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Computer Audiophile 101 ?


busybeingborn
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It would be great if there was a "Computer Audiophile for Dummies" section here. I'm an absolute newbie and I hesitate to ask basic questions like "Ehm... what do I need a DAC for; I can listen to my music without one, too".

 

(Please don't tell me to look at wikipedia; just read the DAC article there. Hardly a word that a non-pro can understand; seems more like bragging with specialism than to inform people with average intelligence and knowledge like me with information they can understand.)

 

E.g., I asked in one of the forums here how I could transfer my DAT tapes to my Mac via optical cable. The recordings have a sampling rate that turned out to be too low; the Mac doesn't recognize any signal coming from the DAT. I was suggested to buy a DAC. - Great: It would cost several hundred bucks, and I have no idea what else I could use it for. So I'm stuck because I lack basic knowledge. I have spent hours googling around and all I can find are offers to buy a DAC and forums where people discuss special issues regarding DACs. I can't find an article that tells me in simple words: "A DAC is... You need one if... and for... Its advantages are...... A reasonable investment for your needs would be...... etc." - Just an example.

 

Thus, a FAQ for Dummies would really be great for a dummy like me. :-)

 

Thanks a lot

 

Peter

 

SONY X779ES[br]SONY DTC-ZW700[br]Classé 500[br]THRESHOLD S/150[br]B&W 803D[br]iMac i5[br]Apple TV[br]MacBook[br]NAS RAID

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You're right ... we do need a "for dummies" section ... in fact we have one ... it's the Computer Audiophile Academy ... though there's not much in it at the moment.

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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but a DAC is a digital to analogue converter. They convert the digital signal in the source to analogue so we can hear it. So they are absolutely necassary in any digital source.

 

However, most digital sources have them built in. So, do you NEED to go get an expensive external one? No. However, many would claim that, for reasons far too technical for me to explain or even understand and remember, that the standard ones in hdd/computer sources just dont do the jobe quite as faithfully as dedicated external DACs. Even with them, however, they differ in quality.

 

For what its worth i use the beresford DAC from my pc to my amp (but only for a few more days, a big change is afoot) and i have tested enough for me to be satisfied thst it does improve the sound. They only cost a little over 100 GBP, so DACs dont have to cost silly money.

 

Panasonic PXP 42 V20; Panasonic DMP BD35; Sky+ HD Box. [br]Optical out from Asus P7H55-M into AVI ADM 9.1 speakers. [br]\"Music will provide the light you cannot resist\"[br]

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...and it was written "However, most digital sources have [a DAC] built in. So, do you NEED to go get an expensive external one? No. However, many would claim that, for reasons far too technical for me to explain or even understand and remember, that the standard ones in hdd/computer sources just dont do the jobe quite as faithfully as dedicated external DACs. Even with them, however, they differ in quality."

Hope this isn't too much a "for Dummies" comment but the analogue output built into most computers is limited in the following ways...

1. Most computers use the cheepest possible device, aimed to get analogue audio into speakers with 2" full range drivers and in-ear headphones where the quality doesn't matter. Not only is the actual DAC chip limited but the analogue parts of the circuit after are very low cost. Also many outputs are designed to connect to a pair of headphones not to another amplifer so the levels are too high.

2. The inside of a computer has quite high EMI (Electromagnetic Interference) which may be audible on the output if used with quality reproduction system. Higher end audio cards and DAC either remove the component which are suseptable to EMI from the computer, or add shielding to prevent this.

3. Some computer audio outputs will only output at 48khz and all other sound has to be converted to this. The SRC (sample rate conversion) is an aspect of computer audio that is very easy to do badly - this is why there is a lot of talk of using ASIO and other methods to avoid KMixer and Windows Vista audio stacks.

 

Hope this helps.

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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Hmmm.. I used to do a lot of DAT taping of live shows in my younger years. I would think that it would be more of software issue of the system being able to recognize something other than 44.1 or 48khz on DAT. What sampling rate were you recording at 22khz?

 

 

 

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There are several ways to connect a DAC to a Mac, none is fundermentally better than another, however there are some limitations with some interfaces. Often it depends on the DAC in questions.

 

Optical (a.k.a. TOSLink): most Macs have an optical digital output. In most cases this is as part of the line out socket and a mini-optical connection. There are a few cables available that will connect mini-optical to standard optical that most DACs have. Alternatively you can get an adaptor - the dedicated cable tends to be more reliable especially if you are using high resolution files. (I assume you have found the mini optical in and that is what you are using with your DAT machine). Using the optical connection you are still using the internal sound "card" of the Mac. On the Mac the optical output is currently limited to 24/96, but other devices are compatible with 24/192k.

 

USB: a lot of recent DACs have a USB connection. This allows you to bypass the internal sound card as the DAC itself has the equivalent built in. USB sounds to be the perfect solution to connecting a DAC to a computer, but the actual USB implementation varies wildly in quality. In many DACs they are added as a cheep convenience feature and you will get better results with an alternative connection. On the other hand, some DACs have very good USB interface. You can also get devices to connect between your computer and a HiFi DAC without USB connections - these tend to have improved interfaces. You will hear reference to Async USB interfaces with are vastly superior to the normal type of interface. Most USB interfaces are currently limited to 24/96.

 

PCI Card: Many people consider the ultimate interface between your computer and DAC to be a high end digital interface such as the Lynx AES16 PCI card. This gives your computer a high end digital output which can be connected to a suitable DAC. Other cards are available which provide a high quality optical or co-ax SPDIF interface for suitable DACs.

 

FireWire: this is probably one of the best methods, but also the least available. There are very few high end DACs which come with native firewire interface (Weiss DAC2 / Minerva is the obvious exception). However a lot of people use studio gear which connects to the FireWire interface of the computer and provides a high quality SPDIF or AES digital output which is then connected to their separate DAC. Firewire is limited in that most interfaces require custom written drivers.

 

Which interface suits you best will very much depend on your DAC and the expansion capabilities of your computer - obviously a PCI card isn't going to fit into your MacBook laptop. Equally, you may not notice the difference between a £1300 AFI1 FireWire interface and a £300 M-Audio ProFire 610 interface if you are using a £200 Cambridge Audio DAC.

 

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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