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How good is good enough, when it comes to DACs?

Straz

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I'm on the look for a budget DAC for my PC to link to a set of iLoud Micro Monitors, headphone amplification is not necessary. I will be controlling audio via Windows volume slider.

The Topping D10S seems like a good bet, and is around the top end of what I wanted to spend, although ideally I'd want to spend a lot less.

With the main use being YouTube music and gaming, and no high res source music to speak of, am I realistically going to need anything more than something like the Meizu MasterHiFi? Which is 1/5 the cost of the D10S.

I've heard that dongles are not recommended for desktop use. Is that still the case? Some DACs I'm considering at different price points are:

Meizu MasterHiFi £20
Sabaj D2 £35
Dayton DAC-01 £40
Tempotec Sonata HD Pro £40
SMSL M3 £60
Sabaj D3 £60
SMSL M100 Mk II £70
Khadas Tone Board £80
Topping D10S £110
SMSL Sanskrit 10th Mk II £110

I'm leaning towards the SMSL M100 Mk II at the moment. I've gone through all of the reviews and measurements. Am I going to see any difference whatsoever between these DACs, considering my use case? Cheers.
 

Lambda

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I've heard that dongles are not recommended for desktop use.
Why?

I will be controlling audio via Windows volume slider.
Set the "gain" of you monitors to a reasonable level and you will be fine.
You don’t want to have your Windows volume slider at very low level all the time.

Realistically The Apple USB-C DAC is all you need!

In some cases with PC audio you can have "noise" problems if your USB power or USB GND are noisy.
but you can have the same problems with most full size DACs since most of them also connect USB GND to Analog GND.

If there is any noise problem with a Dongle a ~10$ isolator will 100% fix this
HTB17ppIapzsK1Rjy1Xbq6xOaFXax_727_1024x1024.jpg

(they only do Full Speed (12 MBit/s) enough for most (48Khz) dongles but not enough for most full size (192) DACs )
This only works for "cheap" dongles with slow 12 MBit/s USB2

All you need is a USB A male to C female cable:
axcess-usb-3-1-type-c-female-to-usb-3-0-male-port-adapter-cable-original-imaf29exemzrkvf5.jpeg
 
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FrantzM

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Why?


Set the "gain" of you monitors to a reasonable level and you will be fine.
You don’t want to have your Windows volume slider at very low level all the time.

Realistically The Apple USB-C DAC is all you need!

In some cases with PC audio you can have "noise" problems if your USB power or USB GND are noisy.
but you can have the same problems with most full size DACs since most of them also connect USB GND to Analog GND.

If there is any noise problem with a Dongle a ~10$ idolator will 100% fix this
HTB17ppIapzsK1Rjy1Xbq6xOaFXax_727_1024x1024.jpg

(they only do Full Speed (12 MBit/s) enough for most (48Khz) dongles but not enught for most full size (192) DACs )


All you need is a USB A male to C female cable:
axcess-usb-3-1-type-c-female-to-usb-3-0-male-port-adapter-cable-original-imaf29exemzrkvf5.jpeg
+1

And such realizations are sobering, and for many, downright depressing: Imagine, someone realizing that their $200,000.oo Audexious DAC, would sound the exact same as a $10.oo dongle , once the biases (knowledge of the DUT, among others) are removed... One of the truths, an entire ecosystem, the High End Audio Industry, works feverishly to conceal.
I must admit that I favo, a DAC with a SINAD >110dB, just for ... IDK :D, fortunately it only cost $100.oo .. I used to entertain various DAC from $500 to ... (multiplying factors of more than 10 in some cases) :facepalm: ...


Peace.
 
OP
S

Straz

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I read that that when changing volume they'd get a crackling sound with dongles, and that also you'd get better results from a desktop DAC if using windows volume slider, especially at lower volume levels. I seem to remember it being quite an old post though. But if you say it's fine, then I'll just go ahead and get one of those Meizu MasterHiFi dongles, as I only have access to the limited version of the Apple adapter here in Europe.

Set the "gain" of you monitors to a reasonable level and you will be fine.
You don’t want to have your Windows volume slider at very low level all the time.

This is interesting. So it's better to have the Windows slider higher and the speaker gain lower?
 

LTig

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This is interesting. So it's better to have the Windows slider higher and the speaker gain lower?
Yes. The windows slider reduces the number of bits sent to the DAC so sound quality may suffer, OTOH reducing the gain of the speaker reduces incoming noise.
 

Lambda

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So it's better to have the Windows slider higher and the speaker gain lower?
Yes absolutely.
But if you say it's fine, then I'll just go ahead and get one of those Meizu MasterHiFi dongles
they are maybe unnecessary high bandwidth and won’t work with slow speed idolator (In case you need it.)
I only have access to the limited version of the Apple adapter here in Europe.
Don’t see how this is limiting. your not driving headphones with it?!

I read that that when changing volume they'd get a crackling sound with dongles,
Sounds like BS or some special software problem but nothing you can say in general!

Software volume control happens in software if the software works properly there is no crackling if the software adds crackling the DAC can’t remove it.

 

Katji

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I would be happy to use this Meizu DAC for that.


MEIZU Hifi Pro USB-C Phone Dongle DAC Review

This is a review and detailed measurements of the MEIZU Hifi Pro USB-C phone dongle DAC and headphone amplifier. It was kindly purchased and drop shipped to me by a member. The Hifi Pro costs US $45. Note that this is the "Pro" version. It is different than the standard one. The Hifi Pro...

Conclusions
I must confess that I am not a fan of testing these dongles because they mostly, well, suck. :) Not so with MEIZU Hifi Pro. This is a level of performance that you don't have to apologize for. If I ever get stuck with a phone or tablet that doesn't have a headphone jack, this dongle would be my choice.
Needless to say, I am happy to recommend the MEIZU Hifi Pro.

index.php
 

Katji

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Whichever you decide on, make sure the seller has it in stock.
 

AnalogSteph

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With the main use being YouTube music and gaming, and no high res source music to speak of, am I realistically going to need anything more than something like the Meizu MasterHiFi? Which is 1/5 the cost of the D10S.
Don't you have any decent onboard audio? I would consider that plenty sufficient for this application, as long as it's not screwed up on the software side. It's not like the iLouds are dynamic range wonders or anything.
The MSI PRO Z690-A that @Julian Krause tested is using the ubiquitous Realtek ALC897, the most basic chip in use today. It still makes it to 102 dB(A) worth of dynamic range. For speakers with a built-in volume control, that's plenty. The distortion level at around -85 dB - generally dominant H2 and pretty much constant across the spectrum from my experience - is unconcerning as well.
 

sergeauckland

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I question why you need an external DAC at all. I've used the outputs of my laptop, tablets and 'phone without any noticeable audio degradation at all. Modern computers have quite decent enough analogue outputs from their internal DACs that I wonder why anyone would bother with an external one.

S.
 

Lambda

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@AnalogSteph

This shuld be of cause the first test.
If it sounds ok. it is ok.

Butt:
Noise from PCs (especially diy/self configured PCs) is not uncommon.

In this cases a USB DAC often is all it needs. but in some cases (galvanic) isolation is needed to get rid of all the noise from the PC.
For a low speed device this is cheap, easy and effective done by a USB isolator for a "proper" external DAC you want to uses SPDIF.
but this is only relevant if you have this problems.

If the main-board Analog output is not noisy. the manufacture has done a good job with the grounding layout and the USB is probably also not to noisy.
Do the Obvious and (and cheap/free) things first an see if you run into problems.

If there are no obvious problems a DAC won’t give you obvious improvements
 
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DVDdoug

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Noise is usually the ONLY thing to worry about. If you're not hearing noise there's probably no reason to upgrade. Frequency response and distortion are almost always better than human hearing.

I've heard that dongles are not recommended for desktop use.
ANY configuration CAN be audibly perfect, including a motherboard soundchip.

But the inside of a computer is an electrically-noisy environment, plus the power supply tends to be noisy. This is not a problem for digital which is highly-immune to noise, whereas analog audio is highly-sensitive to noise. Some higher-end internal soundcards have shielding and extra power supply filtering but it's still in a nasty environment.

A USB device gets you out of the "environment" but a USB-powered device can sometimes pick-up noise from the USB power. But, I've got a relatively-cheap "USB soundcard" (that I keep-around for troubleshooting purposes) and it's dead-silent (when no sound is playing) with headphones when plugged into my laptop.

So your "odds" are best with an external device that has it's own-separate power supply.

And in reality, USB power noise is rarely a problem with playback. If it's a problem, it's usually when recording from a microphone, where noise gets-into the preamp (inside the USB interface) and the noise gets amplified by the preamp.
 

AnalogSteph

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Noise from PCs (especially diy/self configured PCs) is not uncommon.
There is, admittedly, some potential for issues.

For one, I don't necessarily trust DIY PC cases very much. They are usually painted, and paint is not generally very conductive, which can't be helping the bonding of grounds (power supply, board, case). My own Fractal Define R5 seems to be fine, but it definitively won't hurt to check. From an EMI perspective, full-area bonding is definitively preferable to it only happening at a bunch of screw threads. A case where individual parts are first painted and then assembled would have to be particularly problematic. OEMs with their bare metal cases aren't just frugal, they have to pass EMI testing, too...

There may also be substantial ground currents flowing, particularly when high-power expansion cards, notably GPUs, are installed. Think from PCIE slot back to ATX / CPU power. [1] This may spell disaster if audio ground isn't branching off in the right spot, which in turn is more likely to happen on the cheaper 4-layer PCBs with their more limited routing options. Still, board manufacturers have been doing this for a while, you'd think they'd generally figured it out (but you know how it is with proverbial exceptions to the rule).

If you're not hearing noise there's probably no reason to upgrade.
*sign*

[1] EDIT: Ha!
The possibility that GPU return current might even be flowing along the audio ground path only occurred to me now. Now that would be a mess.
 
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