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Seeking recomendations for internal or external soundcard/DAC solution


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I have a dedicated computer as the main audio front end, here is the configuration of my system:

 

Computer running Windows XP

USB M-Audio Transit to S/PDIF

(http://www.m-audio.com/products/en_us/Transit.html )

 

S/PDIF input to Rotel RSX-1067

 

7 Mission speakers

M35i floor standing fronts

M32i surrounds and rears

M3c1i center

 

1 SVS 4ft cylindrical sub (don't remember the model#, it is a discontinued one)

 

I mostly play MP3s in Winamp (using MAD input plug-in, have not been able to get k-stream to work with this setup) or stream audio online via Pandora or some such. Mostly 2 channel, I use the "All Channel Stereo" mode on the Rotel to listen to the stereo sound through all speakers. The current performance of the system is just not satisfactory considering the quality of the components.

 

I am looking at improving the PC to Rotel link, what would be the best way for me to do this while staying reasonably priced? (>$500)

 

Would I be better off getting something like the [email protected] PCI card and going S/PDIF straight to the Rotel?

Or would I be better off getting a "nicer" USB-S/PDIF link like this one:

http://www.computeraudiophile.com/content/Bel-Canto-USB-Link-Review

 

Or would I be better off getting an external USB DAC in a similar price range?

 

I feel like I am not getting the best out of my Rotel. Are my speakers at par with the Receiver in terms of quality?

 

Thanks!

Ankush

http://ankush.vimawala.com

http://photoblog.vimawala.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I've got a computer with the M-Audio Audiophile 2496, and its DAC isn't bad at all. I think it's the same chip as the Transit, or at least very similar. I've got an SVS sub, thumps as well as anything but can be musical too... good one. Your receiver and speakers shouldn't be the weakness. So, what is?

 

I'll agree with the previous poster, take a few of your CDs and try ripping in some lossless file format and see how that works.

 

Let's troubleshoot. What operating system are you using? XP or Vista? You can unmap your USB DAC from the windows sound mixer, which should help. Halfway down the page, below the ASIO bit, follow the "unmap from KMIXER" directions.

http://www.usbdacs.com/Windows/Windows.html

 

If XP, follow read these directions...

http://www.benchmarkmedia.com/wiki/index.php/Windows_XP_Audio_Playback_-_Setup_Guide

... and follow directions and look at the WinAmp setup.

 

Also, on my Yamaha receiver, in all-speaker-stereo mode, no sound is emitted from the subwoofer. Can you confirm sound from your sub during play?

 

Even before doing that, could you describe what you're unhappy with in your music that you hear? I'd bet you can improve the sound without spending any money.

 

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Correction- just realized that you're using SPDIF through the Transit so ignore the part about its DAC. But that makes me think, does the Transit have the M-Audio software driver that shows the mixer? Set it to send the SPDIF to the mixer, and then when you play you music, which section is it showing sound in (WAV, SPDIF, etc.)?

 

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thanks for the input folks. i will run some experiments.

 

those are some good points Egon, yes the woofer sure is woofing. it does not sound "bad" at all per say, even sounds pretty good actually, but it is hard to describe it, it just doest seem to have the dynamic nature of sound (which most people might not notice), i guess i am not very fluent with the audiophile lingo. it sounds a lot better when i listen to a cd through my up-converting CD player

but mp3s sound like they are missing a particular dynamic/deep quality of the sound

other than that it sounds very clear, awesome bass etc.

when i play mp3s from the cd player they sound better than when played from the computer

which is what led me to believe that the problem lies in the PC-Rotel link someplace

 

wow, i didnt know it was possible to unmap from the windows mixer, i will definitely give that a shot, and post the results.

 

no, this M-Audio software does not come up with a mixer, just a control panel that lets me select from 5 different operating modes, and 5 different latency levels, and mic boost.

 

thanks!

 

 

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Which operating system? I'm really only familiar with XP so can't troubleshoot others.

 

Make sure the Transit is set to Dolby/DTS pass-through. And put all volume controls associated with your software or the M-audio to max volume.

 

The fact that you like the upsampled sound from your CD player but don't like the MP3-quality sound from the original file, provided the root problem isn't a software setting already mentioned above, suggests that the conversion from the original to a lossless format will make you happy, or possibly finding a software that can upsample. I'm not familiar enough to recommend one. Unfortunately, the compression to MP3 leads to a sacrifice in quality, and that is usually recognized exactly as you've described above, with less dynamics and not as deep.

 

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i am running XP too

i ran through the setup list for xp and winamp that you had pointed me to, and it seems to have made a good bit of difference, i also switched to direct sound instead of waveout.

 

i tried to get ASIO to work with winamp, but was not able to, the meters would move but there would be no sound, and the play time would jump around much faster than normal

 

i also tried to get kernel streaming plugin to work, but was not able to. winamp just freezes when i try to play anything using that plugin

 

in the m-audio control panel, i selected 2-in, 2-out 24 bit, 8000hz to 48000hz, instead of 16bit

if i put it to dts/pass through, and then try to play a file in winamp, it gives me an error saying bad direct sound driver or unsupported format or something like that

 

another strange phenomenon is when i select the operating mode as 0 in 2 out 24bit, 88200 to 96000 Hz, and play a file, the rotel shows 9.6 Khz, and it automatically switches from all channel stereo to 2 ch PCM (still plays the woofer). and i am not able to switch it to all channel. when i go back to 2 in 2 out 8000 to 48000, it shows 48k on the display and is able to work fine in 7ch stereo. i thought that was a bit strange, and am not able to explain why this is. so thats one question.

 

the other question is - do you think i would see any improvement by going to the audiophile 2496 or some such instead of the transit?

 

i will run some more experiments with loss less compression, to verify that aspect.

 

thanks!

 

 

 

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I'm glad the sound seems to be headed in the right direction. Forget about ASIO, just follow those directions you did, ASIO won't be useful to you.

 

However, all this has done is make your Transit work better, not changed the important thing you want to change. I think what's happening is that your computer (software) is decoding the MP3s and sending decoded PCM to the Transit, then the Transit alters the data as requested by your 5 choice settings to determine what "flavor" of PCM data will be fed to the receiver. When you play a CD of MP3s directly to the receiver, your receiver does all the decoding and therefore you get a better sound because that's why you paid good money for it. Its decoder is high quality.

 

I looked at the manual for your Rotel receiver. It says that 96kHz PCM digital signals are auto-detected and cannot be overridden, which is why you only got two-channel when you set your Transit to 96000Hz (same as 96 kHz) output. When you send 48Khz, your receiver still does some processing to 7.1. Which is what you want because you've got an excellent receiver. Make the strongest piece of your chain do the heaviest work.

 

According to a quick google search, Directsound can only deal with PCM data, so the MP3 is decompressed and turned to PCM before being fed to the Directsound filters and then to the Transit. Also found this page, don't know what updates exist 4 years later but explains your issue.

http://forums.winamp.com/showthread.php?postid=1602906

 

Is there any light or signal info that would tell you whether your receiver is getting MP3 or PCM data? My guess is that when you burn MP3s to CD, it'll say it's getting MP3, but it'll be getting PCM from the computer/Transit.

 

So, to come back to your original question, no, don't spend lots of money on hardware, it won't help your problem. Your issue is that most people on this site use CDs and burn them in a lossless format that yields pure PCM to the computer, which is fed directly to the receiver in its original form. In your case, you've got mainly compressed files, which must be uncompressed by the software, converted to PCM, then follow the chain that most people here are describing.

 

Two suggestions. If you have the original CDs, burn them in a lossless format and you'll be happier because the bits will require less molestation to get to your speakers. If not, and you're stuck with the MP3s, look into either plugins for Winamp that will allow the MP3 to be passed through directly without conversion to PCM (likely over the AC3 passthrough setting of Transit) or else try a different program. Look into AC3filter or the favorite XP software for music around here is Media Monkey. Read at the bottom of this link for a description, but pass over the part about the expensive card... that's not what you need.

http://www.computeraudiophile.com/Audiophile-Reference-Music-Server-For-A-Song

 

In summary, if you like how MP3s sound going straight from the MP3 CD to the receiver, figure out what plug-ins or programs are necessary to pass MP3 over SPDIF through your Transit to your receiver. If you're not happy with how the MP3 CD sounds from your receiver, you'll have to give up on MP3s.

 

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thanks Egon, lot of useful info.

thats a very good point, i should try to find a way to make the Rotel do the mp3 decoding, i looked around but have not found a way to do that so far.

i dont know if the cd player is sending it a raw mp3 stream or decoding it itself, and then sending pcm. the display on the Rotel shows the same as when playing pcm through the computer "44.1k", so not sure.

it does seem like the bits are getting tinkered a number of times before finally ending up at the receiver - between the computer itself and the transit, and getting the mp3 stream from the file straight to the rotel, it seems, would surely bring about at least some improvement, if i can find a way to do that, if one exists.

thanks for looking up the rotel manual, and for all the helpful suggetsions!

 

 

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The only device i've ever come across that will let you send undecided MP3 to Rotel (or similar amps/processors) was a Harmon Kardon USB device.

 

Eloise

 

PS. You say the current performance isn't satisfactory - what is that compared to?

 

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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Rotel processor is displaying 44.1 then it is getting the digital signal and decoding it. If it were getting the decoded signal from the cd player then it would display 2 ch pcm and not 44.1.

Also, to be honest if the cd player is sounding better....then just use it! The mp3 files are going to be topped out on sound no matter what you do to them. The cd player might have some digital filters or something to make them sound better. However, they still are bad as noted above by others.

Regards

Jesus R

President

www.sonore.us

 

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  • 3 months later...

i think it is all coming together now. recently after we had this discussion on here, the main digital circuit board had to be replaced on my rotel receiver ($500 ouch), but now it sounds so much more alive than it used to before. i hear instruments that i didnt before, and i dont have to turn up the volume as much anymore either, for the same amount of loudness. so it seems like the board was already having issues, and sounding slightly muffled and then finally died completely after that. in a way i am glad it finally died, and i was able to get this resolution with the new board. now it all seems to make sense. thank you all for your input, all your suggestions made a difference as well! :)

 

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