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Striving for a complete, best audio setup.

post #1 of 23
Thread Starter 

Howdy forum. 

 

I've come here in the seeking out of your guidance. My current audio situation isn't cutting it for me, and I'm looking for ways to go about uplifting the quality, or rather, completeness of it. 

 

Now, starting from the audio signal's most original sources, onward, here's what I've got currently:

 

The audio file itself. All of my music is ripped with E.A.C. It's all encoded into the lossless .WAV format, ripped from non-pirated audio discs. However, some of the albums weren't mastered too well, Breaking Benjamin's "Saturate", for example, couldn't have been recorded at any higher of a bit-rate than 128kbps. I've tried several different renditions and re-labelings of the album, and they all sound the same: poor. With that in mind, I'm aware that not all albums are mastered equally. This is equally true with digitally-produced music, like Dubstep, and video game soundtracks. The samples used in the soundtracks or albums may not be of high-quality, as such, an album may be recorded, and produced, and exported into .WAV, however, the poor sample quality still makes for a poor listening experience.

 

Next, since I use a computer for my audio output, I've gotten myself a sound card. It's an Audigy 2 ZS, to be exact. I've configured it with the control panel at the best settings: 4.4.1 speakers, 24-bit 192000Hz signal. Volume maxed out. I understand that this sound card isn't high-end anymore, likely wasn't ever. But it's doing great so far. I haven't made any Equalizer adjustments, everything is as flat as can be. Should I get an upgrade from this card? If so, please post a link to something that's higher-end.

 

The cable running out from the card is a typical 3.5mm to red/white cable. This, of course, is where my first question is: Would a better cable actually make a difference? I've read that pure-silver cables are better for .WAV files. Is this true?

 

I don't want to go any further from that point until I verify that my gear listed above is the highest-end, or does not need further upgrading. Thanks for the help!

post #2 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeebus Christma View Post

I don't want to go any further from that point until I verify that my gear listed above is the highest-end, or does not need further upgrading.

No equipment is ever "highest-end." There's alway something more expensive you can buy to improve the audio biggrin.gif

Ignore cable upgrades. They make little or no difference and are not worth worrying about unless you have a much higher end system. An external DAC and headphone amp might be a good choice. But then again, you haven't old us what headphones or speakers you have smily_headphones1.gif
post #3 of 23
Thread Starter 

I use both speakers and headphones. I have the speakers from the Sony CMT-EX1 Executive system. My headphones are JVC's HA-MR55X. 

post #4 of 23
I don't know much about the Audigy 2 ZS, other than it is an 11 year old sound card design. If it doesn't have a headphone amp, then a sound card with a headphone amp or an external DAC/headphone amp would improve the sound quality.

If it does have a headphone amp, then you might want to start with better headphones. smily_headphones1.gif
post #5 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeebus Christma View Post

 

The cable running out from the card is a typical 3.5mm to red/white cable. This, of course, is where my first question is: Would a better cable actually make a difference? I've read that pure-silver cables are better for .WAV files. Is this true?

 

 

Where did you read that? I'd stay way from that line of thinking. Silver affects any format, at a too high cost to very little change in sound (ie it isn't necessarily an improvement) - like $299 cables for a $299 headphone (there are also copper cables at this price range, in any case mind the cost to performance ratio).

post #6 of 23
Thread Starter 

Would a sound card with a headphone amp be able to even properly drive speakers? 

post #7 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeebus Christma View Post
 

Would a sound card with a headphone amp be able to even properly drive speakers? 


It depends on the amp, but you might want one that says "speaker" in front of the word "amp" instead of "headphone."  There are always exceptions, of course, but it isn't the norm and will never be optimum.

 

That probably doesn't seem helpful to you, but the others have been giving you good advice.

post #8 of 23
Thread Starter 

Alright, I'll shell out for a new sound card regardless. Would it be wise to pair that with a DAC as well, assuming that I have the sound card's built in amplifier on it's highest volume first?

post #9 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeebus Christma View Post
 

Alright, I'll shell out for a new sound card regardless. Would it be wise to pair that with a DAC as well, assuming that I have the sound card's built in amplifier on it's highest volume first?


No, that would not be wise.  A DAC converts digital to analog (music).  Your soundcard does that, too.  You can't even connect one to the other in that sense.  It's sort of like asking to change cheese back into milk so that you could make cheese again. ;)

 

Maybe it's confusing for you because there are many DAC+Amps on the market now, but they can't be connected soundcard-amp to DAC-amp, either.

 

There is a way that you can use your soundcard with a DAC: if you are using a high-level DAC that has the ability to convert 24-bit/192KHz data streams, better soundcards have a coax output that will transmit the digital information to the DAC.  Many people do this because they want something more than the standard limitation of 16-bit/48KHz in a USB connection.

post #10 of 23
Thread Starter 

Alright, sound card upgrade with amplifier it is.

 

Next, things go to a Sony STR-DE185. It's a stereo AM/FM receiver with a built in amplifier. The headphone jack, which I'm currently using a 1/4 to 3.5mm adapter to connect to my headphones with. 

 

Here's Crutchfield's page on it: http://www.crutchfield.com/S-fQVfW4d7UiN/p_158STRE185/Sony-STR-DE185.html

 

I take it that this wouldn't make too much of a difference to upgrade? Should I take a step back in the setup and invest in an actual stereo amplifier, then run that into the stereo receiver? 

post #11 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeebus Christma View Post

I take it that this wouldn't make too much of a difference to upgrade? Should I take a step back in the setup and invest in an actual stereo amplifier, then run that into the stereo receiver? 

The receiver IS an actual stereo amplifier.

Are you running optical from your computer to that receiver? Or have you tried that? I'd do that before upgrading the sound card, just to see if that gives you any improvement.
post #12 of 23
Thread Starter 

Optical? But that's lossy isn't it? 


Edited by Jeebus Christma - 5/11/14 at 4:33am
post #13 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeebus Christma View Post
 

The audio file itself. All of my music is ripped with E.A.C. It's all encoded into the lossless .WAV format, ripped from non-pirated audio discs. 

You're wasting space on your disk with WAV, it's the worst lossless audio format available (as it's just raw uncompressed samples). FLAC files take less than half of space used by WAV files.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeebus Christma View Post
 

Next, since I use a computer for my audio output, I've gotten myself a sound card. It's an Audigy 2 ZS, to be exact. I've configured it with the control panel at the best settings: 4.4.1 speakers, 24-bit 192000Hz signal. 

192kHz is a low fidelity sampling rate, which introduces intermodulation distortions. You may want to set it to 48kHz rate which is optimal. This article explains why that happens:
http://people.xiph.org/~xiphmont/demo/neil-young.html

 

Also 128kbps MP3 is not that bad, most people can't tell the difference between that and lossless.

post #14 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeebus Christma View Post
 

Optical? But that's lossy isn't it? 


wat

Optical cables can send lossless stereo or compressed 5.1.

From this thread it seems like you have a lot of reading/learning to do before you go out and waste more money buying things you don't understand. I don't mean this in an offensive way, but that is the problem with this forum. People just recommend things to other people when neither of them actually know what said product does.

 

If you are using a speaker amp to drive your headphones there is no point buying a soundcard with a headphone amp since you want to be sending line level signal to the speaker amp.

post #15 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by ieee754 View Post
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeebus Christma View Post
 

The audio file itself. All of my music is ripped with E.A.C. It's all encoded into the lossless .WAV format, ripped from non-pirated audio discs. 

You're wasting space on your disk with WAV, it's the worst lossless audio format available (as it's just raw uncompressed samples). FLAC files take less than half of space used by WAV files.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeebus Christma View Post
 

Next, since I use a computer for my audio output, I've gotten myself a sound card. It's an Audigy 2 ZS, to be exact. I've configured it with the control panel at the best settings: 4.4.1 speakers, 24-bit 192000Hz signal. 

192kHz is a low fidelity sampling rate, which introduces intermodulation distortions. You may want to set it to 48kHz rate which is optimal. This article explains why that happens:
http://people.xiph.org/~xiphmont/demo/neil-young.html

 

Also 128kbps MP3 is not that bad, most people can't tell the difference between that and lossless.


Sorry, but that reference is full of more supposition and lack of facts than most articles I've read lately.  Implying (all the author did) that 192KHz introduces IM distortion by the act of sampling itself is ridiculous.  All he really supposes is that ultrasonic sampled frequencies (an implied benefit of a higher sampling rate) can cause IM at those higher frequencies and can propagate down into the audible spectrum regime.  It says nothing about the inherent superiority of the sampling rate itself.  Just to be clear, there is no attempt by people promoting the 192KHz sampling rate for retrieving ultrasonic signals.  Instead, the reverse is true: a higher sampling rate allows a more thorough reproduction of the original sine wave without as much error correction required in the conversion process.  The benefits are apparent even when converted back down to a 16-bit/48Khz output.

 

I agree that for most people, an outstandingly-implemented device for analog output that operates at 16-bit/48KHz is more than most will be able to improve upon except for the highest esoteric equipment.  Yet, we are talking about both fundamental file-source formats vs. the basis of the analog output conversion.  Those are two different things.  On my systems, most (it always depends on the original recording quality) data files of the very same music selection are superior in playback when originally encoded in 24-bit/192KHz data rates.  Interestingly, I have no direct capability of decoding 24-bit, 192KHz data streams.  It's all done through my Foobar, but the direct comparison is almost always superior if the original music recording was of sufficient quality.

 

About your last statement - this is a mostly audiophile community ... "not that bad" is usually not the goal around here.;)

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