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Suggestions for budget external amp


Big Ry

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Let me preface this post by saying I'm a novice to computer audio (though I'm fairly well versed in car audio).

 

I was looking for a budget audio upgrade for the computer in my office. And by budget, I mean ideally sub $200 lol. So after doing a little research, I decided to purchase the Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi HD (SB1240) DAC/Amp and some low end but decently rated ear buds (FSL AL13). The biggest concern with a setup is that I do not have (and cannot get) permissions to install third party software or drivers on my machine. I decided on the SB1240, because from what I've read the drivers and software aren't needed if only using it for 3.5mm or RCA out...and it supposedly has great DACs for the $$$.

 

I got the equipment setup, but the output on the new ear buds is screwy. Certain mid-high frequencies are very quiet (mostly the vocal part for some reason), and there's a very pronounced 'hallway' effect. I tried two other sets of headphones, and they worked properly. I tried a co-worker's Audioengine D1 with my ear buds and they work fine on it (they also work fine on my machine's internal card). And lastly I tried the SB1240 & ear buds on my personal laptop with all Creative software and drivers installed...no dice, same issue. Despite the fact that the SB1240 is spec'd to handle drivers "up to 330 Ohm", I'm thinking that perhaps my 16 Ohm ear buds are too low resistance.

 

I'm planning to get new headphones, but from my testing it seems the SB1240 amp isn't going to be very powerful on higher resistance headphones. So I was wondering what you all might suggest as far as in-line amps and new headphones. I listen to a variety of genres, rap/hip-hop and house predominately but also metal and pop. I realize I'm starting with crap music files, but I can't help but use Google Music (at 320kbps). I don't want a stack of like a million CDs in my office to get stolen, and I can't load up my HDD with FLAC files. Also, much of my music was purchased on Google Music anyway, so I'm stuck with 320kbps MP3s for that music. I'm looking for something on the cheap, but a good bang-for-buck setup. What do you all think of the Monoprice 8323 DJ headphones? They're mad cheap but get great reviews. I've always had a great experience with Monoprice too

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As far as headphone amp (and DAC), my JDS Labs C5D has been a revelation (to me) as far as SQ goes.

 

The Audio Technica m50x is usually recommended as a "beginner hi-fi" headphone for a reason (great SQ for price) - not sure about earbuds however

Hey MQA, if it is not all $voodoo$, show us the math!

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As far as headphone amp (and DAC), my JDS Labs C5D has been a revelation (to me) as far as SQ goes.

 

The Audio Technica m50x is usually recommended as a "beginner hi-fi" headphone for a reason (great SQ for price) - not sure about earbuds however

Those are a bit out of my budget. Can you recommend anything a little cheaper (I know it won't be the greatest SQ)?
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Those are a bit out of my budget. Can you recommend anything a little cheaper (I know it won't be the greatest SQ)?

 

For a dac/amp combo, there is AudioQuest's DragonFly (v1.2) that is well regarded (around $150). If you need just a headphone amp (no built in DAC) I am personally unaware of anything below JDS Labs C5 ($189) that is good, though something from Filo might fit the bill (though they have an uneven product lineup, the step up in label/price can be a step down in SQ - do your research).

 

I personally don't know anything about monoprice, though I note that the $22 monoprice 8323 made Innerfidelity's "wall of fame":

 

InnerFidelity's "Wall of Fame" | InnerFidelity

 

Seems like it is hard to go wrong at $22. If they don't work out, give them to the wife/kid/relative/co-worker and get the good will returned back to you 10 fold.

 

At around $70, Grado's SR60 is a classic (also on the "wall of fame"). I would personally look at the Audio Technica line - if the m50x is too rich, they have the m20x, m30x, m40x, etc. Reviewers tend to note that these have good SQ in their price range. When you get below the m50x price you tend to have more compromises (sometimes SQ is good, but build quality is not so good - or SQ is good except for that overly bright character, etc.).

 

Actually, I have some $20 "Skull Candy" from Best Buy that, despite the obvious limitations in resolution/detail and the overly emphasized bass, are certainly better than your typical cheap headphones from just a few years ago...

Hey MQA, if it is not all $voodoo$, show us the math!

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Im getting a lot of recommendations for Amp/DAC combos. I only need an amp, as I plan to use my Creative DAC. I was hoping for some gear thats sub $100, but it sounds like that might just be a waste of money. So maybe Ill start with headphones then worry about an amp later.

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