PC Music to Stereo Amp - HDMI Audio Converter or Toslink?

Discussion in 'Hi-Fi Stereo Systems & Separates' started by Chronic, Dec 7, 2011.

  1. Chronic

    Chronic
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    Looking for a bit of advice & hoping some of you can help with this...

    I play lossless audio from my PC via HDMI, the HDMI goes into my TV, then Stereo Phono from the TV into my Stereo Amp, this sounds noticeably better than using the PC's onboard sound (HD Audio Aux Jack) going direct into my Stereo Amp.

    Im now looking to bypass my TV and use an HDMI audio converter

    http://www.octavainc.com/HDMI 1x1 Audio Converter.html

    This box costs £140 & i'm wondering if this is worth it as i could also run a Toslink direct from my PC into a DAC then into my Stereo Amp

    I defintiely want to bypass my TV so my 2 options are

    PC HDMI> Octava HDMI Audio Converter > Stereo Amp
    (The HDMI converter can output Phono or Toslink)

    or

    PC Toslink> DAC > Stereo Amp

    I really can notice the difference between the PC's HDMI & HD Audio Aux Jack, but not sure ifit would be the same with Toslink

    Thanks in advance for any help! ;)
     
  2. formbypc

    formbypc
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    Does your PC have a USB port or two?

    Why not try one of these for £20 or so? There's other USB DACs available, but they come in more expensive than this one....
     
  3. MaturityDodger

    MaturityDodger
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    As you're only going to want stereo out, I'd go with a regular DAC.
    Either with TOSLINK as an input, or USB.
    The digital data coming from your Toslink should be identical to that from your HDMI.

    Your degradation in quality with the 3.5mm jack is almost certainly due to the PC's internal DACs, and electrical noise inside the case. Not because of any special property of the HDMI.
     
  4. Chronic

    Chronic
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    Thanks for the replies, i have plenty USB ports on my PC, im obviously going for the best sound quality i can get from my PC so any recomendations are welcome

    I don't have USB as a playback device but i presume that what these little boxes do...
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2011
  5. MaturityDodger

    MaturityDodger
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    You don't specify what your amp and speakers are, but assuming they're not something ridiculously high-end, then I don't think you'll be able to tell the difference in source type between USB, toslink and HDMI.
    The quality of the DAC will make a difference though.

    I'd expect your PC's DAC to be pretty poor, hampered by a lot of electrical noise around it.
    In your current setup, using the TV's DAC, I'd expect the improvements that you've seen.

    I think that by spending money on a USB or toslink DAC, you can get even better.
    For these options, it's the quality of the unit, not the type that you want to focus on.
    I think that for the same sort of money as the HDMI unit you linked, you can do much better.

    For example...
    Beresford Caiman DAC at £160, which also has a headphone amplifier.

    Cambridge Audio DACMagic around £200.

    Both of these are regarded as very good DACs for the money. But you might want to hold fire on the DACMagic though, as there's meant to be a v2 unit released soon. This will either offer a good upgrade, or maybe push down the prices of remaining v1 units.

    Do you have a budget in mind?

    EDIT: Just saw that the £160 Caiman price is excluding VAT.
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2011
  6. Chronic

    Chronic
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    Cheers matey, im using a Cambridge Audio 840a Stereo Amp & Mordaunt Short Avant 900 series speakers so fairly high end

    The DAC Magic did pop into my mind just before i read your post

    Having a headphone amp is good too, i don't think that the Octava DAC is that great to be honest as they don't seem to sell the audio converter side of it much on their website even thought its a dedicated audio converter :confused:


    Budget is £200 max i'd say ;)
    I can't actually seem to find a UK supplier of the beresford?

    .
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2011
  7. MaturityDodger

    MaturityDodger
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    Yeah, you'd be wanting a decent DAC to get the most from your equipment then.
    If I were looking for a DAC around your price-point, I'd probably be waiting to see what CA do with the DACMagic v2.
    Or the Musical Fidelity V-DAC has had a few offers recently. I've never heard one myself, but haven't heard anything bad about them.
     
  8. MaturityDodger

    MaturityDodger
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    Just had a look and DACMagics are actually £230, so just outside your budget. And they don't have a headphone amp.
    So maybe the Beresford or the V-DAC is the right one for you.
    Or you could look for something second-hand, or wait and see what happens when the DM v2 comes out.
     
  9. Chronic

    Chronic
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    Excellent, thanks for the help, i think for the moment i will use my cheap £50 DAC i got form Richer Sounds, and wait to see what happens with the DACMagic v2, i can go upto £250-300 if really necessary ;)

    The beresford does read like it's pretty sweet though! Looks gorgeous aswell, i could go for it...

    At least using this mini DAC i already have bypasses my TV, its getting annoying wasting electricity having to have my TV switched on just to use the onboard DAC for audio, and then i can switch between my £50 Toslink DAC & my TV's HDMI DAC to see if theres noticeable difference in quality

    Still open to suggestions aswell ;)
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2011
  10. MaturityDodger

    MaturityDodger
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    Ah, you never mentioned that you had bought a DAC, unless I missed it.
    Yes, give that a try. It should be easy enough to get an A/B test going - run HDMI->TV and toslink->DAC simultaneously, and connect both TV and DAC to different inputs on your amp. Then you can get instant changeover by changing the amp channel.

    Make sure that the volume level is the same for both DACs (can you adjust the TV's output?), or your ears/brain will trick you into thinking that the louder one is better.
     
  11. Chronic

    Chronic
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    Will give it a try tonight as long as my old Toslink soundcard works with my new Motherboard

    I spoke to the guy who makes the Octava HDMI DAC & he said my best option by far is a USB enabled DAC, he recommended Moodlabs http://www.mood-lab.com/dice.htm which they supply themselves, he also recomended taking a look at Beresford

    I think i might go for the Beresford or the moodlabs Dice or DAC Magic via USB as the Toslink soundcard i have is years old, unless Toslink should in theory be any better?

    I finally feel like im getting somewhere ;)
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2011
  12. Chronic

    Chronic
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    I really should add that i also have the TC Electronics BMC-2 Monitor Controller which is a good DAC, but the way it works as a monitor controller (volume control knob) im not sure it would work well going into a stereo amp
     
  13. Chronic

    Chronic
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    I've just seen Arcam make a DAC aswell, i could stretch to the £300ish price if worth it...
     
  14. MaturityDodger

    MaturityDodger
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    I've never heard of the Moodlab DAC. And to be honest, it looks a little 'consumery' to me - I wouldn't trust that it provides good performance for cost.

    As for whether to use USB or optical, there are a couple of things to consider.
    Firstly, as long as your optical card works, its age shouldn't hold it back - it's a digital-to-digital interface.

    Now USB arguments - ask questions if I've missed a step in explaining here...
    USB was never designed to be used in real-time applications such as audio. The data flowing down a USB cable is guaranteed to be bit-perfect, but there's no guarantee against time-delay on particular bits (known as jitter).
    You get two types of USB DAC - Synchronous and Asynchronous.
    Synchronous DACs just convert data to analogue as it comes in.
    Asynchronous DACs hold digital data in a buffer, and then play it out to the DAC with its own, accurate clock.

    That's a simplification, but asynchronous DACs are better. You should be able to find out which type any given USB DAC is.
     
  15. Chronic

    Chronic
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    After some research & your advice the Arcam rDAC seems the best one, especially for USB as it carries studio quality.

    After reading reviews i am convinced it's the best i can afford, although its right on the very limit of my budget. I was planning on getting a new graphics card for my PC but now im going the DAC route i don't need HDMI sound off my graphics card anymore, so that £ can now go on a DAC ;)

    I just need to find a high quality 10m USB cable as the distance between my PC & Stereo Amp is 10m, i already have a 1m Cambridge Audio Phono cable to go from the rDAC to my Stereo Amp, so logically it would make better sense to get a high quality long USB cable rather than a high quality long Phono which would cost more i'd imagine
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2011
  16. MaturityDodger

    MaturityDodger
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    http://www.usb.org/about/faq/ans5

    Some reading here on USB cable lengths. Not sure how up-to-date it is.
    Maybe optical would be best for you after all. That doesn't degrade with length like electrical cables do.
     
  17. Chronic

    Chronic
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    Oh ok, i guess i could use a USB hub to lenghten 2 5m cables, or i'd have to get a 10m Toslink like you say
     
  18. Chronic

    Chronic
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    Im also still thinking that the TC Electronics BMC-2 i already have could be fine for what i need, it is a £500 DAC, plus it has balanced XLR outputs & my Cambridge Audio Stereo Amp has XLR inputs, i presume it just means i'd have to leave the BMC-2 volume turned up just below clipping, theres no straight through function on it as its a monitor controller

    http://www.tcelectronic.com/bmc-2details.asp
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2011
  19. rorackowe

    rorackowe
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    Have experimented with DACs from my PC last 2 years as the onboard sound was so dreadful. I was using a Beresford toslink DAC and the sound was massively improved. I was concerned about jitter from the onboard SPDIF but never stumped up the cash for a VLink (that was to be the next upgrade). The DAC did sound a little better via the digital out from my Sony CD transport. The What HiFi review of the Beresford did suggest it was not particularly forgiving of Jitter. Maybe the USB version has improved on this but it's not an Asynchronous DAC.

    I've now moved over to an amp with a built in stereo DAC and everything seems cleaner. Maybe because there are fewer cables around!? Possibly also because it reclocks things internally and so is less sensitive to jitter.

    So were I to start again, to reduce jitter I'd look for either:
    an asynchronous DAC
    or asynchronous USB to SPDIF -> DAC
     
  20. Chronic

    Chronic
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    Im going to go for an asynchronous DAC, but would it be better to use USB or go from a coax/spdif soundcard into the DAC?

    I plugged my TC Electronics BMC-2 (DAC/monitor controller) into my PC's Toslink tonight and ran a test side by side with my HDMI/TV setup & the HDMI definitely still sounds slightly brighter on the high notes, but this could be because the BMC-2 is a monitor controller so the output at full capacity distorts

    I need to find a good quality phono that's about 10m aswell, if its a real issue i can move my pc closer, which will get it down to about 3 metres
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2011
  21. rorackowe

    rorackowe
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    Think asynchronous has to be USB although most USB are not asynchronous.

    Toslink Jitter will vary depending on the soundcard. Saw a few recommended low jitter spdif out soundcard recommendations on a US site before the advent of asynchronous USB devices. They were very expensive, I.e. Hundreds of dollars.

    IMHO a long analogue cable is asking for trouble, signal attenuation, rf etc. Not sure what USB limitation is but better a long digital cable. I do think some of my issues might have even been in the final metre of RCA between my DAC and stereo amp, due to so much electrical noise near the pc and plasma tv.
     
  22. larkone

    larkone
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    USB 2.0 is about 5m safe max length but you could consider a USB repeater like this which can extend up to 25m http://www.cabling4less.co.uk/products/1521/usb_2.0_active_repeater_cable/

    I would agree with rorackowe and definitely get a USB async DAC or consider a v-link (async USB converter) as that then gives you the option to use DACs that do not have an async USB input so widens the field of choice. There are a lot of high quality s/hand DACs out there that are not that expensive. I use a v-link and it was a definite improvement.
     
  23. Chronic

    Chronic
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    im probly going for the Arcam rDAC, its an asynchronous USB DAC with great reviws

    i've moved my pc so now the DAC can sit on top of it and i only need a 2/3m phono to my amp, id love some good recomendation for quality phono cables?
     
  24. larkone

    larkone
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    Just a thought - it would probably be better to use a 2/3m usb cable - get a reasonable one like a Belkin which has good screening http://www.amazon.co.uk/Belkin-PRO-Hi-Speed-Device-Cable/dp/B000EOTDPU/ref=tag_stp_s2_edpp_url

    and keep the phono cables down to a metre or less. The usb connection and data flow is managed by the rDac and it would get the rDac away from the all of the electrical noise the PC kicks out.

    Recommendations for phono cables are very subjective but erring on the safe side a lot of people (including me) consider Mark Grant cables as being of good quality, well constructed, UK made and a good service.
     
  25. Chronic

    Chronic
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    nice one mate, any other reocmendations on USB cables as i could go a bit higher than a fiver ;)

    im trying to find a uk supplier of kimble but can't find one, i'll check out the mark grant phonos aswell ;)
     
  26. larkone

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    Russ Andrews supply Kimber cable (£85 or £366 for 3m) but seriously though there will be no difference between an expensive USB cable that is made of unobtanium, hand rolled between the thighs of virgins and breathed on by faeries and a good quality, properly constructed, well shielded USB 2.0 spec cable by Belkin or similar. You are moving data not analogue signals and the rDac does the most important thing which is control the flow of data from the PC..

    Save your money and spend it on some of Mark's HD interconnects, that will be a much better cable upgrade or put it towards a linear power supply for the rDac and ditch the noisy switched mode supply it comes with. Mark sells those as well - sale or return in case you don't think it is an improvement.

    Now ducks behind wall to avoid the cable flamers.
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2011
  27. Chronic

    Chronic
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    :laugh: cheers mate, sound advice! :smashin:
     

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