Hardware Tutorials

How to Improve the Sound Quality of your Headset

Tip 4: Use an AMP / DAC

An “AMP” (Amplifier) amplifies the input signal in order to use the full sound potential of the connected headphones. The volume is also increased.

The higher the impedance (given in ohms) and the lower the sensitivity (given in dB), the stronger the AMP has to be to provide a high volume. Many headsets work well without an AMP, but hi-fi headphones in particular can sound too quiet and/or weak without amplification.

A “DAC” (Digital-Analog-Converter), or in German “DAU” (which is almost never used because of the negative secondary meaning of the abbreviation) converts digital signals (sound files) into analog. Normally the motherboard takes care of this, but dedicated DACs offer some advantages. So they are less susceptible to interference and offer a wider sound spectrum.

However, if you only look at the maximum sampling rate for a DAC, you should know that the CD, which is not known for its poor sound quality, uses 16 bit / 44.1 kHz; for the 08/15 user, 24 bit / 96 kHz is more than loosely enough.

Many devices combine a DAC with an AMP. These are sufficient for practically all headsets. Some recommendable models are briefly introduced here:

Sharkoon Gaming DAC Pro S

Behind the bulky name is a compact USB stick, which has already been tested by us and found good. Either a pair of headphones / headset or a pair of loudspeakers can be connected to it. Sharkoon does not use any software or controls. On the other hand, the price is pleasingly low.

Maximum sampling frequency 24 Bit / 96 kHz
connections 1x 3.5 mm jack In / Out, 1x USB In
Software none
Price € 29.99

ASUS Xonar U7 MK II

The Xonar U7 MK II has been specially designed for use with a headset and speakers. You can connect a microphone at the front of the unit and the software, ASUS Sonic Studio, offers several gaming specific functions. These include a radar that shows where sounds come from.

According to ASUS, the integrated AMP should be able to fire headphones with an impedance of up to 600 ohms. However, this statement should be received with a healthy portion of mistrust.

Maximum sampling frequency 24 Bit / 192 kHz
connections 4x 3,5 mm jack Out, 1x 3,5 mm jack In, 1x USB In, 1x Coaxial In, 2x RCA Out
Software ASUS Sonic Studio
Price € 87.52

FX audio DAC-X6

The potent DAC-X6 comes in a stylish aluminium housing. It offers enough power to drive even less efficient headphones. However, the power is not supplied via USB, as with Sharkoon and ASUS, but via the included power adapter.

Maximum sampling frequency 24 Bit / 96 kHz
connections 1x Coaxial In, 1x Toslink In, 1x 6,3 mm Out, 2x RCA Out, 1x USB In
Software none
Price € 64.00

Topping MX3

If you want many functions, the MX3 is just right for you. In addition to a strong AMP, a good DAC and connections for a 3.5 mm jack and speakers, it also offers NFC, Bluetooth and a display. So if you’re looking for a multi-talent at a (relatively) low price, you’ve come to the right place.

Maximum sampling frequency 24 Bit / 192 kHz
connections 1x 3.5 mm Jack Out, 4x Speaker Out, 1x Coaxial In, 1x Toslink In, 2x AUX In, 2x Bluetooth In, NFC
Software none
Price € 129.99

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Simon Lüthje

I am co-founder of this blog and am very interested in everything that has to do with technology, but I also like to play games. I was born in Hamburg, but now I live in Berlin.

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