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Old 14th February 2007, 04:32 PM   #1
imperfectcircle is offline imperfectcircle  United States
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Default Soundcard or Dac?

I am looking to upgrade my PCs sound quality. I am using a Creative Xfi sound card right now which I got from a friend for free, this was before I had any plans for using my PC for high quality music playback. Now that ive made the switch, over to PC based playback, I need something better sounding. I tried the Zhaolu 2.5 dac I use in my main system connected to the Xfi spdif output and wasn't happy with the results, I guess the Xfi digital output is not very good. So im thinking that either a usb dac or better sound card is the way to go. Being a poor college student my budget is pretty small at $200 which definitely narrows my options quite a bit. On top of my list right now is the Emu 1212m and Scott Nixon usb dac kit. I have heard the Emu 0404 in my friends setup and liked it very much, I would think the 1212m is at least as good if not a little better. But I haven't heard the Scott Nixon dac so I am leaning towards the EMU. They are pretty close in price, but it seems you get alot more for your money with the Emu. Your getting a good quality DAC and ADC, optical, coax and optional word clock digital I/O....etc. All that stuff is nice to have, but im more interested in the sound quality. So if anyone has heard both please lets hear your feedback. Also is there any potential to mod the EMU. Ive seen some people doing basic cap and opamp upgrades on their 0404 but not on the 1212m. Also if you guys have any other ideas that would be great.
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Old 14th February 2007, 11:08 PM   #2
terranigma is offline terranigma
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you may take a look on some sound card based on AKM's latest AK4396 dac chip, aka "Miracle DAC".

Audiotrak Prodigy HD2 Gold is the one of the top-level stereo sound card which uses this DAC out there.
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Old 21st February 2007, 11:54 AM   #3
Radian is offline Radian  Germany
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Yes use one of these.
The AK4396 is a killer Dac.

Here is my post from AA:

"Inspired by Presto, I was tempted to try digital crossover via PC and
searched for a suitable soudcard.
I googeled for reviews and stumbled on a few very encouraging reviews on the fairly new Bluegears b-inspirer.
After reading the specs I was amazed that it used the highly regarded
AKM AK4396 on all 4 channel pairs. I took the plunge and ordered a Club3D Theatron which is identical to the bluegears and is sold here in Germany for 60 Euro.
I did not bother to run the card unmodified for more than a few hours.
I did a first order passive out for the Dac bypassing all the aktive circuitry. I used the passive out mod of the Behringer DCX as described by sendler. Being pin compatible with the AK4394/4395 I cold do this without problems on the AK4396.
Wow, let me tell you this is the best sound from any source I ever had.
My gear so far:
1.Pioneer stable platter highly tweeked and with tube output stage.
2.DDDac with quality parts
3.DIY Usb dac with PCM2707 and TDA1543 (I never got it working again in self powered mode after a German Windows update to SP2)
4. Oppo 971 tweaked with Rubycon ZL all over and a custom active stage with THS4032 opamps.
Out of this buch the Oppo wins by a margin in terms of detail, soudstage, imageing and naturalness.

The soundcard has every positive aspect of the Oppo, plus an even more detailed sound. No matter how many instruments are involved in the cenario they are clearly defined.
What I almost forgot is the very controlled and wheighty bass. That
together with the dynamics was totally surprising to me because this is something that is usually lacking in a passive out configuration.
I can`t wait to finish modding the other 6 channels and hock up my 4 way horn system."

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Old 21st February 2007, 12:56 PM   #4
ghg is offline ghg  Austria
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There are two Theatron models: the DD and the DTS

Which one did you modify ?


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Old 21st February 2007, 01:00 PM   #5
johnthedoctor is offline johnthedoctor  England
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I used a Turtle Beach Santa Cruz soundcard for a long time. No idea how the Creative Xfi sounds but my TB SC easily bests the Creative Live! card I had previously.

Then I got a M-Audio 'Audiophile 24/96' which was better than the Santa Cruz. Growing up with vinyl I got interested in nos dacs and bought a AW-D3 usb dac from Audioworkshop, This gives a choice of 2 dacs, the Burr Brown built into the PCM2706 and a TDA 1543 nos. The Burr Brown I felt to be slightly better than my M-Audio except there is a little noise when using the usb 5v. The Burr Brown is more detailed than the 1543 but I prefer the nos for most music, my son prefers the Burr Brown. With some rock recordings I also prefer the Burr Brown.

The problem with this dac is it freezing when things like the fridge turn off and on. Very annoying, there's been a few posts here about it. From diyparadise I ordered the Monica2 dac and the usb controller. I really like Yeos Monica2 dac and my son is impressed as well. As a huge bonus the usb controller doesn't freeze even though it uses the PCM2706 chip. I think it's to do with the ferrite Yeo uses on one of the usb lines. I bought a pack of ferrite beads to have a go at the AW-D3, not got round to it yet.

I can strongly recommend the usb controller from diyparadise, only $30 for the kit and gives you the choice of using many dacs including your Zhaolu 2.5.
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Old 21st February 2007, 03:28 PM   #6
terranigma is offline terranigma
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APL Hifi uses this AKM AK4396 dac in their Zanden killer "NWO 2.5" players and 211khz upsampling dacs.
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Old 21st February 2007, 03:49 PM   #7
Radian is offline Radian  Germany
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Only the DTS has the AK4396 Dac.
Don`t use the X-Meridian which is the same card, but with a different layout. It has SMD Lytics that are
almost impossible to change to better ones.

The card needs a long break in period before you can judge it`s sound.
One needs to use the b-inspirer driver as the Club3D has no ASIO support yet.
The Scott Endler passive out for the Behringer is fantastic for this dac. It is on his page.
The two lytics right next to the dacs need to be changed to Rubycon Zl or Black Gate.

EC 41 - 44 need to be removed like in the pic.

The signal can be taped on the positive side of EC42 and 43.

The next thing I want to do to the Card is give it a Tent Clock and also feed the dacs with clean power from a 12V Lead Acid Battery followed by a fixed reg,
and change all the remaining caps to Rubycon ZL.

A bonus is that Foobar with the crossover plug-in works wonderfull and Frequency Allocator is even better.

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Old 21st February 2007, 04:09 PM   #8
Van Hai is offline Van Hai  Hong Kong
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For the budget sound card if you can find the ensonic like 1370 with AK4531 DAC and it run on 22.5792Mhz, remove opamp, then use 10uf DC blocking cap and 100k to ground, u will have a very good sound from Foobar 2000 player, as good as AK4395.
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Old 21st February 2007, 05:33 PM   #9
terranigma is offline terranigma
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Hi Van Hai,

Your suggestion is interesting for me. I can find Creative CT4700 sound card. Maybe i give it a try. May you give some detail, link, photo ?

Thank you.
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Old 21st February 2007, 05:33 PM   #10
terranigma is offline terranigma
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Hi Klaus,

Go on please. Keep us with good news. I will follow. Thank you for info about this "direct-out" mod.
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