what would be good DAC

Tommycarl1

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I am tired of my crappy sounding Asus audio on my Rampage IV Extreme motherboard. so i am thinking of buying an external DAC. Been looking at the Zen Dac from iFi Audio or do you think I should just buy a newer Sound Card. I want to stream from Qobuz and play my library of High Resolution Music (24-32 bit) or anyt other suggestions would be helpful.


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Tommycarl1

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What are you listening through?

https://www.realtek.com/en/products/computer-peripheral-ics/item/alc898 specs on that chip (on paper) look pretty good - and that's what's on your motherboard
What are you listening through?

https://www.realtek.com/en/products/computer-peripheral-ics/item/alc898 specs on that chip (on paper) look pretty good - and that's what's on your motherboard
Bowers & Wilkins PX soon to get the PX7 maybe. will be buying different speakers for my computer tired of the crappy Logitech. might get audioengine A5+ Speakers
 

B00nie

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Morphes

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About 99% of times the DAC is in reality the strongest link in the whole audio chain. Speaker/headphone quality is most common problem, amps come before DACs.
Honestly I would disagree. The DAC on motherboards while most likely "fine" they live in a location full of electronic noise. You can easily get ground loop issues, or hear coil whine etc. Anything external with a separate power supply should help in that regard. I thought the same way until I got a nicer DAC and will never go back. My original onboard soundcard was from Asus ROG Rampage V, which was supposed to have "amazing sound quality".

If you are using those B&W cans, I can assume you are using the wired function?

there are several things to consider:

What sort of outputs do you want?
Do you want a separate headphone amp?
Would you want a balanced headphone connection?


Also take this test: https://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2015/06/02/411473508/how-well-can-you-hear-audio-quality

My favorite youtuber about audio stuff is Zeo's, only because he has a realistic view of audio. Doesn't care if something costs $10 or $10,000 if it sounds good, it sounds good. His view on DAC's, find one from a decent company, with all the inputs/outputs you want, if the reviews arent shit its most likely good. He did a video comparing DACs and found it difficult to find differences in the sound between $80-$500.

It will help you to find if the 32bit really matters or not for your ears.

I hear good things from these:

Topping MX3 $115 (includes a headphone amp and desktop amp for passive speakers)
Schiit Modi 3 $100 (I have the version 1 and it sounds significantly better than the Asus ROG Rampage V on board)
JDS el dac $250
 

B00nie

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Honestly I would disagree. The DAC on motherboards while most likely "fine" they live in a location full of electronic noise. You can easily get ground loop issues, or hear coil whine etc. Anything external with a separate power supply should help in that regard. I thought the same way until I got a nicer DAC and will never go back. My original onboard soundcard was from Asus ROG Rampage V, which was supposed to have "amazing sound quality".

If you are using those B&W cans, I can assume you are using the wired function?

there are several things to consider:

What sort of outputs do you want?
Do you want a separate headphone amp?
Would you want a balanced headphone connection?


Also take this test: https://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2015/06/02/411473508/how-well-can-you-hear-audio-quality

My favorite youtuber about audio stuff is Zeo's, only because he has a realistic view of audio. Doesn't care if something costs $10 or $10,000 if it sounds good, it sounds good. His view on DAC's, find one from a decent company, with all the inputs/outputs you want, if the reviews arent shit its most likely good. He did a video comparing DACs and found it difficult to find differences in the sound between $80-$500.

It will help you to find if the 32bit really matters or not for your ears.

I hear good things from these:

Topping MX3 $115 (includes a headphone amp and desktop amp for passive speakers)
Schiit Modi 3 $100 (I have the version 1 and it sounds significantly better than the Asus ROG Rampage V on board)
JDS el dac $250
You can naturally disagree but even the cheapest DAC has S/N and distortion levels which surpass all the rest of the audio gear. Also I have owned 10-12 different types of motherboards and none of them suffered from any sort of audible RF or whines. Ground loops have happened naturally but they are not an issue with headphone listening. Headphones are usually more limited by the poor output capability of the built in audio amplifier not the DAC, the output may not be intended for direct headphone listening at all, let alone a difficult load hifi headphones.

An outside DAC does not garantee isolation from ground loops either unless it's galvanically isolated from the computer.

What I want to say is that in many cases people who blame the DAC would often just need a headphone amp and the DAC inside the computer would do a perfectly fine job.
 
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DoubleTap

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You can naturally disagree but even the cheapest DAC has S/N and distortion levels which surpass all the rest of the audio gear. Also I have owned 10-12 different types of motherboards and none of them suffered from any sort of audible RF or whines. Ground loops have happened naturally but they are not an issue with headphone listening. Headphones are usually more limited by the poor output capability of the built in audio amplifier not the DAC, the output may not be intended for direct headphone listening at all, let alone a difficult load hifi headphones.

An outside DAC does not garantee isolation from ground loops either unless it's galvanically isolated from the computer.

What I want to say is that in many cases people who blame the DAC would often just need a headphone amp and the DAC inside the computer would do a perfectly fine job.
I hooked up the motherboard 3.5mm jacks to my receiver (it has RCA 7.1) a couple years ago and I was really surprised at how good it sounded. No coil or system noise came through at all.

Not saying it was the best source but it was doing a competent job - I think motherboard sound is often better than people give it credit for,
 

B00nie

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I hooked up the motherboard 3.5mm jacks to my receiver (it has RCA 7.1) a couple years ago and I was really surprised at how good it sounded. No coil or system noise came through at all.

Not saying it was the best source but it was doing a competent job - I think motherboard sound is often better than people give it credit for,
Yes if you look at frequency spectrum measurement of sound cards when difficult cans are plugged in, you often see horrible mangled frequency responses. All treble gone etc. The amp in many sound cards (not only onboard audio) is designed only to be plugged to an amp, not directly to headphones.
 

Keljian

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Both of the headphone models you linked are wireless - they have internal DACs - your motherboard audio has nothing to do with the output to them
 

Keljian

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Not saying it was the best source but it was doing a competent job - I think motherboard sound is often better than people give it credit for,
To be fair, the majority of motherboard audio solutions are very very good considering the noise around them. The alc1220 especially so. Some motherboard implementations of them are pretty poor (I'm looking at you Prime Z370-a ii) but most are very very good.
 
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Tommycarl1

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Both of the headphone models you linked are wireless - they have internal DACs - your motherboard audio has nothing to do with the output to them
I don't use wireless with headphones because the Bluetooth is screwed up on my gaming computer so i just use wire which sounds better anyways, I do know that the DAC on motherboards actually do suck because I also have a HTPC with another Asus motherboard with he same audio and it does not compare to the DACs in my Krell Showcase Pre/Pro which is connected directly via optical and my Krell does all the processing. my B&W Nautilus 805s reveal quite a lot of the music so I can really tell the difference between the formats in a blind test.

I also hooked up my Astell & Kern Ak Jr DAP to my computer as a DAC and noticed an improvement in sound quality so I know I can get better than Asus sound :) :) :)
 

Keljian

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Ok it sounds like there are multiple potential issues here:
1. Bluetooth drivers/screwed up
2. DAC vs analog output of the computer
3. other things

The fact you have a B&W Nautilus system basically suggests that you want a top end DAC.

The question is how much are you prepared to pay?

I personally would be looking at building the amb gamma 3 dac... but I confess high end audio is no longer that important to me.
 
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stereomac

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Based on the Hammerfall DSP, Rme Audio delivers some of the best DACs and analog to digital converters in the business.

https://www.rme-usa.com/babyface-pro.html

Flavors include pci, firewire, and usb to an external DSP (digital signal processing) with small form factor, or rackable designs. Proprietary up-sampling puts your output at 32bit and a little over 192khz fully supporting 7.1. I've owned one for years, and I'll say it... it sounds better than the many other professional sound interfaces I own, and have references. I don't know how they do it but even when outputting in pure digital they sound better than the rest. They are expensive, and their WDM driver support is not up to par with creative labs (games sound/performance is better with creative drivers) but from the looks of the computers on this forum (nice computer Keljian :), you shouldn't suffer a performance hit.

Check em out, I totally recommend them.

If you have any questions about them, let me know.

Peace
 

B00nie

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I don't use wireless with headphones because the Bluetooth is screwed up on my gaming computer so i just use wire which sounds better anyways, I do know that the DAC on motherboards actually do suck because I also have a HTPC with another Asus motherboard with he same audio and it does not compare to the DACs in my Krell Showcase Pre/Pro which is connected directly via optical and my Krell does all the processing. my B&W Nautilus 805s reveal quite a lot of the music so I can really tell the difference between the formats in a blind test.

I also hooked up my Astell & Kern Ak Jr DAP to my computer as a DAC and noticed an improvement in sound quality so I know I can get better than Asus sound :) :) :)
I call BS on that one but that's just me :)
 

daglesj

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As DAC tech is basically 40+ years old I would say its mature tech and all DAC chips currently would be within 5% performance wise from each other no matter the price and be more down to personal preference than tech specification.
 
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capt_cope

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Sounds like you just need a tweak from Coconut Audio.

**edit**
To be clear that was sarcasm. BUT aside from a cable issue or ground loop I really REALLY doubt it's a "DAC" issue. I've tested out my AMB gamma 2 (optical and USB) against my Crosshair Hero VIII onboard and some cheap chinese "24/192" USB job AND... couldn't tell the difference.

And my ears aren't broken either:
NPR.PNG
 
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B00nie

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People have different hearing you know...
And the placebo effect is really strong in audio also. Most audiophiles who report earth shattering differences between DACs will not be able to tell the two devices apart in an ABX blind test. So when they don't know which device they listen to, differences disappear all of the sudden. Perhaps it's quantum physics :)

Just one of the multiple tests done: https://www.diyaudio.com/forums/digital-line-level/314762-dac-blind-test-audible-difference-whatsoever.html

https://www.head-fi.org/threads/testing-audiophile-claims-and-myths.486598/
 
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XoR_

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And the placebo effect is really strong in audio also. Most audiophiles who report earth shattering differences between DACs will not be able to tell the two devices apart in an ABX blind test. So when they don't know which device they listen to, differences disappear all of the sudden. Perhaps it's quantum physics :)
There are things in audio chain which make difference and those which are completely bonkers. Those need to be separated.
Audiophile failing ABX test on 1000$ power cable does not translate at all to conclusion that every DAC sounds the same and definitely that some cheap Realtek sound the same as proper DAC.

Depending on how you drive speakers even small change like operational amplifier can be clearly audible. Personally however I would not bet my money on myself being able to differentiate between eg. my Xonar STX packed with Bursons and my Meizu MX4 Pro. Same with 16bit/44KHz and 24KHz/96KHz even if there are some small audible differences.
For one ABX testing is different condition that I usually find myself in and this have implications on how nervous system work. Most people including myself get stressed out on any sorts of tests. If I was to take such test however I would train myself in this kind of situation beforehand.
 

B00nie

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There are things in audio chain which make difference and those which are completely bonkers. Those need to be separated.
Audiophile failing ABX test on 1000$ power cable does not translate at all to conclusion that every DAC sounds the same and definitely that some cheap Realtek sound the same as proper DAC.

Depending on how you drive speakers even small change like operational amplifier can be clearly audible. Personally however I would not bet my money on myself being able to differentiate between eg. my Xonar STX packed with Bursons and my Meizu MX4 Pro. Same with 16bit/44KHz and 24KHz/96KHz even if there are some small audible differences.
For one ABX testing is different condition that I usually find myself in and this have implications on how nervous system work. Most people including myself get stressed out on any sorts of tests. If I was to take such test however I would train myself in this kind of situation beforehand.
The main point is, if you have a hard time even telling a difference between two DACs, there is a law of diminishing returns - is it worth the price when you can do all sorts of more effective things with that money. I would say DACs and preamps are one of the last things to worry in a regular hifi system as the base quality is already very high. All other components lower down in chain are much more unlinear and defective in quality. The worst offender being the speaker in the listening room. The combo of both... It's relatively trivial to make a speaker that plays nearly flat in an anechoic chamber but it's nearly impossible to build one that plays flat and distortion free in a regular listening room.
 

daglesj

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Back in the day I had all Meridian hi-fi. They were one of the first hi-fi brands to really embrace digital. Real top end stuff, thousands spent.:whistle:

But then I realised I was spending too much time listening to the hardware than enjoying or listening to the music.

My family were given the Meridian gear and the current DAC I play all my music and audio (Spotify Premium) through is a $20 Fiio Taishan (I use a data blocker USB plug to just give it the USB power from the PC) fed optically from my X99 rig to a 10+ year old Creative Labs 2:1 setup that I modded the amp with a OPA2777 opamp (cos I could).

I no longer use $200 a meter Furukawa PCOCC cables, just good old VanDamme. Oh that was $200 a meter back in 1992...

Life is sweet enough.
 

XoR_

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The main point is, if you have a hard time even telling a difference between two DACs, there is a law of diminishing returns - is it worth the price when you can do all sorts of more effective things with that money. I would say DACs and preamps are one of the last things to worry in a regular hifi system as the base quality is already very high. All other components lower down in chain are much more unlinear and defective in quality. The worst offender being the speaker in the listening room. The combo of both... It's relatively trivial to make a speaker that plays nearly flat in an anechoic chamber but it's nearly impossible to build one that plays flat and distortion free in a regular listening room.
Is it your business to say what anyone should spend their money on?
This is what would be good DAC topic and not "what I should spend money on" topic.
Even Realtek will sound better with great speakers and amplifier compared to top end DAC in mediocre system and there are cheaper solutions to get truly HiFi DAC than spending many thousandths of dollars but that is not the topic for such discussion...

As for my ability for discerning DACs I did not test my ability to do ABX and because of that I would not bet my money on.
I am however putting my money on hardware itself because when I listen to music I do hear difference and for what it is worth it is worth it.
 

B00nie

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Is it your business to say what anyone should spend their money on?
Yes, it is my business to tell people when they're clearly focusing on things that will most likely just waste their money when they could actually get real improvements.
 

IdiotInCharge

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Even Realtek will sound better with great speakers and amplifier compared to top end DAC in mediocre system and there are cheaper solutions to get truly HiFi DAC than spending many thousandths of dollars but that is not the topic for such discussion...
While true, I feel that focus should be more on eliminating potential offenders and finding a 'minimum acceptable' level.

Just getting a clean external DAC is enough for most, I think.
 

XoR_

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While true, I feel that focus should be more on eliminating potential offenders and finding a 'minimum acceptable' level.

Just getting a clean external DAC is enough for most, I think.
Doesn't need to be external.
Internal sound cards can also be clean sounding as well eg. Asus Xonar STX and the like.

Yes, it is my business to tell people when they're clearly focusing on things that will most likely just waste their money when they could actually get real improvements.
You are just trying to desperately defend Realtek as somehow good source and this is as much stupid as it is silly.
 

IdiotInCharge

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Doesn't need to be external.
Internal sound cards can also be clean sounding as well eg. Asus Xonar STX and the like.
At some point, the best internal card will exhibit noise where an external won't.

Objectively, the pluses outweigh the minuses unless you absolutely must save space outside.
 
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B00nie

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Doesn't need to be external.
Internal sound cards can also be clean sounding as well eg. Asus Xonar STX and the like.


You are just trying to desperately defend Realtek as somehow good source and this is as much stupid as it is silly.
Nobody mentioned Realtek, excuse me. Most likely the OP has junk speakers and/or junk headphones swapping which would yield him far better improvements in sound quality than swapping the DAC.
 

Lastan010

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its how the DAC is implemented, some dac units are created with crappy components outside of the dac, the preamp section of a dac unit is what sets them all apart.

that is like saying the intel cpu makes my music sound better than the amd cpu that I had, no no no.

dac chip is just that, takes 0's and 1's and does its job like the cpu, if you look inside a dac unit there tons and tons of other components other than the dac chip and that is what you should be looking at the most.

I can tell you this because I had Mark Levinson, Mcintosh, Rotel, and other high-fi brand devices, all these $4k-$10k devices used same DAC chips as other devices that can be bought for $100, what matters here are the components and circuitry that are being used around the DAC chip.

Most important gear are the speakers and power amplifiers, they are the biggest game changers.
 
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XoR_

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If I didnt have a high end DAC already I would give the AE-9 a try.
This card have one major flaw (at least for me): operational amplifiers are way too close to each other
How I am supposed to but Burson V5/V6 in there?!
I am also no fan of putting two single opamps in the buffer.
All my opamps are dual and it is much more economical to have dual opamps everywhere if you want to test different configurations to see how opamp influence sound in different place.
I could probably make converter to use dual Bursons but this would be so bothersome and I am not sure if safe for a card...

Natural evolution of opamp swapping is ending up with Burson or something similar. Here I have doubts all my SO8 op-amps on converters would fit.
Of course not everyone will change op-amps but then why NE5534AP and JRC2114D...
Asus imho nailed it with Xonar Essence ST/STX/STX II using all properly spaced dual opamps and having MUSES opamps by default and giving pair LME49720 in the package.
 

capnstabn

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Honestly I would disagree. The DAC on motherboards while most likely "fine" they live in a location full of electronic noise. You can easily get ground loop issues, or hear coil whine etc. Anything external with a separate power supply should help in that regard. I thought the same way until I got a nicer DAC and will never go back. My original onboard soundcard was from Asus ROG Rampage V, which was supposed to have "amazing sound quality".

If you are using those B&W cans, I can assume you are using the wired function?

there are several things to consider:

What sort of outputs do you want?
Do you want a separate headphone amp?
Would you want a balanced headphone connection?


Also take this test: https://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2015/06/02/411473508/how-well-can-you-hear-audio-quality

My favorite youtuber about audio stuff is Zeo's, only because he has a realistic view of audio. Doesn't care if something costs $10 or $10,000 if it sounds good, it sounds good. His view on DAC's, find one from a decent company, with all the inputs/outputs you want, if the reviews arent shit its most likely good. He did a video comparing DACs and found it difficult to find differences in the sound between $80-$500.

It will help you to find if the 32bit really matters or not for your ears.

I hear good things from these:

Topping MX3 $115 (includes a headphone amp and desktop amp for passive speakers)
Schiit Modi 3 $100 (I have the version 1 and it sounds significantly better than the Asus ROG Rampage V on board)
JDS el dac $250

Don't forget the Mayflower Arc MK2. It runs about 299 but has some great connectivity options, plenty of power, and its driverless. I actually have one showing up in the next few days and will share my thoughts.
 
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