Decent Soundcard or external DAC?

Discussion in 'Hi-Fi Stereo Systems & Separates' started by DIBSTER, Nov 28, 2010.

  1. DIBSTER

    DIBSTER
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    Hope I'm in the right forum for starters.

    I'm looking to downsize my hi-fi set-up and have the vast majority of my source being my PC (FLAC/MP3 files, Internet Radio and Spotify etc). In the past I have fed my amp from my PC via a Beresford DAC/Toslink cable. At the moment it is via a Naim Uniti. The Uniti is going, fantastic piece of kit but I need the finance elsewhere.

    I would like any opinions as to whether it is worth my while upgrading my onboard Realtek s/c to a better "audiophile" s/c (Asus Xonar Essence for example) and feed my amp directly from my PC, or to buy myself something like a Beresford Caiman DAC and continue using a Toslink cable etc.

    I've never had anything on my PC's before other than the standard onboard s/c so have no real experience of whether I could expect a big improvement by upgrading s/c's.

    Your thoughts would be most appreciated.

    Regards

    .
     
  2. Mr Pig

    Mr Pig
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    I would go for the external DAC every time.

    Having the DAC built into the computer has no advantage other than taking up less space.

    An external DAC has more flexibility, more inputs (depending on the model) and can easily be moved to duties elsewhere at a later date. Many are also upgradable and hold there value very well.

    I think the Beresford is a good choice. We've just ordered one of these LINK. They also get great revues and this new model is on special offer during December so costs about £130 instead of the £230 it will usually cost. The Beresford has more inputs and a headphone amp but costs quite a bit more, right now at least.
     
  3. deaf cat

    deaf cat
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    Heard this :
    devilsound labs - DAC - digital audio cable
    a while back, very impressed by it, simple small and pretty amazing sound for something so easy and small to use...
    Sorry, would not know how it performs against a Caiman, if you can demo them both ;)
     
  4. Abogere

    Abogere
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    try looking into the dacmagic...
     
  5. mrbenn

    mrbenn
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    i looked at these they look great, one thing to note is the toslink has priority over the coaxial - there is no way to switch manually. however saying that it looks like a great bit of kit.

    the Fubar II USB is also worth a look if all you want is usb or HRT Music Streamer II USB DAC £145 approx

    ps: russ andrews stocks in the uk if you dont want to import
     
  6. DIBSTER

    DIBSTER
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    Thanks for all the input and suggestions, much appreciated.

    There appears to be lots of good options round the £150/£200 mark.

    .
     
  7. Mr Pig

    Mr Pig
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    How they work is that they switch automatically to whichever input is active. If you have devices connected to both toslink and coax switching the toslink device off will switch it to coax. Not as good as manual switches I don't think but there you go.

    The Spitfire II has USB, that is why it is the II, and it's a better DAC than the Fubar. At the 'preview' price it seems a bargain.
     
  8. manticore

    manticore
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    I have a Asus Xonar Essence and its a very good sound card the Headphone output is outstanding.

    The Asus has RCA outputs so you could run it from the card to your amp and the quality is suberb don,t forget this soundcard has a built in DAC.

    Having said all that I use a Creative Xfi Platuinum simply because it has so many input output options and has a front panel which is slots into the front of your computer the Software I find better that Asus just more options.

    No both cards sound great running through my amp superb but like most people I,m never happy and wanted to see if I could improve things.

    So I invested this year in Musical Fidelity DAC The M1 which costs £400 retail
    I bought a quality Coax cable (Atlas) and a quality RCA leads also made by Atlas so conected my Coax from the Creative to the DAC then onto my amp
    The sound was amazing just what I wanted punchy clear detailed.

    Its not easy making your choices and I,m not saying for one moment that mine is the holy grail of music but Its my experence of sound cards and a DAC
    that I can give you some insight.
     
  9. CJROSS

    CJROSS
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  10. BamBamMickey

    BamBamMickey
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    Here's another vote for the Asus Xonar Essense.
    Hedaphone output powers any top phones with 0.0001% distortion.
    Epic.

    Using an optical cable the DAC onboard sends excellent sound to my Denon 2310.
     
  11. bluedroog

    bluedroog
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    I have the Beresford Caiman and am very satisfied with the performance. If you don't mind stretching your budget a little then you should also consider the Arcam r Dac on your shortlist.
     
  12. mrbenn

    mrbenn
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    i thought by using optical your just taking digital data - therefore its your amp doing the decoding not the card - surely a £10 with optical out would sound the same (assuming its bit perfect etc etc...)
     
  13. BamBamMickey

    BamBamMickey
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    Well when your using FLAC files, the receiver cannot decode it.;)
     
  14. RossT

    RossT
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    Another vote for Asus Xonar STX. Excellent sound for the money, upgradeable op-amps to match your kit and sound preferences. Does not need to be powered ecternally and placed somewhere to take up space.
     
  15. Ben Jammin

    Ben Jammin
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    Sound wise the sound card will be fine but as mentioned, DAC will give much more versatility and you may appreciate it in the future. (plugging something else into it.)
     
  16. mr_yogi

    mr_yogi
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    Your CPU will convert FLAC to WAV (PCM Digital Stereo), send this via the optical cable to the AVR.

    The AVR's DAC will be converting the PCM stereo signal from the sound card to an analogue signal, the soundcard is doing nothing.
     
  17. andyhad

    andyhad
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    ESI - [email protected]

    Great card to PC.

    Running this at the moment, Coax out into Arcam rDac, great results!!! better then USB

    /Andy
     
  18. DIBSTER

    DIBSTER
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    Please pardon my ignorance here, but if you're taking a digital signal from the PC into an external DAC, why would the sound card make that much difference? Surely the hard work is done by the DAC. The soundcard just acts as a way of passing the digital signal to the DAC, whether it be by coax, optial or USB.

    Sorry but I find all this rather confusing :blush:


    .
     
  19. RossT

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    Many people who have the Xonar ST/X card do not understand that they will only use its musical potential when connecting through the 2 RCA plugs and installing the latest Asus driver that supports ASIO...
     
  20. Mr Pig

    Mr Pig
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    It won't, you are right. All you need is a digital output on your PC, which you will either already have or will cost a fraction of the price of a sound card. A sound card is essentially a built-in DAC so if you're using an external DAC you don't need a sound card.
     
  21. andyhad

    andyhad
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    The ESI card is also good using RCA as it has a build in DAC already

    However, connecting my motherboards onboard optical out to my DAC is far worse then using USB and Coax.....dont ask me why.....

    Take a 50£ dvd player for eg. Try connecting optical out compared to a Arcam CD player optical out it makes big difference therefore, digital sources does matter!!!!

    Also, using a Coaxial into Arcam rDac also supports 192kHz
     
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2010
  22. Mr Pig

    Mr Pig
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    I think it depends on the DAC in question which connection sounds the best, seems to be the case anyway. However you still don't need a soundcard if you're using an external DAC, certainly not an expensive one as you're not using it. Even if you want to use a coax connection you can buy coax output card for your PC for about £10.
     
  23. Rich Marshall

    Rich Marshall
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    I'm not 100% clear on this.
    ATM I have no digital audio outputs on my PC and need to run to my AV Receiver about 10M away.
    If I buy THIS simple soundcard to replace mine will I be able to run an optical directly from PC to amp giving me a fully digital 'noise-free' signal for my receiver to convert? :confused:

    Thanks
     
  24. CJROSS

    CJROSS
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  25. Ben Jammin

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    But the thing he linked to is cheaper CJROSS, what's the advantage of yours? Drivinscool, the answer to your question is yes.
     
  26. CJROSS

    CJROSS
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    Easy to install - no need to slot into a PCI slot
    Can be taken from PC to PC if you wish - ie unplug and play
    Headphone amp & volume control
    RCA line inputs & RCA line outputs - no need for 3.5mm - 2RCA cables. Just normal ones.

    Errr it is a preference thing, not heard of the one the chap suggested, on the other hand the UAC202 is a little classic USB toslink device.
     
  27. Ben Jammin

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    Fair enough, good answer.
     
  28. KoThreads

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    I have that card and it's good with music, far better than any onboard sound, but mine still wont do any real time conversion with win7. All the reviews i've read say its the wrong chipset to do DD live. Just in case you wanted to do that.

    Just seen that the page only now reads DD and DTS with DVD playback so obviously the reviews were right.

    So the answers yes.
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2010
  29. Rich Marshall

    Rich Marshall
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    Thanks all for the help.

    I've decided to go with the PCI as I already have a WD TV Live for watching movies stored on the PC, I just need something which will give me a much improved quality Flac, MP3, spotify, internet radio, youtube HD etc. At the moment I'm using a 10m 3.5mm to phono cable and there's loads of noise by the time it gets to my amp so an optical connection is all I need.:smashin:

    £17.99 from Play.com :thumbsup:
     
  30. Ben Jammin

    Ben Jammin
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