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Is an external DAC for the PC worth it if you have a good Sound Card? - Page 4

post #91 of 134
Quote:
In a much earlier post, Mr. Krueger says a $25 sound card is as good as the best DAC. My questions are: Have Dac standards improved a lot over the last few years, so that this is true now but wasn't then? Or do you think that Mr. Aczel was really just juding the preamp? Or, was he also...misled?
Don't think so. Here's what he said about the Benchmark's sound:
Quote:
What the Benchmark DAC1 HDR adds to or subtracts from its input signal is borderline unmeasurable, so the sonic character of its output is obviously the sonic character of its input. It’s as simple as that. It has no sound of its own.
post #92 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by mcnarus View Post

Quote:
In a much earlier post, Mr. Krueger says a $25 sound card is as good as the best DAC. My questions are: Have Dac standards improved a lot over the last few years, so that this is true now but wasn't then? Or do you think that Mr. Aczel was really just juding the preamp? Or, was he also...misled?
Don't think so. Here's what he said about the Benchmark's sound:
Quote:
What the Benchmark DAC1 HDR adds to or subtracts from its input signal is borderline unmeasurable, so the sonic character of its output is obviously the sonic character of its input. It’s as simple as that. It has no sound of its own.

That statement about sonic character also applies to the vast majority of modern DACs, whether stand alone or incorporated in devices like AVRs or the Airport Express. It is possible that the wording may confuse some readers into thinking that it provides a unique or at least exceptional sonic advantage. It does not.
post #93 of 134
"Is an external DAC for the PC worth it if you have a good Sound Card?"

No.
post #94 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by FMW View Post

"Is an external DAC for the PC worth it if you have a good Sound Card?"

No.

But where is the cut off on "good" for a sound card? We heard (above) $25 for a sound card, but that seemed to be a kind of off-the-cuff general statement: perhaps some companies have a good $25 card, but maybe others don't. Last time I bought a sound card here in Taiwan (where I live) I got the impression they sort of jumped from very cheap to very expensive. Is there some statistic or number that identifies a card that is "good" as opposed to lousy?
Edited by Mookalafalas - 3/20/13 at 7:36pm
post #95 of 134
Honestly, I don't know if anyone makes a defective DAC in a sound card because I haven't tested all the sound cards. Back when we did our bias controlled tests we tested an Audigy card among a pretty complete array of DAC's ranging up to $3000 in selling price and got no audible differences anywhere from the tests at all. We had a Sony Walkman and several CD and DVD players in the mix as well as a very expensive stand alone DAC. We were not able to get an audible difference from any pair of DAC's in the test. My off-the-cuff remark was an educated guess.

All the DAC chips appear to get the job done without injecting anything audible into the process. If one wanted to engineer some sonic signature into the process, it would need to be done in the analog stage after the conversion. I can't imagine why anyone would want to do that but it is possible, I suppose. So I think it is safe to say that you can remove the word "good" from the title and still get the same answer.
post #96 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by FMW View Post

Honestly, I don't know if anyone makes a defective DAC in a sound card because I haven't tested all the sound cards. Back when we did our bias controlled tests we tested an Audigy card among a pretty complete array of DAC's ranging up to $3000 in selling price and got no audible differences anywhere from the tests at all. We had a Sony Walkman and several CD and DVD players in the mix as well as a very expensive stand alone DAC. We were not able to get an audible difference from any pair of DAC's in the test. My off-the-cuff remark was an educated guess.

All the DAC chips appear to get the job done without injecting anything audible into the process. If one wanted to engineer some sonic signature into the process, it would need to be done in the analog stage after the conversion. I can't imagine why anyone would want to do that but it is possible, I suppose. So I think it is safe to say that you can remove the word "good" from the title and still get the same answer.

Sweet. So I can spend $8.95 or $14,679.99 and I'll get the same thing? :-) I can't wait to tell my wife how much money I've saved this week :-D
post #97 of 134
Thread Starter 
Thank you for all your input on this.
You all rock.

I decided to not buy a DAC and keep using my soundcard's DAC.
post #98 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mookalafalas View Post

Is there some statistic or number that identifies a card that is "good" as opposed to lousy?

Of course. It's called frequency response, distortion, and noise. biggrin.gif

This article from Skeptic magazine was written to bust audiophoole myths, but along the way it also explains how audio fidelity is defined:

Audiophoolery

--Ethan
post #99 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ethan Winer View Post

Of course. It's called frequency response, distortion, and noise. biggrin.gif

This article from Skeptic magazine was written to bust audiophoole myths, but along the way it also explains how audio fidelity is defined:

Audiophoolery

--Ethan

Thanks. Nice article, and clearly written. I see now why vinyl/tube guys might prefer their system--especially for rock and roll, where, say, fans of string quartets would be less likely to.
post #100 of 134
I have a mid 2012 MacBook Air, would I be wasting my time buying an external DAC like Audioengine D1, and using it instead of the internal mac circuitry? Buying an external DAC does have a few other positives in terms of helping me hook into a 2channel amp streaming via Apple Tv (2 channel amp having no optical), serving as a reasonable headphone amp, and offering a fair bit of flexibility within my systems. For these reasons I feel I have nothing to really lose, but it is possible I also have nothing to gain. A better example would be using the said device to hook into my AVR via analog inputs, which has optical inputs and of course it's own DAC, meaning that I am probably more likely wasting my time integrating an external DAC into that signal chain. The AVR is a 2011 model Sony STR DH820, which is supposed to have a reasonable amp for an AVR, but of course by no means anything like high-end.
The whole external DAC thing might be irrelevant however, because my 2 channel amp is on the way out, as are the speakers. I'm left with the above mentioned AVR. This may be a little OT, but If I am to subscribe to much of the science in this and similar forums, can I reasonably expect to build a quality system for music around this relatively cheap AVR with it's inbuilt DAC, by simply adding some good quality well matched speakers? The speakers would be either hooked up conventionally, or perhaps wired up to take advantage of the bi-amp functionality of the amp. I'm not wanting to open up that can of worms here (biamping, biwiring etc.) that is something for another day, and is something I can play around with. Should I proceed down that path of building on my AVR setup (convenient, and would add some quality to my home theatre as well), or should I buy a replacement 2 channel amp and keep home theatre and music listening separate? Everything I had previously read suggested that you shouldn't touch an AVR for music, but after reading many well written scientific posts here, I wonder....
Thanks for all the really interesting discussion here (on both sides). I have understood it, and enjoyed it. Also learned something very valuable: however much you think you know, there is always someone who knows more. Thankyou to all the obviously well qualified people who have given their time to present their opinions. To the scientists, thank you for making me question my preconceptions of the hifi world, I won't look at hifi reviews in the same light again. You may have saved me many of my hard earned penny's as well, which I can now put towards some really nice speakers. I would ask for speaker recommendations, but I'm assuming THAT is clearly subjective...wink.gif
post #101 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ethan Winer View Post

Of course. It's called frequency response, distortion, and noise. biggrin.gif

This article from Skeptic magazine was written to bust audiophoole myths, but along the way it also explains how audio fidelity is defined:

Audiophoolery

--Ethan

Fantastic article by the way. A real eye opener, thanks. eek.gif
post #102 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mookalafalas View Post


But where is the cut off on "good" for a sound card?

Back in the mid-1990s, about $350.

This week, as little as $1 - IOW the onboard audio interface that came with the system board. But I don't claim that all $1 audio interfaces are equally good or even good at all.

For example, the performance of an onboard audio interface can depend on other components of the PC.

I've built 4 PCs with the same system board and therefore the same audio interface.

I breadboarded all 4 on my test bench before installing them in cases. 3 of them were quiet both on the bench and also as a finished PC. As luck would have it, the one I built for myself and the one I'm typing on at this time came out noisy.
Quote:
We heard (above) $25 for a sound card, but that seemed to be a kind of off-the-cuff general statement: perhaps some companies have a good $25 card, but maybe others don't.

IOW, price is not the best measure of an audio interface.
Quote:
Last time I bought a sound card here in Taiwan (where I live) I got the impression they sort of jumped from very cheap to very expensive. Is there some statistic or number that identifies a card that is "good" as opposed to lousy?

There is a freebie program called "The Audio Rightmark" which you can run yourself and does a nice job of analyzing and presenting its results.

I find it to be a more reliable measure of audio interface sound quality than price.
Edited by arnyk - 6/8/13 at 5:18am
post #103 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by Christof24 View Post

If I am to subscribe to much of the science in this and similar forums, can I reasonably expect to build a quality system for music around this relatively cheap AVR with it's inbuilt DAC, by simply adding some good quality well matched speakers?
Probably. I consider my home theater system to be very high quality, and the centerpiece is a Pioneer receiver that cost all of $150 at Costco. Now, I do use powered loudspeakers, so the receiver's power amps are not used. But I've heard them and they're fine too. (And thanks for your comments about my Audiophoolery article.)

--Ethan
post #104 of 134
Thanks for your reply Ethan, I was worried that this thread was done and dusted, and that I was way too off topic with my questions on amps. I guess I had read many of the threads on this site, and they had all blurred into one for me. They did all have the common idea that the electronics side of hifi in this day and age are comparible and of good enough quality not to affect sound reproduction. I have a Marketing background and an audio engineering background, and therefore had no problem believing your truly interesting article. The marketing side of me says that what you claim could indeed be true, and my audio experience and logic agrees with the science. The scale of this deception is truly staggering though, and it is little wonder that so many people wish to shoot down your science in favour of their views, which I would put on par with religion and a blind faith to something that they fail time and again to substantiate. Keep up the good fight my man! I for one feel like I have woken up, thanks again!
post #105 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by Christof24 View Post

The scale of this deception is truly staggering
Yes it is! But it's not unprecedented. I see exactly the same mass deception (and mass delusion) in "alternate" health care products. I could mention other categories, but I won't for fear of violating the forum rules about religion and politics. biggrin.gif

--Ethan
post #106 of 134
The unfortunate result is that the more people are ensnared (i.e. cough up huge amount of cash for $1 products) the more dogmatic and inflexible they become in their assertions of these products worth--to change their mind at that point is equivalent to admitting they are foolish, self-deluding dupes. Sometimes threads even come close to acknowledging this. I saw a thread in an audiophool site that started something like "please tell me this guy doesn't know what he is talking about!" (in reference to the Audio Critic's good sense). Naturally tons of people jumped forward to reassure this guy.
There are so many references in these threads to unhappy wives. I am into photography, and there is the same issue there--spending 1K on a specialty lens may not be appreciated by one's spouse, and the comments are often rather comical. Not so here, however. A specialty lens (an F1.4 prime, for example) really has a purpose--you can shrink depth of field, be used in lower light, etc. Being duped into spending many thousands of dollars pursuing a mythical grail of "perfect sound" however, sounds sometimes like someone has been hooked on a drug, joined a cult, or fallen slave to dreams of alchemy, and it has probably seriously hurt marriages and families and savings, perhaps cut into vacations, children's educations, etc. My heart goes out to those wives who see their families savings go into a $2000 wire that is really worth $1.89, a $7000 DAC that isn't even worth that much...
post #107 of 134
Apologies for my religious analogy, I will refrain from such things in the future. Have just read about a DAC that claims to need a run in period. Surely this can not be necessary. Why on earth would electronic components require a run in time? I don't see anything in the DAC that could possibly improve over time. Why would they claim such a thing? As I understand it, speakers require run in time as they are mechanical, but DAC's?
post #108 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by Christof24 View Post

I don't see anything in the DAC that could possibly improve over time. Why would they claim such a thing?

Why? Because most credit cards protect you for only 60 days. So if a vendor says you need to "burn in" your DAC (or wires etc) for 90 days, then it's too late to demand your money back! biggrin.gif

--Ethan
post #109 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ethan Winer View Post

Why? Because most credit cards protect you for only 60 days. So if a vendor says you need to "burn in" your DAC (or wires etc) for 90 days, then it's too late to demand your money back! biggrin.gif

--Ethan

That figures!rolleyes.gif I can accept that. The other possibility that they actually believe their claim, I find far more disturbing...lol wink.gif

Thanks again for your continued help in separating fact from fiction. Have purchased your book 'The Audio Expert' in Kindle format and am scouring it in the hope it will aid me in setting up my new system. I'm sure answers to all my questions are in there...somewhere smile.gif I will eventually read it cover to cover. If only the specification sheets of my equipment were as thorough as your book...lol
Edited by Christof24 - 6/11/13 at 1:05am
post #110 of 134
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ethan Winer View Post

Why? Because most credit cards protect you for only 60 days. So if a vendor says you need to "burn in" your DAC (or wires etc) for 90 days, then it's too late to demand your money back! biggrin.gif

--Ethan

Ahah

That makes perfect sense.

By the way, I spent the money I was suposed to spend on the DAC on a new pair of speakers and the sound indeed improved smile.gif
post #111 of 134
Hi

I'm thinking of going the "streaming" route rather than filling my shelves with even more Cd's. I also listen to a lot of Spotify on speakers via my computer upstairs in my office. I've got a high quality Cd based hi-fi set up in my sitting room downstairs. I'd like to use the Sonos system to link my rooms. I listen to classical music. So my questions to you are

1. Would a small pair of quality micro speakers eg Epoz Aktimate Micro simply plugged into my Imac be adequate for high quality sound (either for listening to Spotify or ripped CD's on I Tunes) or would an inexpensive DAC (eg HRT Microstreamer at £180) be a significant upgrade?

2. In my hi-fi downstairs, do you think anyone can tell the difference between a £180 DAC and one which has been recommended by my local hi-fi shop, a £990 Chord Qute?

Is the selling of expensive DAC's just a hi-fi fad or does it have any genuine sound benefit in the real world of listening?

Thanks
post #112 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by kamanetzki View Post

1. Would a small pair of quality micro speakers eg Epoz Aktimate Micro simply plugged into my Imac be adequate for high quality sound

I can't imagine any "micro" speaker being good enough for high fidelity.
Quote:
do you think anyone can tell the difference between a £180 DAC and one which has been recommended by my local hi-fi shop, a £990 Chord Qute?

Not likely. Even budget converters are fine these days. Is there a reason you don't want to just use the audio output of your iMac?

--Ethan
post #113 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by kamanetzki View Post


1. Would a small pair of quality micro speakers eg Epoz Aktimate Micro simply plugged into my Imac be adequate for high quality sound (either for listening to Spotify or ripped CD's on I Tunes)

Depends what you call high quality sound. I'm under the impression that there is very little useful that can be done with a 5 inch woofer and 1 inch tweeter that hasn't already been done. Lots of them are pretty good, but due to the immutable laws of physics it is unlikely that any of them are going to play 30 Hz loud enough and clean enough for you to actually hear it in an enjoyable way. Add a decent subwoofer and an AVR or amp with good bass management and you may obtain what I would call "high quality sound".

Quote:
or would an inexpensive DAC (eg HRT Microstreamer at £180) be a significant upgrade?

Waste of money.
Quote:
2. In my hi-fi downstairs, do you think anyone can tell the difference between a £180 DAC and one which has been recommended by my local hi-fi shop, a £990 Chord Qute?

Actually hearing the difference between either of them an a $29.95 Behringer UCA 202 will be more than challenging.
Quote:
Is the selling of expensive DAC's just a hi-fi fad or does it have any genuine sound benefit in the real world of listening?

Used to be in the mid-1990s that you had to spend real money (several $100) to get a good DAC. The price performance of digital signal processing hardware improves by 2:1 about every 3 years. Apply that rule and you can calculate that the performance of $1 DAC chips exceeded the limits of human hearing a few years back, which is BTW actually what happened. The fact that high end DACs became vastly overpriced is not really a fad but a historical trend that we sort of quietly backed in to. Same thing happened with power amps maybe in the 1980s.
post #114 of 134
I've been mucking around with the idea of an external DAC for a while now, and I did end up buying something and tested it for myself. I have to agree with these guys though, I pretty much wasted my money. If your CD player is newish, it will be fine. If it's old or crappy, the above mentioned offering at 30 bucks or so would be the go (if only to set your mind at ease). Spending the money you are talking about would seem like a waste.
Be aware that if your hifi guy tells you it sounds better, it doesn't mean that it is true. I had my first run in with a 'hifi guy' the other day, who was so sure that thousand dollar cables sounded better than 50 dollar cables, and believed he could easily prove it! There was no doubt that he believed what he was saying, and he looked at me like I was an idiot for questioning the idea. I actually wanted to punch him, he was so arrogant! I quietly told him I didn't believe it, and happily took my 50 dollar cable run. I shudder to think how he was going to prove it to me, and what sort of testing methods he was going to employ. Had I not read up on the science behind it, and some of the quality posts of the 2 guys above, I might have believed him. Listen to these guys, they know what they are talking about. I just offer my personal experience, and my opinion that I agree with them. Put the saved money into better speakers, and you won't regret it!
Also, I have spent quite a bit of time re-ripping my CD's into iTunes, as many of them were done a long time ago. Ripping them into lossless high bitrate formats has made the single biggest difference to my listening experience. You probably have done this already, worth mentioning though.
Edited by Christof24 - 7/1/13 at 1:58am
post #115 of 134
Great thread that I am sure has saved people a lot of money. I recently inherited some SACDs. I don't have an SACD player and my 7.1 receiver (a Yamaha) does not have HDMI inputs. I used my PS3 to rip the SACDs to ISOs and I play them on my computer through the 7.1 analog out connectors to the analog inputs on the Yamaha. The sound is very good indeed, to my ears (and yes, I am aware this is more likely due to more attentive mastering than to any sonic improvements from the HD audio stream itself). The only issue I have is an increased level of background noise from the sound card. My PC has 2 Radeon 4890s running crossfire. I assume one of them is performing the audio functions. The noise is not really too audible at normal listening levels, but it is significantly higher than the background noise from other inputs into the receiver (like CD analog). I almost considered an external DAC, but after reading this thread, I'm convinced it is a waste of money. Is it worth investing in a more shielded sound card to reduce the noise? If using an alternative card makes sense, can anyone suggest a relatively inexpensive card with the requisite shielding and 7.1 outputs?

Thank You and Best Regards,

Brian
post #116 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ethan Winer View Post

Why? Because most credit cards protect you for only 60 days. So if a vendor says you need to "burn in" your DAC (or wires etc) for 90 days, then it's too late to demand your money back! biggrin.gif

--Ethan

Most credit cards will accept chargebacks for up to 6 months. I think the major purpose of the break-in period is to allow the consumer to "break in" to the product. Familiarity breeds fidelity in our minds. I find, for instance, that it takes me a week or so to get used to new speakers in my listening room. The speakers don't produce a different sound after a week but my perception of the sound tends to benefit from familiarity. I am often unsettled by new speakers because they don't meet the expectation that familiarity has bred in me. Give it a little time and the old speakers will become the interlopers.

Much of the audio industry preys on perception and that is controlled by our brains which, as we know, can and does fool us all the time. Our brains tend to want to give us what we expect and it tends to take short cuts in processing whatever it processes. These biases can seem like reality until we control them. I recommend everyone watch a TV program called "Brain Games." It is an entertaining show about biases and brain shortcuts.

I won't get long winded but I will relate a recent experience of mine. I have a modest 2 channel setup in my exercise room that always gets the old stuff as hand me downs from the other systems. The exercise room, by the way, is acoustically horrible. Recently I moved an old pair of JBL Northridge towers from the exercise room and swapped them with a pair of better sounding Epos speakers in the bedroom. I did this because the JBL pair reproduce the bass frequencies better with their larger woofers and 3 way design. The bedroom has a TV and the JBL's are simply a better choice for dealing with LFE. I never thought much of the JBL's mostly, I suppose, because they were in that acoustically horrible room. Last night I was relaxing in bed and put on some familiar music. I remember getting into the music as it carried me away. These speakers now had begun sounding really good. Why? Better room acoustically and some familiarity. I jumped out of bed, went to the exercise room and put the same CD in the player there. Just as I thought. It sounded inferior to what was going on in the bedroom. The room itself was the important factor in the sound quality. The equipment itself paled by comparison.

I guess the point of it all is that we often buy the wrong audio gear for the wrong reasons. I've done it many times. I don't do it any longer. Audio electronics have been transparent for the most part for quite a while. The transducers and room acoustics, as Ethan explains in his article are really all that matters - and our perceptions, of course.
post #117 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by briansxx View Post

Great thread that I am sure has saved people a lot of money. I recently inherited some SACDs. I don't have an SACD player and my 7.1 receiver (a Yamaha) does not have HDMI inputs. I used my PS3 to rip the SACDs to ISOs and I play them on my computer through the 7.1 analog out connectors to the analog inputs on the Yamaha. The sound is very good indeed, to my ears (and yes, I am aware this is more likely due to more attentive mastering than to any sonic improvements from the HD audio stream itself). The only issue I have is an increased level of background noise from the sound card. My PC has 2 Radeon 4890s running crossfire. I assume one of them is performing the audio functions. The noise is not really too audible at normal listening levels, but it is significantly higher than the background noise from other inputs into the receiver (like CD analog). I almost considered an external DAC, but after reading this thread, I'm convinced it is a waste of money. Is it worth investing in a more shielded sound card to reduce the noise? If using an alternative card makes sense, can anyone suggest a relatively inexpensive card with the requisite shielding and 7.1 outputs?

It is possible that the noise is due to the analog audio circuitry in the PC. You may have what is known as a gain staging problem if you have turned the gain down in your PC and are making it up with a raised volume setting in your AVR.
post #118 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by arnyk View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by briansxx View Post

Great thread that I am sure has saved people a lot of money. I recently inherited some SACDs. I don't have an SACD player and my 7.1 receiver (a Yamaha) does not have HDMI inputs. I used my PS3 to rip the SACDs to ISOs and I play them on my computer through the 7.1 analog out connectors to the analog inputs on the Yamaha. The sound is very good indeed, to my ears (and yes, I am aware this is more likely due to more attentive mastering than to any sonic improvements from the HD audio stream itself). The only issue I have is an increased level of background noise from the sound card. My PC has 2 Radeon 4890s running crossfire. I assume one of them is performing the audio functions. The noise is not really too audible at normal listening levels, but it is significantly higher than the background noise from other inputs into the receiver (like CD analog). I almost considered an external DAC, but after reading this thread, I'm convinced it is a waste of money. Is it worth investing in a more shielded sound card to reduce the noise? If using an alternative card makes sense, can anyone suggest a relatively inexpensive card with the requisite shielding and 7.1 outputs?

It is possible that the noise is due to the analog audio circuitry in the PC. You may have what is known as a gain staging problem if you have turned the gain down in your PC and are making it up with a raised volume setting in your AVR.

You may be able to obtain better noise performance by shifting over to a digital connection. While your AVR lacks HDMI, it probably does support Toslink optical or SP/DIF coax connections. Your PC may have an output of either kind that could be used. If it doesn't, it may be possible to activate a hidden digital output on your PC's system board or add another inexpensive audio interface with a exposed digital output, either PCI, PCI-E or USB.
post #119 of 134
Arnyk,

Thank you. I do indeed have optical and coax connections. I have enjoyed reading your science-based "myth busting" in this thread, so perhaps you might help bust a couple more that I might be living. I don't use coax or optical to play my SACD ISOs because I have read in a number of places that these connections do not have the bandwidth to handle SACD streams. However, even if they could, I assume I would lose the ability to decode the surround sound streams on my receiver. I've also read that the "best" way to decode the streams is to do it on the sound card and use the analog outputs (supposedly fewer decoding steps--but I would think it all goes to PCM anyway).

Any insights you can give are much appreciated!

Thank you and all the best,

Brian
post #120 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by briansxx View Post

Arnyk,
I don't use coax or optical to play my SACD ISOs because I have read in a number of places that these connections do not have the bandwidth to handle SACD streams.

Optical can be a bit bandwidth constrained because of fixable limitations in the optical transmitters, but coax has more than enough bandwidth to do whatever you need to do.

There is a lot of mythology about SACD avoiding PCM cooties, and that just doesn't wash in the Maytag of science. ;-)
Quote:
However, even if they could, I assume I would lose the ability to decode the surround sound streams on my receiver.

I presume you are using some software like "Super Audio CD Decoder".

There is already a thread on the topic here:

http://www.avsforum.com/t/1345996/sacd-decoder-plugin-for-foobar2000#post_20663277
Quote:
I've also read that the "best" way to decode the streams is to do it on the sound card and use the analog outputs (supposedly fewer decoding steps--but I would think it all goes to PCM anyway).

Any insights you can give are much appreciated!

As a rule sound cards don't decode much of anything. All they do is provide PCM output ports. This is particularly true for decoders that don't require special hardware. Any decoding that is done happens in program or driver code running on the system main CPU.

Truth be known I have a few SACDs and DVD-As and a Pioneer universal player to play them. What you are talking about seems intriguing, but it appears that some googling would be required to put existing wisdom on the topic together.
Edited by arnyk - 9/6/13 at 8:19am
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