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Complicated questions, for a budding audio enthusiast.

Sedyn

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#1
Hi All,

Stumbled across these forums while searching for info regarding my issue. Love this place. Great content and a really well laid out source of information. I can see this forum being of great value to me, most certainly. I'll need to donate some money.

On to my issue. Sorry for the long post, but I am not sure which info is critical so I will add as much as I can.

I am using a PC as a source. I recently built a new PC and while moving my digital music collection over, a task I haven't finished, noted that my sound wasn't as good as my previous PC. Not even close really. My previous PC was using an Asus Xonar Essence STX, my new computer is running an Asus Essence STX II. Same headset.

Sometimes I am listening to my own music files which vary between Apple Digital Masters all the way down to older MP3 files. I also bought a SiriusXM subscription (Using max quality on app settings) and possibly Tidal soon.

So I figured my older Sennheiser PC360s might just be the issue, and set about researching a replacement. I couldn't find a high quality headset in my price range that didn't look all gamerish and weird. So I used this as an excuse to upgrade to a pair of Sennheiser HD 650s I have wanted for a while. That helped a lot, but the sound still wasn't awesome. For being out $700 it was actually disappointing. I then googled about and went and bought, with great reprehension a Moon Audio Silver Dragon cable on a 1/4" plug.

While I waited for the cable to arrive, I researched sound card settings and noted the review here and found out about the 16-bit vs 24-bit thing. I switched the Asio to 24 bit, and maybe it's just me, but things sounded a lot better. Maybe it's the cable and the setting change? I don't know. I still need to figure out what Sample rate I need to set the Asus software to..... but at least I don't put the headphones on and think WTF. The bass is perhaps a bit weaker than I would like, but overall I enjoy the sound a lot more. It's the best setup I've ever heard. Not that is saying much....

So what am I thinking about now....

So now I am doubting the STX II. Is the Coaxial S/PDIF out worth anything on this STX II? Should I use the STX II as a DAC, and get an external amp instead? I guess I could pull apart the PCs and switch cards, but I would rather not. I hate all this driver mess.

Does anyone think it would be best to pull the STX II? Replace it with the STX I have from my old PC? Maybe use my MOBO onboard sound as an output? I wonder if the optical out on the MOBO would offset any small gain where it would be better as the STX II has a coaxial out. Any way.....

My Mobo is:

Asus ROG Maximus XI Formula. Here is the blurb from Asus regarding the onboard sound:

SupremeFX

Utilizing the S1220 codec, SupremeFX is the integrated-audio solution that's engineered to provide a flat frequency response for a neutral, detailed sound signature. And to ensure that pristine signature is perfectly preserved, the front-panel output is driven with dual op amps, delivering sonics with the scale and authority to create virtual worlds via your gaming headset.

ROG SupremeFX 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC S1220
- Impedance sense for front and rear headphone outputs
- Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel Jack-retasking
- High quality 120 dB SNR stereo playback output and 113 dB SNR recording input
- SupremeFX Shielding Technology
- ESS® ES9023P
- Supports up to 32-Bit/192kHz playback *3
Audio Feature :
- Optical S/PDIF out port(s) at back panel

Really almost all of that means nothing to me. It seems like marketing talk and technical jargon. It doesn't convey any sense of what I would actually be getting from it vs the STX II. So I've left the STX II as the primary candidate for my output for now.

So let's look at some more options. 20 hours of looking around and many new discoveries and dead end roads later I narrow down some options. Please keep in mind I am educating myself from nearly no basic audio knowledge so the familiar terms, brands, forums, personalities on YouTube and all that are a nothing to me. I have 3 kids 5 and under so spare time to research is a luxury.

I have about $1000 to spend. I'm looking for input as I am actually already over budget on the PC build overall and can't afford to make a bad purchase here.

I looked around for people talking about my headset (how I found cables) and that lead to a lot of talk about Shiit. I looked at a lot of Schiit options like the Jot and Bifrost.
Something like the Marantz HD-DAC1
I then came across the Drop THX AAA 789.

So I see the Drop 789 is well regarded, and the drop closes in a couple days so I need to make my mind up if that is the way to go.

If it is, what is my best DAC to match with it? I am thinking I prefer a neutral towards warm sound. So I love the idea of a very neutral amp and being able to change the DAC to tune the sound I want. But that is based on having what is considered a dark set of cans that has a cable designed to make them more neutral. I feel the mids and highs are plenty good, but the bass is lacking what I would like. Perhaps that is just a limitation of the STX II? I think I just need a proper AMP and DAC.

Leaning towards having a versatile, neutral amp in the Drop x THX 789, I found the Airist Audio R-R2 DAC which seems like it stacks super well with the 789. So I almost said yes to that combo based on the sound profile, but reading through the pages of the THX 789 review (I am 30 of 58 pages) I see the R-R2 is only RCA SE output and the THX seems like it would benefit from XLR inputs. So now I am stumped again.

I am currently using a 1/4" plug on my headphones but I could easily send the cable back to be reworked into an XLR. Maybe next year I'd like to buy a set of Sennheiser HD 800 S or something in that range. So I want the AMP/DAC to be able to run my next earphones. But I don't want to change the 1/4" to a XLR and not enjoy the AMP/DAC or whatever and end up needing to rework the cable again. So perhaps I just buy the AMP first, like the 789 and just match the cable to that (buy one and be happy forever?!). Then take time looking for the right DAC through trial and error?

Maybe I am missing something obvious, or making a mountain out of a molehill. I need some input from people more educated on the subject matter than me.

To complicate matters further, I have a 2.1 set of Kanto YU5 powered speakers and an 8inch Kanto sub, and the previously mentioned Sennheiser PC360 headset (3.5mm headphone and mic) that I need to deal with as well. Currently the speakers run from the RCA out on the STX II, and I use the Asus software to switch the output between the Speakers and Headphone out as necessary. If I need the headset I just plug it in the front audio connections and hopefully that works automatically in whatever setup I change to.

If you made it this far, thank you for your time and energy. It is much appreciate.

So Gentlemen, what say you?
 

Cahudson42

Active Member
Joined
Sep 21, 2019
Messages
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#2
It might be interesting and educational to compare the various STX II out audio options against - the $9 Apple dongle DAC/Amp. To Mobo USB with a USB-c adapter.

Then downstream add/compare a 'decent' amp - my guess is that here many would second the THX 789 AAA, but a JDS Atom might, practically speaking, do just as well. (I personally obsessed for a bit on 120db dynamic range, before settling on 100 as 'plenty good enough ' for me)..

Perhaps reduce the number of variables by initially sticking to a single source - maybe a 90-day free trial of Amazon Music HD,/USD 16/44.1 lossless..

Remember, your headphones are 'the weakest link'. Get a 'transparent enough' setup with specs capable of driving the different phones you are considering, then select the phones you like.. Then upgrade the DAC.. (I don't worry about balanced, as long as the amp is sufficient unbalanced..)

Maybe almost 50 years ago I remember first being told ' spend as much as you can on speakers. Use what's leftover for the Amp.'. Within reason (for me $400) I think that applies to phones. (I like, a lot, my HE400i at $179. But if I were rich, I'd go for the new $349 Sundara. Nothing more for me..:)

Have fun on your journey!
 
Last edited:

Sedyn

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#6
+1 I had no idea the STX was so bad. Yes, why wrestle with it at all. Bag it.
I read the entire thread. Apparently on 24bit it's not nearly as bad, and there is no indication my MOBO is any better at this point. I need some kind of a connection to the computer, maybe it will be USB.
 
Joined
Oct 19, 2019
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#9
Wouldn't go for an pci based solution anymore. In you case I would like very much the Sabaj D5 - guess has the best price / performance currently within one housing.

However since you want to switch between speaker and headphones (as I also needed to do after getting kids) I would carefully study for the potential solution how difficult it is to switch between the outputs.

Currently I use the focusrite 2i2 (3rd) on Linux and it has two mechanical knobs, one for line out and one for the headphones which can be used at the same time and is very convenient. Before that I used the XFi HD and I hated that I needed to pull the headphones out to switch to the speaker.
 

Sedyn

Member
Patreon Donor
Joined
Oct 20, 2019
Messages
16
Likes
5
#10
Wouldn't go for an pci based solution anymore. In you case I would like very much the Sabaj D5 - guess has the best price / performance currently within one housing.

However since you want to switch between speaker and headphones (as I also needed to do after getting kids) I would carefully study for the potential solution how difficult it is to switch between the outputs.

Currently I use the focusrite 2i2 (3rd) on Linux and it has two mechanical knobs, one for line out and one for the headphones which can be used at the same time and is very convenient. Before that I used the XFi HD and I hated that I needed to pull the headphones out to switch to the speaker.
I was planning on continuing to use the sound card, but will probably look at a better options once I get an AMP and DAC on hand and settled. I don't know that my speakers are super high performance, and I know certainly the headset isn't. First thing I want to do is pull as much potential from the headphones as I can. I almost always listen to music on the PC from headphones.
 
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