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DAC or AMP or both?


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Hi there,

 

My ASUS laptop has a busted headphone port and can't be bothered ripping the PC open and finding a replacement part. Thought about bluetooth headphones, but want to keep my ATHMX50's because there's nothing wrong with them. Rather than replace my $1000 laptop thought I could just plug a DAC or DAC / AMP into a spare usb port on the laptop, then plug my headphones into that. This would also, i think, be a huge upgrade in audio quality. Wondering the following noob things:

 

1. How does the sound come out of the USB port into the DAC??? DO you have to tell the laptop to direct all audio to a usb port???

2. Do I need a DAC or a DAC/AMP (ATHMX50 are pretty low impedance so i imagine easy to drive, but unsure on this) 

3. Will there be a noticeable audio upgrade?

4. How much do i need to spend for an improved sound over the laptop 3.5mm jack?

5. Do all DAC's have a cable that plugs into a laptop usb port?

6. Can I use it on my mobile phone also. Would a DAC/AMP sound better than my LGV40?

 

Thanks for any advice on my noob questions.

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I use the Fiio BTR5 wired at the office and wired/wireless with the phone while on the commute/walk. The laptop charges it while in use at the office so it is always ready to go.

Sound quality improvement over a regular laptop 3.5mm output is significant, especially if you use it via its balanced port. LGV40 is not bad in its own right but I would say that BTR5 is better.

 

FiiO BTR5 2021 Bluetooth DAC – Addicted To Audio

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16 minutes ago, sabloke said:

I use the Fiio BTR5 wired at the office and wired/wireless with the phone while on the commute/walk. The laptop charges it while in use at the office so it is always ready to go.

Sound quality improvement over a regular laptop 3.5mm output is significant, especially if you use it via its balanced port. LGV40 is not bad in its own right but I would say that BTR5 is better.

 

FiiO BTR5 2021 Bluetooth DAC – Addicted To Audio

Oh thanks, How does the bluetooth option sound compared to wired connection

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Wired sound better but I have to say LDAC Bluetooth is not far behind. The sound quality difference is negligible when on the go anyway. I prefer to use it wired at the office since it is also charging, using a type-C both ends short USB cable. The same cable I use if I ever want to connect the BTR5 to my phone. However, Bluetooth is so much more convenient on the go, with the BTR5 being lost in a pocket somewhere, leaving my phone free of wires.

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52 minutes ago, sabloke said:

Wired sound better but I have to say LDAC Bluetooth is not far behind. The sound quality difference is negligible when on the go anyway. I prefer to use it wired at the office since it is also charging, using a type-C both ends short USB cable. The same cable I use if I ever want to connect the BTR5 to my phone. However, Bluetooth is so much more convenient on the go, with the BTR5 being lost in a pocket somewhere, leaving my phone free of wires.

Thanks sabloke.  So when jogging or something, you have the unit plugged into the phone usb port and both of these in your pocket. Then you need bluetooth headphones to go wireless ?

 

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No, the BTR5 is one of the best Bluetooth dongles on the market at the moment. On LDAC, sound quality is impressive. I'm using it with Sony IER-Z1R headphones daily, mostly wireless.

I was simply suggesting that it works very well with the phone wired if you need the best possible sound quality.

Edited by sabloke
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2 hours ago, Howmanyru said:

1. How does the sound come out of the USB port into the DAC??? DO you have to tell the laptop to direct all audio to a usb port???

2. Do I need a DAC or a DAC/AMP (ATHMX50 are pretty low impedance so i imagine easy to drive, but unsure on this) 

3. Will there be a noticeable audio upgrade?

4. How much do i need to spend for an improved sound over the laptop 3.5mm jack?

5. Do all DAC's have a cable that plugs into a laptop usb port?

6. Can I use it on my mobile phone also. Would a DAC/AMP sound better than my LGV40?

1. The laptop treats the USB port attached to a DAC as another sound device and you decide where sound is going to go

2. It will likely sound better with an amp, but some DACs have high outputs as well.

3. Definitely (unless your laptop is at the high end).

4. Most laptop 3.5mm jack is awful, some higher end laptop or a Mac slightly better.  You do not have to spend much on a DAC to beat it.

5. Most DACs have USB port, but some do not. Usually, a USB cable is supplied, but quality may not be good.

6. Why not try with your mobile phone now?  You can then decide whether it is good enough...

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18 hours ago, Snoopy8 said:

1. The laptop treats the USB port attached to a DAC as another sound device and you decide where sound is going to go

2. It will likely sound better with an amp, but some DACs have high outputs as well.

3. Definitely (unless your laptop is at the high end).

4. Most laptop 3.5mm jack is awful, some higher end laptop or a Mac slightly better.  You do not have to spend much on a DAC to beat it.

5. Most DACs have USB port, but some do not. Usually, a USB cable is supplied, but quality may not be good.

6. Why not try with your mobile phone now?  You can then decide whether it is good enough...

Great, thanks for the reply. Looks like a DAC is the go and will also improve the audio quality significantly. The other option was to buy the ATHM50xBT which cost around $350 and probably will sound worse than a DAC and my ATHM50x wired headphones. HiFi shops are pushing the audioquest dragonfly for some reason, are they that good?

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The Audioquest Dragonfly range is good, especially if you want portability and it includes an amp.  Have a read of the reviews.  

 

However, there are lots of DACs with or without amps, so you may have too many choices! 😁 

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1 hour ago, MattyW said:

These are extremely hard to beat under $500. Great suggestion.  :)

I only know of them beacuse of yourself :)

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Ok, just received the FIIO k3, delivered VERY promptly by addicted to audio. The unit was packaged really well, came with a long enough cable to comfortably plug into my laptop. Plugged it into the USB port, Windows 10 recognised immediately, ready to go !!! Too easy.  Currently listening to "long after you're gone" on Utube in high quality audio. What to say, ITS BLOWING MY MIND how good this is compared to the audio socket on my laptop. Listening on ATH MX50 headphones, divine. Thankfully the socket wore out on the laptop or I never would have experienced just how much better a DAC is. Totally stoked with this new level of sound, thanks for the advice on this forum.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I was in similar situation and like the FIIO BTR3k (currently out of stock on back order - poo! should have got in before Chrissy), might have to stretch to the BTR5 or wait a few more weeks

 

doesn't look to be an issue for you with MX50 cans, but I needed mic functionality for mob calls and when using in the office from a windows PC for zoom calls etc. Many of the USB dac/amp options don't support a TRRS jack for mic, even the smaller portable/mobile units, which is odd when more of the top end phones don't have an audio jack now.

 

And oddly the company laptop I had recently, disabled the mic component in the audio jack. I got myself some Focal cans with an in-line mic and after 3 weeks of working with the IT service desk they concluded that fresh from from Dell the mic related drivers in the PC had been disabled/removed as Dell were supplying those crumby USB connecting headsets for everyone in the office

(so here I am on Zoom calls talking into the in-line mic to improve my call quality and everyone is still saying my audio/new cans are crap... of course! the laptop mic is being used and picking up the whole office.!!)

 

 

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  • 2 months later...
On 12/1/2022 at 5:30 PM, muon* said:

One of these would also work.

 

https://www.ebay.com/itm/253874246751

Hey, 

 

just found this thread. And was curious about your post. Also wasn’t sure why no one was more intrigued. At that price too!!! 
 

I was wondering if you could tell me a bit more about this amp? 
 

I am just starting to look into the headfi side of things. Just bought some Meze 99 classics off a fellow snaer. 
 

I am mainly listening to records at home. So I will be going out of my phono pre into (insert headphone amp) 

 

thanks in advance for your help

 

edit: just re read the add and they are rca outputs!! 
 

@muon* still interested in your thoughts!? 

Edited by Albertbecker
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18 minutes ago, Albertbecker said:

Hey, 

 

just found this thread. And was curious about your post. Also wasn’t sure why no one was more intrigued. At that price too!!! 
 

I was wondering if you could tell me a bit more about this amp? 
 

I am just starting to look into the headfi side of things. Just bought some Meze 99 classics off a fellow snaer. 
 

I am mainly listening to records at home. So I will be going out of my phono pre into (insert headphone amp) 

 

thanks in advance for your help

I just use it on my PC for either Monolith M1060 headphones, or as a pre for my powered Logitech PC speakers.

 

Matty gave it to me a while ago, has a full analogue sound, which is no surprise as it uses 8 of the old Philips budget chips in parallel, the parallel arrangement reduces errors that would be there if it were a single chip.

 

Has plenty of detail for my tastes, but what I value is the full natural sound, not to say it isn't detailed...there is plenty there IMO.

 

It's just plug n play with my PC.

 

I think I have also seen plug pack versions too on ebay, for anyone not using USB.

Edited by muon*
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11 hours ago, Albertbecker said:

Appreciated the response @muon* :) 

 

It really is incredibly hard to beat. One of my mates is right into buying these, pulling them out of the case and mounting on a block of wood and tweaking the sound with different capacitors. Me, I use one in my gym system and another at work for headphones.

Edited by MattyW
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