After considering my options, I’ve decided it might not be the end of the world if I:
A) have to plug a receiver/decoder into optical to pick up some Dolby or other and split it; or
B) keep an internal card just for analogue multispeaker
Out of which I already have an internal card.
So my upgrade options would be to either get something like AE-9 and call it a day, or go for a USB DAC/combo and just accept the fact that it won’t do real 5.1 (4.0 in my case).
My options for USB include:
- SXFI amp — Creative’s own outlet, discounted from $160 to $60
- G6 — Creative’s outlet again, discounted from $160 to $82
- Zen DAC — used for $125 with power supply added to the bargain
- Mojo — $275 used
- D50s — $275 new
- DX3+ Pro — $275 new
- HiFace — $125-ish
- Cobalt — $160-ish
- Modi 2 — $190-ish used (Schiit is notoriously unavailable here, as is LakePeople, and importing sucks because of customs plus VAT plus cross-continental shipment fees)
- X1S — $250-ish
- Audio GD R2R-11 — $200-ish used
- E50 — $275 new
- E30 — $160 new
(Plus some Arcams, one or two Nu Force DACs or the Cambridge DAC.)
For comparison, in this country (or anywhere it makes sense shipping from) AE-5 is $75-ish, add ~$30 for the plus version, and AE-7 and 9 are 1) expensive AF with almost no option of buying used for a reasonable price.
Use: Gaming. Casual, narrative, playing for immersion but want it to be engaging and stimulating rather than laid-back. Preferably not recesed in any part of the range. Probably neutral or Harman rather than V. Probably not competitive/analytical-style / plan. Not really a bass head but care for the bass more than I’d be willing to admit (detail and resolution important, though, not some kind of bloated boom boom). Prefer to avoid metallic distortions and similar digital leftovers. Stage would ideally have good depth, not just width. Focus on holography/3D anyway. I like detail and separation but that’s just my idea of fun, as opposed to aiming for analytical parameters. Part of the same idea of fun that prefers energetic/inspiring to laid-back/relaxing for immersion. Again, top focus is just plain good for gaming, where to my subjective taste that’s close to movies, though it depends on the game (an RTS would be less cinematic than an RPG). For music genres, let’s say an all-rounder. What I like in gaming cards/DACs is how you can turn VSS on/off, but I guess you can do that with Sonic, Atmos, etc. with just a couple of clicks, so probably no big deal.
Having conveniently accessible and well-tuned EQ presets for different genres/situations (e.g. holography for game immersion vs something more laid-back for casual listening at work) wouldn’t hurt but is not critical. Cans: have Tygr, consider K702, pine for (400SE=>)Sundara=>Ananda, maybe 880/600, maybe 560s, largely depending on what’s a good deal for in some outlet or second-hand. If an integrated unit, being able to run Hifiman planars (2W ideally) would be a bonus and would free up some money due to not needing to buy a powerful dedicated amp.
Seems I can’t edit the title anymore, so right now it’s misleading in the light of this post — sorry for this, but I’d keep it to a single thread.
Just for reference, what I currently have is Sound Blaster Z => FiiO K5 (non-pro). For gaming I have to use just the Z with a cheap 3.5 extension cable because that somehow escapes the noise that more expensive RCA cables pick up, as does the amp, or Z => stereo set => headphones (the stereo also manages to kill off most of the noise the FiiO picks up even if I plug it into the stereo’s headphone output, which I’ve also tried).
I’m not really complaining about what I already have, but YOLO and there’s no rewind. I can afford the B-stock Creatives easily, and the $200 solutions won’t exactly make my household finances keel over, though $300 + $300 for dedicated amp + dedicated DAC would certainly give me a pause and probably fill me with a whole new appreciation for Creative’s outlet.
Obviously, I could keep the FiiO K5 non-pro as my amp for the time being and focus on the DAC at this time, to upgrade the amp only as a later step somewhere down the road, like next year or two. So buying a DAC without a strong amp section is no big deal.
But if the Z is a decent better DAC than the K5 is amp, then I could sell the K5 on and focus on the amp at this stage. But if so, then I’d only be taking a 1.5W, ideally 2W amp due to my pining for Hifiman planars.