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  1.    16 Nov 2015 #1
    Join Date : Mar 2015
    Posts : 87
    Windows 10 Pro x64

    Viability of a USB DAC?


    Hey guys, any audiophiles in here that can help me out? Anyway, for as long as I can remember i've been dissatisfied with the audio that comes out of my computer(s). (PC and laptop) This doesn't change. I've plugged in anything from cheap apple earbuds to C$400 Bose QuietComfort noise cancelling ones, and everything just sounds muffled and crap. I've invested in this speaker system for my battlestation http://www.razerzone.com/ca-en/store...azer-leviathan , and so with it I want to "solve" this issue of crappy audio. I mainly notice it when listening to music, tracks with throaty bass coming from google music or soundcloud on an iPhone 6s+ sound great, but when I use my PC the bass is almost nonexistent with the same speakers/headphones. After doing a little research, it seems its just because onboard sound cards are simply not that good. One of the solutions I came across was a USB DAC (Digital to analogue converter). The DAC is what is built into your soundcard and converts the digital signal into an analogue signal for your headphones/speakers/whatever. Apparently the built in ones suck, and one of the solutions is an USB one. A cheaper one recommended was this: AudioQuest - Dragonfly V1.2 USB DAC + AudioQuest DragonTail USB 2.0 Extender: Amazon.ca: Electronics which is still pretty expensive so I obviously want to make sure its worth it before buying.

    For the audiophiles - when listening to music/gaming through either
    a) The speaker system linked above
    or
    b) A pair of reasonably nice headphones/earbuds

    will I notice a substantial difference between the USB DAC and my onboard sound? Is it worth it? What other solutions are out there that I might consider? For reference, current specs are

    Desktop:
    Gigabyte Z97M-DS3H Mobo
    i5-4690k
    8GB Corsair Vengeance DDR3 @ 1600MHz (soon to be upgraded to 24GB)
    Samsung 850 EVO 120gb ssd +1x WD BLACK 500gb and 1x WD BLUE 1TB 7200rpm drives
    Nvidia GTX 970 GPU

    Laptop
    Dell Inspiron 15 7000 series (Early 2015)
    i7-5500u
    16GB DDR3L
    250GB 850 evo SSD
    Radeon R7-M270 graphics.

    Any help is appreciated
      My ComputerSystem Spec
  2.    17 Nov 2015 #2
    Join Date : Mar 2015
    Posts : 87
    Windows 10 Pro x64
    Thread Starter

    Follow up to this:
    If i were to get a USB DAC, one of my concerns would be where to plug it in. If i were to plug it into the 7-port USB 3.0 hub on my desk, it would be easier for me to disconnect the DAC and use it elsewhere like on my laptop, but would the USB hub cause interference, ie would the sound quality be better if the DAC was plugged directly into the motherboard USB on the back of the PC, although id have to haul the PC out of the cabinet every time i wanted to use it with the laptop? Or since USB is a digital signal it doesnt matter? Some also said plugging it in near the motherboard causes interference from the components in the PC although this one seems laughable to me.
      My ComputerSystem Spec
  3.    18 Nov 2015 #3
    Join Date : Jan 2015
    Los Angeles
    Posts : 261
    Windows 10 Pro 1709 x64

    It doesn't matter because it's digital. You will get interference though if the USB port can't provide enough power to run both the hub, the DAC and headphone/speakers volume output. You won't get better sound quality using a USB DAC because the speakers already have an amplifier built-in. On high res audio headphones, you still need an amplifier aside from the DAC because they require a lot of power to sound loud enough. You will hear cleaner sounds though because the DAC is outside the motherboard and is properly shielded.

    IMO, your ears will tell you if the DAC is worth the money.
      My ComputerSystem Spec
  4.    18 Nov 2015 #4
    Join Date : Aug 2014
    Forever West
    Posts : 3,986
    Win10 Home and Pro, Win10 Insider Preview, Win7 Home, Linux Mint

    Quote Originally Posted by theveterans View Post
    It doesn't matter because it's digital. You will get interference though if the USB port can't provide enough power to run both the hub, the DAC and headphone/speakers volume output. You won't get better sound quality using a USB DAC because the speakers already have an amplifier built-in. On high res audio headphones, you still need an amplifier aside from the DAC because they require a lot of power to sound loud enough. You will hear cleaner sounds though because the DAC is outside the motherboard and is properly shielded.

    IMO, your ears will tell you if the DAC is worth the money.
    As to the mention of power for USB, I always use Self-powered USB Hubs. You can use a USB 2.0 Hub in USB 3.0 ports [supposed to be backward compatible] but there are USB 3.0 Hubs, just a bit harder to find. I just got a SuperSpeed Hub and it came with the power supply and the USB 3.0 cable that plugs into 2.0 or 3.0 ports on the computer. SuperSpeed USB 3.0 Hub, 4 Port, Black

    The reason for the Self-powered Hub is to assure there is sufficient power in the ports for devices, obviously the more ports and the more things plugged in will affect that power. Some devices such as an External USB HDD/Hard Disk Drive come with their own power supply which can use a port-powered connection.
      My ComputerSystem Spec
  5.    19 Nov 2015 #5
    Join Date : Oct 2013
    NW Florida
    Posts : 9,717
    Windows 10 Pro and Windows 10 Pro Insider

    If I may interject something here to consider. I am not an audiophile and know nothing about a DAC, but I do know a little about USB hubs. Powered or not, if you plug 3 things into a USB hub, remember they are all going through 1 port on the rear of the computer. The hub connects to 1 USB port and everything plugged in to the hub has to run through that port. A USB extension may be a better option.
      My ComputersSystem Spec
  6.    19 Nov 2015 #6
    Join Date : Sep 2015
    Posts : 2,377
    Windows 10 Pro 64-bit 1706 (CU build 15063.674)

    If prices are comparable, I would buy a good sound card for the desktop instead of a USB DAC. Try an Xi-Fi. There are USB versions so you can use in either desktop or laptop, but again you need the as much as possible bandwidth for good results, so avoid using other devices in this USB port. Plug only the sound card.
      My ComputerSystem Spec
  7.    19 Nov 2015 #7
    Join Date : Jan 2015
    Los Angeles
    Posts : 261
    Windows 10 Pro 1709 x64

    Quote Originally Posted by spapakons View Post
    If prices are comparable, I would buy a good sound card for the desktop instead of a USB DAC. Try an Xi-Fi. There are USB versions so you can use in either desktop or laptop, but again you need the as much as possible bandwidth for good results, so avoid using other devices in this USB port. Plug only the sound card.
    Agreed.
    PCI-E Sound Card (which is also a DAC) > USB DAC in power and capability. It's cheaper than a lot of DACs and you won't need a separate amp for it.
      My ComputerSystem Spec
  8.    19 Nov 2015 #8
    Join Date : Mar 2015
    Posts : 87
    Windows 10 Pro x64
    Thread Starter

    Thank you. With regards to the USB Hub, it is powered via its own outlet to the mains power and it is a SuperSpeed (3.0) hub, though essenbe does point out that, yes, its all going through one port. Thus, I think i'm going to try and get it hooked up directly to the mobo. A USB extension may work as you say, or just a longer MicroUSB, whilst having a separate MicroUSB to use the DAC with my laptops. Another option is also to use the USB port built into my keyboard (Razer BlackWidow 2014 edition iirc) , and whilst normally this would be a horrible idea, I know it would be fine since the port has its own USB connection into the mobo. Like my keyboard plugs into 2 USB sockets on the mobo, one is for the keyboard itself, the other one is basically a builtin USB extension that leads up to the USB port on the keyboard.

    After doing a little more research, I found out that yes I would need an amp as well, so went for this: Fiio - E10K Olympus USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier - Black: Amazon.ca: Musical Instruments, Stage Studio

    I looked into PCI soundcards as well, but wanted the USB for the portability (being able to use with my laptop as well) and to minimise/eliminate interference from components inside my computer, specifically the GPU, as when you have a powerhouse GPU (GTX 970) like me it can apparently cause lots of interference.

    I got the soundbar today and I LOVE it, sounds great over BT to my phone and even when just using onboard PC sound, but still think it can be improved upon with the external DAC. We'll see.
      My ComputerSystem Spec
  9.    19 Nov 2015 #9
    Join Date : Jan 2015
    Los Angeles
    Posts : 261
    Windows 10 Pro 1709 x64

    Don't forget to change the samples rate to whatever highest rate it can provide i.e. 192000 Hz Studio Quality.
      My ComputerSystem Spec
  10.    19 Nov 2015 #10
    Join Date : Mar 2015
    New Mexico
    Posts : 1,336
    Windows 10 Pro,

    I have a little USB DAC like this Error
    connected to my computer. I use this to decode my song library of over 80,000 high resolution music files. The DAC feed a little amplifier like this Error
    which in turn power my desk top speakers. In your situation, I would say that it would be over kill.
      My ComputerSystem Spec

 
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