Digital Spy

Search Digital Spy
 

DS Forums

 
 

USB Soundcard or DAC?


Reply
Thread Tools Search this Thread
Old 06-06-2013, 22:52
s2k
Forum Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 5,048

Hi guys, just wondering if anyone has any recommendations for USB/external sound cards? My recent build is using the standard Realtek HD onboard job. I wouldn't say I was an audiophile or anything like that but I have noticed when using my headphones the sound quality from my PC is pretty awful in comparison to my other devices, notably my iPod touch which i'm sure isn't exactly renowned for its audio processing abilities.

My original issue was that the front port just didn't seem to be able to provide enough power. Low frequencies were near flat and the highs had a kind of washed out tinny effect. I noticed that by swapping to the rear socket the quality improved in that there was more power and the lows were more noticeable, but highs were still weak or had a slight scratchiness to them. Playing the same tracks on my iPod at more or less the same volume the difference is like night and day.

So my basic conclusion so far is that this chip is presumably not very good or the drivers are otherwise crippled in some way that is making it suck...I'm already running the latest drivers according to the Asrock site and I have tried various flavours of media player with no real difference. The catch now is that my board is ITX and I'd prefer to keep the single PCiE slot available for a GPU so I'm guessing my only other option is USB. I notice Creative make a couple of devices but I've also seen stuff like the FiiO E7 DAC which look promising. Anyone have one of these or anything similar?

Thanks in advance.
s2k is offline   Reply With Quote
Please sign in or register to remove this advertisement.
Old 07-06-2013, 14:30
shhftw
Forum Member
 
Join Date: Feb 2011
Location: Yorkshire
Posts: 1,855
Hi guys, just wondering if anyone has any recommendations for USB/external sound cards? My recent build is using the standard Realtek HD onboard job. I wouldn't say I was an audiophile or anything like that but I have noticed when using my headphones the sound quality from my PC is pretty awful in comparison to my other devices, notably my iPod touch which i'm sure isn't exactly renowned for its audio processing abilities.

My original issue was that the front port just didn't seem to be able to provide enough power. Low frequencies were near flat and the highs had a kind of washed out tinny effect. I noticed that by swapping to the rear socket the quality improved in that there was more power and the lows were more noticeable, but highs were still weak or had a slight scratchiness to them. Playing the same tracks on my iPod at more or less the same volume the difference is like night and day.

So my basic conclusion so far is that this chip is presumably not very good or the drivers are otherwise crippled in some way that is making it suck...I'm already running the latest drivers according to the Asrock site and I have tried various flavours of media player with no real difference. The catch now is that my board is ITX and I'd prefer to keep the single PCiE slot available for a GPU so I'm guessing my only other option is USB. I notice Creative make a couple of devices but I've also seen stuff like the FiiO E7 DAC which look promising. Anyone have one of these or anything similar?

Thanks in advance.
Are you connecting via a SPK OUT or a LINE OUT?

If you want better audio quality, you want to take a LINE OUT to an external amp, preferably with EQ and some decent speakers. If the card has an optical audio link, that will be the best, (not all have them and the optical amps cost more).

If you are using a SPK OUT, you might be setting the output level too high (introducing distortion on the input) for the system you are connecting to, or it might not be impedance matched either, leading to poor response across some frequency ranges, although this is less common nowadays.
shhftw is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-06-2013, 15:04
d'@ve
Forum Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2003
Location: Darn Sarf
Posts: 20,896
Hi guys, just wondering if anyone has any recommendations for USB/external sound cards? My recent build is using the standard Realtek HD onboard job. I wouldn't say I was an audiophile or anything like that but I have noticed when using my headphones the sound quality from my PC is pretty awful in comparison to my other devices, notably my iPod touch which i'm sure isn't exactly renowned for its audio processing abilities.

My original issue was that the front port just didn't seem to be able to provide enough power. Low frequencies were near flat and the highs had a kind of washed out tinny effect. I noticed that by swapping to the rear socket the quality improved in that there was more power and the lows were more noticeable, but highs were still weak or had a slight scratchiness to them. Playing the same tracks on my iPod at more or less the same volume the difference is like night and day.

So my basic conclusion so far is that this chip is presumably not very good or the drivers are otherwise crippled in some way that is making it suck...I'm already running the latest drivers according to the Asrock site and I have tried various flavours of media player with no real difference. The catch now is that my board is ITX and I'd prefer to keep the single PCiE slot available for a GPU so I'm guessing my only other option is USB. I notice Creative make a couple of devices but I've also seen stuff like the FiiO E7 DAC which look promising. Anyone have one of these or anything similar?

Thanks in advance.
As you have only one PCIe slot, do you have any PCI slots? You can still get good PCI sound cards.

You are right though, low end motherboard sound chips aren't usually up to much, any mid range Soundblaster or Asus sound card should improve your sound - if you have a slot available. Unfortunately, I can't speak for usb variants but they should be similar quality to the PCIe equivalents. You'll need to read some comparative reviews though, to be sure of that, though I've seen one for 12 and I suppose you could afford to take a chance on one of them!
d'@ve is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-06-2013, 21:10
s2k
Forum Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 5,048
Thanks for the tips so far.

Originally Posted by shhftw
Are you connecting via a SPK OUT or a LINE OUT?

If you want better audio quality, you want to take a LINE OUT to an external amp, preferably with EQ and some decent speakers. If the card has an optical audio link, that will be the best, (not all have them and the optical amps cost more).
I was originally plugging my headphones (Pioneer SE-MJ751) into the port on the front of my case. The driver helpfully pops up to tell me that I have plugged something in but doesn't give an option for what the device is as far as I can see. I checked all the levels and none are more than 3/4 raised but I'll have a tinker in case there is one that is causing problems somehow.

I also tried swapping them to the green speaker output on the back of the motherboard (unplugging my speakers) and there was a lot more power going to it so presumably this was configured for line level. I made sure the driver was set to standard stereo mode rather than 7.1 etc. It was an improvement over the front audio but still pretty ropey compared to plugging into my iPod or phone...which is just weird cost you would think those would be worse than a modern motherboard.

I've been doing a little bit of reading into these FiiO gadgets, and if I'm understanding correctly they are like portable amplifiers with their own processing and what-not builtin. Might be one for after payday possibly. Hmmm

Originally Posted by d'@ve
As you have only one PCIe slot, do you have any PCI slots? You can still get good PCI sound cards.

You are right though, low end motherboard sound chips aren't usually up to much, any mid range Soundblaster or Asus sound card should improve your sound - if you have a slot available. Unfortunately, I can't speak for usb variants but they should be similar quality to the PCIe equivalents. You'll need to read some comparative reviews though, to be sure of that, though I've seen one for 12 and I suppose you could afford to take a chance on one of them!
This is my board. Since it is ITX its all pretty tightly packed in

I suppose it might be worth me asking around my nerd friends to see if anyone can loan me their PCIe card to experiment with
s2k is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-06-2013, 00:21
chrisjr
Forum Member
 
Join Date: May 2004
Location: Reading
Posts: 22,108
I bought a cheap Behringer mixer for work a while ago that had one of these in the box

http://www.behringer.com/EN/Products/UCA202.aspx

Have to say it was surprisingly good considering you can get it for 30 quid or so, eg

http://cpc.farnell.com/behringer/uca...out/dp/CS20448

Might be worth considering if you can't use an internal sound card.
chrisjr is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 19-07-2013, 19:59
s2k
Forum Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 5,048
So I finally got round to sorting this... I decided to bite the bullet and go for the FiiO ANDES E07K. The first thing I noticed when playing files via my PC was how much "cleaner" the sound was. Even on higher levels there is next to no distortion. It looks like it will go up to stupid-loud as well, which makes a change from all this EU volume-limited nonsense you tend to find on portable devices. I've got it on the default settings at the moment and the bass and treble are much clearer but you can fiddle to your tastes. This should be handy since I tend to listen to a variety of genres.

The device itself is about 2/3 the size of an iPod Touch and is charged by USB with an apparent capacity of 24hours. It actually reminds me a lot of my old iRiver mp3 player from a few years back but a lot lighter. There are 2x 3.5mm headphone/speaker jacks on it and an Aux for plugging other stuff into it. It comes with a standard Mini USB A-B cable, a short 3.5mm to 3.5mm lead (for analogue aux), screen protectors, rubber case and a suede-effect bag to store it. I paid extra for a short dock connector for my iPod touch. Windows automatically picked up a driver and installed it as a "SPDIF interface". You can apparently get a sort of dock thing to make it more like a proper desktop amplifier if you wanted.

All in all I'm very impressed. Its not cheap compared to a bog-standard USB soundcard but has the benefit of being used elsewhere and provides really good results if your headphones (and ears) are up to it
s2k is offline   Reply With Quote
 
Reply



Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search

 
Forum Jump


All times are GMT +1. The time now is 10:51.