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Obtaining hi-fi performance from an average motherboard (Realtek 887 vs AQ Dragonfly Red: 1-0)

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A few years ago Tom's Hardware published an interesting article where a few PC+headphone hi-fi solutions where compared, with the dac+amp combination being the controlled variable. The 4 competing candidates were "Benchmark DAC2 HGC", "JDS Labs O2+ODAC Combo", "Asus Xonar Essence STX", and "Realtek ALC889" implementation of the Rampage III Formula motherboard by ASUS. The conclusion was that "anything above $2 buys more features, not better quality".


The motherboard I'm using is the lowly "760GA-P43 (FX)" from MSI, sporting the Realtek 887 audio chipset. My first move towards better audio was with the Marshall Major II headphones. After a while I decided I had enough of the low-quality of the mother board audio so I upgraded to an ASUS XONAR DG, being very satisfied for a short while until I started visiting hi-fi shops and realizing how far behind hi-fi this sound card is. To make a long story short, I ended up using Final Audio's Sonorus II cans with the AQ Dragonfly Red dac.


At some point I had to upgrade my power supply, and i chose the EVGA SuperNova 550 G3 because of its extremely good voltage regulation, just to see how it would affect the sound coming out from the motherboard and the sound card. The results were phenomenal: the clarity of sound approached dragonfly red levels. Surprisingly, the Realtek 887 chipset in the motherboard produced a very neutral sound, while the ASUS sound card had obvious coloring.


Then I decided to go for the FiiO A3 to see what effect a dedicated headphone amp would have, combined with ATLAS interconnects. Now the linearity of the Realtek 887 is better than that of the dragonfly red and I am speachless. The dragonfly red has an obvious edge in terms of details and texture though.


Anyway, the point here is that, yes, motherboard sound can be phenomenal if you have a power supply with extremely good regulation (which, in tomshardware circles, is taken as a given for any midrange gaming setup) and possibly a cheap dedicated headphone amp. The conclusions of the tomshardware article are completely false, especially if you consider the cost of the upgrades/additions in my case. Unfortunately hi-fi is not cheap, at least not dirt cheap, and us "subjectivists" are not necessarily delusional when we do not like the sound of a certain setup. Reason: a great many variables affect hi-fi reproduction.





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