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Sound card to drive high-end headset.

Discussion in 'General Hardware' started by TRIPTEX_CAN, Dec 7, 2009.

  1. TRIPTEX_CAN

    TRIPTEX_CAN

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    I'm looking to upgrade my sound card to something that can drive a serious set of gaming headphones. High-end headsets like the (soon to be mine) Sennheiser PC350 sound just average when ran from a regular sound card but they will stand head and shoulders above others when driven by a card that can handle their impedance of 150ohms. Sennheiser has stated themselves that anyone intending on buying these should have the proper gear to run them or just move on to something else.

    What started as a search for a new sound card has snowballed into clusterF*** of information and a wake up call into the world of PC audio. :shadedshu

    I have narrowed my search down to 3 cards that offer an onboard headphone amp and a host of other features you would expect from a $200 piece of hardware. What I'm looking for is some feed back on any of these cards or any suggestions for other cards that offer similar features and a headphone amp which will delivers the amped sound via front panel connection.

    PCI vs PCI-E is irrelevant for me as I have one of each available to me.

    I'm leaning towards the Claro Halo because of all the connecitons built in and the full DTS connect support. I will be using the digital output for movies and music so full DTS is a plus and the only analog I plan to use will be for the PC350s.


    AuzenTech Forte
    $154.80 - $20 MIR = $134.80

    ASUS Xonar Essence STX
    = $185.76

    HT Omega Claro Halo
    = $179.39

    thoughts..?

    :toast:
  2. Zubasa

    Zubasa

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    If the Forte is that cheap right now, grab it.
    The STX is the best in sound quality, but that price tag :shadedshu
  3. CJCerny

    CJCerny

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    I would consider buying a set of Logitech G35 headphones and just skipping both the Senns and the soundcard. The PC350 is not a terrific set of headphones and adding an amp is going to give them more oomph, but it won't be a night and day improvement. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the Senns plus an amped sound card is not a terribly cost-effective solution.
  4. TRIPTEX_CAN

    TRIPTEX_CAN

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    The Senns are already bought and paid for. IMO the G35s look childish and I didn't want 5.1 headphones. I appreciate your opinion but the PC350 + amped card is the combination I will end up with. The Senns are arriving today and will be under the tree waiting for me.

    From what I've read adding an amped card to to PC350 is specifically that. A night and day difference when driving the set properly.
  5. TRIPTEX_CAN

    TRIPTEX_CAN

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    So the Forte is a formidable card for gaming with a high end headset?

    No thoughts on the Omega Halo?
  6. MKmods Case Mod Guru

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    isant the Halo the one with the headphone amp built in? If so I vote for it.

    (normally I always go with Asus, but im in a "try something new" mode this week)
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  7. Kursah

    Kursah

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    My Forte has a dedicated headphone amp built in, and it sends amplified signals to the dedicated rear jack and to through the FP connection. Love that card, had it for months now, never an issue, makes my JVC HARX700 and JVC HADX3 sound great. Great little card, lo-profile, pci-e, solid drivers, no complaints from me.
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  8. TRIPTEX_CAN

    TRIPTEX_CAN

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    Yeah all 3 of my current options have a headphone amp. I was thinking the same thing about the Halo and trying something new.

    Thanks for the input. The Forte is making me rethink my choice over the Halo especially for gaming, but I have the feeling the Halo is a better audio card over all. How do you find the difference between using the amped output vs a regular sound card to drive your set?
  9. Kursah

    Kursah

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    It's noticable, mostly in volume and lower end heft. The mids and hi's are pretty close to the same to my ears, but it seems to drive my headphones to my listening level faster and with a tad more fullness than the basic output does..where the basic output needs say 50%, the headphone output needs about 35%. That's on my HARX700's, which I only use now-a-days...my HADX3's are being stored for now.

    The Auzen has one of the weaker integrated headphone amps in the market, but not the worst, and it does have swappable opamps. I find it more than enough for my needs, I rarely go over 25%-30% volume at the loudest with my HARX700's, though they're lower impedance. The higher impedance JVC HADX3's need about 45% volume to reach the same level. Do you require the headphone amp be integrated? There are too many external ones to choose from and prices go from little altoid can $30+ to $1000's for custom tube amps...that's why I chose integrated. I gotta say I'm extremely satisfied with my card and it's amp output.
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  10. TRIPTEX_CAN

    TRIPTEX_CAN

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    I would really prefer to have the amp integrated for simplicity and less clutter on my desk and the price is also a major deterrent from going with an external unit.

    What does bother me is the lack of reviews on the Halo. Omega's other cards all appear to have favorable reviews and share almost the same design without the amp though.

    I guess it comes down to price or X-Fi chipset vs Cmedia chipset. I'm still trying to find out what audio engine DICE is using for BFBC2
  11. Anisotonic New Member

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    I'd get either the Claro or the Auzentech Prelude and switch the opamp to an OPA627. or just skip the sound card part and get a real headphone amp if you're just going to play in stereo, I have the audio-gd compass and I love it.
  12. TRIPTEX_CAN

    TRIPTEX_CAN

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    Any specific reason why you'd avoid the Forte other than it being x-fi based? I really dont think a dedicated headphone amp is my sort of thing.

    Also where would you order the OPA627 from?
  13. cadaveca

    cadaveca My name is Dave

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    If you get and Auzentech card, you can order the OPA617AU from them direct, for about 60 or something. check thier website. I posted a link in the OPAMP thread posted last night. They customize the OPAMPs so they are a direct drop-in, which adds a bit to the cost.


    OPA627 provides good low-end boost in comparison to other OPAMPs, but is a bit lacking @ higher frequencies. OPA637 fixes teh high-end, but I personally find the mid-range has a hole between 125hz-375hz, but that could be my equipment.


    Alot of the X-Fi features don't work in Vista/Win7(EAX), and are replaced with OpenAL. The money companies save from buying an X-FI chipset, generally, like in the case of the XONAR cards, goes into better equipment on the soundcard. Just take a quick look at specs to see the difference between X-FI-based cards, and say, the ASUS Xonars to see what I mean. From what I understand, developers are staying away from EAX, as it's a closed standard, adn has liscencing fees, while OpenAL can do the same things, without the cost for the developer.


    The seperate amp for your cans is the best option. Find one that does the decode, and it will cost the same or less than an add-in card, and give far better quality. I understand the need for simplicity, but you can get so much more for the same dollar...
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2009
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  14. TRIPTEX_CAN

    TRIPTEX_CAN

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    Another reason I'm leaning away from the external amp is that I really like the idea of getting DTS on all my music and movies to my home theater. My PC serves as a media source fairly regularly so even though a dedicated amp will drive the cans better I still feel like I'm selling my self short on features and flexibility. I guess the thread title is a little misleading as I do care about the digital output and media capabilities as well. Headphone performance is paramount but it is not the only reason I'm looking to upgrade.

    I keep reading mixed opinions on X-fi in Vista/W7. Some say x-fi works well with alchamy and that Auzen has perfected Creatives failures and other say it's a waste of time. I guess the cmedia chipsets support OpenAL and that's the direction to take for the future.

    I dont see myself upgrading the opamps anytime soon on either card. Honestly I just want the Senns to have decent all around sound and to destroy the horrible Logitech USB set I had before. I'm obviously not an audiophile I just want some "ooomf" in my headset.
  15. cadaveca

    cadaveca My name is Dave

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    Well, in that situation, onboard does a decent job for digital output to a HT-amp, in such a way that what I will be doing for my next build is an external headphone amp, and using digital-out to a proper amp for true surround. Onboard is, today, only really lacking in amplification, not in features. Hence the recommendations to get an external headphone amp.

    I'm doing an eyefinity build for driving sims, mounting everything into a box you sit in, which will then be powered by hydraulics for "force feedback". I'll need good surround to cover the sound of the motors, as well as a quiet mode for when the kiddies are in bed, and have chosen the above config for those purposes.

    Alchemy works, but it seems to consume CPU time? I don't get it. Vista's driver stack for audio has greatly changed, and EAX was not developed for this config. Alchemy, as far as I understand, converts the EAX to OpenAL, and maybe this is where the cpu usage comes into play? I don't understand exactly what's going on, but I do know that I prefer X-FI in XP...but in VIsta, I prefer the Xonar. but my ears aren't gonna be teh same as anyone else's, so maybe that's jsut me personal perception.
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  16. Zubasa

    Zubasa

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    On the OpenAL topic.
    What Alchemy does is convert calls for Direct Sound 3D to OpenAL.
    So EAX still exists beyond Win XP, just that it is done by using OpenAL.

    The only problem is that Creative being lazy, only coded OpenAL to support 8 or 16-bit sound.
    So you ended up buying a 24-bit capable sound card and use it for only 8 or 16-bit sound in games. :respect:
    At lease we can still use ASIO to play music in 24-bit depth....
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  17. cadaveca

    cadaveca My name is Dave

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    Ah, that makes sense. I knew something was different, but not why.
  18. Mescalamba

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    I have X-Fi Forte + HD 555 .. works perfect (going to buy HD650 next). Better sound than STX (unless you like techno and such.. cause it sounds like tin-can-robo-sound).

    Upgradable OPAMPs are on both, but that one on X-Fi is usable since purchase. I would definetly change that one on STX.

    Yea and you have EAX 5.0 with X-Fi.
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  19. TRIPTEX_CAN

    TRIPTEX_CAN

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    My board doesnt have a digital output and even though I believe there are some brackets (to fit the output header on the board) available on ebay the board still wont support DTS connect and Dolby headphone among other things. I think (and I could be completey wrong) the industry has put too much faith in integrated audio. Sure Creative stained the add-in audio market with their horrible Vista support but no on board chip can replace what the Xonar Essence or Claro Halo can do.

    For your driving setup using the onboard digital->DAC->speakers is pure win. I hope you start a thread to show off the awesomeness of that build.

    Thanks for the info. Which chipset do you think is a better choice for Win7 and the future of gaming?

    Which OS are you using?
  20. Zubasa

    Zubasa

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    By any chance that you have CMSS-3D or Crystalizer on?
  21. TRIPTEX_CAN

    TRIPTEX_CAN

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    I asked DICE what their audio engine is doing in BFBC2 and if they had a preferred card or chip set. This was their answer.
  22. Zubasa

    Zubasa

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    Get the Xonar :cool:
  23. TRIPTEX_CAN

    TRIPTEX_CAN

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    It does look like a good card but Asus doesnt need my money. From what I understand Omega's build quality and support is first class. I believe there is little difference between the Xonar Essence and Halo. Feel free to prove me wrong. You also said it yourself ... my local price for the Essence = :shadedshu
  24. Zubasa

    Zubasa

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    Argh, yes.
    If that X-Fi is on sale for that price, I think you should get it anyways then.
  25. RejZoR

    RejZoR

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    It's funny when ppl easily pay 500 bucks for a graphic card that will become obsolete in 2 years, but they cannot decide for a 185 bucks worth soundcard that will easily last for 10 years (or until there are no drivers for it) considering it's a high end hardware... Just a thought.

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