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Best PC Audio for $5,000?


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Hello,

 

I recently built my very first PC and would like to get into high end audio. It will be used 50/50 for gaming and music. I don't play FPS games and my favorite genre of music is (alternative) rock.

 

I'm looking to buy bookshelf speakers, headphones, and a DAC. The $5,000 budget is highly flexible.

 

The area where I use my PC is very open. I'm in the middle of the downstairs, leading to everywhere else in the house (stairs behind me, kitchen to my left, TV room to my right). I don't know the exact measurements but I can say the ceiling is about 8.5 feet high.

 

I don't need the sound to travel throughout the house, as I'll be the only one listening to it and I'll be right in front of my computer.

 

The speakers I'm interested in are the KEF LS 50 and B&W PM-1.

 

The headphones I'm interested are the Sennheiser HD800 and Audeze LCD3.

 

I have no idea which DAC to buy, I assume it will depend on the speakers/headphones I choose.

 

In a few days I will be going to a local audio store and testing out my top choices, so your input is highly valued and appreciated.

 

Thanks for your time and suggestions!

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I fear you may possibly be putting the horse before the cart - I know this hobby appears to be all about the gear, but you need to list your musical preferences and what you really hope to get from the final system. Most of us put music first, but my time with the HD800 tells me that it's probably going to be a good choice for gaming, particularly in FPS where you need positional audio. Moving on to music, it seems that you are well aware that your room is going to be your biggest enemy with your speakers - even with the HD800, you will find that you are still impacted by ambient noise as these are very open cans. I opted for a warm speaker amp and a decent set of bookshelf speakers on the basis that I cant do a great deal with my room beyond soft furnishings and I've chosen to concentrate on my headphones for critical listening. I assume that you're aware that the LS50 requires a reasonably powerful amp to drive it properly - just throwing that out there up front - I opted for 8-ohm, 90dB speakers with a forgiving impedance curve purely to avoid issues in that area.

 

Probably the best news I can give you is that anyone getting into computer audio right now has never had it so good in terms of the variety and sheer bang-for-your-buck offered by many digital sources in 2014. I think they are clearing out the last of the MK1 Dragonfly USB DACs at $149 in the US atm - Fiio also have some very cheap DACs, allowing you to ease into it without dashing out to buy something like the Chord Hugo or similar. Like the LS50, you may find it a challenge finding the 'right' amp for the HD800 - I love them, but I also adore my (much less expensive) Philips cans -

 

Amazon.com: Philips Fidelio X1/28 Premium Over-Ear Headphones: Electronics

 

A Big Bottom and a Lively Top: The Philips Fidelio X1 | InnerFidelity

 

Insanely good value, and so much more comfortable than the Audeze cans - especially important if you intend wearing any of these cans during long gaming sessions. The HD800 feel less 'closed in' than the Philips cans, but it will be a sizeable chunk out of your budget if you get both the Senns and Audeze cans and I believe that sooner or later you will go chasing a dedicated headamp - thats where things start to spiral out of control ;)

 

Personally, I wouldnt rule out something like the Audioengine A5+ if it means you can concentrate more funds on your headphone rig, but that's just me. Good luck with your search.

Just one more headphone and I know I can kick this nasty little habit !

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Interesting suggestions, thanks cjf. I haven't heard of those speakers but I'll definitely look into them and try to test them out.

 

As far as the AMP goes I don't have one. I thought it came with the DAC lol (Sorry I'm completely new to the audio scene).

 

Very informative post Ned, I appreciate the time you took to write that.

 

I would say that music is WAY more important than gaming to me, especially since I don't play FPS games so positional audio doesn't matter too much to me. It's just that I game a LOT which is why I said the use will be 50/50.

 

I almost exclusively listen to alternative rock, bands like Modest Mouse, Foster the People, Grouplove, Passion Pit, The Neighborhood, Miike Snow, Audioslave, etc.

 

So you say the Audeze aren't very comfortable compared to the Philips? That's pretty huge to me, since I will be using them for long gaming sessions. Are the HD 800's more comfortable than the Audeze?

 

Funny thing is I was initially leaning towards the A5+ but decided that audio was important enough for me to spend more.

 

However, perhaps the A5+ and then dedicating the rest of my audio gear towards headphones would be a good idea given my circumstances. I will certainly reconsider the A5+ and compare them to more expensive speakers and see if it's worth it to me.

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Hi Bella. Welcome to CA. I've been around here for a while and my first position is always going to be about speakers. I understand your needs in the nearfield and as such, would STRONGLY suggest you consider active nearfield monitors. First, these systems are designed for just that, listening on axis in the nearfield. 2nd, the better systems on board amplifiers are purpose built and matched to the drivers and the amplifiers are discrete for each driver. The crossover networks are active which allows for much more flexibility than passive components as well,as consistency. Some systems also have PC controllable DSP as well, as in Genelec models. Given your budget and needs, I'd make the Genelec 8030 top on the list of auditions.

 

In this case, you won't need an amplifier and the system becomes simpler with less clutter and congestion on your desktop. For headphone amplification and DAC, I'd recommend the TEAC UD-501....an excellent value and DSP capable. I recently acquired one second hand and have it under my monitor with a riser above......great ergonomic solution and it sounds as good as any DAC I've owned or heard to date. An excellent match for HD800's!

 

Considering your music genre, whatever desktop system you end up with, I suggest you seriously consider a subwoofer. What you DON'T want is low bass extension reflecting off the large boundary of your desktop, smearing the bass and midbass response. A subwoofer under your desktop crossed in the 60hz range will be extremely balanced and coherent with typical small midwoofers NOT being asked to play too deep! keeping the critical midrange pristine.

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Wow, so many great replies!

 

Thank you mayhem, I learned a lot from your post.

 

I will certainly look into and try out the Genelec 8030s.

 

The UD-501 looks like a great value and if it's a good match for the HD 800's, I see no reason not to buy it.

 

You make an interesting point about the subwoofer. I really hadn't considered it to this point, but I see no reason not to if it can improve the bass and overall quality. Any suggestions on which ones to test out?

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Not sure what AMP your using but as far as speakers go I would look at Evolution Acoustics MMMicro ONE ($2500).

 

In terms of DAC I would suggest the NAD M51 which has builtin Preamp capabilities and goes for $2000.

 

You'll be we'll on your way at that point.

 

The MMMicroOne prices are 60% on top of your price now. Lost a sale cause of that, or many!

AS Profile Equipment List        Say NO to MQA

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LCD3 - I have one of these for about 18 months. They are heavy pressure on the head, and I can't listen to more than an hour max cause of this. They are downright the best planars on the planet as far as resolution is concerned, but also need a good amp to drive them.

 

En route are the Beyerdynamic T1 Tesla, there's a sale on, normally around the $1400, selling for $850.

 

Have seen many reports on the HD800, sound wise they are excellent, very neutral, also require a very good amplifier which you may need to budget for if you are considering high end Headphones such as these.

AS Profile Equipment List        Say NO to MQA

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Thanks for the helpful input on headphones One and a half.

 

To me comfort is pretty important when it comes to headphones, as I always stay up late at night and would be using them for a lot of consecutive hours.

 

Does anyone know how comfortable the HD 800 is?

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Thanks for the helpful input on headphones One and a half.

 

To me comfort is pretty important when it comes to headphones, as I always stay up late at night and would be using them for a lot of consecutive hours.

 

Does anyone know how comfortable the HD 800 is?

 

The HD800s are wonderfully comfortable - no issue there.

John Walker - IT Executive

Headphone - MacMini running Roon Server > Netgear Orbi > Blue Jeans Cable Ethernet > mRendu Roon endpoint > Topping D90 > Topping A90 > Dan Clark Aeon 2 Closed / Focal Elegia

Home Theater - Mac Mini running Roon Server / AppleTV > Blue Jeans Cable HDMI > Denon X3700h > Anthem Amp for front channels > Revel F208-based 5.2.4 Atmos speaker system

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I'd agree with other posters that you should strongly consider powered desktop monitors for your needs. There are full threads here on the topic, so you should read the posts and figure out what models your are interested in.

 

If you are interested in the KEF LS50, you might want to consider instead the KEF300a - it's active and designed for desktop use. In absolute terms not as good a speaker as the LS50, but it includes amp and DAC, and I have read reviews where it is preferred for desktop use. It's also less expensive.

 

Audioengine has just announced new improved "+" models to their lineup, so you might want to check those out.

 

If you do get a DAC, the new ifiDSD has gotten great reviews, doesn't cost much, and if format proof for the foreseeable future - it plays just about everything, even some files that very expensive DACs won't.

 

The new model Dragonfly DAC has also gotten great reviews.

 

I'd agree with the above poster that you should think about a sub.

 

And if you really want to go all out with desktop speakers, consider the Anthony Gallo Strada 2

 

These can work as either desktop or standmounted speakers, and with a sub will challenge some very serious and expensive floorstanders costing much more for SQ. You will need an amp to go with them, but there are a LOT of relatively inexpensive good quality desktop amps around these days. Something like the NuForce DDA-100 - it's SQ has been called the best at anything near the price in reviews. There are a lot of similar high quality amps available today.

Main listening (small home office):

Main setup: Surge protector +_iFi  AC iPurifiers >Isol-8 Mini sub Axis Power Conditioning+Isolation>QuietPC Low Noise Server>Roon (Audiolense DRC)>Stack Audio Link II>Kii Control>Kii Three >GIK Room Treatments.

Secondary Listening: Server with Audiolense RC>RPi4 or analog>Matrix Element i Streamer/DAC (XLR)+Schiit Freya>Kii Three .

Bedroom: SBTouch to Cambridge Soundworks Desktop Setup.
Living Room/Kitchen: Ropieee (RPi3b+ with touchscreen) + Schiit Modi3E to a pair of Morel Hogtalare. 

All absolute statements about audio are false :)

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on a budget I suggest you use fidelizer (free) and check out Emotiva for all sorts of good quality at very reasonable prices. I have upgraded my system (and will continue to do so) but I never lost sight (or sound) of the Emotiva line for value and good sound... tweak it well... enjoy.

HQ Player (#1) & Audrivana (#2) (wow! love the Apple w/music!!) .. these two software make my system "Amazing!", Purist USB- Benchmark DAC2 HGC (love it!), Purist Audio XLR , ATC SCM25A's (To Die For!) & Focal sub6 . Triode Power Cables with Uber Buss (Yes!) Also enjoy Audeze LCD3 w/"fat pipe cardas."

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If you are new to the audio scene then I'd suggest jumping in with something significantly less pricey than $5k. I'm saying this mostly because it might take some experimenting to learn what kind of things you like and what you don't before spending bigger money. You can get some really great sound for less than half that amount. If you go into a hifi store and say you have $5k to spend they will usually figure out a way for you to spend at least that much.

 

With all that said ...

 

Listen to a lot different headphones. You might be surprised at which ones you like and which ones you don't.

 

One thing about the HD800, it provides no sound isolation and others that might be in the room will fully be able to hear what you are listening to. You also will still be able to hear someone else in the room even if they are just shuffling papers. Open cans are pretty much the best sounding but come with those caveats. Closed headphones will isolate far better. There are some really great sounding closed headphones, some of which are cheaper than the HD800. The Fostex TH-900 is the same money as the HD800 and is a true reference level can, the Fostex TH-600 and Mr Speakers Alpha Dog are less than half that and also really good.

 

Peachtree Audio was my gateway into computer audio. Their receivers do it all in one box and their speakers are quite excellent too (I think they were designed by Aerial's Michael Kelly.) The headphone section of the receivers is really good and uses a vaccum tube buffer. The USB input in their latest generation is very good.

 

Peachtree Audio Nova125 + Peachtree D5 speakers = $2000 from the peachtree website (you can buy from dealers too)

 

Then you could get HD800s and still have $1500 left over for some other headphones in case you decide you need some closed cans.

Roon ->UltraRendu + CI Audio 7v LPS-> Kii Control -> Kii Three

Roon->BMC UltraDAC->Mr Speakers Aeon Flow Open

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Lots of choices out there. Your initial instinct toward the Kef's is valid but if you have a chance, listen to the R300's from Kef to see what you think. They cost $1800 and put out more than enough bass to not need a sub. Couple them with a Nait 5i ($1800) and get a dac and headphones with what's left. Put them together and be prepared be to freak out. Awesome in all ways.

 

PS. Lots of good dacs in that price range with what is left and the way things are in flux that's how I'd spend tha much cash.

David

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BellaFlica,

The biggest mistake I made when getting into this was buying the gear and using itunes and MP3 compressed files. I had to discover JRiver and DBPoweramp to re-rip CD's. I also started to buy Hi-Res music. I suggest you see what files you will be playing such as do you need DSD capability? This will help determine DAC's you would want to consider.

 

As far as gear goes do you need speakers or would you be better off with a killer Headphone set? This would allow you to really have a top end system and buy plenty of music and games to play on it. You could even have 2 sets of headphones to use depending on what mood you are in. There are so many great headphones Fostex, Hifiman, Sennheiser, Grado, Audeze, Beyerdynamic, etc. The cable company rents them so you can audition several different pairs. Do you prefer tube amps or solid state? Do you want a combo DAC/ Headphone Amp or separates? What space restrictions do you have? Ayre DAC fits on your desk my DAC 8 would not. The Ayre also plays DSD the ARC does not.

The answers to these questions will help narrow down your gear to audition. Hope this helped and have fun shopping :)

Dave L

 

Main: CAPS 3 Carbon > Roon > HQ Player > ARC DAC 8 > ARC VSi60 > Vandersteen 3A Signatures

Cables: AQ Rocket 88 Bi Wired, AQ Columbia RCA, and AQ Diamond USB

Office: Macbook Pro > Roon > HQ Player > Burson Audio Conductor SL w/DAC Output > Adam F5 or HiFiman HE-500

Cables: AQ Carbon USB and Oyide RCA

Storage: Synology NAS 213+

Basement: in progress - Building a RPI 3 > Peachtree IDAC > Halide Bridge > amp? > Wharfdale 10.2's

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I too would suggest active monitors for your kind of requirement. It is less complicated and you don't have to struggle in finding matching components. I have Genelec 8030a paired with Teac UD-501 and I would say it sounds wonderful. With balanced connection, the noise floor almost disappears and the dynamic range is enhanced. The DAC is very musical and can keep you glued to music all the time. It has a pretty good headphone section too. I do not feel the need for a sub for music but of course it will give you the necessary extension in the low end. 8030a is no longer made and they are replaced by 8030b. $800 x 3 (monitor pair + DAC) can keep you happy for a long time without the itch to upgrade, I believe. If you need a sub, then you may consider Genelec 8030 LSE Stereo Pak for $2850.

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I fear you may possibly be putting the horse before the cart - I know this hobby appears to be all about the gear, but you need to list your musical preferences and what you really hope to get from the final system. Most of us put music first, but my time with the HD800 tells me that it's probably going to be a good choice for gaming, particularly in FPS where you need positional audio. Moving on to music, it seems that you are well aware that your room is going to be your biggest enemy with your speakers - even with the HD800, you will find that you are still impacted by ambient noise as these are very open cans. I opted for a warm speaker amp and a decent set of bookshelf speakers on the basis that I cant do a great deal with my room beyond soft furnishings and I've chosen to concentrate on my headphones for critical listening. I assume that you're aware that the LS50 requires a reasonably powerful amp to drive it properly - just throwing that out there up front - I opted for 8-ohm, 90dB speakers with a forgiving impedance curve purely to avoid issues in that area.

 

Probably the best news I can give you is that anyone getting into computer audio right now has never had it so good in terms of the variety and sheer bang-for-your-buck offered by many digital sources in 2014. I think they are clearing out the last of the MK1 Dragonfly USB DACs at $149 in the US atm - Fiio also have some very cheap DACs, allowing you to ease into it without dashing out to buy something like the Chord Hugo or similar. Like the LS50, you may find it a challenge finding the 'right' amp for the HD800 - I love them, but I also adore my (much less expensive) Philips cans -

 

Amazon.com: Philips Fidelio X1/28 Premium Over-Ear Headphones: Electronics

 

A Big Bottom and a Lively Top: The Philips Fidelio X1 | InnerFidelity

 

Insanely good value, and so much more comfortable than the Audeze cans - especially important if you intend wearing any of these cans during long gaming sessions. The HD800 feel less 'closed in' than the Philips cans, but it will be a sizeable chunk out of your budget if you get both the Senns and Audeze cans and I believe that sooner or later you will go chasing a dedicated headamp - thats where things start to spiral out of control ;)

 

Personally, I wouldnt rule out something like the Audioengine A5+ if it means you can concentrate more funds on your headphone rig, but that's just me. Good luck with your search.

 

I can't recommend L1. It's mid-fi at best. The new L2 is a lot better, but not in the U.S. market. Take a look at Focal Spirit Pro.

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Thanks for the wealth of information everyone.

 

The KEF 300a will be at the top of my auditions list. I'm visiting an audio store today so hopefully I will audition them soon.

 

To answer david's questions,

 

I have used iTunes in the past, but I will likely begin buying Hi-Res music, as I'm sure my gear will cry for it. I don't know where I would get my music from or whether I would need DSD capability though.

 

Speakers are a must.

 

I'm not sure if I'd prefer tube or solid state. Is one better for my situation or is it just personal preference?

 

As far as space restriction, my desk is 5' x 2 1/2' and empty except for my 24" monitor, so should be plenty of space available.

 

I think I'd prefer a DAC/headphone amp in one, unless there's a good reason to buy separate DACs.

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Hi Bella.

 

FWIW, I just bought two great products which fit both the 'desktop' and 'budget' criteria:

 

http://www.innerfidelity.com/images/NAD_VISOHP50_Photo_main.jpg

 

http://www.audiostream.com/images/11712psb2.jpg

 

The NAD HP50 headphones sound great, and isolate very well meaning your near neighbours shouldnt be disturbed by your music, but they simply arent in the same league as the HD800 sonically - nor should they be at the price NAD are asking. The PSB Alpha PS1 powered speakers also arent in the same league as the active monitors discussed earlier, but the great thing about both products is that you dont have to go 'all in' straight out of the gate - take some time to nail your preferences before you plonk down the cash for a demanding headphone like the HD800 or (IMO) butt ugly speakers like the Genelecs. I'd also advise against going with whatever gear the 'pros' like simply because a lot of pro audio gear isnt necessarily designed to make your music sound good - if anything, it may well be the opposite in the studio as they struggle to get the mix right.

 

Good luck.

 

Ned

Just one more headphone and I know I can kick this nasty little habit !

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Thanks for the wealth of information everyone.

 

The KEF 300a will be at the top of my auditions list. I'm visiting an audio store today so hopefully I will audition them soon.

 

To answer david's questions,

 

I have used iTunes in the past, but I will likely begin buying Hi-Res music, as I'm sure my gear will cry for it. I don't know where I would get my music from or whether I would need DSD capability though.

 

Speakers are a must.

 

I'm not sure if I'd prefer tube or solid state. Is one better for my situation or is it just personal preference?

 

As far as space restriction, my desk is 5' x 2 1/2' and empty except for my 24" monitor, so should be plenty of space available.

 

I think I'd prefer a DAC/headphone amp in one, unless there's a good reason to buy separate DACs.

 

 

The buzz right now for the absolute BEST headphone section in an excellent DAC is the new BMC PureDAC. It has separate integrated volume controls for the line out and the headphone section. For a headphone centric review see here:

 

Headphone Bliss: B.M.C. Audio amazes with PureDAC | Confessions of a Part-Time Audiophile

 

There is a previous also glowing review where it was paired with a set of Genelec monitors and Audeze LCD-2 here:

6moons audio reviews: B.M.C. Audio PureDAC + Genelec M040

 

 

BMC PureDAC -$1800 (US prices)

Genelec M040 - $1800

Senn HD800 - $1500

 

For a smidge over your $5k budget (probably $5500 after cables) that would be pretty fine.

 

I will have a PureDAC to play with this weekend, so I will probably post some impressions on the PureDAC thread. I have the NAD M51 (which I have been using quite happily) and will compare it to the PureDAC feeding my main stereo system and headphones.

Roon ->UltraRendu + CI Audio 7v LPS-> Kii Control -> Kii Three

Roon->BMC UltraDAC->Mr Speakers Aeon Flow Open

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My desktop audio journey, I have about 34 inches between where speakers can be and where I sit.

 

 

1. Headphones (grado and sennheiser and beyere - tubes and solid state) - then I realized i really didn't like listening to headphones all that much compared to speakers, so I moved on

Sold off

 

2. Focal CMS40 with a Mytek 192Stereo DSD had fun with a lot of this. Two things caused a change

1. Didn't sound as good as a NAD/Psb system in terms of detail

2. I became more objectivist and thought the Mytek was overkill for my needs (basically - i did some blind A/B testing)

 

Sold off

 

3. Bought a Nad D3020 and P3esr

1. A *touch* too big and bright for how close they are too me.

2. Nad D3020 is great - as an objectivist convert I don't believe difference in electronics are substantial enough to be identifiable in a meaningful way.

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I second the Genelec 8030 for amplifications and speakers. If you are planning to add a sub woofer, you consider the 8020B, which are just as amazing as the 8030, just smaller and cheaper, but with less bass.

 

For the DAC, the Teac is surely a good contender. Anything reasonably new with balanced outputs should do a fine job feeding the speakers. Alternatively, consider the Benchmark DAC2 D (or its bigger brother, the HGC, if analog inputs might ever play a role). It has an excellent headphone amplifier and is one of the best DACs around (approx €1700).

 

Alternatively, the Genelec 8240 come with built-in amplification AND built-in DACs. Then, all you need to hook up the computer is a sound card with AES output. Or, very slightly stretching your budget when including the AES-capable sound card, a pair of Genelec 8250. In which case a subwoofer is IMHO not needed.

Home: Apple Macbook Pro 17" --Mini-Toslink--> Cambridge Audio DacMagic --XLR--> 2x Genelec 8020B

Work: Apple Macbook Pro 15" --USB--> Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 --1/4\"--> Superlux HD668B / 2x Genelec 6010A

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A friend recently bought the following setup:

 

Audioquest DragonFly USB DAC

Dynaudio BM5 MKIII (active monitors) + optional Dynaudio Volume Box

Dirac Live software for room correction

 

I do not know the system price but he is very happy with it and I can not blame him, it's also a very lean & clean system.

 

EAC -> FLAC -> Oyen Digital miniPro 2TB -> USB -> Lenovo ThinkPad X200 WIN XP -> Dirac Live Room Correction Suite -> AlbumPlayer -> Audioquest USB cable -> Hegel H100 DAC & amplifier -> 2.5mm copper -> AVI Trio loudspeakers

 

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