Help With Audio From My Computer!

Discussion in 'Hi-Fi Stereo Systems & Separates' started by mr_seanstanley, Aug 11, 2006.

  1. mr_seanstanley

    mr_seanstanley
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    Hi all,
    Currently I am running most of my music from a computer in .wav format.
    Now, my CDP sounds better (as you would expect) but the computer is so much easier to get to and I don’t have cds laying about all over the place. What I want to achieve is a similar quality of sound from my computer.
    My computer is situated about 3-4m (including the corners needed to keep the wires out of the way) from the electronics of my hifi. I don’t have a PCI slot spare in my computer so I'm currently using a SoundBlaster audigy NX USB sound card, connected up with cables costing many times what it cost me in the first place (the were just surplus, does look silly though.) This is sat on top of my hifi rack with a long USB lead connecting it to the computer. Other gear is listed in my sig.

    That I can see there are two paths to getting better sound.
    1) New sound card. This must be USB which limits the choice, so far I've seen
    http://www.russandrews.com/lookup/1...uct-Pro-HiFi-Link-External-Soundcard-4700.htm
    Which appears brilliant on the surface but is actually made by xitel and a model with no digital output can be had for $50 from the us Amazon. So maybe not so great...also all the blurb for the pro model seems to go on about is the fact you can connect it to an a/v amp and use the internal dacs in that to make your music sound good. Kind of an expensive way of adding a digital out to your computer I feel.

    The other is from m-audio
    http://www.m-audio.com/products/en_us/AudiophileUSB-main.html
    This is based on a highly respected card with outstanding reviews but comes with a raft of features I’m not really bothered about. Cost for this one seems to be about £110 delivered.

    2) Dac. I like this idea a little better. My budget is around £100 for this and I’ve been looking at (and stuck a lowish bid on a second hand one) on the Derek shek nos dacs on eBay. I have a digital coax out on the audigy which I can use. The supposed sound characteristics also appeal to me in that my cdp can tend to a slightly harsh/brittle treble at times, a mismatch with the amps for sure but it was originally bought for a partnership with a now deceased sugden a21a.

    Over to you guys/gals. Any ideas on this welcome. Looking through Derek shek’s feedback I saw a familiar name (londondecca I’m very much looking forward to hearing from you).
    Cheers in advance:thumbsup:
     
  2. andrew1810

    andrew1810
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    How about a network streamer?

    Hook a network cable/wireless network between your PC and something like the Slimdevices Squeezebox/Roku Soundbridge

    It will also give you a display and remote and can be controlled via the PC if you want,

    I have some reviews on the options here: www.audiofi.co.uk/reviews
     
  3. mr_seanstanley

    mr_seanstanley
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    thanks for the reply. However, i dont really need a network streamer as my computer is located next to my listening position and the keyboard and mouse are right here. i also doubt that the output from one of these devices would improve the sound quality much over the set up i currently have.
    I also already have a remote for the pc for if i ever stray away from the controls.:)
     
  4. Jules Tohpipi

    Jules Tohpipi
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    I'd say a DAC is definitely the way forward.
     
  5. jon_mendel

    jon_mendel
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    I wouldn't discount a decent soundcard - they can sound at least as good as budget dacs imo. In terms of specs (balanced outputs etc.), soundcards can look much better value than budget DACs. Ended up selling my Meridian DAC cause a behringer USB soundcard sounded just as good (behringer also do USB cards with balanced outputs, similar to the m audio you link to, which might be worth considering...) Have heard m audio's cheaper soundcard (the transit) which had a nice clean sound and a decent headphone amp - so sure the more expensive one you link to won't sound bad ;)

    'pro' soundcards like the m audio you link to tend to have a pretty neutral, revealing sound (which of course you'd want if you were feeding them into studio monitors etc). However, programmes like foobar let you digitally manipulate the sound in a range of ways - so starting with a neutral sound is a good thing imo, as you can always use EQ etc. to make if sound 'warmer' (or whatever else you want...)

    Anyway, hope you find something you like. If you want to try out a soundcard, lots of companies (Dolphin Audio, for example) will let you return them within a week or so if you don't like the sound.
     
  6. mr_seanstanley

    mr_seanstanley
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    Thanks jon_medell. As far as the specs are concerned most of the stuff fitted on soundcards wont get any use from me. I dont need to be able to record things and i own absolutely nothing that uses balanced connectors (currently, if i ever do ill worry about that then!).
    Cheers for the input, may have to try the dolphin returns policy out if i cant decide!:thumbsup:
     
  7. jon_mendel

    jon_mendel
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    In which case, something like this could be worth a try - http://www.dolphinmusic.co.uk/page/shop/flypage/product_id/8522

    Costs peanuts, and has a nice detailed, neutral sound. Sounds at least as good as my Meridian DAC (sold) and my cambridge dac (now in another system). Will only play upto CD resolution (in the unlikely even you can get DVD-A or SACD music onto your computer, you'll need to downsample it), but is a nice card :cool: The question being, do you have any cables that cost less than the card does ;)
     
  8. mr_seanstanley

    mr_seanstanley
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    wow, thats quite a nice piece of gear, absolutely tiny! At £28 delivered it makes an inexpensive gamble...
    as for cables, im afraid most of the cables i had that cost under £28 have either been binned or given away, oh well...
    Ill see how this DAC auction goes on, im going to keep this one in mind though.
     
  9. deaf cat

    deaf cat
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    Hmmmmm, I used to come out of the laptops headphone socket with a 25quid cable, not bad sound,

    Moved to a usb M-Audio audiophile thing, big improvement:smashin: , after a while found the pc's fan noise and lack of remote was a little tiring,

    Went for a squeezebox, the sound was actually slightly worse (digi out), untill I got a decent cable and now it somehow lets the SB sing slightly better than the m-audio :confused: but hay it works :smashin:

    I found cables made a big difference, test a few if possible.

    Next on my list is a better dac of some sort.

    Have fun in getting new bits:thumbsup:
     
  10. mr_seanstanley

    mr_seanstanley
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    I also had the arrangement with the laptop, had to disconnect the earthing pin in the laptop as I had a ground loop generating lots of nasties but did sound ok.
    At the mo I'm using atlas voyager all Cu from the analogue outs on my SoundBlaster :rotfl: :rotfl: :rotfl:
    Bit ridiculous I think but I’m in the process of getting ready to move so all the cds have been packed away and these weren’t getting used.
    I'm having a problem with convincing myself that a new sound card will help. It seems that all the companies want to tell you about is the amount of bits and sample/sec it can handle. All very nice but my files are in 16bit at 44.1 kHz. All I want is something that will do a half decent job of turning this into a signal I can feed into my pre. Preferably with rca outputs so I don’t have to use a poor quality jack to rca adaptor as I am at the moment.
    I've also found that setting the audigy to 16bit and 48 kHz makes it sound a little fuller, better bass and less garbage in the treble.

    So does anyone have any experience with Derek shek's Nos dac? They look very tempting and only slightly over my budget.
    Cheers for all the replies:thumbsup:
     
  11. jon_mendel

    jon_mendel
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    pro soundcards often talk lots about this cause people using them for recording will want to do so at a higher resolution than CD.

    The issues around buying an external soundcard vs a dac are pretty similar, though, imo: you're just feeding the signal through different DACs before it goes to your amp. If using a better (separate) dac could improve the sound, so could using a soundcard containing better dacs. So, either a soundcard or a DAC could be a good solution :D
     
  12. mr_seanstanley

    mr_seanstanley
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    hehe, this is what i figured! Its a lot more difficult to choose sound cards than it is to get a new cdp. As computer hifi in the home seems to be a developing area of the market there are still very few reviews and I cant just pop down to my hifi dealer and demo some. I think I'm going to try the derek shek route and see how that turns out. (I'm still interested if someone has any experience with these.)
    if it turns out to be a dead end ill save up and get one of these
    http://www.slimdevices.com/pi_transporter.html :eek:
     
  13. RobsterD

    RobsterD
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    Hi
    I'm using an Apogee Mini DAC with great results can sample right up to 192K with Foobar SRC plugin that is from spdif out of a RME soundcard,tried analogue out and thought it was dissapointing.
    The Apogee also has USB which can only handle 44100,seem to prefer the spdif output at the mo.
    Some very interesting stuff here
    http://www.audioasylum.com/forums/pcaudio/bbs.html
    Tried the NOSDAC route with the Sheck and Monica2 they're were OK as entry level DACs but I prefer the Apogee now,tho would like to compare it to a Benchmark.
     
  14. WhyAyeMan

    WhyAyeMan
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    Why you using WAV?

    Even lossless compression is half the size.

    A good lossy codec is even smaller and 99.999999% of the population wont be able to tell the difference no matter how good they think they are!

    I agree with the others. Hifi link (digital out) to good dac is the way forward. I had a EMU 0404. Very good soundcard. But for the ultimate quality a DAC is another step up.
     
  15. mr_seanstanley

    mr_seanstanley
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    I was using wma lossless but even though the ususal effects of compression aren't present, it still doesnt sound as good as .wav. It does sound good but the sound was slightly different from when using .wav bass seemed to be a bit more rounded and treble a little softer. This may be down to the way the decoder was handling the info rather than a flaw in the compression but i still found it to be noticeable.
    Mp3 i see as an evil that will need to be overcome if things are to move forward, its outdated and anything but the highest bitrate files sound awful. it makes me worried to think that people are actually using 64 or 128kbs mp3 on their players. even over the stereo in the shop i work in (£15 speakers and a £45 amp) full bitrate content sounds much better compared to 128kbs mp3 or atrac3.
    It's an unfortunate situation but 99.999999% of people dont actually listen to music, they just like the presence of some background noise. Each to their own I guess. I do see your point though, I've had mates who couldnt appreciate the difference between my old £100 TDL nucleus floorstanders and my spendors. (i would like to think i could pick the difference in a blind test!)

    I would very much hope so for the 10x price difference! hehe.
    One day i think I'll take the plunge and get a good quality DAC but for the time being funds wont allow so I have to look at the lower end of things.
    Thanks for the replies, some interesting views. I think I'm going to take the plunge and get a NOSDAC and see what happens. Ill post my opinions when i get one.:thumbsup:
     
  16. WhyAyeMan

    WhyAyeMan
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    Any number of possible reasons for it.

    Poor quality encoder / codec.

    Poor ripping quality.

    Even good old simple placebo effect.

    I gather from your post you are using Windows Media Player as your ripper / encoder. I humbly suggest that this is not an optimal way to rip / encode music. A better idea would be to use a carefully set up copy of Exact Audio Copy on your PC using a secure mode ripping method. This ensures that you will get bit-perfect rips. Then encode using a decent lossless codec such as Monkey's Audio or FLAC.

    Forget about the Microsoft rubbish. Do it properly.

    A lossless file is so called because it is compressed, but when uncompressed for playback, the waveform is IDENTICAL to the original. This means, assuming its been done properly, there simply CANNOT be any difference to the original. A good way to look at a lossless file is the "zip file" analogy. A zip file is also a lossless form of compression. Once the contents of a zip file are extracted, they are completely and 100% original. A lossless format is the audio equivalent of a zip file. Do you see why its not possible for it to sound different?
     
  17. jon_mendel

    jon_mendel
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    What he said. If lossless compression attenuates the treble in a piece of music, something's not working (or it's a placebo effect)*. Using something like Exact Audio Copy to rip and convert files (or foobar's Converter to, um, convert them) is a better bet than Windows Media Player.

    Foobar also offers a tool for blind abx comparisons - useful to eliminate placebo effects. I'd suggest you try comparing a wav and compressed (e.g. flac) file, do say 20 comparisons, and see if you can reliably hear a difference.

    Jon

    * technically, if you've got a VERY old computer with lots of other software using its resources, I think this might effect playback of compressed files. This is almost certainly not the case, though.
     
  18. bobdixon

    bobdixon
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    I've been using my PC for music recently and started to convert a load of my CDs to wav. Was going well up until I used over 300 gig of memory and still not half way there :eek: The sound is really good but I'm going to try out flac when I get some time and if the quality is similar convert to that instead.

    I use the EAC software to convert and it is very good. Also Foobar to play music is excellent. With Foobar and SRE you can play the CD on your PC's CD player and still get good quality sound. The quality of music I am getting is superior to both of my CD players (MF Nu-Vista 3D CD and MF A3.2) which is why I'm getting rid :D
     
  19. WhyAyeMan

    WhyAyeMan
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    Personally I use musepack. OK its lossy, but I cant tell any difference, and I'm confident no audiophile could either. You can save masses of disk space using such a format. Problem is, most audiophiles are far too paranoid to even consider looking into such a format. Their loss I reckon.

    If you did want to try it though, what i would probably recommend is FLAC for archival (to say DVD) for easy transcoding to other formats, then something musepack for your "server". I have all of my music in this format. it comes to 60 Gb. If it were uncompressed, it'd be more like 420 Gb! Even in FLAC it would still be around 300 Gb. Saves me money not having to buy loads of hard disks.
     
  20. RobsterD

    RobsterD
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    Oh dear I must be paranoid too much baccy in the early days :smoke:
    I rip all my music in WAV and will continue to do so as the price of hard drives is peanuts.;)
     
  21. jon_mendel

    jon_mendel
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    Different paranoias, maybe :D I keep music on my computer as FLAC files, even though I know I can't hear the difference between FLAC and ~220 vbr MP3 ;) I guess I can always claims it's for archiving...
     
  22. RobsterD

    RobsterD
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    I tried ripping Blue Nile "Hats" in FLAC and WAV and honestly I prefered the WAV
    rip,the volume seemed lower on the FLAC rip.
     
  23. GaryG

    GaryG
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    You might want to consider one of these:

    http://www.at-view.co.uk/sb2.htm

    Patrick will demo it to you in your own system, I think you'll find that it will replace your CD player.
     
  24. WhyAyeMan

    WhyAyeMan
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    Then its not a faithful copy, simple as. If it was then there simply CANNOT be a difference. It isnt possible. FACT :lesson:

    Its like saying you can see the difference between a word document thats been zipped and one that hasnt. ;)

    I'm not going to go on about it though, been there and done that, and it gets nobody anywhere.
     
  25. mr_seanstanley

    mr_seanstanley
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    I have also found this, currently I have some stuff still in .wma (lossless) and others in .wav (cds got lost or stuff I borrowed from other people) the output from the .wmas is a lot lower (and I have auto volume leveling turned off.) I did a quick comparison and when playing wav files it is louder.
    As you said yourself pbirkett it could be down to any number of possible reasons why lossless files sound different.
    The EAC program looks like a nice piece of software I think I'll start using that. I'm not going to go through all my cds again though, as lots of them are copies anyway (it wasn't me, I swear:nono: ) and none of these are likely to be bit perfect anyway)

    GaryG do you have a price for the SB2+? From the description though it seems most of the effort has gone into improving the spdif output. Looks expensive...

    As for media players I like windows media player, I use media player 11beta, looks great, it works and has had some improvements in managing the library. Yes it’s MS but I can live with that...
    When funds allow I will probably go back down the cdp route and get something really special but for the time being this is a temporary measure as my cd collection isn't going with me when I move into halls in a few weeks. The cdp will most probably get left behind too.
    This has proved to be more interesting than I was expecting! When my ears recover from the battering they took last night I'm going to have another critical listen to different formats. At the moment everything sounds naff, the constant riiiing in the background is a little distracting...:thumbsdow
     
  26. GaryG

    GaryG
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    With the standard SB2 dac it's £800, with the replacement dac it's £1000, not the sort of thing to be buying if you're going to university though!
     
  27. mr_seanstanley

    mr_seanstanley
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    Yeah, a little out of my budget! One day....:rotfl:
     
  28. WhyAyeMan

    WhyAyeMan
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    If you want better quality computer playback then try Foobar 2000 player with a good ASIO driver, or failing that, Kernel streaming. Bypasses windows kmixer which resamples = bad for sound quality.

    Also if you have a crap soundcard, you can use Foobar to resample to the soundcards native res with a higher degree of sound quality than what a cheap soundcard will manage.

    EAC is excellent software, but a fair bit of patience is required to set it up. I recommend googling "EAC setup guide". This should give plenty of info on what to do.

    And I hear ya about the re-ripping ;)
     
  29. mr_seanstanley

    mr_seanstanley
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    pbirkett Thanks. Thanks a lot. Just set up foobar2000 and using the kernel streaming I believe the sound is better. Tried a comparison between media player 11 and foobar listening to ben harper and the blind boys of alabama live at the apollo, well,well,well. This is a great recording and one I use when doing any kind of calibration or audition. Bass appears to be faster and although I cant really say why (brighter treble etc...) the vocal is a lot clearer and is easier to pick out of the mix. Its getting a bit late so I cant listen at my ususal level but I'm going to have a good listen tomorrow.
    I'm going to set up EAC properly now. Most probably I will redo the real cds in my collection and in future use this to rip to the harddrive and burn copies off from that if required. (I'd just like to say although I do copy a fair few cds I buy them if I really like them, especially if they are by smaller bands. I like my music too much to see it die but my wallet isnt fat enough to feed my habbit!)
    Thank you very much for this, I'll see how the DAC auction goes, hopefully this will bring further improvements!
    :clap:
     
  30. WhyAyeMan

    WhyAyeMan
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    Glad to have helped. The only thing with foobar is the interface / ease of use isnt quite up there with some of the alternatives like WMP, or itunes, but thats something that could be worked on as well IMO as foobar is very configurable.
     

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