PC audio advice (dac/Amp vs Soundcard) and 7.1 surround sound

Firenut4

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Sep 27, 2013
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First I would like to get it out there that I am in no way an audio enthusiast or claim to know all that much about audio. My experience is pretty much all from reviews and research from the last few weeks. (what I am saying is that if you give me some advice like the sound is in a V shape or stuff like that I am going to nod my head sounds good and not understand a word you said(wrote).

Before I continue, My motherboard is a Z370-A-PRO so the on board audio is seemingly meh at best.

Now my best sound experience is the Hyper X cloud 2s with the 7.1 surround sound USB. They sadly after 3ish years of constant abuse are on their last leg. I am in the market for a new audio setup.

My budget is 300-400$ for a pair of headphones, a mic and what ever I need to drive them.

After spending way to long on research I have the
beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO 80 Ohm as my headset at $140 on amazon
Antlion Audio ModMic 5 Modular Attachable Boom Microphone and USB Adapter as my mic
and the FiiO E10K USB DAC Headphone Amplifie
r to drive it at about $140

I looked extensively at all of Creatives options like the Sound blaster AE-5 and the Z as well as the E5 and E6 but the reviews about those products software turned me off.

I am wondering if this is the correct approach for better audio. I would like 7.1 virtual surround sound for gaming but at the same time I should learn to live without it.

My question is are sound cards still relevant they seem to be the only way other to get 7.1 virtual surround or is a external Dac/Amp combo always better and I should stop caring about 7.1. If you have better products for headset/mic/amp/dac I would also appreciate it.
 

anort3

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A V shaped sound signature means the highs ( treble ) and lows ( bass ) are boosted at the expense of a recessed midrange. The mids are where the vocals live so if vocals are important to you, you'll want to avoid V shaped headphones. In general. There are of course some V shaped cans that do vocals quite well.

First off I own some very nice headphones but I don't have any Beyerdynamics so this is from what I've read not personal experience. The DT 770 is a V shaped headphone but not terribly so. The 80 ohm DT 770s are very popular and used in studios quite a bit. They're closed back so you have isolation but like any closed back can get hot and in general a closed back will have a smaller soundstage than an open back.

The DT 880 is the neutral headphone in that Beyer lineup. The DT 990s are even more V shaped than the 770s.

As a more neutral open alternative to the DT 770 I'd suggest checking out the Sennheiser HD 598 or HD 599 ( slight bass boost to the 598 ). The 598 was my gateway headphone. A neutral headphone gives equal weight to the highs, lows and mids.

Metal 571 is one of the better reviewers. You can trust his ear unlike some of the more popular reviewers ( Zeos ). You don't particularly need an amp with the 598/599 and they work with a modmic.

[video="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HORNc3QQ9mc&t=1s"][/video]

He's got reviews on the Beyer line as well.
 

carltonje

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Aug 18, 2006
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Provided your ok with spending that much should be fine. You have a good sound onboard actually just need a better headphone than the hyper x ones. I use sennheiser and love em beyerdynamic are also very good. Remember with headphones 7.1 is not really relevant. its the quality if the headphone as your really gonna only differentiate left right. I would go Sennheiser hd 559's soundblaster trustudio pro thx and a lavalier clip on mic like the Sennheiser me2.
 

photonboy

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1) USB solutions bypass your motherboard audio completely. Add a slight CPU increase that may or may not have any affect on gaming FPS (probably not on most half decent CPU's).

So the audio is basically done slightly in software (CPU) then passed onto the DAC to convert to analog.

2) GAMING headphones for SURROUND - there are some excellent options that have the DAC USB unit separate from STEREO 3.5mm headphones. This is the best way for general gaming/movies etc because the 3D processing affects sound quality negatively.

Thus it's optimal to have two options:
a) Surround for gaming despite audio quality loss, and
b) STEREO with higher quality for basic movie, music etc usage.

*Some models BYPASS the SURROUND part with a button press so it can remain STEREO with the higher quality audio. It still uses the DAC but stays stereo so should have basically identical audio to another DAC of similar quality with the same headphones whether that DAC is onboard, an external box or part of the headphones.

Not all DAC's are the same to be clear as you appear to know hence my "basically identical" in last sentence.

3) What about DESKTOP speakers?
One option is a desktop DAC with Surround virtualization capability for at least one output and a separate connection for the other speakers.

4) Whatever you choose think through the CONVENIENCE of it. I personally like the idea of the DAC in the headphones with again the option to switch between Virtualization/Surround and normal STEREO modes with a single button press.

*It appears you had that or similar.

5) Also, to be clear, modern onboard DACs are pretty good now. It's probably the ANALOG portion that's not so great. To summarize the PC outputs:
a) USB - audio quality not related to PC itself (done via DAC, the DAC amplifiers and the speaker unit)
b) Mobo digital outputs - digital processing via mobo but analog/speakers is external)
c) Mobo analog outputs - digital processing, Op-Amp signal manipulation and pre-amp on mobo but SPEAKERS do the rest)

I did some testing and found that older motherboard up to about 2013 had sub-standard audio even with better Realtek chips and supporting amps onboard. Most from last couple years are great for digital but vary a lot for analog. Still, plenty of good solutions on more expensive boards that need a good ear and excellent speakers to tell difference for analog.

6) Finally, for FRONT output via the analog it's not recommended as that usually introduces noise distortion.
 

photonboy

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https://www.techradar.com/reviews/hyperx-cloud-revolver-s

Might not be the best but I'd start there with a solution similar to what you had before. The only real issue appears to be the microphone but otherwise I suggest you go with:

1) USB headphones
2) 3.5mm detachable
3) enable/disable audio processing button
4) enable/disable (mute) microphone button
5) volume control buttons or dial

6) 50mm drivers
7) great reviews for sound quality
 

anort3

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Moderator
"Gaming" headsets are crap compared to real headphones. There are a few exceptions from real audio companies like Sennheiser and Audeze. Good rule of thumb. Do they also make keyboards and mice? If so avoid them for audio. This includes almost all USB headsets.

I'd take DT 770s ( or better yet HD 598/599s ) with the E10K and modmic all day everyday over Kingston anything. The OP was on the right track. Tech site reviewers tend to not know anything about good audio. Tom's Hardware and Tom's Guide included.

If surround is desired get an Asus soundcard with virtual surround instead of an external amp/DAC like the E10K. It really makes very little difference though. I usually game using the 2 channel HiFi mode on my Asus Xonar Essence STX over the virtual 7.1 channel game mode with my HD 598s.

If you do go the soundcard route avoid Creative and get Asus. Creative drivers are terrible and have been for 15 years.
 
Nov 24, 2018
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What about the Arctis Pro + gamedac?

The dt770 only goes 5 to 35khz while the arctis goes 20 to 40khz. Is that extra 5k on the highs better for gaming isnt it? 24bit

Im trying to do the same as the OP but not seeing anything stand out as that much more impressive to justify.
 

photonboy

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40KHz is better... if you are a dog.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hearing_range#Humans

Most middle-aged people can't even hear beyond 14KHz. I'd be surprised if games had audio higher than 14KHz anyway.

I'm not sure anything below 40Hz matters much either. Not sure how much content there is or how much it matters. Maybe for certain songs paired with a good SUBWOOFER it would matter more... maybe I'm wrong but that's how it appears to me in my research.
 

anort3

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Moderator


No that's right. I have very good hearing for someone my age ( 44 ) and I can't hear beyond 14-15k. Also as you say, lower bass frequencies need a subwoofer. You don't hear those so much as feel them. Very few headphones can reproduce those low frequencies at all.

So despite the downvote from the necroposter, for a 'gaming' headset to advertise a frequency response like that is 100% marketing.
 

photonboy

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MSI Z370-A PRO onboard audio info:

*I was going to say "but modern audio chips are usually pretty good did you test it?..." but then I received a huge SHOCK when I went to the MSI mobo site... it's the fucking Realtek ALC892 chip!!

That's the same chip that sounded way, way worse than the X-Fi sound card I bought in 2009 (I tested just DIGITAL outputs too). It's in my Z77 board from 2012 so WTF is it doing in a recent motherboard when there are FAR better onboard chips that add maybe like ten cents to the build cost?

There's more than just the audio PROCESSOR (op-amp, DAC chip etc for analog output... Digital outputs depend AFAIK solely on the processor chip and software drivers) but if it's a crappy one then everything else doesn't matter. So for good audio you need either:
a) SOUND CARD, or
b) USB device (standalone DAC box, or USB headphones with its own DAC)

BTW, the following headphones are ones I bought for gaming, music and movies after much research though they are purely analog (no DAC etc) or microphone so they aren't ones I'd recommend to the OP of this post necessarily. Great value!! The bass and sound separation are slightly better than the other high-end headphones I had that broke.

Audio-Technica ATH-M50X

*And I thought I linked the "Super X-Fi Amp" from Creative but here it is:
https://us.sxfi.com/products/sxfi-amp/

I can only go by reviews but my understanding is that it works with STEREO headphones and does an amazing job of virtualization to create a 3D sound stage for both games, music and video.

There's software to download to test without the hardware to give a rough idea of what it does as well as train it to YOUR ears with pictures, however this software does not download for me from CANADA. Only USA and some other countries right now.

**So that device plus good STEREO headphones is all you need as USB bypasses your onboard audio completely... I'd also think about the DESKTOP SPEAKERS since you want to easily switch between them likely.

I bought Audioengine speakers with a HEADPHONE JACK on them which I find perfect for my usage though I don't alter the audio... anyway, you do NOT want to have to change the SOUND SOURCE in Playback Devices (now "Sounds->Playback") every time you switch. You also want both things ALWAYS PLUGGED IN if possible and perhaps an OFF switch on the speakers which then auto switches to the headphones?

Some speaker/headphone combos won't work that way... one possibility I just thought of is to get a USB hub with BUTTONS on it (I have one) so when you press the button it's the same as if you yanked the USB headphones out of the connection; press button again to connect.

UPDATE:
If someone got that Creative USB thingy above it would be a REPLACEMENT for any USB DAC headphones may already have so you don't use both. You'd use this with 3.5mm headphones but any MICROPHONE would need to go back to the motherboard then so that's a big downside as I'd prefer it to be all through the USB connection... not even sure if there's a big difference between how the motherboard ALC892 setup handles microphone input and how a USB headphone with its own DAC/Microphone solution does it.... I suspect you'd like to avoid the motherboard audio completely.
 
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