Sound Cards/A good DAC\amp

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Question
Aune DAC\AMP & preamp
Aune DAC\AMP & preamp  
creative DAC
creative DAC  
QUESTION: Hello,
I would like to thank you in advance, I've been researching all over the internet but no dependent answer.
my Sound Cards
  NVIDIA Virtual Audio Device (Wave Extensible) (WDM)
  Realtek High Definition Audio
  Intel Display Audio
  Razer Surround Audio Controller

I have a sennheiser HD558 and I'm looking for a very good external DAC\AMP combo that would increase the sound quality greatly and details.

I would also like your opinion on creative sound blaster Sound Blaster X-Fi Surround 5.1 Pro. I know it's only a DAC but would it be enough?  

also your opinion on Aune X1 PRO 24-bit Mini DAC Headphone Amp & preamp ?
is it too much ?

if these weren't good choices, I would like you to help pick one with the following specs:
1-price:0-220
2-DAC\AMP combo without a battery, either with aPower Jack or through USB
3- 6.5mm  (1/4") headphone jack

as you noticed I'm not an expert audiophile, but I'm trying to learn, so please suggest something with high perfomance with ease of use if possible.

ANSWER: Generally speaking you will be hard pressed to tell a difference between any two DACs - it's safe to assume that with the majority of D/A conversion hardware the process is flawless. However, with the specific headphones you have you may notice differences depending on the output impedance of the device driving them, as they are fairly reactive headphones (their impedance response is not flat or linear, so differences in output impedance will result in differences in frequency response).

I'm unfamiliar with the brand "Aune" however the Sound Blaster would not be a bad part. Do note that it is not "just a DAC" - it will replace the audio interface on your computer as a new soundcard, as well as output device. You may also consider competing solutions from Asus, or the newer SBX-based Creative offerings as well.

If you have any further questions, feel free to ask.

-bob


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: thnx a lot.
I would like your thought on JDS lab O2+ODAC COMBO. I know they're to much but I'm thinking about upgrading my headphone.

ANSWER: I'm unfamiliar with JDS Lab as a manufacturer, but the O2 and its associated components are generally well regarded as a design, especially for their price (they aren't unique to JDS Lab, so there are other manufacturers that manufacture and sell O2 and ODAC and similar). I would note that if gaming is a priority, the ODAC will be somewhat limited compared to something from Creative or Asus or similar. You could very easily go with a Creative or Asus audio device, and the O2 to drive the headphones. You might also look at headphone amplifiers from CI Audio, Musical Fidelity, and TEAC - as they all tend towards high quality components and good service/support. Also it's worth pointing out that the built-in headphone amplifiers from many of the modern Creative and Asus parts are of very good quality, and are able to handle a very wide variety of loads just like a stand-alone headphone amplifier. It would likely be most prudent then to purchase the "computer hardware" component (let's use the Sound Blaster Z as an example), try the built-in headphone amplifier, and if that doesn't satisfy your needs then consider an additional/external device.

-bob


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Actually, gaming isn't even related. I would like something to give me a very detailed sound for music tracks and I would consider movies a factor, but most importantly music.
I would also like your opinion on schiit modi & magni?

Answer
As I said before, you really aren't going to be able to tell the difference between modern DAC implementations unless the designer has done something very wrong (depending on who you're talking to, this may also mean "exotic") with the product (e.g. it oscillates, has aliasing, etc). Anything put together half-decently will perform very well. The multimedia oriented products from Creative and Asus will have substantially better support for surround sound material, including downmixing it for headphones. That should be a consideration for movie playback versus "hi-fi" components that are generally dumb as a brick when it comes to decoder capabilities. The amplifier is something of another story - build quality, specifications, etc can all contribute to differences in sound and functionality. Modern headphones are generally no problem for higher quality built-in units, like Creative and Asus are shipping, but expensive stand-alone units can still be an upgrade for certain, mostly older, headphones (that said, I would not buy into the notion that you need a $10,000 amplifier for $500 headphones to "sound their best"). My original advice to go with a decent all-in-one solution like the Sound Blaster Z still stands, and if you want to consider a more robust amplifier at a later date it would be compatible.

Something else to keep in mind here - unless you're plugging the headphones into something that cannot handle them as a load (e.g. a very high output impedance line driver), or you make substantial changes in output impedance (remember, you have very reactive headphones), you shouldn't expect substantial changes in the overall sound. Putting large sums of money into a D/A converter, cables, etc will produce extremely minimal measurable differences, which will be even harder to detect with a naked ear. If any of your current sources produce a clean signal (clean meaning it doesn't have any hum/buzz/hiss/etc which is unfortunately characteristic of many integrated audio solutions on computers), I would stick with that and simply try an external amplifier. If the differences aren't what you expect, I would try a different pair of headphones as opposed to "tweaking" anything else about the equipment they're plugged into. For example if your goal is substantially increased bass volume, different headphones should be the first thing you look at.

As far as Schiit, they're an interesting company to be certain. My primary concern with them would be their customer service/relations policies and longevity - they are still very much a new and untested company, and may not be around forever. I would generally preference more established manufacturers that are more certain to exist throughout the warranty duration of your device, as well as ones that do not have as rocky pasts with customer relations.

-bob  

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Bobbert

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I can answer questions regarding computer audio both speakers and sound cards, and their interactions with one another. In addition to being able to answer questions regarding the purchase and maintinence of such devices.

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