Using Your PC instead of a CD Player

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I don't think the hifi magazines are talking to the new generation of hifi users, for whom "mp3" is the de facto standard, and who would like a great sound from their computer. There are many reasons for this - cost, usability, being able to create playlists, storage, etc etc.
There is very little out there in the magazines about getting the best out of computer audio, they are only really latching onto the portable side of the market, like in this month's edition there's a supertest for portable mp3 equipment.
In fact, in my experience it is quite easy to use a computer with a high quality dac to beat equivalently priced cd players. Not only that, but you can often use the same DAC for your dvd player and freeview box and get a much better sound out of them too.
The basics of getting the best computer audio are:
a. using a DAC: either a high quality soundcard or an outboard usb DAC. Using your computer's built-in dac will be the weakest point
b. good encoding (preferably Apple lossless or other lossless). Important but in my opinion not as important as the dac.
c. installing an Asio driver to bypass the windows XP digital audio processing (it resamples everything). If you're using Vista it's apparently better.
d. adjusting any other settings in the audio player (iTunes should be at 100% volume and Sound Check disabled)
... and then it's up to your normal hifi setup.
USB Dacs... Occasionally you will see a review of usb dacs, but this is rare, although there are some integrated systems appearing such as active AVI speakers and Naim (and Bryston if I remember correctly?) amp with a built-in dac. In my opinion we should be hearing a LOT more about:
- Trends Audio UD-10 (£95)
- Dared MP-5 hybrid tube amp / usb dac / headphone amp (this is apparently what Fatman modify and sell) (£250)
- Carda / Meier Audio do some usb dac headphone amps that have a Pre-Out (up to £700 I think)
- Musical Fidelity X-DAC v8
- the Russ Andrews dac (£699)
- Benchmark DAC-1 (£700 i think)
- Squeezebox, although I've heard that the sound quality is not up to much
So, What Hifi, please do a supertest!
p.s. Have you ever seen a review for a sound card in a hifi mag? I haven't. Why not?
 
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Anonymous

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[quote user="peteAllen"]I don't think the hifi magazines are talking to the new generation of hifi users, for whom "mp3" is the de facto standard,[/quote]

Maybe because mp3 isn't really hifi.
 

Alec

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Thanks peteAllen. I agree with your points as to why people want to use their pcs more for music nowadays, and do so myself. also agree its over-looked.
 

matthewpiano

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I think the points you make are largely very true and can see why some people would want to use their PC for music. However, many of us don't want to be using a PC for EVERYTHING, and there are plenty of computer magazines out there without more specialist publications diluting their traditional, 2-channel hi-fi coverage further. Personally I don't want to be using a PC OR hard drive based unit to play my music. Even the quietest PCs emit fan noise and I don't want to interact with everything I do through Windows. I can't listen to MP3, even at 320, through my hi-fi because, to me, there is still a nasty digital has that just isn't there on CD and certainly not on vinyl LP. I like hi-fi the way its always been. I like to have the physical media with the packaging, booklet, liner notes etc. and I don't want to have to revert to on-screen information and/or the internet. The whole reason for most of us being interested in hi-fi is the vast improvement in quality you get from using specialist equipment rather than do-it-all boxes. Its about the music in the end and with multi-channel cinema sound taking up so much space in journals these days, I for one don't want to see 2-channel HI-FI coverage eroded even further by multimedia and PC based stuff.
 
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Anonymous

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I agree with you Matthew about prefering cd to mp3, but an increasing number of people I know now have pc/mac based audio systems and I'm aware that this is then creating a barrier to switching to "proper" amps and speakers. Furthermore, in the audio format war, physical media like cd is losing.

Also, from a technical point of view a hard drive is better as a transport than a cd transport, and flash memory is even better. The problem though with PCs is their interference etc. Therefore I reckon the future is solid state audio files, not just from a popularity point of view, but also hifi point of view.

Actually the reason I am interested in this right now is because I'm working on a headphone system for my office, where it is totally impractical for a cd collection, but still possible to have awesome sound. Next week I will have my setup complete... :D
 

Alec

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matthewpiano, i agree with mucjh you say, and its great if the way you do it gives you satisfaction. but some of the things you dont like - such as the whole visual interaction with windows - is exactly what im after. there arent that many (none that i personally know of) publications which pay any attention to blending pcs into the hifi world. plus, us pc listeners still use the same stuff you do, its just the source that changes. im not using any kind of all in one box by any means. decent amp, speakers, cables, interconnect, speaker stands, and soon ill have a sound card too. Forgive me for being a bit defensive, and i mean no offense, but the fact my pc is my source hardly means im half - arsing it. apologies for the language.
 

matthewpiano

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Al, I completely understand your point of view and I wouldn't describe your approach in derogatory terms. I suppose I'm pretty old fashioned really. I'm 29 and grew up reading about units like the Marantz CD52, Pioneer A400, Rega Planars, Nakamichi Cassette Decks etc. I guess in a way I'm currently enjoying the sort of stuff I dreamt of owning then and I like the whole process of using physical media. I'm afraid, for me, the venerable vinyl LP is still the best source, although CD technology has improved beyond recognition and I spend most of my time spinning silver rather than black discs. I'm quite open to hearing PC, HD and/or flash based systems and have indeed been quite pleased with the results when using uncompressed audio files on my Sony NWZ-A818 flash walkman through the hi-fi, but I'm yet to be convinced that it offers comparable audio quality to more traditional sources. I can also see why many people might like the visual interaction with windows, but I'm afraid I am a 'switch the music on, close me eyes, and enjoy' kind of listener who even switches the CD display off. I'm also quite protective of traditional 2 channel approaches in a world where downloading, surround sound and integrated a/v seem to be taking over. I do however respect you for your opinions and interests just as you respect me for mine.
 

Alec

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Hey! Im 29! you make me feel old LOL! Sorry if i seemed a little touchy. ill explain a bit further. im also a put the music on nd listen to it type, but i like to do that for very long periods sometimes, ans setting up a play list suits that better than getting up to change disks/records all the time. yep - my primary motivation is laziness! i must admit that i dont have room for a dedicated hifi stand, tho, so thats another reason why the pc method suits - luckily the amp fits in my desk, or i could fit it in my tv stand. ive discovered its still best to buy the cds if you can tho - this gives you mre control over format and quality to some extent, imo. moreover, you can do comparisons with the cd and audio files, and re-rip as much as you like. all of which means next yr ill be buying loads of cds ARGH! Agree withg you bout surround sound too, but thats coz im not much of a film buff (at least not the kind of films that i rekon benefeit most from surround systems), plus, as i say, im a bit pushed for space. if i get a telly and want slightly better sound, especially as i use it as a radio too - ill use my amp. Next year i shall also be investigating my remote control options, but i guess im just ramblng now. Anyway, sorry i was a bit prikly.
 

nads

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[quote user="al7478"] setting up a play list suits that better than getting up to change disks/records all the time. yep - my primary motivation is laziness! [/quote]

i can see what you are saying but for me i hate playlists as what seemed a goo idea then no longer is when listening to it. i prefer to leave it to the radio station or the musician/producer.

Ok 10 years on you two but have no aversion to playing music via a pc, but sorry MP3 sucks just do not like the sound.

music that i do have on the computers tends to be full size wav or soundforge files.

i was finding the audio quality from the comps. not as good on the new set-up as it was a bit flat. this was music on the comps. and also streaming radio or.......

but adding the soundforge has changed that, as the audio playback from net radio and the music files on the PC's is way better.

But for me the whole vinyl experience can not be beaten, well it can as one side is not long enough.

But even with a PC based set up the sound is only as good as the amp and speakers (or headphone amp and headphones).

OK HiFi nutters the source is the most important. but in a PC based system it will never be analogue.

But yes i think the mags should not miss the non traditional Music "players".
 

Thaiman

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I reckon the old cassatte tape in the right deck sound a lot better than any compressed music files. I can see why people like mp3, lossless and all that but they are not for me.
 

nads

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[quote user="al7478"]oo-er. how would it make ripped music from CDs sound better...?[/quote]

not really. more for recording MUSIC ie live or from vinyl or........ how many tracks do you want.....

it can also be used to clean up scratches on the LP's after recording.
 
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Anonymous

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Interestingly there is an article on the Bowers and Wilkins website that discusses the future of hifi

http://www.bowers-wilkins.co.uk/display.aspx?infid=2400

The article outlines how solid state formats have the potential to surpass CD's as all the information from a higher quality studio mix can be transferred from a source to your lug holes rather than recording or mixing music at a lower sample rate to fit on a CD. These benefits have only recently come to light as we now have much faster broadband connections that can handle the massive audio files that hifi enthusiasts would want to download.

I think hi-fi companies should now be investing in a source to play these formats through the traditional amp and speakers setup as it seems to be the way forward in terms of trying to recreate the exact sound of a studio recording in a living room

I'm sure the article will explain all this a lot better than I can
 

nads

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i think that we are getting there (with limitations) with the potential of the new HD DVD and blueray discs. but as mentioned storing and playing from a flash memory is not a problem. the problem with be the musical experience....

give it a few years.
 

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