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PC Audio setup advice

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 
I don't know how often you guys get this kind of question, but hopefully you won't mind giving me your opinions.

I'm a newbie to audio in general, and always have been. I can appreciate good audio when I hear it, but I've never understood the specs on the box completely, and I have yet to go full-blown "audiophile."

Still, I have this fascination with good, crystal-clear audio. For about two years now, I've been continuing to consider what it would be like to hear some of my favorite songs at their best, or close to it. For some reason, whenever I listen to music on whatever platform, I feel like it could be better. I'm never quite sure what better sounds like, but I'd really like to find out.

My last two major audio purchases were a HT Omega Striker sound card and the Sennheiser 558. The Striker was ultimately quite disappointing, with outdated drivers and sound quality that really only seemed one or two small steps above my onboard audio (which is THX certified, whatever that accredits for). I ended up taking the thing out an just going back to onboard because the card had some issues and rendered my front-panel audio unusable.

On to the 558s... they're pretty great. Best headphones I've used ever, probably.

But I still feel like I'm not quite there yet, like I could be hearing much better results.

Largely, my music library is made up of CD-quality MP3s. I've heard about .flac and the like, but it seems to be very hard to track down all of my library in that format, since MP3 is so largely preferred for general common use.

So anyway, I want to get your opinions on this before I make anymore unnecessary purchases. What do you guys think? What direction should I go and what upgrades should I make to improve my audio experience to something really worth talking about?

Thanks,

-rav4ge
post #2 of 6

A few things you can do / purchase at a minimum of cost that can really help.

 

1.)  Purchase something like the Total Bithead which is both a USB DAC and Headphone amp

This will clean up the sound by circumventing the audio signal path through much of your PC making the sound much cleaning.  Having less noise is also a good start in getting all you can out of an audio track.

 

2.)  Get into better recordings.  As you bloom into higher end audio you will soon realize that not all tracks sound good with the best gear.  Take my JH Audio 10 x3 Pro in ears plugged into my Grace Design m903 amp/DAC.  Sure the system is great, but it is going to reveal just how bad the recordings may be from some artists.  Of course the better recorded tracks sound amazing while others sound just eh.

 

It is often that upgrading gear leads to changes in musical tastes.  I have tracks I like to listen to in my car, others at home on my speakers setup, and a few more that I truly relish with my headphone station.

 

I think for under $200 you can get both a Total Bithead and a few high quality audio CDs.  This would be a great place to start.  There is a place here at head-fi titled "What are you listening to right now?" that is a great resource for finding new music.  Another list of some great recordings can be found here:

 

http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/want-hear-how-good-your-headphones-can-sound-play-great-sounding-music

 

Hope that helps.

post #3 of 6

I'd like to tell you there was one true golden path to audio bliss, but I'd be lying. 

 

This is what I think:  You're going to have to thrutch around, buying gear at a premiun and selling at a loss, until you stumble onto something that sounds wonderful...TO YOU.  When you consider all the variables; gear, how the gear meshes, media type and quality, the musician and producer's tastes in performance and production...right down to the physical structure of your ear and how all that data is processed in your head.... you most definately will not like the same thing others like, unless you are highly suggestable. 

For me, I like detail.  Along with the ache in a voice or the sound of a brush on cymbal, I like to hear the echos, the space, the rasp of fingers on strings, the tinkle of ice in a highball glass.  I want to be sitting right between Bill Evans and Scott LaFarro at the Village Vanguard.  I've adjusted my equipmant accordingly.   I did it through trial and error and serendipitous discovery.

 

You shouldn't like my set up. You need to make your own mistakes and profit from them.  I'm not saying to just go out and buy anything, just start from the music you like, then move to quality built equipment that (several, multiple, many) people have said images that sound well, then experiment.  It will cost you money.  I promise that.  

 

If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. 

If someone tells you they have the best system for you...well, you know what to do. 

post #4 of 6
Thread Starter 
I guess I'm just looking for clarity. One of the best things about the 558s is the sound-staging, I've found. When I'm listening to it, the different frequencies seem distant enough from one another, and they all come across a lot clearer than they do with my other, cheaper pair of Sennheisers. It'd be totally ideal if I could boost that aspect even further. The sort of "flat" audio you get with cheap earphones and speakers is what I'm trying to distance myself from. Like you said, I want to feel surrounded by the sound, immersed in it as much as possible.

I'll be doing some research on the BitHead, thanks for the recommendation. Is it better to just go for an amp instead of a new sound card in general? I feel like sound cards really aren't as essential as I think they are, now that integrated audio has improved. I also see very few out there as opposed to say, graphics cards, which are constantly being improved and refined by the day.
post #5 of 6
Quote:
Originally Posted by rav4ge View Post


I'll be doing some research on the BitHead, thanks for the recommendation. Is it better to just go for an amp instead of a new sound card in general? I feel like sound cards really aren't as essential as I think they are, now that integrated audio has improved. I also see very few out there as opposed to say, graphics cards, which are constantly being improved and refined by the day.

 

An external amp is probably the most worthwhile investment you can make at this stage. It will help driving your headphones to their full capacity. Sound cards are great for games , 5.1 sound etc, but for "normal" audio recordings they bring in very little, as you have already discovered.

post #6 of 6
Quote:
Originally Posted by PleasantSounds View Post

 

An external amp is probably the most worthwhile investment you can make at this stage. It will help driving your headphones to their full capacity. Sound cards are great for games , 5.1 sound etc, but for "normal" audio recordings they bring in very little, as you have already discovered.

I agree. The single biggest upgrade in sound on my daisy chain MBAir>PM>AQDF>Bellari HA540>HFman HE-400/Senns595

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