Need some audio advice

BlackHawkBlackHawk Bible music connoisseurThere's no place like 127.0.0.1
My Logitech G930's broke on today (ok, I dropped them) and I'm researching replacement/upgrade options. I had purchased a pair of Plantronics GameCom 780 on a whim at Best Buy but it turns out that they suck, hard. Sound quality was good but they were very uncomfortable, audio level is buggy and the software for surround sound doesn't even install on Windows 8. I'm returning them tomorrow. For now I'm using my Bose QuietComfort 15 with my on-board sound.

I'm interested in an external DAC and amp combination like the Schiit Magni and Modi or the FiiO E09k (QOGIR) and E17k (Alpen). Schiit setup is $200 while the FiiO is $220 (haven't looked for a better price). They say the Schiit combo is a much better one but I do like the portability of the FiiO combo. I could make the decision between these two myself if I wanted portability vs SQ but I need to complicate the issue. What if I just got a similarly priced high end-ish sound card? Say the ASUS Xonar Essence STX or the Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium HD which supposedly include headphone amps. A sound card would improve both my headphones and my Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 and I get to use EAX and stuff like that. DAC/Amp would just improve my headphones. I do use my headphones more than my speakers though.

As for what I'm gonna do for a mic, I'm waiting for info on the AntLion ModMic 4.0 to use with my Bose headphones.

Edit: I actually forgot to mention what I do on my computer when it comes to audio. I watch movies, watch TV shows, listen to music on Spotify because I can't be arsed to deal with FLAC (I guess I should if I'm upgrading audio) and gaming. Most of this happens with my headphones.

So thoughts on sound card vs DAC/amp combo? What would you do?

Comments

  • BasilBasil Nubcaek England
    edited December 2013
    TBH I'd just get the E17 and leave it there.
    It's a cute little all in one solution, portable with USB/optical/coax in as well as a few onboard settings to play with and can drive decent cans by itself.

    (totally biased since I'm waiting for mine to arrive :P )
    troll
  • trolltroll Windsor, Nova Scotia
    I also have the FiiO E17/E09K combo, it's great working and sounding portable and desktop solution.
    image

    The E09K has a nice variety connections available, Line In as well as Line Out and Preamp Out, which is nice if you are hooking up powered speakers, a receiver or even out to a sweet tube amplifier like I use.
    image

    I don't use or like the EAX stuff and the E17 works perfectly well with everthing as it is a USB Audio Class 1 Device so no drivers or anything required.

    The M&M Schiit Stack is a great little system as well but it has no portability and no optional connections, a single Line Out on the Modi and a single Line In on the Magni. You could hook the Modi up to powered external speakers but you would have to jostle wires or have a switch box.

    If you really want that EAX stuff then a Xonar would be a better choice.

    I have a little bias towards the FiiO gear as well. ;)
    Basilmidga
  • BlackHawkBlackHawk Bible music connoisseur There's no place like 127.0.0.1
    A couple of questions. Say I get the FiiO setup. Is it okay to buy the hardware used and save some money or is it something that can degrade with time like certain computer parts? Also, how much better would the sound be with the FiiO/Schiit setup than with the soundcards or the onboard sound I'm currently using?
  • trolltroll Windsor, Nova Scotia
    Used audio gear are some of the best deals you can find, personally I always buy new... but that is just me.

    On the used gear, the jacks might be a little sloppy from wear and a lot of that would depend on the previous owner's use or abuse of the device. Battery powered units like the E17 might require a battery exchange like iPods do but as of yet I haven't heard anybody requiring one.

    The big question... Will it sound better? Maybe...
    If your mother board has a very basic sound chip and is just put there to provide audio like most generic office grade boards have then I would probably say yes an external DAC probably would improve the audio. If you have a gaming motherboard with a properly designed audio section then most likely no it will not. There are way too many misinformed people out there in the forums where the first thing out of their mouth is that on board audio is teh suck, this misnomer couldn't be further from the truth with some of today's new motherboards and laptops.

    In my case I use an external DAC on the PC to separate my audio section away from the noisy environment inside my computer, the HDD, Graphic Card, Power supply etc... this is electrical noise not mechanical noise. I use it both with my desktop and laptop as the headphone jack on my MacBook sounds like an old modem with every touch pad click, file opening and HDD seek, totally unusable for headphones.

    When I want to take the laptop with me to listen to my music, I can plug the E17 into the USB port or into the Optical port and life is good without the nasty board electrical noises.

    Do I need an Amplifier? Is usually the second big question...
    This is all depending on your headphones and if your on board amplifier has enough power to drive them to a proper level. The beyerdynamic DT880 Pro's in the first picture have an impedance of 250Ohms, if you plug these into a iPod or smartphone you would have to turn the volume up to just about maximum to get any decent listening level. With the E09K I barely have the volume control past the 10 o'clock (40% of maximum) setting for good, enjoyable listening level.

    Now I see that the two headphones you listed first were "Gaming Headsets" and the second is a Bose QC15, I haven't heard any gaming headphones except for the Turtle Beach PX5 that was at a friends house. Most of the gaming headphones do what they were designed to do very well and that is positional game audio.

    The other set you have listed is a noise cancelling Bose QC15, which also does what it was designed to do very, very well and that is to cancel surrounding noise on commercial flights, trains or other noisy environments.

    With either the "Gamer Sets" or the Bose your current setup would probably suffice, providing it is not electrically noisy and supplies enough power to the headphones.

    If you are seeking better sound quality I would look at putting the upgrade into better headphones than a DAC or AMP at the moment. Over at Head-Fi, the user MacedonianHero has created a nice little comparison of portable headphones he rates the QC15 top of it's game in noise canceling and comfort but not so much in the sound quality department.

    You can read it here...

    If you can get a chance to audition a FiiO or Schiit combo anywhere then I would give them a listen before you buy, or buy from a place with a really good return policy.

    :cheers:
    BasilBlueTattoomidga
  • BlackHawkBlackHawk Bible music connoisseur There's no place like 127.0.0.1
    FWIW, my board uses the Realtek ALC892 and the Plantronics are going back to the store when the roads clear. I'll be honest, the Bose headsets sound fine to me. Saying that, my source audio is not that good. I'm currently listening to Spotify and my MP3's are 320kbps at the most (and I don't even remember which).

    I guess I should just get that ModMic for the QC15's and maybe get a sound card that will give me EAX (current one doesn't). If I were to get new headphones I would have to get an amp anyways. I was looking at the Schiit and FiiO combos cause they could give me the whole package for around $200. Good headphones costs more than that, I'd still need an amp and I would be using my on board sound to boot.
  • BlackHawkBlackHawk Bible music connoisseur There's no place like 127.0.0.1
    edited December 2013
    OT: Currently playing some lossless Muse and I have to say the the difference is ridiculous. I need to start refining my music collection because I do not have the space for everything in lossless.
  • TushonTushon I'm scared, Coach Alexandria, VA
    mp3 v0 is generally a good compromise between space and quality. Do an ABX comparison to test it out.
  • trolltroll Windsor, Nova Scotia
    There are plenty of headphones out there that don`t require an amplifier, but most of them do benefit from an amplifier.

    The Asus Xonar Essence STX has the exact same headphone amplifier chip as the FiiO E09K, Texas Instrument`s TPA6120A2 which will be more than adequate for most headphones and the Xonar will give you the EAX you require for games. If the QC15`s sound great to you then that is what matters, pick up the AntLion mic and you`ll have a headset.

    :cheers:
  • BlackHawkBlackHawk Bible music connoisseur There's no place like 127.0.0.1
    I'm kinda interested in the Creative Sound Blaster ZxR since it has the same amp as the Asus and the addition of voice DSP that can help while gaming.
    troll
  • trolltroll Windsor, Nova Scotia
    Wow, that is a fine looking audio card, with some nice features.
  • BlackHawkBlackHawk Bible music connoisseur There's no place like 127.0.0.1
    edited December 2013
    Thoughts on this Sennheiser HD 558 with a future ModMic vs the Sennheiser G4ME Zero?

    Don't quote me on this (and I forgot where I read it) but supposedly the drivers in the newly released Zero are the same as the ones in the HD 558. The noise cancelling on the Zero's mic is really good but on the other hand if I were to get that Sound Blaster it includes features to reduce background noise in the mic. The HD 558 is around $147 cheaper.

    Edit: Didn't realize the HD 558's are open ear. There really isn't a situation where I would bother anybody else but how would the sound be affected inside the headphones? Will the fridge that's right behind me and the heater right next to me bother me?
  • trolltroll Windsor, Nova Scotia
    edited December 2013
    The HD558's are open they will let sound in as well as out, I have not heard the 558's so I can't say how much they leak.
    In comparison I use a open pair of beyerdynamic DT880 Pro's for music and games, I hear everything around unless the music is cranked up which is not good for the hearing. If the TV is too loud or the wife chattering away on the phone, I hear it as a background noise in whatever I am listening to... When the wife is on the couch 15 feet away my music leaking from the DT880's sounds to her like a bad AM radio in the next room with just enough volume to be annoying. To remedy this I have a pair of German Maestro GMP 8.300 D Professional's on route right now from Deutschland to solve the open headphone leakage problem. These are a neutral headphone like my DT880's with high impedance for my tube amp and they are closed for some nice environment isolation. :D

    I don't know how loud your fridge or heater is, but that is something to consider when purchasing open headphones.
    Open headphones are also a little lacking in the bass department so one does not enjoy dub step on open headphones. If that is not a concern then the open headphones have the largest soundstage and best positioning for gaming. The HD558's also have the same driver as the HD598's the only major difference to the drivers are a bit of black foam tape that blocks 40% of the opening and different grills. There are MOD's to make the HD558 as close as possible to the sound of the HD598 which retails for $100 more.

    Closed headphones will give you good isolation and a nice bass (some more than others) with the sacrifice of that open soundstage. I was going to recommend the beyerdynamic DT770 Pro 80's, as these are one of the most comfortable headphones you will ever put on and wear for hours, a good all around headphone for movies and music etc... The closed headphones add a nice realism to games where the explosions have some BOOM to them, open headphones add a positional accuracy and wide soundstage.

    I don't like or use any gaming headsets, the best thing to do is if you can try the G4ME Zero at a BestBuy or someplace that would give you a really good idea about it's isolation and sound.

    Sorry I was late getting back to you, major snowfall here and it just got busy.
    :cheers:
    midga
  • BlackHawkBlackHawk Bible music connoisseur There's no place like 127.0.0.1
    edited December 2013
    This is going to get a little personal but I think open headphones may be beneficial for me since I'm currently experiencing a minor paranoia problem and I can only have closed headphones on for moments at a time. Open headphones would help with that.

    I had seen the suggestion for the beyerdynamic elsewhere and they got good praise. I guess I'll go for those and sadly wait for the ModMic to come out sometime in Q1 '14.

    As for the impedance, the 80 ohm version is $59 more expensive than the 250 ohm. I currently have nothing that can drive that but when I get the Sound Blaster it does have an amp that could. Which way should I go?

    Edit: I do have a CMoy pocket amp, not sure if that could drive them.
  • trolltroll Windsor, Nova Scotia
    As an example my DT880's are 250 Ohm, I have a FiiO E11 and E17 as portable amps. I use a Colorfly C3 as my DAP, the C3 has a very low output so when connected to the E11 I have to set the volume at 90% to get a decent listening level on the DT880's. Now the same setup with my Ultrasone HFI-780's I only need 40% on the E11 as the 780's are only 35 Ohm. The E17 has a little more power so I only need 75% on it for a good volume on the DT880's. I cant really say what your CMoy would do as I have never heard one.

    Basically are these headphones going to be just desktop headphones or are you going to use them as portables as well? The DT770's are fairly large, they won't sit on your neck like the Beetz "Fashion" headphones do, so that limits the portability of them. If you want to use a DAP or smartphone / iPod with these headphones then get the 80 Ohm version as they will be easier to drive from all devices.

    If they will be just desktop cans then you can still use the 80 Ohm's or if you get the 250 Ohm's they will require an amp or a sound card like the ZxR with a headphone amplifier built in to get a decent level of volume. There are very minimal sound differences between the 80 Ohm and 250 Ohm, but you would have to A/B them side by side and critically listen for the differences, so basically they sound the same for those of us that don't have "Golden Ears". ;)

    So you'll have to decide if you want the 80's or 250's... Also if paranoia will be a problem with the closed cans (You really don't want to play Outlast with the lights out) take a look again at the HD558 or HD598 (If they are on sale.)

    The reason I went with the 250 Ohm version is for my Output TransformerLess tube amplifier, meaning it likes a high impedance headphone to work properly. The DT880's are my desktop only headphones since they are open and have a custom detachable cable.
    image

    If you have a BestBuy Magnolia store close, you can go there and listen to the open Sennheisers to get a feel for how much sound leaks in, if your near NYC the B&H and J&R have just about every headphone on the market to listen to.
    :cheers:
    midga
  • BlackHawkBlackHawk Bible music connoisseur There's no place like 127.0.0.1
    I will preface this with the admission that I'm fairly impulsive. I purchased the Sennheiser G4ME Zero. The headphones in itself are good, the mic from what I actually heard is excellent and it muting when you move it out of the way is something a ModMic couldn't do. For those reasons I accepted the extra cost and put in the purchase. The sound card will be purchased next month. I will keep in mind the beyerdynamic's if my Bose fail on me. I appreciate the help you guys have given me even if in the end I didn't use it, so for that I thank you.

    OT: What are audiophile's thoughts on equalizers? When I had some nice car audio, tweaking the EQ was a must. I still do it on the PC because I like my music a certain way. With people that want the most natural sound possible, do they just accept the source audio as it comes?
  • trolltroll Windsor, Nova Scotia
    You are most welcome for the help, enjoy the G4ME Zero's and that sound card will be be awesome!


    EQ is something that some do and some don't and it all depends on the headphone.

    Here is the FR Graph of my DT880's.
    image
    There is a treble spike around the 6.5KHz mark that can be a little too sharp for my liking on some songs. In Foobar2K I run a little VST plugin called EasyQ to tone that areas down a bit like this.
    image

    My HFI-780's are V shaped and have a "Fun" sound, I use them mostly for EDM without any EQ applied.
    So it's really all up to what you enjoy.
    :cheers:
    shwaip
  • BlackHawkBlackHawk Bible music connoisseur There's no place like 127.0.0.1
    So from the looks of it you just try to neutralize your headphones? I meant stuff like wanting to accentuate a type/family of instruments. Like increasing mid-highs to boost trumpets or something in the lower end for a double bass.
  • shwaipshwaip bluffin' with my muffin
    So from the looks of it you just try to neutralize your headphones? I meant stuff like wanting to accentuate a type/family of instruments. Like increasing mid-highs to boost trumpets or something in the lower end for a double bass.

    So it's really all up to what you enjoy.
    :cheers:
    troll
  • drasnordrasnor Starship Operator Hawthorne, CA
    So from the looks of it you just try to neutralize your headphones? I meant stuff like wanting to accentuate a type/family of instruments. Like increasing mid-highs to boost trumpets or something in the lower end for a double bass.
    It's highly subjective. I also strive for flat frequency response though because that's what the source was designed to be played on.

    troll
  • BlackHawkBlackHawk Bible music connoisseur There's no place like 127.0.0.1
    edited December 2013
    image

    I, uh. I think my onboard sound is woefully unprepared for these headphones. As expected it's not powerful enough and I don't think it's doing the AQ any justice either.

    Edit: Even with the crappy onboard, Santana sounds nice.
    Snarkasm
  • SnarkasmSnarkasm Madison, WI
    Yay Sennies :D
  • BlackHawkBlackHawk Bible music connoisseur There's no place like 127.0.0.1
    They're rediculously comfy. Haven't been able to try the mic yet though, mumble server isn't active.
  • RyderRyder Kalamazoo, Mi
    ? Mumble not active... Was working fine all day the 24th. I used it several times through the day and talked to Jimmy around 1130 PM.
  • ThraxThrax Professional Shill, Watch Slut, Mumble Hivemind Drone Austin, TX
    Can confirm it's now working.
  • BlackHawkBlackHawk Bible music connoisseur There's no place like 127.0.0.1
    I meant "active" in the sense that there wasn't anybody talking when I joined. Fatcat and Rexxar later joined and said my mic worked fine.
  • BlackHawkBlackHawk Bible music connoisseur There's no place like 127.0.0.1
    Minor update 'til I get the Sound Blaster:

    These headphones are really, really comfortable. Sound quality is good and nobody has complained about the mic yet that I know of. I am content with the purchase so far.
    troll
  • GnomeQueenGnomeQueen The Lulz Queen Mountain Dew Mouth
    Beats by Dr. Dre would have been a better choice.
    MiracleManSSignal
  • SnarkasmSnarkasm Madison, WI
    Beats by Dr. Dre would have been a better choice.
    Why is there not a "hate" option in our response emote repertoire?

    troll
  • TushonTushon I'm scared, Coach Alexandria, VA
    edited January 2014
    Beats by Dr. Dre would have been a better choice.
    Why is there not a "hate" option in our response emote repertoire?

    Perhaps Jackie could supply a rage face girl pic?

    image
  • TheLostSwedeTheLostSwede Trondheim, Norway
    For those of you that are interested in Hi-Fi quality oin the cheap might have a loot at theese:

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/SUPERLUX-professional-stage-headphone-HD681-with-free-shipping-to-worldwide-/161186304620?

    Those phones are a hidden gem and many are raving about them.
    Mod them with a flex microphone:
    http://www.ebay.com/itm/3-5mm-Jack-Flexible-Neck-Mini-Microphone-Mic-for-PC-Laptop-Notebook-MSN-Skype-OH-/261325307604?pt=US_Computer_Microphones&hash=item3cd833bed4

    Together with an 3.5mm female to male extender and some strips, they are a fantastic combo. I just made me a pair myself and i also have 3 pairs of $300+ headphones and theese beats them all, hands down.
    I have yet to test them with an external DAC, since getting one here with a mic input is rather hard, but i would bet they would sound even better.
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