External USB sound card/DAC for laptop

Hi-Fi-Guy

Hi-Fi-Guy

Audioholic
Hi guys,

I'd like to put something between my laptop and active speakers Edifier s350db. I really wanted good 2.1 system and after lot of reviews read and watched I decided to go for these. I'll feed them with TV and laptop signals so they will be my main source of entertainment.

Being certain that my HP Elitebook 850 G3 sound card is garbage, and while waiting on speakers to arrive, I ordered Phoinikas T-10 external sound card (it was cheap) to see if there will be any difference when I listen to the headphones through it and through laptops Conexant ISST sound card.

Phoinikas T-10 gives just a bit clearer sound than Conexant ISST without any equalisation on both, but the latter is way louder. Difference in sound quality is almost insignificant, not worth even 30€. I guess I shouldn't expect much of 30€ USB sound card.

Now I am looking at some USB DACs like Creative Sound Blaster G6, Shiit Fulla 3, Creative Sound Blaster X3, Creative SB X-Fi Surround 5.1 Pro v3, and some other in the similar price range. I see lot of them are advertised as for gaming/headphones combination, but my concern is just music via mentioned speakers.

I have large FLAC collection and would really like to feed these speakers with some quality signal.

In regards to sound quality do you think it would make any difference putting such a device between the laptop and above mentioned speakers?

If do, please recommend some device!

Thanks a million!
 
Hi-Fi-Guy

Hi-Fi-Guy

Audioholic
I use the Topping E30 between my MacBook Pro and external speakers. It works well and the price is low for the quality and features you get.

Oh wow, that's a fine piece of hardware!

So this is DC powered and RCA is the only output as far as I can see. That's good, It would be great if it had toslink output too but that's probably reserved for a higher price range.

Do you think you lose some quality due to RCA only output?

Thanks
 
VMPS-TIII

VMPS-TIII

Audioholic General
Oh wow, that's a fine piece of hardware!

So this is DC powered and RCA is the only output as far as I can see. That's good, It would be great if it had toslink output too but that's probably reserved for a higher price range.

Do you think you lose some quality due to RCA only output?

Thanks
The Topping E30 accepts COAX, Optical (Toslink) and USB inputs. It then converts the digital signal to an Analog signal and out the RCA Left and Right. That's the whole idea of the DAC concept. Optical out would bypass the DAC.

As with most DAC's you get the highest quality sound when using the USB input from your computer to the Topping E30.

The RCA out sounds great. You would actually lose quality if it offered Toslink out. It's the same with high quality CD players. For instance, my Denon DCD-800NE CD Player uses a high quality internal DAC when the RCA outs are used. If I use the Toslink out it by passes the internal DAC and uses the CD player as a transport. DAC implementation requires analog out.

E30.png
 
Hi-Fi-Guy

Hi-Fi-Guy

Audioholic
Thanks for the effort explaining it to me.

So I'd connect my TV via toslink or coax and PC via USB and RCAs would go to the speakers. And I'd switch inputs on the DAC, lovely.
 
Hi-Fi-Guy

Hi-Fi-Guy

Audioholic
Any other DAC recommendations for this purpose and in this price range?

From your experiences?
 
Hi-Fi-Guy

Hi-Fi-Guy

Audioholic
One more layman question, if someone can explain. I get you don't like stupid question but this is the only place where I can get some real answers so please, be nice

So I play the music on the laptop and internal DAC does the work. Then I usb-connect the DAC, lets say Topping E30. Then from E30 RCAs go to active speakers with their own DAC.

Is this pointless since first DAC is worse of all 3?

Would E30 "clean/enhance" the signal coming from a laptop DAC?

Would speakers DAC benefit from the DAC between laptop and them, or will their internal DAC degrade signal since they have worse DAC quality?

I told you I don't know sh**

I'm waiting on your input, thanks!
 
VMPS-TIII

VMPS-TIII

Audioholic General
One more layman question, if someone can explain. I get you don't like stupid question but this is the only place where I can get some real answers so please, be nice

So I play the music on the laptop and internal DAC does the work. Then I usb-connect the DAC, lets say Topping E30. Then from E30 RCAs go to active speakers with their own DAC.

Is this pointless since first DAC is worse of all 3?

Would E30 "clean/enhance" the signal coming from a laptop DAC?

Would speakers DAC benefit from the DAC between laptop and them, or will their internal DAC degrade signal since they have worse DAC quality?

I told you I don't know sh**

I'm waiting on your input, thanks!
Here's an article you might enjoy:

Many people use USB DAC's to enhance the audio coming from the computer. But, you don't have to. The quality of a laptop DAC is much less than an external DAC and may lack the features you desire.

I would suggest trying your setup without an external DAC. If you like it then you're done. You can always order a DAC from Amazon with a great return policy and try it. If it offers an identifiable improvement to your ears keep it. If not return it.
 
panteragstk

panteragstk

Audioholic Spartan
The laptop does have an internal DAC, but sound quality is not the focus at all.

If you plug in a USB DAC, you are bypassing the internal one for a better external DAC that will sound MUCH better. If your laptop has HDMI, then the signal is sent to your receiver to decode so no external DAC needed.

Just depends on how you want to set things up.
 
BoredSysAdmin

BoredSysAdmin

Audioholic Overlord
I really don't want to rain on anyone's parade, so please consider my next comments as a crude attempt in education, not verbal abuse. English isn't my first language so please bear with me.

1) Edifier S350DB isn't ACTIVE speakers, but they are powered, more like a typical Multimedia 2.1 system.
The difference is this system has only two amplifiers one built into the sub and the second one into the right speaker, one with controls. So the sub is technically active, but speakers aren't since the use a passive crossover to split the signal between tweeter and woofer. In the active speakers, there's an ACTIVE crossover/DSP circuit and each woofer/tweeter get their own amplifier channel.
More details here:

2) [Editited out, OP said he has HP Elitebook 850 G3 ] The quality of specific DAC implementation varies HUGELY, not even by manufacturer, but from model to model and it's impossible to predict, only measured.
HOWEVER, my advice is unless you actually easily hear HISS, NOISE, or any other unwanted noise in your speaker's system, I'd skip on external DAC idea altogether as it would bring extremely little value/benefit, especially on this specific Edifier 2.1 system.

In my humble example, I did have TONS of noise from my DIY built PC coming from both internal Realdrek soundcard as well PCIe based Creative sound card - both stem from piss-poor RFI shielding on the internal PC components. I have active JBL LSR2325p studio monitors, which means each is connected separately to power and again, each component has it's own amp. I tried a few external DACs before settled on Behring UMC404HD (I don't need 4 channels, but only 404 was explicitly mentioned to have balanced out). Its predecessor was Audioengine's D1 DAC, which worked well - I used onboard optical SPD/IF out to the input of D1, later one replaced with Behringer which gives me a bit more flexibility and works well with USB input.
 
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Hi-Fi-Guy

Hi-Fi-Guy

Audioholic
Thank you all for the input.

As I said sound card in Elitebook 850 G3 is Conexant ISST. I bought it out when I left the company so it was used for business and now is a home PC on a docking station. I never listened music on it since I'm sensitive to laptop (any bad speakers) sounds, so I ordered those Edifiers.

I will see how they sound without a DAC, I won't order it now.

I recently move from my home and left my old audio gear there. Here I can't afford expensive speakers & amps because I'm not sure when I'm moving again, so PC+Edifiers must suffice.

I was more interested in how will the system work if I buy a DAC, which from the 3 DACs involved would be the worst part of the chain, how first DAC affects second which is better and how the third DAC being worse than second one affects the final sound quality.

I learn with each and every post here
 
BoredSysAdmin

BoredSysAdmin

Audioholic Overlord
also Check out XTZ audio from Sweden, their speakers are really high quality/good value vs many other European brands.
Speakers, not electronics or wires, are responsible for 95% of sound quality (4% amp and 1% DAC)
 
lovinthehd

lovinthehd

Seriously, I have no life.
Thank you all for the input.

As I said sound card in Elitebook 850 G3 is Conexant ISST. I bought it out when I left the company so it was used for business and now is a home PC on a docking station. I never listened music on it since I'm sensitive to laptop (any bad speakers) sounds, so I ordered those Edifiers.

I will see how they sound without a DAC, I won't order it now.

I recently move from my home and left my old audio gear there. Here I can't afford expensive speakers & amps because I'm not sure when I'm moving again, so PC+Edifiers must suffice.

I was more interested in how will the system work if I buy a DAC, which from the 3 DACs involved would be the worst part of the chain, how first DAC affects second which is better and how the third DAC being worse than second one affects the final sound quality.

I learn with each and every post here
You only need to worry about one DAC, as you generally just convert the digital stream to analog at one point (there is gear that for something like eq can go thru another ADC/DAC conversion set, tho). DACs are a mature technology generally so unless you're getting bad sounds/extraneous sounds from your current soundcard's dac, I wouldn't worry about it. I wouldn't spend too much on DAC vs getting better speakers either.

Maybe I missed it but not sure why you want another soundcard rather than just an external dac if you want to avoid the dac in the sound card....it does have a digital output, yes?
 
Hi-Fi-Guy

Hi-Fi-Guy

Audioholic
You only need to worry about one DAC, as you generally just convert the digital stream to analog at one point (there is gear that for something like eq can go thru another ADC/DAC conversion set, tho). DACs are a mature technology generally so unless you're getting bad sounds/extraneous sounds from your current soundcard's dac, I wouldn't worry about it. I wouldn't spend too much on DAC vs getting better speakers either.

Maybe I missed it but not sure why you want another soundcard rather than just an external dac if you want to avoid the dac in the sound card....it does have a digital output, yes?
Maybe I didn't expres my thoughts in a best way, sorry cause English is not my native.

Its laptop at the source that has a DAC (I'll use headphone output), and those speakers at the end have their own DAC. The E30 would be the one in the middle, if I buy it at all.

I was just wondering would there any cancellation occur between them. I'm not sure if this came out right.
 
lovinthehd

lovinthehd

Seriously, I have no life.
Maybe I didn't expres my thoughts in a best way, sorry cause English is not my native.

Its laptop at the source that has a DAC (I'll use headphone output), and those speakers at the end have their own DAC. The E30 would be the one in the middle, if I buy it at all.

I was just wondering would there any cancellation occur between them. I'm not sure if this came out right.
Yes I understand your source.

1/ If you use the headphone output that is an analog signal, you may as well just feed it to your speaker set directly, as you have already converted the digital signal to analog, use the rca inputs on your speakers (you'll need an adapter cable if you don't have one already).

2/ Export digital audio from your computer to an external dac, then use the analog outputs of the dac to the rca inputs on your speaker.

3/ Export digital audio from your computer via an optical or digital coax connection and use the digital optical or coax input on your speakers.

You can try various combinations but unless (1) sounds bad in some way with extraneous noise or excessive distortion or something you're done. I'd just use the digital output of your computer to the speakers or the analog connection, I'd save the money on an external dac unless you have some other connections/uses in mind?
 
Hi-Fi-Guy

Hi-Fi-Guy

Audioholic
Yes I understand your source.

1/ If you use the headphone output that is an analog signal, you may as well just feed it to your speaker set directly, as you have already converted the digital signal to analog, use the rca inputs on your speakers (you'll need an adapter cable if you don't have one already).

2/ Export digital audio from your computer to an external dac, then use the analog outputs of the dac to the rca inputs on your speaker.

3/ Export digital audio from your computer via an optical or digital coax connection and use the digital optical or coax input on your speakers.

You can try various combinations but unless (1) sounds bad in some way with extraneous noise or excessive distortion or something you're done. I'd just use the digital output of your computer to the speakers or the analog connection, I'd save the money on an external dac unless you have some other connections/uses in mind?
Thanks now it's more clear. I wasn't sure about what would be analog and what digital output. Phone jack is the only laptop output I have available. So its one 3.5 to RCA cable from that to speakers, or put a DAC between. So if I connect ext DAC laptop will do a digital output to that DAC and it will do analog output to the speakers. Doing this would bypass the laptops internal DAC.

OO I guess I understand now.

What's left for me to comprehend is this; in case of active speakers if I use ext DAC and send "clean" analog signal to speakers RCA input, what's speaker DSP/DAC doing in that case? It's already getting clean analog input from a better DAC down the line. Is it going to reprocess it and alter it again? You see what I'm missing here? If it will reprocess the E30s signal why would I put it in between the speakers and laptop at all?

Thanks for your patience.
 
lovinthehd

lovinthehd

Seriously, I have no life.
I wouldn't get too swept up in all you read about the magic of external dacs. DACs are a mature science and the one in your computer could be just fine, as can the one in your speaker set. You can even convert some music with a program like Audacity, thru a DAC then back thru an ADC, then repeat that several times. See if you can even tell the difference at the end....you likely hear music all the time that's gone thru a lot of processing....

If you send an analog signal to your speaker set's analog inputs, does it still use the DAC for dsp purposes? Possibly, possibly not. Not many speaker sets have dacs either. I glanced at the manual but there's not a lot of meat there generally. I wouldn't worry about it, tho as it would seem with that particular speaker set you'd not really have a choice if it did do an adc/dac conversion as part of its basic functioning.

Personally in your shoes I'd just enjoy the music, maybe try both analog and digital output from your computer to your speakers, but I'd forget the external dac for now (maybe in a future system update that might come into play....I own no external stand-alone dacs myself).
 
Hi-Fi-Guy

Hi-Fi-Guy

Audioholic
I see. I'll do just that. I was considering a DAC but first lets see how does it sound with direct RCA connection.

It is highly praised 2.1 system (maybe the best one) so I hope it would be good for my ears.
Practically no bad reviews of them and I watched them all. Only flaw may be the crossover point at 160Hz and you can locate the sub (between 160 and 80) but as far as I saw no 2.1 system has sattelites that are crossed over down to 80Hz.

But first the bleeding speakers need to arrive, I'm waiting for almost 2 weeks now and getting mad here.

Especially since my wife's saying "I know you, that's not near what you would like to have & listen". F*uck... I can't afford few K for the whole system now so...

Can't wait to hear them. Just hope they won't be great disappointment.
 
afterlife2

afterlife2

Audioholic Warlord
Don’t mean yo intrude this thread but are any of these any good for speedy surfing? My laptop is so old. Need something low budget. Of course I’ll upgrade the memory to 8. Like to keep it at $210 or less. Ranks.
D752933C-1EC6-4A99-B423-05FA8C027227.png
 

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