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Echolane

Want to dump my internal sound card. What are good audio options?

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I hope I am in the right forum for my question....

 

When I had my Win7 Core i7 desktop built I bought a pricey ASUS Xonar Essence Sound STX II Card for it.  It replaced a Sound Blaster card I had moved up from computer to computer for decades.  Right away I didn't like the audio quality of the ASUS card, but I wouldn't be writing for replacement advice if it that was the only problem.  The real problem is I just can’t keep the darn thing working!  

 

Meanwhile, i have become a more informed wannabe audiophile.  I know I would get better audio from external audio components, but I have zero experience knowing what I would need.  I have long standing audiophile aspirations but with the usual financial limitations.    I have a pretty nice sounding audio setup at the computer, an Audiomat Arpege integrated tube amp, Spendor S3/5 Monitors speakers. I am also trialing Roon and I believe I might need something here to act as a Roon endpoint. FWIW, I will be running Roon at three other household  Stereo systems.)

 

What are some good mid-priced options?

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The choices for a Roon endpoint are quite varied as far as price and performance goes. A list of network ready Roon endpoints are available from these manufacturers. The big plus for Networked Players, is you can ditch the sound card, and use the standard motherboard audio card for dings and squawks.

 

Mid priced is not so simple, best of these is the xxxRendu from Sonore or SOTM, very popular devices, deliver a USB output though. This will need another DAC, cables, clean power supplies and so on, the price starts to climb. The combo of that (and effort) is approaching dedicated Network players such as the well received Lumin D2, that device is Ethernet -> Analog out, very straight line, and attachable anywhere on the network. I recently bought their U1 and it's a great piece, very well made, so can vouch for their quality. Hey, they even supply white gloves in the carton 😉

 

All preceding devices are Roon certified and they appear as an endpoint soon as you plug them in, it's quite straight forward. Use three different controllers for each of the three areas and either play the same music or totally different, doesn't matter.

 

 

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Thanks for getting back to me.  

Whew, there is a long list of Roon endpoints and I can see why you mentioned that mid priced may be difficult.  I see that many are quite a bit more costly than my sound Card!  The Lumin D2 definitely reads very nice.

 Network streamers sound very straightforward.  Could you use the Lumin as an example for me?  How is it attached to your computer and other components?    It helps me understand how things work if can see how they are connected.  Whatever I use would have to have RCA ports so I could connect to my analog integrated receiver.   

I see the MicroRendu and UltraRendu mentioned countless times, and sometimes the SOTM,  but I don’t REALLY understand what they do?

Janet

 

 

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Hi Echolane,

 

One and half has given you some great advice and suggestions for Roon endpoints. One thing you might consider as a way of dipping your toes in is to consider getting a stand alone DAC for your computer system rather than trying to use the Xonar Essence card. I think you may find a stand alone DAC more reliable and having better sound than the Xonar Essence.

 

When I first started out in this hobby I had one of the early Xonar Essence STX cards in my computer, switching to an external DAC was a vast improvement. There are quite a few pretty nice DAC's in the $300 and under price range, I'm currently using a TEAC UD-301 in my desktop system. Doing a bit of searching on this forum will give you a number of other DAC's to consider. I believe the Topping D50 is a popular DAC in the under $300 range.

 

The basic setup you could use is PC > usb cable > DAC > RCA or XLR interconnects > amp. This setup would only be for playing music via Roon on your computer setup. As One and a half mentioned you'd need to use Roon endpoints to connect your three other stereo systems. With my setup I first found that adding a Sciit Wyrd between the computer and DAC cleaned up the usb signal a bit, currently I'm using an Uptone Regen that I pulled out of another system  instead of the Wyrd. So my current desktop setup is PC > usb > Regen > usb > DAC > XLR interconnects > amp. I'd suggest starting with just a DAC connected to your computer, no point in spending money on addon's if you don't need them.

 

Regards,

Mario 

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4 hours ago, marioed said:

 

When I first started out in this hobby I had one of the early Xonar Essence STX cards in my computer, switching to an external DAC was a vast improvement. 

 

As I said in the beginning, I wasn’t even initially  happy with the audio from the ASUS sound card.  I attributed my reaction in part at least to having such long time familiarity with its predecessor, an early Sound Blaster, which at the time, was their top of the line product.  Thanks to your remark, I’m inclined to  think the ASUS just isn’t that good.  I definitely want to move on.

4 hours ago, marioed said:

The basic setup you could use is PC > usb cable > DAC > RCA or XLR interconnects > amp. This setup would only be for playing music via Roon on your computer setup. As One and a half mentioned you'd need to use Roon endpoints to connect your three other stereo systems.

 

Displaying the audio chain makes sense to me.  I am grateful that both  you and One and a Half have laid out the chain for me.  It helps my mind sort out the way things work together and the new terminology associated with streaming.  

 

I’m also inclined to go the cheaper route you are suggesting for my computer.  Although I didn’t say so in the beginning, both Computers rank  lower than the living room audio and the TV room in terms of listening hours and need for high quality audio.  I’d rather put a network streamer in my TV room and go with a less expensive something for this computer.  And the other computer will need the same treatment.

 

I do get mentally lost with the differences between the Schiit Wyrd and the Uptown Regen.  And doesn’t the MicroRendu and Raspberry Pi get used in these places too?  I have a hard time understanding the differences.  I do get that the sound via USB is “dirty” in audio terms and I can see why someone would want what they do, but how do you choose?

 

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Hi Echolane,

 

I'm inclined to agree with you on the ASUS Xonar Essence cards, based on my experience it's not they are actually bad but they let a lot of computer noise through. 

 

Ok the Schiit Wyrd and Uptone Regen, they both kind of do the same thing in the sense that they both clean up the usb signal before it goes into a DAC. I'd say the Wyrd concentrates on cleaning up the power portion of the usb signal while the Regen cleans and regenerates the entire usb signal. The Wyrd has an on off switch which I like when using a usb powered DAC like the one I had in my desktop setup before I got the TEAC. You may not actually need to use either, that's why I suggested starting out with just a DAC. If you find that your getting for lack of a better term some 'grunge' in your sound then a device like the Wyrd, Regen or a third I use the Wyred 4 Sound Recovery USB Reclocker is likely to help. In chronological order the Wyrd came out first followed by the Regen and then the W4S Recovery. The purpose of all these devices is to clean up the usb signal and in the case of the Regen & Recovery reclock it.

 

At the time the Wyrd came out in my main system I was using a purpose built pc for my source and a W4S dac. Using usb from the pc into the W4S dac was giving me some noise so I was using spdif coax from the pc into the W4S. The problem was the W4S dac I had at the time only did 24/96 via spdif but could do 24/192 via usb so I decided to try the Wyrd and it cleaned things up allowing me to use usb. When Uptone Audio first released the Regen they were offering it at a very nice price so I got one and tried it out. It improved the sound a bit over the Wyred not by a huge amount but it was an improvement. I upgraded my W4S dac to a newer W4S dsd capable dac at about the same time that they released the Recovery at an introductory price, so I decided to get the Recovery as well. I also wanted to use the Regen in another system I was putting together. I think the Recovery does a bit better job than the Regen but I wouldn't argue the point too strongly.

 

So, as to how you choose if you have the money I'd recommend either the W4S Recovery (currently on sale at $149) or Uptone Regen (currently $175) over the Schiit Wyrd but as I said before I'd try just using an external DAC first. You may not need anything.

 

Now stuff like the MicroRendu, Raspberry Pi with hats and the SOtM sMS-200 perform a different function, they are network players or if your using Roon they're Roon endpoints. In the case of the MicroRendu & sMS-200 they are purpose built mini computers that transfer audio signals from a source computer or NAS over a network to your DAC. The Raspberry Pi with the appropriate hat is a DIY version of them. They are designed & built to minimize any usb noise, in theory eliminating the need for something like a Wyrd or Regen. They also allow you to isolate a physically noisy pc or NAS in another room. These are most likely the type of device you'd want to use to connect to your other stereo systems. I use two Rasberry Pi's with hats as Roon endpoints for system in my living room and bedroom. The hats I'm using are IQaudiO PiDAC Pro's. The systems in the living room & bedroom are mostly background music sources so the PiDAC Pro's are fine and eliminated the need to have separate dac's in those two systems.

 

I hope this clarifies things a bit for you.

 

Regards,

Mario

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Just thought of something to add, for your more critical listening areas the suggestion of One and a half to look at something like the Lumin D2 which combines the music server and DAC in one unit is a good one. When you put together the combined costs of a mid-level separate DAC, music server, power supply(s) and the various cables needed, as One and a half pointed out you're approaching the price of a D2. The downside of something like the D2 is it's somewhat difficult to upgrade or replace just one part. If you can give an idea as to what your budget is for doing your living room & TV room is we can probably give you some other suggestions.

 

Another thing, if possible deal with folks who will let you try the stuff you're interested in in your own home. Many companies and good audio stores will give you an audition period. What works really well in one system may not be that great in another system.

 

Regards,

Mario

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4 minutes ago, marioed said:

the suggestion of One and a half to look at something like the Lumin D2 which combines the music server and DAC in one unit is a good one. When you put together the combined costs of a mid-level separate DAC, music server, power supply(s) and the various cables needed, as One and a half pointed out you're approaching the price of a D2.

 

Agree.  With a network player like the Lumin D2 (with Ethernet input and analog outputs to integrated amplifier) one does not need to worry about cleaning up USB for improving sound quality.

 

8 minutes ago, marioed said:

The downside of something like the D2 is it's somewhat difficult to upgrade or replace just one part.

 

To upgrade the D2, one may consider moving up the Lumin product line.  Alternatively, one may also use the BNC-SPDIF output of D2 to an external DAC, while retaining the control via Lumin app or Roon, or other compatible apps such as Linn Kazoo, Bubble DS Next, Audirvana, JRiver, Spotify Connect, etc.

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    I am really grateful for such helpful and comprehensive ideas.  There is a lot to digest. I have to say that I feel like digital audio is so much more complicated the analog audio I am accustomed to!   But I’ve learned a lot here, enough to get me started.  

   It’s funny, I’ve recently  had the experience of buying the wrong piece of gear for my first venture into digital audio.  Now that I’ve learned a bit, I am finding it  very limiting, so part of me likes the idea of separates, so as has been pointed out, if a mistake is made it is easier and less expensive to switch course or move up.  But there is a lot to be said for an all in one solution because you can get buried in the complexities of choosing the right things to go together.  And knowing me, I am all too susceptible to getting  lost in the details.  I think I will be better off going for a product that puts a lot of it into one box, like the Lumin.

   So to immediately complicate that decision an acquaintance has just moments ago suggested I buy a Hugo Qutest, which of course I had to look up.  Turns out to be a pricey standalone DAC.   That’s like putting the most delicious looking prime rib  in front of me and making me salivate when I really need to be shopping for hamburger.    And then I’d still have to choose and fund  the other things to go with it.   I think my price range for this computer is definitely not at the price point of a Qutest!

  Off I go to do some homework.  Thanks much for the enlightening education!!! 

Regards,

  Janet 

  ps.  Had to look up so many things, including what is a “hat”.  I thought those were something for heads 😆😄

 

 

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4 minutes ago, Echolane said:

    I am really grateful for such helpful and comprehensive ideas.  There is a lot to digest. I have to say that I feel like digital audio is so much more complicated the analog audio I am accustomed to!   But I’ve learned a lot here, enough to get me started.  

   It’s funny, I’ve recently  had the experience of buying the wrong piece of gear for my first venture into digital audio.  Now that I’ve learned a bit, I am finding it  very limiting, so part of me likes the idea of separates, so as has been pointed out, if a mistake is made it is easier and less expensive to switch course or move up.  But there is a lot to be said for an all in one solution because you can get buried in the complexities of choosing the right things to go together.  And knowing me, I am all too susceptible to getting  lost in the details.  I think I will be better off going for a product that puts a lot of it into one box, like the Lumin.

   So to immediately complicate that decision an acquaintance has just moments ago suggested I buy a Hugo Qutest, which of course I had to look up.  Turns out to be a pricey standalone DAC.   That’s like putting the most delicious looking prime rib  in front of me and making me salivate when I really need to be shopping for hamburger.    And then I’d still have to choose and fund  the other things to go with it.   I think my price range for this computer is definitely not at the price point of a Qutest!

  Off I go to do some homework.  Thanks much for the enlightening education!!! 

Regards,

  Janet 

  ps.  Had to look up so many things, including what is a “hat”.  I thought those were something for heads 😆😄

 

 

Ah, a prime rib needs a plate, sides and cutlery too, a burger just needs two hands with a bit of mess 😉. It took me years to come full circle to arrive at a (two) box solution, oh well evolution.

 

Best of luck deciding, and let's know what the outcome is/was.

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Hi Echolane,

 

This may be 'coal to Newcastle' but as you're doing your homework think about what type of audio files & resolutions you'll want to play, like DSD and/or MQA and if you're likely to want to go higher than 24bit/192kHz. That will help narrow down your choices on a DAC. Another factor to consider is whether you need or want both RCA & XLR outputs on the DAC. I'd also suggest that at first you just concentrate on your computer system, replacing the Xonar card. Once you've got that sorted out you'll have more knowledge that can be applied towards setting up the other two systems.

 

The Chord Qutest is a very nice DAC, I replaced my W4S with one but it's not for everyone and does have a few quirks if you use a Linux based OS on the source computer/music server, which most music servers do. 

 

As One and a half said, best of luck deciding and feel free to ask us more questions.

 

Regards,

Mario

 

 

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Something you might want to consider is the Allo Katana:

 

https://allo.com/sparky/katana-player.html

 

Basically it's a network DAC.  You can connect it to your ethernet network or directly to your computer using a network bridge.  This way you avoid the whole USB issue altogether.  If you order the DietPi software option it is Roon-ready and very easy to set up.  The only complicated thing is the power supply.  They recommend separate power supplies for each component but to get started you can use any 5V/3A wall wart.  Then you can investicated higher-end power supplies as you go.  I have not heard it but I use the Allo Usbridge as a link between my computer and my USB DAC and it's a very nice-sounding piece.  I'm tempted to try the Katana.  Just a thought!

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13 hours ago, marioed said:

This may be 'coal to Newcastle' but as you're doing your homework think about what type of audio files & resolutions you'll want to play, like DSD and/or MQA and if you're likely to want to go higher than 24bit/192kHz. That will help narrow down your choices on a DAC. Another factor to consider is whether you need or want both RCA & XLR outputs on the DAC. I'd also suggest that at first you just concentrate on your computer system, replacing the Xonar card. Once you've got that sorted out you'll have more knowledge that can be applied towards setting up the other two systems.

 

    I don’t need the best or priciest at my computer.  I could wish for better DSD for my living room audio system.  MQA would be nice to have, but I can’t seem to get all excited about it yet. I don’t have any gear with XLR (though I wish I did).   But all this talk has me thinking about revisiting my living room audio system instead.  I could move my Audio Alchemy DDP-1, DMP-1 and PS5 Power supply from there to my computer and replace them with something better. My favorites that I’ve lusted after would be the PS Audio Direct Stream DAC or. the Mytek Brooklyn, or one of the new Naim streamers.  It’s been months since I was last checking them out, and new products seem to come out so fast, there is probably newer/better out there already!

  I can get really buried in this sort of thing; I know it’ll take me awhile to decide something.  Meanwhile, something has come up.  I’ve been trying to bring Roon up and am struggling with some issues, so until I’ve got them figured out, this is on the back burner for at least a day or two.

 

    

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Roon does a VERY great job of converting DSD to PCM, dare I say, a DSD capable DAC is not warranted. Since my DSD DAC failed, for the last months being listening to S/PDIF in a few variations and I don't miss the DSD native. I'd say about 40% of my library is DSD, so it's important to have a method to play that content. That opens up a wide choice of DAC. Apart from Playback Designs, EMM, DCS and PS AUDIO, DSD playback is an also ran, and the bare minimum of effort is applied to make this happen.

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I had to look up EMM as I’d never heard of them before, only to come across this incredibly positive review of their $25,000 DAC.  The reviewer drops just short of calling this the best DAC in the world.  If only money were no object.....

https://www.soundstagehifi.com/index.php/equipment-reviews/1081-emm-labs-da2-reference-digital-to-analog-converter

it would definitely process all your DSD library of music!

 

As for Roon, it’s too soon to comment constructively as I’ve had a great many obstacles to jump over.  I have at least one more to go and it’s an important one to me. It has to do with metadata.   I’d explain, but there are just too many details.

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I was in your same position (upgrading from an Xonar STX II) and looked at various options. I'm fortunate to have a good local hi-fi shop in my city and they spent hours going through various external DAC upgrade options. I found in my testing that a DAC's output stage had the biggest effect on the sound quality in my system. I found a class A output stage in the DAC resulted in the best sound quality. You might want to explore DACs with a class A output stage (FYI they tend to get pricey but can be found on the used market for reasonable prices). Good luck on your upgrade quest.

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That’s interesting!  Is Class A the same Class A found in power amplifiers?

 

At moments like this, I long for the days when there was a good audio shop in nearly every town.  Now I have to travel quite a distance to find someplace that I could listen and/or audition.

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It looks like you have had a great set of selections to start looking at.  From looking at the photograph of your desk system I am concerned about the high power wireless router right there on the desk by the speakers and the wiring of the audio system.  I think that you could be interfering with your audio system.  It could also be messing with your monitor!

 

I run Roon in my systems and my Mac is run as an endpoint to a Schiit Wyred and Schiit Lyr3 multibit DAC.  I am looking at setting up a Roon endpoint using one of the inexpensive Intel NUC devices to stop using the USB out of the computer to see how it can improve the sound.

 

Bob

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1 hour ago, Echolane said:

That’s interesting!  Is Class A the same Class A found in power amplifiers?

 

At moments like this, I long for the days when there was a good audio shop in nearly every town.  Now I have to travel quite a distance to find someplace that I could listen and/or audition.

A lot of audio companies that do direct sales offer some pretty generous home trial periods so do some of the online audio shops.

 

Adding on to One and a half's last post, with the W4S dac I had I found the best sound in my system came from upsampling everything to DSD 256 using HQPlayer through Roon. With the Qutest I'm finding the best sound is to run PCM as PCM and DSD as DSD with no upsampling.

 

Bob, At the moment I have Roon Rock running on an Intel NUC 7i5, I'm still trying to decide if I prefer running directly from Roon Rock or from a second older NUC 5i3 with Windows 10 OS and HQPlayer & Roon Bridge on it. As it stands now I don't hear much difference with PCM but I think DSD sounds slightly better via HQPlayer/Roon. I'd be interested in what you find.

 

Regards,

Mario 

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