Yeah, lovely site isn’t it? And I only wanted some headphones. ;(
Anyway. Get yourself a cup of coffee and lets get started. (I got myself a cup of coffee and some sandwiches)
The xonar has the advantage in 2 things.
- It has an amp designed to be used by headphones. That’s neat because it allows you to ‘drive’ your headphones better. What that means is the following. If an amp is not powerful enough to drive your headphones it won’t be able to give you the sound that your headphones are capable of. I don’t really want to go into that too far, but that’s what it comes down to. If you would listen to Massive Attacks song Angel your headphones may not be able to produce the sounds that are there. The amplifier needs to be powerful enough to move the membrane quickly enough to be able to produce the sounds that are presented in a song or game. If this doesn’t happen you can noticed this because the sounds generally become more cluttered or you get a crackling sound. This rings more true when talking about sounds with a lower frequency because the membrane has to make bigger movements for these sounds. What it comes down to is that better speakers/ headphones and amps allow you to pick out certain sounds with more accuracy than the lesser ones. Different speakers/ headphones require different amps. The HD518 doesn’t really require a very powerful amp, while certain other headphones might benefit from a more powerful amp.
The most important thing for us - the consumers - is this: Is it going to make an audible difference at all?
Well, to be honest I’m not entirely sure. The HD518 doesn’t really benefit from a much more powerful amp that much so if there is a difference it’s going to be small. Onboard cards do have a tendency to have some trouble with EMI (electromagnetic interference) which can translate in static, crackles and other assorted noise. Better headphones are going to allow you to hear these things with more accuracy which simply means that you can hear more detailed static. Not ideal. Whether this is true for your onboard soundcard is once again something I can’t say for sure. What I can say is that the Xonar is very likely going to have the advantage here, because it was made with the purpose of sounds reproduction in mind. That means that they’ve likely thought about things like shielding in order to combat EMI.
- The xonar has stuff for surround sound which your onboard soundcard doesn’t have. In this case Dolby headphone, EAX support and what not.
Once again: Is is going to make a difference?
Yes. It makes quite the difference. Like I said in my post before, how well it works depends a lot on how much your HRTF is different from the HRFT they’ve been using. That said, there is still a quite significant difference for me.
I assume you’ve already seen/heard this video since it was in the thread you linked, but it’s a good example of the difference dolby headphone makes. I don’t think it’s the most brilliant display of 3D sounds in a video game, but it’s something anyway. Some games do a better job than others. Some headphones are better at it than others as well. It would’ve been nice to see some examples from somewhat more atmosferic games, but I don’t know of any videos that have better examples than this one. Might make one myself one day.
The ‘surround stuff’ can be hardware or software depending on what you’re talking about. Some require an actual chip on the soundcard and some are just software. Doesn’t really matter all that much, but if it’s an actual chip it likely saves some CPU time which can’t be all that bad. The difference is a lot like the difference between good and bad network cards. A cheap network card will run everything by the CPU while a more expensive one will run a lot of things on the card itself.
Why the balls didn’t they just put that stuff on your mobo? Well, I believe Dolby actually requires a license, but don’t quote me on that. So it’s more expensive this way and asus likes to sell you more stuff. Seeing that most people don’t actually select their mobo on whether or not it has dolby headphone they’re getting away with that. Marketing people are very good at their jobs.
He also mentions a lot of headphones which require a more powerful/ better amp. My headphones requrie a more powerful amp as well. I’ve got this one. It’s neat. If you’re going to get a HD518 it’s not making much sense to get an amp which is twice as expensive. It’s not going to make that much of a difference. If I run $10 earbuds from my amp it’s not going to magically make them sound much better. It just means that I’m driving them to their full potential. They’re still going to sound pretty bad though.
The astro mixamp is a soundcard. It has a DAC and an amp and some ‘surround stuf’ in between. A DAC is a digital to analog converter. That does pretty much what it says on the box. It converts digital signals to analog ones. So it doesn’t make use of whatever you’ve got inside your computer. Pretty much like this:
Sound > USB > Mixamp > Headphones
I wouldn’t recommend it for the headphones you want to get right now.
Yeah, funny isn’t it? While there are headphones which actually use more than just 2 drivers (razer tiamat being one of them) a lot of them just use the 2. More drivers doesn’t mean better necessarily though. With that you run into a whole new set of problems.
So yeah, good luck with that. Sorry about the wall of text. Here is one last link. It covers pretty much anything you would want to know about computer audio and then some. Hope this helps a little.