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Digital music doesn't sound as good as I expect?

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 

This is a winding - and probably totally ignorant - question but I can't seem to find the answer I'm looking for through search. 

 

I've traditionally had a hifi analog setup (turntable --> preamp --> bottlehead crack headphone amp --> hd650) which has been an absolute blast and I figured I might as well loop in my digital stuff as I have a fairly huge library of high(ish) quality digital stuff. 

 

I picked up a Schiit Bifrost because people general seemed to say nice things about it and attempted to loop it into my system which is iTunes --> Airport --> Bifrost --> AV receiver --> bottlehead crack headphone amp --> hd650 and it sounded pretty terrible. The audio was constantly clipping and it all sounded generally distorted/muddy. I thought it might be interference from my receiver but even after pulling that out of the chain the quality improvement was marginal if there was any at all. 

 

I know there are a bunch of things I could do to subtly improve this (stop streaming, get a proper stereo receiver, etc) but I can't imagine that's the difference between things sounding awful and things sounding great. Is there something I'm missing that I could do make my digital stuff not sound like it's coming out of a tin can?

post #2 of 11

What quality is your source media? I usually find people saying that 16-bit 44.1 KHz digital audio has a tinny and hollow sound to it, particularly in the highs. Try 24-bit 96 KHz, or maybe use a high quality re-sampler. I'm not sure if this will fix the problem, but I don't know much about analog sound... my analog setup is quite cheap. The main difference I hear between analog and digital is that analog has much more mid-bass, less sub-bass, and better highs. This is using my tower speakers with soft dome tweeters. Higher than red-book quality source seems to have much better highs and a smoother mid-range in my opinion.

post #3 of 11

Try eliminating the AirPort Express in the middle of the chain, and see if connecting the digital output to the DAC directly will improve things. I don't know if your computer has an optical output or your DAC has a USB input, but these are the most common and uncomplicated ones you can use to connect your computer to the DAC directly. If things improve, then you know it is the AirPort Express itself contributing to the poor quality.

 

The AirPort Express is allegedly not bit perfect when using its optical digital out, and jitter is always going to be a problem as its optical component is not implemented to audiophile standards. When you dip your toe into the world of CAS (Computer As Source), things are not always "1 is a 1 and zero is a zero" simple. Even different USB cables make a world of difference.

 

But do try experimenting the simplest setup first and see if you at least get a satisfactory outcome, then get sophisticated from there.

post #4 of 11
Quote:
Originally Posted by GoSUV View Post

The AirPort Express is allegedly not bit perfect when using its optical digital out, and jitter is always going to be a problem as its optical component is not implemented to audiophile standards. When you dip your toe into the world of CAS (Computer As Source), things are not always "1 is a 1 and zero is a zero" simple. Even different USB cables make a world of difference.

 

But do try experimenting the simplest setup first and see if you at least get a satisfactory outcome, then get sophisticated from there.

 

All three versions of the Airport Express are definitely bit-perfect. I've tested two versions (the first and third) for this personally. However, the second and particularly the third version of the Airport Express do have very high levels of jitter, which may be impairing the sound.

 

Really though, it could also be that the original poster doesn't like the sound signature of the HD650 or the Bottlehead Crack.


Edited by MoonUnit - 4/4/13 at 8:06pm
post #5 of 11
Thread Starter 

Really appreciate all of these response but I'm afraid I may have ineloquently described my original problem and created some confusion. My issue is not that I don't like the sound but rather it all sounds distorted and clipped (and not in the audiophile appreciation way... rather it sounds like I'm listening to it on a cell phone speaker.) 

 

I will try pulling the airport out of the equation entirely (good suggestion!) but I'm not too hopeful. I don't know if this makes sense but it sounds like the source is too loud and everything is off because of it... is there a more sane way to approach running digital audio through a headphone amp?

 

Thanks so much

post #6 of 11

Your chain seems way too long. Try hooking the headphone amp to the PC without all the other stuff. iTunes --> headphone amp --> HD650. Also, is your dac usb? Either way, shorten the chain. Get rid of everything that isnt needed. 

post #7 of 11

Sorry about the misinformation about the AirPort Express being not bitperfect. I must have read it somewhere else and couldn't verify it.

 

Even if you don't take out the AirPort Express, I would be wondering why you had the AV receiver in front of the headphone amp. This would be one redundant step. Assuming the AV receiver provides variable line out, and the headphone amp has its own independent volume control, there is a potential for level mismatching there. I mean, if the receiver's output turns out to be too high, and you further run it into the headphone amp, you'd be getting the result you've got. Try the simplest connection as mentioned above and see if things improve.

post #8 of 11
Quote:
Originally Posted by apchf View Post

 

...I figured I might as well loop in my digital stuff as I have a fairly huge library of high(ish) quality digital stuff. 

 

 

I agree with the others that shortening your signal path should be the first step, might be some sort of impedance/level mismatch actually causing some clipping and distortion. Second, I would review your source material, what exactly is your "high(ish) quality" digital stuff comprised of?

post #9 of 11
Thread Starter 

Quote:
What quality is your source media? I usually find people saying that 16-bit 44.1 KHz digital audio has a tinny and hollow sound to it, particularly in the highs. Try 24-bit 96 KHz, or maybe use a high quality re-sampler.

 

+

Quote:
 Second, I would review your source material, what exactly is your "high(ish) quality" digital stuff comprised of?

I ran through a bunch of stuff in testing this. Everything from v0 44.1 KHz stuff to supposedly lossless 24-bit rips. The problems persisted through all of it I'm afraid

 

 

 

Quote:
All the things about the length of the chain

Totally get this but I'm afraid I'm trying to manage the digital catalog from a laptop across the room (I don't have a dedicated media PC.) That said the good news is I set it all up so I could slowly add components and recheck quality and the degradation was only subtle 

 

 

 

Quote:
Some sort of impedance/level mismatch actually causing some clipping and distortion

This one is really interesting to me and I'm thinking the source of this. Everything sounds - for lack of a better phrase - like it's going "into the red." I'm guessing because there's a handful of volume controls involved something in mismatching. Right now volume is controlled by itunes, the laptop, and the headphone amp itself. Are there recommended approaches to this? Turn everything as low as possible until the amp? As high as possible?

 

Thanks everyone

post #10 of 11
Thread Starter 

Okay. Problem solved. I had EQ on in iTunes. That's brutally embarrassing but there it is anyway. Hopefully someone in the future can learn form this at least?

post #11 of 11

Hello.
Who could  recommend me a DAC up to $ 200 for hi-fi system - Q Acoustics Q2050i and Yamaha A-S500. My goal is to improve the sound quality. I would listening a electronic music (house, deep house, tech house). I would greatly appreciate for your help. (Sorry if not here Signature)

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