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Old 4th October 2010, 02:57 PM   #1
vann is offline vann  Macedonia
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Default Sound card or DAC upgrade on tight budget

Hello,

My current audio card is Audigy 2 ZS and I was thinking if maybe some upgrade on tight budget is possible...
I'm in middle of several DIY projects (loudspeakers, subwoofer, headphone amplifier)... So my audio budget is quite pressed ATM.

Can somebody comment on Audigy 2 ZS sound output quality?
More precisely, how would it fare against Asus Xonar DS or D1... or maybe against some low cost DIY DAC, like GrubDAC or BantamDAC?

I know that Audigy 2 ZS is quite outdated now, but back in it's time it was not so bad card. Maybe considering the options, I should stick with what I have for a year or so (until I can afford some bigger upgrade)?

To give some more input, the loudspeakers I'm building are based on full range drivers from Fostex (FE207E). They should supposedly be quite unforgiving of a bad source... so I'm concerned about the quality of sound reproduction.

Any suggestions?
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Old 5th October 2010, 06:11 PM   #2
frenzic is offline frenzic  Netherlands
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There are quite a few nice pci-based solutions to your problem witch would not be expensive to purchase. I mean you could get a second hand bitperfect pro card for use with solid 6.3 mm neutriks containing serious dac. I bought a Marian Prodiff Plus for just about zilch and never looked back. I also use a Audiotrek Maya 44 MKII wich cost next to nothing to get optical signal out of my workstation into my music pc. Works like a charm. As an upgrade path you could feed it a master clock signal. Lots of possibilities even without getting a stand alone dac.
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Old 5th October 2010, 08:54 PM   #3
vann is offline vann  Macedonia
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Interesting approach.
I couldn't find any offering for your gear but I sure get your idea... Tnx. A bit outdated hardware, which was very competitive few years back is really a best buy option.

This exactly what I should pursue in general, but it's not something to do in a hurry.
I need something right now and in shorter term maybe I should go for some low cost DIY DAC (like grubdac).
I was hoping that maybe somebody here had experience with this (or similar) DAC and with a sound card of similar quality.

Tnx again for the excellent idea.
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Old 5th October 2010, 10:16 PM   #4
oublie is offline oublie  United Kingdom
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I still have a number of zs cards but upgraded about 6 months ago to an audiotrak prodigy 7.1 hifi. This is an excellent card with swappable opamps if you can find one second hand on ebay go for it.

As for is it worth it personally i would concentrate on getting your other projects sorted before upgrading the digital side. one thing i've notice with changing source, amps and speakers it's the speakers that will always be the most significant change. I didn't really notice any major changes going from an external cheapish dac to teh zs and then to the audiotrak however, for me the change was necessary in order to work with active crossovers.
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Old 6th October 2010, 11:56 AM   #5
vann is offline vann  Macedonia
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oublie, I smiled when I sow you mentioning the prodigy 7.1 hifi... I was just reading about it an hour ago. Stumbled to it (and also, Prodigy HD2) when I was looking for older undervalued cards.
Alas, the price of a new one is still out of reach (for me) for now and I couldn't find some used ones on ebay.

BTW, are you using software crossover?
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Old 6th October 2010, 12:23 PM   #6
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If you just want a dac and are not powering a set of cans from it, why not a usb dac?

grubdac
bantam dac
amb gamma 1
amb gamma 2

listed from cheapest to most expensive.
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Old 6th October 2010, 01:53 PM   #7
oublie is offline oublie  United Kingdom
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vann View Post
oublie, I smiled when I sow you mentioning the prodigy 7.1 hifi... I was just reading about it an hour ago. Stumbled to it (and also, Prodigy HD2) when I was looking for older undervalued cards.
Alas, the price of a new one is still out of reach (for me) for now and I couldn't find some used ones on ebay.

BTW, are you using software crossover?
yes running 3 way active crossovers on the computer output via the prodigy - nice card but only works well with windows xp it doen't play well with vista or win 7

I'm planning on getting a second card as you can sync the clocks from one to the other this will allow me fully active surround sound
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Old 6th October 2010, 02:46 PM   #8
vann is offline vann  Macedonia
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yes, I noticed on official page that only XP is supported. But I guess later MS OS can be used through generic VIA drivers...
BTW, I'm onto HT functionality myself (I've almost finished a DIY 4ch amp) but so far my crossover ambition is only focused on bass redirection (my loudspeakers in making are based on full range drivers).

Quote:
Originally Posted by nightanole View Post
If you just want a dac and are not powering a set of cans from it, why not a usb dac?

grubdac
bantam dac
amb gamma 1
amb gamma 2

listed from cheapest to most expensive.
nightanole, can you please comment on (some of) those dac's quality in general? That is my dilemma, how much difference should I expect from this kind of an upgrade...
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Old 6th October 2010, 05:27 PM   #9
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Go for an optical DAC connected to a sound card optical output. I have done this for around 100 Euro's, and you keep all the nasty Computer noises out of the speakers.

Any cheap Optical output Sound card is good enough, higher bit rates and 24 bits are nice to have but typically not much use if all you play is CD quality sources.

My cheapest DAC was 35 Euro (new) and my cheapest sound card was 6 Euro (second hand) on Ebay. The difference in the sound of modern DAC's is reasonably low. My zero and my ELV DAC's sound almost the same in my system playing just CD quality sources. Both DAC's are meny to be able to do a maximum of 24 bit 194 Khz.

Good luck

Owen
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Old 6th October 2010, 06:19 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vann View Post
yes, I noticed on official page that only XP is supported. But I guess later MS OS can be used through generic VIA drivers...
BTW, I'm onto HT functionality myself (I've almost finished a DIY 4ch amp) but so far my crossover ambition is only focused on bass redirection (my loudspeakers in making are based on full range drivers).

nightanole, can you please comment on (some of) those dac's quality in general? That is my dilemma, how much difference should I expect from this kind of an upgrade...
I haven't heard any of them, but here are RMAA test results on the Bantam:
0.0120% THD+N, 0.0140% IMD+N.

The Gamma-1 has about 0.0010% THD+N, 0.0040% IMD+N. The Gamma-2 has even lower IMD+N, about 0.0032%. (Linking to AMB.org is broken - you can find the specifications there.)

The distortion specs of the Gamma DACs are really really good - very close to thousands-of-dollars pro audio cards.
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