Amplifiers


Again a little out on a limb, I'm a fan of Single Ended Triode amplifiers.

Welborne Labs had a pair of Yote 300B amplifiers in need of a little TLC listed in their bargain bin at $1000. The simple addition of tubes and a couple of plate chokes was enough to get them both working again and they sound sublime. The 96dB sensitivity of the Supravox driver marries in well enough with the 8W output of the 300B tubes. While 8W does not sound like a lot compared to the power output of most solid state amps, it's more than enough to drive the Supravox drivers to ear splitting levels. I seldom need more than 85dB or so at the listening position, so can barely account for 1W of power from the amps.

The remarkable simplicity of SET amplifiers means that they reveal every nuance of detail from the source and throw an utterly convincing soundstage that's full of texture and tone. While SETs are not everyone's cup of tea, partnered with the right speakers they manage insight and dynamics that other topologies seem to smear. I have found the addition of these amplifiers driving the 3D Sonics speakers to be revealing of almost every change I have made to upstream components, making them a perfect base to use as a test system.

A Stevens & Billington transformer volume control provides volume attenuation rather than using software level volume controls in Vista. Unfortunately, software based volume controls attenuate the signal in the digital domain by dropping bits, which can lead to a loss of resolution as soon as the volume is moved below maximum output. I've found transformer based volume controls to be very close to sounding neutral, even outperforming shunt volume control made up entirely of 0.1% tolerance laser-cut metal film resistors.

Lastly, I suppose I should mention cables. Despite my attitude towards other components, I don't do funky high-cost cables and all the fuzz associated with them. For speakers, I use a single strand of solid core 24-gauge silver covered in a simple cotton jacket. The whole shebang costs a few dollars per foot from most good audio DIY outlets and sounds fine to my ears. Interconnects are made up using either Cat 5 cable or suitable solid core coax. Power cords are all generic off the shelf types, no special plugs or dielectrics needed.

The PC

There's nothing remarkable here: a Gigabyte X48T, 4GB of OCZ Platinum DDR3, a Corsair modular PSU, and an X6800 dual-core processor. A 250GB Western Digital Caviar hard drive stores audio files in WAV format. The operating system is Vista 64, which is not ideal for audio due to some of the open source software failing to function properly if at all. There have to be compromises somewhere and current study requirements keep me on the Vista coach just to keep up to speed with its administration. Anything using a dual-core processor running at over 2GHz is likely more than sufficient for an audio server. 4GB of memory is pretty much mandatory for Vista 64 to work efficiently when placed under any kind of load. Another caveat is that I have not managed to locate any USB-ASIO drivers for the Vista 64 platform. ASIO drivers are preferred to help lower latency by routing signals directly to hardware where possible. Vista 32 and XP are fully supported by USB-ASIO, so that's something to bear in mind if you'd like to keep latency as low as possible.

The Test System Outboard DAC solutions
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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

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