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Heads-up Mac versus PC


Steve_S
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As noted in another thread I put my XP machine against a friend's Macbook Pro. My laptop is running iTunes7 as a front end, outputting through Foobar .9.6.4 with ASIO to bypass Windows' kernal via USB. My music files are WAV files from EAC. His Mac is using Play for playback with AIFF files converted from WAV files from EAC also. The audio system is a very high end ($70K) high resolution tube setup.

 

Let me start by saying that I am not an expert in digital audio reproduction and my XP system is the result of only a few days of tweaking. There are many other methods of playback that I haven't tried. Still, we were both optimistic that the XP machine would come very close if not match the Mac. During the test we tried three DACs, various USB cables (Kimber, Belkin, etc) and two ~$20K preamps.

 

We played the PC first and were fairly impressed once I remembered to lower the output buffer. This made a huge difference in reducing smear. For the most part it was natural and pleasing. Next was the Mac. The difference in staging and richness was noticeable, but not night and day. The biggest difference however was in the low-level details. It was as if the PC was missing data compared to the Mac. The background voices, instruments and noises were much more present and alive, with less sharp drop-offs.

 

On a Bose audio system it would make little difference but on a system of this quality it was significant, similar to the difference between a mid-range preamp and a top-end one. Because of this I will be experimenting further to improve the sound on this PC. If it isn't possible to match the quality of the Mac, I may just buy a Mini to use as an audio server and keep the PCs as my everyday tools.

 

Ah, nuts! sys64738

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It's the ASIO and Foobar 0.9.X. I have yet to hear an ASIO I liked, and I have tried maybe 10 of them.

 

If the PC is XP, then try unmapping and using Foobar 0.8.3. Much better. This should equal the Mac. If you use the SRC upsampler on the XP PC, it may even be even better than the Mac upsampler.

 

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

 

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Thanks for the note. I'll give that a try, but my main problem is that I need a super clean, easy interface for the wife to use. I don't think it's possible to route iTunes through Foobar .8.x. I will definitely give this a shot however, and put the machines head to head once again.

 

Ah, nuts! sys64738

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and allows iTunes GUI to send to Foobar back end (not sure which versions of Foobar are compatible). But requires earlier iTunes 7.1 which may not work with iTouch, etc. Some say it is compatible with iTunes versions as late as 7.6 but don't know.

http://www.computeraudiophile.com/content/Anyone-try-Multiplugin-fix-iTunes-auto-resolurtion-issue-PC

 

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Multiplugin development stopped with iTunes 7, so you can't use it with iTunes 8. I believe 7.0.16 is the latest officially compatible version.

 

"game over No brainer Mac every time. Yours, tog"

 

Spoken like a true Mac user! LOL!

 

 

Ah, nuts! sys64738

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I use a Mac Mini in a $35K sound system and in a head-to-head test, I found that the Mac Mini sounded every bit as good as my previous $7K transport. And this was a comparison between redbook cd and ALAC. Needless to say, I no longer own the CD transport. The Mac Mini has to be the best $800 I've spent on my system.

 

This pic was taken before I decided to sell off the CD player.

IMG_1054.jpg

 

 

 

 

Cheers,[br] - Tim

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Steve_S

 

I used to go the Itunes w/ multiplugin & Foobar route to make it easy for my girlfriend to use. I don't know if I ever got it setup right because the volume control still worked in Foobar even with ASIO selected. I've read that was a function of Foobar but I never looked into it.

 

I switched to J River Media Jukebox and never looked back. I was even able to import my Itunes library without any hassle. This was huge because all my files are .wav format so I didn't lose artist/album/etc information during the switch. If you want the Itunes look but the sound quality of Foobar you should take a look at the J River Media Jukebox 12. You will also get much better artwork support with J River as well. Itunes was a bitch for me because there was no support for adding your own artwork with .wav files in Itunes. So unless Itunes had the album you were screwed. With Jukebox 12 you can copy and paste to any album.

 

On a side note I was using the ASIO2KS driver with pretty good results but recently purchased the USB Audio driver from the USB Audio website. I highly recommend it if you're using a budget USB->SPdif adapter like the Trends UD 10.1. Overall everything was improved from top to bottom (bass definition, high frequency air, blah blah)

 

My setup: fanless custom pc -> Trends UD10.1 -> Benchmark DAC1 -> McIntosh MC7100 -> Proac Reference 8 Signature (cables: Audioquest Coax & Speaker, Cardas XLR Interconnects, Wireworld USB)

 

Mac Mini -> Pure Music 1.85c -> Halide Bridge -> Bel Canto e.One Dac 1.5 -> Classe CAP 151 -> ProAc Response D1

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The ideal from the PC perspective of course would be use WASAPI with Foobar (or XX) with the iTunes interface sat on top.

 

Currently not possible.

 

Eek the Mac is so much easier.

 

This, coming from a PC user.

 

HTPC: AMD Athlon 4850e, 4GB, Vista, BD/HD-DVD into -> ADM9.1

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Actually .. just thinking out loud ...PETER READ THIS ...

 

Obviously you sell XX as an all in one package. Any thoughts on offering just the engine ? Allowing iTunes fans the convenience of the iTunes front end but allowing the audio to pass through the XXEngine going on to the audio card via WASAPI.

 

Could be a small money spinner.

 

Maybe. iTunes -> WASAPI is the ideal. Let's face it. Mind you, Vista's audio engine I'm finding to be very very close to all other, players. Sometimes I struggle to tell a difference.

 

HTPC: AMD Athlon 4850e, 4GB, Vista, BD/HD-DVD into -> ADM9.1

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"The ideal from the PC perspective of course would be use WASAPI with Foobar (or XX) with the iTunes interface sat on top."

 

I think the ideal would be for Apple to implement the audio options included with Foobar into Itunes. Its too bad Apple's philosophy is less is better, always.

 

Mac Mini -> Pure Music 1.85c -> Halide Bridge -> Bel Canto e.One Dac 1.5 -> Classe CAP 151 -> ProAc Response D1

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Matt, actually right from the start all was setup so the audio engine could be controlled by another application. Just look at the two programs XXHighEnd.exe and XXEngine3.exe and play "Unattended". However ...

 

It may be beyond what you can see, but along the process so many, say, special functionalities needed to get in, that by now it has become quite undoable for others to control. Think, for example, about the in advance conversions, the caching of it, skip a track, and much more which all is special for something like a memory player. But then again, however ...

 

The latest 0.9x sequence focused upon remote control, and what actually happened is that now XXHighEnd can be used as the means for others to control ... well ... itself.

This can only be understood at really trying, but imagine playing Unattendedly (this is playing audio with no controlling program / user interface around) - have a remote control and e.g. lower the volume. What happens is that a small invisible piece of XXHighEnd.exe starts, perfoms the command (lower volume) and orders XXEngine3.exe to do so.

 

As a kind of test, with the latest version (0.9x-7) a next album can be loaded from the Library Area by means of remote control, and quite some stuff needs to be done before that goes. The point is :

 

While this is just a remote control command (literally Alt-L from the keyboard) anyone can do that. For example, create a small form with a button on it, and at the click of the button simulate Alt-L. That's all.

 

In practice it is more complex - or different anyway, because the album needs to come from the "internal" library (like from iTunes), and the tracks from it need to go to the Playlist from XX. Although this is still relatively easy, it is not something "we" can do. iTunes guys would have to do that.

But I am open to it (so is XX hehe).

 

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 Steve, you hooked me up a while back with the file off-list. You may not even have realized I was the same person at the time! I did go back and give it another go against the Mac with Play. Unfortunately I was not able to quite match the quality, the main problem being a slight edge on the highs which was only curable by methods that caused smear in the lower range. The subtleties mentioned above were also difficult to bring out. As I noted, I'm not an expert with digital audio although I'm well versed in general computing as you may guess by my sig. ;)

 

Ah, nuts! sys64738

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Steve S - even small differences in jitter in the clock of the computer can affect this. One PC may sound better than another due to clock differences. Mac Mini may sound better than a Macbook. USB interfaces are all over the map. The USB ports on Dell laptops dont work without ticks on streaming audio. Even USB ports on Macbook are not all the same.

 

This is why it is best to hook-up with a manufacturer that has identified these things and developed an optimum strategy. For instance, I recommend only Foobar 0.8.3 or Jriver and unmapping using newer Toshiba or hp laptops running XP. I know it's crazy, but if you knew what I know about the computer industry, it is understandable. Even removing a $.0002 resistor from a motherboard is a big deal.

 

Computers are now designed to work with very little margin. In fact, motherboard designers are doing statistical timing studies rather than worst-case timing for front-side and memory bus. This means that if all of the devices actually came-in worst case, the computer would simply not work. However, in order to make these faster and faster, they use gaussian distributions to predict how many parts will actually be worst-case. All manufacturers are doing this now I believe. Not only is the computer designed to the minimum necessary to make it work (to minimize cost), there is often a lot of sharing of I/O busses for PCI, USB, also to reduce cost. This is why latency and bottlenecks occur. This is why all USB ports are not the same and worse on some computers than others. Some claim to be USB compliant, but will not work if you plug-in a 5m USB cable.

 

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

 

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Great info Steve, thank you! The laptop I pitted against the Macbook was a Sager NP3760, which is basically a Toshiba on the inside. It was an upper-middle quality laptop when new several years ago. I suppose it would be worth a try with a newer unit.

 

Ah, nuts! sys64738

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  • 10 months later...

Steve N, I understand how reducing PC latency improves DAC sound quality when dealing with synchronous interfaces such as AES/EBU. I have experienced these improvements first hand as Peter of XXHE has attacked this issue with his latest kernel streaming version of his player software. I've also experienced how reclocking and noise isolation of the AES output from the PC has improved sound quality.

 

The thing I don't get is why PC latency would negatively impact sound quality of an async USB interface where the DAC clock is being used to acquire the data from the PC and the DAC is buffering the data.

 

Can you comment on this point please?

 

Thanks!

 

Mac Mini / Pure Music > Firewire & USB > Metric Halo LIO-8 > Hypex NCORE 400 > Geddes Abbey Speakers > Rythmik Servo & Geddes Band Pass Subs // DH Labs Cables, HRS MXR Isolation Rack, PurePower 2000, Elgar 6006B

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With a risk of sounding dumb...

 

I really want the Mac to work as it is a $500 - $800 right out of the box with good graphics - albom art and great remote option [iPad]

 

But

 

Here is my concerns, I have tried several media players on my test PC equipped with the the Asus Xonar Essence card. It was my impression that on the PC most players sound better then Itune. My favorites so far are; KMPlayer [limited interface] and my new favorite XBMC [Thank you Dynobot] posting

 

So my question still: Will I get a better sound with a PC loaded with the right Media Player or is the Mac [mini]?

 

Thanks a bunch

 

Ted

 

 

 

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