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Which USB sound card/DAC to replace my Sound Blaster X7?

Discussion in 'Sound City' started by Combat squirrel, 8 Jun 2021.

  1. Combat squirrel

    Capodecina

    Joined: 7 Aug 2004

    Posts: 10,503

    As title, I ABSOLUTELY LOVE my x7 - however its unreliable and ANNOYING AF.

    It won't seemingly take any firmware updates anymore so I can't get any bug fixes and it often just cuts out and needs to be turned off/on again many times before it decides it wants to connect to my Mac mini OR PC.

    I have a USB switch with the X7 and mouse plugged in so when I want to switch between machines I just hit it to move between - it is not this though, it behaves the same if its directly wired in to either machine.

    So because of this iv had enough, it sounds incredible but it just can't handle being reliable - I need a sound system that just works no matter what.

    Its hooked into a pair of KEF Q100 speakers so I will need a new USB soundcard/DAC to be able to handle that & handle speaker wire (not 3.5mm).

    Must work with both Mac & PC

    Suggestions ?
     
  2. Combat squirrel

    Capodecina

    Joined: 7 Aug 2004

    Posts: 10,503

    Anyone?
     
  3. Timber

    Wise Guy

    Joined: 21 Oct 2002

    Posts: 1,427

    Location: South East England

    I think this is difficult question because the Creative SoundBlaster X7 is still fairly unique and the requirement for something that has connections for speaker wire.

    I'm not sure of a similar product but I think the key question is do you require a soundcard more for PC gaming, so lots of virtual surround sound processing etc. Or will stereo-only output suffice?

    If it is the former then options are limited to something like a Creative SoundBlasterX G6, G3 or GC7. Or one of the Sennheiser GSX range. However none of these have RCA outputs even.

    For the latter there will be many more options as this opens up audiophile DAC/AMPs. I'm not sure of which ones include direct connections for speaker wires though. I guess pairing a Gaming DAC/AMP with a sperate AMP could also be an option. If you do go with a stereo only DAC/AMP there are still software options for virtual surround or 3D audio that can work well (i.e. Dolby Atmos for headphones, or DTS:X etc.).

    I did personally run the X7 until late last year and definitely had the odd quibble with the software, although nothing that major. Its most annoying habit that it developed at the end was setting itself to 100% volume if it was disconnected and reconnected to a USB port on my PC. The latest firmware update was meant to fix this but didn't work for me. I replaced my X7 with a Fiio K5 Pro and a G6 so I have a more dynamic and portable solution. The G6 for the laptop/PS4 and the K5 Pro setup in the office with some Edifier speakers. The G6 has been flawless in its behaviour so far but I know that isn't true for everyone.

    I don't miss the X7's 'quirks' although I miss the ability to play multiple inputs at the same time.
     
    Last edited: 10 Jun 2021
  4. JasonM

    Mobster

    Joined: 19 Jun 2009

    Posts: 3,058

    Depending on budget and space on desk.

    I would be temped by an actual proper separates amp, such as the Yamaha RN303D that can be picked up for under £250 new.

    Then I would connect the digital out from my motherboard and use the DAC inside the Yamaha.

    The quality of the built in DAC and certainly amp will be higher quality than any of the budget solutions.
     
  5. Rroff

    Man of Honour

    Joined: 13 Oct 2006

    Posts: 75,352

    Have you tried changing the USB port it is connected to? some USB 3 ports seem quite fussy with audio devices, etc. albeit more on older systems than newer.
     
  6. Combat squirrel

    Capodecina

    Joined: 7 Aug 2004

    Posts: 10,503

    EXACTLY WHAT MINE DOES !!!!!!!!!!!! So it's not just me then - sounds like its on its way out then? excuse the pun!

    It now won't change volume at all - just stuck on a low volume now - ill look into everyone's recommendations.

    I want quality stereo sound - and it has to be USB input as I want to press a button to go between my Mac and PC, and it will connect to the KEF speakers - any info with those requirements, appreciated!
     
  7. Combat squirrel

    Capodecina

    Joined: 7 Aug 2004

    Posts: 10,503

    Just thought, I may have an amp already I can use to sort power to the speakers - now I just need a way of getting a 'USB Sound card' to send a signal to the amp - how do I do this?

    Must work on Mac AND PC - I have absolutely no idea these how it's all done.
     
  8. Timber

    Wise Guy

    Joined: 21 Oct 2002

    Posts: 1,427

    Location: South East England

    I think it's probably a software issue somewhere between the drivers and firmware - particularly as the X7 did have a few updates over the years. The latest driver notes mention an 'active' USB port so it probably doesn't do it for every device (or USB port). Not sure about the volume issue though unless it is something to do with running it in direct mode.

    If the requirements are USB and just stereo then you'll have loads of options - depending on budget?

    A separate DAC should be able to output a signal to an AMP via RCA or Optical Out.
     
  9. Combat squirrel

    Capodecina

    Joined: 7 Aug 2004

    Posts: 10,503

    Yeah its annoying what it does, but yeah, had enough now! lol

    Basically best value for money please is what I'd want, not mental money, but not cheap rubbish. Main use is video editing, music and gaming in equal amounts, im happy with stereo for gaming as I only play strategy games really or when I use VR it has its own audio.

    Id also want the ability to use headphones as well as my pair of KEF speakers. I have some AKG headphones I use for editing audio in final cut.
     
  10. Timber

    Wise Guy

    Joined: 21 Oct 2002

    Posts: 1,427

    Location: South East England

    When I looked the iFi Zen Dac and Fiio K5 Pro were among the best choices around £150. The Topping L30 (AMP) and E30 (DAC) stack is very well regarded albeit more expensive at £280+. Also their slightly cheaper Topping DX3 Pro DAC/AMP was well reviewed too. And then there are the Schiit Magni/Modi which have their fans (c.£240ish for both, if in stock).

    The bit I'm unsure of is how any of these DACs pair with a bigger AMP for the speakers connections to the KEF - hopefully others will have more thoughts and recommendations.
     
  11. FredFlint

    Wise Guy

    Joined: 1 Feb 2006

    Posts: 2,335

    I have a bit of a messy sound setup:
    PC 1: soundblaster Z + onboard sound chip
    PC 2: onboard sound chip
    Mac mini: HDMI part - display has a 3.5 jack

    I then plug them into a mmx-8(cheap audio mixer) and plug the output into my Epiphany Acoustics EHP-O2Di(only using amp) and use headphones. I use PC 1: onboard sound chip for my speakers.
    This config has worked well for me, I can have sound from 4 wired sources at the same time and also speaker.
     
  12. BigStevieTT

    Associate

    Joined: 11 Jun 2021

    Posts: 52

    Location: Bristol

    Exactly what he said!
    But with a twist - I use an external DAC before my A-S500 because it improves the sound even further. I use an ODAC FWIW. (Interesting story - the plans for ODAC are freely available because the guy that created it was fed up with consumers being fleeced by expensive kit selling snake oil solutions.)
    Dragonfly also do some affordable DACs.
    I'm fussy about my audio, so I use HI FI DAC, amp, speakers and headphones because I've found they all invariably sound 'better' than PC/games kit. (I'll prolly get flamed for saying that on here, but NM ;) )
     
  13. JasonM

    Mobster

    Joined: 19 Jun 2009

    Posts: 3,058

    What DAC do you use before the A-S500?
     
  14. BigStevieTT

    Associate

    Joined: 11 Jun 2021

    Posts: 52

    Location: Bristol

    ODAC
     
  15. BigStevieTT

    Associate

    Joined: 11 Jun 2021

    Posts: 52

    Location: Bristol

    Arguably, as long as they're not junk that introduces noise, after a certain level DACs all do the same job, hence the open source ODAC (remember, I did say arguably!) It's a topic that regularly gets Hi Fi owners in a tizz...
    But like most things, I reckon that getting one bit of kit that does one thing really well usually performs better than something that does lots of things more conveniently. YMMV, but that's my 2P!
     
  16. Baja King

    Associate

    Joined: 12 Jun 2021

    Posts: 48

    Location: Cardiff

    Go for an external unit like focusrite scarlett 2i2, you will not regret it
     
  17. JasonM

    Mobster

    Joined: 19 Jun 2009

    Posts: 3,058

    From JDS Labs? I will look into them.

    I'll get flamed for this one. I use Van Damme Lo-Cap 55 RCA interconnects, most musical cables I've ever listened to, 1 meter cables can be purchased on the bay around £30, I've changed all my cables on two systems with them. I only mention these cables, as you clearly have an interest in DAC's / sound quality, the same as I do.
     
    Last edited: 14 Jun 2021 at 18:26
  18. flaca

    Associate

    Joined: 9 Mar 2011

    Posts: 59

    I'll fan the flames. Check out Audiosciencereview. And the cables they use in recording studios :). BigStevieTT is quite right above about DACs. Scientifically proven unless introducing distortion (which some higher end DACs do). I swallowed the Kool Aid of this stuff for years until I did some blind tests. Then I promptly ate my hat while swallowing my pride.