HTPC Audio Upgrade - Confused!

Discussion in 'Home Entertainment Computers' started by Sheepish, Feb 4, 2009.

  1. Sheepish

    Sheepish
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    Hello AVForums,

    I'd appreciate it if you guys can help me fulfill my quarter-life crisis where I want to blow some money on upgrading my htpc for my listening pleasure.

    I have an HTPC built around an Asus M3A78-EH with Realtek ALC1200 chipset connected to a run of the mill Technics hifi system amplifier. I know the onboard audio is dulling the sound considerably because the same cd in the hifi cd player sounds sharper and punchier.

    At the same time the amplifier is having problems (goes silent if you turn it up too loud but not overly loud) so I think I am going to replace it at the same time (thinking of buying new speakers too but thats another question in another forum).

    Ive done a little research on upgrade options but I cant decide exactly whats best, or what exactly I need. I have a few options with attached questions that I really need answers to before I can move on with my life.


    A. Use the onboard with optical out to a NEW amp/receiver ? Although I think I read that the optical out on Realtek chipsets isnt bit-perfect and still processed (dulling the sound), is this right?

    B. Buy a cheap soundcard that does bit-perfect output over toslink/spdif optical/digital to a new amp?

    C. Asus Xonar D1 or D2 connected to a new amp, or does that defeat the purpose of having a high end expensive amplifier? What are the differences in connecting by toslink/spdif instead of 3.5mm to RCA?


    Any info much appreciated, thanks :)

    ~Sheepy
     
  2. jameson_uk

    jameson_uk
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    I believe so yes. I would avoid the onboard sound on this particular chip if you want decent music.

    This makes the most sense to me (hence why I do this :D ). Look for a Cmedia based card. They retail for about £15 and with some slightly tweaked drivers (cmediadrivers - Google Code - also has a link to which models are compatible) provide great audio output (ie. straight from PC to amp and then it depends on how good the DAC is in your amp as opposed to in your CD player if you are outputting an analog stero signal)

    It depends on the quality of the DACs in the D1/D2 vs the amp. I also have an irrational dislike of analog cables around the back of my PC where there are lots of things to interfere with the signal and 3.5mm adaptors not being great as connectors. With an optical cable you do get electrical isolation between the PC and the amp but I am not sure how much difference this makes in real life.

    I have no experience of the Asus cards but my view I doubt you would notice any difference over the cheap CMedia card and Dogber's drivers. I personally would save the money from the D1/D2 and spend that on a better amp
     
  3. Sheepish

    Sheepish
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    Thanks for setting me on the right path, Jameson_uk.

    So, onboard optical ruled out. Good. I had a look for CMedia based cards but couldnt find one on any of my usual component etailers (Scan/Ebuyer/OcUK/Aria) which doesnt matter now because ive realised amps in my budget dont have optical inputs and I dont think im prepared to splash out on a receiver of similar ability (nor do i need all the other fancy features).

    I briefly considered a CMedia card with DacMagic/Beresford DAC to a nice amp but I think a Asus Xonar D2 at half the price would do me fine (with its Burr Brown DAC?) if not just for simplicity.

    Step 1 of my home audio upgrade complete, I think. Moving on to selecting seperates in my paltry budget now, starting with a trip to my local SevenOaks tomorrow.

    Thanks again!
     

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