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What DAC to pair with K5 (non-pro), or just use the internal soundcard?

NewbieOne

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Dec 3, 2021
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I'm in the process of upgrading my PC's sound output somewhat.

For years I've been using a succession of budget soundcards (Live 5.1 => Audigy something => x-Fi Titanium) cinched to a JVC MX-J500 stereo that drinks and votes by now. So I still have the x-Fi Titanium PCIE (non-HD) I bought years ago. I've recently been handed down a Sound Blaster Z from a friend, after which I've purchased a pair of Tygrs from Beyer's outlet at €115 and a used K5 non-pro and they are shipping right now. So I wonder:

  • Was the K5 an okay purchase or should I have picked up the Atom instead? I was under the impression the K5 could be stronger in some situations, such as those discussions in which people were claiming the Atom failed to allow the Sundaras to open up but K5 was doing fine. An Atom would have have been twice more expensive. The K5 cost me about as much as an E10K would have.
  • Seeing as the non-pro K5 doesn't have a DAC of its own, should I start looking for one or just be content to use my soundcard (which is supposed to have a decent DAC and has a weak but existent dedicated headphone amp of its own, which can power certain old 600 ohm studio dynamics)? My primary concern here is not to lose the DSP the card provides unless games can be counted on to handle their stereo or emulated surround competently without needing help from Creative software or unless I can get the DSP done in some other way. If a USB DAC would allow me to sell the soundcard (well, two soundcards actually), that would increase my DAC budget and allow me to use the stack from my laptop too.
  • I know I should be fine with almost any dynamics I could afford to buy, but budget planars being a different matter, does buying a 400SE or Sundara make any sense in this situation? (I need/want stage for open-world games and such like.)
  • I have a gaming 2.1 set with 2xRCA speaker output, so I could buy a 2xRCA to female 3.5 jack cable and use that to plug a 400SE in there (wouldn't dare with a Sundara). Is this safe or not really?
 

twsecrest

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Disable the motherboard's on-board audio, in the BIOS.
Install the SB-Z card.
Plug Tygrs into the SB-Z card's headphone jack.
 

AnalogSteph

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If memory serves, the Z is running at least the rear output MAX97220 on +5 V, which is known to be less than perfectly happy about this (it may not be cooled very well). So I'd rather be plugging in the K5, which should be a rather more robust affair.

Also, review the DSP effects in the control panel carefully - a ginormous bass boost is enabled by default among other things.

Oh, and I'm pretty sure that the DSP capabilities of the actual card are pretty limited at best... hardware accelerated sound pretty much wasn't a thing in Windows from Vista onwards and only reintroduced in 8.1 or thereabouts. Most of the X-Fi's considerable DSP power was just going to waste now, so the next generation saw some drastic downsizing.

Amir has actually measured a SB Z. Front L/R ch out dynamic range is good (if still far from what a CS4398 should be capable of), the high multitone IMD (which I suppose may be thermal or negative power supply related) would concern me a bit though. I guess you could just take it easy on output levels. I wouldn't think the older X-Fi Ti PCIe is necessarily a worse choice overall, although any card with an independent hardware DSP tends to be quite cumbersome to handle, as any owner of "classic" Asus Xonar cards will be able to confirm (you may need to keep as many as 3 sample rate settings in sync - application, driver-level, hardware).
 
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