Best/cheapest way to accommodate cans+passive speakers on one setup?

brettjrob

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I'm running a T-amp that powers passive bookshelves on my desktop right now, but would like to get a pair of quality cans for use when neighbors/roommates are an issue. The question is, how do I accommodate both while maximizing desk space and minimizing excessive wires?

I'm using Realtek onboard sound at the moment. Its quality is sufficient for my purposes, but the headphone jack on the front of my case introduces excessive background noise, so it's of no use to me. It seems I have at least a few options:

- Buy a cheap receiver and use it for both the speakers and phones. Disadvantage is that (a) I don't really have the desk space for one, and (b) the amplifier is not intended for headphones.

- Get a headphone amp, along with some type of splitter for my onboard analog out. Are splitters available which don't degrade sound quality in any measurable way? Having a splitter, T-amp, and headphone amp on my desk seems a bit inelegant, but probably requires a much smaller footprint than a receiver, at least.

- Grab something like the uDac, which claims to have an integrated headphone amplifier. This would probably be the simplest and most desk-friendly, but I'm not sure the amplifier is really sufficient to drive high-end headphones. Granted, I'm only looking into something along the lines of the Denon D1100/D2000 or Beyer 770, so perhaps I'd be OK?

Any suggestions or comments are welcome...
 

Procyon12

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sufficient how? sufficient in quality or volume? those denons have an impendance of 32ohms, you could drive those with an ipod.
a headphone amp would better your sound quality.
teh nuforce should suffice with the Beyer 770 (250 ohms)

have you considered a better sound card to eliminate noise through the front panel? your onboard shares circuitry with your cpu and usb and etc. thats the source of the noise.

the asus xonar dx will drive headphones up to 150ohms, the stx 600ohms.
one more suggestion: ive seen some mobos produce background noise with the HD audio connector but not the AC97 (or visa versa, i cant remember, have you tried swapping?)

buying a cheap reciever wont sold your headphone problem, unless it has a headphone amp.

my rec: usb headphone amp and dac --> t amp and headphones.
 
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brettjrob

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my rec: usb headphone amp and dac --> t amp and headphones.
Thanks for the advice. In all honesty, I think I'm looking for an excuse to ditch the onboard sound and get the DAC outside my case, which this would accomplish.

A couple follow-up questions:

1) Are there any high-quality sound cards with integrated headphone amps that would save me some money over the uDac (~$130)? I'll probably still shy away from this solution, as it doesn't offer the same convenience as the uDac in terms of the ease of switching from cans to speakers.

2) Is the uDac likely to provide a perceptible improvement in sound quality over onboard, given mid-range cans (i.e., Beyer 770/Senn HD595/etc.) and decent bookshelf speakers? Are there any similar products for a lesser price that I should consider?
 

Procyon12

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Thanks for the advice. In all honesty, I think I'm looking for an excuse to ditch the onboard sound and get the DAC outside my case, which this would accomplish.

A couple follow-up questions:

1) Are there any high-quality sound cards with integrated headphone amps that would save me some money over the uDac (~$130)? I'll probably still shy away from this solution, as it doesn't offer the same convenience as the uDac in terms of the ease of switching from cans to speakers.

the two asus cards i suggested. t amp in back.
plug headphones into the front panel, bam speakers muted. unplug bam back to speakers.

2) Is the uDac likely to provide a perceptible improvement in sound quality over onboard, given mid-range cans (i.e., Beyer 770/Senn HD595/etc.) and decent bookshelf speakers? Are there any similar products for a lesser price that I should consider?

the udac is on the cheaper side for what it is, and its a good value. you could theoretically drive the denons with the onboard or the $40 xonar dg.
 

mumstead

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Thanks for the advice. In all honesty, I think I'm looking for an excuse to ditch the onboard sound and get the DAC outside my case, which this would accomplish.
A couple follow-up questions:

1) Are there any high-quality sound cards with integrated headphone amps that would save me some money over the uDac (~$130)? I'll probably still shy away from this solution, as it doesn't offer the same convenience as the uDac in terms of the ease of switching from cans to speakers.

2) Is the uDac likely to provide a perceptible improvement in sound quality over onboard, given mid-range cans (i.e., Beyer 770/Senn HD595/etc.) and decent bookshelf speakers? Are there any similar products for a lesser price that I should consider?

If you really want an external DAC I would recommend a FiiO E7 + E9 combo. I had a udac and it drove my Denon 5000's just fine and sounds WAY better than onboard sound but the FiiO combo sounds better to me. I use this combo on my Mac. On my PC I use a Xonar STX and plug my phones straight in to the sound card. If I try to use front panel it is very noisy. For my speakers I use the RCA out on the STX to my FiiO A1 amp which is similar to your T-Amp. The STX is nice because you can switch between the headphone and speakers in the driver. This means that you can leave your headphones plugged in while using your speakers. Many sound cards will automatically mute your speakers as soon as you plug headphones in.
 

Snufykat

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You want a real cheap suggestion? buy an extension cable and plug your phones in to the headphone connection on the back of you pc.
Most of the noise from front panel connection that I have seen have been the cheap as_ wires used to connect the front panel to the motherboard.
Moving the process out of the case altogether is a better solution as you have pointed out.
 

Procyon12

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You want a real cheap suggestion? buy an extension cable and plug your phones in to the headphone connection on the back of you pc.
Most of the noise from front panel connection that I have seen have been the cheap as_ wires used to connect the front panel to the motherboard.
Moving the process out of the case altogether is a better solution as you have pointed out.

yup, thats why i asked what case he has.
also what graphics card do you have?

i noticed that when you have a high power card, nvdia cards create interference that AMD cards do not.

when i had a GTX 285 i routed the FP cable so that it stayed as far away from the card as possible and the noise went down like 75%. with AMD cards i can touch them to the card and nada.
 

Blackbeard Ben

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I think the Fiio E9 would be absolutely perfect for you - it has line-level pass-through as well as volume-controlled line-level output. Given the price, it's hard to imagine anything better suited to you - and it's an even bigger deal if you get the E7 at the same time.
 

brettjrob

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So, some updates.

1. My case is the Antec Three Hundred, and card is an 8800 GT. I dicked around with the front audio cord last night and found that my mobo doesn't support the AC97 connector (only HD), and that moving it to a tidier position didn't really help matters. It's quite noticeable that the buzzing/interference occurs when moving my mouse around, FWIW.

2. I've decided on Grado SR80i's for my new cans. They're on their way and should arrive by the weekend. I know they're fairly low-impedance, but some still report better sound with an amp, so I'm torn on whether one will be necessary.

The Fiio E7 looks quite appealing in price and functionality, but I have some reservations. Its general thrust seems to be more a portable device, rather than a sound card replacement for a desktop. I suppose the fact that it needs to "charge up" upon connecting via USB, and has a digital volume control, bothers me a bit -- will I need to reach across the desk and press the tiny "Up" button 10 times to make my speakers louder?

OTOH, this article is steering me away from the uDac. That guy also mentions that the Beringher UCA202 is quite good for its price (~$30-40), yet it doesn't include a headphone amp.

F me. It seems like this budget DAC/amp all-in-one console market is begging for a more appealing product without significant compromises. All I want is a nice, simple box on my desk that serves both roles, has both amplified headphone-out and unamplified line/RCA out for my speakers, an analog volume control for the cans, and does not block the line-out while the cans are plugged in. I'm rather shocked to find that there appears to be no such thing, at least under $200 or so.
 
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Procyon12

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the Antec 300 suffers from ground loops on its FP connector. i had one, you can cut the ground line, and solve the issue if you really want to...

i didnt realize you wanted to drive the speakers and the cans at the same time.i thought you wanted to make it easy to switch between the two. am i understandin correctly? if you just dont want to fiddle with plugs, there are plenty of devices that will turn ON the line out, the speakers when you turn the volume control off, regardless of what is plugged in.

can you clarify whether you need cans and speakers running at same time?
 

Blackbeard Ben

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So, some updates.

1. My case is the Antec Three Hundred, and card is an 8800 GT. I dicked around with the front audio cord last night and found that my mobo doesn't support the AC97 connector (only HD), and that moving it to a tidier position didn't really help matters. It's quite noticeable that the buzzing/interference occurs when moving my mouse around, FWIW.

2. I've decided on Grado SR80i's for my new cans. They're on their way and should arrive by the weekend. I know they're fairly low-impedance, but some still report better sound with an amp, so I'm torn on whether one will be necessary.

The Fiio E7 looks quite appealing in price and functionality, but I have some reservations. Its general thrust seems to be more a portable device, rather than a sound card replacement for a desktop. I suppose the fact that it needs to "charge up" upon connecting via USB, and has a digital volume control, bothers me a bit -- will I need to reach across the desk and press the tiny "Up" button 10 times to make my speakers louder?

OTOH, this article is steering me away from the uDac. That guy also mentions that the Beringher UCA202 is quite good for its price (~$30-40), yet it doesn't include a headphone amp.

F me. It seems like this budget DAC/amp all-in-one console market is begging for a more appealing product without significant compromises. All I want is a nice, simple box on my desk that serves both roles, has both amplified headphone-out and unamplified line/RCA out for my speakers, an analog volume control for the cans, and does not block the line-out while the cans are plugged in. I'm rather shocked to find that there appears to be no such thing, at least under $200 or so.

Well, the E7/E9 combo clocks in right at $200... It's two boxes, yes, but the E7 docks right in the E9 and they look great together.

I have the original uDAC; I got it instead of the E7 because of the RCA line out (which I understand now is likely just the headphone output through RCA sockets) and from what I can remember, the higher voltage swing compared to the E7 (for use with HD 600s). Knowing how the uDAC 2 measures, I'm don't think I would have bought the original, although they don't necessarily measure the same (I have found no RMAA measurements for the original). I did indeed notice the clipping when you turn the volume on the uDAC up all the way, but I'm not sure I ever noticed the 0 dB signal clipping (which may or may not occur with the original uDAC). Used as a source for the Schiit Asgard I had, with the volume set at 12 o'clock, it served more or less flawlessly to me - I never noticed any clipping, although I don't spend all day listening to overcompressed music.

I do appreciate nwavguy's measurements (very much so), but he goes more than a little over the top with the language he uses... He tends to make enemies too, even with people that agree with him - he's been banned multiple times at Head-Fi (a site that, despite trying to avoid, I keep coming back to visit the Sound Science sub-forum). If he used a little more sensibility in dealing with people he might spread his "message" a bit wider. And I'm not even one that likes the moderation at Head-Fi...

Anyway, the USB charging is only so that it can serve as a portable amp... It's not any different than the uDAC in terms of operation when it's just serving as a DAC/amp. Digital volume controls can be annoying, yes, but they're noise and channel imbalance free - and with the E9 you won't have to use it anyway.

The UCA 202 does have a headphone amp technically, but it's obviously not a very powerful one and has its own flaws (i.e. output impedance). You could use it with the E9, although the E7/E9 combo isn't much more and is a bit more versatile (and pretty)... I don't know, but the Grados might even be an okay load for the Behringer's amp.
 

brettjrob

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Good stuff, BBB. I stumbled upon the Maverick Audio TubeMagic DAC/Amp in the other thread asking for roughly the same advice, and it seems to be about what I'm looking for (i.e., basically a USB-connectable receiver minus the full amp), albeit pricier than I was hoping. Since it's the same price as the E7/E9 combo, do you (or anyone else) have any opinions on which would be better bang for the buck?
 
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brettjrob

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bump...any opinions on E7/E9 vs. TubeMagic D1?

Advantages to E7: price, portability, could add E9 if SQ is not sufficient, no external power required

Advantages to TubeMagic: option for optical (in addition to USB), 24/96, nice all-in-one box, multiple outputs

---

BillR: appreciate the recommendation; will check it out if I end up with a DAC that doesn't offer both headphone and RCA out.
 

brettjrob

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bump...discovered the E-mu USB 0204 tonight and it's intriguing me. Similar in its feature set to the Maverick, excepting S/PDIF in, but about 40% cheaper.

Anyone have experience with this?
 
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