How to get audiophile sound?

Discussion in 'Computer Components' started by jameson_uk, Aug 15, 2006.

  1. jameson_uk

    jameson_uk
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    I currently have my HTPC setup with Meedio as the front end using BASS as the music player and ASIO out (via the nForce2 mobo sound) and 192kbps MP3 files. The optical out from mobo is then plugged into my Denon 3803 receiver.

    Even though I have a decent set of speakers (KEF Q series), decent cables (QED Silver aniversary bi-wired to fronts) and supposedly a straight unmangled signal from PC to amp, I find the sound a little uninspiring.

    I presumed that the weak link here was the fact that I was using lossy mp3 but I have since tried ripping a few (well recorded) albums into FLAC but there was very little in it.

    Any ideas on what I can do to improve the sound quality (I know it can be better as with the old DVD player I had some time ago; Pioneer 636; connected via digital coax I got much better sound)

    Should I look at file format / player or hardware?
     
  2. shezzy2k

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    Get a decent sound card...though it depends how much you want to spend.

    You should find info on this forum for the following...

    M-Audio 2496, About £60.

    RME 9632, About £300.

    Lynx TwoB, About £500 (I think)

    I have the RME on my system & I'm quite pleased with it.

    I hope this helps.
     
  3. The Dude

    The Dude
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    For the cheap option, get the MAudio 2496 and use the analogue outputs to feed your amp.

    It's actually your 3803 at fault I'd say, it's a not particularly good piece of kit for listening to music.

    For starters bypass it's DAC by using the analogue outs on the 2496, then, when you've saved up some money, get yourself a cheap power amp (anything will do) and bypass the 3803 all-together :devil:
     
  4. Cable Monkey

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    I presume that you are able to be inspired by music through your amp in other ways? If so what kit are you using and how? (Analogue, digital?). If music via the 3803 has never inspired you then it could be a weak link. If it has then the sound card is a probable cause. I have a 24/96 feeding a stereo amp right now and for the money you are hard pushed to do better.
     
  5. jameson_uk

    jameson_uk
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    I have to admit it is not the best but when I had the DVD player connected digitally it sounded a lot better than the PC so I guess it is probably both the amp and the sound card...
     
  6. jameson_uk

    jameson_uk
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    Surely getting a cheap power amp would defeat the object? I can see that using the PC as a pre-amp would be ok but 5 x100w channels of decent power amp is going to cost a small fortune
     
  7. jameson_uk

    jameson_uk
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    I would be interested in why this would make a difference? If you assume a completely digital route then the ideal route would surely be simply transferring the 1s and 0s from the mp3 files direct to the amp and therefore the actual soundcard should not be doing anything to the signal anyway?

    If you are talking analogue then I am presuming that the only reason for a decent sound card would be the DAC but for that money I could buy a top quality DAC anyway. Also using analog out would that not be subject to the windows kmixer and all sorts of resampling before it even reached the soundcard anyway?
     
  8. The Dude

    The Dude
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    I thought you wanted Audiophile quality? :devil:

    TBH I was only referring to something to use for 2ch use, you'd need a better soundcard than the 2496 for multichannel anyway, the RME would be the best option there, by all accounts...

    2ch power amps don't cost too much though, plenty of Rotels crop up in the classifieds here for very reasonable amounts. :)
     
  9. shezzy2k

    shezzy2k
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    I am indeed talking about analogue. I agree that you could probably buy an external DAC, but I assume that the OP is after a one box solution...as I was when I built my HTPC.
     
  10. eviljohn2

    eviljohn2
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    It's not quite that simple as MP3 is an encoded format rather than nice simple PCM.

    Although it's stored digitally, it needs extracting and converting before it could be thought of as digital music which you can pass straight to your amp. :)
     
  11. DeeeKaaY

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    LynxTwoB = £795 :smashin:
     
  12. avanzato

    avanzato
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  13. mark.carline

    mark.carline
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    Thats your problem! - Try reripping CDs in 320kbs format and check out the difference. You'll only gain somthing like 0.01% extra sound quality between 320kbs and losless format (WAV etc) and in my opinion its a waste of time

    Find yourself a good reference track and do lots of listerning.

    I use the following singles:

    INXS - Kick
    Dire Straights - Money for Nothing

    All of which which has been recorded really well and have good stereo imaging and solid bass.

    You might want to consider swapping yout KEFs as I didnt realy rate them. They used to be good (when they where KEF) but now they sold out I dont like the sound of their new speakers. I ended up going for a high end JM Labs speakers (Utopias) but they do make some reasonable cheaper ones.
     
  14. mjn

    mjn
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    Agreed, i'd also feel uninspired by 192kb MP3...ugh....can't think of anything worse, well i can actually, 160kb MP3 :eek:

    Re-rip your CD's properly, before spending any money.
     
  15. jameson_uk

    jameson_uk
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    what about FLAC? It is supposedly lossless and takes up about the same space as 320kbps (do you sample at 44.4 or 48 btw?). I tried FLAC and must admit that I did not notice much (if any improvement) will try 320kbps MP3 tonight

    Snap. Also use brothers in arms which also has nice dynamics

    They are a good 6 years old now (the original Q series) I went for these as at the time they were the best for both home cinema and music (have Q35 fronts, Q95c center and 70s rears) this is now coupled with a BK XLS200 sub
     
  16. The Dude

    The Dude
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    did you rip the FLACs from CD? obviously up-converting the mp3's won't get back anything you've lost in the ripping process.

    FLAC is your best bet if they're for playing on the PC, no point re-ripping everything into another lossy format, may as well do things properly if you're gonna bother.. :)
     
  17. mark.carline

    mark.carline
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    I used media player 10 to encode. CDs are encoded at 44 so theres no point going any higher.
     
  18. jameson_uk

    jameson_uk
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    Indeed use Easy CD Extractor and ripped direct to FLAC
     
  19. jameson_uk

    jameson_uk
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    I realise CDs are recorded at 44 but I seem to recall reading somewhere that Windows resamples everything to 48 anyway (something about kmixer?) and that is why kernel streaming and ASIO are meant to be better (they supposedly bypass this all)
     
  20. DeeeKaaY

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    check out exact audio copy, it is free and great. lossless rip to wav file. then use win amp or foobar output to the analogue outputs of a decent card. use xlobby as your interface and bobs your auntie... audiophile htpc. :thumbsup:
     
  21. avanzato

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    I use EAC too. I wouldn't say it's easy to set up but I followed one of the guides out there and now have it ripping to .flac, tagging and saving off to my NAS almost automatically. It'll even error check the rips using 'accurate rip' though I seem to have several CD's that aren't in their database yet.
     
  22. shezzy2k

    shezzy2k
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    I don't mean to Hijack the thread so apologies in advance.

    What are your opinions on monkey's lossless Vs FLAC form a sound quality perspective?
     
  23. cwick

    cwick
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    Maybe I'm being naive but I'd assume that, both being lossless, they'd sound identical. And if they dont, either one isn't lossless, or someone's talking out of their bottom by describing them as such :D
     
  24. clockworks

    clockworks
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    There's not really anything wrong with the 3803 as a preamp, and the on-board DAC isn't that bad - my 3802 sounds pretty good when fed a CD via optical from a Panasonic DVD recorder ( I sold my Linn CDP a while ago, when money was tight).
    If you can't hear the difference between 192k mp3 and lossless, there is obviously something wrong, though. I'd put my money on the 3803's power amps being a part of the problem.

    I recently renovated my living room, and had to re-install everything. I thought I'd try using my system without the power amps that I normally use for the front 3 channels. It sounded atrocious with stereo music. Plugging the left/right amp back in made a huge difference. Not really noticeable when watching TV, but night and day for music.

    Get yourself a secondhand stereo power amp, and use that for the left and right channels. While you're at it, get a another one, and use it to bi-amp the centre channel - that does make a difference for 5.1.
    Once you've got some amplification that actually works with real speakers, you can get your front-end sorted, if necessary.
     
  25. Russell_S

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    I think you'll find that the audio is still being upsampled to 48khz and so is not bit-perfect. ASIO will bypass the Kmixer but a lot of audio chipsets actually upsample in hardware and cannot be bypassed. This is certainly the case with creative sound cards and I think that is the case with the nForce2. I believe the reason for this is that Microsoft, in their infinate misdom, created the standard that all audio should be upsampled to 48k.

    The way to test if you are getting bit-perfect digital audio is to get hold of a DTS encoded 44khz audio file (various test files freely downloadable on the web). If this plays back ok then you do have bit-perfect playback. However, if you just hear mush then it is being upsampled. This is because the upsampling destroys the DTS encoding. Of course, this will only work if your amp has a DTS decoder.

    The best audio chipset that I have found that doesn't upsample is the VIA Envy24. Cards that use this chipset are the Chaintech AV-710, Gainward [email protected] and Maudio Revolution 7.1 etc. Get the cheapest one you can find because you are not going to be using the analogue part of the card at all, and because you will not be upsampling, the DAC's won't be used either. So basically, the card will just be passing the digital signal straight through and not processing it in any way.

    There is an excellent thread in the HTPCnews forums all about this chipset and ASIO/kernel streaming in general. You can find it here:

    http://htpcnews.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=3616

    Here is a link to some free DTS encoded audio tracks (use the DTS 44.1khz files NOT the AC3 ones):

    http://www.kellyindustries.com/sounds.html

    I am using Meedio as my HTPC front end with digital sound running through a Gainward [email protected] sound card with MP3 & Ogg files at 160 or 192kbs goinf to my Yamaha RXV100D amp. I have had this configuration for about a year now and it sounds so much better that before when I had another sound card that wasn't bitp-perfect.

    I hope this is all of some help and whatever you do, don't give up because once you achieve bit-perfect playback you won't want to go back.


    Russell
     
  26. jameson_uk

    jameson_uk
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    Thank you. will have to digest this all again when I am more awake but seems helpful :thumbsup:
     
  27. dmce

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    How would the cheaper cards (mentioned in the htpc post) compare to a card such as the M-Audio Audiophile 192 or 2496. Is it really dependant out how you output sound from the card?

    If outputting via SPDIF i pressume your relying on a good amp to deal with the sound and can therefore rely on the cheaper cards? If using analogue out of sound card it would be better to go with the M-Audio cards if you consider the amp to have a poorer DAC?

    Edit - I suppose this applies too 2 channel sound only. For anything else the M-Audio cardw ouldnt be much use?
     
  28. Russell_S

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    If you are going to use analogue sound from the sound card then obviously you would want one with good quality DAC's and a good quality analogue audio stage. The problem with using analogue out from the PC is that there are a lot of sources of interference inside a PC case that can distort the analogue signal. You've got a switched mode power supply with lots of high frequency interference buzzing around. There are fans spinning which can create electrical spikes and all sorts of other high frequency noise inside an environment that is just not designed for audiophile sound reproduction.

    If, on the other hand, you use a digital out, there is never any analogue audio inside the PC case to get distorted. It is in digital form at all times until it gets inside the AV amp which is an environment designed for audiophile sound reproduction. The other thing to remember is that most sound cards (M-Audio is one exception) only have cheap 3.5mm jack sockets for the analogue connections. These in themselves do not provide good quality sound transfer and also it is pretty much impossible to connect good quality analogue cable to one of these connectors. So just by using the analogue out of a sound card you are relegated to using poor quality connectors and cables.

    The other thing to bear in mind is that, regardless whether you are using digital or analogue from your sound card, if the sound from your amp is not particularly good it is more likely to be the analogue stages of the amp that are at fault and not the digital stages. This is because it is the analogue part of an amp that is more dificult and more costly to do properly. So if the amp sounds bad then it is likely to sound bad regardless of whether it is analogue or digital from the PC.


    Russell
     
  29. dmce

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    Thanks for the info mate.

    Is it possible to still compare the MAudio 192 in terms of a comparitive CD player. If you take both as a source is the card comparable to a similarly price CD player or a more expensive one? I know this may not have a clearly defined answer but it may help me and maybe others put into perspective whether it is better than a budget CD player or otherwise.

    This is considering source files are lossless.
     
  30. U187146

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    I am also trying to avoid Windows upsampling my WMA lossless music files, however I have MCE installed and believe some of the soundcards mentioned are not compatible with MCE. Can someone with one of the recommended soundcards & MCER installed please confirm that their set up works okay.

    Thanks.
     

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