Head-Fi.org › Forums › Equipment Forums › Computer Audio › Getting the best sound out of a PC
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

Getting the best sound out of a PC

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 

Looking around, there seems to quite a few companies popping up with various medium to high end add ons for your PC. We all know the quest of purer sound is usually a case of diminishing returns. There seems to be many ways of approaching this. Also many products of questionable value, just wondering how everyone has gone about their systems? Where have they put their money so to speak.

 

Some say ultra high end motherboards with I7 processors help the sound. Then you look on some high end website, cough,

 

http://www.itemaudio.co.uk/windows_audio_transport.html

 

Cough, read the spec and wonder where £1700 goes.

 

Do SSD's sound better than HDD's? Do fancy Sata/USB cables make any difference?

 

EQ's aside, does one software sound better than another?

 

Assuming decent variables (amp, speakers, dacs, source etc What would the best and cleaneast way to get a digital signal out? Spdif from a sound card? USB? USB via one of those £200 PCIE cleaner cards? etc...

 

What about getting the best analogue out? Assuming you're stuck with that for whatever reason. Enclosing the sound card within its own space a good idea?

 

What is the best all in one solution? Films, Music, Games. Do you have seperate outputs for different things?

 

I appreciate this largely comes down to your/my idea of budget,  but I've left that open to both ends. Obviously if you want to talk about your £20 Asus sound card being great it'll probably fall on deaf ears, but everyone like something cheap but usefull, or a cheaper alternative to something else. On the other hand if you've stumped up the money for something expensive recently and notice a worthy difference, tell us...

post #2 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by chug View Post
 

Looking around, there seems to quite a few companies popping up with various medium to high end add ons for your PC. We all know the quest of purer sound is usually a case of diminishing returns. There seems to be many ways of approaching this. Also many products of questionable value, just wondering how everyone has gone about their systems? Where have they put their money so to speak.

Some say ultra high end motherboards with I7 processors help the sound. Then you look on some high end website, cough,

Cough, read the spec and wonder where £1700 goes.

Do SSD's sound better than HDD's? Do fancy Sata/USB cables make any difference?

EQ's aside, does one software sound better than another?

Assuming decent variables (amp, speakers, dacs, source etc What would the best and cleaneast way to get a digital signal out? Spdif from a sound card? USB? USB via one of those £200 PCIE cleaner cards? etc...

What about getting the best analogue out? Assuming you're stuck with that for whatever reason. Enclosing the sound card within its own space a good idea?

What is the best all in one solution? Films, Music, Games. Do you have separate outputs for different things?

I appreciate this largely comes down to your/my idea of budget,  but I've left that open to both ends. Obviously if you want to talk about your £20 Asus sound card being great it'll probably fall on deaf ears, but everyone like something cheap but usefull, or a cheaper alternative to something else. On the other hand if you've stumped up the money for something expensive recently and notice a worthy difference, tell us...

Using a SSD or HDD should not effect audio quality, but I personally use a dedicated SSD to hold my music files because they launch a lot faster, compared to a HDD,

 

The best computer audio setup seems to be to have a separate external DAC and a separate external headphone amplifier.

 

I just ordered an Audio-GD NFB-15.32 all in one DAC/Amp.

Audio-GD recommends using the USB for best audio quality.

But it also has S/PDIF (optical & coaxial) input, which I plan on using for movies and gaming.

I can easily use a low costing sound card, with an optical connect, with the 15.32, for processing Headphone Surround Sound

post #3 of 19

To a certain degree higher end motherboards, power supply's are better designed and use higher quality components so they should perform better and produce less noise than low end budget hardware.  The difference isnt going to be huge though, and the difference between a HDD and SSD is so small you would probably have to measure it with a scope. Certainly the less hard drives, fans, and usb devices plugged into the machine the less noise it will generate which could translate into a cleaner/blacker background and less distortion at the DAC/AMP stage.

 

In a nutshell computers make a horrible source for audio, the further you can get your amp away from it the better.  An optical connection is the best option really as your moving the audio data to an external DAC/AMP with no direct electrical connection to the computer.

 

For years my setup was a Pioneer amp connected via optical which worked great as the Pioneer unit was the DAC/AMP and isolated from the computer.  Recently when i switched to an O2/ODAC it took a dedicated USB isolator with an external power supply to isolate the computer from the DAC/AMP before it sounded as clean and as smooth as the Pioneer setup.  Neither setup cost any real money, i would consider both of them budget setups, just well implemented.

post #4 of 19

For me, not at all the overall sound quality of gear x-times more expensive but the absence of noise remains the most noticeable change when I switched from internal (PCI) to external (USB). Gone is the annoying high pitched sound a searching hard drive makes or when the mouse is moved. A bright clear sky. Furthermore, ''Getting the best sound out of a PC'' is just trial and error within your budget but also how far you want to take this hobby.

post #5 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by moriez View Post
 

For me, not at all the overall sound quality of gear x-times more expensive but the absence of noise remains the most noticeable change when I switched from internal (PCI) to external (USB). Gone is the annoying high pitched sound a searching hard drive makes or when the mouse is moved. A bright clear sky. Furthermore, ''Getting the best sound out of a PC'' is just trial and error within your budget but also how far you want to take this hobby.

Oh, this! Even with my $80 FiiO E10, I could tell the difference. With my headphones simply plugged into my laptop, I could hear clicks every time I used the scroll wheel on my mouse. Since I use this all of the time, it was a huge annoyance.

post #6 of 19

I use Focusrite 2i2 USB audio interface to  KRK Rokit 8 G3 monitor speakers on balanced connection. No noise. 

post #7 of 19

My advice would be USB DAC or audio interface rather than internal, being able to move your interface is VERY handy.  You can go the more home audio or pro recording route and get very good results for $300-$400. 

 

The more you spend on the DAC and frills the less you have to spend on the speakers and amplification.  HDD or SSD makes zero difference in playback so use what suits your PC needs and budget.  Cables matter VERY little from my perspective and if you are going to spend $100 on a cable then you better have 10x that budget for speakers :D  For your average home set up you will be fine with the USB cable that comes with your audio interface or DAC and in terms of cables to your amp/speakers you can find plenty of suitable cables from any local audio store that wont break the bank.

 

The most important part of the chain is personal choice you can either go amp with passive speakers or use actives like the poster above suggests.  This is very much personal choice but most active monitors in the sub $3000 market are designed for the near listening experience so may be better suited for small rooms or desktop situation.  My best advice would be consider your room and your usage, do lots of research (including listening) and spend 75-85% of your budget on this part of the audio chain.

 

A little research goes a long way, read FORUMS not websites, ask questions and get advice from people that have already spent the money not people asking for yours.  Almost any pc in the last 5 years can be converted into a media system with an external DAC unit, you really dont need to spend lots of money een if you do buy new.

In regards to your link:-  I could self build that system for under half the price, THIS http://3xs.scan.co.uk/ShowSystem.asp?SystemID=1492 is almost half the price, comes with a SSD and with that extra cash you can buy a focusrite 2i4 interface AND 2xKRK RP6 G3 AND a KRK 10s Sub for the same money.


Edited by Tablix - 10/25/13 at 10:13am
post #8 of 19

There is a lot of bullsh*t going on around computer audio (well, digital audio in general). Recent PCIe interfaces are pretty well protected from EMI, most noise problems are related to ground loops which can also plague USB interfaces, so the most "safe" setup is a DAC connected optically. After that it's up to your source material and amplifier. The type of storage device doesn't matter. Digital cables don't matter. Components in the PC don't matter. It's sickening to see "audiophile" toslink cables.

post #9 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by spittis View Post
 

There is a lot of bullsh*t going on around computer audio (well, digital audio in general). Recent PCIe interfaces are pretty well protected from EMI, most noise problems are related to ground loops which can also plague USB interfaces, so the most "safe" setup is a DAC connected optically. After that it's up to your source material and amplifier. The type of storage device doesn't matter. Digital cables don't matter. Components in the PC don't matter. It's sickening to see "audiophile" toslink cables.

 

I had a ground loop issue whenever my active monitors were connected to my Dac, regardless of interconnects used.  I removed the ground pin from the output end of my Speaker wiresto find the ground loop disappeared, no more squeal/buzzing from the monitors.

 

I'm now using Usb. Before I has no choice other than to use Optical. Optical was a clean signal, but from what I've read offers too much jitter.

 

I've a question.  Even though I've removed ground loop from the Speakers to the Dac - by removing the ground pin, would connecting a stereo amp to the dac cause ground loop to return? I have headphones which will be connected to the stereo amp via speaker taps. 

 

Cheers.

post #10 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by fluidz View Post
 

 

I had a ground loop issue whenever my active monitors were connected to my Dac, regardless of interconnects used.  I removed the ground pin from the output end of my Speaker wiresto find the ground loop disappeared, no more squeal/buzzing from the monitors.

 

I'm now using Usb. Before I has no choice other than to use Optical. Optical was a clean signal, but from what I've read offers too much jitter.

 

I've a question.  Even though I've removed ground loop from the Speakers to the Dac - by removing the ground pin, would connecting a stereo amp to the dac cause ground loop to return? I have headphones which will be connected to the stereo amp via speaker taps. 

 

Cheers.

 

I wouldn't worry about jitter on your DAC if it's the one in your signature. Measurements can be found here and they are excellent: http://www.stereophile.com/content/musical-fidelity-m1-dac-measurements

 

I'm guessing that you have the speakers connected to different outlets than your DAC, this is where the loop comes in. To minimize the chance of a new ground loop occurring, plug the stereo amplifier to the same outlet as your DAC so they use the exact same ground. If not possible and you get a new loop, there are transformers you can connect in between called "ground loop isolators" that filter out the unwanted current.

post #11 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by spittis View Post

I wouldn't worry about jitter on your DAC if it's the one in your signature. Measurements can be found here and they are excellent: http://www.stereophile.com/content/musical-fidelity-m1-dac-measurements

I'm guessing that you have the speakers connected to different outlets than your DAC, this is where the loop comes in. To minimize the chance of a new ground loop occurring, plug the stereo amplifier to the same outlet as your DAC so they use the exact same ground. If not possible and you get a new loop, there are transformers you can connect in between called "ground loop isolators" that filter out the unwanted current.

Hi,

All connected to the same outlet. I've used a ground loop isolator before but it diminished the sound quality.

The review you refer to i believe is of the older m1, not the async USB version, which is why I wanted to use usb instead of optical.

Thanks
post #12 of 19

I agree that using an external DAC and amplifier is the easiest way to avoid complications, but this only seems to classify as Computer Audio because... you're using software on the PC to play the song from your PC.  Other than that the computer really has nothing to do with your audio quality.  (barring a freakishly poor digital-out/USB-out on your computer)

 

I did a lot of modding to an old Pentium 4 (478) system, years ago and the result was very quiet, black, detailed audio.  But I know how to solder-sling, and wasn't afraid of replacing capacitors on the SbLive!, P4PE motherboard, the GeForce4 Ti4200, or in the SL350 PSU.  It was worlds cheaper than buying new equipment, and more fun than using turn-key items, in my opinion.

 

And being a surround-sound card, I had the option of films, but I never had an interest in surround-sound, and primarily used my Live! for heavy music listening and gaming, with a dash of cassette recording using custom cables.

 

I think this would have classified as an all-in-one solution, though not realistic for most. :P

post #13 of 19

DACs are really great these days. Now a 500$ DAC performs like 2000$ DACs used to ten years ago. Just google some that are in your price range. Something  like Resonessence Labs Concero give you truly high end sound. Of course you need to have proper speakers to be able to hear what your audio source has to offer. 

post #14 of 19
If you only care about music then an external DAC and amp will be better, but if you also want surround sound or virtual surround sound such as Dolby headphone, then a soundcard is a good balance. I use the Xonar Essence, and at the price of a Modi/Magni stack it probably has slightly less sound quality for music, but the added benefit of Dolby headphone is worth it for me. And in the future I can always run the card's digital out to an external DAC for better music performance. Don't let the idea of noisy internal cards scare you, the Essence (and other high end cards) is shielded and is totally quiet.
post #15 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by skinnygamer12 View Post

Don't let the idea of noisy internal cards scare you, the Essence (and other high end cards) is shielded and is totally quiet.

 

In which case it is only the Magni that gives any real benefit over it, not the Modi.

New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: Computer Audio
Head-Fi.org › Forums › Equipment Forums › Computer Audio › Getting the best sound out of a PC