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Do You Need an External DAC/Headphone Amplifier?

LuckyLuke575

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Very nice to see this comparison given the number of online discussions about this topic. Its a nice reference to post whenever I see the argument come up again :)

On the other hand, seeing the laptop beat out the Schiit DACs on SINAD is a total laughing stock. This just adds more fuel to the fire :p
 

Jimster480

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I can tell you guys that my Acer Nitro 5 has a HORRIBLE onboard sound chip. Even my really efficient 1More Triple Driver Over-Ear sounds much better with the FiiO K1.
I think that while onboard DAC performance is generally acceptable... the Amp performance is atrocious to say the least.

I haven't yet had a computer that is even capable of "sounding good" with $30 headphones. I remember when I had my HTC EVO 4G LTE and It sounded so much better than my desktop with a realtek integrated on my $35 Panasonic RP-HT360's...

Even my $12 Sony Earbuds sounded better with the phone vs my desktop(s).
 

trl

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[...] 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)?
I've listened to over 20 different models of business laptops (mostly Lenovo, HP, Dell, Fujitsu and Apple). The only one with a decent DAC and headamp inside was Apple MacBook Pro and only for sensitive cans, so definitely not a good match with HD 800 S.
 

Ron Texas

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I've listened to over 20 different models of business laptops (mostly Lenovo, HP, Dell, Fujitsu and Apple). The only one with a decent DAC and headamp inside was Apple MacBook Pro and only for sensitive cans, so definitely not a good match with HD 800 S.
Apple uses a CS chip rather than Realtek. It's Toslink will transmit 192/24. The Realtek chips vary from fair to weak. The popular 283 found in NUC's and notebooks is weak. The better ones overlap many outboard DAC's and are found in high end motherboards and AVR's. Low output voltage is a problem driving both cans and power amplifiers without a preamp.
 
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+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.
For me it was a case of what i currently had sounds great and it does. But that changed once i got an external amp. Improvements are subtle and one might say its just a different signature, but it's not that. Zero distortion from atom alone is worth it. Onboard used to clip and muddle at parts with a lot of sound layers. Its especially audible in works where an entire band plays or an orchestra.
 

Sal1950

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Onboard used to clip and muddle at parts with a lot of sound layers.
For sure but that tends to be a whole separate issue. When evaluating any amp, headphone or speaker driver, first thing to determine is if the amp is being stressed in any way. They will all have sound signatures when getting close to the clipping region and will sound different from one another as that signature comes into play.
That's one of the main mistakes I hear when people start to discuss variable SQ in amplifiers.
1, They fail to closely match volume between devices.
2, They aren't taking into account how hard the DUT is being stressed due to things like load impedance and sensitivity.
 
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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. :)
So. Listening to two tracks I love (Hilary Hahn playing Sonata #1 Link) and an mp3 recording of King Crimson's "Starless". Yes: pretty much it. A little bit more bass (hardly noticeable), and more volume. I'm quite underwhelmed, though. I expected more of a clear difference.
I used factory settings, so didn't go into any filter adjustments. Via USB.

Maybe I'll ask a friend and we do a "blind" test on of his favourite tracks. I'll put special attention on matching the volumes. ;-)
 
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