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Is an external DAC for the PC worth it if you have a good Sound Card? - Page 2

post #31 of 134
FWIW - I just picked up an external Emotiva DAC + Preamp. Before I was listening to 2ch audio through my Onkyo 805 Receiver. (BurrBrown DACs, good amp section). Listened in direct mode.
The Emo Preamp + DAC completely blew the Onkyo DACs out of the water.

Mind you, when the 805 came out, it was a $1000 receiver. So yes. I heard an obvious difference. There is also that thing of a dramatically improved S/N ratio.
post #32 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by Spiritvs View Post

Hi
For someone that has a good sound card on their PC's, is it worth buying an external DAC?
I have a Onkyo SE-300 Soundcard.
I was considering getting a DAC Magic Plus or an Audiolab M-DAC if they enhance the sound quality as they say in the reviews, but is it really so?
I have never owned an external DAC before, so I am curious, and I am considering trying.
Will you notice any difference?
Has anyone had experience with this?
Thanks

I'm going to be trying out the Audiolab M-DAC with my PC setup. I will use the Asus Essence STX card as just basically a bridge and use it's digital coax connection straight to the DAC.

The Audiolab M-DAC uses the high end ESS Sabre 9018 chip and has been getting very good feedback on Head-Fi.org and Computer Audiophile forums. It also won DAC of the year on What Hi-Fi.

I am excited to try it out and hear it for my self...

Don't listen to the so called "scientists" around here. rolleyes.gif

Listen for yourself!
Edited by drewTT - 10/8/12 at 10:42pm
post #33 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by drewTT View Post

Don't listen to the so called "scientists" around here. rolleyes.gif
Listen for yourself!
Should OP listen to you instead?
post #34 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by eiger View Post

FWIW - I just picked up an external Emotiva DAC + Preamp. Before I was listening to 2ch audio through my Onkyo 805 Receiver. (BurrBrown DACs, good amp section). Listened in direct mode.
The Emo Preamp + DAC completely blew the Onkyo DACs out of the water.

The above is typical of what people report when they don't match other relevant variables when they compare DACs.


For example, the Emotiva DAC/preamp has a volume control. If you don't carefully match the loudness of the signal path through the DAC-preamp and the receiver with the loudness of the signal path through just the receiver, then there will indeed be a clear audible difference due only to the mismatch.

I'm not denigrating the performance of the Emotiva DAC + Preamp, as it appears to be a fine unit. Thing is, unless it it broken the Onkyo receiver is also a fine product. There is no reason to expect one to sound different from the other if both are in good operating condition. This of course begs the question of whether or not you know for sure that the Onkyo receiver isn't defective.
Quote:
Mind you, when the 805 came out, it was a $1000 receiver. So yes. I heard an obvious difference.

Please tell us about your level-matched, bias-controlled, time-synched listening tests.

If all you did is hook the equipment up and listen to casually selected recordings without adequate experimental controls, then we know that it is highly likely that your perceptions are based on the crude nature of the listening evaluations.
Quote:
There is also that thing of a dramatically improved S/N ratio.

Both the Emotiva DAC preamp and the Onyo receiver have S/N ratios that exceed that of real world commercial recordings. Since the recording is the weakest link, it sets theSA/N ratio of either system in actual use.

If you actually heard a noise difference, then this is a clear indication of a very significant level mismatch in your comparison, which caused the same noise in the recording to be played at significantly different loudnesses.
post #35 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by drewTT View Post

I'm going to be trying out the Audiolab M-DAC with my PC setup. I will use the Asus Essence STX card as just basically a bridge and use it's digital coax connection straight to the DAC.
The Audiolab M-DAC uses the high end ESS Sabre 9018 chip and has been getting very good feedback on Head-Fi.org and Computer Audiophile forums. It also won DAC of the year on What Hi-Fi.
I am excited to try it out and hear it for my self...

The usual cautions apply. It is easy to do comparisons that ignore the confusing influences of listening at different volume levels, listening to different musical selections, and being biased by your excitement about the new product. When you ignore these influences, your perceptions are likely to be strongly influenced by these confusing influences, and not any actual differences in sound quality.
Quote:
Don't listen to the so called "scientists" around here. rolleyes.gif

The sources you have cited are on the face of it, not that much different than AVS in the sense that their forums are composed of posts by end users. There is no evidence that posters to Head-Fi and CA have any better credentials than people who post on AVS. Indeed, there are repeated reports that at least one of those forums has a track record of dismissing members who try to bring scientific evidence to their discussions. It is hard to escape the idea that you prefer these forums because they reinforce your own prejudices.
Quote:
Listen for yourself!

Listening for yourself is always a compelling experience, and it is exactly what people should do, if they can do it properly.

Doing listening comparisons properly and reliability is something that I have devoted a goodly chunk of my life to and I have done it many times, including tests involving different DACs. If you look at the big picture, there is no logical reason to believe that the Asus Essence STX has any audible flaws. Indeed, it appears to be technical overkill for listening to music.

Here is a short summary of the results of a technical test of the Asus Essence STX:

http://benchmarkreviews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=653&Itemid=59&limit=1&limitstart=6



Here are the comparable specs of the Audiolab M-DAC:

Total Harmonic Distortion RCA: <0.002%; XLR: <0.0008%
Frequency response 20Hz - 20kHz (± 0.2dB)
Dynamic range RCA: >115dB;XLR: >122dB

Given that the maximum possible SNR of the 16 bit recordings that you listen to is only about 93 dB, there is no reason to believe that one DAC has any audible benefits over the other. Furthermore, it is likely that the power amplifiers downstream of the DAC have poorer performance. Finally noise in any reasonble listening room is worse than either the power amp or the DAC if levels are set properly.
Edited by arnyk - 10/9/12 at 10:01am
post #36 of 134
Yes a external DAC does make a lot of difference

Get one that has its own power supply and doesn't run off the pc usb power.

My set up is pc using foobar in bit perfect mode output either by a Xonar essence STX card using coaxial (24/192) or usb (24/96) direct to my Musical Fidelity M1-DACA to my pre amp and finally to my Focal sm6 solos.

The way I have done it minimalises any jitters, gives awesome detail esp up in the delicate highs, good fast tight accurate bass and a great open sound stage.

The PC is a very noisy environment with emi and rfi adding itself to your music esp. if outputting direct via rca's from your soundcard.
post #37 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by kaimaikid View Post

The PC is a very noisy environment with emi and rfi adding itself to your music esp. if outputting direct via rca's from your soundcard.
What are the numbers of emi and rfi in the PC compared to an external DAC you have?
post #38 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by kaimaikid View Post

Yes a external DAC does make a lot of difference

Not a global given.
Quote:
Get one that has its own power supply and doesn't run off the pc usb power.

Not a global benefit.
Quote:
My set up is pc using foobar in bit perfect mode output either by a Xonar essence STX card using coaxial (24/192) or usb (24/96) direct to my Musical Fidelity M1-DACA to my pre amp and finally to my Focal sm6 solos.
The way I have done it minimalises any jitters, gives awesome detail esp up in the delicate highs, good fast tight accurate bass and a great open sound stage.

None of those are exactly what we call objective measures.

OK, you believe in what you have spent your money on, but what is the global application of that?
Quote:
The PC is a very noisy environment with emi and rfi adding itself to your music esp. if outputting direct via rca's from your soundcard.

Actually, it turns out that some of the quietest audio interfaces around are built on PCI cards and reside inside computers.

Any DAC is by definition a study in mixed-signal design, which is a well-understood and widely practiced art. It's not like an external DAC is free from EMI problems - unless they are one-chip designs even external DACs have the usual TTL sharp-edged square waves running around inside them just like a PC. If they are one-chip designs you run up against the problem that one-chip designs are for the low end the market and contain DACs with sometimes sufficient but not the best performance.
post #39 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by diomania View Post

What are the numbers of emi and rfi in the PC compared to an external DAC you have?

They both probably meet the same standards - FCC Part 15 a or b.

]This audiophile myth that PCs are necessarily antagonistic to quiet audio has been around a long time, and at least partially based on the fact that PCs usually have power cords with grounding pins that can lead to ground loops.

Ground loops are completely independent of EMI.
post #40 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by diomania View Post

What are the numbers of emi and rfi in the PC compared to an external DAC you have?

Sorry don't know the numbers or the science behind it all as Arnold says but from my own experience as both a licensed ham and someone who appreciates good computer driven music, fans, graphic cards, cheap switchmode power supplies etc all generate noise.

Hnce I use a Asus Xonar Essence GTX pcie card - it is shielded and filtered against emi and rfi noise to a certain point - not perfect but certainly a great start.

As for using Foobar in bit perfect mode to bypass windows - it certainly stops stutters, reduces jitters and other interference caused by software and processes running on my pc when playing music

Using USB to my DAC is at best 24/96 - the DAC is acting as an external soundcard and DAC

Using the Xonar via coaxial at best is 24/192 and is using the DAC solely to convert digital back to analog

I have tried all sorts of methods of getting audio from my PC to my pre-amp from using rca leads direct from the soundcard to the amp, adding the Xonar card, using different DACs some of which were usb powered and found that what I am currently using to be the best sound that I can get on my budget without spending truck loads of money by building dedicated servers, going to very high end DACs and pre-amps.

Most of the different usb powered dacs that I have tried seem to muffle either the bass or the highs or both and just really sound no better than adding a mp3 player - yukk!!!

All my music is 16/44.1 flacs or better depending on the original source, I do prefer wav's. - don't like mp3, ape etc.

When I buy a cd the first thing I do is rip it using EAC to wav and then hide it away for safe keeping.



M1 DAC-A

At the heart of the M1 DAC is a pair of Texas Instruments Burr-Brown DSD1796 DAC chips in dual-differential mode, supported by their sibling SRC4392 sample-rate converter chip, which enables all digital sources to be upsampled to 24bit/192Hz.

Performance
Jitter: <12 picoseconds peak to peak
THD(+ noise): <0.0025% 10Hz to 20 kHz
Frequency Response: +0, –1dB, 5Hz to 100 kHz

and uses choke filtration on the power supply to remove any emi and rfi
post #41 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by kaimaikid View Post

Sorry don't know the numbers or the science behind it all
Then how do you know if PC is a very noisy environment with emi and rfi compared to stand alone DAC?
Quote:
what I am currently using to be the best sound that I can get on my budget
...
Most of the different usb powered dacs that I have tried seem to muffle either the bass or the highs or both and just really sound no better than adding a mp3 player
What kind of comparison setup did you use for determining this?
post #42 of 134
Somewhat to my chagrin, my Mac Pro analog out seems to sound better than the digital out played through a very good external DAC. There are all kind of possible explanations, including weird stuff happening in the digital processing within the computer. But it's made me wary of the usual assumption that an external DAC is always an improvement.
post #43 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by diomania View Post

Then how do you know if PC is a very noisy environment with emi and rfi compared to stand alone DAC?
It is called AM radio which are susceptible to all sorts of interference which sits next to my pc and my ears when playing music and also from the hundreds of postings on the web both for and against.
Quote:
Originally Posted by diomania View Post

What kind of comparison setup did you use for determining this?
By having a friendly importer/retailer who lets me home demo before I buy. Also by A-B'ing different set ups and finally running with it for a week or so and then switching back.

I'm not into snake oil pedlars who say this and that - I leave it to my ears to decide and also do a lot of research before I decide to try or buy something.

Yes I was a sceptic when first put onto DACs until I started to experiment with them for myself.

Running interconnects straight from the mobo soundcard to the amp to me sounds like crap - I might as well just listen to mp3s

My pc specs are
Mobo - Gigabyte EP45-UD3P
CPU - Intel E8400
RAM - 4 x 2gig DDR2
Graphics - AMD ATI Radeon 4890
Storage - 5 x various Samsung HDD approx 6tb
PSU - Silverstone 800w
Cooling - 4 fans
Soundcard - Asus Xonar Essence ST-X
OS - Win 7 64bit

as you can see there I have a lot going on inside my box

The biggest improvement I found from what I use to have to what I have now is the detail that can be clearly heard in music such as the percussion, guitar strings, voices etc etc

From the looks this is going to end up in a argument of who knows best which I can't really be bothered with, I am just stating what I have found with my system and it works for me.
post #44 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by kaimaikid View Post

It is called AM radio which are susceptible to all sorts of interference which sits next to my pc and my ears when playing music and also from the hundreds of postings on the web both for and against.

Meaning exactly what?
Quote:
By having a friendly importer/retailer who lets me home demo before I buy. Also by A-B'ing different set ups and finally running with it for a week or so and then switching back.
I'm not into snake oil pedlars who say this and that - I leave it to my ears to decide and also do a lot of research before I decide to try or buy something.

You do understand that the exact process you described above is exactly how virtually all snake oil is sold, right?
Quote:
Yes I was a skeptic when first put onto DACs until I started to experiment with them for myself.

You do understand that the only valid way to compare DACs, soundcards, and audio interfaces is to do formal listening tests that are:

(1) Level matched +/- 0.1 dB 20-20 KHz
(2) Involve the identical passages of music, right down to matching cut points within 0.01 seconds
(3) Bias controls including not knowing what you are listening do during the comparison

Yes, this is a lot of work, and yes few people actually go to all this trouble.
Quote:
Running interconnects straight from the mobo soundcard to the amp to me sounds like crap - I might as well just listen to mp3s

Are you aware of the fact that this is how a great deal of highly critical professional work is done?

Careful and detailed measurements show that when done right, it works brilliantly.

Quote:
My pc specs are
Mobo - Gigabyte EP45-UD3P
CPU - Intel E8400
RAM - 4 x 2gig DDR2
Graphics - AMD ATI Radeon 4890
Storage - 5 x various Samsung HDD approx 6tb
PSU - Silverstone 800w
Cooling - 4 fans
Soundcard - Asus Xonar Essence ST-X
OS - Win 7 64bit

Nothing wrong, nothing special.
Quote:
as you can see there I have a lot going on inside my box

Not exceptionally so.
Quote:
The biggest improvement I found from what I use to have to what I have now is the detail that can be clearly heard in music such as the percussion, guitar strings, voices etc etc

Again, I can show you 100 reviews of certified snake oil were the advocate said exactly the same thing.
Quote:
From the looks this is going to end up in a argument of who knows best which I can't really be bothered with,

...except that you jumped right into the middle of it!

Quote:
I am just stating what I have found with my system and it works for me.

No doubt based on casual listening tests with few if any experimental controls.

How can I say that? I've taken situations just like the one you described above, added the proper experimental controls, and watched people frustrated with the fact that all they can do is guess randomly.
post #45 of 134
It's worth considering what is happening inside the computer. The digital path from player to sound card is almost certainly different than to an external DAC. PCs have a tendency to insert conversion steps, and the configuration settings are likely to be different. You have to know all the software well to know when this is happening. I would be concerned that using a different path might produce a different result for that reason, and not because of differences in DAC quality.

I use a Macbook Pro in a fairly good setup. I get better sound from the headphone jack than using a Benchmark DAC-1. I very much doubt that the internal sound chip is better than the DAC-1. Something else is going on.
post #46 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by hedrick View Post

It's worth considering what is happening inside the computer.

OK, let's play
Quote:
The digital path from player to sound card is almost certainly different than to an external DAC.

Yes. There is a link, typical Toslink, SP/DIF, Firewire. or USB between the external DAC and the PC.

If the DAC were inside the PC, the link would be very much like SP/DIF or another similar link format called I2S. I2S differs from SP/DIF in that the clocking frequency is separated from the data. I2S or something very similar is far and away the most common internal link format between the DAC chip and the rest of the audio interface circuitry in a PC.

Firewire and USB are highly complex protocols, as compared to I2S.
Quote:
PCs have a tendency to insert conversion steps,

This is never done gratuitously. If the step is done, it is done in a comparable way for either the external DAC or the internal DAC, all other things being equal.
Quote:
and the configuration settings are likely to be different.

Not really.
Quote:
You have to know all the software well to know when this is happening.

The basic software involved will be the audio player software (e.g. Media Player), the operating system multimedia interface software, the operating system I/O device handling software, and the device driver software for the actual audio interface.

Other than the device driver and any operating services it might use (e.g. USB support if the link to the external DAC is USB) , the software path is identically the same for an internal or an external audio interface.
Quote:
I would be concerned that using a different path might produce a different result for that reason, and not because of differences in DAC quality.

Since other than the device driver, the path software is identically the same for an internal or an external audio interface, the above statement is simply not true.
Quote:
I use a Macbook Pro in a fairly good setup. I get better sound from the headphone jack than using a Benchmark DAC-1.

You're talking about your preferences, which are probably based on a sighted, non-level-matched, non-bias-controlled evaluation.
Quote:
I very much doubt that the internal sound chip is better than the DAC-1.

The DAC-1 's DAC chip probably outperforms the comparable part in the MacBook by one or two orders of magnitude, based on test bench measurements.
Quote:
Something else is going on.

Yes something else is going on: The sound quality procedure evaluation you are probably using is probably about as erroneous as your theories (above) about the software architecture of your computer.
post #47 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by Spiritvs View Post

Hi
For someone that has a good sound card on their PC's, is it worth buying an external DAC?
I have a Onkyo SE-300 Soundcard.
I was considering getting a DAC Magic Plus or an Audiolab M-DAC if they enhance the sound quality as they say in the reviews, but is it really so?
I have never owned an external DAC before, so I am curious, and I am considering trying.
Will you notice any difference?
Has anyone had experience with this?
Thanks

Hey man, just a little udpate. I ordered the Audiolab M-DAC. I will do comparison of the Asus Essence STX vs.M-DAC as soon as I receive my unit. I will not be using USB. I will use the STX's coax digital out into the M-DAC. This way the STX is just a bridge and does not do any D/A processing.

I have a feeling the M-DAC will be leagues ahead as it has a far superior analog output section compared to a PC soundcard and not to mention the ESS Reference Sabre 32bit 9018 processor.
post #48 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by drewTT View Post

I will do comparison of the Asus Essence STX vs.M-DAC as soon as I receive my unit.
Will you be comparing the measurements?
Quote:
I have a feeling the M-DAC will be leagues ahead as it has a far superior analog output section compared to a PC soundcard
In what way is that analog output section far superior?
post #49 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by diomania View Post

Will you be comparing the measurements?
In what way is that analog output section far superior?

No. I am not equipped to do measurements nor do I feel that they tell the whole story in my opinion.

The M-DAC has fully discrete J-FET CROSS Class A output stages on both the RCA and XLR outs.

Listen, I am not getting baited into a pointless argumentative discussion. I will do my own assessment of the M-DAC and decide if it was worth it. I really don't care either way. Trying new gear is fun...
post #50 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by drewTT View Post

The M-DAC has fully discrete J-FET CROSS Class A output stages on both the RCA and XLR outs.
That makes it far superior analog output section than PC soundcard which has some other analog output section?
Quote:
Listen, I am not getting baited into a pointless argumentative discussion. I will do my own assessment of the M-DAC and decide if it was worth it. I really don't care either way. Trying new gear is fun...
Then why did you announce it on public forum? You could have just gone on your fun way of trying new gear. confused.gif
post #51 of 134
lol...you guys are unbelievable. I am done here. OP, if you are interested in my NON-SCIENTIFIC feedback feel free to PM me.
post #52 of 134
Thread Starter 
I had no idea I would start a discussion like this :S

I am honestly interested in everyone's opinions, but don't fight over this, please. biggrin.gif

DrewTT, thanks for the testing you will do and I´m certainly interested in knowing your feedback on the M-DAC against the soundcard.
That's exactly what I wanted to do, but i´m afraid it could be a waste of money I could spend somewhere else if there is no difference in DAC's in the end.
That's why I asked if anyone had the experience before.

But since there are 2 sides, one says yeah, other says no, I guess it's one of those things one has to actually try and see, cause I believe everybody here is well intentioned and telling the truth about their experiences.
post #53 of 134
Quote:
But since there are 2 sides, one says yeah, other says no, I guess it's one of those things one has to actually try and see, cause I believe everybody here is well intentioned and telling the truth about their experiences.
No. One side is telling you about their experiences. The other side is explaining the science underlying how audio and human hearing work. And one of the main lessons of all that science is that people's experiences can be very, very misleading. If you" try it yourself," your experiences will likely be very misleading as well.
post #54 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by drewTT View Post

lol...you guys are unbelievable.
You are unbelievable.
post #55 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by Spiritvs View Post

but i´m afraid it could be a waste of money
And time.
Quote:
Originally Posted by mcnarus View Post

No. One side is telling you about their experiences. The other side is explaining the science underlying how audio and human hearing work. And one of the main lessons of all that science is that people's experiences can be very, very misleading. If you" try it yourself," your experiences will likely be very misleading as well.
Then there's a guy who says not to listen to "scientists" around here. Spiritvs, that's the guy you don't want to listen to. He doesn't know this stuff. That is unless you don't mind wasting your money and time.
post #56 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by drewTT View Post

.... Trying new gear is fun...

And that's it right there (thank you). So many audio hobbyists instinctively resist the sobering science lessons here because accepting them would be tantamount to rejecting so much of what they truly enjoy about the hobby: the buying and the trying of new equipment.
post #57 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by CruelInventions View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by drewTT View Post

.... Trying new gear is fun...

And that's it right there (thank you). So many audio hobbyists instinctively resist the sobering science lessons here because accepting them would be tantamount to rejecting so much of what they truly enjoy about the hobby: the buying and the trying of new equipment.

I must be stupid. I have good A/V systems so that I can enjoy listening to audio and video presented clearly and well and in accordance with my preferences. Buying equipment is an inconvenience because it distracts from my enjoyment of music, drama, documentaries, spoken word and the like.
post #58 of 134
Thread Starter 
Finally had time to do this.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ethan Winer View Post

You'll be hard pressed to hear a difference between a $25 SoundBlaster card and a $5,000 DAC. Wanna hear some real-world examples? This first one is a basic pop tune recorded simultaneously through a $25 sound card, a $200 sound card, and a top of the line professional converter:
Converter Comparison
Can you tell which is which?

I cannot hear any difference at all
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ethan Winer View Post

This is a more recent test, where I recorded music clips through a $250 converter ten times in a row to exaggerate the degradation:
Converter Loop-Back Tests

Can you tell which is the original and which is the tenth generation copy?
--Ethan

I cannot frown.gif
post #59 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by Spiritvs View Post

I cannot hear any difference at all

Then there you go.

As mcnarus said, "The other side is explaining the science underlying how audio and human hearing work." And that's exactly what we're doing.

I honestly don't understand the anti-science viewpoints so often expressed in audio forums. I can't tell you how many posts I've seen that begin with "I admit I'm not an expert" that then go on to express strong opinions anyway based on only their own sighted anecdotal experience. This article was written for recording professionals, but the points apply equally to hi-fi and home theater enthusiasts:

Perception - the Final Frontier

If more people understood the limits of human hearing, there would be a lot less arguing in audio forums! biggrin.gif

--Ethan
post #60 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by CruelInventions View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by drewTT View Post

.... Trying new gear is fun...

And that's it right there (thank you). So many audio hobbyists instinctively resist the sobering science lessons here because accepting them would be tantamount to rejecting so much of what they truly enjoy about the hobby: the buying and the trying of new equipment.

There is always the option of buying new speakeres and subs for more fun smile.gif
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