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Computer audio quality vs. hi-end cd transport


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So I thought my computer audiophile system was da bomb until I added a California Audio Labs Delta cd transport to my system and compared it to the computer. The sound from the cd transport blows away the computer. Technically, the difference in sound between what I am getting from the computer and what I am getting from the cd transport is relatively small. However, I have been a serious listener for a long time and the difference is almost night and day to me. I will list the various components of the computer (I built it - so I am not afraid to change anything) and also the rest of my audio system. Both the computer and the cd transport go into a California Audio Labs Sigma II DAC - the computer thru a 75 ohm coaxial cable and the cd transport thru an optical cable. I use software that uses the Winamp media player. I've spent a lot of time building my system but I really don't know where to start on this problem.

 

The computer: 3GHz Intel E6850 Core 2 Duo CPU with 4GB RAM running 64-bit Vista Ultimate with an Emu 1212M PCI Audio System sound card, 1TB storage and an EVGA GeForce 8600GTS video card. The Emu was chosen because I also use the system for pro-audio recording and sampling.

 

Here's the rest of the system in case you are curious (I'm proud of it):

 

Soliloquy 6.2 two-way floorstanding speakers

Monitor Audio ASW110 powered subwoofer

Nelson Audio Image No. 660 tube amp

Nelson Audio Image No. 7a tube preamp

California Audio Labs Sigma II tube DAC

California Audio Labs Delta cd transport

Bang & Olufsen Beogram 1700 turntable with MMC 20EN stylus

Cabling is Tara Labs, Impact Acoustics and Blue Jeans Cable

Front end software is TouchTone Audio System 3 for Winamp media player

 

Please help save me some time and give me some ideas of what I might try doing different with the computer so I can match the quality I am getting from the cd transport. Thanks in advance!

 

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It seems like you have three things that could degrade your sound.

1) you aren't getting a bit perfect output. I think that you still need asio or kernel streaming in

Vista.

2) your soundcard is outputting a very high level of jitter which your dac isn't correcting.

3) winamp isn't decoding your songs as well as your cd transport.

 

If these aren't the problem, try using a lynx AES 16 with a different player like xxhighend and see if it makes a difference.

 

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I would try XXHighEnd first. You machine is just ready for it. Use Engine#3 (which is default for Vista).

 

If you don't find significant improvement, something else is the matter.

 

Indeed you should not use the mobo's SPDIF out, nor any other general soundcard.

With an outboard (Firewire) soundcard (no judgement on the Lynx) XXHighEnd just beats all there is.

If this is not so in your case, please let me know. I will probably be buying your CDP then ... :-)

 

Peter

 

 

Lush^3-e      Lush^2      Blaxius^2      Ethernet^2     HDMI^2     XLR^2

XXHighEnd (developer)

Phasure NOS1 24/768 Async USB DAC (manufacturer)

Phasure Mach III Audio PC with Linear PSU (manufacturer)

Orelino & Orelo MKII Speakers (designer/supplier)

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Thanks for the help. I found a kernel streaming output plugin for Winamp which has improved things a lot. I have been wanting to stay with Winamp if possible because my TouchTone Audio System 3 software utilizes it. I also went thru the Emu PatchMix DSP software for the soundcard and adjusted all of my levels to optimum level. I haven't installed the XXHighEnd yet but I will certainly give it a try.

 

Also - not to show my ignorance, but what is a CDP?

 

Brian

 

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Thanks for the help. I found a kernel streaming output plugin for Winamp which has improved things a lot. I have been wanting to stay with Winamp if possible because my TouchTone Audio System 3 software utilizes it. I also went thru the Emu PatchMix DSP software for the soundcard and adjusted all of my levels to optimum level. I haven't installed the XXHighEnd yet but I will certainly give it a try.

 

Brian

 

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  • 2 years later...

A friend of mine just built me a PC based server. He is a computer IT person who used to write for Affordable Audio. What he knows about computer audio is truly staggering. For example, he is presently re-writing some 24/96 upsampling algorithms for final use as freeware (out shortly). The box he put together for me would retail (he says) for about $2,500. It has separate power supplies for everything; everything is shielded; the multiple fans are set to spin at half speed to reduce noise; the box is completely sound-insulated - and on and on.

 

Frankly, it is not as good as my simple Cal Delta transport. At least, not in 44.1. I admit that on some material the 88.2 upsampling is slightly better, but only some. And by "not as good," I mean quite simply that there is a digital smearing of transients and slightly "glue-y" background that is endemic to less than stellar digital playback. The Cal Delta is okay, but really, it's just a transport. This isn't about the Cal - it's about the PC. I really think the problem is the internal noise generated by all those closely packed (and moving) electronic parts in the PC. And I am not alone - if you want to hear more about this subject, you can go on the Pacific Valve site and listen to them talk about it; they have never met a PC server they liked, and they explain why.

 

A separate music server would likely solve this problem, but then you may give up the flexibility the PC gives you. And of course, there is always the "soundcard" issue: if you think that the PC stores perfect bits and that's the end of it, well, it just plain ain't. And once you get into soundcard differences to achieve the sound you want, well, to me, you're sort of back where you started from without the PC. Yes, it gives you easy storage and accessibility, and allows you to download music directly, which is nice. But in terms of sound quality? I can get better sound quality from a decent transport. CDs on the used market are cheap and are still the best source of uncompressed music around. They really don't take up that much room, do they?

 

Hey, to each his own. I will say that the one really great thing I like about the PC server is the ability to do room correction. This costs virtually nothing and can dramatically improve a system's sound. Plus, a lot of this software lets you choose the correction you want (sort of an uber-equalizer) which again, is really neat. But in the end, if I don't have instruments free of digital crud, it's a non-starter for me. After wading into PC audio, I think I will just tip toe back on out. Good luck with your PC pursuits.

 

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John

I agree with many of your comments.IMO, servers and networks are best used for the convenience factor, however there may be a few minor exceptions to the rule.If you want Audiophile SQ you really need to go to a lot of trouble with the PC as far as noise and vibration deadening, as well as PSU improvements,

or reducing PSU usage by other items such as PWM controlled fans, as large pulses reflect right through the whole PSU in most cases, unless you have a far better than average SMPS.

The best route if you want Audiophile quality is to forget servers etc. and use a good soundcard with SPDIF Out, or USB with something like a HiFace USB to SPDIF converter in line, unless you have plenty of cash to throw around on some very upmarket gear.

USB performance can be very poor, including noisy (not always obvious) and sometimes with hum, especially on some laptops.This is usually due to poor implementation of the internal +5V SMPS.

Firewire has the potential to be even better into a good DAC.

Are you using an internal SSD for storing and playing back your .wav files ? An increasing number of people will now verify that conversion to, and playing back "lossless" files degrades the SQ a little. This appears to be mainly related to PSU issues,especially when playing "lossless" files on "the fly", NOT that programs such as .flac do not work as claimed.

As an experiment, why don't you try ripping a couple of your favourite tracks using E.A.C. directly to a decent USB stick plugged in to the backplane of your PC as .wav files, then try playing them directly from there ? That should help close the gap.

Properly implemented PC Audio has the potential to easily outperform most AFFORDABLE CD/DVD players into a better than average DAC.

 

Alex

 

 

How a Digital Audio file sounds, or a Digital Video file looks, is governed to a large extent by the Power Supply area. All that Identical Checksums gives is the possibility of REGENERATING the file to close to that of the original file.

PROFILE UPDATED 13-11-2020

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I have built four different music servers; one was a pretty big failure, and the other three were troublesome for a time.

 

The reference I settled on is a Core I5, 6GB, Win7-64, SSD and an internal 2TB "enterprise" SATA drive, high-end (Corsair 800W) supply.

 

When I tried a sound card with this setup, I could not better the sound I got from a Theta Jade transport (connections to DAC via BNC).

 

Using asynchronous USB (BNC to DAC) does better the Jade. I tried several asynch USB->S/PDIF converters and settled on the ART Legato because I have mostly redbook audio on hand.

 

I came to believe that power and/or ground interference from the computer is hard for most DACs to deal with. Although the quality of the PC's power supply can make matters worse, I don't think perfecting the supply (pure DC) and/or eliminating fans, etc, accomplishes much given the number of high-speed clocks. There is a lot of RF and so potential RFI. I think this can travel on the PC's grounds and/or power legs (A whole sub-industry exists to clean up AC power for audio -- for instance, I use power regenerators to isolate the audio components).

There are many audiophiles (me included) and companies who hear a benefit from isolating the digital nasties in a DAC from other components at the point of connection to AC power. If harmonics on the AC line can affect a preamp, then it's no stretch to suggest that the same thing can happen with a PC; worse, a direct connect to the DAC may provide a path for such harmonics to get into the preamplifier.

 

 

The cable ART supplies does not connect to the PC's power, keeping it out of the cable. When compared to a standard USB cable, I hear a marked improvement with my DACs. This is consistent with my idea that any galvanic connection between the computer and the DAC will negatively impact the DAC.

 

I almost gave up on the idea of computer-fed audio. I hear the effects of jitter (increased sibilance, tizziness) when compared to the Jade unless I use an galvanically isolated interface such as the Legato.

 

There are many such interfaces on the market; I would just stay away from the ones that use the computer's power instead of their own and that fail to galvanically isolate the computer from the DAC. The sound I get from the computer is now significantly better than what I got from the Jade. So much so, I sent the Jade off to Hong Kong, where all good components eventually go.

 

Like the right pair of glasses, like 1080p video, like a full-frame sensor digital SLR, what I hear from the computer, compared to the Jade, is just more "right."

 

 

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