Getting the best sound out of iTunes on my PC - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 9 Old 07-19-2012, 01:26 PM - Thread Starter
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I just got in a pair of Audioengine A5+s powered speakers that I plan to combine with a PC setup running iTunes (I'm running Windows 7 on a Dell Latitude laptop). I'm also thinking of getting Audioengine's D1 DAC to improve the sound quality. I also plan to go wireless, probably via AppleTV. Will this suffice (PC --> ATV --> DAC --> powered speakers) to get good sound, or will I still be passing audio through my computer's internal mixer and thus be picking up sound artifacts I don't want?

There's an article here which claims that using iTunes on a PC without any adjustments doesn't typically produce good sound:

http://www.hifi-advice.com/optimising-itunes-windows-info.html

The author I think used a program called 'Virtual Cable' to bypass the windows kmixer and get better sound. Curious if you guys recommend this...

The bottom line is that I want the best sound I get out of my PC running iTunes playing apple lossless files.
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post #2 of 9 Old 07-19-2012, 01:49 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kalash74 View Post

I just got in a pair of Audioengine A5+s powered speakers ...

I like my A5's.
Quote:
Originally Posted by kalash74 View Post

I'm also thinking of getting Audioengine's D1 DAC to improve the sound quality.

I recommend you listen to your setup before purchasing an external DAC. DAC's can and do
make a difference in how a system sounds, but CD-quality DAC's are a dime a dozen these days.
Quote:
Originally Posted by kalash74 View Post

Will this suffice (PC --> ATV --> DAC --> powered speakers) to get good sound

Yes. Critical in this setup is, in my opinion, is how well you like the A5+.
Quote:
Originally Posted by kalash74 View Post

or will I still be passing audio through my computer's internal mixer and thus be picking up sound artifacts I don't want?

You can bypass Windows' mixer for USB output. Anyway, people have been using analog mixers
and equalizers for generations. Do you think a simple digital mixer will affect your sound badly?
Quote:
Originally Posted by kalash74 View Post

The bottom line is that I want the best sound I get out of my PC running iTunes playing
apple lossless files.

If you want the best sound, attach a home theater system to your PC. I've been using A5's
without an AVR for quite some time. It's not the same sound as my Infinity towers, but I'm
pleased.
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post #3 of 9 Old 07-19-2012, 02:10 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kalash74 View Post

I just got in a pair of Audioengine A5+s powered speakers that I plan to combine with a PC setup running iTunes (I'm running Windows 7 on a Dell Latitude laptop).

Umm... "plan...", that means that while you have obtained the speakers and have them in your possession, you haven't actually hooked them up and listened to them?

What's wrong with hooking them up, experimenting with their position, orientation, and other areas of compatibility...>?
Quote:
I'm also thinking of getting Audioengine's D1 DAC to improve the sound quality.

Exactly which Dell Latitude do you have? Some have good audio interfaces built right into them, and others are the pits. We might beable to capitalize on some sound quality tests that others have done.
Quote:
I also plan to go wireless, probably via AppleTV. Will this suffice (PC --> ATV --> DAC --> powered speakers) to get good sound, or will I still be passing audio through my computer's internal mixer and thus be picking up sound artifacts I don't want?

IME Kmixer artifacts are often wildly overblown. Can you hear it in a reliable listening test? Does it measure out to have problems that would be definately audible? Many web eggspurts weigh in on these issues with lots of opinions and not so much reliable evidence...

Quote:
There's an article here which claims that using iTunes on a PC without any adjustments doesn't typically produce good sound:
http://www.hifi-advice.com/optimising-itunes-windows-info.html
The author I think used a program called 'Virtual Cable' to bypass the windows kmixer and get better sound. Curious if you guys recommend this...

It appears that the author himself is having second thoughts, now that he's struggling with stability problems.

If it is not broken, don't fix it!
Quote:
The bottom line is that I want the best sound I get out of my PC running iTunes playing apple lossless files.

Work on the speaker and acoustics end of the equation unless you know for sure that something is really wrong elsewhere.
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post #4 of 9 Old 07-19-2012, 03:30 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hamilcar Barca View Post

I like my A5's.
I recommend you listen to your setup before purchasing an external DAC. DAC's can and do
make a difference in how a system sounds, but CD-quality DAC's are a dime a dozen these days.
Yes. Critical in this setup is, in my opinion, is how well you like the A5+.
You can bypass Windows' mixer for USB output. Anyway, people have been using analog mixers
and equalizers for generations. Do you think a simple digital mixer will affect your sound badly?
If you want the best sound, attach a home theater system to your PC. I've been using A5's
without an AVR for quite some time. It's not the same sound as my Infinity towers, but I'm
pleased.

How do you bypass Windows' mixer? I assume I am already doing this if I am going wireless, such as through the AppleTV? Or not?

Do you think a low to mid range receiver combined with passive bookshelf speakers such as the Audioengine P4's will produce better sound than the P5+'s with their built-in amp? One thing to note here, I am placing the speakers in a bookcase, and since the A5+'s are rear-ported, I am not getting the ideal bass response I would want--there is about only 3" between the back of the speakers and the back of the bookshelf. The P4's are front-ported, not sure if this would make a difference...
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post #5 of 9 Old 07-19-2012, 03:35 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by arnyk View Post

Umm... "plan...", that means that while you have obtained the speakers and have them in your possession, you haven't actually hooked them up and listened to them?
What's wrong with hooking them up, experimenting with their position, orientation, and other areas of compatibility...>?
Exactly which Dell Latitude do you have? Some have good audio interfaces built right into them, and others are the pits. We might beable to capitalize on some sound quality tests that others have done.
IME Kmixer artifacts are often wildly overblown. Can you hear it in a reliable listening test? Does it measure out to have problems that would be definately audible? Many web eggspurts weigh in on these issues with lots of opinions and not so much reliable evidence...
It appears that the author himself is having second thoughts, now that he's struggling with stability problems.
If it is not broken, don't fix it!
Work on the speaker and acoustics end of the equation unless you know for sure that something is really wrong elsewhere.

I have a Dell E6400, which is notorious for audio popping / crackling. I wish I could just get a new laptop, but I can't--I've invested quite a bit in this laptop and will have to wait a couple years. Just google "E6400 audio crackling" and you'll see multiple threads on this. Whenever my laptop is hooked up to external speakers, I get periodic crackling / popping which is really annoying for someone who wants to experience seamless, good quality sound. I was hoping that by bypassing the internal sound card I would evade all this, but maybe not?

Anyway, setting outside my personal issues with the laptop, I want to squeeze the best sound I can out of iTunes, and I was just wondering whether there is anything I need to do other than plugging in an external DAC into the USB port (or streaming my music wirelessly to the AppleTV / Airport Express and then to a DAC).

I will give my speakers a listen today and then report back.
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post #6 of 9 Old 07-19-2012, 04:01 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kalash74 View Post

I was hoping that by bypassing the internal sound card I would evade all this, but maybe not?

I'm a software engineer, not an electrical engineer, but I think your idea sounds more than reasonable.
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Originally Posted by kalash74 View Post

I was just wondering whether there is anything I need to do other than plugging in an external DAC into the USB port

That should be good. Good enough?

There is an inexpensive Behringer DAC, the -- UCA222 (IIRC) -- available at Amazon and some pro-audio retailers. If you're unsure about whether a DAC will remove the popping sounds, it might be worth a try. (I'm considering it as something to play with.)
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post #7 of 9 Old 07-20-2012, 04:27 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kalash74 View Post

I have a Dell E6400, which is notorious for audio popping / crackling. I wish I could just get a new laptop, but I can't--I've invested quite a bit in this laptop and will have to wait a couple years. Just google "E6400 audio crackling" and you'll see multiple threads on this. Whenever my laptop is hooked up to external speakers, I get periodic crackling / popping which is really annoying for someone who wants to experience seamless, good quality sound. I was hoping that by bypassing the internal sound card I would evade all this, but maybe not?
Anyway, setting outside my personal issues with the laptop, I want to squeeze the best sound I can out of iTunes, and I was just wondering whether there is anything I need to do other than plugging in an external DAC into the USB port (or streaming my music wirelessly to the AppleTV / Airport Express and then to a DAC).
I will give my speakers a listen today and then report back.

Sometimes simple solutions are the best. I have an older Dell laptop that doesn't click and pop but does have a lot of background noise. A minor investment in a Behringer UCA 202 USB ADC/DAC (under $40) provides great sound quality through its RCA outputs.
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post #8 of 9 Old 07-20-2012, 04:32 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hamilcar Barca View Post

There is an inexpensive Behringer DAC, the -- UCA222 (IIRC) -- available at Amazon and some pro-audio retailers. If you're unsure about whether a DAC will remove the popping sounds, it might be worth a try. (I'm considering it as something to play with.)

Your apparent hesitation to recommend an external DAC as a panacea for clicking and snapping problems is IME very wise.

Audio clicking and popping is usually due to some kind of I/O overload or bottleneck inside the computer. It may or may not afflict the USB outputs depending on details of the situation.

The OP being a software engineer may find an application for his existing technical knowledge base as he tries to correct the data flow problems inside his own computer! ;-)
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post #9 of 9 Old 07-20-2012, 11:07 AM
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Originally Posted by arnyk View Post

Exactly which Dell Latitude do you have? Some have good audio interfaces built right into them, and others are the pits.

The sound card built into my aging Dell Inspiron 8500 sound fine - very quiet and very clean. So yeah, some built-in sound cards are plenty good enough.

--Ethan

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