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Barriers to Computer Audio

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Over the past few months I've been researching computer audio to learn more about the topic in preparation to acquire the necessary components, e.g., software and hardware, for an audiophile quality computer audio system. One of the recurring themes I discovered as I conducted my research on this and other web sites and at Best Buy, hi fidelity audio stores, and other sources, etc., is the amount of divergent, conflicting and confusing information regarding high resolution computer audio. What software to use, what type of storage to use, hardware requirements, connectivity, etc. This may explain why computer audio as a consumer phenomenon has been slow to catch on - it's currently too confusing. Mac or PC, J.D. Rivers, D.B. Power Amp, I-Tunes, DACs, NAS, SSD, USB, SP/DIF, Ethernet. This is the tip of the iceberg.

 

The analogy I like to use is buying a basic stereo system to play records: you need a receiver or separate components, a turntable, a cartridge, interconnects and speakers. Sure the cost and quality varies depending on how much you have to spend but at least you know what you need. Somehow this decision making process needs to be simplified and standardized so that the average consumer is able to make informed choices regarding audiophile quality computer sound. And it needs to be much easier to set up. Currently one needs to be a computer whiz or electrical engineer to put together a computer system to download and play computer files and stream music from various web sites. Make it easier and the consumer will buy it.

 

As for me, I will sort it out but it will take some additional time and, even then I may not end up with the optimal system, but I will persevere. By the way, I have been audio enthusiast for many, many years and have a graduate degree in Finance. I think what we need is a step by step approach that provides examples of computer audio systems at various price points, e.g., what hardware, software, storage mechanism, file formats, interconnects, etc. Some of you may think this information is readily available but I can tell you that most of these examples assume a level of knowledge well beyond someone who is just starting to consider computer audio, e.g., the average consumer. I would be interested in others comments.

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My opinion is skip all the tinkering, headaches, buggy playback software, building and go for a NAS and renderer setup. The irony is not lost on me.

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Over the past few months I've been researching computer audio to learn more about the topic in preparation to acquire the necessary components, e.g., software and hardware, for an audiophile quality computer audio system. One of the recurring themes I discovered as I conducted my research on this and other web sites and at Best Buy, hi fidelity audio stores, and other sources, etc., is the amount of divergent, conflicting and confusing information regarding high resolution computer audio. What software to use, what type of storage to use, hardware requirements, connectivity, etc. This may explain why computer audio as a consumer phenomenon has been slow to catch on - it's currently too confusing. Mac or PC, J.D. Rivers, D.B. Power Amp, I-Tunes, DACs, NAS, SSD, USB, SP/DIF, Ethernet. This is the tip of the iceberg.

 

The analogy I like to use is buying a basic stereo system to play records: you need a receiver or separate components, a turntable, a cartridge, interconnects and speakers. Sure the cost and quality varies depending on how much you have to spend but at least you know what you need. Somehow this decision making process needs to be simplified and standardized so that the average consumer is able to make informed choices regarding audiophile quality computer sound. And it needs to be much easier to set up. Currently one needs to be a computer whiz or electrical engineer to put together a computer system to download and play computer files and stream music from various web sites. Make it easier and the consumer will buy it.

 

As for me, I will sort it out but it will take some additional time and, even then I may not end up with the optimal system, but I will persevere. By the way, I have been audio enthusiast for many, many years and have a graduate degree in Finance. I think what we need is a step by step approach that provides examples of computer audio systems at various price points, e.g., what hardware, software, storage mechanism, file formats, interconnects, etc. Some of you may think this information is readily available but I can tell you that most of these examples assume a level of knowledge well beyond someone who is just starting to consider computer audio, e.g., the average consumer. I would be interested in others comments.

 

At this point, you're right. :)

 

Describe what you want for yourself specifically a little more and we'll try to help, though don't be shocked if there are multiple, sometimes conflicting opinions that have to be sorted out.

 

You want something close to all-in-one and be done, don't mind spending? Value for money and don't mind a learning curve? Something in between?


One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> wi-fi to router -> EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> USPCB -> ISO Regen (powered by LPS-1) -> USPCB -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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I definitely understand the overwhelming nature of what you are facing. I felt the same when I came upon this site. It was very valuable. Of course there are about 4 times the options now as then. So it would be even worse.

 

I think one simplifying concept is to use the component system you mentioned. If you have or contemplate having a system you need all the same stuff as way back when. Computer audio can simply be one extra source. CD, LP, tape, and now computer. That simplifies it to some extent. In that case you need a computer (Mac Mini's are a lot of bang for the buck or a spare laptop will do). You need a receiver, or DAC that will take USB as an input. So you only need two things to get pretty high up on the quality scale and it is simple. There are few low cost or no cost pieces of software that work well. A bit of time with that and you are up and going quite well. It will take a modicum of effort on your part, but people here will help and you don't need to be an EE or computer nerd.

 

Now the other concept is doing things almost altogether different than the days of yore. That is highly confusing to someone new to it. You don't know the options, don't know how they interact or that one choice may close off another. There are ways of doing things you don't even understand why anyone would care to, until you experience it and have one of those Eureka moments. That will take quite a bit more effort on your part or simply placing yourself in someone else's hands after telling them your wants and your budget.

 

I understand your feelings in this situation, and it would help if it were easier. Like many things in the world of computers and software it is a bit too much of a moving target to make it totally simple.


And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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In that case you need a computer (Mac Mini's are a lot of bang for the buck or a spare laptop will do). You need a receiver, or DAC that will take USB as an input.

Unless you use a Mac Mini or a cheap Laptop, you don't need a DAC with a USB input. Even with a Mac Mini there is a Toslink option.To really optimise USB audio from a Mac Mini or a laptop, you are on a slippery slope to spending heaps more money.

Besides which, with many DACs a mediocre performing generic USB input is added as more of an afterthought.

With a PC you can also use a good internal Sound Card with Coax SPDIF and Toslink out, or perhaps a Musiland Digital Times PCI S/PDIF card as a friend of mine has recently done, if you don't need DSD. Musiland Digital Times Soundcard PCI S Pdif Optical BNC | eBay


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 28-06-2020

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I think it can really be simple, give us some idea of your budget and needs/wants and we will be happy to help. Second, stay the hell away from Best Buy, that is an easy road to absolute confusion.


No electron left behind...

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....Second, stay the hell away from Best Buy, that is an easy road to absolute confusion.

 

It is also known as Worst Buy. And Magnolia contains a bunch of pushy 2nd hand car salesman that know f&ck all about audio. Try a local specialty audio shop and read here for days...

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I think it can really be simple, give us some idea of your budget and needs/wants and we will be happy to help. Second, stay the hell away from Best Buy, that is an easy road to absolute confusion.

 

Hi,

 

I'm in the same situation as the OP,

I have a mac mini, amarra, apple tv and a lg home cinema (I know it's not really relevant for audiophiles but you know the kids and sponge bob....:)). So basically, amarra plays flac files through airfoil to the apple tv connected via toslink to the lg. I use apple tv as the mac is located in another room.

 

So, I am hungry for some advice for a reasonable budget ;)

 

Regards,

 

Raz

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all of us have been there.

 

Some (not all) of us eventually ditch the "home computer" based solution and buy an off-the-shelf product such as an Aries or Aurender etc (in that respect the "choices" are similar to the choices you make when buying an amp, deck or speakers).

 

I went for an Aurender.

if you were to look at my posting history on this forum you would see a dramatic drop some time ago. It more or less coincides with my Aurender purchase at which point, for me, the 'pain' of building/maintaining this element of my system disappeared.

 

YMMV of course, others choose not to go the ready-made route.


Aurender X100L > Audiophilleo USB/SPDIF > Devialet 200 > Verity Audio Parsifal Ovation

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Unless you use a Mac Mini or a cheap Laptop, you don't need a DAC with a USB input. Even with a Mac Mini there is a Toslink option.To really optimise USB audio from a Mac Mini or a laptop, you are on a slippery slope to spending heaps more money.

Besides which, with many DACs a mediocre performing generic USB input is added as more of an afterthought.

With a PC you can also use a good internal Sound Card with Coax SPDIF and Toslink out, or perhaps a Musiland Digital Times PCI S/PDIF card as a friend of mine has recently done, if you don't need DSD. Musiland Digital Times Soundcard PCI S Pdif Optical BNC | eBay

 

Well, this is a real helpful post. You probably not only scared the OP away from computer audio but caused even more confusion. Not only that, the post is just wrong. You can get great sound out of a PC or Mac with a USB DAC. I think there are hundreds of readers here doing just that. I don't want to get into a flamewar with you, but I think that you could be more helpful to someone trying to get started in the hobby.


(MPD/Rigelian), Sonore ultraRendu, Sonore ultraDigital, Ayre QX-5 Twenty, Ayre KX-5 Twenty, Ayre VX-5 Twenty, Revel Ultima Studio2, Iconoclast speaker cables & interconnects, RealTraps acoustic treatments

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My 2 cents worth.

 

You need a storage device, any PC will work for this purpose

 

You need a digital music player, there are a number of free players that you can download.

 

That's it! You should be able to play your digital music using your PC and the speakers that are attached to it.

 

If you want to send the digital files to an outboard DAC ant into a stereo system then you may want to buy an outboard DAC that has digital as well as optical input. from there you get an analogue signal to send to any amp.

 

 

If you are decide to follow PC into stereo amp path you will need to buy a DAC to convert the digital music to an audio signal.

I started in much the same place as the OP, knowing that I had some learning to do. My first step at the recommendation of a trusted retailer, was to buy a quality DAC that would have input for Toslink and SPDIF input. That was my first step. I downloaded Foobar2000 (free) and played my files through the Toslink output on the PC into the DAC, then into the amp with audio interconnects. I was happy. Then I went looking for an audiophile sound card with Toslink output. Then I called Chris at CA and he suggested I look into a USB/SPDFIF converter as a link between my PC and my DAC, that's the path that I followed, using a USB/SPDIF converter in place of the Toslink opticable connection between the PC and the DAC.

 

My suggestion, find any PC with a Toslink output and load it with a free audio player (like Foobar). That should be enough to get the sound coming out of your PC speakers. Then, buy an outboard DAC that has an optical and digital input - from there you can send an analogue signal into any amp that you have. Doing this, you will have to purchase nothing more than an fiber optic cable and a DAC. Later, you can experiment with a USB/SPDIF converter as an alternative to Toslink, if you want. The DAC will always be useful in any configuration that you choose.

 

Just be patient, avoid buying a lot of gear all at once. Add one piece to your system at a time and evaluate the sound.


That I ask questions? I am more concerned about being stupid than looking like I might be.

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Well, this is a real helpful post. You probably not only scared the OP away from computer audio but caused even more confusion. Not only that, the post is just wrong. You can get great sound out of a PC or Mac with a USB DAC. I think there are hundreds of readers here doing just that. I don't want to get into a flamewar with you, but I think that you could be more helpful to someone trying to get started in the hobby.

 

+1

 

I am reminded of Voltaire's saying that perfection is the enemy of the good. The key with any new endeavor is to just get started and the USB port on your computer and a USB DAC are probably the quickest way to do this.


Everything matters... when brewing coffee.

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Don't overlook HDMI and an AV receiver. A small form factor PC such as a Lenovo Q190 with an external HD running JRiver Media Center connected to a moderately priced Denon or Marantz AVR via HDMI gives you a great sounding, practically out of the box setup with a lot of flexibility and control for around $600, not counting speakers which you likely already have.

 

It's also pretty simple to setup and keep running once you figure out a few JRiver user interface and configuration weirdnesses, which is worth the effort.

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P.S. as for file formats, rip your CDs to FLAC format using JRiver. If you want higher resolution 24/96 etc. files you can easily purchase and download them from HDTracks.

 

Personally, 16/44.1 CD quality files are all I need, and the CDs are cheaper than hi-rez downloads. But I do get albums from HDTracks for convienience and instant gratification. Lately it's been about 50/50 CD rip v. HDTracks download.

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You can get great sound out of a PC or Mac with a USB DAC. I think there are hundreds of readers here doing just that.

Your idea of great sound doesn't appear to be shared by many other members!

There is now a whole cottage industry devoted to further improving the shortcomings of typically implemented USB audio.

There are now around 2,000 who have purchased Uptone USB Regens in an effort to try and make USB from a Mac Mini etc. far better. The vast majority of those are also using expensive aftermarket USB cables too, some even costing > $1,000 to further try and improve the typical lacklustre performance of USB audio , with probably well over 100 using Linear PSUs with their Mac Mini to try and reduce it's internal RF/EMI. The John Swenson designed fan controller PCB also helps to get rid of the RF/EMI radiated from the Mac Minis fan due to motherboard PWM control of it's speed using around 25kHz pulses with sharp rise and fall times. Many members have already spent well in excess of the original cost of their computer trying to make USB audio perform as it should, with quite a few still unable to equal or surpass the performance from a good CD player,

although they have gained far greater access to their music collection.


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 28-06-2020

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Your idea of great sound doesn't appear to be shared by many other members!

 

Compared to your whackadoole ideas about identical files sounding different when played identically?

 

 

Do you have to fill every thread with this noise?

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I would be interested in others comments.

 

It doesn't have to be hard. Here are two blog posts that might be of interest:

 

Absolute beginner's guide to using Apple's OS X for computer audio, the easy way - Blogs - Computer Audiophile

 

An absolute beginner's guide to seting up computer audio on Apple OS X, Part II - Blogs - Computer Audiophile

 

As with many other hobbies, there is a lot of associated mysticism and bullshit invoked by elitist snobs and believers in the supernatural.

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Compared to your whackadoole ideas about identical files sounding different when played identically?

 

 

Do you have to fill every thread with this noise?

 

I have as much right to post my replies which usually have a technical basis, as you apparently have to post your off topic posts about bicycles, religion and other generally snarky replies.


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 28-06-2020

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I see we've managed to get to a bunch of recommendations and even an old argument or two prior to the OP ever answering the question about what his own preferences are. :)


One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> wi-fi to router -> EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> USPCB -> ISO Regen (powered by LPS-1) -> USPCB -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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Yes, but I agree on the avoid USB bit if you can. If you are starting from scratch why not skip the USB pain and expense many have gone through. USB was never meant for audio.

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I see we've managed to get to a bunch of recommendations and even an old argument or two prior to the OP ever answering the question about what his own preferences are. :)

 

 

Well Jud he has not been able to respond but I did just receive this video from him after reading the thread so far. I guess the responses were not as helpful as hoped for. :)

 

When he feel up to it hopefully he will post about is current audio system if any, and his expectations moving forward and hopefully some sane people will be able to provide some useful advise.

 

[video=youtube;yZG-_7W7jzk]

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Over the past few months I've been researching computer audio to learn more about the topic in preparation to acquire the necessary components, e.g., software and hardware, for an audiophile quality computer audio system. One of the recurring themes I discovered as I conducted my research on this and other web sites and at Best Buy, hi fidelity audio stores, and other sources, etc., is the amount of divergent, conflicting and confusing information regarding high resolution computer audio. What software to use, what type of storage to use, hardware requirements, connectivity, etc. This may explain why computer audio as a consumer phenomenon has been slow to catch on - it's currently too confusing. Mac or PC, J.D. Rivers, D.B. Power Amp, I-Tunes, DACs, NAS, SSD, USB, SP/DIF, Ethernet. This is the tip of the iceberg.

 

The analogy I like to use is buying a basic stereo system to play records: you need a receiver or separate components, a turntable, a cartridge, interconnects and speakers. Sure the cost and quality varies depending on how much you have to spend but at least you know what you need. Somehow this decision making process needs to be simplified and standardized so that the average consumer is able to make informed choices regarding audiophile quality computer sound. And it needs to be much easier to set up. Currently one needs to be a computer whiz or electrical engineer to put together a computer system to download and play computer files and stream music from various web sites. Make it easier and the consumer will buy it.

 

As for me, I will sort it out but it will take some additional time and, even then I may not end up with the optimal system, but I will persevere. By the way, I have been audio enthusiast for many, many years and have a graduate degree in Finance. I think what we need is a step by step approach that provides examples of computer audio systems at various price points, e.g., what hardware, software, storage mechanism, file formats, interconnects, etc. Some of you may think this information is readily available but I can tell you that most of these examples assume a level of knowledge well beyond someone who is just starting to consider computer audio, e.g., the average consumer. I would be interested in others comments.

 

 

Well, it's early days yet. Eventually all of this will settle out and there will be many affordable solutions that will make this endeavor virtually as simple as buying a "record player" or probably a better analogy; buying a CD player. There are some such solutions out there now, but they are still relatively primitive and pretty expensive. The way I see it computer audio is a bit of a paradox, similar to playing a guitar. A guitar is an easy instrument to play as long you just want to noodle around. It's the easiest thing in the world for a kid to pick-up an inexpensive electric guitar and learn a few rock chords and be able to grind-out Smoke on the Water, but if one wants to proficiently play Recuerdos de la Alhambra by Tarrega, for instance, it will take many years of study and practice. Likewise, it's easy for a non-audiophile to download music into one's iTunes and transfer it to their iDevice or to buy any of the dozens of portable players now supporting 24/96 and higher. All you need is a laptop or tablet and the player. But, if you want to get the best sound quality possible from those hi-res downloads, it takes a lot of not inexpensive gear and some expertise to put together a proper system, and that system is fraught with pitfalls. Many a time I've lashed-up a USB network of components (Windows laptop to USB power supply (Ifi iUSB or Schiit Wyrd) to USB-to-SPDIF converter to DAC) and have the thing inexplicably simply not work! Sometimes the USB driver on the Win laptop refuses to load for some reason, or the resultant sound "motorboats" for some unknown reason, or more likely, I get no sound at all. Hours of dinking with the thing might finally get it to work and the 24/192 file I was trying to play suddenly springs forth in all its glory, and I think "got it knocked!" only to find that the next time I fire the system up, it's stopped working again. Computer audio can be digital voodoo and it can be very frustrating.

 

To believe that computer audio download sites exist to service the audiophile market would be a mistake. The market exists because of those casual listeners who just download the music and play it through their cell phones, tablets and dedicated music players. Audiophile quality computer music is a niche market within a niche market and a clear path to successful implementation of a high-end computer music system is yet to exist.


George

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Yes, but I agree on the avoid USB bit if you can. If you are starting from scratch why not skip the USB pain and expense many have gone through. USB was never meant for audio.

 

+1 to that, brother!


George

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I'm getting perfectly satisfying sound out of my USB DAC, as are many others, some using add-ons and some not. Matter of fact, stopped using my I2S input DAC. The quality of the DAC itself makes a far bigger difference in sound quality than just its inputs.

 

OP: go with USB on a good DAC, it's great.

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Thank you for all of the responses. I think you can appreciate my confusion based on the diversity of opinions in the responses above, but there is really a lot of helpful information in the responses and it is much appreciated.. I have spent a lot of time on this site and will continue to study the information contained herein. I don't really have a set budget at this point but am willing to spend what is necessary to obtain high resolution audio through my stereo system.

 

Here are my thoughts so far: I plan to use a PC (perhaps a laptop) with Windows 10 most likely. I will use J Rivers Media Center for playback and file management purposes. I plan to store the downloads and ripped CD's as FLAC files. For storage purposes I plan to buy a 4 to 6 terabyte hard drive and connect to the laptop using an ethernet connection. For ripping CD's I will likely use D.B. Poweramp. In my current system already which is a combination 2 channel stereo and home theater, I have an OPPO BDP-95 CD player and a Marantz 7055 AV Pre-Pro. For the pure stereo mode, I'm using a Parasound JC-2 pre-amp running through 2 McIntosh 501's into Legacy Focus SE speakers.

 

For now I would like to use the OPPO as my DAC until I conduct some additional research and buy a DAC for converting files to audio into the stereo system and for streaming from Pandora, internet radio, etc. Remaining questions include which type of connection should I use from the hard drive to the computer and from the computer to the OPPO or DAC to optimize the sound? Am I on the right track so far and what is it I'm missing. I would also consider a solution that combined all of these into one device such as was mentioned above. Thanks for all of the information so far.

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