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Pc based audio, or should i look elsewhere

jack121

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Hi thanks for reading.

I was going to purchase a sound blaster ae-9 audio card but a lot of comments on this website that sound cards are outdated, and a dac to amplifier is a more modern choice, me made rethink.

When i looked into the ae-9 i could not find a retailer for it and the only place to buy it is from creative themselves. Things have changed from a few years ago when these soundcard were freely available from a wide range of sources. Why do you think retailers are turning their backs on soundcards.

What do you think my next move should be, continue with the soundcard, or i have found 3 pre-amps on ebay which from a features point of view look suitable. May i please have some thoughts on these 3 options, do you know anything or have you heard anything from anywhere. Are they old, outdated, Or do you think i should go in a different direction entirely. Like to hear from you.




Many thanks
 
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I went dac years ago but that was back when onboard audio was mediocre. My recommendation would be for at least 24bit 96khz but ideally for quality you want 32bit 384khz if you've got the budget.

I don't know about those amps, my dac is small and sits on top of my pc. What kind of speakers are you using? Do you have surround or 2.0 or 2.1 setup?
 

jack121

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Hi. Thanks for the reply.

I have a 5.1 set up, and am using focal chora 826 speakers for all channels which were £1000 a pair.

Have searched around for a 5.1 dac with little success, so have thought about using a soundcard or 5.1 pre-amp. Unfortunatly the pre-amps are crazy price, the arcam and onkyo mentioned above are £5000 each. I can get them on ebay for £500 but they are very old now 2011 they were released. The emotiva is more modern. No idea how the soundblaster ae-9 fits in to all of this.

 
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My recommendation would be for at least 24bit 96khz but ideally for quality you want 32bit 384khz if you've got the budget.

Where you source your recordings, for such quality? Bitperfect means bitperfect. I have not bought anything better than 24/96 lately.

Please explain your reasoning on comparing devices with their playback compatibility?

For the OP

Other than that? It all depends on what are you doing. I do not recommend using Sound Cards on modern motherboards anymore. There really are problems.

Multichannel = use anything you like via HDMI route and call it a day.

Headphones = dedicated DAC with a decent amplifier... matching with your headphones.
 
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Playback compatibility
Where you source your recordings, for such quality? Bitperfect means bitperfect. I have not bought anything better than 24/96 lately.

Please explain your reasoning on comparing devices with their playback compatibility?

For the OP

Other than that? It all depends on what are you doing. I do not recommend using Sound Cards on modern motherboards anymore. There really are problems.

Multichannel = use anything you like via HDMI route and call it a day.

Headphones = dedicated DAC with a decent amplifier... matching with your headphones.

I have several sources for audio, hdtracks.com are pretty good. Digital audio has to be converted to an analog format, otherwise you couldn't hear it. The better your audio converter or dac the better your audio. 16bit or less is not good, 24bit is good, 32bit is great. The requirement for 24khz (which is the standard playback range, the upper limit of most music is only 16-18khz) is a 48khz stream. For 48khz audio you need a 96khz stream. You don't need a 384khz stream, you want it, especially if you're an audiophile. It basically samples the audio faster to reproduce sound better.

As for a 5.1 dac I think there are a couple options but I don't have enough experience with any of them to recommend one.
 
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Hi. Thanks for the reply.

I have a 5.1 set up, and am using focal chora 826 speakers for all channels which were £1000 a pair.

Have searched around for a 5.1 dac with little success, so have thought about using a soundcard or 5.1 pre-amp. Unfortunatly the pre-amps are crazy price, the arcam and onkyo mentioned above are £5000 each. I can get them on ebay for £500 but they are very old now 2011 they were released. The emotiva is more modern. No idea how the soundblaster ae-9 fits in to all of this.

Need a bit more information to make any specific recommendations. Is this for a desktop audio setup or HTPC situation where you are trying to fill a large room and have plenty of space for large amps / receivers?

My bad, read right past your reply thinking it was someone else replying. Those are some sick speakers how are you powering them and what is your source now?

I don't know much about surround sound and external processing, I stick with 2.0 and 2.1 setups for sake of simplicity. From a sound quality perspective though either of those 3 should be fine but I'm assuming you will be passing through 4K video so in that sense you'd want the most modern one which would be the Emotiva.

As to soundcards back in the 00s onboard audio was pretty garbage, before that there wasn't even any so you needed a soundcard. Today on board audio is generally pretty good and if you want something really good you typically only care about 2 channel audio and getting the audio device outside the PC which is full of EM noise just makes sense so thats why external (USB usually) DACs took off. I would vote for a USB DAC, my desktop has a NuForce Icon HDP, and my HTPC is connect to my Pioneer A9 which has Burr-brown DAC also over a USB interface.

Also a note on bitdepth and sampling rate, don't go out of your way to to seek out anything beyond 16 bit 44Khz. Bit depth is about dynamic range so the difference between the loudest possible sound and the quietest, 16 bit audio is good for 96dB (or as high as 120 with math trickery that I don't really understand) which is well into the range of damaging your hearing. So yeah, plenty of range, there is no reason to go higher and your equipment probably couldn't do anything with it anyway. As for sampling rate to accurately reproduce a frequency range you want to a sampling rate that is 2x the frequency. Human hearing tops out at 20,000hz at most and the Redbook audio standard is 44,000Hz which is technically more than is needed for 20,000Hz but the extra headroom takes care of any aliasing artifacts that might crop up. The one exception I would would say to all of this is sometimes HD versions of tracks are based on a better mastering so you are getting a better produced track or album that sounds better but not for any technical reason. Further reading; Kirkville blog, Steve Hoffman forum post.
 
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Also a note on bitdepth and sampling rate, don't go out of your way to to seek out anything beyond 16 bit 44Khz. Bit depth is about dynamic range so the difference between the loudest possible sound and the quietest, 16 bit audio is good for 96dB (or as high as 120 with math trickery that I don't really understand) which is well into the range of damaging your hearing. So yeah, plenty of range, there is no reason to go higher and your equipment probably couldn't do anything with it anyway. As for sampling rate to accurately reproduce a frequency range you want to a sampling rate that is 2x the frequency. Human hearing tops out at 20,000hz at most and the Redbook audio standard is 44,000Hz which is technically more than is needed for 20,000Hz but the extra headroom takes care of any aliasing artifacts that might crop up. The one exception I would would say to all of this is sometimes HD versions of tracks are based on a better mastering so you are getting a better produced track or album that sounds better but not for any technical reason. Further reading; Kirkville blog, Steve Hoffman forum post.

The reasoning for optimal modes depends on each DAC and each of them has a operational sweet spot. Every modern DAC does oversampling and ASRC. Due to different modes, implementations even with the same model DAC(The IC, not a whole device that often gets mistaken) you can get better noise figures at each specific rate. You can only evaluate each specific device on a scope and then decide optimum modes. It is really a black box sometimes, thus it is way more complicated than just looking at sample rate and bit depth.

Nevertheless one suggested that faster is better is a total nonsense indeed. There are some people, who should refrain from posting in audio section.

And yeah, most recordings are actually recorded pretty badly... they are artificially raped and sampled in studios and then you do it again. But as most people are tone deaf including sound engineers at mixing, rarely who notices, better the BASS the better...

The thing about audio is... the better the equipment you have, the more distinct the abyss becomes between a good and bad record, it does not rise the quality like only in positives, negatives become more negative too. On a good equipment you could not listen to some records anymore as they sound like turd, and yes they are. On a mainstream device it all gets plastered and re-touched so it sounds in the same gray. IT ventures into audio reception psychology, composers at Music universities learn that thing, there are plenty of books about sound nature. I lived with a composer with a Doctors degree, so I've got my hands on theory also a lot, I had to.

My suggestions for the OP. As he intends it use for multichannel ie movies, to go full compact class D amplifiers for the rear and take any modern cheapest receiver, feed the lineouts from it to the D class section and then the amps. The catch is... are there any HDMI 2.1 ones? I would not waste a penny on one currently, that does not support it, as it is a purchase for the future.

I don't see why the OP go all nuclear for high end... it ain't worth the money really for the content you use daily. So a great receiver with HDMI 2.1 should be a target first imho.
 

jack121

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Thanks for the reply, much appreciated.

I do agree with a lot of what you say and what is being said in the links, higher bit rates and higher frequencies do not seem to do much.

I do appreciate the point about receivers which would be an easy solution to everything, but i dislike the sound of receivers and much prefer seperates, there is a common consensus on the web that seperates are much better. Having owned a few receivers, and now am on seperates i could never go back to receivers, the differences is massive.
I used to own a £1000 audiolab pre and ran that into 3 quad power amps to create 5.1 sound, compared that against a £2000 pioneer receiver and the pioneer got destroyed.

Now i have the power amps but am wanting a new pre or dac, the audiolab is too old now and cannot decode dts-hdma or dolby tru

I have investigated the three pre-amps i mentioned in post 1 and the emotiva does not have a lot of fans. From reading all the posts from owners of the emotiva, emotiva seem to make good amps but the processors do struggle, especially against competition from denon, outlaw, marantz.

Which leaves the other two i mentioned the arcam and the onkyo, from 2011, old but good reviews at the time, would you go for one of those two or do you have other thoughts.

I do prefer surround sound compared to 2 channel stereo so will stick to recommendation for 5-channel dacs, which are proving very difficult to find, 2 channel dacs are easily available.

I am using a pc as a source but am wanting to switch to a streamer such as nvidia sheild, too much pc noise and having to run a massive windows 10 operating system.

For me i need a dac / preamp which accepts hdmi input, then has hdmi output for connecting to a screen, and analog outs for the audio.

Many thanks.
 
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Just something to think about. I use to have a Yamaha Rx V571. Ran my PC HDMI to it and it decoded movies and music then HDMI to the TV. It was getting some age so I sold it all, speakers, sub center. Then went to a Samsung HW 650 sound bar. Sound bars have improved greatly. My AVR system was $1500 this system was about $500 with rear speakers. PC to the TV then It uses ARC to send a digital signal back to the sound bar from the TV. It sounds better, not so much for music but with Movies, way better. Its awesome. Way less wires, has Bluetooth, love it

I think it would depend a lot on how big the room is
 
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jack121

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Receivers solve a lot of problems and represent a good all in one box solution, but at a massive compromise.

I used to have an asus stx 2 soundcard, ran it into 3 quad power amps, used the soundcard's dsp eq volume control. Results = good sound quality.

Total cost = £1100.

This set up totally and utterly destroyed a £2000 pionner reciever which got 5 stars out of 5 in every review magazine, won what hifi amp of the year.

I mean the difference was huge, the pionner got truly owned.
 
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