• WANTED: Happy members who like to discuss audio and other topics related to our interest. Desire to learn and share knowledge of science required as is 20 years of participation in forums (not all true). Come here to have fun, be ready to be teased and not take online life too seriously. We now measure and review equipment for free! Click here for details.

Do You Need an External DAC/Headphone Amplifier?

Veri

Major Contributor
Patreon Donor
Joined
Feb 6, 2018
Messages
2,761
Likes
2,654
Let me dig up my two year old Macbook and find out what it has. Did they have analog output or did they eliminate that then?
Pretty sure they have not yet eliminated analog on laptops :)
What they have eliminated, is the optical out via the headphone jack.
 

Sal1950

Major Contributor
The Chicago Crusher
Patreon Donor
Joined
Mar 1, 2016
Messages
6,097
Likes
3,883
Location
Central Fl
it's a analog + S/PDIF (mini-TOSLINK)

until Sept 2016
That was too bad. Apple had the best idea ever for a Toslink connection with that locking headphone jack.
That standard one is garbage.
 
Joined
Mar 21, 2019
Messages
41
Likes
11
Couldn't find GA-Gaming B8 circuit analysis anywhere but judging from the motherboard photos GA-Gaming B8 circuit has 7 capacitor? thingies next to the audio processor chip and mine x99 ud4 has 11 of them. So i have to assume mine is better. I ripped this from tweaktown:
The X99-UD4 uses an ALC1150 for its audio codec which works in unison with the integrated Azalia audio processor in the PCH. The X99-UD4 has only one audio amplifier the Texas Instruments NE5532 which is quite common, it is used to amplify the backpanel IO's headphone jack. Nichicon audio capacitors are also present and GIGABYTE has isolated the analog audio lines from the digital domain of the rest of the motherboard. There are also 14 yellow LEDs on the back of the PCB, which illuminate the PCB divide.
Source link: https://www.tweaktown.com/reviews/7010/gigabyte-x99-ud4-intel-motherboard-review/index3.html )
I have hd600 been listening to it the whole time for years now off onboard. Setting windows volume to 100% and nothing playing i can't hear any noise. No hiss no hum ect but that doesnt mean anything probably. Setting win to 100% and lowering foobar to something like -20db to -30db it does sound richer than just having foobar at 100% and windows volume at 10-15% which is what i usually listen at.
My question is: can i just hook up my onboard dac to an amp and get good audio or is it not going to reach like 30-40khz. (i have no clue about any of this)
I bought jds atom amp its yet to arrive. Ill try the onboard dac+atom amp first and go from there. Would love your opinions and advices.
 
Last edited:
Joined
Aug 3, 2018
Messages
31
Likes
14
Unless someone proves that human hearing can exceed 20kHz, I believe any reporting on abilities above the threshold of hearing is somewhat superfluous (only somewhat, I still enjoy seeing the measured differences), especially harmonic distortion, which will be multiples of the fundamental, but rising in frequency. I've had a number of amps, and respected DACs, and though I don't currently use the output of my MB (Asus Hero IX), which uses a version of the ALC1150, the 1220, the outputs were audibly silent when I did. The sound was very good, perhaps dry (or perceived as such due to low distortion?), but imaging was excellent and timbre was quite surprising. I literally took the outputs of that MB into a Parasound A23, then into a pair of Dyn Emit 10s, and it was a fantastic office system.

However, the headphone output on this MB uses a slightly different path. They brag about a dedicated headphone circuit, TI 4850 Op Amps, etc., but I've never gone back to use it. I'd expect a similar experience though, given the 300ohm impedance of those cans.
 

amirm

Founder/Admin
Staff Member
CFO (Chief Fun Officer)
Joined
Feb 13, 2016
Messages
22,163
Likes
32,521
Location
Seattle Area
My question is: can i just hook up my onboard dac to an amp and get good audio or is it not going to reach like 30-40khz. (i have no clue about any of this)
You can try getting a $99 JDS Labs Atom headphone amplifier. It is a superb amp that you won't need to replace later. Then, if you really want to, you can pair a USB DAC to it later but for now, just try the Atom. It should have excellent bass performance given its much higher power.
 
Joined
Mar 21, 2019
Messages
41
Likes
11
Thank you amir. It's like you've read my mind. On certain soundtracks i can hear the drivers wanting to move but they cant extend enough because as you said lack of power from onboard implementation. All i'm really looking forward is more bass. If mobo at best gives a quarter to half of the Atom's power then i'll notice a big difference. I'll update once i get it. Again thank you.

I'd expect a similar experience though, given the 300ohm impedance of those cans.
Hope not, based on amir's tests the mb audio probably supplies at best half of the Atom, or nearly a quarter with reduced distortions. That is from my experience enough to have a good listening experience, but obviously the headphones are not driven to their near full potential. If its true then what i've heard so far is headphones at 50% of their potential. Which still sounds great to me.
 
Last edited:
Joined
Aug 3, 2018
Messages
31
Likes
14
Hope not, based on amir's tests the mb audio probably supplies at best half of the Atom, or nearly a quarter with reduced distortions. That is from my experience enough to have a good listening experience, but obviously the headphones are not driven to their near full potential. If its true then what i've heard so far is headphones at 50% of their potential. Which still sounds great to me.
Indeed, on one particular motherboard. Let's also remember, half of the numbers that he posts are in orders of audibility. Think about distortion levels of less than 0.001%...you won't hear it. While this does not take away from the excellent work being done here, you need to consider some of this a point of diminishing returns. I'll also throw in the potential that quality control on many of these products isn't exactly lab grade, so you can expect variations.

That said, I don't have the technical chops that Amir has, and I'm truly honored to even have access to the measurements he provides. I also agree with him in that the JDS can't really steer you wrong, and it's reasonably priced! Go for it!
 
Joined
Mar 23, 2019
Messages
7
Likes
2
"Measures better than the Ygdrassil". Having heard the Gugnir MB and many onboard sound devices. I think that's all I need to know about using measurements as a predictor for listening.
I don't take much stock in instrumented measurements. Engineers need those. Listeners don't.

I don't. All I need is a pair of ears. No other measuring apparatus matters. Really.
 
Joined
Aug 3, 2018
Messages
31
Likes
14
While I partially agree with this, I'd rather not pay for something that doesn't perform to its own spec. Moreover, audiophiles have been lured into believing the inaccuracies of distortion (tubes) is beneficial to the listening experience. If you know what most instruments sound like in their natural form, you'll learn that the lower the distortion from the reproductive chain, the better.

I've been down the snake oil path for over twenty years, and I'm quite pleased to see someone put the science back into this hobby. Not that JA doesn't do that to some extent for Stereophile, but he's under great limitations (marketing pressure) while doing so.

That said, this site probably isn't for you if all you want is subjective assertions. As long as it sounds good to you, no one else is going to waste time trying to convince you otherwise. So, no pressure.... ;)
 

trl

Addicted to Fun and Learning
King of Mods
Joined
Feb 28, 2018
Messages
737
Likes
622
Location
Iasi, RO
JA's measurements are telling lot of things about the devices measured. Sometimes you don't need to read the conclusions, just looks at the graphs and you might get the idea if there's something wrong or not with that DAC. :)
 
Joined
Mar 21, 2019
Messages
41
Likes
11
That said, I don't have the technical chops that Amir has, and I'm truly honored to even have access to the measurements he provides. I also agree with him in that the JDS can't really steer you wrong, and it's reasonably priced! Go for it!
Yeah i've been listening to onboard for like 3~ years now with these cans so im pretty attuned to a very specific sound signature, if anything changes with a dedicated amp ill notice at once. It's just too bad it's on backorder so i expect i wont have it for like a month, says ships late march so maybe only a few weeks.
 
Last edited:
Joined
Aug 3, 2018
Messages
31
Likes
14
JA's measurements are telling lot of things about the devices measured. Sometimes you don't need to read the conclusions, just looks at the graphs and you might get the idea if there's something wrong or not with that DAC. :)
Absolutely agreed.
 
Joined
Jun 15, 2019
Messages
10
Likes
9
Hello - first of all: Thank you very much for your reviews. I'll write more about that at a later point. I just registered.

Basically, my question is about your benchmarks - maybe you have a link explaining what they are and how they impact hearing?

I'm surprised about my experience:
Today I received a Sennheiser HD 800 S can, with 300 Ohms impedance. I assmued I wouldn't get any decent sound out of it from my equipment, as I don't have a dedicated DAC/AMP. (I just ordered the Topping DX3 Pro and will have a comparison next week)

However, right now I'm listening from a ThinkPad T420s (manufactured between 2011-2013), Single-Ended. From a volume perspective, I can drive the HD 800 S just so high that it is a decently loud sound that is not painful. Ok, I get it, with a DAC/AMP I could drive much higher. But it is already just loud enough.

Then, I notice that there is a very slight "noise floor". You mention that in your analyses.

Now, the real question: What's wrong with my onboard sound // why is it "so good" ? Let's assume the T420s is similar to your current notebook. What do these benchmarks really say? Is the music I'm hearing distorted (which isn't necessarily a bad thing)?
 

andreasmaaan

Major Contributor
Joined
Jun 19, 2018
Messages
3,517
Likes
2,789
Hello - first of all: Thank you very much for your reviews. I'll write more about that at a later point. I just registered.

Basically, my question is about your benchmarks - maybe you have a link explaining what they are and how they impact hearing?

I'm surprised about my experience:
Today I received a Sennheiser HD 800 S can, with 300 Ohms impedance. I assmued I wouldn't get any decent sound out of it from my equipment, as I don't have a dedicated DAC/AMP. (I just ordered the Topping DX3 Pro and will have a comparison next week)

However, right now I'm listening from a ThinkPad T420s (manufactured between 2011-2013), Single-Ended. From a volume perspective, I can drive the HD 800 S just so high that it is a decently loud sound that is not painful. Ok, I get it, with a DAC/AMP I could drive much higher. But it is already just loud enough.

Then, I notice that there is a very slight "noise floor". You mention that in your analyses.

Now, the real question: What's wrong with my onboard sound // why is it "so good" ? Let's assume the T420s is similar to your current notebook. What do these benchmarks really say? Is the music I'm hearing distorted (which isn't necessarily a bad thing)?
A lot of laptops/phones/tablets have very decent DACs relative to human gearing ability. Differences between DACs, even those that measure disastrously by objective standards, tend to be very subtle. That’s my view concerning the distortion aspect of your question.

Regarding the level apparently being adequate, the Sennheiser’s reach 102dB when fed 1V RMS, which is a typical max. output level from a tablet (although we can only speculate about yours). 102dB is quite loud, but not ear-shattering. It’s hard to know without knowing more about the tablet’s audio performance.

But yes, basically excellent sound quality is the norm from even cheap digital sources. You could probably achieve some subtle audible improvements with better quality gear, but it’s not surprising that the what you have is far from terrible.
 

amirm

Founder/Admin
Staff Member
CFO (Chief Fun Officer)
Joined
Feb 13, 2016
Messages
22,163
Likes
32,521
Location
Seattle Area
Now, the real question: What's wrong with my onboard sound // why is it "so good" ? Let's assume the T420s is similar to your current notebook. What do these benchmarks really say? Is the music I'm hearing distorted (which isn't necessarily a bad thing)?
Let us know after you get the DX3 Pro. I think you will find better bass performance and overall a more enjoyable experience. To do that, it requires power and low output impedance. There is a difference between good and great. :)
 

Sal1950

Major Contributor
The Chicago Crusher
Patreon Donor
Joined
Mar 1, 2016
Messages
6,097
Likes
3,883
Location
Central Fl
Now, the real question: What's wrong with my onboard sound // why is it "so good" ?
But yes, basically excellent sound quality is the norm from even cheap digital sources. You could probably achieve some subtle audible improvements with better quality gear, but it’s not surprising that the what you have is far from terrible.
+1, I have Senn HD650 cans and don't miss a whole lot if anything when plugging them in directly to my old HP lappy, or the onboard chip of my tower PC, etc. I'll plug it into my dedicated Emotiva DC-1 DAC/Headamp when I want to be comfortable in the knowledge that I'm getting the best possible sound but any differences are extremly subtle and any of the options give acceptable SQ.
 
Top Bottom