Beware the Audio Gear Rabbit Hole!
Get the features you need, ignore the nagging voice inside.
I know it’s stereotypical to start a reply that comes down with a hard stance with the phrase “I mean no offense,” but I mean no offense with any of this at all, and everyone’s audio taste is different so hey this might not apply to you.
It sounds to me like you’re staring into the dark rabbit hole that is small incremental audio gear upgrades. And you probably shouldn’t jump in.
That’s my completely unimportant personal opinion. So feel free to ignore it if it upsets you!
The AD700’s aren’t very hard to power. They’re 32 ohm headphones, 38 if we’re talking about the newer X variant, and they sound great even out of a phone.
I state this with such certainty because I used to own a pair, and they were one of the first headphones I reviewed back when I was doing this on Tumblr a few years ago.
Now, are they nice/revealing enough to show you the benefits of better amps?Sure! But it’s not going to be a night and day difference unless you convince yourself of it.
And that’s how people get into yelling matches about cables on the internet.
The Astro Mixamp and the GameDAC are both designed for very specific purposes. The Mixamp’s strengths are its Dolby Digital and Dolby Headphone support, its decent mic monitoring, mic noise gate, and EQ. It’s not the most aggressive or powerful headphone amp in the world, and although its signal is very clean, it’s not the first thing I’d leap to unless you’d like to have the above features.
Now, the GameDAC only powers Steelseries Arctis headsets. And while it has a great set of features too…you’d basically be throwing your AD700’s away if you bought one.
Windows Sonic and Razer Surround can both provide quality virtual surround for free, and Dolby Atmos is cheap to unlock. And sure, your on-board audio probably doesn’t have great mic monitoring…but since you’re using open-backed headphones that doesn’t matter as much.
Do you have any hiss/case interference noise coming through on your headphones? That’s about the only major remaining issue with on-board audio. My front panel jacks are just a little noisy because the wires for them run through my whole case, but my back panel jacks are super clean.
If you’ve got some of that going on, then I could see why you’d want an external DAC/Amp. But I’d go with something more multi-purpose and cheaper than the two you’ve mentioned, like the classic Fiio E10K. It’s about 76 bucks online and it’ll serve you well as a different source to see how big of a difference there really is.
Do you currently use a separate microphone? You can keep running that through your on-board audio. Or, if you need a new mic…then I could see paying for a gaming headset. Their best strength is that they’re an all-in-one solution.
The mic on the $79 Arctis 3 is identical to the one on the $170 Arctis Pro.
I know this all comes off as me sounding cheap and unexciting, but I’ve never been a “buy more gear just to solve this tiny problem” sort of guy.
I think that new headphones make about an 80–90 percent quality difference compared to the last 10 percent you can eke out with a nicer amp.
And in most cases, from anecdotal experience, people don’t notice as big of a difference in new amps as they expected without a healthy dose of confirmation bias/new gear hype entering in.
If you want all the features those gaming amps offer, they’re priced in line with what I think is “Fair.” But you already have a great-sounding pair of headphones, and you’re already probably getting the most out of them (or close to it), no matter what that nagging voice inside says or what head-fi tells you.
You can play with EQ or buy a cheaper amp and get the same amount of novel fun for less money!
Thanks for reading!