Question Can I use a sound card with a desktop amplifier at the same time? Is there any reason not to?

The Domino

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Jan 11, 2015
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I recently purchased a pair of 250 ohm headphones, I currently have a reasonably old sound blaster z sound card, whilst this is working fine with my headphones I was thinking about buying a desktop amp just for convenience as well as the fact I am looking to build myself a new pc in the coming months and so I would then just use the desktop amp instead of messing about with my old sound card or buy a new one.
I was just wondering if there is any problem with buying a desktop amp and plugging it into my sound card so I am essentially using 2 sound cards / amplifiers in series. woudl there be any benifit at all from this (I assume no) or more importantly is there any reason NOT to do this due to any issued I'd get with sound / sound quailty.
Any general informaton about this issue would be greatly appreciated as I am not very knowledgeable on the subject.
 
I recently purchased a pair of 250 ohm headphones, I currently have a reasonably old sound blaster z sound card, whilst this is working fine with my headphones I was thinking about buying a desktop amp just for convenience as well as the fact I am looking to build myself a new pc in the coming months and so I would then just use the desktop amp instead of messing about with my old sound card or buy a new one.
I was just wondering if there is any problem with buying a desktop amp and plugging it into my sound card so I am essentially using 2 sound cards / amplifiers in series. woudl there be any benifit at all from this (I assume no) or more importantly is there any reason NOT to do this due to any issued I'd get with sound / sound quailty.
Any general informaton about this issue would be greatly appreciated as I am not very knowledgeable on the subject.
Not a problem if amplifier has analog AUX input but getting sound from 2 sound sources at same time may be pa problem.
 
I wouldn't hook 2x amplifiers in series for two reasons.

One is that you are amplifying and amplifier which then makes it quite easy to go over the input limits on either the second amplifier, the headphones, or both.

Second is the sound quality. An amplifier introduces noise, so 2x of them will be 2x the noise.
 

hang-the-9

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I recently purchased a pair of 250 ohm headphones, I currently have a reasonably old sound blaster z sound card, whilst this is working fine with my headphones I was thinking about buying a desktop amp just for convenience as well as the fact I am looking to build myself a new pc in the coming months and so I would then just use the desktop amp instead of messing about with my old sound card or buy a new one.
I was just wondering if there is any problem with buying a desktop amp and plugging it into my sound card so I am essentially using 2 sound cards / amplifiers in series. woudl there be any benifit at all from this (I assume no) or more importantly is there any reason NOT to do this due to any issued I'd get with sound / sound quailty.
Any general informaton about this issue would be greatly appreciated as I am not very knowledgeable on the subject.
Using an amp connected to the sound card is not using two sound cards or two amplifiers. All you are doing is using the amplifier to drive the speakers and using the sound card as the source. There is very little amplification of the signal going through the sound card, just enough to run the headphones and line out specs also have a very low power rating.
 
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Karadjgne

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Sound card is basically nothing more than an equalizer, might add just enough to power most things, and adds more choices for ports, more in depth software etc but you aren't going to get much of anything from a pair of 100w RMS speakers. That's where the amplifier comes in, boosting the signal supplied by the sound card. Some amps have their own built in equalization, and if using a sound card I usually leave everything at 0 gains on the amp. Dead nuts neutral.

Sound card to optimize source, amplifier to get it heard.
 
Using an amp connected to the sound card is not using two sound cards or two amplifiers. All you are doing is using the amplifier to drive the speakers and using the sound card as the source. There is very little amplification of the signal going through the sound card, just enough to run the headphones and line out specs also have a very low power rating.
It depends on how it is connected. A sound card typically has 'line out' which is unamplified, and a 'headphone' out which is. A lot of times it is physically the same connector and one has to choose in software.

If the amp has the ability to connect directly to the computer, it actually has a built in sound card and is much better to run direct.
 
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Sound card is basically nothing more than an equalizer, might add just enough to power most things, and adds more choices for ports, more in depth software etc but you aren't going to get much of anything from a pair of 100w RMS speakers. That's where the amplifier comes in, boosting the signal supplied by the sound card. Some amps have their own built in equalization, and if using a sound card I usually leave everything at 0 gains on the amp. Dead nuts neutral.

Sound card to optimize source, amplifier to get it heard.
This is wrong. The sound card is the 'da' or digital analog converter. It can have built-in amplification (like in the OP's case where it drives his 250ohm headphones) or can function as simply a line level source to another piece of equipment.

A lot of the 'headphone amps' have usb ports and have da's built-into them effectively making them sound cards as well. If such a unit also has a line level input and it is connected to the headphone output of a sound card, not only is there double amplification but a lot, lot more noise introduced into the final output.
 

Karadjgne

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And headphones use how much power? Maybe 1.5w? You won't get much of anything out of the headphone jack, not nearly enough to drive a set of unpowered stereo speakers.

DAC's might be powered outputs, but they are a long, long way from what would be considered an amplifier which would take that line level or DAC output and Amplify it to 1500w or more.

The primary function of a DAC is to take a digital signal and convert it onto an analog signal that headphones, speakers or other sound producing equipment can use. Digital signals make no sense to a voice coil as there's no real polarity shifts. A DAC turns Morse code into speech, for lack of better explanation. If it happens to also amplify power capacity to handle 250 ohm headphones, good, but that doesn't make it an Amplifier.

HI-tops might technically be footware that covers your ankles, but that does not make them boots.

Motherboards also have DAC's and USB ports, that also can amplify the digital signal to something strong enough for headphones to use, doesn't make it a sound card.

A sound card is a pre-amp. It's a middle man. It goes in between the source (motherboard, storage, whatever) and destination (amplifier, powered speakers, powered headphone amp). It's job is to bypass use of the relatively wimpy motherboard Soundstage and redirect the signal though itself, adding/subtracting/changing the sound signal for better/more compatible reproduction.

For all intents and purposes, sound cards are considered as passive equipment, not powered output/active equipment.
 
And headphones use how much power? Maybe 1.5w? You won't get much of anything out of the headphone jack, not nearly enough to drive a set of unpowered stereo speakers.

DAC's might be powered outputs, but they are a long, long way from what would be considered an amplifier which would take that line level or DAC output and Amplify it to 1500w or more.

The primary function of a DAC is to take a digital signal and convert it onto an analog signal that headphones, speakers or other sound producing equipment can use. Digital signals make no sense to a voice coil as there's no real polarity shifts. A DAC turns Morse code into speech, for lack of better explanation. If it happens to also amplify power capacity to handle 250 ohm headphones, good, but that doesn't make it an Amplifier.

HI-tops might technically be footware that covers your ankles, but that does not make them boots.

Motherboards also have DAC's and USB ports, that also can amplify the digital signal to something strong enough for headphones to use, doesn't make it a sound card.

A sound card is a pre-amp. It's a middle man. It goes in between the source (motherboard, storage, whatever) and destination (amplifier, powered speakers, powered headphone amp). It's job is to bypass use of the relatively wimpy motherboard Soundstage and redirect the signal though itself, adding/subtracting/changing the sound signal for better/more compatible reproduction.

For all intents and purposes, sound cards are considered as passive equipment, not powered output/active equipment.
It's not about the power, but the distortion introduced. At higher levels, these distortions can damage the headphones.

But the DAC the OP is talking about is for a headphone. Yes, a traditional amplifier is a different animal, but that's not the topic here.

Your definition of a sound card as a pre-amp is completely wrong. I've already explained the correct definition. If you need clarification, read any of the technical documents for any sound card and look at the schematics.
 
Last edited:

M3rKn

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Nov 13, 2019
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I recently purchased a pair of 250 ohm headphones, I currently have a reasonably old sound blaster z sound card, whilst this is working fine with my headphones I was thinking about buying a desktop amp just for convenience as well as the fact I am looking to build myself a new pc in the coming months and so I would then just use the desktop amp instead of messing about with my old sound card or buy a new one.
I was just wondering if there is any problem with buying a desktop amp and plugging it into my sound card so I am essentially using 2 sound cards / amplifiers in series. woudl there be any benifit at all from this (I assume no) or more importantly is there any reason NOT to do this due to any issued I'd get with sound / sound quailty.
Any general informaton about this issue would be greatly appreciated as I am not very knowledgeable on the subject.
What headphones did you get btw?
If you are set on getting a desktop amp then I would look for a headphone amp that has a toslink (optical cable) connection (your soundblaster has this output). You would essentially be using your sound card as the DAC, and the headphone amp would drive your headphones. No harm to be done here. Or you can forget about the sound card all together and get a DAC/AMP essentially performing the function of Decoding and Amplifying (these are usually USB, but can also have toslink). Chances are if you go down this rabbit hole you may never want a sound card again.
 
What headphones did you get btw?
If you are set on getting a desktop amp then I would look for a headphone amp that has a toslink (optical cable) connection (your soundblaster has this output). You would essentially be using your sound card as the DAC, and the headphone amp would drive your headphones. No harm to be done here. Or you can forget about the sound card all together and get a DAC/AMP essentially performing the function of Decoding and Amplifying (these are usually USB, but can also have toslink). Chances are if you go down this rabbit hole you may never want a sound card again.
So I've always wondered--can you really hear the difference? The reason I ask is because a friend of mine had a sound production company and we worked with Mackie equipment all the time as well as a pair of sennheiser dt series closed back headphones for headphone monitoring (we would do the initial mix from a pair of monitors at the console, but then fine tune using the headphones).

And even in this setup, it was very, very hard for me to find frequencies and 'tune' them in the mix. My ears were not as experienced as my friends (and still aren't), but I can easily tell the difference between both pairs of my AKG k240 (one 600ohm and one 55ohm) as well as headphone coloring from almost anything from apple headsets, bose, and especially those hideous 'beats'. And yet, I still can't discern any difference between an rca analog input and digital optical (toslink).
 

M3rKn

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Nov 13, 2019
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So I've always wondered--can you really hear the difference? The reason I ask is because a friend of mine had a sound production company and we worked with Mackie equipment all the time as well as a pair of sennheiser dt series closed back headphones for headphone monitoring (we would do the initial mix from a pair of monitors at the console, but then fine tune using the headphones).

And even in this setup, it was very, very hard for me to find frequencies and 'tune' them in the mix. My ears were not as experienced as my friends (and still aren't), but I can easily tell the difference between both pairs of my AKG k240 (one 600ohm and one 55ohm) as well as headphone coloring from almost anything from apple headsets, bose, and especially those hideous 'beats'. And yet, I still can't discern any difference between an rca analog input and digital optical (toslink).
This is a valid question and statement. Audiophiles will argue you can hear the difference, which you can to a degree. I good pair of RCA (analog) cables shouldn't be distinguishable from toslink (digital). So when you are talking about interconnects the quality does make a difference, but the differences are so small that it doesn't matter. I use analog and digital, it all depends on the source and gear I am using for playback. What actually matters and you pointed it out, is the hardware, you can distinguish between Bose headphones and your AKGs. So really if you have good speakers or headphones you are fine.

If you want to get technical most people cannot hear above 16khz, and 20khz is considered the max human hearing can achieve. So wheather or not your friend can hear in the upper range is debatable, but most well known sound engineers are in their mid 40s to their 60s in age. Their hearing is far gone by this time, but they have experience and knowledge that requires more than a good ear. What I am saying is expensive hardware is not going to make you hear things in the music you never heard before, new sounds will not magically appear, BUT they can sound different. Wheather that difference is better or worse is arbitrary.

I will put this out there. Think back to a time you listened to the radio, vs listening to a CD or MP3. Which had better quality? My last GF was streaming from her phone through Spotify on her BT Beats (yes I cringe even now & that's probably why the relationship didn't work out,) but I digress. I have a decent pair of open back HD 660s, and a couple headphone amps (literally 2). I asked her what she was listening to and I can't remember what it was, but I asked her to use my gear and replay the track. I waited and she said "something is different," now she didn't have the words to describe what she heard. It was most likely a wider sound stage, the bass was probably cleaner and less muddy (open back vs closed), but she heard a difference.

This was long winded, but my opinion is a good headphone amp will make a difference. The cables you choose, toslink, rca, 3.5mm, should just be good quality, nothing from the gas station or 99 cents store, haha. Sound Cards are not bad, especially since they have useful software, but the argument is a headphone amp is dedicated (comparable to a dedicated GPU) Just as geeky this community is about our PCs, you can be just as geeky about your sound hardware.
 
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hang-the-9

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It depends on how it is connected. A sound card typically has 'line out' which is unamplified, and a 'headphone' out which is. A lot of times it is physically the same connector and one has to choose in software.

If the amp has the ability to connect directly to the computer, it actually has a built in sound card and is much better to run direct.
The headphone power off the motherboard is very little, it's not really connecting two amps together, the power from even a god number of good headphone amps is less than 1 watt and a motherboard headphone jack will be well under that. If by connect directly to a computer you mean with a USB cable, then yes that would mean the device has a DAC which can be used and would be most likely better quality than the sound card in the computer.
 
This is a valid question and statement. Audiophiles will argue you can hear the difference, which you can to a degree. I good pair of RCA (analog) cables shouldn't be distinguishable from toslink (digital). So when you are talking about interconnects the quality does make a difference, but the differences are so small that it doesn't matter. I use analog and digital, it all depends on the source and gear I am using for playback. What actually matters and you pointed it out, is the hardware, you can distinguish between Bose headphones and your AKGs. So really if you have good speakers or headphones you are fine.

If you want to get technical most people cannot hear above 16khz, and 20khz is considered the max human hearing can achieve. So wheather or not your friend can hear in the upper range is debatable, but most well known sound engineers are in their mid 40s to their 60s in age. Their hearing is far gone by this time, but they have experience and knowledge that requires more than a good ear. What I am saying is expensive hardware is not going to make you hear things in the music you never heard before, new sounds will not magically appear, BUT they can sound different. Wheather that difference is better or worse is arbitrary.

I will put this out there. Think back to a time you listened to the radio, vs listening to a CD or MP3. Which had better quality? My last GF was streaming from her phone through Spotify on her BT Beats (yes I cringe even now & that's probably why the relationship didn't work out,) but I digress. I have a decent pair of open back HD 660s, and a couple headphone amps (literally 2). I asked her what she was listening to and I can't remember what it was, but I asked her to use my gear and replay the track. I waited and she said "something is different," now she didn't have the words to describe what she heard. It was most likely a wider sound stage, the bass was probably cleaner and less muddy (open back vs closed), but she heard a difference.

This was long winded, but my opinion is a good headphone amp will make a difference. The cables you choose, toslink, rca, 3.5mm, should just be good quality, nothing from the gas station or 99 cents store, haha. Sound Cards are not bad, especially since they have useful software, but the argument is a headphone amp is dedicated (comparable to a dedicated GPU) Just as geeky this community is about our PCs, you can be just as geeky about your sound hardware.
Thank you for the detailed response. It definitely sounds like the chasing of the nth degree that I thought it was, but hey whatever makes people happy and improves the quality for the rest of us. :)
 
The headphone power off the motherboard is very little, it's not really connecting two amps together, the power from even a god number of good headphone amps is less than 1 watt and a motherboard headphone jack will be well under that. If by connect directly to a computer you mean with a USB cable, then yes that would mean the device has a DAC which can be used and would be most likely better quality than the sound card in the computer.
It's still going to amplify the signal and introduce distortion compared to a line level input. This comes from experience of doing interconnects for decades when the only place that sold all the cables were radio shack. Today's headphone ports are 'smart' in that they can detect a line level input so they switch to line level, but if it's still in headphone mode you will hear the distortion when you turn up the volume in the computer headphone to near 100% and then 60% or more on your secondary equipment--at least when compared to a straight line-in.

Yep, was talking about usb and dac.
 

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