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Question Would a DAC improve my system?

hifi help008

Novice Member
Amp: Denon DCD-520AE
Speakers: Q Acoustics 3010s
Cables: QED Ruby Anniversary
Source (sometimes): Laptop playing spotify

Been wondering about getting a DAC of some sort to replaced the one in my laptop (e.g AudioQuest Dragonfly). Would this make much difference? Idea being to improve on the laptop's DAC. This a waste of £60/70 or what? Spend more/less?
Any ideas appreciated!
 

oscroft

Active Member
I think almost certainly yes. The analogue output from computers, using their own internal DACs, is almost universally poor.

I can certainly hear a significant difference between the analogue outputs from my computers and digital outputs using external DACs - even a cheap £15 Chinese DAC.

Other people I've spoken to who have added a DAC have said the same - a friend has an AudioQuest Dragonfly (don't know which colour) and he says it's quite a bit better.
 

hifi help008

Novice Member
Excellent! Will look into this then, anyone got DAC recommendations? Will something really basic e.g Fisual DAC -2000 be much worse than spending money on AudioQuest Dragonfly Black or the even less cheap options? (Budget up to £100). Any thoughts appreciated!
 

1992

Active Member
Just a word of warning, don't expect TOO much from a DAC change, as it may not be hugely noticeable on your system. I would say it is worth investing in one though, as it could also be used with headphones and could be useful for future upgrades. It may be worth checking if any shops have a demo Dragonfly (when they re-open).

Matt
 

dogfonos

Well-known Member
Source (sometimes): Laptop playing spotify
Is that Spotify Premium? No point in spending much on a DAC if it's the free version.

Even with Premium Spotify, I'm unsure most folk would notice a difference between the best £100 USB DAC and the best £25 USB DAC with both fed a high-quality digital signal. I use both a well-reviewed £100 USB DAC (Epiphany EDAC) and a £20 Optical/Coax DAC (FiiO D3) and both sound great to my ears. Any differences in sound quality are really slight, even though the sources are different, obviously.

The law of diminishing returns certainly applies here. Personally, with your setup, I'd opt for a well-reviewed cheapie from a known manufacturer such as Topping, FiiO, Nobsound, Lindy. However, if you want to splash out, the Cyrus Soundkey is currently selling for about £60 and seems good value. I wouldn't spend more than that.
 

sebna

Well-known Member
Don't waste your time. There will be no difference between DACs you are aiming for and PC.
 

Douggie

Active Member
Shouldn't do any harm if you limit yourself to the budget that you have stated. Still cheaper than many speaker/RCA cables LOL. The fun of experimenting.
 

Jaded1

Member
Even a cheap DAC should be an upgrade unless your laptop has a very good sound card.
 
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BrianC97

Novice Member
Compared to a laptop DAC I think anything will make a huge difference to be honest, a few good products to consider are iFi's ZEN DAC, AudioQuest Dragonfly or Schiit Modi (not the multibit version)
 

butcherpete

Member
I got a Dragonfly Red for my birthday, and attached it to the new (2019) PC,sounded very good, night and day nearly
 

CaPo

Active Member
Cambridge audio dac connected to my laptop here. It certainly makes a noticeable improvement.
 

gazzaboy

Standard Member
Got an Audiolab Q-DAC attached to my desktop and running it with my B&W P7s and Sennheiser HD565 Ovations (20years old) and it makes a world of difference to the internal sound card. Whether it's MP3s ripped at 320 from my old collection or Tidal masters, it's night and day between that and the integrated sound on my mother board.
Also had an old Soundblaster Audigy 2, and it's still a massive improvement on that.

Bought the DAC for £150 on a black friday sale, so easily punching above that price bracket, but would thoroughly recommend experimenting with some of the USB DACs that you can get hold of nowadays. Been tempted by the Cyrus soundkey, for a portable solution....
 

Lombardox

Novice Member
It depends on your laptop, the sound card in it, what you are playing and your ears, but in most cases it will.

The dragonflies are ok but a bit expensive. You could look at "MEIZU Hifi Pro USB-C" a cheapish dongle which should improve the sound or if you intend to use with headphones Topping DX3 Pro which should be a significant improvement
 

password1

Well-known Member
i used to have a Cambridge audio dac magic (the original version when they first came out) and there is no difference between using it instead of the Cambridge audio azur 640v2 cd player's dac (essentially the same wolfson dacs) but is a massive difference to using the analogue out from a sound card via 3.5mm to rca/phono.
 

SDCoyote

Novice Member
I had this same dilemma a few months ago. I ended up purchasing the Apogee Grove. Its a 24bit - 192kHz integrated DAC and Headphone Amp. I have it plugged into a USB port on my desktop and pair it with my Headphones. The fidelity is stunning. CDs sound as great as you could hope. But where it really shines is High Res Downloads. I have never heard my music sound as good. It felt like seeing color for the first time. Previously I was just running a no name soundcard in my desktop but I will never go back. The price for the Apogee Grove is more affordable than a Dragonfly too. The Headphone Amp will push any set of power hungry Headphones. Definitely check it out. Highly recommended!
 

Isaac82

Member
Something to consider that can make a drastic difference at a small cost is a ground loop isolator. When I work from home (which is rather often now) I have a Lenovo laptop connected to a dock and then to a Marantz amp by analogue cables (3.5mm to stereo phono). I could hear electronic background noise. I invested in one of these:


The difference is night and day. It's not black magic either, there are some good youtube videos that demonstrate what is happening.

Try playing no audio on your laptop, turning your amp volume right up and having a listen.
 

warrentdo

Member
Please let us know what you went for, and if you felt like it made an improvement.
I'm in the same boat and would like to add a DAC to the laptop.
Regards,
Warren.
 

rgordon7

Novice Member
Query... would using an external DAC with my Dell laptop still enable me to continue to use - or would it bypass - the basic sound processing software (especially its equalizer) that came pre-installed on my laptop. And if it would bypass it, is there any way to use a software equalizer to tweak the sound when using any external DAC, as I much prefer the ability to "season to taste" my sound parameters, rather than have to listen to them "flat".
 

Paul7777x

Distinguished Member
Query... would using an external DAC with my Dell laptop still enable me to continue to use - or would it bypass - the basic sound processing software (especially its equalizer) that came pre-installed on my laptop. And if it would bypass it, is there any way to use a software equalizer to tweak the sound when using any external DAC, as I much prefer the ability to "season to taste" my sound parameters, rather than have to listen to them "flat".
If you like using the equaliser and other sound killers in pcs then a new dac is not for you.
 

Hixs

Distinguished Member
Query... would using an external DAC with my Dell laptop still enable me to continue to use - or would it bypass - the basic sound processing software (especially its equalizer) that came pre-installed on my laptop. And if it would bypass it, is there any way to use a software equalizer to tweak the sound when using any external DAC, as I much prefer the ability to "season to taste" my sound parameters, rather than have to listen to them "flat".

:devil:
 

0xf00f

Novice Member
Amp: Denon DCD-520AE
Speakers: Q Acoustics 3010s
Cables: QED Ruby Anniversary
Source (sometimes): Laptop playing spotify

Been wondering about getting a DAC of some sort to replaced the one in my laptop (e.g AudioQuest Dragonfly). Would this make much difference? Idea being to improve on the laptop's DAC. This a waste of £60/70 or what? Spend more/less?
Any ideas appreciated!
Laptops usually have extremely noisy and distorted outputs. Usually the outputs are combined for headphones/line-out/microphone-in and there is power bleed since there is no isolation between components.

Most of the noise is usually heard either as a hiss when no music is playing and the amplifier volume is set to loud enough, and can also manifest as distortion of specific sounds and not being able to distinguish similar sounds that are mixed in especially at louder volumes.

I am not aware if any website that reviews laptops publishes sound quality measurements. I know that gsmarena.com publishes such measurements for mobile phones (check the measurements they publish for sound quality over headphones/line-out).

Sometimes you may be able to reduce the noise by simply disconnecting the power cable and working on battery only. In some situations some of the noise will reduce if you reconnect the cable to another socket :) If this is so, then a DAC will surely be an improvement.

I had a PCMCIA Soundblaster Audigy II that I use with some older laptops, and the improvement in sound quality over SPDIF was more than noticable (HK 4550 and B&W 309/303) and even more with directly connected headphones that used the Audigy headphone amp. At this moment I do not play music from the laptop so I can't comment on newer generation laptops.
 

DavidK442

Standard Member
Check out this site AudioScienceReview for actual objective measurement of DAC's, headphone amps and now even speakers. The main contributor, amirm, uses hi-resolution test gear, often with brutal results for high priced boutique brands. Reading through the other posts here, several of the suggestions tested very well on AudioScienceReview and would be good choices.
 

Hixs

Distinguished Member
I was browsing that site last night and noticed a very popular choice among headphone guys (Woo Audio) reviewed very poorly indeed. Though they are tube based...

Surprising just how well some of the Chinese crap stuff performs tbh both Topping and SMSL have some good reviews.
 

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