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A Netbook for my new uDAC2 and Grado Headphones, Maybe?

post #1 of 25
Thread Starter 

Hello All,

 

I'm new to Head-Fi and seem to have gotten myself into a corner that I hope you can help me out of. I did search for answers in other threads but did not find an answer to my problem.

 

First I will warn you that this opening post is going to be a bit lengthy but hopefully entertaining for some and will provide enough background information for those willing to suggest a solution.

 

I am a programmer that works in a semi-open office environment. That means I spend long hours at my desk, often over night, working and listening to music. A very wide variety of music. More often than not, there are other people in the room so I must use headphones to listen to music while I work.

 

Recently I was cleaning and rearranging my office and managed to destroy a pair of headphones I have had and enjoyed for many years. So off to Future Shop I went to get some new headphones. After buying and trying several different headphones I settled on the Sennheiser HD408 headphones. I know that many of you will not consider these very good headphones but this is only the beginning of the story.

 

I chose the HD408 headphones because I found them quite comfortable, and they sounded better than my old headphones. The on-ear design meant my ears did not get all hot and sweaty. I also liked the open design that allowed me to easily hear the phone or a coworker if they spoke to me.

 

Then the trouble began . . . . .

 

I was listening to Diana Krall, “Love Letters”, from the Look of Love CD. Actually it was a VBR 128-320 mp3. During the first part of the piece there are some relatively simple tones that I noticed a bit of distortion on. I assumed that something was wrong with the headphones and went back to get a new pair to try. I grabbed a new pair of Sennheiser HD408 headphones and just in case it was the brand and model at fault, I also grabbed a pair of Bose Around-Ear Headphones. Big mistake! Back to the office to have a listen to the two new headphones. The Bose sounded incredible, but I could still hear the distortion. The new HD408 sounded exactly the same as the first pair. So now the trouble shooting began in earnest . . .

 

At home I listened to the same track, actually the original rip that I had copied to my external hard drive at work. No distortion! So I took the CD and went back to work and popped it into the mini stereo I use for computer speakers. It sounded just fine. Then I put the CD in the PC and listened to it. There was less distortion but still some. OK, now I figured it was the Intel on-board audio in my office PC. Solution, get an external USB audio card like the Creative Labs Sound Blaster X-Fi Go! Or the X-Fi Surround 5.1 device. Somewhere along the line I read about the NuForce uDAC2 and FiiO E7 USB DAC/HP Amps. Unable to decide between them I ordered both. I have not received them yet. I figured the uDAC2 will probably work best in my office and the FiiO E7 would make a great headphone amp and remote volume control for setup at home in the living room. That’s whole other story though.

 

After reading many threads regarding sound quality I also started to re-rip all my CDs to WAV format. I know about FLAC but when you have a 1TB external drive available to store all your music on, why bother. Besides I cannot install Winamp, or Foobar2000 on my office PC. I don’t have administrator privilege and don’t really want it anyway. BUT, to do some of the things you guys have suggested to get the best sound out of my digital music, I need to use one of these media players and setup ASIO and kernel something or other.

 

OK now the plot really thickens . . . .

 

I mentioned to my wife that I had tried out the Bose headphones and they sounded amazing. She said that was great because she needed ideas for my upcoming birthday and Christmas. Great except that I had read some less than flattering reviews of the Bose around-ear headphones and wondered if they were the best way to spend close to $200 Cdn. So off I go to the local audio shops to try out the Sennheiser HD555 and HD595 headphones. I had also heard people referring to Grado SR60 headphones. Just my luck the Grado SR80i and SR125i were available to try as well. To be honest I found the Sennheiser HD555 and HD595 rather bland compared to the Grado headphones. The Sennheisers were very nice, comfortable, good looking, but just kind of boring. Sorry Sennheiser fans. Bottom line I liked the Grado 125i the best, and I’m pretty sure my wife went back to the store to get them today. The one store had offered me $50 off and said they would extend that offer to my wife if she came in within a couple of days.

 

So back to my “problem”. What problem!? . . . I have a very nice mini stereo in my office, I have a uDAC2 on the way, I’m pretty sure I will soon have a pair of Grado headphones, and I have a 1TB external drive soon to be loaded with all my CDs in WAV format. The problem is that damn company PC stuck in the middle of it all. So now I would like to eliminate the company PC from my audio path, but what can I get to take the music off the external hard drive and feed it to my new uDAC2 which will in-turn feed my mini stereo and Grado headphones? It seems like a pretty simple problem. Right!?

 

Well there are all kinds of media player options but they all assume you are feeding the media to a Home Theater System that has a TV at the center. Or some other type of display to see what you are selecting and so on. So that option is out. Getting a personal media player like the Creative Zen X-Fi2 64GB was tempting but costs the same as a netbook computer.

 

Wait a minute, a netbook is a computer with USB for the external hard drive, and the uDAC2. It has a nice 10” display to manage my music files. I could install Winamp or Foobar2000 and setup all the ASIO and other stuff to get the bits to the uDAC with as little interference from Windows as possible. Hmmm . . . what about installing Linux and get rid of Windows all together. I only want to use this as a stand-lone music player.

 

So I started googling “Netbook as media player” and found mostly negative responses to the idea. On the other hand many of you talk about how much better the sound from  your various laptops is, so why not a netbook?

 

To summarize: I have a great sounding mini stereo, an external hard drive full of my CDs in wav format, a uDAC2, and a set of Grado headphones on the way. Is a netbook, possibly running a stripped down install of Linux a good option to get the music off the hard drive into my uDAC2 and on to my ears through the Grado headphones or my mini stereo? If not then what are the practical alternatives?

 

If a netbook is a viable option, is the typical Acer/Asus/HP/Samsung/Sony Netbook with an N450 processor, 1GB of ram, and a 160 GB internal drive good enough? Would there be any advantage in going to Linux or should I stick with the Windows 7 Starter that comes on most netbooks?

 

For The Record:  I have never felt quite right about using the company PC to play my music. It is not forbidden by my employer, but it still feels wrong to me. At one time I considered getting a DVD player that could play mp3 audio files, and a tiny little TV to see the DVD player menus. In the end I settled for buying my own external hard drive and a nice mini stereo and used the company PC to play the mp3 files. The idea of getting the company PC completely out of the equation appeals to me and I am willing to buy the netbook for that reason alone. However I am not willing to shell out more than the typical $300 - $400 dollars on a netbook and I also want something small and unobtrusive.

 

I look forward to any thoughts and suggestions you may have and thank you in advance for any help you can offer.

 

Todd in Ottawa


Edited by tiddler - 10/2/10 at 9:24pm
post #2 of 25
Thread Starter 

Is this the right forum to ask questions regarding the combination of a uDAC2, Netbook, and possibly switching from Windows 7 Starter to Linux?

post #3 of 25

It's the right forum.

Since you'll be using the uDAC2 via USB, i don't think it matters what kind of computer you use.

A netbook with those specs is more than enough.

I'm not really experienced with Linux, but for this situation i really don't see what advantage it might bring, so just use whatever you prefer.

post #4 of 25

The moment you use USB-audio, you bypasses the onboard sound card completely.

Netbook or Laptop or Multimedia PC, USB audio is USB audio.

 

Playing a CD is roughly processing 600 Mb in 1 hour, any PC can do this. In fact all of them are numbers to big!

However, running a media player, browsing you collection, scanning the library might be a bit more challenging. Response on a netbook might be a little slow.

A dual core 520?

 

WAV; observe that there is no tagging standard for WAV. As a consequence portability between computers and/or media players is low.

I do think a lossless format with good tagging support like FLAC is a better choice.

http://thewelltemperedcomputer.com/Intro/SQ/audio_formats.html

 

OS. I don’t think the major OS (Win, OSX, and Linux) differs much as far as sound quality is concerned. All can be configured for bit perfect playback

My advice is to stick to the OS you are used to.

If this is Win, you might try the WASAPI audio driver.

http://thewelltemperedcomputer.com/SW/Windows/Win7/WASAPI.htm

 

You need a player supporting this interface like J River, my personal favorite.

http://thewelltemperedcomputer.com/SW/Players/MC14/MC14_intro.htm

 

Maybe this is all a bit to much, to technical for a starter.

I wrote a starters guide explaining all the steps in more detail

Maybe it is of use

http://thewelltemperedcomputer.com/Intro/Starter.htm

post #5 of 25

Hey Tiddler, I have been in the situation you are now where I was concerned with music on the go and especially in office.

 

Im lucky that I work alone now so I just crank up the tunes on my laptop speakers but when I was working days and doing stuff that allwed me to listen to music I used my netbook for that since it had a small footprint and supplied everything I needed for music.

 

Now for me I just used the internal hard drive for sake of portability and consistency, it came with a 80gb and I upgraded it to a 250gb model, but you can get up to 640gb 2.5" hdd's now for just about $100, saw a 500gb on sale for $49.00 the other day.  Installing/Upgrading HDD's in netbooks is super easy.  If you use the internal drive you save some usb ports for the uDAC and maybe power for the uDAC too.

 

Now next thing of mention is I just got a uDAC2 a couple of weeks ago and even compared to the high end onboard sound that comes on my G73 laptop its leaps and bounds better so good call there.  I recommend WASAPI on Windows 7 for your OS & Output method.  WASAPI seemed less fuss and more straight forward than ASIO witch gave me a bit of a fit.

 

Here is one thing I just wanted to throw out to you that I have experienced.  You said you like that onear style headphones for your office use, and all the other factors you mentioned so far (needing to bypass the sound card of the system, listening in office, etc) I have an item that I just LOVE for this that does all of the above.

 

Plantronics Pulsar 590's - Here on a audiophile forum some people may bash me recomend something that is not audiophile grade but I own some AT A700's, I own UE Triplefi 10's so I have high grade stuff to compare it with and I have to say they sound GOOD, infact much better than I expected.

 

So what is so special about these?  They are bluetooth on ear headphones and any decent netbook these days has built in bluetooth.  When I was in office doing months of paperwork in a big jam and there after hours I was not locked to my desk.  I had to type some stuff at the desk, then go to another area to staple some reports and file them away in a binder.  I was all over the office and with the bluetooth headphones I was able to move around freely while listening.  Even when just at the desk I prefer the bluetooth headphones because wires get in my way and annoy me.

 

The only time i break out my wired headphones is when its for play and not work so I know I am just going to be sitting still on the computer listening to music or playing a game.

 

The Pulsar do have a wired port on them so they can be run wired as well.  They have a really neat desktop charging dock. 

 

I dont know if its for you, but I just wanted to say that as a person in a similar situation I found them to be the most perfect product.  I got them on sale for like $120 (590A that includes the 1/8" blutetooth adapter so you can use them on non bluetooth devices) so by the time you figure in the cost of the uDAC and headphones and things and all that extra gear to pack.  You may find that the Pulsar offer a great alternative in both cost and pack away factor.

 

BTW the uDAC2 is great so dont regret that purchase you can still have both like I do as each product has its speciality and is better in some situations than others.

 

This is old but I did review the Pulsar 590A when I got them if you want to check it out - http://forum.notebookreview.com/notebook-news-reviews/202596-plantronics-pulsar-590a-bluetooth-headset-review.html

post #6 of 25

I have 2 "netbooks".  One is an Asus Eee PC 701 4G with Windows XP SP.2 and 2 GB of RAM. The other is an Asus Eee PC 1201N with Windows 7. Perhaps it's placebo, but I think the 701 sounds better.

 

Netbook > Foobar2000 (ASIO for XP / WASAPI for Win 7) > uDAC > Headphones.

 

If you don't want to install any kind of music playing software on your work computer, you can download the portable version (select portable install during set up process, and have the destination drive be your portable HDD) of Foobar and it'll run off your external hard  drive that holds your music. No need to buy a laptop/netbook/mp3 player.

 

The "distortion" you could have been hearing could be compression artifacts depending on the sensitivity of your headphones.

post #7 of 25
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the great replies!

 

You have all given me lots to think about.

 

Thanks for the links Roseval.

 

I'm not sure what I am going to do yet. I should try Portable Foobar2000 when I get the uDAC2.

 

Just looking into all the various netbooks is a little overwhelming.You start off looking at N450/1GbDDr2/160Gb5400rpm netbooks and think that for another $100 Cdn you can get into an N455/1GbDDR3/250Gb7200rpm netbook, and then you run across the HP Mini 210-2070CA that is an N455/1GbDDR3/250Gb7200rpm netbook, but it also has "Dolby Advanced Audio" and Bluetooth. I guess using the uDAC would circumvent any benefit of that "Dolby Advanced Audio" but the HP Mini 210-1180CA has the same specs minus the Bluetooth and Dolby Audio for the same price.

 

The Portable Foobar2000 option may make all that mute of course. I have to admit the idea of taking a cheap netbook, installing Linux, and setting it up as the heart of an office audio system is rather interesting. Getting some hands on experience with Linux could be beneficial in my work as well. As I said above, lots to think about. If I decide to go for it, I could start a thread to log the process.

 

Todd

post #8 of 25

TW, the only difference between the uDAC and the uDAC - 2, is the "2" can play 24/96 files. If you don't have any of the high res files, you could also save a few bucks and get the first uDAC.. You could probably pick on up in the for sale part of this forum or eBay for pretty cheep. 

post #9 of 25
Thread Starter 

I considered the uDAC but did not want to deal with the possible volume control problem.

 

Regarding the Netbook Linix project:  One thing I would want to be able to do is share my external drives between my Linux netbook and other Windows PCs. Not being able to do that would be a deal breaker for me starting this project. We tried putting one of my external drives on the Linux box here at work and found that it was not recognized because it is NTFS.

 

Is there a way to share external drives between Linux and Windows systems?

post #10 of 25

From the OP:

Quote:

I was listening to Diana Krall, “Love Letters”, from the Look of Love CD. Actually it was a VBR 128-320 mp3.

Not sure what you mean by VBR 128-320, that is not a real setting.  Could you post the actual command line options used to encode the track? If you don't know,  try converting your WAV rip using LAME 3.98.3 and -V 0 to see if you still hear compression artifacts.

 

 

Quote:
I know about FLAC but when you have a 1TB external drive available to store all your music on, why bother.

Storage may be cheap, but compression is free.  FLAC has better metadata support, so managing a large collection would probabally be easier.  I don't use WAV, I think that would be the extra bother.

 

Quote:
"The problem is that damn company PC stuck in the middle of it all. So now I would like to eliminate the company PC from my audio path, but what can I get to take the music off the external hard drive and feed it to my new uDAC2 which will in-turn feed my mini stereo and Grado headphones?"

 

What's wrong with the PC? Is it just that you can't install your player/library manager?  Do they disable the USB ports?  If it is allowed by company policy, do you have any reason to think PC >> UDAC >> headphones would be worse than netbook >> UDAC >> headphones?  If the only consideration is having music at the office, I would load foobar portable on your external music hdd, use the office PC, and not bother with a netbook.  Just keep it in mind in case policy changes.

 

For a netbook that would only be used as a DAP, get the cheapest used model you can find.  A music player (other than itunes) doesn't require much resources,  I think even a  eeePC 701 (around $150 USD on ebay) would do.  Sure it has a tiny screen & keyboard, but you would only be using it for a few minutes at a time to navigate your library.  On the other hand, a hdd, 10" screen and better specs would be more useful if you ever want to use it for anything else.  If you want to eliminate the external drive from your desk, upgrade to a 750Gb internal drive for about $100.

 

If you plan on spending a significant amount of time with the netbook, that requires more careful shopping.  Not just CPU/RAM, but screen resolution/brightness, keyboard feel, overall build quality, 7200 rpm drive for performance, or 5400 rpm for battery, etc..  I don't have any recommendations there.


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by J.Pocalypse View Post

TW, the only difference between the uDAC and the uDAC - 2, is the "2" can play 24/96 files. If you don't have any of the high res files, you could also save a few bucks and get the first uDAC.. You could probably pick on up in the for sale part of this forum or eBay for pretty cheep. 


Not just 24/96 DAC, It has a better (according to other reviews, I have only UDAC-1) amp section.  And a new volume pot.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by tiddler View Post

I considered the uDAC but did not want to deal with the possible volume control problem.

 

Regarding the Netbook Linix project:  One thing I would want to be able to do is share my external drives between my Linux netbook and other Windows PCs. Not being able to do that would be a deal breaker for me starting this project. We tried putting one of my external drives on the Linux box here at work and found that it was not recognized because it is NTFS.

 

Is there a way to share external drives between Linux and Windows systems?

 

The channel imbalance (UDAC-1) is only when the volume is turned down very low.  It evens out somewhere around 15 - 20%, I think with open cans in the office, you would bump it up more than that anyway, and the UDAC-2 is better.

 

The best way to move around external drives is having them formatted in FAT32, that works with any OS.

There are drivers to use NTFS on linux,  (or Ext2 & Ext3 on Windows).  Google for NTFS and linux.  Here is a quick how-to, but you should read more comprehensive instructions before diving in.  http://www.linuxconfig.org/How_to_mount_partition_with_ntfs_file_system_and_read_write_access

 

Good luck with your quest.

post #11 of 25
Thread Starter 

When I posted that my CDs were all ripped "VBR 128-320" I meant Variable Bit Rate minimum 128kbs to max 320kbs, using CDex.

 

I did pickup a netbook. FS had a deal if you bought two. So one for me and one for my wife. I copied the mp3 of Diana Krall's Love Letters onto a usb stick and tried it in both netbook. Played from the usb stick on either netbook it was flawless. So I am pretty sure it is the company PC on-board audio that is at fault.

 

I'm not going to rush into the Linux thing right now. Maybe later. First I will experiment with all the toys and see what I think.

 

Thanks again for all the help and suggestions.

post #12 of 25

With linux on netbooks, be a bit warry. The battery management for most distros of linux isn't on par with what windows 7 can offer.  Right now, I get about an hour to two less with Ubuntu on my 1215N using similar settings (though I'm pretty sure optimus doesn't work on linux yet, which would be the main issue for me).

 

But otherwise, grats on the netbook purchase and have some fun with it.  My netbook is my current "portable" set up, since I realized that I'm sitting down anytime I actually want to listen to music.

post #13 of 25
Thread Starter 

The uDAC2 arrived and I tried it today. The distortion is still there. I copied the mp3 files that I notice the distortion on the most to a USB stick. I took my headphones and went to the local Future Shop. I went to the cheapest netbook they had. An Acer Aspire One. Plugged in the usb stick and headphones and listened . No distortion!?

 

The strange thing is, the amount of distorion seems to vary. Right now I just have the browser and Windows Media player open and the distorion is not too bad. It still bothers me but it's not as bad as before lunch. I openned all the applications I had open before and it is worse. I also noticed that if I play the wav file there is no distortion.

 

I will setup the netbook and try the uDAC2 on it and report back how that sounds. First I will try the headphone out on the netbook and then install the uDAC2 and see how that sounds. I will report back when I have done that.

post #14 of 25
Thread Starter 

Well I finally got the Acer Aspire One NAV50 out of it's box and powered it up. It has Windows Xp Home on it. I tried plugging the headphones directly into the netbook and played the two songs that I have had trouble with. No distortion! The netbook is still going through some sort of setup and installation process. When it is done I will attach the uDAC2 and see how that works.

post #15 of 25
Thread Starter 

The little netbook finally finished all the setup procedures and I attached the uDAC2. It was recognised by Windows Xp and it works.

 

I can't honestly tell you if the uDAC2 sounds any better than the attaching the headphones directly to the netbook. Both ways there is no distortion, and that is what started this frenzy hardware acquisition and setup.

 

I am still entertaining the Linux idea. Windows Xp does not seem to be as quick on the netbook as Windows 7. I have found some information about netbook specific distributions of Linux. There is Linux4one that was specifically developed for the Acer Aspire One netbooks. I have also found out that you can get NTSF drivers for linux. So it seems like something that could be done with some success. I am in the middle of a big project at work, that includes some really unrealistic deadlines, so any tinkering will have to wait for a few months. On the bright side I now have a great sounding setup for the many long hours I am going to be stuck in this office banging out code.

 

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