Is an external DAC for the PC worth it if you have a good Sound Card? - Page 5 - AVS Forum
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post #121 of 134 Old 09-06-2013, 07:55 AM
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Another industry person trying to get people to believe that differences in specification are, by definition, audible differences. It is the only thing the industry can sell. Saying he has a slick DAC that is pretty and has nice specs but doesn't sound any different that other DAC's just doesn't bring the groceries home.
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post #122 of 134 Old 09-06-2013, 09:58 AM
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Arnyk,

Thank you for your detailed reply. I am indeed running Foobar2000 and SACD decoder to play the ripped ISOs--thank you for the useful link. It seems to do a good job, but there may be better solutions available (though it is hard to beat Foobar's price). I will have to remember your "Maytag of science" metaphor; I can think of several situations where it would have been useful to have had that phrase ready to go. I will indeed have to do some extra googling. It will be enjoyable and educational, I'm sure.

Thank You and Best Regards,

Brian
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post #123 of 134 Old 09-28-2013, 04:10 PM
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what a goofy ass read. lotta snake oil out there, sure, but goodness, the erection for objectivity here is a bit 'tarded.

consider the following scenario:

two DACs are tested: A and B. in a lab, in a properly controlled environment (dB matched, bias-controlled, etc, all other components equal), DAC A is shown to be objectively the superior DAC by far (DAC A is say a modern, well-respected, commonly used DAC, DAC B is some piece of crap 1980s budget-component).

Now youre given these two DACs to take home and test yourself, as youre interested in buying one. you (1) have no knowledge of the previously mentioned lab test, and (2) have no knowledge of their manufactured dates, assuming both to be new, and both to be comparable (both are priced within say, $5 of each other).

you listen, and to your ears, DAC A is far superior to DAC B. this is your conclusion.

now, according to the strict objectivity gang bang of this forum, you are not to be trust yourself. your environment was not properly accounted for. that french cheese from 3 nights ago is still giving you gas, making you irritable and therefore perhaps biased. even though, to your ears, DAC A sounded worlds better... best not believe it, right?

but heres the thing: were all biased. im biased. youre biased. and your everyday listening environment likely isnt bias-controlled. objectivity can prove a component provides a more accurate sound over another component; but uh oh - turns out you actually dont prefer that objectively more accurate component. maybe you like certain frequencies muddled based on the type of music you frequent. maybe you prefer highs that explode at the cost others. maybe you like a little distortion.

just like playing video games isnt always subjectively-best at properly calibrated settings that say a graphic designer would use (going to yell at a guy for preferring say, a very cool color temp?), different people hear differently, have different biases, listen to music which emphasizes different frequencies, etc.

want strictly accurate sound? thats your, dare i say, bias.

hell, placebos can be mighty powerful. does the new component produce a perceived difference you enjoy? do you hear the difference often? is this difference worth to you the cost of the component? then go for it. you may learn with time the difference was in fact a placebo. but even the first-hand learning process is fun and worth the price of admission to some.

so take everything with a grain of salt: your experience, the lessons and conclusions of others, it all. certainly a lot of good info in this forum, but ultimately find the components within your budget that give you the best experience. isnt that what sound is supposed to convey?
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post #124 of 134 Old 09-28-2013, 10:16 PM
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post #125 of 134 Old 09-29-2013, 04:01 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by A9X-308 View Post

^^Hilarious

The belief that measurable differences are audible is just as strong a religion as that of the "golden ears." Proving objectively and scientifically that some measurable differences aren't audible is always trumped by the belief that they are. It is as strong as a religious belief.
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post #126 of 134 Old 09-29-2013, 05:01 AM
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Originally Posted by cinnamonandgravy View Post

what a goofy ass read. lotta snake oil out there, sure, but goodness, the erection for objectivity here is a bit 'tarded.

consider the following scenario:

two DACs are tested: A and B. in a lab, in a properly controlled environment (dB matched, bias-controlled, etc, all other components equal), DAC A is shown to be objectively the superior DAC by far (DAC A is say a modern, well-respected, commonly used DAC, DAC B is some piece of crap 1980s budget-component).

Now youre given these two DACs to take home and test yourself, as youre interested in buying one. you (1) have no knowledge of the previously mentioned lab test, and (2) have no knowledge of their manufactured dates, assuming both to be new, and both to be comparable (both are priced within say, $5 of each other).

you listen, and to your ears, DAC A is far superior to DAC B. this is your conclusion.

Here's the problem with the above. The above is a bunch of science fiction, and real life is not science fiction. Real life does not follow agendas, it is wildly out of anybody's control.

99%+ of reality around here is people comparing two modern DACs. So your story has near zero relevance to AVS today.

So you might huff and you puff and you come up with a post that is self-serving fantasy, that even were it to happen it might not have the outcome you put into your little piece of fiction.

Reality s that in the 1980s there were no POS budget digital components to speak of because everybody was doing the best job they could for the big bucks. The first CD players cost $800 minimum and were probably a money loosing proposition for their makers, especially Sony. By the end of the decade prices had fallen by a little more than half and people were actually making money selling CD players. They were really pretty good.

Reality is that the first CD players were POS by modern standards on the test bench, but even in listening tests done in the 1990s, they were generally found to not actually sound any different. By the late 1980s sound quality wasn't the big development focus because it was a solved problem. The new frontier was tracking of questionable discs.

The only people who were having congenital sound quality problems were the high end people who were building CD transports and DACs in separate boxes, and this was mostly because it was a really bad idea, and the people who were doing it didn't put technology that was common knowledge in the 1960s into use.

So your little fantasy post is indeed a fantasy, and besides nobody is keeping anybody from doing anything.

People who are smart enough to actually design and built digital audio gear should have the basic skills it takes to do a proper DBT. They generally don't do DBTs because they "know" the probable outcome: random guessing. There's no money in selling something that sounds the same for the same price, and admitting that your product sounds the same condemns you to lower price points. The only people who can make money at lower price points are people who produce in volume and have technology on their side. Many such people seem to exist and have flooded the market.
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post #127 of 134 Old 09-29-2013, 11:54 AM
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Originally Posted by cinnamonandgravy View Post

you listen, and to your ears, DAC A is far superior to DAC B. this is your conclusion.

Sighted listening is always suspect, but I will add one small point in your favor: Some differences really are large enough to be obvious and self-evident. You don't need a blind test to tell AM radio from FM radio, or CD playback from a cassette. The issue then is deciding at what point is a difference large enough to be self-evident. I don't have an answer for that. But the experienced folks here have heard claims of an "amazing difference" so many times that we've learned to err on the side of skepticism.

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post #128 of 134 Old 09-30-2013, 07:32 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ethan Winer View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by cinnamonandgravy View Post

you listen, and to your ears, DAC A is far superior to DAC B. this is your conclusion.

Sighted listening is always suspect, but I will add one small point in your favor: Some differences really are large enough to be obvious and self-evident. You don't need a blind test to tell AM radio from FM radio, or CD playback from a cassette. The issue then is deciding at what point is a difference large enough to be self-evident. I don't have an answer for that. But the experienced folks here have heard claims of an "amazing difference" so many times that we've learned to err on the side of skepticism.

I submit that if you do sighted tests and blind tests and generally obtain the same results, then the difference is in some sense self-evident. Experience his shown that this is often true for things like large scale room treatments and speakers.
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post #129 of 134 Old 12-27-2013, 02:37 PM
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Hello all.

I've been away for a while and now I'm back. The full-on HT family room upgrade will have to wait a while, so I've been turning my attention to some quicker, cheaper wins focusing on my ~ 400 ripped CDs living on a ~2008 HP Pavilion Slimline that seems (to me) to work pretty well as a HTPC, setup in the guest room / office. For the last 18 months or so, I've had that PC connected to a low-end wall-mounted TV. Works fine, looks pretty good considering I did it. The issue is, in my room setup, I didn't make it practical.

If I assume that I don't want to touch my 'main' HT and get more usage out of my music, the use case I see is stilling down at my desk and playing some music.

I will admit, thanks to AudioAdvisior and some other catalogs(!), I've started thinking that I NEED an outboard DAC and to bypass the HP PC. Perhaps not. I do know I need speakers, and have some old Boston Acoustics I can reuse. If that's the case, should I just focus on an amplifier for the soundcard output? Use a Y-adapter into an amp and connect to the Boston Acoustics and crank to my hearts delight? I have seen other amp options in PartsExpress, that are much less expensive.

I guess after reading all of this I feel like I was taken in by the don't use your PC's DAC.



Thanks!

still researching AVRs
Yahama, Denon, Pioneer, ... oh, my!
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post #130 of 134 Old 12-28-2013, 11:44 PM
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I have boatloads of PC, some factory built some I assembled from chosen components. There are some pretty awful analog audio output from mainboards.. some is surprisingly or not surprisingly good. Maybe the surprise is the bad ones now.

Case in point I bought an HP all in one with only an analog line out. It was simply awful, no HDMI on this touch screen based box, no coax, no Toslink. I plugged it into an inexpensive but serviceable Sonly AVR.. that on board analog audio was dull lifeless and it was just poor. It was branded Beats audio no less. It was even worse direct to a good low impedance headphone. Solution, an inexpensive USB DAC. FiiO E17 to either the same headphone or the Sony Receiver. Very listenable audio now.. without the external DAC It literally sounded like an early 1960s pocket AM radio going to my Pioneer Headphones or the Sony Amp.


I have a PC I was going to stream via JRiver flac files to a 7 year old upper end Pioneer Elite.. again the integrated analog out was horrid, there was no coax or optical on the back panel. Odd because it was an Intel media board. So I installed a Halo Plus card I had laying around collection dust. Optical from the Halo to the Pioneer Elite sounds great. I tried the FiiOvE17 on this system whether digital was coming through Coax or Optical on the Halo Card or USB and sending the converted analog from the FiiO to the Pioneer it wasn't bad but the best audio was optical out the Halo Plus card straight into the Pioneer. The USB to the FiiO E17 had a congested sound and clearly became confused when the music was complex. We put it on a D-Link USB hub and that cleared it up the processing issue completely still the FiiO E17 never matched Optical out of the Claro straight to the Pioneer.

I had another PC that used an Atom processor and NVidia ION GPU. The Atoms on board analog out was quite poor it was noisy and it clearly suffered a lack of CPU bandwidth as the analog audio would get worse as the CPU load went up. This system played audio fine out of the digital ports Optical, Coax and HDMI. I have had no real issues with HDMI on any of my systems.

The HP Touch screen all in one had no digital outs clearly a cost reduction decision based on its intended business desktop use. I have a couple of notebooks one seems to have decent analog out, the other is meh...


So while it maybe true the DACs themselves are essentially pretty much on par... the analog output is the proverbial box of chocolates with PCs... and of course you can get noise issues from ground loops or mystery sources. The position I take if there is some practical way to get digital audio out of a PC without it being converted to analog that in practice is the best strategy, be that optical, coax, or HDMI. On board PC analog is so often just plain crappy and the reasons are likely not anything to do with the DAC itself. These same audio chipset (DAC) is often the basis of some pretty good soundcards either PCI or PCIe or even in USB external DACs. No blind testing necessary. You would have to be deaf to not hear how bad they are in a fair number of cases. I know with HP the business class machines' audio was anything but a design priority even if was Beats branded. The HP all in One was a business model which is why it only had an analog line out and sucked so badly. Otherwise a nice little box for headphones with the E17 and JRiver..

I worked at HP/Compaq many years so I kind of get how much they can cost reduce a good box, sometimes near unto death.

HDMI is a good solution to get digital audio out of a PC or notebook ...but it is not on every box though it should be. And of course there are times when either you can't or don't want to use it. It think every PC should have optical and HDMI today.

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post #131 of 134 Old 12-29-2013, 12:18 PM
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The HD audio in PC's these days is pretty damn good. Even on my laptop. They have excellent signal to noise ratios and are very clean and dynamic. I'm blown away at how good some of the HD audio in a laptop I had was. You would have guessed it was an expensive DAC.

A few years back I bought the x-fi elite pro. I was blown away by the sound. But I was curious and tried that benchmark DAC-1. It was supposedly a giant killer that would beat DAC's that were thousands of dollars more. But my x-fi elite pro edged it out and every way for better sound. I now use the new top of the line soundblaster zxr. And I'm blown away at how amazing it sounds every time I listen. A bonus too is the software. Lot's of useful options in there. Plus I like to use a subwoofer out on the sound card. It has lots of software options, and no need for external crossovers. Just pure clean sound to the sub.

Anyway that other guy is right too. Scientific measurements don't exactly mean squat all the time. It's why one DAC can claim a super high signal to noise ratio measurement but still get destroyed in sound quality by a 20 year old DAC with a lot worse signal to noise ratio. Or why a higher db rated speaker does not make it better than a lower one, or why a speaker with a perfect flat response can sound really bad but the not so flat speaker sounds amazing. Or why a 320kbs mp3 can sound pretty much identical to a CD. There is also no way to put together a system purely on science and know how it will sound. No matter how sophisticated the gear and science of it. In the end they all sit down and go listen to it to see how it sounds. And many times they have to go back and redo a lot until it sounds right. Even though there math and science and instruments were telling them is should be perfect.
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post #132 of 134 Old 12-30-2013, 11:22 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by xerosleep View Post

The HD audio in PC's these days is pretty damn good. Even on my laptop. They have excellent signal to noise ratios and are very clean and dynamic. I'm blown away at how good some of the HD audio in a laptop I had was. You would have guessed it was an expensive DAC.

Agree. Even my aging Dell Inspiron 8500's built-in sound card is clean enough to be transparent.
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Scientific measurements don't exactly mean squat all the time.

This part is not correct. Of course we need all of the specs, not just the minimal data many vendors give. But measurements can indeed tell us everything we need to know about the fidelity of audio gear. More here:

AES Damn Lies Workshop

Also see my post #127 above about the importance of blind tests. If someone can see the label, their opinion is probably not valid unless the differences are extremely obvious. There's also this:

A common-sense explanation of audiophile beliefs

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post #133 of 134 Old 02-18-2014, 01:36 PM
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Marketing is an amazing thing. All i use is an Asus Xonar STX, and I have loved the card. When I play it it sounds better than my RX-V1 on its own, It sounds better overall than any of the 10 cd players I have purchased and tried. Much fuller and wider bass response and better high end in my opinion. For the price of it, these days sells for 200 or less, is pretty fair deal. Yet one can easily pay 10 times that much on a DAC.

Will you get ten times better performance that you can hear? I do not think so, however I am open to listening to one of these expensive units to see if you want to borrow me one. They do some amazing marketing, and it all has to do with the middle vs upper class tier mostly etc. There are lots of people with lots of money....... and if you can extract an extra grand with clever marketing on something like like a DAC chip that costs around 50 cents to produce, I guess all the power to them. It is no different than people paying 100 a meal for a bottle of refreshment juice, that is marketed as total rejuvenation food, that will bring you back to life etc. The people that can afford it will buy it for what marginal benefit it brings them.

Use to be everyone bragged about expensive interconnect cable, and how these 1000 dollar cobra jet rca cables would bring you much better sound. Or the monster cable debate, till the world finally agreed, speaker cable gauge was the more determining factor of quality, not that it had the name monster. This is the world we live in now. Everyone pays 600 dollars for phones that cost a few dollars to produce, and five years from now those same phones will be available for 20 bucks.

Anyway the actual DAC is only one single part, Now you need the rest of the electronics to mesh up to give you excellent signal to noise etc. I personally have a hard time understanding why I see cards with DACS with a signal to noise of 124 db selling for 200 and others selling for 1000 with a signal to noise slightly above 100 db. And as someone else pointed out, Paying that much for a palm sized unit, with maybe a few dollars worth of parts? Anyway I love my STX, and i think it is good enough for me. No need for a 1200 dollar M-DAC here

A Good amplifier requires a adequate power supply, It does not matter what the amplifier is capable of if the power supply will not provide the power required. Most amplifiers have under rated power supplies. It is up to you to make sure you get the ones that are
least under rated if at all.
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post #134 of 134 Old 02-19-2014, 04:51 AM
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So while it maybe true the DACs themselves are essentially pretty much on par... the analog output is the proverbial box of chocolates with PCs... and of course you can get noise issues from ground loops or mystery sources.

I think you have touched on a large scale truth. Desktop PCs and some laptops are prone to be components of ground loops because they may be connected to the power supplies safety ground through a plug with a third pin. It may surprise some but its not unusual to run into people on audio forums who do not know the difference between hum, hiss, and clipping. PC analog outputs are also likely to set up situations that have problems with gain staging which again few real world audiophiles are prepared to diagnose and correct. Very small amounts of these things may not be heard as being what they are, but rather are heard as changes to sounstaging, timbre, etc.

I recently upgraded my desktop PC and the new PC sounded and measured fine on the test bench. I hooked it up to my FIIO E5 (all analog) headphone amp in its permanent location and was plagued with a low level hum. I played around with some options and eventually I chased the hum away by powering the headphone amp from a USB wall wart charger instead of the PC's USB ports. Putting a USB audio interface on a hub can set up a similar solution.
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The position I take if there is some practical way to get digital audio out of a PC without it being converted to analog that in practice is the best strategy, be that optical, coax, or HDMI. On board PC analog is so often just plain crappy and the reasons are likely not anything to do with the DAC itself. These same audio chipset (DAC) is often the basis of some pretty good soundcards either PCI or PCIe or even in USB external DACs. No blind testing necessary. You would have to be deaf to not hear how bad they are in a fair number of cases. I know with HP the business class machines' audio was anything but a design priority even if was Beats branded. The HP all in One was a business model which is why it only had an analog line out and sucked so badly. Otherwise a nice little box for headphones with the E17 and JRiver..

I strongly agree with the philosophy of keeping audio signals in the digital domain as close to the system output as possible. I've had any number of PCs with problematical sound that I circumvented with a Behringer UCA 202 USB audio interface. You are right that the imperfections in PC sound can be very strong and unmistakable. However Ethan is right that PC sound can be great, even using the analog outputs coming out of the system board. YMMV!
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I worked at HP/Compaq many years so I kind of get how much they can cost reduce a good box, sometimes near unto death.

I've done a little mixed signal design and cleaned up some circuit board designs that had built in noise and even distortion problems due to how the traces were laid out. Its the same copper so it isn't a parts quality problem as such. Many of these problems cost nothing but design time to correct. Of course design time can be expensive especially when a consultant has to be brought in. Oh, and the cost of a new set of tooling to make the corrected boards can be signficiant.
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HDMI is a good solution to get digital audio out of a PC or notebook ...but it is not on every box though it should be. And of course there are times when either you can't or don't want to use it. It think every PC should have optical and HDMI today.

IMO HDMI bears comparison with copper gigahertz networking. HDMI does not use coupling transformers but GHz copper ethernet does:



That little box marked "Pulse" behind the RJ45 connector can vastly improve the reliability of the network card as compared to a HDMI interface which lacks it.
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