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USB DAC for a computer - looking for recommendations


Jay
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I want to finally invest in a nice DAC & amp to sit on my desktop and plug my headphones and/or my speakers into.

 

There's been some discussion here in the past but model numbers seem to change so quick, I'm looking for any recommendations anyone might have - either a brand you've liked in the past or any specific models that still exist that you recommend

 

Also does anybody here like having a separate DAC and amp vs single device that does both?

 

Anything you want to share is welcome!

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Sure, but as I clearly outlined in my main post, I'm looking for a permanent device that will stay on my desk, and not a portable solution

 

The FiiO K5 Pro ESS is one of the DAC & app combo units I'm looking at - anybody here have experience with that model (or a different Fiio DAC or DAC & amp?)

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I'm specifically asking for a DAC and amp to sit on my desk to leave plugged into my computer, and not a portable solution

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Screen output?  What are you talking about?

 

I'm talking about DACs and amps

 

Stuff like this:

 

Fiio K5 Pro Ess Desktop Dac Headphone Amplifier With Es9038q2m Chip Xmos  Decoding Pcm 768k Dsd512 1.5w Large Power 3 Gain Levels - Headphone  Amplifier - AliExpress

 

Premium 3-in-1 DAC digital audio decoder + USB DAC external sound card +  headphone amplifier

 

Schiit Magni 2U & Modi 2U Review — Headfonics

 

Lindemann USB-DAC 24/192 Review

 

USB DAC: Desktop USB DACs at Crutchfield.com

 

etc

 

What did you think I was talking about?

 

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28 minutes ago, Jay said:

Sure, but as I clearly outlined in my main post, I'm looking for a permanent device that will stay on my desk, and not a portable solution

 

 

I mean... then just turn USB DAC mode and leave it plugged into your computer on your desk then?

 

Or do you mean, you want something big enough that it can't be made off with by a co-worker?

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15 hours ago, Jay said:

Also does anybody here like having a separate DAC and amp vs single device that does both?

 

Can you tell me what the point of such a setup is? (Honest question)

 

I have this, which cost around €40 when I first* bought it:

41JBzB-WNRL.jpg

 

It's got analogue and digital outputs, but I only use it digitally - I needed some relatively cheap audio device that would let me output all the standard bitrates and frequencies (up to 192kHz) so I could run my playlists without having to down convert higher resolution files. For that it works very nicely, except that the USB port is rather fiddly (* which is why I've actually bought this thing more than once when the USB port's contacts gave out after moving it around too much).

 

I've hooked it up digitally to my amp, because I trust the amp to have a higher quality DAC than this cheap box - which as far as I remember is supposed to have a reasonably decent DAC, but probably not something to rival DACs that cost several hundred Euros. So I expect this isn't the kind of thing you're looking for.

 

(For actual music listening, I've since equipped my Raspberry with a similarly cheap audio board that also covers the full range of output formats and doesn't need a fiddly USB connection, but I still have one of these boxes hooked up to my main PC for when I want to send its sound output to my amp)

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18 minutes ago, Bespin said:

To be back more seriously. Computer and music doesn't go along very well. What will you do in the middle of listening to the Expanded score of A.I. when your computer will reboot for a Windows Update? I'll tell you, you'll cry.

 

My Raspberry doesn't have to reboot for updates.

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1 hour ago, Marian Schedenig said:

Can you tell me what the point of such a setup is? (Honest question)

 

Well I'm no expert - which is why I started this thread - but I assume the point of that would be that if you have 2 separate devices, you could upgrade one without the other, or if one breaks you can replace only it instead of having to replace the entire setup, etc.  I guess another reason would be if a company makes a really good DAC, and a really good Amp, but not a single device that does both?

 

 

 

16 hours ago, Bespin said:

Bullshit.

 

30 minutes ago, Bespin said:

To adress the problem of porn sounds

 

3 minutes ago, Bespin said:

When you write you have a "Raspberry", I read "I'M A BIG GEEK".

 

 

Bespin,

 

You are being rude and inconsiderate in my thread where I am simply asking for honest technical advice, and I kindly ask you to stop posting in it since you clearly have nothing positive to contribute here.  Thank you.

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16 hours ago, Jay said:

Sure, but as I clearly outlined in my main post, I'm looking for a permanent device that will stay on my desk, and not a portable solution

 

The FiiO K5 Pro ESS is one of the DAC & app combo units I'm looking at - anybody here have experience with that model (or a different Fiio DAC or DAC & amp?)

 

I use the FiiO K5 Pro (not the newer ESS) in my MIDI setup because it has a very good fast Asio driver. It's a good device. Powers most headphones. Don't really use it as an pre-amp out because there's some computer interference through my headphones when there is a RCA cable attached. 

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22 minutes ago, Jay said:

Well I'm no expert - which is why I started this thread - but I assume the point of that would be that if you have 2 separate devices, you could upgrade one without the other, or if one breaks you can replace only it instead of having to replace the entire setup, etc.  I guess another reason would be if a company makes a really good DAC, and a really good Amp, but not a single device that does both?

 

Possibly. I just figure that a high quality receiver should probably also include a reasonably high quality DAC, so that a separate *better* one would probably at least be expensive. Unless of course you want to pair a good standalone DAC with an amp/receiver that has a lousy built-in DAC. Plus, an external DAC means that you need a good quality cable between that and the amp.

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Let me explain better what I'm trying to do

 

I have a Dell Windows 11 laptop that I do everything on.  It's got whatever random crappy DAC Dell puts inside.  I want to bypass that and use a separate, external DAC instead, for everything I do.


So not just listening to music, but everything: listening to music, yes, but also editing music, playing video, editing video, playing games, etc etc.  All sounds this computer makes will go through that DAC instead, into headphones or speakers.

 

I already have a great 7.1 AV Receiver with a perfectly fine DAC in my living room setup.  I already have a smartphone for on-the-go listening that I could plug a USB-C DAC into if I didn't want to use its internal DAC.  I'm just looking for a permanent solution for my home office's desk to use with my work-provided Windows 11 Dell laptop.

 

Another interesting wrinkle is that I do have some 32-bit, 382khz audio files that I would love to play natively, but almost every USB DAC I look at only goes up to 24-bit, 192khz.  Interesting.

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No idea how much you want to spend but I have the RME ADI-2 DAC FS, which I can highly recommend. It's a DAC and headphone amp (speakers work as well) in one.

https://www.rme-usa.com/adi-2-dac.html

 

19 minutes ago, Jay said:

Another interesting wrinkle is that I do have some 32-bit, 382khz audio files that I would love to play natively, but almost every USB DAC I look at only goes up to 24-bit, 192khz.  Interesting.

The RME can handle that.

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Yea, $1300 is too much for this for me, for sure. I was thinking a couple hundred bucks at the most. 

 

That unit looks really nice though! 

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In terms of amps, the Schiit Magni 3 is always one that I hear is a great entry point for them. Of course, you could always go for one of their more expensive models if you really want something worthy of a great set up.

 

The DAC side of things I'm less sure about, since quite a few within my audiophile circles tend to not recommend anyone go past the Apple USB-C to 3.5mm adapter, given the contentions over if anyone could actually tell the difference between lossless and HQ lossy (let alone CD quality and Hi-Res). That's probably something I would have to ask about, even if I suspect an actually decent solution would be insanely expensive.

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Finally got around to asking, and I'm told that Dangerous Music Source should be a good DAC used for around $750. If that proves too high, Schiit Modi 3E might be fine as an entry point paired with the Amp I listed above.

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Yea definitely don't want to spend that much.

 

I decided to go with the Fiio K5 Pro ESS, which is on sale here for $150 for the next day or two

 

https://www.aliexpress.us/item/3256803496615290.html

 

I used code USNEW12 to get $12 off, then $9.37 tax made it $147.36 (shipping to the US from China was free)

 

Expected to arrive November 6th!

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I think that Fiio K5 will get the job done @Jayand will be a noticeable improvement over what is in the Dell laptop. 

 

I also recommend Schiit's entry level DAC/amps for value, as @HunterTech mentioned above. 

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I don't have the world's best ears but if I DO notice a difference with this $150 option, I'd consider a more expensive option down the line (and find another use for the Fiio)

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Well, as @HunterTech alluded to above, I also have noticed that among audiophiles, there is a group who thinks that above a certain (lower) amount of money, there isn't an audible or meaningful difference in quality, and then there's another grouping of audiophiles who claim they can hear the difference with a more expensive DAC. 

 

Disclaimer: the following is opinion and some audiophiles may disagree with me. Viewer discretion is advised. 

 

I've tried about 8 or 9 DACs in the 150.00 - 800.00 range, and I fall into the category that cannot tell a meaningful difference. I might get more features like more inputs/ outputs, but as far as the sound goes, I feel like I'm good with something in the 150 to 300.00 range as far as a DAC goes. 

 

Some audiophile's claim that you have to get into the super high-end DACs to hear a real difference, and that everything in the 100.00 to 1000.00 range sounds about the same. I can't comment on that. 

 

My experience was this: 

-I was used to my crappy onboard sound on my motherboard for years

-I got an external DAC for around 150.00, and I said "oh wow, that is better"....it was noticeable. 

-Through the next few years, I tested, bought/sold some DACs because of reading things online, but for the most part, did not hear a meaningful difference over what I started with one exception which was a Schhit Bifrost 2 which I currently use. 

 

One thing I will say that does make an audible difference (in my experience) is an R-2R ladder DAC such as the Denafrips Ares II. This kind of DAC uses a different technology to do the digital-to-analogue conversion and a lot of people love the sound of this. It's a lot warmer, lush...however it can lack some of the fine detail that more traditional chip-based DACs have. I listened to this one, and it certainly sounded warmer and nice, but in the end, I missed some of the fine detail that sounded less defined on this, and did not keep it. 

 

The reason I settled on the Schiit Bifrost 2 is because Schiit's 'multibit dac' technology gives some of the warmth that I heard on that Denafrips Ares II, but had more detail, it was like a nice middleground.

 

 

TLDR: It probably isn't worth spending more than say 300 bucks on a DAC unless you have special ears that hear a difference or want to pay more for more features or want the warmth of an R-2R ladder DAC (at slight cost of detail loss). 

 

 

 

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  • 4 weeks later...

My Fiio K5 Pro ESS arrived in yesterday's mail!

 

I should be able to plug it in tomorrow

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On 04/10/2022 at 5:14 PM, MrJosh said:

 

... or want the warmth of an R-2R ladder DAC (at slight cost of detail loss). 

 

 

They look cool ... on the inside!

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Well, I am LOVING my Fiio DAC!!!!!!!

 

It resolved every problem I've been having with audio on my new computer.

 

Plugging and unplugging my computer from the dock here and at work on a regular basis would constantly cause windows to "forget" where to send the audio, and sometimes I'd have to reboot to fix things.

 

Additionally, I've always had issues with multiple volume sliders and not knowing which ones to leave where.  Now, I can just leave all the volumes within WIndows at 100% and my speakers at a certain place, and just reach forward to use the nice giant knob on the Fiio to adjust the volume and that's it.  No more confusion!

 

On top of all that, everything sounds great!  I was doing a bunch of music comparing / editing over the weekend and everything was crystal clear.


So I am very happy with this purchase!

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