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Advice: motherboard line out and headphone double amping

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#1
Hi all,

Great forum - I’m very much a novice but was hoping for some advice.

I want to connect my motherboard to an external amp (i.e. use motherboard DAC). To which I will then connect my headphones - a range of low impedance normal driver [philips x2] and planar [hifiman 400i].

The amp I’m thinking of getting is the Arcam rhead - thoughts on this amp?

However, I wanted to test whether my motherboard was capable of providing a ‘true’ line out.

When I connect my headphones to what is labelled on my motherboard to be the line out jack (motherboard is Asus Gene VIII) I can select connection to either be a headphone or front speakers (no line out option). I am also able to change the volume using windows using either option. Does this imply that using the motherboard in the way I described would lead to double amping?

Thanks for any help - and please excuse any short comings in my understanding.

Thanks,

Anees
 

amirm

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#2
Welcome to the forum Anees. The analog output is a sort of a pre-amp output so nothing wrong with what you are trying to do. The only hitch is that it may be noisy. If so, you can get a low cost external USB DAC and not use the internal DAC at all.

As to Arcam rhead, I don't have any experience with it. Reading the specs, it seems like a nice design. I am long time friends with Arcam founder, John Dawson and they do good work there.

If you are in US and like to buy and have that unit tested, I am happy to do that if you loan it to me. :)

I will also be at CES 2018 show next week so if they are there, and have this unit, I will chat with them about it.
 

March Audio

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#3
Hi,

Ok I have not heard the Arcam or your motherboard, but my experience of motherboard dacs has been less than inspiring. Considering the price of the Arcam, $600 from what I can see, my opinion would be that you are much better off looking for one of the plethora of USB dac/headphone amps out there. There really are a lot to choose from, and I think the majority around that price would beat your motherboard and Arcam combo.
I personally think the Chord Mojo is hard to beat, but I also use a Meridian Explorer 2 with no huge complaint. Im sure other members will contribute their recomendations.

https://www.stereophile.com/content/chord-electronics-mojo-da-headphone-amplifier
 
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Blumlein 88

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#4
This Arcam unit might be more what you are looking for I think. It will cost $750. It will connect to the computer via USB.

https://www.stereophile.com/content/arcam-irdac-ii-da-processor

http://www.arcam.co.uk/products,rSeries,USB-DAC,irdacii.htm#techspecs

The rHead would be fine too except you are likely to be compromising the quality using the analog out from your onboard soundcard. The output may not be terrible, but rarely are such onboard cards able to put out a really low noise signal.

Either Arcam product should have enough power for the moderately difficult to drive HiFiman 400i phones. The X2 phones are an easier load.

I too might suggest the Chord Mojo. Especially if you do decide to use this as a portable at times. A few people have commented the Mojo and 400i are a good match.

https://www.stereophile.com/content/chord-electronics-mojo-da-headphone-amplifier

https://chordelectronics.co.uk/product/mojo/


An Emotiva Stealth might do the trick for around $500. I think Amir has one awaiting measurements.

https://emotiva.com/product/dc-1/
 
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#5
Thank you @ Amir, BE718 and Blumlein!

I'm based in the UK and Arcam prices here are far lower than in the US - the rhead is discounted to £175 ($240) so really it would be a throw-up between the Arcam or a budget Schiit or SMSL for me. The Chord Mojo is substantially more expensive £389 ($527) and the Arcam iDAC II is £339 ($459).

So pairing the rhead with my motherboard's internal DAC seems most cost-effective and if an external DAC is needed I'm hoping I could get a budget DAC for less than £100. For £250, around the price of the Schiit magni/modi, I think I would have a much more capable system (this is based off subjective reviews and original price points rather than objective measurements ;))

I have a Fiio 10K Olympus 2 I can use as a DAC (moderately positive review by yourself Amir) to compare to my motherboard output.

Unfortunately the topping D30 is unavailable in the UK (outside of ebay), the behringer UMC204HD is available (~£70 [$100]) but do you think the low output level described in it's review thread will have a detrimental impact on listening volumes / noise floor with the Arcam's specs http://www.arcam.co.uk/products,rSeries,Accessories,rHead.htm#techspecs and the relatively low impedance headphones I will be using?

Thanks again for your patience - with what likely are very elementary questions!
 

Blumlein 88

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#6
Yes, price differences in other parts of the world get in the way sometimes.

BTW, welcome to the forum.
 

March Audio

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#8
Hi anm,

I would still be a bit concerned about the quality of output from the motherboard. Im only going on past experience here, but if the motherboard is lacking you will gain nothing by putting it through an external amp. Your 400i cans are magnetic planar, so will be an almost entirely resistive load so are easy to drive.

Meridian Explorer 2 - 99 gbp
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Meridian-DAC-Audio-USB-Explorer-Silver/dp/B00Q6VQGS2

Audioquest Dragonfly Red - 169 gbp
https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01DFMV4NQ/ref=psdc_1098232031_t1_B00Q6VQGS2

Audioquest Dragonfly Black - 89 gbp
https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01DP5JHHI/ref=psdc_1098232031_t1_B01DFMV4NQ
 
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#9
Hi anm,

I would still be a bit concerned about the quality of output from the motherboard. Im only going on past experience here, but if the motherboard is lacking you will gain nothing by putting it through an external amp. Your 400i cans are magnetic planar, so will be an almost entirely resistive load so are easy to drive.

Meridian Explorer 2 - 99 gbp
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Meridian-DAC-Audio-USB-Explorer-Silver/dp/B00Q6VQGS2

Audioquest Dragonfly Red - 169 gbp
https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01DFMV4NQ/ref=psdc_1098232031_t1_B00Q6VQGS2

Audioquest Dragonfly Black - 89 gbp
https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01DP5JHHI/ref=psdc_1098232031_t1_B01DFMV4NQ
Hi BE718 - how do you think the meridian and dragonflys would compare to the arcane with either the Fiio 10k acting as a DAC or UMC204HD or a similar budget DAC (even perhaps the dragonfly black).

I don’t mind spending £250 particularly for something I can grow into in the future but also don’t want to needlessly pay if there is no benefit.

Gosh shopping for audio equipment is much harder than something like PC components which have very objective reviews and outcomes...
 

Blumlein 88

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#10
Hi anm,

I would still be a bit concerned about the quality of output from the motherboard. Im only going on past experience here, but if the motherboard is lacking you will gain nothing by putting it through an external amp. Your 400i cans are magnetic planar, so will be an almost entirely resistive load so are easy to drive.
Those 400i cans are easy in the sense of being resistive, but they are moderately inefficient. Which is why I termed them moderately difficult. The motherboard itself may well play them, but maybe not get everything out of them they are capable of doing.
 
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#11
Thanks Blumheim - be interested in getting your opinion on the above question to BE£18 too.

It isn’t entirely clear to me whether the amp just dictates maximum volume before clipping (i.e. as long as no clipping indistinguishable from each other) or impacts sound in other ways also.
 

March Audio

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#12
Thanks Blumheim - be interested in getting your opinion on the above question to BE£18 too.

It isn’t entirely clear to me whether the amp just dictates maximum volume before clipping (i.e. as long as no clipping indistinguishable from each other) or impacts sound in other ways also.
Aaahhh this is where it gets controversial :) . Do amps have Different sound If all things are equal, driven within their output capabilities at exactly the same volume? IMO yes, however it will probably be much smaller than you think. With the dac side of things you will get a slightly different sound with the different chipsets, but again anybody claiming night and day differences in quality, well just ask them to participate in a controlled blind test and see how they get on.

Does my mojo sound different to my explorer 2? Yes. Can I hear more with one than the other? No. I like the mojo more however. I use Oppo PM1s btw.

I dont know how many times in the past I have "upgraded" to later realise its just a sideways step. I havent heard your Fiio, so its very difficult to make a judgement if you would be making a sideways step.

As an aside, 99 quid for the Meridian is good value for money and I am confident it will sound much better than your motherboard.

https://www.stereophile.com/content/meridian-explorer2-da-headphone-amplifier

https://www.stereophile.com/content/audioquest-dragonfly-red-black-usb-da-headphone-amplifiers
 
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March Audio

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#13
Those 400i cans are easy in the sense of being resistive, but they are moderately inefficient. Which is why I termed them moderately difficult. The motherboard itself may well play them, but maybe not get everything out of them they are capable of doing.
Innerfidelity can tests are a great resource. They indicate a flat 45 ohm impedance across the frequency range and 0.6 mW and 0.162 V rms to acheive 90 dB spl. You are correct, not that eficient, but shouldnt be too much of a challenge. :)

http://www.innerfidelity.com/images/HiFiMANHE4002014.pdf
 
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#14
Thanks BE718.

I’ve ordered the Arcam rhead and will report back my subjective thoughts once it arrives.

I’m actually quite interested in also getting the meridian or dragonfly alongside the Arcan now, to act as a solo portable amp when out or as a DAC on my desktop.

Any thoughts on what would be lost using a portable DAC vs. a desktop DAC? Are portable DACs more noisy than desktop DACs?
 

March Audio

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#16
Thanks BE718.

I’ve ordered the Arcam rhead and will report back my subjective thoughts once it arrives.

I’m actually quite interested in also getting the meridian or dragonfly alongside the Arcan now, to act as a solo portable amp when out or as a DAC on my desktop.

Any thoughts on what would be lost using a portable DAC vs. a desktop DAC? Are portable DACs more noisy than desktop DACs?
You will probably find you lose little with the portables. If you read the stereophile review of the meridian linked above it is very competent and quiet. Chord Mojo I wouldnt hesitate to use as a primary source in a full system. What you may lose is drive capability. A desktop will have bigger power supply and may drive awkward loads better. However thats a bit of an open ended question as it depends what you are comparing against what.
 
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March Audio

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#18
so nothing wrong with connecting an amp directly to your PC headphone out if you are content with the dac?
I suppose not if you are happy with it.

BTW here is the headphone out of my Intel Skull Canyon NUC. The output voltage is only a volt rms, its noise floor is high at -115dBFS and lots of harmonic distortion. YMMV :)

upload_2018-2-24_19-26-50.png
 
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LarsS

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#19
If this is your MB https://www.asus.com/us/Motherboards/MAXIMUS-VIII-GENE/overview/ it's has quite a decent audio implementation.

"ESS ES9023P digital-to-analog converter (DAC) with Hyperstream™ technology, ultra-low-jitter clock, Nichicon capacitors, 2Vrms headphone amp, and Sonic SenseAmp that automatically detects and optimizes any headset (32-600 ohms) for purest sound quality"
 

Dialectic

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#20
If this is your MB https://www.asus.com/us/Motherboards/MAXIMUS-VIII-GENE/overview/ it's has quite a decent audio implementation.

"ESS ES9023P digital-to-analog converter (DAC) with Hyperstream™ technology, ultra-low-jitter clock, Nichicon capacitors, 2Vrms headphone amp, and Sonic SenseAmp that automatically detects and optimizes any headset (32-600 ohms) for purest sound quality"
I had the original Asus Xonar Essence STX sound card. It was extraordinary for the money.
 
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