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Dac, amp or both ? For PC setup with headphones and speakers

gnafra

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Hi all !

I am currently looking for an upgrade for my PC setup, and I really don't know what would be the best option for me.

My current setup is PC --> Internal Sound Blaster 7.1 card --> RCA cable --> Presonus Eris E5 Speakers

I use very often my headphones (Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro and Hifiman/Drop HE4xx), that I directly plug in the speakers headphone output, or sometimes directly in the Sound Blaster if I find the courage to lean under my desk to plug them down there...

I would like to have something like this :
Sound Blaster --> Toslink cable (I already have one) --> Device (with headphone plug for the headphones) --> RCA cable --> Speakers

I really don't know if I need a dac, an amp or a combo (I think combo would be the best but not sure).

My budget is about 200€, I use my setup for lossless music (mainly rock, metal, folk and electro) and a few gaming.
I often see devices with bluetooth, but I really do not need this.

My first thoughts are for the Toppng DX3 Pro+, but as I said I am not sure if this would be the best solution for me. Plus this one has Bluetooth, which I don't need.
I also had an eye on the Loxjie D30, but they released a new version of it, which is a bit more expensive. And has bluetooth too.

Another important thing is that I'd rather not to have a USB-powered device, I previously had two dacs that died (Audioengine D1 and Fiio E07K), I think the USB powering was guilty for that. Thus I liked the internal power block of the Loxjie D30.

Thanks in advance for your feedback, and keep up the great job, this forum is a gold mine !! :)
 

RickSanchez

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I think you're on the right track by looking at DAC/amp combos. The DAC portion may or may not be an audible upgrade from your PC / Sound Blaster card, but it will give you multiple input options which gives you the flexibility to add components later if needed.

I was going to suggest the Sabaj D5 but it's outside of your price range. (I think it's ~350€) It has some advantages over the Loxjie D30 that you were looking at:
  • More power.
  • It has both SE and XLR headphone outs. I don't think your Drop HE4xx needs a lot of power to drive, but having the XLR out as an option is helpful when you need to drive power-hungry headphones.
  • It has balanced (XLR) line outs. You could run those to your Presonus Eris E5 speakers. Not necessary, but it's quick / cheap way to resolve ground loop issues if they exist.
So I would say continue down the path of researching DAC/amp combos. Make sure the amp section has enough power to drive the headphones you have (or ones you might want in the future), and remember that having XLR speaker outs isn't necessary but it can be a great insurance policy against ground loops.
 

Joe Smith

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And make sure if you get a combo, that you can direct out in some way from the DAC to feed amp/speakers, if you want to be able to do that as well.
 

EdTice

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Aug 18, 2020
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Hi all !

I am currently looking for an upgrade for my PC setup, and I really don't know what would be the best option for me.

My current setup is PC --> Internal Sound Blaster 7.1 card --> RCA cable --> Presonus Eris E5 Speakers

I use very often my headphones (Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro and Hifiman/Drop HE4xx), that I directly plug in the speakers headphone output, or sometimes directly in the Sound Blaster if I find the courage to lean under my desk to plug them down there...

I would like to have something like this :
Sound Blaster --> Toslink cable (I already have one) --> Device (with headphone plug for the headphones) --> RCA cable --> Speakers

I really don't know if I need a dac, an amp or a combo (I think combo would be the best but not sure).

My budget is about 200€, I use my setup for lossless music (mainly rock, metal, folk and electro) and a few gaming.
I often see devices with bluetooth, but I really do not need this.

My first thoughts are for the Toppng DX3 Pro+, but as I said I am not sure if this would be the best solution for me. Plus this one has Bluetooth, which I don't need.
I also had an eye on the Loxjie D30, but they released a new version of it, which is a bit more expensive. And has bluetooth too.

Another important thing is that I'd rather not to have a USB-powered device, I previously had two dacs that died (Audioengine D1 and Fiio E07K), I think the USB powering was guilty for that. Thus I liked the internal power block of the Loxjie D30.

Thanks in advance for your feedback, and keep up the great job, this forum is a gold mine !! :)
My first (and last) thought was the Topping DX3 Pro+! You don't have to use the bluetooth option. If you are paranoid, I guess you could wrap it in aluminum foil. The DX3 Pro+ is one of the top rated DACs here, fits your budget, and is very versatile. If you are worried about the USB power from your computer being problematic there are cables out there which split the power and data so you can power it from a separate USB power source. But I am suspicious that this was the source of your past problems.
 
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gnafra

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I think you're on the right track by looking at DAC/amp combos. The DAC portion may or may not be an audible upgrade from your PC / Sound Blaster card, but it will give you multiple input options which gives you the flexibility to add components later if needed.

I was going to suggest the Sabaj D5 but it's outside of your price range. (I think it's ~350€) It has some advantages over the Loxjie D30 that you were looking at:
  • More power.
  • It has both SE and XLR headphone outs. I don't think your Drop HE4xx needs a lot of power to drive, but having the XLR out as an option is helpful when you need to drive power-hungry headphones.
  • It has balanced (XLR) line outs. You could run those to your Presonus Eris E5 speakers. Not necessary, but it's quick / cheap way to resolve ground loop issues if they exist.
So I would say continue down the path of researching DAC/amp combos. Make sure the amp section has enough power to drive the headphones you have (or ones you might want in the future), and remember that having XLR speaker outs isn't necessary but it can be a great insurance policy against ground loops.
Thank you for making me discover the Sabaj D5, it seems to be a really nice product !
I never thought about plugging my Eris through XLR, but it seems to be a good option. I have a slight 50Hz buzz when I use them (really tiny, almost inaudible, but present anyway), would the XLR eliminate it ?

The only prblem I see with it, is that it is just a bit more expensive than my original budget (I can have it for 370€ on amazon.fr). But it might be worthwile to spare a few euros for it.


My first (and last) thought was the Topping DX3 Pro+! You don't have to use the bluetooth option. If you are paranoid, I guess you could wrap it in aluminum foil. The DX3 Pro+ is one of the top rated DACs here, fits your budget, and is very versatile. If you are worried about the USB power from your computer being problematic there are cables out there which split the power and data so you can power it from a separate USB power source. But I am suspicious that this was the source of your past problems.
I have no problem with the BT waves themselves so I would not need to wrap it :)
It's just that I thought I could find a device without this option and save a few euros, instead of having an option I will probably never use...


I think I have two options :
- the Topping DX3 pro+, in my budget so can be bought right now, but without XLR and without intergrated power supply ;
- the Sabaj D5, has everything I need, but a more expensive (but not unduly overpriced).

I'll think about it, thanks for your replies, if anyone has another option, I'm opened to it ! ;)
 

RickSanchez

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I have a slight 50Hz buzz when I use them (really tiny, almost inaudible, but present anyway), would the XLR eliminate it ?
If that buzz is caused by a ground loop then yes, running XLR cables between an amp and the speakers would most likely eliminate it. And there are other ways to try to fix ground loop problems, such as plugging everything into the same power source. (e.g., the same surge suppressor.) Or it's possible that your speakers just have hiss, which is somewhat common in active studio monitors.

The Sabaj D5 is certainly a fair amount over your original budget. But for <400€ it's got a lot of features and performs well. The one thing to keep in mind is that the SE out of headphone amp section is a bit underpowered vs. the best headphone amps out there. This only matters if you use power-hungry headphones though, and you can get a lot more power using the XLR headphone out (assuming you have compatible headphones and cables).
 
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gnafra

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Oops, I just checked out, My Presonus are not the E5 but the E4.5... No XLR input on these...

What is the meaning of "SE" in your words "the SE out of headphone amp section is a bit underpowered" ? I could not find it on Google, sorry !
 

EdTice

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Oops, I just checked out, My Presonus are not the E5 but the E4.5... No XLR input on these...

What is the meaning of "SE" in your words "the SE out of headphone amp section is a bit underpowered" ? I could not find it on Google, sorry !

Analog audio signals are usually carried one of two ways. Balanced and unbalanced. In a balanced signal you use three conductors, positive, negative, and ground. The idea is that any noise introduced is "cancelled out." That's a gross oversimplification but good enough for this discussion and so much has been written on balanced vs unbalanced that Google will get you further than anything I'll ever write.

RCA outputs (since there are only two conductors) have to be single-ended or "unbalanced." XLR connectors have three pins and can be "balanced" (although nothing stops anybody from just using two of the wires to carry an unbalanced signal).

Although the connector type and whether the signal is balanced or not don't have a 1:1 correlation, the language is often used loosely. In the case of this particular DAC, there are single-ended RCA outputs. Single-ended outputs often deliver half the voltage of balanced outputs. But again that's not always the case.

But what the statement means (and I haven't checked it since I'm not super-familiar with these pieces of equipment and you can look up the specs yourself) is that the RCA outputs might not deliver enough voltage for your usage. I'm not affirming the statement only clarifying it.
 
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gnafra

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Thank you, that's very clear ! :)

Getting back to my inquiry, given that I won't be able to use XLR, I think now the Sabaj D5 might be a bit too much for my use.

So I'm going back to the Topping DX3 Pro+ for now, while I'm still open for new ideas.

About the DX3 Pro+, something caught my attention in its review (https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...pping-dx3-pro-review-dac-headphone-amp.27148/).

The latest graph of the review (https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...-vs-load-usb-dac-bluetooth-stereo-png.157587/) says it's going into protection under 20 ohms, and my Beyerdynamic COP are 16 ohms... Does this mean I won't be able to use them with the DX3 Pro+ ? Is it because of the High Gain option ? Would it be the same in Low Gain ?
 

EdTice

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Thank you, that's very clear ! :)

Getting back to my inquiry, given that I won't be able to use XLR, I think now the Sabaj D5 might be a bit too much for my use.

So I'm going back to the Topping DX3 Pro+ for now, while I'm still open for new ideas.

About the DX3 Pro+, something caught my attention in its review (https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...pping-dx3-pro-review-dac-headphone-amp.27148/).

The latest graph of the review (https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...-vs-load-usb-dac-bluetooth-stereo-png.157587/) says it's going into protection under 20 ohms, and my Beyerdynamic COP are 16 ohms... Does this mean I won't be able to use them with the DX3 Pro+ ? Is it because of the High Gain option ? Would it be the same in Low Gain ?

Looking at the graph, at 20 ohms, you won't be able to put more than about 2volts into your 16 ohm headphones before the amp goes into protection (hence why the graph for the 16ohm load abruptly stops at 2volts). The sensitivity of your headphones is 116db/V assuming that this link is correct (https://reference-audio-analyzer.pro/en/report/hp/beyerdynamic-custom-one-pro.php#gsc.tab=0). That's somewhere between a Metallica concert and a jet plane taking off. I'd consider shutdown at that volume to be a feature. (Hopefully somebody comes along and checks that I didn't make a caffeine-deprived mistake but I double checked myself)
 

EdTice

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Thank you, that's very clear ! :)

Getting back to my inquiry, given that I won't be able to use XLR, I think now the Sabaj D5 might be a bit too much for my use.

So I'm going back to the Topping DX3 Pro+ for now, while I'm still open for new ideas.

About the DX3 Pro+, something caught my attention in its review (https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...pping-dx3-pro-review-dac-headphone-amp.27148/).

The latest graph of the review (https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...-vs-load-usb-dac-bluetooth-stereo-png.157587/) says it's going into protection under 20 ohms, and my Beyerdynamic COP are 16 ohms... Does this mean I won't be able to use them with the DX3 Pro+ ? Is it because of the High Gain option ? Would it be the same in Low Gain ?
High gain vs low gain isn't the issue here, it's power output. You'll need to use whatever gain structure gets you to appropriate voltage output. No matter how you get to 2V output, you will be at the power limit of the amp and it will shut down in order to avoid things like metal parts melting causing permanent damage to the equipment.
 
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