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Will a DAC be an improvement on my cheap Motherboard's soundcard?

I have a cheap motherboard (around 70$) so will a cheap DAC (50-70$) be much of an improvement on the motherboard's soundcard? Some people have said yes and some people have said no.

Also, a side question. It's better when the damping factor is higher, right? So that means my Brower and Wilkins P7s would probably sound better with the first option rather than the second option, correct?

https://www.audiobot9000.com/match/bowers-wilkins/p7/with/fiio/q1

https://www.audiobot9000.com/match/bowers-wilkins/p7/with/fiio/e10k

Re: Will a DAC be an improvement on my cheap Motherboard's soundcard?

Reply #1
If your existing motherboard is noisy a dac will help. If not, it won't.

More damping is good, but both of those combos have enough.

Re: Will a DAC be an improvement on my cheap Motherboard's soundcard?

Reply #2
When it comes to my Macbook, music seems muddy and dark in comparison to the sound out of my iphone and it definitely seems like it's not placeabo. Do you that that Is due to difference in the quality of Dacs on their respective soundcards?

Re: Will a DAC be an improvement on my cheap Motherboard's soundcard?

Reply #3
Word of warning though: Cheap USB DACs are sometimes as bad, or even worse than the on-board DACs on your mainboard.

The problem is more the noise they seem to introduce on their own, rather than their characteristics of recording as such: Two cheap DACs I've used before, introduced interesting forms of noise: One had always a square wave at around 500Hz, that would simply never go away, even if there was nothing plugged into the DAC or even if the inputs with me shorting them to ground. The other had a noisy channel... but only sometimes. It wasn't hiss-type analogue noise, it sounded more like amplified electronic interference. It required un-plugging and re-plugging the device into the USB port for the noise to go away. Sometimes it never came on, sometimes it came on and went away after some time, or switched to the other channel. The noise was never on both channels, either. Also, the noise would come on, whether something was plugged into the DAC or not, it was seemingly completely random.

Both DACs I've described here, were worse than the on-board DAC on my mainboard. Howerver the little ASIO USB interface in a Gemini DJ mixer was better still.

Re: Will a DAC be an improvement on my cheap Motherboard's soundcard?

Reply #4
If your only problem is something like darkness or muddiness, you could probably just EQ to your taste and save yourself some money.

Re: Will a DAC be an improvement on my cheap Motherboard's soundcard?

Reply #5
Of course, your soundcard has a DAC.   Macs seem  to have a reputation for good sound...  PCs are usually OK too, but there are lots of different manufacturers.

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When it comes to my Macbook, music seems muddy and dark in comparison to the sound out of my iphone and it definitely seems like it's not placeabo.
Same speakers/headphones?

That does sound like a frequency response difference which is most likely an EQ adjustment (on one system or the other).  There is a chance that there's something wrong with your soundcard.   (BTW - You can get an inexpensive UDB soundcard for about $20.   You can get them even cheaper, but I don't necessarily recommend getting the cheapest one you can find.)

With headphones, the impedance of the electronics can result in frequency response variations, but it's usually not drastic enough to cause "muddy" or "dark" sound.   That's not an issue speakers because the amplifier presents a high impedance load to the soundcard/DAC.

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Do you that that Is due to difference in the quality of Dacs on their respective soundcards?
Probably not.

There a few possible "audio quality" issues :

Noise.  There is always some noise on the "analog" side, and it's question of if it's audible or annoying/distracting.  As Saratoga says, noise is usually the only issue to worry about.

Frequency response variations - Frequency response is usually flat across the frequency band, except as noted above with headphones.

Distortion -  Almost never audible unless you drive the circuit into clipping.    And, the DAC itself doesn't clip,  The digital data  can be clipped before it gets to the DAC if you try to go over 0dB.

Glitches or compression artifacts in the audio data - Again, not really a problem with the DAC/soundcard.




Re: Will a DAC be an improvement on my cheap Motherboard's soundcard?

Reply #6
The definitive answer is that it's possible there would be an improvement, maybe even a vaguely discernible one.

But that will depend upon the motherboard and the external DAC. Motherboards can be extremely good on the stereo analog ouput these days.

What motherboard do you have?

 If it's fairly recent and from a reputable manufacturer then it may well be quite transparent.

You could buy a 3.5mm cable (M/M headphone) and run an RMAA loopback on it. Indeed, if we knew what motherboard you had, it's possible someone has done this already and posted the result.

This way is testing the overall implementation of the Realtek chip rather than just the DAC side, and may well be ADC limited. Both motherboard and CODEC chip makers are understandably less focused on the input side of their audio solutions, relative to the out.

With it's high end ALC1220 CODEC, Realtek is claiming SNRs of 120dB on the output side (and ludicrously, supports 32/192 if not 384), and motherboard manufacturers have been able to squeeze 103dB (with correspondingly low levels of distortion) out of higher end motherboard DAC->ADC signal chains, which is actually kind of stupifying.

As already stated, you may be able to slightly EQ your way into less 'muddiness' etc.,as well.  As also mentioned, a particular USB DAC may in fact be less well implemented than many motherboard audio CODECs.

 
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