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PC sound to AMP

Discussion in 'Computer Components' started by bnewbie, Jun 23, 2005.

  1. bnewbie

    bnewbie
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    Hi,

    If I wanted to connect my soundcard to an amplifier (simple RCA connections) do I just need a headphone jack to RCA cable or will I need some other bit of electronics? The amp would be a Musical Fidelity X200R and speakers would be a pair of Canton CD300s.

    Also what would you guys recommend for soundcards. I'm looking around the £70 max region and only requires stereo outputs (2 channel).

    Any advice would be really appreciated.

    L
     
  2. Maff et1

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    You just need a stereo headphone to 2 phono/RCA, only a few pounds. Something like this: http://www.cableuniverse.co.uk/catalog/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=128_27&products_id=593

    These cables are fairly susceptible to interference however, so if you need more than a couple of meters buy a higher quality (more expensive) cable. I've used the 5 meter version of this cable fine.

    If your computer is recent you may find it already has sound on the motherboard - look at the back for headphone type sockets (the one you want is normally marked in green). The on board sound usually isn't the best quality but you may find it's good enough.

    I won't recommend a particular sound card as I just use the built in sound on all my PC's.

    One thing to note is that many motherboards / soundcards have both line out (often marked with a circle and an arrow pointing out) and headphone sockets - use the line out for this connection. If you have a free tape loop on your amp it's worth running a cable the otherway (to the line in socket on your motherboard/soundcard) as this allows you to record music to the PC - useful for transfering vinyl to CD.
     
  3. bnewbie

    bnewbie
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    Thanks for the information, it perfectly answers my question. It will be a relatively new computer with onboard sound (in the past few years I've used on board sound and while as you say it's not the best quality in the world it works for me).

    Cheers,

    L
     
  4. StevieB

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    Sorry to hijack your post a little bnewbie, but I have a similar question if you don't mind.

    I am buying a media centre pc, and intend to use it in my lounge as my source for a home cinema.

    What I want to know is, what is the best sound card/speaker combination to give me at least 5.1 surround.

    Also, is the sound output from a pc good enough to produce a good home cinema room, or do I need to output the signal to an amp, and then some good speakers?

    Any advice would be appreciated.
     
  5. owain_thomas

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    Hi Steve,

    The best soundcards are currently reckoned to be the RME HDSP 9632 (which I have and is superb) and the LynxTwo B (which I don't and is meant to be as good if not a bit better. Now the RME card will set you back somewhere between £350 and £400 for a multichannel setup so may be more money than you were thinking of.

    If you're after a more wallet friendly option then an MAudio Revo 7.1 would be a good choice. These retail for about £85. I'm just selling one in the classifieds: http://www.avforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=222273 if you're interested.

    owain
     
  6. Maff et1

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    You could buy a home cinema amp / speakers and use it to decode the sound - you just need an electrical or optical digital out on your PC - some motherboards have this (it's often shared with one of the none digial outputs) - if not most sound cards will provide this.

    By taking this approach you move the signal processing away from the computer, which can be useful as there is normally alot of electrical interference inside a computer case. You also then get surround for any games consoles / stand alone dvd players / sky / freeview etc.
     
  7. owain_thomas

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    I agree with most of what Maff et1 says, getting a home cinema amp and just outputting a digital signal will be the easiest way of doing this. However it won't necessarily give you the best sound quality. all of this is relative and very dependant on how much money you want to spend but plenty of users on here have compared the RME or lynx cards with very high end sound equipment (like lexicon processors) costing thousands of pounds. I've not had the pleasure of such expensive stuff myself but the RME produces easily the best sound quality of any hifi/home cinema source that I've heard.

    The point about computers being too noisy to do "proper" audio stuff is misguided and not bourne out in reality.
     
  8. StevieB

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    Thanks very much for all your replies guys.

    Unfortunately I have never heard of these soundcards, as I am a pure beginner. The only ones I have heard of are Creative Soundlabs Audigy cards, and I take the ones that you are suggesting are a cut above this type?

    I was intending to purchase either a HiGrade or Evesham media centre pc, and I don't think you can upgrade their soundcards to the ones that have been suggested, so it would be a matter of purchasing them separately and installing myself.

    I really have opened up a whole can of worms here. I think I need to try and find someone near where I live, and have a chat about this, as my lack of knowledge in this area could end up costing me a lot of money if I get things wrong.

    Does anyone know anywhere I might be able to get advice from in the Birmingham, England area?
     
  9. owain_thomas

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    hi steve,

    I know when I started looking into all this I was totally overwhelmed with all the info. This forum and (IMO to a lesser extent) avsforum.com are great sources of very useful information, doing some searching/asking on here can really help with making decisions before parting with your hard earned cash. Pretty much everything you need to know can be found out meaning that you don't have to go into things blind.

    One thing I would say is that with things like the classified ads on here and ebay you can buy most of these sorts of things and not risk losing all the cash you pay, a nearly new soundcard in its original packaging would only go for a few quid less than you paid for it. As an example that Maudio card I was selling an hour ago has already gone!

    As far as specifics for your problem go: I've never owned an audigy myself but from all that I read before building my HCPC they come up second best to the Maudios, considering that the Maudio was actually cheaper I found it a no-brainer.

    If you were interested in building your own PC (not as hard as it may sound if you've never done it) then I'm sure you could get a very good quality device without too much hassle.

    Before you go any further it would be helpful to know what your current equipment is and what expectations you have in terms of functionality/quality and also in terms of money! One things for certain if you get hooked on all of this stuff it can cost you a small fortune! that's not to say that it has to, just that if you're anything like me you'll always be looking for that "next step up"

    hope some of that was helpful, sorry don't know of anyone in your area that can help out personally. I'm sure there's plenty of people on here who will chip in though if you have more questions
     
  10. StevieB

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    Hi owain,

    thanks for the quick reply.
    After reading through some of the threads on here, it seems as if a lot of people are building their own pc's. I guess there are a couple of reasons for this, price and spec. If you hunt around you can get what you want for either the same or even less in some cases what you would pay for a system off the shelf.

    As far as my system is concerned, at the moment I have nothing, I am totally starting from scratch.

    I am in the process of installing my own network (started the cabling last week). I intend to either buy or build my owner RAID server, on which I will install all my CD's and DVD's, and then in each room, have a media pc in order to watch/listen to them (3 bedrooms, lounge and kitchen). the pc's in the bedrooms and kitchen only have to be powerful enough to cope with the streaming, and accessing the net, with no need for storage. The pc/server in the lounge has to be the one with all the power for abvious reasons.

    As far as budget is concerned, the bedroom/kitchen ones, I haven't really thought about yet, but the lounge one I was intending to set a limit of £3,000.00.

    So if you have any suggestions of how to get started, I would be very interested.

    On another note, I am also installing Systemline Modular, in order to have an inbuilt audio system, to allow me to input sources locally, and utilise their in ceiling speakers, without having to have loads of equipment in all the rooms. I literally want one small box, a lcd screen, and in ceiling speakers in the bedrooms/kitchen, and whatever I can afford in the lounge to get the best effect possible.

    Let me know what you think.
     
  11. owain_thomas

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    Hi steve,

    A blank canvas, nice! ;)

    If you're just starting out in planning all this then there's definitely a lot of stuff to take in. I've got a setup similar to what you're looking at doing. Currently I'm not doing multi room audio but we're hopefully moving to a bigger place soon so I'll be scaling and adding sound in the kitchen etc.

    At the moment I've got a RAID server upstairs on which I have all my CDs and films ripped. Its a simple XP machine cobbled together with old PC bits, a new RAID card (a 4 port SATA one which cost about £80 off the top of my head) and 4 brand new 250GB SATA drives. This runs a RAID5 array giving a total of about 0.75 terrabytes of useable space. The cheaper RAID cards like this are fine for me, the only problem would come if you needed to do a lot of intensive reading and writing simultaneously. If you did then you'd need a more expensive RAID card but I doubt this would be necessary for most people.

    This is on my home network and my HCPC is downstairs, this I use to watch films and listen to music as well as normal PC stuff like web surfing. Adding more of these "client" HCPCs would be easy.

    At the moment there are lots of solutions for getting audio and video in different rooms. a lot of the decision about which way you go comes down to the quality you need and what you want to spend. I don't know much about the systemline products you mention so I'll have a look at them. One way to do multi room audio is to get a multichannel soundcard and a music player which can support zones, this allows you to use, say, one PC to output analogue audio to 2,3 or 4 stereo "zones". All you do is connect the soundcard to power amps and these to the speakers in the individual rooms. JohnS on these forums uses an RME card and xlobby to do just this.

    As far as the HCPC in your lounge goes most people's main concern is noise. Most PC sare just too damn loud to have on all the time in your living room. The one I built (see my signature) is completely silent in my lounge, I leave it on 24/7 and the only way I know it's on is because of the power light. I built mine for aout £1500 but I've since added an RME soundcard which would put the price up about £300. That sort of money would allow you to build a really very, very good peice of kit. I would (if at all possible) have the RAID server in a separate room where noise isn't an issue, cooling lots of noisy drives is not easy to do quietly/cheaply, better to stick it out of sight in a big, cheap case and have big fans in it to keep everything cold.

    just some more thoughts for you, let me know if there's anything else you need to know.

    owain
     
  12. wyerd

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    Owain, what RAID card did you go for?
     
  13. owain_thomas

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  14. StevieB

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    Hi Owain,

    Thanks for that advice, I must admit I was a bit uncertain as to which route to take with everything. The obvious answer would of been to have a HTPC downstairs running media centre 2005, and have extenders in each room, but as you can't stream dvd, that put the dampeners on that.

    I haven't purchased the Systemline stuff yet. One of the companies in the group I work for, have just become registered installers for this system, and having talked to a couple of mates there, it seems an easy system to install and run, as it only uses Cat5 cable all round. Even the connection to the speakers is done with the same stuff.

    Out of interest, what multiroom system are you thinking of installing?

    Thanks for the advice about the RAID server, I must admit the noise issue did concern me, and I wondered what would be the best way to do it. I have got the perfect place to set the server up, thinking about it, I have an understairs cupboard which is where I am installing the control hub for the audio system, so putting the server in there sounds like a good place. Out of the way.

    The only real decision I have to make is about the lounge. I will have a HTPC in there, but I want a really good surround sound system in there, and I am unsure whether the PC's outputs will give me what I want. I am buying a 42 plasma (the new Panasonic sounds a good bet right now) and I want a cracking sound system to go with the screen. I really like the idea of having the speakers hidden and discreet, but I'm not sure the Systemline will give me the power and quality I am looking for.

    Can you see why I am having problems?
    Even though people say there isn't the equipment out there to give me what I want, there is certainly enough to give me a headache!!!!!
     
  15. owain_thomas

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    Hi Steve,

    Don't listen to them, they're talking crap!

    As faras speakers go there are plent of discreet ones which have good reputations. I've been looking into this a lot as some of the houses we looked at would mean having the cinema room in the lounge and I don't want my next lounge to look as much like a hifi showroom as this one does! Some examples, B&W and KEF do in wall speakers which fit flush into plasterboard walls. Artcoustic do some (pretty expensive) speakers which look just like prints. Anthony Gallo do some small spehrical speakers which look good and aren't too large. M&K make a series of thin-ish speakers (forget the model numbers now). I've probably discounted the gallos (not meant to be amazing sound quality -very good for their size but not amazing) and the M&Ks (reviews I've read say they aren't great with music). I'm going to need to audition some before deciding but it seems there's plenty out there that can look good AND sound good.

    I'm tempted to just make the multiroom audio system myself. Using Xlobby (www.xlobby.com) and a combination of RME soundcards and power amps I don't see it being too much of an issue. Control can be done from touchscreen LCDs or Wifi linked PDAs fairly easily.

    I'm pretty against MCE as it just doesn't seem customisable enough for me, I like being able to chose my own hardware/software, but that's probably just me being anal!

    have a look at this link: http://archive.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?threadid=236215 if you want some confirmation of the quality of the analogue outputs from PC soundcards.

    HTH
    owain
     
  16. StevieB

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    Thanks again for that.

    I'll take alook at the link, and I think I'll have a look at the Xlobby link as well.

    I don't think you're being anal about MCE 2005, I've got my reservations. Read too many posts recently about problems with other software, and I must admit I'm not keen on the idea of Bill Gates controlling all my house!!!!!

    At least now I've got a starting point, and having read your posts, I think I may attempt to build my own HTPC. It's worth a go, and I've got you guys on here, and a couple of mates to help me if I get stuck.
     
  17. Pootle

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    StevieB, a cupboard is good, but make sure it has sufficient cooling, quiet and out of the way is good, but if there is no ventialtion it will fry itself.

    Also you really want to cool the discs, as disc life decreases as temerature increases. The cages which take 2 discs with a gap between and have space to mount a small fan on the front are ideal. Some of the larges PC cases come with these (but the one I use is old and hasn't been available for some time).

    btw make sure you use CAT5E cable rather than CAT5, then you know you can upgrade to gigabit without problems (HDTV ready) - many places only stock 5E now - its not expensive.
     
  18. StevieB

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    Cheers for that Pootle, I will have a good think about how I could get some extra ventilation in there.

    As far as the server build and cooling of the hard disks is concerned, I think when it's time to start building, I'm going to start a new thread, and get some advice on what to buy etc. It's best to ge it right from the start, less worries in the long run.

    Out of interest, could anyone give me some ideas of what they would put into there RAID, and which RAID to use? I am looking at starting with a terabyte of storage, but with the option for upgrade when it's needed (Those DVD's take up a lot of space, and going to need more drives eventually)


    As far as the cable is concerned, already ahead of you there mate, Cat5e all the way. I made sure of that.
     
  19. owain_thomas

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    getting a cheap RAID card like the highpoint one allows you to use 4 disks, this could give you 750GB, 900GB or 1200GB depending on whether you use 250, 300 or 400GB HDs. I went for 250s when I built mine last year as anything over that cost a fortune. not really looked at HD prices recently so the others are probably a lot more cost effective now.
     
  20. Pootle

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    StevieB, If you go for a Raid card, go for a card that can extend the array without doing a total rebuild, then you don't need to buy all the discs up front.

    I myself use Windows server 2003 with 1 disc for the system, and 4 200Gb discs in a raid 5 array, all connected to the motherboard (it came with a raid controller so it has 4 IDE conenctors, but gave such problems I just use the raid slots as plain discs and let windows run the raid 5 array).

    Toms hardware guide has some good info on raid arrays and controllers - including using laptop style discs as they are much quieter and use less power. Although they are slower, because they are smaller you need more of them and get most of the performance back through parallelism.
     
  21. Maff et1

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    The biggest problem with raid is that eventually one of the drives will fail.

    That's the point of raid, just replace the dead drive with one the same size and rebuild. Fine, but where, in 3yrs will you buy a 200gb IDE drive? Personally I'm starting to see the sense in JBOD.

    Using the processor to run the raid make alot of sense, hardware assisted raids use proprietry disc configs, if your raid card dies you have to replace it with one the same. Using the CPU to run a raid ontop of standard IDE / Sata controllers doesn't have that problem.

    Supermicro do a good price 8port sata controller, about 80 quid: http://www.scan.co.uk/Products/ProductInfo.asp?WebProductID=119279 the only thing being it's non bootable but you shouldn't be booting from your raid data raid because it becomes a nightmare when anything goes wrong.

    Combine a couple of these with 3 supermicro drive cages: http://www.scan.co.uk/Products/ProductInfo.asp?WebProductID=90116 and a Coolermaster stacker case: http://www.scan.co.uk/Products/ProductInfo.asp?WebProductID=147309 and you have some serious growth potential.
     
  22. owain_thomas

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    some good points maff, but do you really believe that in 2 years time I won't be able to get 250GB disks??? Seems a bit far fetched to me...

    any way I'm sure I'll have upgraded by then any way and moved everything across to a 2 or 3 TB array...

    Also I'm sure most RAID cards will let you replace a faulty disk as long as the new one is at least as big as the one it replaces, if you stick in three 250s and one 400 you'd get the same as you would with 4 250s.
     
  23. Pootle

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    Quite true, with a good raid card you can have a spare drive in the system and it will automatically rebuild the array immediately one fails.

    Also the good raid cards allow you to add a drive on the fly to the raid array without having to copy all the data off and rebuild the array, which you have to do with Windoze at least.
     

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