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