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What's the best audio output from the computer?

post #1 of 30
Thread Starter 
At the moment I'm finishing up my Gamma 2 which I am very much looking forward to. So I suppose my first question is; when connecting to my computer, which is the best output possible from the computer (optical, USB, digital coax)? Do understand that the optical and digital coax are the outputs of my Creative X-Fi Platinum and there is some DSP behind it.

I guess, I'm also asking which of the three outputs are the most "pure", that way I'll just allow the Gamma 2 to upsample the signal alone and not allow any other device to interfere.
post #2 of 30
Most high end systems go like this:

Computer --> USB --> SPDIF transport --> Coax/Optical -->

or

Computer --> Sound Card --> Coax/Optical

If you include USB in the running, it's the most varied of all three connections. It's mostly about the receiving end (and a little bit about a clean USB bus). Some of the best devices have USB ins, along with other inputs, and it's your discretion to decide which is better in your product.

Between just optical and coaxial, most people seem to prefer coaxial, because the parts inside (transmitter/receiver) matter a LOT less in the exchange of the information. It has it's problems and limitations aswell, but, they seem to pop up less. I'd actually recommend you get a basic cable for each of them, and see which works better for you. If you'd rather just jump in head first, get a coaxial RCA cable, and if you don't have any distortion or noise problems, call it a day.
post #3 of 30
Go with Coax or optical. Some prefer Coax and some prefer optical for different reasons.
If you use the S/pdif output from your card you can set it for no processing.
I think you might want to consider a high quality unit such as the HiFace, this conencts to USB and allows Coaxial output. There is a thread around here on it and many suggest it sound better then other coaxial output during their tests.
post #4 of 30

ditto robscix again!

I found no appreciable difference running an E-mu 0404 pci to my Benchmark DAC1 with good optical or coax. You will hear differences between optical cables and coax cables at differing price points and you get to the point of diminishing returns pretty quick at about $150.

Just don't start out with a $15 optical cable or coax and expect it to be very transparent.

And be sure to turn off all the dsp with your sound card software.

good luck!
post #5 of 30
Get a HiFace
post #6 of 30
For me it is USB, for convenience and ease. I would have gone with coax or optical if there was a clear consensus as to one being better than the other or USB, but there is not.
post #7 of 30

there are some

Quote:
Originally Posted by Prog Rock Man View Post
For me it is USB, for convenience and ease. I would have gone with coax or optical if there was a clear consensus as to one being better than the other or USB, but there is not.
there are some examples of coax and optical sounding a bit better than usb

EDIT- removed comment about Ayre and Benchmark since I cannot find supporting posts, although I do believe i read some info on usb implementations not sounding as good as spdif with some dacs, not sure of brand.
post #8 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by bixby View Post
there are some examples of coax and optical sounding a bit better than usb with a number of higher end dacs, like Ayre and Benchmark.
With regards to Benchmark I don't see how that can be. On the brilliant Benchmark USB DAC1 thread Elias Gwinn, a Benchmark engineer, makes it clear there is no difference. Each type of cable is perfectly capable of transmitting the 1s and 0s, jitter is removed so that is not a factor and then each ends up going out the same analogue output. So how can they make a difference?
post #9 of 30
Realistically speaking, the one that sounds best to you. Any one of them can sound different because of the different implementation of the circuit and power supplied to it in the computer. Another factor is that every dac handles the different inputs differently. Some dacs take the usb input and keep it in its native i2s form which converts it straight from it which sounds better than if it converts the usb signal into something else before converting it. That is just one example. So it depends on 2 things, the dac and the computer. My advise is to try all three and see which one you will like because every setup is going to respond differently to the different inputs/outputs.
post #10 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prog Rock Man View Post
With regards to Benchmark I don't see how that can be. On the brilliant Benchmark USB DAC1 thread Elias Gwinn, a Benchmark engineer, makes it clear there is no difference. Each type of cable is perfectly capable of transmitting the 1s and 0s, jitter is removed so that is not a factor and then each ends up going out the same analogue output. So how can they make a difference?
edited original post, see my comment!

I still believe it is not as simple as ones and zeros. In computer audio, I am finding that lots matters. Even internal drives vs external drives when playing a file for example. I would have never ever thought there could be an audible difference.
post #11 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hybrys View Post

Most high end systems go like this:

Computer --> USB --> SPDIF transport --> Coax/Optical -->

Quote:
Originally Posted by ROBSCIX View Post

I think you might want to consider a high quality unit such as the HiFace, this conencts to USB and allows Coaxial output.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prog Rock Man View Post

For me it is USB, for convenience and ease. I would have gone with coax or optical if there was a clear consensus as to one being better than the other or USB, but there is not.
Quote:
Originally Posted by KingStyles View Post

Any one of them can sound different because of the different implementation of the circuit and power supplied to it in the computer.

Some dacs take the usb input and keep it in its native i2s form which converts it straight from it which sounds better than if it converts the usb signal into something else before converting it.
This is slightly off topic, but do you guys think all the USB ports on a given computer sound the same? Some have mice and keyboards on them, while others have peripherals like printers and scanners....

I tried the USB ports on my laptop rig. The three in the back sounded the same but the one on the side seemed better.

Do all your USB ports sound the same?

USG
post #12 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by upstateguy View Post
This is slightly off topic, but do you guys think all the USB ports on a given computer sound the same? Some have mice and keyboards on them, while others have peripherals like printers and scanners....

I tried the USB ports on my laptop rig. The three in the back sounded the same but the one on the side seemed better.

Do all your USB ports sound the same?

USG
Now, that sounds like placebo. There are things that can be affected quality wise, USB port to USB port, but it's almost always noise related. If you're seeing a difference in static or distortion appearing, then you're probably experiencing a real change. On the other hand, if you feel there's more soundstage, or punchier bass, or some such other audio difference on a particular USB port, it's 99% likely it's placebo or a software setting.

USB port static CAN be attributed to other devices on the same USB bus, or just an artifact from the splitting process. A USB bus covers two or four ports (Three is also technically possible), so moving the device to another bus may resolve any static or odd noises.
post #13 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hybrys View Post
Now, that sounds like placebo. There are things that can be affected quality wise, USB port to USB port, but it's almost always noise related. If you're seeing a difference in static or distortion appearing, then you're probably experiencing a real change. On the other hand, if you feel there's more soundstage, or punchier bass, or some such other audio difference on a particular USB port, it's 99% likely it's placebo or a software setting.

USB port static CAN be attributed to other devices on the same USB bus, or just an artifact from the splitting process. A USB bus covers two or four ports (Three is also technically possible), so moving the device to another bus may resolve any static or odd noises.
No static, no noise. One port sounded, for lack of a better word, clearer (or maybe even slightly louder) than the other 3.

Placebo? Has to be, right?

Now check this out: I swapped out a new i5 windows 7 laptop I was setting up for my wife with my old 3GB Northwood XP laptop. Same USB rig, different computers. My over all impression was that the new computer running Wasapi was much "clearer" and "cleaner" than the asio4all XP computer..... More placebo, right?

Would you mind trying out your usb ports to see if there is a difference?

USG
post #14 of 30
M2Tech Hiface as mentioned above or Musiland 02.
post #15 of 30

everything matters

there is a fair amount of anecdotal evidence that with macs there is a difference between usb ports and sound quality on a particular pc, so I would not chalk it up to placebo per se.
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