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Optical to DAC vs Add on Sound Card

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January 21, 2010 10:31:04 PM

So my motherboard has an on board sound card with optical out. I'm trying to figure out which would be a better setup for music and a little gaming:
  • Using the optical out of the on board sound card into a dac
  • Getting an add on sound card and using its analog out

    Most places I have seen are comparing a sound card to a USB DAC, which is not what I am interested in. I know sound cards can support EAX that a lot of games use, but wouldn't that be passed through the digital out into the DAC? (I know that wording is terrible, just don't know how to make it better.) What else do sound cards offer that an external DAC would not? Depending on the comments, I am deciding on a Xonar or MagicDAC. Any comments on price vs performance.

    Thanks a lot.

    (NOTE: I use high-mid headphones: UM3x, Grado RS2, Sennheiser HD650)
    a b V Motherboard
    January 22, 2010 12:41:17 AM

    ok well xonar is crap and magicdac well thats just overkill i use a sound blaster x fi and i love it the xonar is no batter then a sblive in its sound quality and performance and from what ive read wont run in windows 7 64 bit
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    a b V Motherboard
    January 22, 2010 9:27:31 AM

    LOL at clueless Creative fanboi saaiello :lol: 
    The low end Xonar's have better sound quality than any of Creative's offerings, offer more features and are priced to sell.
    Unlike Creative, ASUS has working drivers for ALL current OS' (that includes Win 7).
    I have a Creative X-Fi based card and two Xonar cards (the DX and Essence STX) and I can defiantly say the Xonar's PWN Creative's X-Fi cards.

    @ carickw

    I would highly recommend an ASUS Xonar Essence STX (PCIe) or Essence ST (PCI) instead of a dedicated DAC.
    They both have a top notch DAC onboard (measured at 124dB for the line out, 117dB for headphone out) and a quite good headphone amp onboard.
    There really is no better value to get high quality sound to your cans than an Xonar Essence :) 
    I am currently running my AKG K701's off an Essence STX and it sounds friggen awesome!
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    January 22, 2010 9:59:05 AM

    When the onboard audio output wasn't powerful enough to power my Senheiser 580's (300ohms), I bought a Fubar III (google fubar headphones) - that's a usb dac
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    a b V Motherboard
    January 22, 2010 11:01:24 AM

    ^^ USB DAC's are by far the worst out there. Even worse then modern onboard chipsets.

    Yeah, ASUS is the way to go; even a cheap D1/DX offer better quality then any Creative offering.
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    January 22, 2010 11:07:51 AM

    Asus Xonar is one of the few sound cards that offer TRUE HD audtio capability. Go for Asus Xonar sound cards. Much better card.
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    January 22, 2010 3:43:49 PM

    gamerk316 said:
    ^^ USB DAC's are by far the worst out there. Even worse then modern onboard chipsets.

    Yeah, ASUS is the way to go; even a cheap D1/DX offer better quality then any Creative offering.



    Not if the onboard chipset isn't powerful to drive a set of 300 Ohm headphones.

    Not sure if the ASUS is powerful enough to drive the Sennheiser HD650's, but the Grado RS2's are only 32 Ohm - so it should be able to drive those easily.
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    January 22, 2010 3:46:15 PM

    I'll correct myself

    Xonar Essence STX

    Built-in headphone amp
    A high-quality TI TPA6120A2 headphone driver supports headphones up to 600ohms of impendence with lower than 0.001% distortion. Drive your headphones as intended without additional amplification.
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    a b V Motherboard
    January 22, 2010 4:33:17 PM

    Ja, the Essence is more than powerful enough to drive just about any set of cans out there.
    The onboard headphone amp is actually used in a number of higher end dedicated solid state amps.
    As you are using the systems power supply instead of a dedicated one however, it sure costs quite a bit less ^^
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    March 8, 2012 8:16:26 AM

    chiming in here. first off having any amp inside of a computer is a bad idea there is a ton of stuff that can create noise. use the spdif out of your mobo or soundcard and connect it to an external DAC and headphone amp with tube pre's. That talk about high quality dac's and amps on a pci-e onboard is nonsense till you spend well over 400-500 dollars on a soundcard. If the company is not specifying a name with their dac its a generic chip. nine times out of ten its one chip for both right and left sides. So all in all you paying Cambridge Audio prices for a pro-ject dac box worth 160 bucks. You can grab a decent used DAC or New one for under 250 and a headphone amp with tube pre for 150. no sound card for any cheaper then that is going to do anything but blow your money. if you want to start off slow and grab a headphone amp from headfi's website or ebay and upgrade your wiring to your headphones. If you have sennheisser HD650's at 500 (is that what he said?) #1 why dont you already have an amp they should have told you you needed one #2 go buy a cambridge magicdac plus and call it a day. Also the external DAC is going to make your home stereo system sing. I currently use a modded Adcom DAC with nos for my 2 channel. I abandoned the headphone thing cause i dont feel like headphones create a sound-stage that's comparable to my modded ESS and KEF speakers.
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    a b V Motherboard
    March 8, 2012 3:53:13 PM

    Quote:
    use the spdif out of your mobo or soundcard and connect it to an external DAC and headphone amp with tube pre's.


    Wrong. Optical is HORRID because it is so format limited. Plus, I've yet to have trouble with my DT770's (250Ohm version) and my Xense's headphone amp. Heck, the Xense is actually capable of driving 600Ohms for goodness sakes, so my output is actually too LOUD when gain is set for 300Ohm headsets...
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