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DonaldT2109

Beginner's shopping list priorities

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Hi everybody

 

Having retired, I have a lot of time on my hands and want to put together a decent system

 

I know it is a big question, but I am trying to put together a list of component importance.  Most of my content is a mixture of MP3 and FLAC, but all digital, no need for a deck or CD player

 

I seem to remember the advice of 'working backwards' i.e. without decent speakers.... forget it

 

I would imagine that the DAC must be of a very high importance as it is the part that will reconstitute the digital information into the original sampled analogue. Are some better at FLAC and others at MP3 ?  Do some understand the sampling algorithms better than others.

 

I know which elements have absolutely no impact on the resultant sound.  USB and TOSLINK cables etc (in fact, most cables)

(Please do not try to tell me that one USB cable or TOSLINK cable can make a difference to the sound. I have worked in analogue and data communications since 1968 and lectured on the subject for a number of years. I can tell you with absolute certainty that USB cables are pieces of dumb wire that have absolutely no idea of what they are transferring and can not, in this universe, change the contents of digital files to 'sound better' or 'improve the bass')  and PLEASE NO DISCUSSION ON THIS  

 

I think the list may start

1.  Speakers
2.  DAC
3.
4.  

etc

 

My thanks in advance

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If starting from scratch, this is the path for me:

Speakers-Amp (or Active/Powered speakers): Speaker/Amp matching is important (to me)

DAC

Network

Playback Software

Music storage

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20 minutes ago, DonaldT2109 said:

I would imagine that the DAC must be of a very high importance as it is the part that will reconstitute the digital information into the original sampled analogue. Are some better at FLAC and others at MP3 ?  Do some understand the sampling algorithms better than others.

The DAC is of course important, but even a modestly priced one can perform well enough that its distortion is dwarfed by that of the amp and speakers. As for formats, DACs do not generally handle FLAC or MP3 directly, relying instead on software decoding those to plain PCM.

 

23 minutes ago, DonaldT2109 said:

Please do not try to tell me that one USB cable or TOSLINK cable can make a difference to the sound.

You're off to a good start. Apply that same logical thinking to the rest of the system, and you'll do just fine.

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Hi

I am also a retiree.  After many years of trying to be an audiophile: DACs, tube amps, tower speakers, room treatments etc., I sold everything and settled on my end game system... KEF LS50W powered speakers.  To my ears, and in my smallish listening room, these are great value for my money.  Have a read of the many reviews on line.

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15 minutes ago, [email protected] said:

Hi

I am also a retiree.  After many years of trying to be an audiophile: DACs, tube amps, tower speakers, room treatments etc., I sold everything and settled on my end game system... KEF LS50W powered speakers.  To my ears, and in my smallish listening room, these are great value for my money.  Have a read of the many reviews on line.

Seconded from me.

 

I've got a system with a pair of KEF LS50 Wireless speakers on KEF Perfomance stands and a KEF R400b sub woofer which sounds great in a large room. That is all you need as it is a complete system. I have a USB drive attached to my router with my music on it. The router runs the OpenWrt OS and I've installed MiniDLNA on it to serve the music to the KEFs. The OP didn't say what his budget is, but if there is any money left over you can spend it on acoustic treatment for the room.

 

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Well, thanks for the replies everbody

 

I will try to absorb and come back with any questions

 

@mansr  I don't understand what you mean by "As for formats, DACs do not generally handle FLAC or MP3 directly, relying instead on software decoding those to plain PCM"  Surely the DAC is the part which decodes digital into analogue ?  If not, where in my sound system would that software reside.

 

also @mansr       what do you mean by "Apply that same logical thinking to the rest of the system, and you'll do just fine.""     ?

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1 hour ago, DonaldT2109 said:

Hi everybody

 

Having retired, I have a lot of time on my hands and want to put together a decent system

 

I know it is a big question, but I am trying to put together a list of component importance.  Most of my content is a mixture of MP3 and FLAC, but all digital, no need for a deck or CD player

 

I seem to remember the advice of 'working backwards' i.e. without decent speakers.... forget it

 

I would imagine that the DAC must be of a very high importance as it is the part that will reconstitute the digital information into the original sampled analogue. Are some better at FLAC and others at MP3 ?  Do some understand the sampling algorithms better than others.

 

I know which elements have absolutely no impact on the resultant sound.  USB and TOSLINK cables etc (in fact, most cables)

(Please do not try to tell me that one USB cable or TOSLINK cable can make a difference to the sound. I have worked in analogue and data communications since 1968 and lectured on the subject for a number of years. I can tell you with absolute certainty that USB cables are pieces of dumb wire that have absolutely no idea of what they are transferring and can not, in this universe, change the contents of digital files to 'sound better' or 'improve the bass')  and PLEASE NO DISCUSSION ON THIS  

 

I think the list may start

1.  Speakers
2.  DAC
3.
4.  

etc

 

My thanks in advance

Hi Donald,

 

Good advice so far.

 

If you are looking for suggestions on actual components then we will need

 

1. a total budget for the system, as well as a list of items you already own (in case they can be reused)

 

2. the dimensions of your room and its finishes.

 

3. who will be listening - is the system for critical listening solely by yourself in a designated room, or for use by others who may have less technical knowledge. Reason being is that some front ends are more user friendly than others. Will you require multi room?

 

4. How much time have you really got? Do you think that you would be interested in tinkering with DIY projects, which can be very cost effective. Would you be happy to prow second hand sites and pawn shops, which can provide 50% savings (and more) on high quality gear. This site's Market Place, Canuck, eBay, Audio Mart are sources of good gear, however, the usual caveats apply. 

 

As with everything the more information we have the better we can advise you.

 

e..g. the KEF LS50 speakers nominated above are an excellent choice but require a good quality power amp of at least 100 watts to really shine and may require a sub (s) if they are to be located in a large room (and two subs are better than one as the room nodes etc are reduced).The subs will require proper implementation, which can be done either by ear connecting the KEFs via the sub's internal crossover, however, better results can be obtained using DSP and an active crossover. Have a look at the article on the home page of this site by Mitchco for more information.

 

Not trying to complicate things, it's just good to have this information so we can put you on the right track and help you get the best bang for your. We have all heard excellent inexpensive systems that easily out shine those costing many times more.

 

All the best,

 

 

Ajax

 

 

 

 

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5 minutes ago, DonaldT2109 said:

Well, thanks for the replies everbody

 

I will try to absorb and come back with any questions

 

@mansr  I don't understand what you mean by "As for formats, DACs do not generally handle FLAC or MP3 directly, relying instead on software decoding those to plain PCM"  Surely the DAC is the part which decodes digital into analogue ?  If not, where in my sound system would that software reside.

Whatever music player you use will handle the decoding of compressed formats to PCM. The DAC then converts this to analogue.

 

5 minutes ago, DonaldT2109 said:

also @mansr       what do you mean by "Apply that same logical thinking to the rest of the system, and you'll do just fine.""     ?

Just that you seem to have an understanding of the relevant engineering concepts.

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Thanks for the quick reply mansr

 

Let me see if I can get this right (although I have spent my whole life in networking and communications, I am slightly green in audio)

 

Somewhere in a studio , lets hope Deutsche Grammophon, (I am not that green) the Berliner Philharmoniker is recorded producing the definitive Beethoven's 5th to a master. That master is digitized. It is now (excuse me) ones and zeros

 

So you are saying it is the software in my PC that determines how well the digitized sound is reconstructed, not the DAC ??

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4 minutes ago, Ajax said:

 

e..g. the KEF LS50 speakers nominated above are an excellent choice but require a good quality power amp of at least 100 watts to really shine and may require a sub (s) if they are to be located in a large room (and two subs are better than one as the room nodes etc are reduced).The subs will require proper implementation, which can be done either by ear connecting the KEFs via the sub's internal crossover, however, better results can be obtained using DSP and an active crossover. Have a look at the article on the home page of this site by Mitchco for more information.

Good suggestions.

 

But one correction - we're both recommending the KEF LS50 *Wireless* speakers which are active an so they don't need an amplifier or DAC or a local music server. They are a complete system. I use a single R400b sub woofer which is connected to the sub woofer output of the right hand master speaker. The sub woofer crossover frequency and level can be controlled by the KEF control app that runs on an iPad or android phone. This configuration means you have an active sub woofer crossover, and I have the LS50 rolling off at 70 Hz, and the sub woofer coming in at 70 Hz. I use a single sub in a large 10m x 4m x 3m room and it really drives the room well. Maybe your suggestion to use two subs might be a good idea depending on the room, but just one seems to be working well for me.

 

 

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8 minutes ago, DonaldT2109 said:

So you are saying it is the software in my PC that determines how well the digitized sound is reconstructed, not the DAC ??

No, that's not what I meant to say. The DAC accepts a stream of digital samples (PCM) and converts it to an analogue signal. To save storage space, music files are typically compressed using FLAC, MP3, or some other algorithm. Think of it as zip compression tuned specially for audio. The DAC can't handle these formats directly, so the player software has to decompress the files to raw PCM, still digital, before the DAC can do its thing.

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so If I understand it now

 

Player software only decompresses from FLAC or MP3 to PCM

Sends PCM file to DAC which has to understand how the file was originally compressed to de-compress to original analogue ?

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4 minutes ago, DonaldT2109 said:

so If I understand it now

 

Player software only decompresses from FLAC or MP3 to PCM

Correct.

 

4 minutes ago, DonaldT2109 said:

Sends PCM file to DAC

Right.

 

4 minutes ago, DonaldT2109 said:

which has to understand how the file was originally compressed to de-compress to original analogue ?

No, the DAC doesn't care how the PCM samples might have been encoded. Once the files have been decompressed, the earlier format no longer matters.

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13 minutes ago, Richard Dale said:

Good suggestions.

 

But one correction - we're both recommending the KEF LS50 *Wireless* speakers which are active an so they don't need an amplifier or DAC or a local music server. They are a complete system. I use a single R400b sub woofer which is connected to the sub woofer output of the right hand master speaker. The sub woofer crossover frequency and level can be controlled by the KEF control app that runs on an iPad or android phone. This configuration means you have an active sub woofer crossover, and I have the LS50 rolling off at 70 Hz, and the sub woofer coming in at 70 Hz. I use a single sub in a large 10m x 4m x 3m room and it really drives the room well. Maybe your suggestion to use two subs might be a good idea depending on the room, but just one seems to be working well for me.

 

 

Hi Richard,

 

You are quite right.

 

I just skimmed the thread and did not note your referral to "powered speakers",  and I was thinking of the original LS50s that obviously need an amp. In any case I would imagine your solution would produce a very cost effective high quality performance.

 

It depends on whether the OP is looking for the convenience of an "all in one" vs "upgradable".  

 

Hi Donald,

 

One other thing to think of is whether or not you will want to stream from sources such as Spotify and Tidal, or will you just be playing local files. I would strongly suggest your system have the capacity to stream as it is a great way to find new music and IMO should form part of your system. I use both as I listen to Tidal for critical listening and my family use Spotify for the convenience and social aspect and are not so concerned with sound quality. 

 

All the best,

 

Ajax

 

 

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1 minute ago, DonaldT2109 said:

so If I understand it now

 

Player software only decompresses from FLAC or MP3 to PCM

Sends PCM file to DAC which has to understand how the file was originally compressed to de-compress to original analogue ?

No the DAC just receives PCM from the music player and it doesn't have to know how the file was originally compressed. If the music player decompresses an MP3 or a FLAC to 16 bits depth and 44.1 KHz bit rate by the time they get to the DAC they are the same from the DACs point of view. Different digital files can have different bit depths and bit rates though such as 24 bits at 96 KHz bit rate, and so the DAC doesn't always see the same format of PCM. The DAC doesn't decompress to the original analog, you would normally say it converts to the original analog - hence Digital to Analog Converter.

 

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@mansr       

 

so it is the PC software that understands exactly how the audio was encoded to digital

 

In which case the DAC is now at the bottom of my list of importance and PC software up to the top

 

@ Ajax

 

I have no interest in any content except my huge  library of FLAC (and some MP3)

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1 hour ago, DonaldT2109 said:

 

so it is the PC software that understands exactly how the audio was encoded to digital

 

In which case the DAC is now at the bottom of my list of importance and PC software up to the top

 

 

The software simply sends the digital data on the hard drive to the DAC.

 

The DAC converts this digital data to an analog signal and, thus, will have more of an impact on the final sound due to differing chips, filters, conversion circuitry, power supplies, interfaces, etc. 

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to add to the top of you component importance list...

 

- the speakers, yes

- treatments for the room (the speaker "interacts" with the room!)

- AND better masterings/recordings of your favorite program material - e.g. HiRes or MFSL, etc. <<<---- not a component, but something you can change sometimes

 

besides confirmation bias, people may actually be hearing real differences with different USB cables due to noise transmission - for DACs that do not contain adequate circuits to deal with this, Schiit makes a low cost device, the Eitr

 

Now, whether the DAC or the amp makes a larger difference in SQ is an interesting question, and likely is affected by how well an amp 'interfaces' with the speakers

 

I can give you a short list of under $2,000 DACs if that is where you are at now.

 

Likewise if you want speakers...

 

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Quote
2 hours ago, DonaldT2109 said:

 

so it is the PC software that understands exactly how the audio was encoded to digital

 

In which case the DAC is now at the bottom of my list of importance and PC software up to the top

 

Read more  

 

The software simply sends the digital data on the hard drive to the DAC.

 

The DAC converts this digital data to an analog signal and, thus, will have more of an impact on the final sound due to differing chips, filters, conversion circuitry, power supplies, interfaces, etc. 

Upvote

Hold on

 

I have one person saying that the software simply sends the digital data to the DAC which means that the DAC must have the ability to reconstitute the original sound

 

..... and somebody else saying that the DAC simply takes the PCM which has been decoded by the PC software

 

Both can not be right

 

 

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14 minutes ago, DonaldT2109 said:

Hold on

 

I have one person saying that the software simply sends the digital data to the DAC which means that the DAC must have the ability to reconstitute the original sound

 

..... and somebody else saying that the DAC simply takes the PCM which has been decoded by the PC software

 

Both can not be right

 

 

Both of the above statements are correct. The only digital data that gets sent to the DAC is PCM. The process of converting the PCM data to analog in the DAC is quite complex, and so it isn't a matter of saying 'the DAC simply takes the PCM...'. The decoding of FLAC or MP3 to PCM in the music player software is much less complex than converting PCM to an analog signal in the DAC.

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OK so the most important part to make sure I hear the music exactly as recorded is the PC software as it decodes the FLAC or MP3

 

Not what I thought but it is a start

 

So new list is

 

1 PC software

2 Amp/speakers

3 DAC

 

Irrelevant        cables

irrelevant        network

 

 

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8 minutes ago, DonaldT2109 said:

 

So new list is

 

1 PC software

2 Amp/speakers

3 DAC

 

 

I would place "PC software" at the bottom of your list as every software player converts the data on the drive to the same PCM data.

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