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Objective way to tell if my audio gear is faulty or not?

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by Red Dragon, Oct 8, 2017.
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  1. Red Dragon
    Yesterday I dug out the two DVD players from my closet. With one of them, the tray wouldn't open at all. With the other one, it worked for about 6 hours, and then after that, no matter what CD I put into it, it gives the error message "disc cannot be read".

    But I did listen to CDs for those 6 hours by plugging my DVD player directly into the LSR30X.

    My observations from that are: the sound was much better in comparison to when I use my PC/Modi/LSR30X. From the DVD player, I didn't hear the muffledness, or the haze of static-y-ness (I don't know how to describe that in audiophile terms) that I hear from the PC/Modi. Some of the CDs sounded good to me.

    However, others of the CDs sounded terrible to me when they were played from the DVD player. I think this might be because of the flat sound that I'm not used to, but I have no way to know for sure.

    After listening to the CDs, my guess is now that my speakers do not have a hardware problem, but I probably don't like flat sound.

    In regards to the software sample rate conversion question, no, I'm not certain. But I do know that I've set the "Speaker Properties" Advanced tab in my OS to play 16 bit, 44100 Hz (CD Quality). If there are additional settings that I am supposed to configure in my OS, then I might not have done that because I don't know where & what those settings are.

    Presuming the issue is within my computer: how do I narrow down/isolate the problem?

    Is it possible that the problem is the lackluster USB Gen 2 of the Modi and therefore that nothing I change about my computer could fix that problem?

    Yes, for the most part the Modi is not noticeably better than the onboard...although it is slightly better.

    I cannot return the speakers or recoup any of the speakers' cost because Massdrop only offers refunds on defective products. But anyway, my Kenwood amp started to emit buzzing sounds a week or two ago (those do not come through the Kenwood's speakers; they come directly from the amp itself), so I will probably have to use the LSR30X since I have no other amp by which to power the Kenwood speakers.

    That kind of cable is how I connect my onboard to my Kenwood, so I could do that test presuming I don't have to send the Modi back first before I figure out how to make the test work.

    Could someone please tell me how I'd configure the settings in RMAA so that the test will work?
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2017
  2. bigshot
    If the sound quality is good with one source and bad with another, the fault is with the source that sounds bad. If most CDs sound good but one sounds bad, the fault is with that CD. It sounds like your speakers are working fine. The problem is probably your computer or DAC. Again, I'd recommend just getting an iPod or something simple like that.
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2017
  3. Red Dragon
    The thing is, I also want to have great sound for when I play games and watch videos on my PC.

    I'm think the source of the problem is my PC...but I don't know how to identify and fix that problem? And I'm unclear about if Schiit's Gen 5 USB, or a USB to SPDIF converter device would fix the problem or not?
  4. bigshot
    iPods have as good sound quality as the best players and DACs. You won't find better sound. PCs can be funky though. Troubleshooting them can be a pain.
  5. yage
    @Red Dragon - apologies if I missed this information, but what kind of PC do you have? Is it a custom build or something bought from a shop like Dell?
  6. Red Dragon
    It's a custom build.
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2017
  7. ev13wt
    Set windows audio to 48, 16 - Background: 48 is a "native" "easy for older PCs to do) format (for lack of better words)

    Have you tried listening to the exact same track, at the same time, via headphone left AND speaker right?

    Find someone with a darn cellphone or tablet and try with a simple 3.5 to RCA cable. If it sounds the same, its is your speakers sound signature.
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2017
  8. gregorio
    1. That can get a little involved, especially if you don't have a particularly decent understanding of them. Therefore, I would try the test I suggested and make sure it is your computer before you unnecessarily waste a lot of time. If it is definitely your computer, re-installing the OS would likely solve the problem but personally, that would be the nuclear option. I would check drivers are up to date and then go through the processes and services. The proper way to do it would probably be to go into Safe Mode, which will load a minimal number of drivers and services and provide a good narrowing down tool to isolate the problem. Provided you've got enough drivers loaded to run your DAC in safe mode, if you still have the problem then it's likely to be lower level, say in the bios settings, if it solves the problem, then you know the problem is with some non-essential software which only loads when you enter the normal, non-safe mode. I don't profess to be a computer or OS expert though, maybe someone else here can suggest a better narrowing down procedure? But even so, make sure it is your computer first.

    2. The Modi is not great from the point of view of it being quite poorly isolated and therefore prone to allowing computer noise through to the signal. It's only relatively poor in this regard compared to other DACs though. The noise it "allows through" should still be below or just on the borderline of audibility, unless you've got an exceptionally poor signal coming out of your computer, in which case that's what you need to sort out rather than your DAC.

    3. Careful about assuming you don't like the sound of your speakers. The performance of any speaker is largely due to the room they're placed in. In other words, you may really not like the sound of your speakers or you may love the sound in a different acoustic. The first thing to do is make sure you've got the best positing you can for your speakers, relative to reflective surfaces and your listening position. It's also a possibility that you are simply accustomed to a particularly poor speaker/acoustic with a lot of strong reflections, which produced a highly inaccurate sense of the sound being less "flat". The 305s are very good for their price point and assuming you can provide a usable acoustic for them, you'll eventually get used to and then be able to fully appreciate them.

    Last edited: Oct 18, 2017
  9. Red Dragon
    I sent the Modi back last week although I kept the Magni since at the time I was under the presumption that I'll buy another external DAC. But after more reflection, I'm not sure if I should buy another external DAC, or if I should buy an internal soundcard instead. I am really confused by all of this.

    Before I started using this PC, I was using another, old PC that had a $25 SB Live Value soundcard that I bought in ~2004. As soon as I switched to my new PC, I immediately noticed a downgrade in the audio quality: the modern Realtek onboard audio sounded a lot worse than the old SB Live Value soundcard. The difference was very jarring. Based on my memory, the Modi didn't any sound better with my new computer than did the SB Live with my old computer.

    FWIW I also heard the occasional "popping" sounds through my SB Live in my old computer too.

    Before I made my recent amp/DAC/speakers purchases, I kept seeing & hearing everyone on the internet saying that external DACs/amps are better for PC audio than internal soundcards. Yet in my experience so far, that has not been so. I don't understand why not.

    I don't know what to do now. Should I take the risk on buying another DAC? Or are the USB problems that go along with most USB DACs probably going to result in me having a lackluster audio experience again? Will me purchasing an internal soundcard be the most likely way for me to avoid any additional problems with achieving good audio from my computer?

    I hear the feedback I've been given, that I should fix my PC source, but I have no idea if I am capable of doing that. Knowing my luck, even if I did a fresh install of my OS, that wouldn't fix the problem, and the audio would still be bad.

    If there are BIOS settings that can fix my audio problem, then I have no idea how to determine which ones they are. I have my motherboard manual that describes all the BIOS settings, but none of them say anything about fixing audio problems. So if there is a way to fix my audio via BIOS settings, I'll never be able to figure out what settings I'd need to change unless somebody tells me.

    I can't even use the HOSA cable to connect my Realtek to my 30X speakers, because when I do that, I hear very noticeable crackling coming from the speakers (this is in addition to, way louder than, and less uniform than, the normal slight hiss from the amps). That crackling I did not hear when I was using the same speakers with the Modi with the Blue Jeans cables. I think maybe that crackling arises now because the HOSA cable has a small cylinder-shaped piece around the base of the 3.5mm connector that seems to prevent it from inserting all the way into the jack. But I can't be sure because I don't any other 3.5mm to 1/4" TRS cable to swap out.
  10. gregorio
    That can be true but is not necessarily true. Most consumer soundcards are designed to power computer speakers rather than studio monitors and in the past, some had problems with noise isolation but I'd be surprised if decent current soundcards haven't improved from those of the past. Either way, a new soundcard or a new external DAC probably won't solve your problem/s if the problem is in your computer, however, there's a chance it might. The software installation of either might rectify or bypass an OS settings issue but that's moderately unlikely and is pure pot luck, depending on it being an OS settings issue in the first place and what OS settings the driver of any particular device changes or bypasses.

    Certainly if the connector is not properly connected you are likely to get crackling. Also, are you sure you're connecting correctly? Your 305s expect a balanced connection but output on 3.5mm connector would typically be a stereo unbalanced connection, this could be part of your problem.

    If I were you, I'd get something designed to output to studio monitors. The Behringer UMC204HD is a good bang for the buck, at $80 shipped. Good isolation, low noise, linear output throughout the range and you get the bonus of an ADC + mic pre-amps if you ever want to input/record anything. This will cure any problem you have downstream of your computer but you'll almost certainly still have to fix your computer problem (assuming it is a computer problem), unless by luck the driver installation solves it.


    EDIT: I just noticed there is an even cheaper version, the UMC202HD, at just $50 shipped. This version has fewer connectivity features than the 204HD but nothing that affects what you intend to do with it. Assuming it has all the same circuity and performance as the 204HD but with 2 outputs rather than 4, there would be no benefit to you in spending the extra $30 for the 204HD. It might be worth checking if that assumption is correct.
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2017
  11. yage
    I think @gregorio had a good tip there about the balanced connection. If you've been connecting the Realtek onboard audio or CD/DVD player or the Modi directly to the JBL speakers, then that's the wrong thing to do. You definitely need a balanced DAC or a single-ended to balanced converter (such as the Jensen PI-2RX) if you want to hang onto the JBL's. Otherwise you should replace the JBL's with powered speakers that have a single-ended (RCA) input like the Audioengine A2 or move to an integrated amp / passive speaker setup.
  12. Red Dragon
    I never gamble, but now I feel like trying to upgrade my audio gear has pulled me into a rabbit hole of a never-ending gambling nightmare. I already wasted a whole lot of money on this endeavor, and it seems like whatever I do next will be akin pulling the slot machine again and hoping that this time I won't lose more money in exchange for nothing good.

    I am not sure what the downstream to my computer means. But when I search the web for info about audio interfaces, my resulting impressions are:

    - Most of them use sub-par DACs

    - Most of them are powered by the USB without even using a wall wort

    - The ones that aren't powered by USB use a sub-par wall wort

    For those reasons, my instincts make me feel that if I buy one of those, then the audio from it might still sound bad to me.

    Are there any audio interfaces that don't use sub-par DACs, and that have their own power supply that connects with a standard power cord (like how the Schiit Gungnir connects with its own power cord)?, and that are not ultra expensive?
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2017
  13. Currawong Contributor
    The problem is that you've been reading "the internet" too much, where people repeat the same things over and over again, often for years, even after they are no longer true.

    You're worrying about the wrong things. The DAC chip used isn't something you should be remotely concerned about to use with $200 speakers. For $1k you could have bought a second-hand Apple computer of some description which would have done a far better job, even using the built-in headphone/line out, and it has none of the maddening software issues that Windows does.
  14. Red Dragon
    But if I don't read the internet, how else am I supposed to learn about what to do, given that I have no idea what I'm doing?

    Well, one of the reasons why I thought that the DAC matters is because my $25 SB Live Value soundcard from ~2004 produced significantly better sound than does my onboard Realtek from ~2016. If that difference is not because the DAC matters, then what accounts for the difference?
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2017
  15. pinnahertz
    I must disagree with both of the above. Any balanced input can accept and unbalanced signal with just a bit of attention to how the balanced connector is wired.

    From the JBL LSR-3 series manual, page 8, "The 3 Series Speakers are equipped with balanced XLR and 6 mm (¼") TRS inputs for connection to professional computer audio interfaces, mixing consoles and audio production equipment as well as unbalanced consumer audio products including personal music players, consumer audio receivers and audio visual equipment. "

    The purpose of a balanced interface is noise immunity. That's it, that's all it's about. Pro gear also operates at a higher signal reference level, so the JBL speaker has an "input sensitivity" switch to match to consumer level -10, or pro level +4.

    If you're not getting continuous noise out of the speakers (not in your original complaints), changing to a fully balanced interface alone will accomplish nothing, and you can ignore the paragraph below.

    If you do hear continuous noise like buzzing from the speakers, you might check to see how the input is actually wired. The signal always goes to pin 2 or the XLR or tip of the TRS. The usual way to connect an unbalanced device to a balanced input is to ground pin 3 to pin 1 (ring and sleeve) and put the signal on pin 2. Alternatively, depending on the device, you could also just input on pin 2 without grounding pin 3/ring (works for most balanced inputs), or in some cases gain a bit of noise rejection by tying your signal ground to pin 3/ring and floating pin 1. I say depending on the device because not all balanced inputs actually have a lot of common mode rejection capability.
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