Audiophile Journeys with a PC

by Rajinder Gill on 12/1/2008 1:00 PM EST
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  • Olyros - Sunday, December 21, 2008 - link

    What about Vista's digital room correction?

    I'd really like to see a comparison of the effectiveness of different DRC software on the pc, including Vista's own implementation.

    Before reading this article DRC was off my radar, but now I'm really intrigued to try it out. However, reading this article one still doesn't know how he can use this specialized software with an application like Winamp or Vista Media Center. There's also no mention of all the impracticalities he might face like incompatible software, provisions for headphone use where DRC is not needed etc.

    I think digital room correction on a computer could be a subject of an Anandtech article again.
    Reply
  • Okos Bokos - Monday, December 15, 2008 - link

    If you don't care about room, don't spend money on expensive equipment.
    Bass traps, diffusion panels (bookshelfs are perfect), position of speakers.
    I used to play with all sort of best analyzers/equalizers, and it don't works.
    In essence you can not treat time related problems (short reverbs that couses phase cancelations for eg.) with frequency related tools (equalizers).
    My audio chain: CD – cables – amplifier – cables – speakers.
    In 1998 I bought first pro audio soundcard, and changed CD with PC. I can not afford myself such good sounding CD player.
    TV and home cinema is completily different issue.
    Nice article... I had to make my first comment on AnandTech...
    Reply
  • ccd - Thursday, December 11, 2008 - link


    I'd love to hear from others on this issue, but my conclusions based on following thread on various forums is that the PC as a one box solution is far from perfect. The issues are as follows:

    1) PC does not work as a source selector which means an external preamp if you want to use a source other than TV/cable and the CD/hard drive on the PC

    2) Most solutions for volume control cumbersome at best, again requiring a preamp

    3) Soundcards: the soundcards with the best DACs (ie Lynx) are not setup to act as just high fidelity soundcards. They are designed as studio mixers which makes them both expensive and hard to use for just good fidelity. Additionally, there are some formats that soundcards have not been able to decode. This is not because soundcards cannot decode, but that certain formats simply have not been available on soundcards.

    4) DRC: I have not tried the software mentioned in this article, but I have tried other DRC software. My complaint is that the DRC software is not easily implemented for novices. You have to know more about using programs than I would like. Their effectiveness is a subjective evaluation, but stand alone processors are much easier to use, IMHO.

    At this point in time, if I were to use a PC, I would use programs such as SoundEasy or the program available from ETFAcoustics to load a digital equalizer like the Behringer DCX 2496 for both digital crossovers and DRC. The PC is not a viable one box solution at this time as far as I'm concerned.

    BTW: I should give the author the props he deserves. Most audiophiles who are into tubes and full range drivers would not touch DRC. This author not only touched it, but liked it. Hats off to you!
    Reply
  • boredsysadmin - Wednesday, December 10, 2008 - link

    I'm afraid this question will get lost in this rant war, but I'm still curios about this : How Does PC based DRC compares to ones built-in into new a/v receivers?

    P.S: CSMR is right on so many levels and IMHO combining ultra Hi-End speakers with DIY usb to analog kits seems a bit silly....
    Reply
  • Rajinder Gill - Wednesday, December 10, 2008 - link

    Depends if you're looking for a one box solution (which you obviously are). I have not seen much web based edict on the technical abilities of your standard budget-mid priced reciever based DRC. If it is scaled down somehow in functionality and attenuation, a double blind test against the software would prove if it's far behind.:) Judging by all the responses here, there should be some sites out there that have covered something around that idea.

    I only wanted something for my redbook playback and quick access to my tracks. Out on a limb yes, but that's just me.


    Reply
  • egladil - Wednesday, December 10, 2008 - link

    This article is just so typical for the pseudo-audiophile scene. There people do lots of very stupid things, including stupid subjective comparisons.

    For really good audiophile stuff, go to hydrogenaudio.org, there there is a rule: don't claim anything unless you have done double blind tests with significant positive results. Anything else is just too much influenced by placebo effects. Because of this reason this article is a case for a trash bin actually.
    Reply
  • goshwan - Wednesday, December 10, 2008 - link

    Yup,

    All musicians should not listen to their instruments at all, because it gives rise to subjective preferences. Subjective instrument choices by the individual should be outlawed. Every musician should by rights play the most scientifically perfect instrument. Subjective choices do not matter at all. We should all buy the same car based upon te pricinples of horsepower per dollar and most importantly 4 wheels touching the road. Don't you dare tell me that you have a favorite color!

    We should all buy the same amps and speakers. Electronic engineers should be forced to adopt one single topology the world over. Further, no new product should enter the market place until the manufacturer can prove it's worth to the sinewave crew as offering something new and better than what's been released before. Product release shoul depend on approval by a team of government endorsed double blind testers.

    Good luck in your quest!




    Reply
  • phusg - Monday, December 15, 2008 - link

    Hi there,
    I think you are confusing objective testing with equipment (over-rated) and subjective double-blind testing. Double-blind testing just takes out the placebo bias of knowing what hard/software set-up you are listening to. That doesn't make it objective, the assessor is still a human subject.
    Regards,
    Pete
    Reply
  • ccd - Wednesday, December 10, 2008 - link


    What is your issue with double blind testing??? If audiophiles are unable to tell the difference between $1000 speaker cable and $25 dollar speaker cable, isn't that worth knowing??? And what has double blind testing have to do with musicians not listening to their instruments or the rest of your rant???

    Double blind testing can tell what people can differentiate (my speaker wire example) or what most people prefer. Personally, I think double blind testing is best for the former, not the later. Just because most people prefer something does not mean you would prefer it.
    Reply
  • Rajinder Gill - Wednesday, December 10, 2008 - link

    Wow, I never knew this stuff was going to continue on ad-infinitum when I wrote this piece. It'll please you all to know I have no plans to write another audio article. Anandtech will continue to concentrate on the computer stuff to the joy of many readers.

    I'm sure someone suitable will be found to take care of the soundcard stuff the way most of you would like to see it.

    The gist of this article was basically to show that even someone as knotted up as me on certain gear could adopt DRC as something special and above lesser needs in the audio chain. Some people got that, others did not. I know I'm not the greatest conveyer of things in the written word, I did my best.

    For the record, I also have solid state gear, so it's not all old-age beliefs. So let it go for the sake of your own sanity folks, there really is no winning these arguments.

    Take care
    Raja


    Reply
  • phusg - Monday, December 15, 2008 - link

    > It'll please you all to know I have no plans to write another audio article.

    Doesn't please me at all Raja! As I said I'm very grateful for you opening my eyes to the possibilities of DRC. Shame you (or your editor?) don't fancy taking all the criticism and making a kick-arse follow-up article.

    All the best,
    Pete
    Reply
  • Rajinder Gill - Monday, December 15, 2008 - link

    I do have some work at hand that I've held back from posting mainly because it opens up another huge can of worms. The testing involved is arduous and takes up copious hours. I am in a position to make spectral measurements, although I need to confirm a few things before I'd even come close to disclosing all of the results. Initial tests show a marked difference between the 2 DAC's used in the article at equivalent levels of gain (between 1-3db at certain freq points). There's a pattern to some of it. Although, I can attribute much of this to noise generated by the amplifier due to the increased gain required by the TDA1543 (ac related hum). I have a few things I can do to cross-correlate those results though, so it's not a complete dead end.

    Blind testing has shown that human can discern down to .75db of gain. I'm not sure on the consistency of all of that as some of the blind testing involved in the research did show an element of placebo in places. Once I’ve eliminated some of the variables and more importantly tested an internal soundcard output in comparison, I might be in a position to post something worthy of reading.

    I'll probably blind test a few of the solutions I have at hand before I add anything else here though. It's very difficult to keep all camps happy, and to keep it interesting enough for me to want to commit more time to it all...lol

    later
    Raja
    Reply
  • DorkMan - Sunday, December 14, 2008 - link

    Raja, sorry if I had the Sarcasm dialed up to "11" when I made my previous post. It takes a lot of work to create an article like yours, and you did a great job. My beef was not with the quality of your work but with some of the "religion" that seems to surround this hobby. Whether it's tubes, coaxial speaker wire, or whizzer cone transducers, there seems to exist a group of people with a religious zeal for these things and for whom specs and double-blind tests are irrelevant. Whatever.

    But I commend you for your article. It was well-written, and I have no issue with your conclusions. I, too, calibrate my video-editing workstation position for response flatness.

    If you're not too turned off by all the sniping, why not do a series on audio myths? Double-blind testing of tubes and solid-state, and speaker wires?

    Anyway, hope you have a great Christmas season.
    Reply
  • audionewbieyao - Wednesday, December 10, 2008 - link

    If you're a true PC audiophile, I'll say do you best to stay away from gaming sound cards, 'cause they're just not made for audiophiles.

    I suggest try out Asus Xonar, Auzentech, Onkyo, and if possible, the new Xonar Essence STX would be the best.
    Reply
  • thietavu - Tuesday, December 09, 2008 - link

    I have myself tried to solve this "problem" for years: to create a good quality audio system around my computer. Since all my CDs and even a few of my vinyls are now digitized into almost 100 GB of data on the hard disk, the challenge was to get some good sound out.

    I kind of made a mistake by buying "too high-end" (or too good anyway) headphones (Grado SR-325) and a headphone amplifier (Musical Fidelity X-Can v3). After trying two high quality studio sound cards (M-Audio AP2496 and later AP192), I realized that the sound just wasn't what it should have been. There was always a slight "harshness" in what I heard, making the system sound a bit unpleasantly cold and mechanical.

    After a long consideration I then bought Musical Fidelity's X-DAC v3 D/A converter, plugging it to AP192's SP/DIF digital output. That made the change. The slight but disturbing harshness disappeared and some originally cold-sounding albums (like Poco's Inamorata) suddenly became both listenable and even enjoyable. And excellent recordings now sound excellent.

    Where did the difference come from? Judging by normal measurements, there should be no audible difference at all, since M-Audio card's analog output is of high quality. To me, it appears like the "magic" happens in digital->analog conversion somehow. In cheaper devices like most sound cards, that conversion seems to be somehow "rough", a bit like using a digital camera with too few real megapixels available (imagine a 10 Mpix camera with bad optics etc, and the result becoming maybe equal to a real resolution of only 3 Mpix or so).

    I admit that the differences aren't that big, and only very good quality headphones or loudspeakers etc. can reveal them. But after it is revealed, music simply sounds more like "music" in one system compared with another. After that, it's unpleasant to go back to more "mechanical" sound. But as said, everything is relative. I can enjoy an old, noisy C-cassette in an old car stereo as well, as long as the music is good! That's what it is all about: creating feelings. :)
    Reply
  • DorkMan - Monday, December 08, 2008 - link

    Sorry guys, I know many of you are really into this nitpicky level of Audio Purity. I've been into audio since the late 1960's, when I, too, was fanatical about specsmanship. Now I see the error of my ways.

    Bipolar loudspeakers have been around since, say, the 1950's. They're a decent solution as long as you can deal with room resonances, as this article does.

    But a whizzer cone speaker? When did we fall off the truck? Please tell me that the whizzer is driven by a separate coil subsystem. If not, you'll get decoupling resonances as various frequencies and these effects can change as the transducer ages.

    I went to the manufacturer website. Not embarrassed about selling speaker "ribbon" cable for $1,000? Tells me something about the company--long of PR and a bit short on electrical engineering.

    Okay, on to the amps. Tubes! The retro look! I have familiarity with tube amplifier designs and think it's great if you want odd harmonics near clipping, a bulky box that actually glows and a chance to heat a cold room at the same time. Hey, it's okay; odd harmonics sound nice--but they're not an accurate reproduction of the input signal.

    Finally, I'm all for balancing out a room--as long as the listener sits in the same spot. In a living room, every guest is going to get a different response curve, with some probably getting socked by boost when there should have been cut for that location.

    Finally, trust your microphone. If it says the room is flat, you're done. By putting in a slight bass boost, you're making the music sound good to "your" tastes, but be honest--the room then isn't flat. Might as well use tubes as amps.
    Reply
  • ackcheng - Monday, December 08, 2008 - link

    Not sure if this is mentioned before, other than Audiolense, there are a few other programs we can consider for room correction

    They are DRC which is free http://drc-fir.sourceforge.net/
    and Acourate http://www.acourate.com/">http://www.acourate.com/

    I myself use Acourate and found it a very good tool for DRC!

    But I do not think the so called DRC in Windows Vista a real DRC software!
    Reply
  • RagingDragon - Saturday, December 06, 2008 - link

    Certainly not what I expected at AT, but I enjoyed the article, and I'm OK with AT expanding it's range of covered topics (i.e. audio, digital photography, and home theatre).

    The DRC software is certainly interesting, though not really relevant to my setup (headphones). Based on manufacturer specs the TDA1543 isn't very impressive; however, the Wolfson WM8741 looks much more promising. The article's conclusions suggest the WM8741 has a wider dynamic range, flatter frequency response, and is more accurate/precise. Which is exactly what I would expect from the DAC spec sheets. I'd like to see these external DAC's compared to some high quality PC sound cards - like the Asus Xonar series, or even the M-audio revolution/stereophile cards (though if I recall correctly the DAC's in these and equivent cards from Terratec are inferior to the Xonar DAC's).

    I was looking at prebuilt external DAC's a couple months ago, and was extremely disappointed in what I found. Despite high prices most of them used cheap DAC chips which would have a hard time beating integrated audio, let alone a discreet sound card with high quality DAC's. The author's Twisted Pear Opus kit has a better DAC (WM8741) than *any* of the prebuilt external DAC's I looked at, and units equalling the Doede Douma kit (TDA1543) were ludicrously expensive.

    I'm not conviced that external DAC's and amps sound better than high quality PCI cards - and even if they do, I still don't want the extra clutter.

    Since I'm living in an appartment I use headphones rather than speakers to avoid annoying the neighbours, so the upcoming Asus Xonar Essence seems perfectly suited to my needs: stereo only (I'm using stereo headphones so surround sound is irrelevant), an extremely high quality DAC (Burr-Brown 1792A), built in head phone amplifier, swappable opamps, and "professional audio capacitors" (probably snake oil, but they won't make the sound worse).
    Reply
  • prd00 - Friday, December 05, 2008 - link

    I'd pick Onkyo USB sound card up anytime compared to those stupid creative cards. I've tried all sound cards, but right now, I've ended with onkyo. Reply
  • htgts350monaro - Wednesday, December 03, 2008 - link

    Thank you Rajinder for this, and what looks like will be, a great series of articles.

    Please be aware that despite all those who profess this to be an inappropriate article for this site that I, and I think many others, feel they are incorrect.

    Being an amateur audiophile and computer enthusiast myself this is a great mix of both my interests. I have been wondering for a while whether it would be possible to combine these interests and simplify my current combination of source components for my home theater system which I also use for critical 2 channel listening. (not ideal I know but limited space and budget regretfully denies a separate 2 channel system for me unfortunately)

    It looks like you may be on the path to solving my problem - please keep going with this. One thing I have gained from this article at least is a new interest in DRC software...

    For all thos who say that all audiophile claims are 'snake oil' I ask this - have you actually gone into a high end hifi store and LISTENED to any of the products available and done your own comparisons? Have you ever compared different DAC's/OP-AMP's in the same circuit and system with components of a high enough quality/resolution to expose those differences YOURSELF? I have and the differences can be VERY obvious, to the point that double blind listening is not needed - you would not need to double blind test two LCD's if one had half the contrast range of the other - you would be able to detect it quite easily and this can be true of audio components no matter how many tests say that the components measure the same frequency response/ dynamic range/ s/n ratio etc.

    But please go out and try it for yourself BEFORE you claim it is all bogus. (and no - not being able to hear a difference between components on your $300 minisystem or $50 PC speakers does not count!)
    Reply
  • ccd - Thursday, December 04, 2008 - link


    If you want to be scientific, there is no substitute for double blind testing. It's as simple as that. The human psyche is just too susceptible to suggestion.

    I have been in stores and compared components. But as you should know, all sorts of games can be played with equipment. A common trick is connecting a speaker to a monster amp which makes it sound better. The other key to speakers placement. You can take a speaker that sounds great in the store and sounds crappy when you get home because the listening conditions are so different.

    The most eye opening experience I ever had was taking a home made speaker into a very high end store at the end of the day because on of the salesmen wanted to listen to the transducer I was using. The speaker which also used one made speaker wires out-performed speakers costing over $20,000! The Orions that I have mentioned in previous posts are better than this speaker and the Orion uses electronics which are hardly out of the ordinary. I would put that speaker up against anything, regardless of price. Listen to a speaker like the Orion and you will realize that "high end" audio is mostly snake oil.
    Reply
  • goshwan - Thursday, December 04, 2008 - link

    Why should we take your 'subjective' (because that is what it is) opinion that the Orion's are that good? How is your opinion any different from when the author says his speakers or DAC's are great?
    Have you heard these components yourself? Have you heard any of the components used in the review?

    Humans are subjective animals and purchaing decisions usually involve sprinklings of logic and subjective preferences. Audio is one of the best examples of this. Even solid state amps sound different depending on topology and operating class. Your statment about monster amps reflects this. They indeed sound different.

    I have heard the TDA1543 on occasion, but I would not be foolish enough to think that every other DAC sounds the same.


    Granted, the Orion's are a indeed a fine speaker based on reports, but it's also possible the ones we see used in the article are too.

    To mee it seems as if everyone is forcing their own subjective opinion in reply. Some are objective, but theirs plenty of subjective, which is funny really.

    I think the article could have offered some more objective stuff. but at the same time, the listening conclusions of both DAC's were pretty much spot on. The TDA1543 is known to sound soft at hf sounds, especially in nonos. The room correction stuff really was great. In fact, I wonder how many readers got that far before exploding their thoughts via the keyboard.

    You have some interesting points on blind tests, arguments for and against seem to rage the web over. I wonder what people would accept though, how much evidence would be needed if something turned out to be spot on?

    I'm interested to see where AT go with the audio stuff.
    Reply
  • ccd - Saturday, December 06, 2008 - link


    I guess we will have to agree to disagree. Moving right along, I do not have any issues with open baffle speakers. I'm not a techie, but there are theoretical advantages to open baffle speakers. The trick is getting the baffle wide enough so that the baffle simulates the driver being in a wall. The problem with open baffle speakers has been aesthetics, as an open baffle speaker usually have to be very wide. I've seen open baffle speakers with hinged sides to the speaker need not be really wide except in use. The test speaker uses clear sides which would limit the impression of width.

    Actually, my issue with the speaker is that it is full range. I have not heard this speaker, but full range speakers generally have really nice mid ranges and suffer in both the upper range and lower range. I do like that he paired his speaker with a sub. However, full range speakers usually need a crossover at a high frequency than I would like and the higher the crossover, the trickier the integration. In case you haven't guessed, I've hung around DIY circles for a number of years, though not recently.
    Reply
  • goshwan - Saturday, December 06, 2008 - link

    Well seeing as neither of us have heard the speaker in question it's a subjective assessment. Of course, individual drivers tailor made for the frequency range in question should be more proficient. Given that we hear little over 15Khz though, I bet they sound pretty cohesive. Yes higher range crossover integration does become an issue, but if one is not needed 'subjectively' then why bother?
    Reply
  • ccd - Saturday, December 06, 2008 - link


    The speaker used in the article could be good, very good for all I know. Since I have not heard it, I can only talk in generalities. The tradeoff is between a full range transducer with no crossovers and a frequency response that is not nearly as flat as a multi-driver speaker with crossover points. Neither speaker is perfect.

    Full range drivers, at their best, have gorgeous mid-range performance which is highly valued by those who favor them. The tradeoff is a fall off in the upper and lower ranges. The limits of human hearing help cover the failings in the upper ranges and there are tricks like the use of transmission lines to extend the lower range, but there are limits.

    The multi-driver speaker has a different set of issues. One is finding drivers that complement each other. Merely matching frequency response is not enough. The other is determining the right crossover points and slopes. Not a problem for an expert, a great challenge for the amateur. From what I have personally heard and from what I know about speaker design, a well designed multi-way speaker, particularly hybrid active (passive crossover between the tweeter and mid-range and active between mid-range and woofer is just a better solution than a single full range driver. Right now, I'm sitting in front of a speaker with one of the widest frequency ranges of any driver and it is still a 3-way design.

    Again, I have not heard the speaker in question. But I also know it is VERY hard to overcome the limitations that come with certain design choices.
    Reply
  • goshwan - Saturday, December 06, 2008 - link

    That's the beauty of audio, final choices are often based upon what you favor. There is no one speaker that will appeal to all tastes. Which is why I don't diss on people going one way or the other. The calculated final response with sub and DRC was pretty flat. Impressive.




    Reply
  • ccd - Thursday, December 04, 2008 - link

    This gets back to my original post on this article. A lot of this is very subjective and there will never be any agreement on it. IMHO, things like DAC reviews should not be a part of this site, it would not matter whether I had heard the components or not. However, the DRC part should definitely be featured on this site and was great.

    BTW, I used the Orion as an example of a kit speaker which is both generally regarded as one of the best kit speakers available and one whose design runs counter to many of the assumptions made by this author. I encourage you to listen to the speaker and come to your own conclusions.

    Double blind testing is the only way I know of to accurately determine whether equipment changes actually make a difference. It is opposed by many in the high end because they don't like what double blind testing tells us: much of what they tout just doesn't make an audible difference.
    Reply
  • goshwan - Thursday, December 04, 2008 - link

    I 'subjectively' disagree, the DAC kits are designed to run off the USB bus. Tha means a computer is involved.

    I don't follow your 'assumption' accusations either, like yours the opinions stated are subjective. Linkwitz backs his up on his site true, but the adoption still involves approval by human ear - not just visionary acceptance of theory. That means verbal expression in the form of words which you too have used to encourage people to listen to the Orions. I have no doubts those speakers sound great. But I have heard great things about open baffle speakers too.

    I agree with you on this, in that guess we can agree to disagree.

    Reply
  • Flyboy27 - Wednesday, December 03, 2008 - link

    How much energy do you have to put into a system before you can actually start enjoying your music. I realized many years ago that I just needed to listen to my music instead of worrying so much about sound fidelity. Since then my enjoyment of music has increased so much. I am a musician, have been trained as a recording engineer, and work in the music industry. There comes a point when you have to stop worrying about your gear and just enjoy your music.

    Having said that it is a shame that so many people listen to 128kbps mp3s. I'm planning on re-ripping my entire CD library in a lossless format. This is part of the reason for me why it is so important to have a physical copy of my music. I'm not "stuck" with a low bitrate crapy itunes copy.
    Reply
  • kompulsive - Wednesday, December 03, 2008 - link

    You guys should definitely check out the M-Audio Audiophile 192 or Audiophile 2496 depending on your needs. I've been using these and similar products for years in my small studio at home and the price, quality, and value are superb. I think Creative products are grossly overrated and overpriced. Reply
  • notanakin - Wednesday, December 03, 2008 - link

    Generally I found the article interesting, but why on earth was Vista 64 used for the review? The author admits he couldn't find USB-ASIO drivers, and that ACXO doesn't support Vista 64 properly. Surely first you check what would be interesting for the review and then choose an appropriate OS? Also, I'm pretty sure that Vista 32 or Win XP are far more likely to be used by most readers of the article.

    Thank goodness he wasn't running Win ME on his PC.
    Reply
  • milosz - Wednesday, December 03, 2008 - link

    Single Ended Triode amps add a considerable - and DEMONSTRABLE- amount of low number even-order distortion to reproduced sound. To their devotee's, this sound is "full," "rich," "harmonically complex" - etc. But what they're hearing has been ADDED by the electronics. If you listen on speakers like the single-cone types used in the review, adding some additional harmonics to the overtone structure can compensate for the lack of upper treble and poor transient presofrmance of these single-driver systems. These single driver systems store a LOT of energy in the low treble- just look at their waterfall plots. When the signal stops the cone keeps moving, from the high mass storing energy. A ribbon tweeter has a moving mass of 0.01 g while a single-driver speaker like these has a mass of about 10 grams. You tell me which will be able to faithfully folow the motions demanded of complex high frequency reproduction, and which one will have some much inetria that it will keep moving long after the signal has stopped. But if you use a SET on these things, it generates a lot of extra low order even harmonics to sweeten things up - it masks the problems introduced by the speaker to some degree.

    I think it preferable to use electronics that add as little of their own coloration as possible. That's why I try to use the best electrostatic or ribbon speakers I can afford, with the best class-A amps (tube or solid state, a good amp is a good amp) I can afford, as well as high-slope digital crossovers and top-notch D-to-A converters. I've also tried some SACD and DVD-A audio and frankly it doesn't sound any different to me from CD. Vinyl also has a lot of good music in it if you can tolerate the light hiss and crackles that even the best vinyl playback has. Of course the thing I've spent the MOST money on is the MUSIC. For a n old guy like me who has made a little dough, $75,000 for CDs and LPs, $25,000 for a 2-channel audio system is about the right ratio.
    Reply
  • Carnildo - Wednesday, December 03, 2008 - link

    I noticed one word missing from this review: "double-blind". To evaluate something as subjective as audio quality, you need to do double-blind testing to make sure the results aren't being influenced by your expectations of what the sound should be like.

    One thing I'd like to see is an all-digital sound system: the sound is read off the disc, converted to 64-bit floating point, processed for playback (mixing, volume adjustment, room compensation, frequency separation if you're not using full-range speakers, etc), sent out over the wires still digital, and then converted to analog just before it hits the coils in the speakers. Keeping it digital will avoid most noise sources, 64-bit floating-point will give you a noise floor far below what anything analog or integer digital can manage, and you've got the full processing power of a modern computer to adjust for things like an imperfect room layout.
    Reply
  • RagingDragon - Saturday, December 06, 2008 - link

    Floating point leads to rounding errors, and processing the floating point signal would increase those rounding errors. Todays top DAC/ADC are mostly 24-bit (unsigned) integer, so using 32 or 64 bit integers would be a more than sufficient, and without the rounding errors inherent to floating point math.
    Reply
  • headbox - Wednesday, December 03, 2008 - link

    So you tested audio in a bare room with hardwood floors. Hardly a room for an "audiophile." Reply
  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, December 03, 2008 - link

    IMO that is the kind of thing they should focus on - what can be done with computers to get the best sound possible in normal rooms? Kinda like Anand's home theater, music rooms are interesting tech but not something most people have the time, money, or space to implement. So what can be done to get the best sound in a dorm room, or multi-purpose family room, etc. Reply
  • pcfxer - Tuesday, December 02, 2008 - link

    "One of the chief perpetrators of this revival was a fellow named Throsten Loesch. "


    You mean Siegfred Linkwitz, yes?

    Reply
  • ccd - Wednesday, December 03, 2008 - link

    Sigfired Linkwitz has been a major proponent of dipole speakers, not open baffle speakers. Reply
  • ccd - Tuesday, December 02, 2008 - link


    Like many here, I think the DRC discussion is best suited for a website like Anandtech. As for some of the other issues, I highly recommend that you visit www.linkwitzlab.com Not only is the Orion the best speaker that I have personally heard, but Sigfried Linkwitz is an engineer who designed a line of very well reviewed commercial speakers. At his site, you will find a number of papers written by him on speakers and how we hear. You will find some good science there, not snake oil or myths passed among audiophiles as truth. You will find that the speakers he offers at his site as well as the literature there runs counter to many of the assumptions made by this author.
    Reply
  • royboy66 - Tuesday, December 02, 2008 - link

    Now to the meat of this audio is not something we know everything about -battery power isolates all power line noise if done properly, tube amps and tube microphones and recording equipment -when properly maintained have made magnificent lifelike recordings -i have many of them -close your eyes and you are there! I have a large hifi collection and had 19 amps at one stage -i got sent over a mint 1966 Fisher X10D valve amp owned by a guy who looked after it -original box, valves everything and maintained by a valve technician –it had not had a hard life – i never ever thought it was going to sound any good hooked it up and nearly fell over the sound was alive –i sold almost all the amps i had after that experience –they were sterile crap! I still had some very fine solid state though eg Electrocompaniet for example and it too made beautiful music .Now you guys who just blast your ipods at 120db in your ears have no idea about sound quality –if you know anybody passionate about audio go listen to their setup –chances are it will sound great because they have put the effort in to make it so. I do not believe in voodoo or bullcrap –but never underestimate power line noise and rf contamination etc
    Also i can comment on speakers and dacs –they all make a difference –if i ever have to listen to a tda1543 again it will be too soon !the cymbals sound dull because that dac is barely 15 bit in quality –would you use a commodore 64 now to surf the net – of course not. This dac is so far outdated it is not funny –listen to cymbals on a good record they do not sound like the tda1543 reproduces them –it simply does not have the resolution in the mid to upper frequency to sample properly the lifelike sound of a cymbal –but the other did because it was a better computer for those same frequency
    I have as one of my system the NHT XDA digital active system –are we supposed to believe it is the last word in audio because it is digital and has one of the flattest responses irrespective of room –it basically does not need that. I asked a few friends how they thought it sounded compared to my 20 year old Infinity Kappa9 and not one of them liked it over 20 year old speakers driven by valve or solid state. what does this mean? –there is more to audio than we think –so guys keep an open mind and hopefully through these articles we will end up with great computer sound –i personally at the moment use a squeezebox with lossless Flac and or digital out to it or a city pulse dac11 for computer audio –amongst other options
    Pc noise is definitely the big problem – i live in the country it is quiet so my background noise is lower and the pc is loud –totally silent or in another room is the go –but my power is crap due to being in a rural area –hence i say if everything could be run off battery or solar it would make a big difference –listen to Jack Johnsons solar powered album –how good does that sound –awesome! Lastly guys I am no audio snob –i have no car but plenty of audio equipment and cds ,records, dvdaudio, sacd, upsampled music etc – i get given bucket loads of mp3 and use that to find music worth listening to –the pc can and is going to be the source of quality music for the future so let the articles continue
    Reply
  • goinginstyle - Wednesday, December 03, 2008 - link

    I agree, while I might argue about some of the conclusions or have a different opinion, the author knows what the hell he is talking about. It is obvious from a lot of the comments that people stopped reading on page two and brought out the guns. It is fine to agree to disagree but some the comments here apparently came from five year olds and not adults. Sound quality is subjective, get over it. I appreciate a different opinion than my own and found the article to be thought provoking at times. Something an article should do when covering a hot topic like audio quality. Being an old hippie myself, I still love the tubes but digital has its place now. I vote that he does another article on this subject and lets see where AnandTech takes this in the future. Reply
  • strikeback03 - Tuesday, December 02, 2008 - link

    How do you live in a rural area and not own a car? Reply
  • royboy66 - Tuesday, December 02, 2008 - link

    hi I have been into audio and music for many years it is my hobby, computers are my business and hobby. I commend you guys for covering this topic -i will download the software you have used and give it a try.
    Reply
  • Wastral - Tuesday, December 02, 2008 - link

    Well at least he talked about SOMETHING to do with the PC!

    DAC talk was good if really really wordy. Nothing like breaking points down into something someone can read.

    Not one review of sound cards of sending analog output out from the computer and its actual quality... You know the main component needed in a PC... What a stooge.

    Most People can't even hear over 16khz and the very rare person can hear around 20khz. I tested out at 18.3khz with a wave generator when I was 16. Now? Probably no more than 14khz at the age of 30. Not to mention the dB sensitivity of the ear over 16khz is next to nothing. On top of that, as I pointed out with a little thing called age your hearing decreases to 10khz by age 60 or so.

    Of course If we really want this right, it has to be decoded at the amp, which won't happen, due to there being a million and 1 codecs around. Thus, we are stuck with analog.

    Its all about your speakers and amp. That part of his article I won't complain about too loudly.

    Just his BS about tube amplifiers. 10 years ago that was true. Now its only because old Hippies are retiring and tube amps were top of the line then and they have too much money and time on their hands to burn, with nostalgia hot in their blood.

    Try recording something and then play it back with a tube amp or a Digital amp and compare the sound. No one uses Tube amps in studios. Why? Because it CHANGES THE MUSIC and is not as PURE as one can get with Digital amplifiers. They say they like it... wonderful, its not as true of a sound though, the HYPOCRITS!!!

    Everything else was typical Audiophile BS ignorance. Hell, I have even installed an outlet for an "audiophile" pointed North-South for better "power" to his amp. No joke, he whipped out a compass.

    Comments like, "I only use silver 24 guage wire." DUMB shit!! Go another guage larger in copper is a hell of a lot cheeper and gets better results.... IDIOT. Not to mention its your CONNECTORS THAT COUNT.

    Reply
  • Rajinder Gill - Tuesday, December 02, 2008 - link

    Where did I sue the word 'only' in that statement about wire?

    Seems you've done the typical thing and read what you want to read.

    My entire cable setup costs less than $40, including the interconnects and mains cables. No north-south compass in my house either.

    Connections are direct soldered where they can be and if it's practical enough. No expensive connectors used.

    I'll aslo refrain from using the derogatory language you seem so comfortable with.
    Reply
  • Rajinder Gill - Tuesday, December 02, 2008 - link

    correction meant 'use'.. Reply
  • Geraldo8022 - Tuesday, December 02, 2008 - link


    Mr Gill is trying to do some of you a favor by cluing you in, but some of the denser posters come back with talk about receivers, headphones, soundcards, measurements, double blind testing, Class D, etc.
    Someone once asked Satchmo what jazz was and his reply was, "if you gotta ask you don't get to know." I guess some of you here aren't gonna get to know. Just keep your head in the sand, or elsewhere.
    I have been into HiFi for almost forty years and it is about things like sitting in the dark at one o'clock in the morning with Sarah Vaughn. If that doesn't make any sense to you, then you don't get to know.
    Mr Gill, I thank you for this article. You keep on keepin' on.
    Reply
  • Beefmeister - Tuesday, December 02, 2008 - link

    Great choice on the Opus DAC; the Twisted Pear Audio guys do great work. I've built myself a Buffalo DAC.

    That being said, I would strongly suggest you look at replacing your Ballsie with IVY modules. IVY is capable of zeroing the DC offset from the DAC, thus allowing you to jumper the output coupling caps on the Opus. It also gets rid of the dual and quad OPAMPs of the Ballsie, which apparently don't measure as good as the single and dual variants.
    Reply
  • draak13 - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    Starting off with reading the article, I was getting quite pissed about how much this was going into the usual audiophile BS, where their 'prowess' of electronics goes so far as, "the resistor says 1000 ohms, but really, it TASTES like 992 ohms. There's such a huge difference." I was half expecting there to be talk of putting sandbags around the room to 'enhance the musical quality of the room setting.'

    Reading further, I found that this article was quite good, and was even moderately scientific as I have come to expect from Anandtech. The choice of the recording microphone was EXCELLENT; I looked up the spec sheet for that, and the response on that mic is absolutely incredible, and is a total steal for the price you pay. Kudos to anandtech for finding and using it. The very objective comparisons of two different dacs was quite excellent, as were the multiple recordings.

    I absolutely loved your analysis of an addition of a subwoofer into the system to compensate for the range of the main speakers. I have always been curious about how well that would actually work. Lastly, I was blown away by your DRC analysis. That's an INCREDIBLE algorithm that you have there; I love it.

    There are a few things that I could say about the choice of components, and the squabbling going on about what components "perform better", but there is an end-all test that you could do to prove what is and isn't BS. First, I can flat out GUARANTEE you that your microphone is as sensitive or more sensitive than the human ear AT LISTENING VOLUME. That is, anything that you can hear, that microphone should be able to hear as well. So, if you wanted to turn your subjective listening tests into objective listening tests, then play back those songs you were testing your setup with, but record those songs at listening position with your microphone using all of your different setups. Record them multiple times, as you have been doing in your tests. Next, using MATLAB or whatever other software, overlay the recorded waveforms and determine the differences between the two. If there truly is a difference between the different hardware setups that you were using, I guarantee that this will be sensitive enough to detect that difference, and will do so quantitatively.
    Reply
  • DeepThought86 - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    At the end of the day, is all this expensive tomfoolery just to listen to music? Why pay extra and turn your brain to jelly to boot? Reply
  • Clauzii - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    .. I can recommend a Terratec Phase 22. No computernoise whatsoever. Pure, clean sound. I don't have a surroundsetup, but movies through this card sound brilliant, with a lot of detail and no digital 'fnitter-fnatter'.
    Reply
  • Clauzii - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    Have to correct myself: With the card You can actually hear all the bad mixing of the movies themselves. Reply
  • daar - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    Honestly, for a tech review site, I'm very disappointed that you nixed any pro sound cards and went for the audiophile kool-aid. Proper regulation and filtering can deliver clean enough juice for the best audio applications and while the USB option is kind of interesting, it creates more clutter, is more expensive, and the supposed better quality can't even be objectively tested.

    There wasn't even an attempt to build a measurement procedure, and while some sustain the notion that audio is beyond measurement, since when does AT throw out standard science and efficient engineering in favor of pseudoscience?


    Reply
  • RobinBee - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    "Proper regulation and filtering"

    Yes. A good motherboard does this. And: A hi-fi sound card such as ASUS Xonar D2 (PCI bus) delivers »clean juice«, very much better than Creative's x-fi. And: A good case makes a pc rather quiet.
    Reply
  • RagingDragon - Saturday, December 06, 2008 - link

    And a sufficiently powerful amp and/or headphones with good isolation make PC noise irrelevant. Reply
  • Servant of Shodan - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    Not meaning any disrespect to the author - it was a good article - but I've notice a lot of camera reviews recently, and now a review about audiophile stuff... and it just seems so out of place for a PC enthusiast site.
    There are hundreds of credible sites for both cameras and stereos/speakers/amps/etc.; and I feel that it sort of muddies the waters here to have these types of articles, when there are other excellent places where they fit in perfectly.
    I come to Anandtech for computers. I think it should keep to that topic.
    Reply
  • SpeedyVV - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    Holy cow, audiophiles i think are THX certifiable!!!

    Can you guys actually hear yourselves???

    All joking aside, I love music, and sound, and guitar tube amps, a nice hi-fi.

    But the stuff you guys talk about is way, WAY, beyond me ;-)

    Reply
  • Boushh - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    DRC does realy work. Last year I exchanged my old SONY AV receiver for a new Denon AVR-3808 with Audyssey. With the SONY I was unable to get a good sound at my listning postion (specialy the rears never actually worked). And even though I had my reservations for things like Audyssey, I ran it on the Denon. And low and behold: Now I was in the middle of everything. I was realy amazed that taking some samples with a microphone could have such impressive results.

    The second thing: DAC's for computers. I recently saw that Cambridge Audio released a DAC for (among other things) computers (http://www.cambridgeaudio.com/summary.php?PID=320&...">http://www.cambridgeaudio.com/summary.php?PID=320&.... Maybe a good idea to compare that to the setup used in the article. It seems to me that instead of all those components it would (for the most of us) be alot easier if it was just in one box. But maybe that is just me :-)

    Anyway, nice article. It shows that people who are intrested in audio and are willing to do something for it are always on a never ending road B-)
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    ... that this article shows that looks are not everything, as those drivers look like the cheap junk that comes in stock car systems. Reply
  • jabber - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    They probably are! Remember in the world of 'high-end hi-fi' you build a component out of $20 worth of bits, stick a bit of varnish sanded wood on it then add on the 2000% 'hi-fi mug tax'.

    Its one of the best businesses to be in if you are unprincipled and lazy.

    Your customers are easy because they have invested so much money in their systems they are always open to fear and doubt about it. Easy prey!
    Reply
  • ccd - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    In an attempt to keep the article from getting too long, the author has skipped for a number of controversies where audiophiles have basically agreed to disagree.

    1) Tube vs Solid State Electronics: Go to a site like audioasylum and you can hear this debate rage ad nauseum. This is a subset of the whole analogue versus digital debate. There are "golden ears" who will swear that only SET provide the best musical reproduction and others who will claim that tubes lend a warmth to some music that is pleasing, but not accurate.

    2) Full Range vs. Speakers with Crossovers: Some argue that crossovers distort the sound and others who say you can't hear it.

    3) Tweaking: There are those of us who think that tweakers just like to tweak and that most of the tweaks really are not audible.

    If you want Exhibit "A" for the solid state position, you need look no further than the Linkwitz Orion speaker which is a 3-way speaker for which some relatively inexpensive SS electronics is recommended. This speaker is hands down the best speaker I have personally ever heard. It also represents a trend in speakers with crossovers toward having dipole mid-ranges.

    A much more appropriate article, IMHO, would have been to discuss the viability of the PC as a single box solution for sound. In the past, there have been a number of obstacles to this. First, the soundcards reputed to have the best sound reproduction (ie, Lynx) are both expensive and not designed for use by audiophiles. For example, volume control with high end sound cards is cumbersome. Second, anything beyond 2-channel sound with a Lynx card becomes extremely expensive. Third, the use of a PC as a single solution is limiting because a PC is not setup to switch between sound sources: you are limited to your CD drive and the music on your hard drive. Fourth, even the best cards lack the ability to handle certain music formats.

    Some of this may be about to change with the introduction of the HDAV soundcard which was mentioned in a previous Anandtech article. An article on that soundcard and how it affects the ability of the PC to act as a soundsource without an external CD player would have been a much more interesting and appropriate article for Anandtech.
    Reply
  • quanta - Friday, December 05, 2008 - link

    To throw into the tube vs solid state amplifier argument, there seems to be two words that will throw vacuum tube into the... vacuum: Pritchard Amps. It has built quite a reputation on making warm sounds with transistors.

    That aside, didn't AOpen tried building a series of vacuum tube PC motherboards (eg: AK79G, AX4B-533)? Judging on how quickly it went out of production, it seems there aren't enough audiophiles to even care about the differences to sustain the market anymore, especially with the growing generation who has destroyed their eardrums with loud MP3 players...
    Reply
  • steveyballme - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    Vista has the best Audio support there is! Just keep your DRM straight and paid up!

    http://fakesteveballmer.blogspot.com">http://fakesteveballmer.blogspot.com
    Reply
  • slashbinslashbash - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    This has got to the most ridiculous article I've ever seen on AnandTech. Far worse than the digital camera reviews -- at least there's inherent objectivity in the images produced. This whole review is just a bunch of meandering, billowy BS. Has the reviewer conducted ANY double-blind tests of these various audio components? I quote one small part of the article:

    "I find the battery input to provide cleaner, tighter bass notes, more perceived air throughout the mid-band and high frequency range, and better stereo imaging."

    This is either a case of the placebo effect, or the battery causes the components to output slightly higher signal levels than the DC power supply. "Cleaner, tighter bass; more air in the mids and highs; and better stereo imaging" is a classic symptom of "one system is 1 dB or so louder than the other." Slight increases in loudness are not perceived as such, but rather as improvements in clarity and imaging. Pull out your SPL meter and watch the peaks on some program source with the different power sources. This is the first step in setting up a robust listening test. Matching levels is critical.

    A friend and I once held a critical listening comparison of 2 CD's: one the original, one "24-bit remastered". At the first listening test, we were able to tell which disc was playing with surprising reliability. Investigating further, we were surprised to find that the remastered disc had wildly varying SPL levels from the original; it even varied from song to song. Once we matched the levels, we were unable to perceive any difference between the 2 CD's, based on single-blind tests (tester knew which was which, listener did not, tester was behind a partition wall the whole time and was never in view of the listener).
    Reply
  • phusg - Tuesday, December 02, 2008 - link

    Very good point! Reply
  • mindless1 - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    Both the battery pack and wall wart were before a reasonably good (though even with a lowly LM7809 that'd be enough to negate the factor you mentioned) regulation stage that presumably remained a constant, it is not likely the end result would be higher SPL levels with one than the other. You had a significantly different situation when you and your friend started out with two different versions of the same recording.

    However, whether it was a placebo effect or not we can't say since we weren't there to hear it.
    Reply
  • slashbinslashbash - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    First, let's give the author the benefit of the doubt and say that he did indeed hear the differences he described. (Removing the placebo effect explanation, for now.)

    Now, you seem to be positing that the SPL *wasn't* affected by the power supply, because the power supply was sufficiently regulated; but the bass somehow magically became tighter and the mids and highs became more airy.... due to the power supply. You are saying that the power supply still caused a difference, but that the difference was more subtle and mysterious. I posited a simple explanation; yours is more complicated. Of course, either explanation is possible, but we have no way of knowing, due to the complete lack of scientific rigor in the author's discussion.

    I agree, of course, that the situation is completely different from the listening test that my friend and I performed. I used it only as an example, however, of the well known acoustic phenomenon that "subtly louder sounds better" (not to mention an example of how to perform a reasonably robust audio test).

    So, in effect, I was throwing down the gauntlet to the author: perform a listening test with the two different power sources. First, test the SPL output with both setups and make sure that they are identical. If they are, then have a friend switch between one and the other, giving no indicationwhich is currently hooked up. Do this 10 times; if you can identify the correct power source 8 times or more, I will believe that you can hear the difference. Write them down on paper and do not show your answers to your friend until the test is completed, and do not communicate in any way with your friend during the entire test (ideally, have both him and the equipment hidden behind a partition; and the test sequence should be created by a randomizer).
    Reply
  • RagingDragon - Saturday, December 06, 2008 - link

    The reasoning behind "battery sounds better than wall wart" is that the wall wart is a switching power supply, as such it imparts some degree of noise and ripple in the power; whereas, the battery would provide more uniform power; therefore, the battery should provide clearer more uniform sound. I haven't tested this hypothesis, nor do I care enough to do so, so I'll refrain from commenting on its correctness. Reply
  • Spivonious - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    That reminds me of the time I took my original Peace Sells vinyl, original Peace Sells CD, and the 24-bit remastered Peace Sells CD, and played them all on my dad's $10k+ tube system (complete with 24-bit DAC of course).

    Which sounded the best? The vinyl. Isn't it silly how after all of this digital technology that we still can't imitate an analog source?
    Reply
  • CSMR - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    You can imitate an analog source. The people who mastered the CDs didn't want to. If you ran the vinyl into your dad's player and recorded it on PC and made a CD you would get something audibly the same as the vinyl (assuming the sound card and CD player are any good).
    But what about taking a digital recording and making it sound like a record? Anyone know of any good vinylify DSPs?
    Reply
  • murray13 - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    No one can doubt your enthusiasm Rajinder! I enjoyed reading about what you found out.

    Have you tried using the DRC on a 'good' PC audio card? Now that is something I would like to hear.

    As I personally use headphones, using DRC is problematic at best...

    The one thing that has ALWAYS bugged me about Audiophiles in general is that they use recordings that they were not there to hear when recorded. If you don't know what something is supposed to sound like, how in the world can someone say that one thing or another sounds more 'realistic' than something else, when talking about the n'th degree. {rant mode off}

    With all this said, I look forward to reading the next installment.
    Reply
  • kleshodnic - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    Uh, just go digital out (TOS/link or HDMI) to a receiver and let ther receiver do the DAC'ing.

    Want a better DAC? Buy a better receiver. Not only will you get the better DAC, you will get a ton of other great features with a higher end receiver.

    All this talk about computer audio is assuming that you would want to come analog out from the computer. WHY?
    Reply
  • phusg - Tuesday, December 02, 2008 - link

    It would be a lot easier I agree, but AFAIK only really expensive top-end receivers can challenge the analog out you can get from a quality consumer audio card with upgraded opamps, especially when it comes to stereo music. They are also not usually moddable. Can you link to a review of receiver with audiophile quality stereo DAC? Reply
  • pedobosz - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    an interesting place to publish such an article. Have you thought of perhaps submitting to Stereophile or The Absolute Sound ? I'm sure you are just trying to raise the awareness of the PC crowd to the possibilities of great audio, but reading through the other replys, I think you are preaching to the deaf......with the exception of the Martin Logan fellow.
    Reply
  • jnmfox - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    Computers and audio (mostly Home Theater) are my main two hobbies. I agree this article doesn't fit here at anandtech.com. I've never understood the esoteric audio crowd. If you want quality audio information go to audioholics.com or other reputable audio sites. Reply
  • jabber - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    I have to say the article and lengths gone to are way over the top for what in most cases is required.

    The kits combined with the PC audio side is way esoteric too.

    Well intentioned but sledgehammer to crack nut.......
    Reply
  • haukionkannel - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    Hmmm... When we talk about HiFi nothing is "bit over".
    For a hifi system this was relative middle range solution. The biggest consern, if you have to find one, is that the speakers will most propably have the biggest effect an the hearing experience. These type of speakers ar not meat to be the most precise in their "room" picture. And I don't say that it's a bad thing! They are good speakers. Some studio monitors would maybe be better for testing the PC as an "Hifi" sound source, because they try not to affect the sound at same way as some High end HiFi speakers, but again it's more of a matter of taste. For example Genelec speakers sound good for Vocal based music. These in here are better in music where accuracy is not so important. So it allso depends on what music you like to listen to. Just like someone above said.

    I would like to see how the sound compares between good Hifi cd-player and a PC. With the same music piece and speakers. This set with those tubes can make the sound varmer, that is good for some not so good mp3 files. More accurate monitor speakers and normal amplifier, will most propably reveal the difference between good cd and not so good PC based mp3 more clearly.

    Most people who are really interested in HiFi systems spent even more money than in test to their system. The real guestion is that is the PC good enough soundsource for system like that.
    Reply
  • jabber - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    Yes but real high end hifi is really usually bought by what Top Gear would call 'cocks'. Folks that just see money and how much they spent rather then just enjoying music. $50000 hifi systems geared to playing just 10 specialist audiophile CDs just screams "I've led a sad and lonely life!" to me.

    Show me a $1000 system surrounded by piles of CDs and LPs, now thats an exciting system!

    The readership of this site I would say on the whole would have far more modest hifi setups.

    Once you spend so much on a hi-fi you fall into the trap of listening to the equipment rather then the music itself.
    Reply
  • Spivonious - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    Spending that much time and effort to listen to pop music is just about the silliest thing I've ever heard.

    At least put something on that will work the equipment, like a Beethoven string quartet, or a Bach choral work.

    And you never even touched on the issue of vinyl vs digital. To my ears, vinyl sounds so much more organic than the plasticy sound of CDs, even through a $15,000 tube-driven stereo system.
    Reply
  • Rajinder Gill - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    Actually, I'm just listening to some Vaughan Williams right now. Just because there's no mention in the article does not mean to say I live without classical pieces.

    Peace...
    Reply
  • Hyperion1400 - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    Amen to that. There is no set style of music for audiophiles. I personally enjoy metal and classic punk (bad religion,sex pistols etc.) as well as a mix of classical composers(I have always had a strange love for Beethoven's 9th after watching Neon Genesis Evangelion)

    Also, will you be doing a review of the X-fi Elite Pro or will you be primarily dealing with external hardware. I know I will most likely be shunned for mentioning such a thing in the same post as (vicariously) declaring myself an audiophile, but I absolutely love mine. Without that card and my Senhiesser HD 650s, I don't think I could listen to my music/games the same way again(no pun intended)
    Reply
  • johnYks - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    Hello Rajinder - Excellent article
    Anyone interested in pursuing similar projects
    is advised to go to
    DIYAUDIO.com and read the thread in the speaker section
    titled A How to for a PC XO
    http://www.diyaudio.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&a...">http://www.diyaudio.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&a...

    Another excellent source of information can be found at
    AUDIOASYLUM.com under the section Digital PC audio
    http://www.audioasylum.com/cgi/etv.mpl?forum=pcaud...">http://www.audioasylum.com/cgi/etv.mpl?forum=pcaud...
    look for the following threads
    cMP the open source memory player
    http://www.audioasylum.com/cgi/vt.mpl?f=pcaudio&am...">http://www.audioasylum.com/cgi/vt.mpl?f=pcaudio&am...
    and cPlay the open source high end player
    http://www.audioasylum.com/cgi/vt.mpl?f=pcaudio&am...">http://www.audioasylum.com/cgi/vt.mpl?f=pcaudio&am...
    Reply
  • Rajinder Gill - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    Thx John, excellent links.
    Reply
  • CSMR - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    I'm afraid the author is just the typical novice audiophile who has been taken in by an unscientific way of thinking; it's a shame to have an article like this on AnandTech.
    It touches on interesting issues but without proper discussion. (Discussion of DRC with no mention or use of complementary/alternative use of room treatments.)

    -Producing an analog line out with fidelity well beyond the range of human hearing is no problem these days. You don't need a fancy solution. There is no need to fiddle with I2S, or external DACs at all. You have semi-pro sound cards with analog out well beyond 16/44 fidelity.
    -kmixer no longer exists. There is no need to discuss it in a new system. It's a particular flaw of Windows XP, not Vista.
    -In a review of an audiophile computer system it is irrelevent to list amps/speakers/etc because the computer has only has three requirements - producing good analog out (very easy), being quiet (much harder), and good software (harder).
    -But if you do mention these things you should choose good ones. Tube amps are expensive, power-hungry, and often distorting. If you want any sort of alteration in the signal you can use DSP on the computer system, it's one of the advantages. And just use a good technically competent amp, with enough power, low output impedance, good s/n, etc.. Class D is today's technology; where have you been the last 5 years?
    -The computer is badly designed. Apart from unnecessary complexity (a simple pro-audio sound card should suffice), the computer is not designed to be silent. X48 is not the appropriate choice for a silent PC, and other choices are also bad.
    -The author is well-read like most audiophiles but has learned from the wrong sources, namely other audiophiles rather instead of people who know about audio engineering, and so is full of misinformation despite his enthusiasm.
    Reply
  • mindless1 - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    Your opening and closing statements are a bit ironic for having so many false conclusions.

    1) Analog out with fidelity beyond the range of human hearing is irrelevant, fidelity within it is. It is a fact that even switching an ompamp alone changes the sonic signature... anywhere in the chain. Also, there is no need for "semi-pro" sound cards, some of those are no better than a properly designed non-pro card. Pro tends to mean features and software, not basic audio quality beyond the cost of the DAC if talking analog output but why are we talking analog output? That is insane, the sound should leave the PC digitized still until a DAC local to the power amp converts it. No amount of money you spend on a pro sound card with analog output and no amount of modifying that card to make it even better will equal with an off the shelf reference DAC design will achieve by simply getting the analog subsection out of the PC and keeping cable losses and noise pickup minimized.

    2) It is relevant to list speakers and amps because they can and do color the sound, and provide a reference of whether someone can or can't hear something due to there being no difference or that they weren't changing the problem part or weakest link.

    3) I agree, tubes are a personal preference probably best left out of an article but to replicate with DSP is a bad idea if tube-like sound is the goal, it never sounds the same. It is not enough to just use a technically competent amp with all the paper specs the same, plenty of amps with very good s/n ratio that sound difference can demonstrate this. s/n ratio is an incomplete method of describing audible differences and often fails in the resolution of the sampling and order of harmonic distortions present. Class D? You must be joking that being "today's" tech is important. Good old class A biased transistors stomp all over class D in everything except efficiency. Remember, it's not about novel ideas, it's about what actually sounds best... and to the author that might even be tubes.

    4) About the computer, a X6800 CPU, 4GB memory, and Vista are all ludicrous overkill. Probably a Celeron 500 with 64MB memory would be fine, but claiming the X48 chipset system is loud based on some arbitrary assumption about heat without consideration of cooling design and that it's many times higher in performance than needed? The system could probably be underclocked and undervolted as far as it can go then every fan can be unplugged if you feel so strongly about that.

    5) You claim to know audio engineering. You may know about integrated circuit engineering, how to plug a chip in and follow a schematic, or you may not - this is a different tangent, but you don't know how the variables interact to change the sound in ways that are DBX audible. In some cases one change alone may not even be audible but the sum of several changes are. You might not feel it if someone dropped a grain of sand upon your head but what if it was a bucket full?
    Reply
  • CSMR - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    Thank you for the reply.
    1. I suggested semi-pro level card because they produce good analog output and maybe more importantly have good and flexible drivers which can be used for DSP and audio routing, and because they can be relatively inexpensive by audiophile standards ($100-$300). I haven't studied the range of consumer cards but if they produce good enough analog output and you don't mind using 1/8" jacks which can be unreliable, then they are a good option.
    I didn't suggest modding or spending a lot of money because it's pointless if all you need is good analog output.
    2. But an a review of an audiophile computer need not involve how it sounds! Relevant factors are price, noise, analog out measurements.
    3. OK class D and A compete at the high-end but for budget amps you can get very good class Ds and not class As, and mostly I would recomment budget amps because other factors (speakers, room acoustics, DSP) are much more important.
    4. You can't undervolt enthusiast components to low power levels, and yes they can be cooled quietly but it becomes harder and more expensive with no actual benefit, so what's the point? Undervolting and underclocking only works to some extent on some components btw. Often only the processor.
    5. Maybe changing the opamps has a measureable effect then. The study I posted concluded that a combination of ADC+96/24->16/44 downsampling+DAC resulted in no audible effect, and none of these components were high end. I would conclude that all of these steps was essentially perfect, as far as hearing is concerned. Yes, maybe combined with other effects it can make a slight difference. So bump up qaulity (s/n, thd, frequency response) by a few db by using a good card and just a DAC. Now the effect is not a grain of sand but a fraction of a grain of sand. Whereas speakers, DSP, room acoustics have HUGE effects.
    Reply
  • phusg - Tuesday, December 02, 2008 - link

    Guys, feel free to discuss what you like, but personally I'd say discussions about speakers (important as they are to the sound you hear) are pretty much off-topic for a PC hardware site such as anandtech.

    Another interesting discussion which I missed was analog or digital out of the PC. Sure going digital with an outboard DAC is a reasonable way to go but plenty of sites cater to that route, and it doesn't have much to do with home computing anymore. I would like to hear more on the analog option.

    The really interesting bit to me is the DRC software. Thanks for opening my eyes to this. Unfortunately not testing the open source ACXO software because you couldn't install or find a Windows XP system, but still recommending it, is a bit lame. Now I'll have to install and test it on my own system, which is exactly what I want to avoid by coming to a site like this.
    Reply
  • RamarC - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    i'm not sure all of your criticism is warranted but i do agree that this article is very out-of-place on anandtech. with the somewhat exoctic amps and speakers, it should be on a home theater mag/website or some other speciality audio site, but not my "source for hardware analysis and news".
    Reply
  • aapocketz - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    RamarC has pointed out something that struck me as well, why is this posted on anandtech (not the blogs even). Its somewhat out of place. Also I think CSMR has a point, it seems a bit like cargo cult science to me. Next we will be talking about gold foil CDs and premium HDMI cables and stickers to get your cell phone better reception. Reply
  • whatthehey - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    I'm afraid the above poster is just the typical arrogant troll who has been mistaken in thinking his opinion is somehow more important than yours; it's a shame to have post like this in the AnandTech comments.

    It touches on some issues but without meaningful discussion. (Discussion of flaws with no real proof of how they're wrong, other than to suggest much more informaiton is needed.)

    -Producing an analog line out with fidelity well beyond the range of human hearing is no problem these days. Obviously. You dimwit, Rajander! How dare you suggest that you can actually hear a difference, when clearly it's a trivial problem solved by sound engineers five years ago. Didn't you know that a $150 sound card is all you need?

    -In a post in Anandtech comments, it's tradition to bitch about the choice of components. God forbid anyone use what is available instaed when he admits the core aspect (analog out) isn't that hard. You should never use X48 in anything even if that's what you have, because other better options abound. See his list of good alternatives and clear, concise explanation of how they're superior.

    -Where have you been the last 5 years? All you need to do is plug in a semi-pro sound card and all your problems are solved. Just look at all the testing and results he's compiled in the above post!

    -Your software choices also are terrible. Again, see his list of superior alternatives as constructive criticism.

    -The poster is opinionated like most readers but has learned to believe in a subjective audio article exploring a new subject, your opinion is wrong and his is right. Who in the hell listens to any audiophiles when all you need is some people that know about audio engineering? Because obviously he does!

    In short, despite his obvious disdain for your treading in his territory, he contributes nothing to the discussion other than to piss on your ideas and those of all other audiophiles, without any clear indication that there's a better way.

    The only real problem I have with articles like this is that they're so subjective... and they cause the opinionated trolls of the internet to surface and tell you you're totally wrong and the article should never have been posted, but without any clearly better alternative. It seems like this might become another area similar to digital cameras if you don't back the f*** off, because you should just listen to audio engineers. Don't trust your ears or anything else; trust the guy posting anonymously without any links to back up his assertions.

    Personally, I only know enough about audio to say that sound mixers and the like use all sorts of different mics, speakers, DAC/ADC, etc. because it really does make a profound difference. That's why some albums come out sounding amazing and others suck; it's an art form rather than engineering. God forbid engineers be put in charge of anything where creativity plays a role. FWIW, I'm sure the final result is highly pleasing to you, and that's what's really important. Now I'm just going back to my boring old audio setup that does what I need it to do (because I don't really listen to music much).
    Reply
  • CSMR - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    -Analog fidelity is measurable and there have been tests done to show how far human ears can hear.
    One example here: http://www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=14195">http://www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=14195
    A 16/44 ADA loop inserted into a hi-res audio stream was inaudible to a group of pros and audiophiles with good equipment. Good semi-pro audio cards operating at 24/96 will have measured specs better (s/n, thd) much better than ideal 16/44.
    So your first point which you meant to be ironic is in fact true; the irony is on you mate.
    -The X48 and other chosen components have high power consumption. These components are good choices for some uses but not others. It is perfectly fine and normal for tech-savvy posters on anandtech including myself to point out that a combination of components is not optimal.
    -I had no problem with the software choices. The DRC software I am sure is a good piece of software.
    -There is in fact research done into audio production. Audio engineers design all parts along the recording and playback chain and it is not all magic, at least for those that aren't involved with marketing to audiophiles.
    -Yes various choices in recording are important but not those of DAC/ADC because these components are so good these days. Any decent DAC/ADC will be indiscernable from any other. That is not true of mics, mic preamps to a lesser extent, and styles of mixing. And also speakers. These are places subjectivity is inevitable and important.
    Reply
  • mindless1 - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    The fact is, even audio streams that measure the same can and do still sound different. The problem is the resolution of measurement and the misconceived notion that the brain interprets sound at a fixed interval as measured.

    There's a lot of snake oil in the audiophile world, but there's also a lot of what you'd like to call "magic" only be cause you don't accept it as non-magic.

    Any decent DAC would in idealized theory be as good, but in practice a different IC topology may lend itself better to certain inherant localized noise frequencies and cutoffs, be better mated to the circuit it's dropped into, have drifts from thermal changes, etc. If they were all the same why would there be so many? I will agree that which modern DAC is used in a reasonably good design matters less than what follows after it in the chain but the best way to minimize any potential for degradation is to start out with what is most likely to minimize it in every way possible then following this concept the entire time, waiting and seeing if the end result is audibly different rather than downplaying them all without knowing the additive result yet.
    Reply
  • CSMR - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    Yes if you are maximizing quality you will choose the best of all components. But it's more sensible to care about cost and time too, so you have to prioritize. The value of the research about the unimportance of DACs (at at beyond a certain level) is that you can stop worrying about this part of the chain and spend you time/money where it is important. Reply
  • JonnyDough - Tuesday, December 02, 2008 - link

    Exactly my point. Why spend more on one component if it's going to be "bottlenecked" by another one. Spending $2000 on a nice amp is crazy if your other components are crap. I think in the end it's like all other techs. You want decent stuff for a reasonable price unless you have more money than brains. While I scoff at people willing to spend more than few thousand on a sound system, without them we wouldn't have gotten to where we are today - with good possibilities on the market. As long as you like what you hear, who cares if it's perfect? At one point is something "good enough?" I mean honestly, there are people starving in the world, friends dying of cancer, etc...and we want to worry about whether or not something is inaudibly "perfect." Blow your money on something that MATTERS, you can't listen to music every hour of everyday unless your job is singing. Reply
  • CSMR - Tuesday, December 02, 2008 - link

    I meant you can spend time/money on speakers/room acoustics/dsp but food for starving people is admittedly a better use of time and money. Reply
  • JonnyDough - Wednesday, December 03, 2008 - link

    That's actually a matter of perspective. For example, you can donate food to a starving kid in some third world country and next thing you know that child has three kids and no way to feed them - and you've just marginally made the problem worse, not better.

    I think money is better spent on education, which leads to fewer babies. Many countries do not have quality farmland that can support the population on their own (the U.S. supports a large percentage of the world's population). Then there's natural habitat destruction, pollution from oil for having to ship food to them, etc. You get the picture.
    Reply
  • JonnyDough - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    While I was generally agreeing with CMSR above, I guess what everyone ends up saying is that hearing is subjective, which is something audiophiles are always agreeing upon yet they still love to argue over things.

    Does a vinyl record produce better sound than a CD?

    It depends on what an individual values most.

    A CD may produce less static noise, but have a "duller" sound, seemingly less highs and lows. It all depends on what one appreciates with their own ears.

    While there are measurements that can be taken in a closed chamber, one sound system might actually sound better in a specific home or room than another for whatever reason. Even so, the average person can rarely tell a difference these days between the moderately priced components.

    The really silly thing is that people will spend $200 on a sound card and then use cheap plastic speakers.
    Reply
  • Rajinder Gill - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    Lol, it's ok, everyone in entitled to have their say.

    It's the first piece so bear with us while we try to cater to a wider set of ideals.

    With regards to the obj/subj stuff, it's an argument that'll never be solved.


    later
    Reply
  • CSMR - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    Sorry if I came on too strongly; I was just expecting that Anandtech would have not necessarily an expert take but at least a more technical take than you get in audiophile communities.
    I would do some more fundamental thinking about what are the key factors in computer audio playback.
    As a start you could rank in terms of what is most critical:
    computer performance, computer quietness, software (drivers, dsp), analog line out, volume control, amplification, cables, speakers, room acoustics.
    I won't give you my list but you should think about it and it is possible to compare many of these things in a very quantitative way, and some are more important than others by several orders of magnitude.
    Reply
  • AnnihilatorX - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    A dumb question about correction.

    The theory behind it is simple enough, but why do we need dedicated hardware to do the correction? Why can't we use simple graphical equalizers? I understand graphical equalizers are quite discrete in the range of selectable frequencies. How much difference does it make?
    Reply
  • Rajinder Gill - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    DRC - ease of use and range of control, plus taking care of things in the digital realm rather than in the analogue.You could fudge some control with a multi band digital equaliser and the means to measure the response, but it'd be damn tedious and utimately limited.
    Reply
  • Christobevii3 - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    What about using a dts/ddl sound card to output to a basic receiver? Reply
  • Rajinder Gill - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    If going to the nth degree for 2 channel it’s hard to look past USB-I2S in async. For multichannel, a DTS/DDL card is perfectly adequate. Although I’d still use an external solution if I could find one. Reply
  • wolrah - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    How do you figure I2S is any better than S/PDIF? S/PDIF supports up to 20 bit resolution at either 48 or 44.1 KHz, so it can carry a CD audio stream natively. The bits on the disc are the bits flowing out the optical port on the back of your gear of choice.

    In theory an I2S signal will be able to take more interference, but when we're talking optical signals in a home environment the kind of interference needed to make a difference would be on the scale that you'd never be able to listen to anything.
    Reply
  • Goty - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    Well that's easy to answer:

    Nope. I'll stick with my Martin Logans, tyvm.
    Reply
  • wolrah - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    In fact it easily can, because plain and simple reading from the disc itself is error prone. A one time rip to WAV or [lossless format of your choice] using cdparanoia on its insane mode output through a high quality sound card will be the same as or better than any silly 4 digit CD player.

    Even playing straight off the disc, there's no reason to believe any "audiophile" gear will play a CD any better than any other CD player unless there's a design flaw like a crappy power supply.


    On the note of power supply, am I the only one who laughed at the bit about the battery vs. the wall wart? Who wants to bet that he's never double-blind tested that one. That's the wonderful thing with A/V gear snake oil, it's very easy to hear what you want to hear.
    Reply
  • mindless1 - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    I've hand-built amps for years and double-blind tested batteries and wall warts. Yes there is a difference. A good (read: overkill for anyone not into building audiophile equipment) localized power filter stage, if not localized regulation, would ideally negate the difference between the two power sources but that can also unnecessarily increase the build complexity, time, and cost.

    PS the battery is almost always inferior assuming the wart has proper shielding or is inadequate in capacity, and generally I refer to a wart as only a transformer and rectification stage, not trying to build an entire high precision linear regulation stage inside of it due to limited space and EMI.
    Reply
  • Rajinder Gill - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    Martin Logan makes electrostatic loudspeakers if I recall.I'm not sure where that fits into using a PC as a transport and for DRC. Unless you're refering to the approval of open baffle design loudspeakers using te supravox drivers?

    Reply
  • plonk420 - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    this is surreal...

    my $20 Chaintech AV-710 just died in the last 48 hours. i've been trying to resist the Head-Fi audiophile talk and try to find cooler heads to verify whether or not i should go X-Fi or DAC (something silly looking like the HotAudio HotUSB1 or Silverstone), or try to figure out if i'm experiencing the placebo effect "falling back upon" my ALC883, which i can swear "doesn't sound as good" EVEN THOUGH i'm fully aware of the power of placebo.

    i'm not sure i liked the mixed bag of positive and negative reports on (cheap) X-Fi vs Xonar vs X-Fi USB vs some DAC vs E-Mu 0404/0202
    Reply
  • mindless1 - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    Choose a Creative card for gaming sound effects. Choose a DIY DAC for highest audio quality at a reasonable price. Buying some cheap commodity grade DAC is a gamble, I'm not familiar with those two products you mentioned but generally in the consumer segment and price range you end up buying an idea, a type of tech but not excellence in that execution.

    MOtherboard integrated audio usually doesn't sound as good including one using ALC883, though someone with poor hearing or gear may notice the difference less and less depending on where the weakest link in the chain is and how bad it is.
    Reply
  • Gannon - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    I have an X-Fi and it's better then my audigy, mind you I got the more expensive version with front panel and the remote. I use it for everything and have never had a problem, though I don't use vista at all just XP. Reply
  • Gannon - Monday, December 01, 2008 - link

    I have an X-Fi and it's better then my audigy, mind you I got the more expensive version with front panel and the remote. I use it for everything and have never had a problem, though I don't use vista at all just XP. Reply
  • erikejw - Tuesday, December 02, 2008 - link

    I ripped everything onto my PC and go with a decent soundcard and use digital out and lets my stereo do all the decoding.

    Since good stereos, receivers probably have better AC3 cicruits I thought about coding all my cd wavs to lossless AC3 but never did.

    If you use a 5.1 reciver make sure the stereo wavs does not get converted to 5.1, that really distorts the audio.
    Reply
  • wjgoodrich - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    Hi,

    I'm poking around the web looking for a kit that will accept as an input the I2S signal output from a γ1 Modular Miniature DAC kit that I'm putting together (from AMB labs: http://www.amb.org/audio/gamma1/).

    I'm only using this AMB kit for the USB-to-I2S component. My goal is to find a kit valve kit (vacuum tubes) that would act as a I2S to analog DAC headphone amp.

    Anyone? Thoughts?

    Thanks!
    Bill
    Reply

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