Audiophile Journeys with a PCby Rajinder Gill on December 1, 2008 1:00 PM EST
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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.
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.
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notanakin - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - linkGenerally 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.
milosz - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - linkSingle 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.
Carnildo - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - linkI 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.
RagingDragon - Saturday, December 6, 2008 - linkFloating 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.
headbox - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - linkSo you tested audio in a bare room with hardwood floors. Hardly a room for an "audiophile."
strikeback03 - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - linkIMO 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.
pcfxer - Tuesday, December 2, 2008 - link"One of the chief perpetrators of this revival was a fellow named Throsten Loesch. "
You mean Siegfred Linkwitz, yes?
ccd - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - linkSigfired Linkwitz has been a major proponent of dipole speakers, not open baffle speakers.
ccd - Tuesday, December 2, 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.
royboy66 - Tuesday, December 2, 2008 - linkNow 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