
For a PC, just get an amp. Magni 2 is the best budget mindful. Otherwise the Vahalla if you wanna spend a bit more. It'll give you a little more range, and a bit warmer sound that really benefits the PC enviorment.
Current plan is SBZ with Loki and Vali. I've got a bunch more to spend this year getting my race car going, and then next year pick up something like the Bifrost or something in that range next year.

I am thinking about also doing the Magni/Modi setup for work.
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Old Mar 16, 2019, 11:25 AM   #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Och View Post
I have four devices.

Soundblaster ZxR for my main stereo speakers
Sennheiser GSX 1200 for my headphones
Reaktek built in driving speakers that are facing away from my desk (sometimes I reverse my monitor to use with my racing setup that faces the back of my desk).
Oculus built in headphones.
I use the on-board HD audio (Realtek for the Corsair battlestation and some fancy one for the Asus ROG) Both sound awesome to me.

I also use a small Smell AMP w/ old school vacuum tubes and a pair of Fostex T20RP headphones

For speakers, I wanted a compact replacement for my old but still very good Logitech G51s. Considered the Razer Nommo Pro but for $499 less I got the newly reissued Altec Lansing Octane 7s. They have been GREAT!
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Old Mar 27, 2019, 08:09 PM   #28
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Bought myself Creative Sxfi amp (USB) and a pair of HD6xx headphones, and its just orgasmic. Easily blows everything else out of the water that I used so far, including Dolby headphone, Atmos, SBX Pro studio and Sennheiser GSX hrtf.

Can't wait until Creative releases AE-9 with Sxfi capability and audiophile grade components.
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Old Mar 29, 2019, 05:59 AM   #29
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Can't wait until Creative releases AE-9 with Sxfi capability and audiophile grade components.
How can you be sure that AE-9 contains SXFI chip?
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Old Mar 29, 2019, 10:30 AM   #30
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Quote:
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How can you be sure that AE-9 contains SXFI chip?
Im pretty sure thats their new 3d technology that's going to be available on their future products, much like SBX on current line up, and CMSS 3D in their past products.
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