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Some questions on optimizing audio performance


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Hi, first post here. Glad I found this place - great site and exactly what I was looking for to expand my knowledge and contribute experiences.

 

Been into audio and music for a long time, but relatively new to computer audio. I really just tried it as an experiment several months ago, ripping some CD's to FLAC, then sending via spdif coax to my DAC in another room (basement) where my rig is located. Well, I haven't looked back, ripping my whole collection to FLAC with EAC and using Foobar for playback. I was not able to detect a difference between this and my CDP as a transport, so this sold me on computer audio.

 

My interest now involves determining if I can improve performance with software or hardware changes upstream from the DAC (I'm happy with my DAC, pre, amps, speakers and cables).

 

I running a very long (65 ft) coax from Blue Jean Cables from the PC in my den to my DAC in the basement. This long run hasn't caused any obvious issues, but the length is of some concern to the neurotic audiophile type, with which I often identify.

 

So my key areas of interest are

 

1) Software add-ons and optimization

 

Is there any real benefit to ASIO or Kernel Streaming when using Vista? I've read conflicting opinions.

 

I'm currently using Foobar at 16/44.1 with no DSPs and have all Vista and soundcard defaults set to 16/44.1. I also have Windows sounds disabled.

 

 

2) Computer spdif coax

 

How does computer spdif coax performance generally compare to a CDP's coax, for example in terms of jitter? Are there any good sources of data and comparisons?

 

Are some soundcard's spdif coax output better than others? Is it worth upgrading the stock soundcard?

 

 

3) Would a Squeezebox improve performance by eliminating the computer and coax cable from the audio chain? I would still use my DAC with the Squeezebox's spdif coax out.

 

Basically, I want to try to determine if my current set-up is limiting performance.

 

Thanks in advance for any input and feel free to point me in the right direction if this has already been covered extensively.

 

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Hey Adam - Welcome to Computer Audiophile. Thanks for posting the link over on the Polk forum. I actually used to have a pair of Polk LS70 speakers back in the day and I really liked them. Some days I long for the sound of them. Anyway, on to your post above.

 

I'm not gong to say anything about your 65 footer. I don't want to be the master of the obvious :-)

 

I have to ask if you are dead set on the Windows platform for your music server? I've used Windows and OS X for music servers and to me the two aren't even close. Macs are built for this type of thing. Bit perfect from iTunes straight out of the box. At CES I believe I saw one Windows based music server in all of the Venetian. The Windows server was very impressive, but I still wouldn't go that route.

 

I think you are right on with your settings leaving everything at 16/44.1. For now finding the answer to your question about ASIO on Vista will only lead you to frustration. This and similar questions are like legal arguments and case rulings. There are always two very good arguments and case law to support a decision wither way. You'll have to trust your ears.

 

As far as sound cards go I only know of one or two internal cards I would use. The Lynx AES16e is the card used by the Reference Recordings guys at CES on their Windows server. This card fed the Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC via AES/EBU. Not coax as you discussed, but possibly a better solution. Also, M-Audio is said to have some really good cards (http://www.m-audio.com/index.php?do=products.family&ID=PCIinterfaces). I don't have any real first hand experiences with them.

 

I'm not a real fan of the Squeezebox personally. I know a lot of people love it, but it's not for me. I don't suggest moving to an SB based system and away from your current setup unless you're really unsatisfied right now and need the wireless capability.

 

I think you should seriously consider Empirical Audio products. Steve Nugent designs some great products for USB and SPDIF computer based audio. Are you opposed to USB or FireWire DACs or are you really happy with your current DAC that accepts coax?

 

 

Kind of a lot of questions I know. I think once we get a dialog going here and a couple more readers jump in we'll probably get something accomplished :-)

 

Thanks for joining the site!

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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Unlike Chris, I will belabor the obvious and state that 65' of coax is a bad thing. I am a sound guy and I will leave you to better qualified people for advice on the computer end of things but if there is a way to avoid that cable run, I strongly suggest it. One consideration might be the Sonos wireless system. Until you get into very high performance we find it to be a really good way to move an SPDIF signal a fairly long distance without noticeable degradation. For your application you would only need their most basic products, which are not that expensive. Essentially you do a coax in to a unit where your source is and have a second unit that you come out of into your DAC. John Atkinson of Stereophile was unable to detect degradation feeding a 17K DAC. They have products which can add more functionality but I think this basic, least expensive offering is their strength.

 

Good luck with your system.

 

Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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"They have products which can add more functionality but I think this basic, least expensive offering is their strength."

 

I love it when a guy who owns a high-end shop says things like this. Of course I'd probably just use and Airport Express and call it good, but if you look up "Cheap B!Q#$%d," in the dictionary, you'll find my picture in the margin...

 

Tim

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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Thanks for all the replies so far.

 

Chris, small (audio) world – I have Polk LS90s.

 

So you guys don’t like my 65 ft coax :-). Of course, it’s not ideal, but it has pleasantly surprised me. Actually, before I bought and ran the cable, I ran a crude, worst case scenario experiment to determine if it would even work. I took a mediocre 100 ft coax with F-connectors (think cable/satellite TV coax), attached some F to RCA adapters and ran the cable through the house for a test. To my surprise, this highly compromised cable scenario worked flawlessly, with no dropouts or degradation. This is the stage where I compared FLAC from the PC over this cable vs. the original CD played with my SONY ES as a transport over a 3 ft optical cable (I know it’s not exactly apples to apples). I was able to cue up a FLAC and CD to the same track simultaneously and flip between the coax (PC) and optical (Sony) on the fly. I could not hear a difference. This made me believe that spdif over coax can more robust than many folks think, at least with my ears and gear. So, based on this observation, I decided to have Blue Jean Cables make me a “real” cable at the right length to run through the floor/walls to the DAC in the basement. Blue Jeans actually indicated that they’ve verified their coax to be good for spdif to 100 ft. Also, I figured that since the cable was only around $50, I’m not out much if I decide to go another route down the road.

 

I’m not really interested in a USB DAC. My current DAC is pretty nice and I like its sound (MSB Nelson Link DAC III with P1000 power supply upgrade). Plus, my DAC needs to be near my audio equipment, not PC.

 

I don’t want to change OS or buy a Mac, since our PC is only a few months old. So, I’m stuck with Vista right now. I have heard that Vista is supposed to be better for audio than XP.

 

Chris, just curious, what don’t you like about Squeezebox?

 

The Duet seems like a really neat product.

 

The thing I like about Squeezebox (and similar products) is that it removes the PC’s voodoo and cabling concerns from the audio chain, since TCP/IP packets are transferred instead of audio.

 

I don’t know anything about Sonos, other than that the systems can get pricey. I’m a tight wad audiophile too. I'll have to look into their stuff.

 

You know, another very simple solution would work for me. Maybe it exists. I really don’t need the remote media management of a Squeezebox. I’m fine with selecting music with Foobar on the PC. All I really need is a box that

 

1) gets media (FLAC) over TCP/IP through a network (could be wired or wireless)

2) can decode the media (FLAC) to PCM

3) has digital outputs for connection to an outboard DAC

 

The box would be “dumb”, in that it can only decode and process what is sent by the PC. If something like this were around ½ the price of a Squeezebox, I’d be all over it.

 

 

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Sonos can be pricey but they just released a new entry level box that is sort of like a digital backbone, going back to my days in telecom. One at each end and you're done. I'm not saying it is necessarily your best solution - Tim's Airport Express idea may be just the ticket, but it is is cheap in the Sonos world.

 

Hey Tim, I own a $6,000.00 pair of 1M balanced interconnects. It's lonely here, too. (They were also one of those lovely perks where no money changed hands).

 

This gets into the topic of another thread running, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a tightwad audiophile, be it by choice or necessity. We love finding products that are overachievers for their price points. Lots of people who have tons of money don't care and lots who have limited funds care immensely.

 

 

 

 

Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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"Hey Tim, I own a $6,000.00 pair of 1M balanced interconnects. It's lonely here, too. (They were also one of those lovely perks where no money changed hands)."

 

By interconnects, you do mean those little wire thingies from Radio Shack that connect one component to the next? :)

 

I'm praying for you brother...

 

Tim

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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Yeah, like the Radio Shack thingies. To paraphrase Rob Schneider's Elvis bit "Try one baby, they're like vitamins but....better."

 

When I say no money changed hands it wasn't like I traded my sister. We had a great year and they were a present. And the sick thing is they are astonishgly good. And totally out of context anywhere but a 100Kish system. Now there's a can of worms I definitely don't want to open.

 

Rick

 

Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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