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Need Help/Advice on setting an Audiophile computer sound system! $2,500 budget

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 

Hi Guys,

 

I am very familiar with HT and home audio but computer audio is completely new to me. 

 

My computer:

 

Windows 8 64-BIT

Asus Hero IV Maximus Board

No dedicated sound card

 

After much reading I've decided a DAC and powered speakers are the way to go. 

 

My understanding is I would NOT need a dedicated sound card because my board has a SPDIF out.  Am I correct?  I assume the digital signal out of the MOBO would be just a good as a dedicated sound card.  The SPDIF is Toslink.  Is that an issue?  Will it limit output on hi-rez music and any way?

 

I've pretty much narrowed it down to the following:

 

Speakers:

 

Adam Audio A5X (unless there is a compelling reason to move up to the A7X)

Adam Sub8

 

DAC:

 

Micromega MyDAC

Schitt Bitfrost

Musical Fidelity M1 DAC

SoundBlaster ZxR

 

I am leaning to the M1 DAC because Stereophile said it measurement's were "state of the art" while there were a few issues with the Bitfrost. 

 

Since none of these include a headphone amp I will have to add one later as budget allows.  Am I missing anything?  Feel free to make alternate suggestions.  Any advice/input appreciated.

 

Thanks!

 

-Brian


Edited by Bghead8che - 8/18/13 at 9:13pm
post #2 of 14

S/PDIF from motherboard to external DAC connection is fine, it allows you to still use the motherboard's built in audio features.

Where as USB bypass the motherboard built in audio, which is not a problem if all your doing is 2-channel stereo music.

post #3 of 14
There is no sound quality/audio theory reason to match the same subwoofer brand with the speakers. Get the best sub you can that suits your needs and budget. For instance, I recommend looking into subs by Rythmik Audio, SVS Audio, and HSU Research. These Internet companies specialize in making subwoofers that are typically much better price/performance values than subs by traditional speaker/audio companies.
post #4 of 14
Thread Starter 

You are right.  I bet for $750 I can find a MUCH better subwoofer.  Great idea!

 

Can you guys confirm the Adam A7X or A5X will work in my situation?  I am only going to be 30 inches from the speakers, max. I can get a $400 discount on the A7X so I'm thinking of going with those instead of the A5X. 

 

Also, I am seriously considering going with the Sound Blaster ZxR instead of a dedicated DAC.  The card has a SNR of 124 DB, measures great,  AND it includes a headphone amp.  I'm just not sure I'd notice a difference worth the $500 - $800 for a dedicated DAC.

 

Lastly, am I missing anything?  I assume all I would need is a pair of RCA cables and two power cables for the Adam speakers.

 

THANKS for the feedback!

 

-Brian

post #5 of 14
Thread Starter 

I just thought of a potential issue.  The sound card only has two RCA outs (left and right).  I don't think their would be a way to hook up a subwoofer, correct?  I suppose I could run the left and right inputs through the subwoofer but that can result in a less than pure signal.

 

Thoughts?

 

-Brian


Edited by Bghead8che - 8/19/13 at 1:19pm
post #6 of 14
If you are going with active speakers and an external DAC, you have three choices:

1) Split the left/right signal coming from the DAC and send it to both the speakers and the sub.
2) Buy speakers that have a left/right line out pass through and connect the sub to that.
3) Buy a sub that has a left/right pass through and connect the speakers to that. This is how the Adam Sub 8 works.

Then there is sub integration. Often, ported speakers will have more distortion at and below their tuning point, and the tuning point is typically where they tend to roll off in frequency response (in good speakers). Thus, best place to cross over the speakers and sub is typically a good bit above the tuning point using a high pass (for the speaker signal) and low pass (for the subwoofer) crossover. Most subs only have a low pass crossover. Typically you have to set the sub up to try to match where the speakers roll off. So this is usually not as a clean an integration as using a low and high pass filter. Some subs have left/right pass through connections that also have a high pass crossover built in. The Adam Sub 8 appears to have an 85hz high pass filter option. An alternative sub I would suggest looking at is the SVS SB12-NSD which has an 80hz high pass filter option (here is a review).

It's all about compromises. Just depends on where you want to make them. smily_headphones1.gif
post #7 of 14
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the hook-up advice!

 

Do you guys think I would be crazy to go with the SoundBlaster ZxR instead of a dedicated DAC? There are several advantages of going with the sound card:

 

1.  Price.

2.  Easy integration (goes right inside my computer).

3.  Headphone amp is built into the card.

 

I'm just wondering if this is just a waste of $200 and I should just skip it altogether and go with a dedicated external DAC.

 

What do you guys think?

 

-Brian


Edited by Bghead8che - 8/20/13 at 3:12pm
post #8 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bghead8che View Post

I just thought of a potential issue.  The sound card only has two RCA outs (left and right).  I don't think their would be a way to hook up a sub-woofer, correct?  I suppose I could run the left and right inputs through the sub-woofer but that can result in a less than pure signal.

Why not just get a A/V receiver, you can hook any unpowered speakers you want to it and you can hook any sub-woofer you like to it.

You can run a S/PDIF optical cable from computer to receiver or run an external DAC between computer and receiver.

post #9 of 14

As a satisfied ADAM user myself I think you were on the right track with your initial idea. Active nearfields with a sub.

 

Since you are buying  pro grade speakers you owe it to yourself to pair them with the sort of audio interface they were designed to work with.

 

The obvious suggestion is this. http://www.rme-audio.de/en_products_babyface.php

 

The RME Babyface. You don't need to connect up the breakout cable. At least not at first. Simply use it as a basic 2 in 4 out interface with a built in headphone amp and digital I/O option. At around $700+ in the US it is not the cheapest option but it is the best. MOTU & Focusrite among many others make similar spec'd products for less money.

 

If you want an 'audiophile' grade system you will probably want a system close to full human hearing range (20Hz 20kHz) That mean a subwoofer. The ADAM Sub 8 goes down flat to 28Hz which covers the lowest notes available on a piano. To do that on a 2.0 system would cost too much money. It is also very handy to be able to turn off really deep bass sometimes. Like late at night when you have family/neighbours. $750 approx in USA.

 

Which leaves you $1000 for nearfields.

 

People using monitors professionally almost always choose  A7X because they go down flat to 40Hz. Which is the frequency of the open E string on an electric bass. However they cost ~$1350 pair in the US. So break the budget. You could get a cheaper interface but actually the A5X are bang on budget and the fact they 'only' go down to 50Hz flat doesn't really matter. You have the sub which takes over at around 80Hz anyway.   A5X are famed for their exceptional midrange.

 

Don't worry about connections.  The RME and ADAM gear offers every possibility you could possible want (and more). ADAM offer a manufacturers warranty of 5 years on the AX range. They think it's going to last. 

post #10 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by RonaldDumsfeld View Post

As a satisfied ADAM user myself I think you were on the right track with your initial idea. Active nearfields with a sub.

While I don't doubt that the Adams are very good, is this the "I have it must be great because I own them" argument? Or the "active crossover and biamp must be better than passive setup" argument? Both of those are problematic. I've compared my speakers and amp to many active speakers in the same price range, and the drivers in my speakers are clearly a higher grade with better transient response, giving them a better sound.
Quote:
Originally Posted by RonaldDumsfeld View Post

Since you are buying  pro grade speakers you owe it to yourself to pair them with the sort of audio interface they were designed to work with.

The obvious suggestion is this. http://www.rme-audio.de/en_products_babyface.php

A good DAC is a good DAC. It doesn't matter if it's sold in the pro audio market or not.
Quote:
Originally Posted by RonaldDumsfeld View Post

That mean a subwoofer. The ADAM Sub 8 goes down flat to 28Hz which covers the lowest notes available on a piano. To do that on a 2.0 system would cost too much money. It is also very handy to be able to turn off really deep bass sometimes. Like late at night when you have family/neighbours. $750 approx in USA.

Do you have measurements to back up that claim? The audio market is notorious for overstating low end subwoofer frequency response specs. Moreover, Adam doesn't even make that claim for the Sub 8. They don't list a +/- db response (as is the industry norm) for their 28hz to 150hz frequency range on their website, which means it probably is NOT flat to 28hz. That, and their website is not very informative. Doesn't even say whether or not it is a sealed sub or bass reflex.

So seems a lot of money to pay for an 8.5" 160 watt subwoofer when one could get the SVS Audio SB12-NSD compact 12" for $100 less, which does have measurements provided by the manufacturer that establish it's frequency response, measurements that also have also been confirmed in this review: http://www.audioholics.com/subwoofer-reviews/sb12-nsd-subwoofer For that matter, I would imagine that the cheaper SVS PB-1000 is a better sub than the Adam 8 for only $500.
post #11 of 14

Honestly please dont trash someone else's opinion as its not your own conclusion, as what DonaldRumsfeld said is pretty good.  The ADAM A7x are VERY good bank for buck and highly regarded for music production.  His information about the A5x is also accurate as they have a great mid-range presentation, also the sub is designed to work with this entire range.  

 

The RME range of external units are probably the the best performing I/O devices you can get for under $2k if you want to produce music due to custom coded device drivers and completely flat frequency response.  However this may not be great for musical listening and more "audiophile" DAC's will indeed color the sound more.

 

I have owned my A7x for approx a year, and have auditioned maybe a dozen different set-ups in a studio environment, and the ADAM range was right up there with similar priced Genelec or Focal monitors.  

 

My own advice would be slightly different for an audiophile/listening point of view, and I would skip the audio interface and get a more listening friendly DAC unit in the same price range.  I use a Roland Quad capture for production purposes and it delivers a significantly different sound compared to throwing music through a fiio E7/9 combo. Same speakers/software/track and its a totally different sound.  The Fiio is much warmer and fluffy sounding compared to the roland quad, which has pristine and edgy high's and a more detailed midrange.   I spent many months looking at the asus essence one as a potential buy, due to the opamp swapping option, but I dont have a huge disposable lump of cash and I already have a very good dac in the quad-capture.

 

More research in the physical/audible sense is probably the next step

post #12 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tablix View Post

Honestly please dont trash someone else's opinion as its not your own conclusion, as what DonaldRumsfeld said is pretty good.  The ADAM A7x are VERY good bank for buck and highly regarded for music production.  His information about the A5x is also accurate as they have a great mid-range presentation, also the sub is designed to work with this entire range.  

Are you talking to me? I didn't trash anyone's opinion. In fact, I specifically said, "I don't doubt that the Adams are very good." I'm objecting to the general hype about active monitors that is common on head-fi as always superior to passive speakers setups. RonaldDumsfeld's post followed PurpleAnge's suggestion about using a passive setup, and RD's post implies that the passive setup idea should be disregarded ". . . I think you were on the right track with your initial idea. Active nearfields with a sub."

Certainly, active monitors are necessary and important to music and film production work because of their accurate, linear frequency response. But the OP hasn't indicated that he's planning on doing audio production in a studio environment (read the whole thread). Could be the right passive setup would sound superior to the OP. Unless you or RD have actual experience comparing top passive setups with the Adams at that same price point, you can't know. I know I don't know. I haven't done that kind of comparison.

As for the sub, if it hasn't been measured, one can't know that the sub has a linear frequency response and how low it extends in that response. There's no useful opinion here without seeing measurements. Time and time again, subwoofer reviews have shown that manufacturers overstate the low end response. It probably happens more often than not. And Adam is providing no information about the +/- variance over the frequency range in their specs. Is that frequency response measurement anechoic, or one of those typical in-room response measurements? And surprisingly enough, Adam doesn't even bother to say whether or not its a sealed or bass reflex sub (guess it could also be a passive radiator design, although I doubt it because they wouldn't have definitely mentioned the passive driver). If it's well-designed ported sub , could have a linear response down to its tuning point, although 28hz is pretty low for a driver that size. If sealed, it would probably need some extensive DSP to achieve that kind of linearity. Besides, $750 is A LOT to pay for a sub with an 8.5" driver.
post #13 of 14

In my experience I find passive systems add more complication to the buying process.  Your DAC/AMP/Speakers all put their own individual "mark" on the sound.  Active monitors are designed to be as accurate as possible so have little to zero sound signature being imparted on the output, leaving just the DAC's characteristics to add to the output.  Having a clean neutral sound flow through from source>audio interface>monitors can be flat, dry and very fatiguing.  This is why when producing people check the mix on various outputs such as nearfield monitors, headphones, PA systems and even mono systems on rare occasion. 

 

In terms of speaker quality you cannot compare active and passive set-ups side by side, they are usually designed to do different things.  A passive speaker is reliant on source and its trying to master many possible amps and sound good, a active speaker has a custom amp built around the driver and its requirements.  Playback and mixing are completely different, but actives offer a relatively flat point where you can add your own preference through choice of DAC.

 

This is just my take on digital audio, and apologies if I cam across as critical of your viewpoint, it just appeared you were trashing someone else's entirely valid opinion.

 

Its worth noting that KRK also offers very nice speakers in a similar price range, in fact you can skip the entry level and aim for something like the VXT6 and the 10S sub for about the same money, well in the UK anyway.  KRK has full breakdown of specs on their website, and I found them very capable under demo.  For my purposes I didnt want a sub unit at all, so the A7X was where the money went.

 

If you can stretch your budget to the next level Focal CMS65 with SUB did sound amazing but was outside my budget and the sub was BIG.  If I has the money and the room to make use of it, this would have been my "endgame" monitoring choice.  Small rooms dont always suit huge sounds, another thing worth taking into account.

 

HTH, and CEL no offence intended, my post was a little aggresive in but not intended

post #14 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tablix View Post

HTH, and CEL no offence intended, my post was a little aggresive in but not intended

Thanks for saying so smily_headphones1.gif

I will admit I am a little strong about the subwoofer stuff, but I'm a subwoofer aficionado of sorts. Most people don't know that in the last ten years, there have emerged small Internet direct companies that specialize in subwoofers that just make fantastic products that are the best price/performance values: HSU Research, SVS Audio, Power Sound Audio, Outlaw Audio, and Rythmik Audio. So much so that their products will generally be as good or better than traditional speaker company subs (home audio or pro) that are twice the price. If you ever have need of a sub, be sure to go to AVS subwoofer forum and they'll help you learn more.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tablix View Post

In my experience I find passive systems add more complication to the buying process.  Your DAC/AMP/Speakers all put their own individual "mark" on the sound.  Active monitors are designed to be as accurate as possible so have little to zero sound signature being imparted on the output, leaving just the DAC's characteristics to add to the output.  Having a clean neutral sound flow through from source>audio interface>monitors can be flat, dry and very fatiguing.  This is why when producing people check the mix on various outputs such as nearfield monitors, headphones, PA systems and even mono systems on rare occasion. 

In terms of speaker quality you cannot compare active and passive set-ups side by side, they are usually designed to do different things.  A passive speaker is reliant on source and its trying to master many possible amps and sound good, a active speaker has a custom amp built around the driver and its requirements.  Playback and mixing are completely different, but actives offer a relatively flat point where you can add your own preference through choice of DAC.

I agree about the neutral response. Not for everyone (as we well know from how people like different colored headphones here on Head-Fi). Passive speakers have the opposite problem. So many of them tend to be bright, which can create listener fatigue in nearfield setups.

I'm also more the person who believes that if you compare two DACS or two amps in the same price/performance class (once you get up to electronics that have measured linear frequency response, S/N, distortion, etc. at such low levels that it should be inaudible), most people would find minimal differences in sound. For the average person, room acoustics and placement issues will have much more influence over the sound, changing it from how the passive speakers would sound under optimum conditions. Whereas as the amp matching in the active speakers is there to overcome the natural driver response to make it more linear. Designers often do the same thing with better subwoofers. Those SVS subs I mentioned use DSP as both a limiter (to prevent over driving) and to give those sealed subs a more linear response down into the 20hz range. In fact, I had my standalone subwoofer amp custom modified to better correct the rolloff on my sealed subs (I have two 18" ones at home).
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