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help! im just starting out!


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Hey all! I just stumbled onto your fantastic website a few days ago and I cant believe how much I've learnt about improving PC sound over these past few days!

 

I'm thinking about a PC & DAC solution to my music problems and I've just got a few issues I need to iron out before I can get around to building my system from scratch.

 

Firstly I'm just confused why there is so much discussion over the internal soundcard if we are just bypassing it through the DAC in the first place? If a digital signal is being sent out, then nothing needs to be processed within the PC right? If this isn't the case, then what is a good internal soundcard that you would recommend? I'm quite keen on the M-Audio Audiophile 192, but it doesn't have a USB output.

 

This brings me to my next issue. Is it a big deal whether i output it through USB or TOSLINK or SPDIF? I plan on buying the new Cambridge DAC Magic. I plan to link my TV, PC and old Marantz CD5400 CD player though the DAC and unfortunately the Cambridge only has 2 SPDIF/TOSLINK inputs and a USB input. This would mean the only input left is the USB input. Alternatively I could find a soundcard with a optical input that I could put my TV through. What do you guys think about that?

 

Think that's all for now, but I would appreciate any words of advice! Thanks

 

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Hi all,

 

as the previosly speaker I just stumbled over this fantastic site! I have the same kind of question. Currently I have a Windows based Media Center (running Media Portal) where I've converted all my CDs to Apple Lossless and plays them through a Arcam 65+ amplifier with Audiovector K3 speakers with an ordinary soundcard in my computer. It's not great but since this MediaCenter also handles TV, photos, weather, movies etc my family loves the system.

 

I've been trying to understand how an external DAC would improve the system and also I have been looking at Cambridge Audio DacMagic (200€ in Sweden). If i connect this via the USB interface, will I then in my computer have an "additional" soundcard that I can select and use in my MediaPlayer or is it working in a different way? I've also heard that USB is not the best interface for transferring music, so does this work at all?

 

At my local HiFi shop they recomended me buying a RME Hammerfall soundcard instead, any opinions about this? According to their opinion using USB is mediocre and connecting the DAC via SPDIF from my soundcard isn't very much better (since my existing soundcard would mess up the signal). Do I need a new soundcard to be able to cennect the DAC?

 

Looking forward to any replies for us new beginners!

 

Sincerely yours,

 

Roger

 

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Hi both,

 

The only way to avoid the PC's internal "noise" is to use an external soundcard, or use a DAC with USB input.

Using the PC's internal soundcard (brand does not matter) is the worst you can do and which is unrelated to just spitting out SPDIF.

 

Using USB can work allright, although you must understand how to deal with it properly. This means for instance that it is not "allowed" to have USB disks connected to the same USB hub because they will have priority then (when used).

Furthermore USB has quite some downsides, although depending on the DAC used, but generally you can say that 99% of DACs won't allow for using more than 16 bits and/or 48KHz (the DACs may, but the receiver chips in there will not). And, might you encounter an USB DAC which does allow e.g. 24/96, most probably (or certainly :-) the interface is not standard USB which may incur for problems at the Player side.

 

The best thing to do generally is have an outboard FireWire soundcard, and the Fireface400 is a good option for that. Yes, the solution is relatively expensive for just passing through SPDIF up to 24/192 (you *will not* be using the Fireface DAC itself), but this is a proven good solution (by me and many of my users).

Do not forget to buy a good FireWire interface (PCI) card, because the FireWire from motherboards are just not right (tinny less wide sound in general). The Texas Instruments chipset generally is good. Don't get yourself disturbed by tests that show the card isn't that speedy (they differ on that matter), which is of no importance here.

 

So, keep in mind that your decision for USB (which just doesn't need a soundcard) or the outboard soundcard depends largely on your wishes for the hirez formats. Thus, choose for USB and you probably won't be able to join that club.

 

HTH,

Peter

 

 

Lush^3-e      Lush^2      Blaxius^2      Ethernet^2     HDMI^2     XLR^2

XXHighEnd (developer)

Phasure NOS1 24/768 Async USB DAC (manufacturer)

Phasure Mach III Audio PC with Linear PSU (manufacturer)

Orelino & Orelo MKII Speakers (designer/supplier)

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You could also use an Aiport Express. Used in conjunction with iTunes this works well for me. It's limited to 16 bit 44khz - and whilst I know there are a number of people who can hear the difference between hi res files and standard CD quality, I'm happy for now. I'll be comparing a wide range of options soon.

 

You could also try Foobar, bypass the Windows K-Mixer or Vista equivalent using WASAPI or ASIO and see what you think. These plug ins stop Windows resampling your sound but still uses your internal DAC - but only if a file needs resampling (I think).

 

Google c-media code and you'll find a guy has written drivers for two C-Media chipsets which pass a digital signal with no interruption. This is the cheapest method to simply get a decent bit stream out to your DAC. I'm about to test this - hopefully this week. I'll compare to the Airport Express.

 

 

Now I have a question - the outboard Firewire soundcard mentioned above - does that avoid any Windows processing ?

 

 

 

HTPC: AMD Athlon 4850e, 4GB, Vista, BD/HD-DVD into -> ADM9.1

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I also found this site yesterday. So far the people are informed and much friendlier than other sites. I have a similar setup to rogerOlofsson: "It's not great but since this MediaCenter also handles TV, photos, weather, movies etc my family loves the system."

 

Don't think that you need to make compromises because you have a HTPC. My setup is similar. I use Meedio, it's an alternative front end to MediaCenter. Basically all the TV, DVD, and Blu-Ray multichannel audio is connected via SPDIF. I use an external DAC connected using USB for 2-channel audio. Meedio changes the output from the default sound card to the USB DAC and also changes the input on my preamp. It's worked perfect for almost two years now.

 

If you are interested in audio resolutions above 16/44.1 I would listen to what other experts have to say. It's not so straight forward!

 

 

 

Windows 7 X64 running iTunes, Airport Express, Musiland MD-10 DAC, DIY cables, RMB-1066, Paradigm Studio 10 V.5 speakers

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I believe the issue is how to bypass Windows KMixer and get bit perfect output from the PC. Once you do that then all the typical issues about DACs apply. I would start by looking at ASIO complaint sound cards. I don't use Windows for this anymore so things might have changed over the past year or so.

 

I also think thats why folks mention different audio cards, so you can get something that "fools" Windows into leaving the signal alone and output ASIO.

 

From WIKI for what it's worth - ASIO bypasses the normal audio path from the user application through layers of intermediary Windows operating system software, so that the application connects directly to the soundcard hardware. Each layer that is bypassed means a reduction in latency, the delay between an application sending sound to the sound being reproduced by the soundcard. In this way ASIO offers a relatively simple way of accessing multiple audio inputs and outputs independently. Its main strength lies in its method of bypassing the inherently high latency of operating system audio mixing kernels (KMixer), allowing direct, high speed communication with audio hardware. Unlike KMixer, an unmixed ASIO output is "bit identical", that is, the bits sent to the sound card are identical to those of the original WAV file, thus having higher audio fidelity.

 

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Hi BEEMB,

 

I must say, I have some difficulties with understanding how you think things work. Also, IMHHHO you go beyond the question of the O.P. and will make things even more confusing because of that.

 

Yes, it is true that "bit perfect" is better than not.

It is true sometimes that soundcards resample by themselves, but this is rare and for el cheapos only.

So in an attempt to answer your question : The FF400 does not resample on its own, and avoiding Windows processing is not in order.

 

Now *I* can make things more complicated by telling that RME has unsigned drivers that indeed "avoid" windows processing, but that counts for XP only. On Vista they don't work. These drivers - to my own experience - do not work correctly in all circumstances, and that is why the are "unsigned".

 

The CMedia drivers you mention -to me- are in the leage of being dangerous, and unnecessary because they don't fulfill a job wich can't be fulfilled otherwise. You said it yourself, use ASIO or WASAPI (or Kernal Streaming on XP (and Vista in some circumstances). How this is related to "still use your internal DAC" as you said it, is beyond me, and if I knew how you are thinking, I'd explain it. :-) Anyway, your "own" DAC is used always, or always not, and it is by no means related to the OS resampling (or not).

 

Peter

 

PS: I think you know how it works, but possibly your wording makes it confusing ?

 

Lush^3-e      Lush^2      Blaxius^2      Ethernet^2     HDMI^2     XLR^2

XXHighEnd (developer)

Phasure NOS1 24/768 Async USB DAC (manufacturer)

Phasure Mach III Audio PC with Linear PSU (manufacturer)

Orelino & Orelo MKII Speakers (designer/supplier)

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Peter,

 

Maybe it is my wording.

 

Firstly, I was attempting to answer the question and the Aiport Express is an easy way to set up a decent sounding system. I-Tunes -> A-Express -> DAC and so on.

 

The C-Media drivers have been used by many people and the author has received much praise. I'm certainly going to try this out and compare it to the Airport Express.

 

Maybe with regard to the last section I am confused. Lets see. I know that by using ASIO or WASAPI Windows does not interfere with your sound. What happens thereafter ? Let's say I've got a sound chip on my motherboard, my understanding is that it will resample the digital stream to it's own sample rate ? Is that correct ? Or are you saying that by using ASIO or WASAPI, using digital out (optical or coax), it's a bit perfect signal going out to my external DAC .. I'm sure that's not the case with a cheap soundcard where the drivers have not been programmed to do as such.

 

In order to achieve a bit perfect output, I understand the following are taken into account:

 

Media Player (since not all support ASIO, WASAPI)

ASIO or WASAPI to by-pass Windows K-Mixer (or Vista equivalent)

The soundcard you're using

The drivers for the soundcard.

 

Correct me if I'm wrong. Maybe it's the way I'm explaining it ...

 

Matt

 

 

 

 

 

HTPC: AMD Athlon 4850e, 4GB, Vista, BD/HD-DVD into -> ADM9.1

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Hi Matt,

 

The C-Media drivers have been used by many people and the author has received much praise.

 

Which he receives because he needs it, kicks on it. When XXHighEnd still was the only WASAPI player the only thing he could do was blathering around that it was stupid to use XXHighEnd because his driver made things bit perfect just the same, and, of course, his driver is for free.

Then one of my users (the only one I know using his drivers) blew his tweeters, and the CMedia man blamed XXHighEnd. Later he admitted that there was a small bug in his driver.

So now you know why *I* said it exactly the other way around : there is no need to use such a driver, because players can do it on their own (being bit perfect).

 

Mind you, on these forums we should talk about sound quality and *then* choose for such a driver (or not), although I am not completely sure this forum can keep on heading that direction (it's just difficult).

Drivers too (and where they recide) can make a difference for SQ, and it is this why soundcards differ already. Not that the driver makes the sound, but unwillingly the DAC is influenced.

Right, *now* you are confused.

 

In order to achieve a bit perfect output, I understand the following are taken into account:

Media Player (since not all support ASIO, WASAPI)

 

I don't understand (at all) what you are saying here. This is probably because I know what is going on ? But let me tell you : for Vista there is one, and one player only which will NEVER be bit perfect, and that is WMP. This is just strategy, and logic if you know what KMixer is for (no, I am not going to explain :-).

So now you know why I don't understand you.:-)

 

To give you the hunch of it all better : Try to differentiate between bypassing Kmixer, and using means that don't have KMixer in the chain at all. Examples of the latter are ASIO, Kernel streaming for XP, and WASAPI Exclusive Mode. Example of the first are tweaked settings in XP, drivers which can bypass (like from RME, your CMedia).

 

ASIO (from Steinberg), Kernel Streaming (originally from MS itself), WASAPI (MS) are complete separate means that actually don't belong in the PC, and which can destroy the sounds of other programs (who cares). WASAPI officially belongs there of course, but so far it failed. It is unfinished, and was setup wrongly (says who ? me). ASIO has good latency, Kernel Streaming the worse, and WASAPI the best, if you use it properly (with WASAPI, as a programmer, you can built your own audio streaming, or better, the very first on this globe (which was me) just *had* to do that, because no examples existed.

So, these means provide a bit perfect stream towards the soundcard.

Lush^3-e      Lush^2      Blaxius^2      Ethernet^2     HDMI^2     XLR^2

XXHighEnd (developer)

Phasure NOS1 24/768 Async USB DAC (manufacturer)

Phasure Mach III Audio PC with Linear PSU (manufacturer)

Orelino & Orelo MKII Speakers (designer/supplier)

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for Vista there is one, and one player only which will NEVER be bit perfect, and that is WMP.

 

I realize that this needs some context :

 

I was talking about WASAPI only, being the one and only official MS means to have a bit perfect stream towards the soundcard (or USB DAC). Thus, with the CMedia driver (I think) it can be done anyway, and WMP with ASIO (I suppose that is supported) also works bit perfect.

 

The point is : MS says KMixer (Vista variant -> it's called Audio Engine in there) should be used always, otherwise you won't be able to hear your email coming in during listening to music. Understand ? hahaha

So MS just don't allow WMP to use WASAPI Exclusive Mode (the latter needed to not let "mix in" other sounds), and never will.

 

Peter

 

Lush^3-e      Lush^2      Blaxius^2      Ethernet^2     HDMI^2     XLR^2

XXHighEnd (developer)

Phasure NOS1 24/768 Async USB DAC (manufacturer)

Phasure Mach III Audio PC with Linear PSU (manufacturer)

Orelino & Orelo MKII Speakers (designer/supplier)

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Peter,

 

When I listed the four items that determine your playback, by media player, I meant the media player software that you are using. I know about the issues with WMP.

 

Interesting information re the blown tweeter using the C Media drivers - I'll still have a play around though .... ... .. there are many peopl out there enjoying the driver + card. I enjoy playing around, testing etc etc.

 

Leading on from your point regarding external / internal sound cards; many people do not have hundreds of dollars/pounds to spend on an interface such as the one you own. In order to answer the original question posted on this forum (since us two have gone a little off topic) could you recommend external interfaces that you know will do the job of providing a bit perfect, clean signal to a DAC. (At various price points).

 

Internal vs external is interesting ... I;d enjoy comparing your Fireface to Chris' internal Lynx card ...

 

 

Matt.

 

HTPC: AMD Athlon 4850e, 4GB, Vista, BD/HD-DVD into -> ADM9.1

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Matt,

 

FYI I don't even have the Fireface400, I have the 800. So yes, even more ridiculeous, but a more versatile device as well.

It is very hard to recommend others, because I never listened myself to others. So the only thing I dare to say, is when you buy the FF400 you will be doing it right for sure. It even reclocks the SPDIF data.

 

there are many peopl out there enjoying the driver + card.

 

To be honest, that one user I have is very happy just the same, and for the 12-16 $ for that card ...

Thus, I usually trust my users, although of course I never get the chance to listen to their systems. Their whole setup tells enough usually ...

 

many people do not have hundreds of dollars/pounds

 

Of course they have, unless the origine is DIY.

But if you're after the best sound ever (meaning : use Mac/PC for it), you will spend that money too, besides the xxK already spent. The point is, very few people (and I am sure on this forum just the same) are not so far that they take it for granted that the PC environment just *does* bring the best you ever heard. But then you have to do it right, and that is hard without all the knowledge needed.

I am sorry, and I don't want to offend anyone, but using iTunes is the very last I would do ...

So you see, things are a bit dual here.

 

Peter

 

Lush^3-e      Lush^2      Blaxius^2      Ethernet^2     HDMI^2     XLR^2

XXHighEnd (developer)

Phasure NOS1 24/768 Async USB DAC (manufacturer)

Phasure Mach III Audio PC with Linear PSU (manufacturer)

Orelino & Orelo MKII Speakers (designer/supplier)

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so let me get this straight...with USB soundcard doesnt matter?

 

True. There's just no soundcard involved.

 

I know with USB u can only get up to 24/96, but in some circumstances lower rates.

 

Almost true. Only in rare circumstances you will be able to use 24/96 ...

 

Does this have to do with the DAC, USB cable or soundcard?

 

... because of the receiver chips in the DAC and the relatively cheap solution for the manufacturers (or you yourself) to create the design and build it. But there is no law telling that it can't work, and some DACs exist.

 

This is a psychological problem as well;

USB DACs are mainly there because they can be built cheaply. So there you have it.

Personally I do *not* think USB DACs are there, or should be there because they can avoid a sound card and the problems coming from that by itself. This by itself is related to USB probably (or possibly) not being the best transport means regarding jitter, or whatever it is that make them sound less good. Careful, because this is my personal perceivement from what I read on the Net, though including my own USB DAC which can connect to coax (SPDIF) just the same;

It is all rather complicated, because at a wink we're comparing apples and oranges, meaning : E.g. my DAC converts USB to SPDIF once it's inside. Is that good ? probably not. It can just as well go the other way around : SPDIF being converted to USB. Why ? because the actual DAC *chip* might have an USB input (like a PCM2704), and design wise it may come off handy to use it, *and* to use it as the only input (but offer SPDIF compatibility just the same).

Ask Gordon here, he knows much more about these angles and pitfalls, and how expensive an USB DAC becomes when doing it *all* right, if possible at all.

Never forget : it is not about making the conversions/connections only, because there is always jitter (in the wrong place) involved, and you don't only want your DAC connected, but also want good sound from it.

 

This brings me to my next issue. Is it a big deal whether i output it through USB or TOSLINK or SPDIF?

 

Toslink is the same protocol as SPDIF, it's just another transport means.

Seldomly Toslink sounds better, so be careful here. But here YMMV again :

Toslink, which is glass fiber, is THE means to galvanically separate the DAC from the PC. I am not stating this is necessary, but I am fairly sure this is needed, meaning : without real proof.

The latter then is the case because my DAC just is galvanically separated from itself, so I wouldn't hear trhe difference, nor could there be according this matter.

 

So much to say, but so far for now,

Peter

 

Lush^3-e      Lush^2      Blaxius^2      Ethernet^2     HDMI^2     XLR^2

XXHighEnd (developer)

Phasure NOS1 24/768 Async USB DAC (manufacturer)

Phasure Mach III Audio PC with Linear PSU (manufacturer)

Orelino & Orelo MKII Speakers (designer/supplier)

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Peter,

 

Which software are you using for music playback and I'm curious, why do you not like iTunes ? Many on here regard it to have the best user interface (I agree). My understanding is that it is bit perfect (with volume at 100%) on the Mac. It doesn't work with ASIO or WASAPI on the PC, but are you not getting around this by using, for example, the airport express or a USB/Firewire DAC.

 

Matt.

 

HTPC: AMD Athlon 4850e, 4GB, Vista, BD/HD-DVD into -> ADM9.1

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Get yourself the favor and get a Mac (like a Mini) as your audio server and connect a Trends Audio UD-10.1 and enjoy without even bothering installing drivers, etc, etc. Windows is just so awful and there are always issues. Anything like m-audio Audiophile, Edirol F-66 will work just as well very, very good with the Mini.

 

 

 

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Matt,

 

I created my own player (which is XXHighEnd), which I did because anything else does not sound good enough for me. I wouldn't be using it (or stop doing so) when something else is/comes around which is better for sound quality (hence this is not a commercial).

The user interface is so-so, and merely oriented towards dealing with more than 10,000 albums for which it is (IMHO) very suitbale.

This is a WASAPI Exclusive Mode only player (so if it plays (Vista, Engine#3) it just *will* be bit perfect).

 

That's all. :-)

Peter

 

Lush^3-e      Lush^2      Blaxius^2      Ethernet^2     HDMI^2     XLR^2

XXHighEnd (developer)

Phasure NOS1 24/768 Async USB DAC (manufacturer)

Phasure Mach III Audio PC with Linear PSU (manufacturer)

Orelino & Orelo MKII Speakers (designer/supplier)

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Thanks for your reply, it was exactly what I was looking for. I'm not an extreme audiophil, but like to listen to music. I actually started of by selling my old 2.1 system and investing in a 5.1 system, but the sound was so awful that I stopped listening to music after some months (but it took me a while to realize that..)

 

I'm currently (always best to say...) only interested in 16/44.1 music (rip-offs from my CD collection) so to use an external DAC with USB connection seems to be a good solution.

 

Anyone having any experience with Cambridge Audios DacMagic?

 

Roger

 

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Starcat,

 

I've had a Mac. It was awesome - amazing sound from the word go. The reason I got rid was simply because I want everything in one box, including BluRay playback. And that is a no no on the Mac, at the moment.

 

I don't think a Windows based computer is so difficult to setup. It's just different. I enjoy tinkering around and changing things too so I'm quite happy.

 

But I do agree things are simpler with the Mac.

 

I guess that's the difference between the OS's. Where MS seem keen to further complicate Windows, adding functions that to some are useful, others useless, Apple continue to streamline their interface.

 

Which is best -- having used both, I think they both have their advantages and disadvantages.

 

Hey - you can just "do a Chris" anyway and install multiple operating systems on a high end Mac anyway.

 

When I can afford one of the things I may just do the same.

 

HTPC: AMD Athlon 4850e, 4GB, Vista, BD/HD-DVD into -> ADM9.1

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You are right, the Mac Mini doesn't do everthing (like Bluray) but it does audio extremely well! And it has the best remote control there is (iPod touch running Remote). Bein an audiophile means you must be always willing to sacrifice quantity for quality :-)

 

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But frankly it's most likely because I'm a dolt when it comes to this stuff. Suffice to say I'm new to this.

 

So, Peter is recommending that one uses an RME Fireface 400 for better sampling/etc and then out to an external DAC? This would be sufficient for hirez recordings?

 

I would like to go to use my Mac as my hifi system and the Drobo for RAID array for music archiving/storage. I would like to run out of my desktop to a High quality but discrete DAC (needs headphone out). I'm thinking the Grace M902 would perform this wonderfully. Then Finally "balanced out" to a pair of powered monitors on Sound Anchor Stands with Aurelex pads for isolation. I'm thinking about adding a sub too.

 

Should I add the RME Fireface 400?

 

Am I going the wrong way here?

 

Thanks,

Jon

Jon

 

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