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Sound Card vs DAC + Amp?

post #1 of 11
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What are the advantages and disadvantages of getting a sound card vs getting an external DAC + Amp?
The Ancient
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post #2 of 11
A newer sound card will be almost indistinguishable from a DAC. The choice is whether or not to get an amp - which ultimately depends on the headphones you wish to use.
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post #3 of 11
Eh, you can put the external DAC or amp on your desk, so you can plug your headphones into it easier... It will impress your friends.

Downside is that you have more stuff and wires on your desk.
Edited by cuad - 8/30/13 at 9:57pm
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post #4 of 11
Basically, the best sound cards are about a good (sound wise) as a low quality ($100-200) DAC.

DACs can be quite sophisticated and prices can go over $15,000 with commensurate features and sound quality..
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post #5 of 11
^hahahahaha

show us the blind tests that prove that.
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post #6 of 11
Quote:
Originally Posted by cuad View Post

^hahahahaha

show us the blind tests that prove that.

Why do you want to say things like that? This is such a nice place.............

To those that say "If I can't hear it , it isn't there.", I say Be Happy.

Have a nice day............
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post #7 of 11
Quote:
Originally Posted by cuad View Post

^hahahahaha

show us the blind tests that prove that.

See: almost every decent audio engineer and producer.

They don't just spend thousands of dollars on Prism DACs or the like for nothing.
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post #8 of 11
I like to think, at least, that I am a fairly competent audio engineer even if it's not my full time job. Anyway, I am going tosay ssomething t hat many "audiophiles" may not like, but which is true...

There is no industry with more hocus-pocus, snake oil, straight up stupid money wasting products than the audiophile-centric part of thehifi iindustry.

Sure, very high end DAC's can be beneficial, but I am willing to bet big money that no one here will beuusing it to master a recording done in a $250,000 sound proofed room on another half a million in equipment.
If you are, then maybe it would make a difference.

That's an extreme example, but I can say with complete confidence that anyone claiming they can hear a difference in quality over a top of the line sound card compared to an equivalent priced, or even twice as expensive DAC, is hearing things that aren't physically there.
I master on a sound card because, well, there is zero measurable difference between the two, and I don't have junk DAC's either. They have their benefits, and are much easier to use when constantly hooking and unhooking equipment, but when it comes to the measurement of audio quality, the difference is only the higher potential for EMI/RFI interference with an internal card, and even then unless you have no idea what you're doing, the interference is going to be so small as to only be detectable with measuring equipment, notby yyour ears. Also, outboard DAC's are susceptible to EMI/RFI as well.


Go with whatever is most convenient, has the features you want, and is the best price. Anything reputable will have essentially the same sound, as that's pretty much the point.
   
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post #9 of 11
Depends on what your needs are. Sound cards are great for gaming as they generally have more features and some like the asus stx have build in headphone amp.
post #10 of 11
Quote:
Originally Posted by nleksan View Post


I can say with complete confidence that anyone claiming they can hear a difference in quality over a top of the line sound card compared to an equivalent priced, or even twice as expensive DAC, is hearing things that aren't physically there.

Bit-perfect playback.
There are three camps here. Conventional wisdom states that in order for a system to be bit perfect it must act as a pass-through device, not altering the digital data in any fashion through the use of matrixing, DSP, or other means. The idea behind this is to say the output is exactly the same as what was put in. This idea is supported by the camp's theory that bits are just bits and that digital is just ones and zeros, so if a one is a one and a zero a zero the data has passed un-fooled around with and is thus bit perfect. This means that all bit perfect signals should be created equal.
The second camp states that bit perfect means that the bits are exact, but jitter may still be introduced. When doing something in non-real-time (running an application) bit-perfect is applicable because the data are buffered and sent in packets that are just resent if there are any errors (otherwise you would have applications crashing constantly). Audio, on the other hand, is real time. Bit perfect implies that the data and sample rates match, it does not mean jitter isn't introduced within those same sample rates.
Finally the third camp. Let's all start by agreeing that audio is a real-time process. Even if an application loads data into memory for processing, everything before and the whole operation after is a real time operation. Real time processes in a computer take the form of a square wave, specifically a pulse width modulation. This pulse width modulation is an analog representation of what we conceptualize as a digital signal and is created by voltage in the power supply. This PWM signal has both amplitude characteristics and timing characteristics. The timing, or duty cycle, along with the amplitude determine the frequency response of that square wave. A computer is made up of billions of transistors, all switching very quickly to changes in logic (mathematical algorithms created by the operating system and software). Based on the input voltages, logic switches create a new version, a duplicate, of the square wave (either theoretically identical or altered). That new version of the square wave is also created from power in the power supply. Because audio is real time, there is no error correction that can be done to this square wave, any resulting wave form IS your music.
Looking at the concept of bit-perfect, it's arguably impossible to have bit perfect playback in a real-time system because there are no bits. If the power supply introduces noise or there is jitter on the square wave this results in a square wave that is not identical to the original. Because the square wave is an analog signal it is still susceptible to noise and distortion. A square wave, however, reacts a little differently than its sine wave counterpart. Jitter is an alteration of the duty cycle, when that jitter hits the digital interface chips, a DAC for instance, that jitter is seen as an amplitude error and creates an alteration of the frequency response. Amplitude distortion itself is created by noise voltages that either add or subtract from the amplitude of the square wave. This introduces harmonic content into the square wave that shouldn't exist in the music. The square wave may still resemble a one or a zero, but it contains additional frequency content. So as far that bits are concerned, it's bit perfect, but with additional harmonic content that shouldn't be there.

Sorry for the long post, but it was an interesting article
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My System
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