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Enthuisiasts; Convince me!

Discussion in 'PC Audio' started by Kickdruminertia, Apr 27, 2010.

  1. Kickdruminertia

    Kickdruminertia Member

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    Since this is both something of a challenge and a request for advice which didnt seem appropriate in an existing thread, (correct me if I'm wrong) I made my own. The premise is pretty simple: I'm about to buy a replacement soundcard, and am convinced from my own background & experience that an M-Audio Audiophile 192 will be an excellent choice for my needs. I'll come to those respective needs in a moment, but even a brief examination of the views and products mentioned here shows a completely different paradigm to my own: Serious reccomendation of PC-Manufacturer produced sound cards as a best choice for PC music quality & enjoyment. This is an alien concept to me.

    After years of having used dedicated PC cards on family or other computers, e.g. the original creative audigy back when they were actually considered good, when I came into owning and building my own machines, being interested in music, sound & production I invested in a Terratec DMX6-Fire many years ago, and it has done me proud since (it probably still works, but because of driver issues, its age and technolust I've decided to replace it). It has been my opinion for a long time now that PC-oriented audio solutions have been overpriced, underperforming objects of hype and bulldust compared to their pro audio/production oriented counterparts. I understand some people may want them as support for gaming or surround sound effects or whatever. Thats okay. But how, at any price point, can PC cards outperform the tools with which the music and sounds themselves are made and processed?

    So then, here is my challenge & request. What benefits can I look to find in any of the types of cards mentioned here to enhance my music listening experience (not worrying about the input/output comparisons too much at this point) over a pro-audio oriented card like the M-Audio i currently favour?
    My listening environment, gear, & particulars are the following:

    - My main output from the soundcard needs to be compatible with or adaptable to the RCA inputs on my Valve amp (Vintage Luxman, high fidelity & warm tonal characteristics) which then outputs to my two speakers and sub. These are Elac 330.1 Jets with a matching subwoofer getting its signal out of the headphone output of the amp, all used as nearfield monitors (2-3 feet away). While I don't think it would affect anyones answer I'll list the specs just in case- Frequency Range on the speakers,acc. to IEC 268-5 40 ··· 50,000 Hz, with the sub taking the bottom end a bit lower still.

    - Seperate to this (and ideally can be plugged in at the same time) will be output to headphones, a pair of Alessandro MS-2's.

    - While the bulk of my listening experience takes place using high-vbr or 320 cbr mp3s, I do also have a large number of flac files & cd's. Its also still a computer and I do play games/watch films etc, music is my first priority so if something gets compromised, those would be the things.

    -Budget wise I'm looking at about 170-180 USD without postage on the M-Audio but will spend considerably more if its at all justified or reasonable to do so.

    If theres anything I'm not clear on, or you would like more information, ask away. With all that said, have at me! I appreciate all relevant input.

    tl;dr - why should I buy a pc audio card?
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2010
  2. Grimace22

    Grimace22 Member

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    skip the card and get a dac, im not very experienced on this stuff, but i can say that music sounds much better with the new dac and amp setup(dac magic and cambridge 650A). leaps ahead of my old soundcard(Chaintech AV10 and a B-Inspirer) and 5.1 receiver setup.
     
  3. OP
    OP
    Kickdruminertia

    Kickdruminertia Member

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    A DAC may well be a good idea regardless but how do i get clean signal from the computer to the DAC itself? If it isnt decoding files and audio streams independantly, it still has to go through a soundcard? And using my terrible onboard sound would be terrible?
     
  4. 666666

    666666 Member

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    If you can get a bit-perfect stream from your onboard sound card, which quite a few do these days, including the newer realtek AC97 codecs, just use a digital (optical or coax) output into your DAC and you will have a perfect stream. This is how I go about it with my setup.
     
  5. OP
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    Kickdruminertia

    Kickdruminertia Member

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    How will this be advantageous compared to the inbuilt DAC in the M-Audio? Digital to digital is easy to get bit perfect, it either works or it doesnt. Will investing significantly more in an external unit make any appreciable differences? Bear in mind I know a lot of people see the processing of DACs as enhancement but for everything up to the amp my goal is 100% accurate, uncoloured signal as the mastering engineer intended it
     
  6. Drubbing

    Drubbing Member

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    Cheap DACs are just that. You pay extra for external devices to begin with, because they usually manage power supplies and have casings etc. So the cheaper the external DAC is, the less you get in the way of quality decoding components.

    An aftermarket internal soundcard nullifies a lot of that, but they won't go as 'hi fi' as a good external DAC like the DACmagic, which is what I have. Simply put, $170 on an external unit won't buy a great deal of kit.

    However, using such a device with speakers may render some of this moot, as higher end DACs may not create as big an improvement with speakers. But my experience is limited to PC/DAC/Headphones and not hifi in general, so maybe others who have done this with their hifi can give opinions. With headphones, which are a more intimate listening experience, the differences between onboard and a cheap DAC, and something decent, are fairly clear. To me at least.

    As for digital transport to the DAC, if connected via USB or optical, or any digital connection for that matter, the PC soundcard will be bypassed and the DAC becomes the default decoder. The PC simply sends the digital data for the DAC to decode. IME, I found no audible difference between optical and USB.

    As for getting an uncoloured signal/music as the engineer intended, this is impossible, unless you have their recording and playback gear. Your amp, and to a greater degree, your speakers will have a sound sig, and impose their own colouring to the music it receives, no matter how 'pure' the source signal. So it's best to just make sure you've got speakers you like, or buy different sets to match the intention of every sound engineer that produced all your music. ;)
     
  7. OP
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    Kickdruminertia

    Kickdruminertia Member

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    I should elaborate, I know its impossible in that sense but I mean rather than an "x-sounding' DAC, I want uncoloured audio up to the Amp as far as its possible. The amp and speakers have reproduction and sonic characteristics that I love allready. They are also my main focus, as I'd only use the headphones in specific games where they helped, or when speaker use disturbs others.
     
  8. Drubbing

    Drubbing Member

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    I haven't come across a DAC that imposes any real sonic sig. They either sound ok, or like the DACmagic can do much more, as in being able to provide better instrument separation, clarity and a improvement in dynamic range - being able to hear both loud and soft in the same listening space.

    It put more life and detail into the music, rather than adding anything tonal.
     
  9. oohms

    oohms Member

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    You don't need a conventional sound card at all. A cheap USB dac will do everything you need in 2 channels (even games etc), or you can stick with onboard sound for its digital output (nowadays realtek are capable of bit perfect output) and use a good external DAC.
     
  10. OP
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    Kickdruminertia

    Kickdruminertia Member

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    On the same line but from a different perspective, i read the following on a somewhat dated review for a similar card:

    "Some comments. Though DAC and ADC are of the same class in this sound card, ADCs are still a tad better than DACs. Perhaps, as it was with Waveterminal 192X, the engineers considered the digitization quality (ADC) to be more important in home/project studio than the slightly reduced quality of signal monitoring, other things being equal. But hi-end audio PC users (RCA jacks are a curtsy to them), who use their computers solely for high quality playback and who do not care about ADC, have a reason to pause – is the DAC comparable with the level of the rest of the sound playback section? If the rest of the sound section is much more expensive than the card (approximately over $600), so that the bottleneck is in the DAC quality as well, then they should pay attention to the mastering level sound cards." Italics are mine for the point of most interest.

    How will high level external DACs compare to these supposed 'mastering level' cards? Is it likely to be highly important, as the rest of the system is indeed well over the $600 threshold mentioned above.
     
  11. Drubbing

    Drubbing Member

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    I'd like to see them define 'a tad better' with more specificity, and tell us how much more the 'tad' will cost.

    Either way, I think that discussion is getting well in the realm of the academic. Who can say?

    I think a basic premis in audio is not to overcapitalise on one component. While I'm not into component matching per se - having stuff of comparable price/quality along my chain makes most sense to me.

    But I just make decisions with my ears, I'm not a tech head. A very good source/DAC can be had for $500. I've heard a $2K one and the only thing that comes to mind is 'diminishing returns'.
     
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2010
  12. Grimace22

    Grimace22 Member

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    my vote would be, like drubbings:), to use your onboard optical or even USB which will send the untouched(by the onboard DAC) data to an external DAC, then connecting to you amp and speakers. That, as far as i know, is the best way of getting "for everything up to the amp my goal is 100% accurate, uncoloured signal as the mastering engineer intended it"

    I havent actually tested my old soundcard against the dmagic with the new amp but the whole combination is way better than my old setup(including some MS-2s). I can also say that the dacM is a better sounding source than my Cowon S9
     
  13. OP
    OP
    Kickdruminertia

    Kickdruminertia Member

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    I've had a Cowon A2 for quite a while now (they make some great gear, dont they?) and while I'm not familiar with the S9 it seems a pretty fair assumption that its a kind of portable media player? In which case it would be a very poor argument in favour of a DAC if it sounded equal or worse to any portable device. Are you perfectly sure digital out from either my onboard soundcard or videocard (if i wanted HDMI, which I almost certainly wouldnt) would not only work without any interference but be able to handle every possible stream an application might output?
     
  14. Huggy_Bear64

    Huggy_Bear64 Member

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    You might have to fuck with the software settings a little bit, but it is possible.
     
  15. OP
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    Kickdruminertia

    Kickdruminertia Member

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    This is good, and encouraging. Thankyou.
     
  16. NuggetsMcGregor

    NuggetsMcGregor Member

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    save up your koins. wait six months and see what USB3.0 audio interfaces are available. buying now will only make you angry that you didn't wait.
     
  17. TMM

    TMM Member

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    Somehow i doubt USB2.0 is suddenly going to become unsupported, and audio is not very bandwidth intensive... The only possible advantage is a slight latency improvement.
     
    Last edited: May 1, 2010
  18. stablez

    stablez Member

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    yes encouraging.

    But beware that allot of even computer shops in I.E (Liverpool) Wouldnt even know or he's acting about a D2X Asus or have in stoc 6.1ch Z5500.

    Just so many people aint upto date?

    So you are.
     
  19. OP
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    Kickdruminertia

    Kickdruminertia Member

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    Yeah I agree, I don't see any real danger of any solution now that works well being superceded in the near future: people have been doing this kind of thing for decades, if not quite with the same connectivity issues. I believe the valve amp (though it has been repaired and had its valves replaced) is 30 or so years old. It still sounds marvellous.

    And stablez as usual I have no Idea what you are talking about at all, but I won't be dealing with any computer shops, whatever I buy will be via the internet.
     
    Last edited: May 1, 2010
  20. NuggetsMcGregor

    NuggetsMcGregor Member

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    i wasn't saying there will be issues with compatibility, but rather the latency and reliability of devices will be improved with faster data transfer rates.
     

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