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Sound card or DAC?

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
I don't know too much about DACs, but from reading around my impression is that you could get a good DAC and not even need a sound card. For a long time I thought if you wanted better audio from my PC then I needed to get a decent sound card.

As an entry level option I have been looking at the fiio e7 (possibly e9+e7 combo). So if I were to purchase an e7 would I hook it up through a USB connection? I know the e7 has both a usb connection and a line in connection. Are those two different input options or is the usb connection only for charging the e7? I wouldn't be using this for a portable setup, strictly desktop.

I think I need some clarification on how a DAC works, and what a typical basic setup consists of. And also is the fiio e9 only an amp or is it a DAC+amp? Why would someone choose the e9 over the e7, and why would they use them both together?

I hope someone can set me straight, the world of audio gets pretty crazy.
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post #2 of 9
Quote:
Originally Posted by wizrd54 View Post
I don't know too much about DACs, but from reading around my impression is that you could get a good DAC and not even need a sound card. For a long time I thought if you wanted better audio from my PC then I needed to get a decent sound card.

As an entry level option I have been looking at the fiio e7 (possibly e9+e7 combo). So if I were to purchase an e7 would I hook it up through a USB connection? I know the e7 has both a usb connection and a line in connection. Are those two different input options or is the usb connection only for charging the e7? I wouldn't be using this for a portable setup, strictly desktop.

I think I need some clarification on how a DAC works, and what a typical basic setup consists of. And also is the fiio e9 only an amp or is it a DAC+amp? Why would someone choose the e9 over the e7, and why would they use them both together?

I hope someone can set me straight, the world of audio gets pretty crazy.
Heya,

A soundcard is a DAC, it's simply a DAC that you put in your computer specifically. An external DAC is the same thing, but it connects another way--USB usually. An external soundcard is also a DAC. DAC is merely "digital to analog converter" basically. So anything that takes a digital signal and makes it to analog so that you can hear it off speakers/headphones is a DAC. The reason you see DAC and soundcard often completely separate is due to branding and due to some DACs not having USB capability so they were meant for other sources (like older DACs, taking input directly from vinyl turntables, etc). A lot of DACs are not by the same brands that do soundcards. And there are frankly a lot of DACs out there; tons, since they've existed a lot longer. Soundcards come with software, can do emulations of things, etc. An external DAC that is just a quality DAC, is just going to output good quality sound signal and not do fancy stuff (software stuff). So for someone that is gaming, it's possibly better to strictly use a soundcard. Someone looking for just quality of audio (and portability, etc) would go more for the DAC at entry level. At top end level, no question, a DAC is needed as well as an AMP (as most soundcards simply cannot properly amplify a lot of the high end headphones, and the quality of the DAC should match the quality of the phones... $1400 headphones on a $100 DAC doesn't make much sense unless you just can't hear a difference so to speak).

The FiiO E7 is entry level but it's more than capable of driving mid-level audio equipment, like high impedance (300ohm) headphones. The E7 is a DAC and AMP together. You plug it into your PC's USB and it immediately is recognized as a DAC and you can have your OS output sound via it (it becomes your `soundcard' basically, which again, is the same thing). The E7 also is an AMP, so it will help drive higher impedance headphones. It's also portable, so when you want to go out or something, you can plug it into your ipod, iphone, mp3 player, anything with a line out (or line out dock) or headphone line out jack and it will serve as an AMP for you on the go. It does well for this.

The FiiO E9 is strictly an AMP. It's not meant to be portable either. It's an AMP for strictly being at home. It's also a dock for the E7. Basically the E7 would be your DAC and the E9 takes over as the AMP for higher amplification for running even higher impedance headphones (or simply pushing others even more). The combination is a very good one, but it's also costly (you have to buy both for the combo, which is over $250 new likely). If you just let the soundcard/onboard audio of the PC output to the E9 as an AMP and then to your headphones, you can skip the E7 if you don't want portability. Mean while, you can also just look at other dedicated AMPs. A lot of DAC/AMP combos are meant for portability.

The real clincher here is going to be: What headphones are you using?

All the DAC/AMP combos in the world can be talked about, but your headphones will dictate what's needed. Getting $250 worth of equipment to drive some basic headphones or even just low impedance phones isn't going to be worth the investment. So we need to know what headphones you're driving or plan on getting, etc. You may find out you don't need an AMP what so ever based on your headphones (as your current soundcard already provides enough possibly to cover it, and is a decent DAC as it is). But if you're running some headphones with high impedance, you'll need an AMP to appreciate them (again, your soundcard is already a decent DAC, you may simply just want an AMP depending on what phones you're driving).

Very best,
Edited by MalVeauX - 5/28/11 at 2:13pm
post #3 of 9
Thread Starter 
Woo, thank you for the explanation. Very helpful. I'm not really sure what I want to do at the moment. My desktop has a creative x-fi titanium soundcard. (Not the new titanium HD, the old one with the front I/O panel.) My family sort of took my desktop so when I go back to school I don't know if I will be able to take it with me.

Other than that I use my HP Envy 15 laptop. As for headphones I lost mine, so I'm stuck with stupid icemat siberia whatever headphones I thought were cool back in the day. But I'm trying to go for the Audio Technica M50s, when I get new cans.

But after taking in what you said, if I had my desktop I might just need the e9. Besides the headphones themselves, I don't have a large budget for a DAC or AMP, hence I was looking at the fiio line. I've never used an external DAC or a dedicated AMP, so I am not sure what to expect. I want to get some new headphones first, and then I guess I should go from there and come back to get more suggestions.

I appreciate your lengthy response though, thanks.
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post #4 of 9
Quote:
Originally Posted by wizrd54 View Post
Woo, thank you for the explanation. Very helpful. I'm not really sure what I want to do at the moment. My desktop has a creative x-fi titanium soundcard. (Not the new titanium HD, the old one with the front I/O panel.) My family sort of took my desktop so when I go back to school I don't know if I will be able to take it with me.

Other than that I use my HP Envy 15 laptop. As for headphones I lost mine, so I'm stuck with stupid icemat siberia whatever headphones I thought were cool back in the day. But I'm trying to go for the Audio Technica M50s, when I get new cans.

But after taking in what you said, if I had my desktop I might just need the e9. Besides the headphones themselves, I don't have a large budget for a DAC or AMP, hence I was looking at the fiio line. I've never used an external DAC or a dedicated AMP, so I am not sure what to expect. I want to get some new headphones first, and then I guess I should go from there and come back to get more suggestions.

I appreciate your lengthy response though, thanks.
Heya,

If you're after the AudioTechnica M50's, that's good. Those are good starter headphones to get you great sound at a good price. Plus, they're relatively low impedance so they're easier to drive, which means you don't need a crazy amp or anything. They still benefit from a decent amp, but you actually don't need much. Your current soundcard is a good enough DAC essentially. You don't need an external DAC unless you just want to be able to move from device to device (like latop, pc, etc) with the M50's. Even an onboard DAC (motherboard built in sound) is pretty decent and is fine for the M50's. I would definitely say get the headphones first, put most of your budget right there. The M50's again don't require much amplification--they're 38ohms, that's easy to drive. Your soundcard will drive that.

Suggestion: AudioTechnica A900's for $110 is a great deal. Only 40ohms, will work with your soundcard, closed back. Good headphones for that price. Alternative sale on same headphones:AudioTechnica A900 just in case.

Another option: AudioTechnica A700 with free Fiio E5 portable AMP - Another person selling them on Head-fi. Good price for both together.

I'd buy the A900's for $110 for entry level. They're good all-around-headphones for all genres of sound and don't need an amp.

As for new suggestions in a budget range:

- $50 new, good overall sound quality, easy to drive (no amp needed).
- $60ish new. Good sound, more focused on bass--has a better wave form for lower frequency response (no amp needed).
- $100 new. Best overall quality of the HD4xx line. Supposedly best for it's mids and highs, which makes it ideal for jazz, accoustic, etc listening. Looking at frequency reponses, it's identical to the HD428 which is cheaper. So they should essentially sound the same. Some report they do, some claim the 448's sound a bit better on the highs than the 428. Looks to me like there's a $30 difference due to styleing, casing, extra bag, etc. So for a budget buy, the HD428 looks better. Oh and I have an HD428.
- $50 new, some of the biggest bass you will find. The XB700 are the next step up at $80, but reviews state that the 500 is just as bassy response wise, so if that's what you're after, it'll do for the money.

Anyhow, if you get the M50's, they're good too. But if you wanna get more equipment for your cash, browse head-fi.org's for sale sections. I've bought a lot of stuff from other people; great condition and save some money. These things retain value for a long time.

Very best,
Edited by MalVeauX - 5/29/11 at 3:23pm
post #5 of 9
I don't see too much people recommend these but a good receiver is great. You can get a used one and it will still sound good (depends).
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post #6 of 9
If shopping for headphones I would suggest http://www.electronics-expo.com/

They have open box deals that will give you about $50 off but the headphones havent even been used.

For the same price as the HD 448's you can get a pair of HD 558's which are generally better but do have a higher impedance. Also I have heard nothing but good things about the fiio products considering their price.
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post #7 of 9
Go to amazon to buy stuff. The M50 and M50s (just a cable differences. Coiled vs straight. Basically no audio difference at all unless you use the best equipment in the universe) are great starter audiophile headphones. Headphone.com (HeadRoom) sells headphones. Head-Fi is great for user reviews.
Edited by HybridCore - 6/1/11 at 4:27pm
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post #8 of 9
I second all the previous opinions, from my extensive reeding you cant go wrong with the audio technicas.
I just purchased a set of Denon AH-D2000's from Hong Kong, for ZAR 2000 (half the local retail price, of $500/ZAR 3500.)

Anyway i agree first get the best set of low impedance headphones u can, then move on from there. That way avoiding dependence on DACs for now
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post #9 of 9
They got one of the best headphones spot on HeadRoom (headphone.com) right above the M50 and M50s (basically the same thing like I said earlier). I'm planning on getting them. The only thing I'm not happy about is the leather. I just hate leather. I might cover it in microfiber, velvet, or something or just remove the leather and stuff the new lining I want with a bunch of cotton.
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