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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi!


I'm going to get rid of my CD player and instead use a computer for playing back digital music, e.g. storing all my CDs as uncompressed audio files on a PC. It's just too comfortable to not consider this nowadays, since hard drives are so cheap.. :)


I'd welcome suggestions on equipment though. First of all I'll need a pro-grade sound card for my PC with a digital output. There seems to be lots of them about.. Anyone have good experience with some particular brand or model? Price isn't important here, only quality. I will not need any features on the card except digital playback, e.g. no MIDI or bundled composing software and such crap. It has to be able to handle at least 24/96 audio however, since I have a lot of sampled vinyl in that format.


Secondly, and most importantly, I'm going to need a DAC that will connect o my Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista M3 amplifier. The cable I have at hand is a 1M Nordost Red Dawn, which is a clear and netural-sounding cable in my ears. The speakers will be a pair of Dynaudio Contour 3.3, also cabled by Red Dawn. Any suggestions here? Please note that I will not go multichannel, so I don't need a full-blown processor here, just a very good 2-channel DAC!. The cheaper the better of course, but up to $4000 is worth considering.


I prefer my sound clear, warm and cozy - always been a tube fan and an analog freak, so I'd rather not use highly analytical and perfectly neutral equpiment! As a reference, one of my fave sounds come from a pair of Sennheiser HD600 connected to Musical Fidelity X-CANS - you may keep that in mind :)


Cheers,

Peo
 

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Depending on the design of the DAC the quality of the sound card does not matter as long as it provides for bit perfect playback. The cards from M-audio seem to be popular on this forum and provide this.


Contemporary DAC designs support active jitter rejection either by providing a deep dejitter buffer e.g. Chord DAC64 or by using asynchronous resampling Bel Canto DAC2, Benchmark Media DAC1, and all Anagram Technology derived designs.


Most of the available DACs use integrated digital to analog converters from a few manufacturers. Two exceptions I know of are MSB technology platinum DAC and the Chord DAC64 with discrete converters.


The state of the art chips at this point are: Analog Devices AD1955, BurrBrown DSD/PCM1792, Crystal CS43122, AKM AK4395, Wolfson Microsystems WM8740.


Unfortunately I am unaware that any of these are available in an external 2 channel DAC as of yet. The Toshiba SD9500 has AD1955 DACs but that is really a DVD player which happens to have a digital input.


Chips from one generation behind are readily available in DACs. A particularly good deal seems to be the Benchmark DAC1 which also has an integrated analog volume control which I assume you will want for your application.

http://www.benchmarkmedia.com/digital/dac1/default.asp


Cheers


Thomas
 

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My recommendation would be to forget about a PCI card and get an external box with it's own power supply that connects to your computer via USB or 1394. ATX supplies don't provide the cleanest power in the world. Additionally, there's a lot of stuff going on inside your computer chassis with all the digital circuitry, fans, etc which don't make for a clean environment for the sensitive PLL's and other clocking circuits required in digital audio. Even if you use digital I/O, the soundcard will either have to generate or slave to a sample clock. A 1394 or USB connection moves all the sensitive stuff outside the computer. USB audio devices are pretty common.
 

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I disagree completely. The environment inside a PC can be noisy in terms of EMI, EMC, and RFI, but PCI cards are designed to operate in that environment.


Also, AFAIK most quality soundcards do not use a PLL driven off of the PCI bus, but rather use their own master crystal to generate the outgoing clock. Even if they were to use a PLL and divider, the clock coming from a computer is a rather stable clock, especially when you will get considerable time averaging due to the high speed at which the FSB runs relative to the SPDIF clock.



Peo, take a look at the M-audio cards. In particular, the M-audio Delta DiO 2496 might interest you. It has an onboard DAC, but doesn't have the on board ADC's other prosumer cards typically have. What it does have is both optical and coaxial digital inputs and outputs, and for around $200 isn't overly priced. Other models, such as the Audiophile 2496, include both on-board DAC's and ADC's but limit digital output to either coax or optical, not both.
 

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It's a free country. You're free to disagree. But I've worked directly on this stuff, and what I'm saying is not an opinion.


Yes, PCI cards are designed to operate in a PC chassis... obviously. But running high quality digital or analog audio inside a PC was not in anyone's mind even 10 years ago, not to mention when the PCI bus or the first PC's were devleoped.


In all but maybe the cheap soundcards (which will try to save money by using an existing clock, rather than adding their own), the FSB has no bearing on the word & bit clocks used for sample clocking. And those that do use the PC's clock might even be doing some sleezy sample -rate conversion to compensate for the difference in timing, since digital audio needs a clock that is a multiple of the sample rate. Either they don't even have a PLL to generate the divided down clock or they are only generating a multiple of one sample rate (44.1KHz for example). On good cards/interfaces, you'll find a 256x or 512x crystal oscillator on board. Actually there should be two. One which is a multiple of 44.1KHz, and the other 48KHz


Any device which has a S/PDIF input connection contains a PLL. One is built into any and all digital audio receivers. S/PDIF and AES send clocking information embedded in the bi-phase (aka Manchester) encoded bit-stream. A receiver which is slaving to the incoming clock must phase-lock to this signal and derive a local clock to clock in samples properly. If the device is the clock master, then the PLL is not used but it's still there. Again, only the cheap soundcards will try to use the PC's existing clock.


M-Audio makes pretty decent products, I agree. They're not the best you can get, but certainly a great bang for the buck.



Also, this quote is from the M-Audio website...


"Audiophile USB is the affordable, no-hassle USB audio and MIDI interface for Mac and PC....... delivering 24-bit/96k quality with great dynamic range and noise specs. That’s because it uses AC-powered components that deliver better fidelity than bus-powered circuitry."
 

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I hope we can all agree on the fact that clock stability only matters at the DAC. I was trying to establish the fact that modern DACs do not use a PLL to sync onto an incoming signal but run of their own independent clock.


If you buy one of those it does not matter what your sound card does or whether the power supplies you are using has gold plating. All you need are the correct bits.



Updated: It just came back to me that Bryston announced their combined DAC/preamp last week which might also be a candidate for this. BP25DA with CS43122 Dacs.


Thomas
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thanks all for your opinions! :)


I will most certainly check out the Benchmark DAC - it looks quite interesting (and cheap!). Thanks for telling me about this, Thomas. I'd never heard about it before!


As for sound cards, I tend to subscribe to the external box theory. It would also make it possible to use a notebook as the jukebox, which is obviously much neater :) But it IS possible to get high-quality sound from an internal PCI card. My workstation has a ESI WaveTerminal 192X card that I use for headphone playback (ESI->MF X-CANS->Sennheiser HD600) when working and also for sampling old vinyls and tapes. It really works great, far superior than I'd expect from a $350 card! 24/96 playback for instance, does indeed give me some magic moments. :)


Cheers,

Peo
 

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Since you mention headphones. The Benchmark Media DAC1 also has a rather nice headphone amplifier integrated directly into the DAC.


0.0003% ~ -110db THD+N should provide for plenty magical moments and 18bits of true resolution! Combined with the extremely low noise levels of the DAC this should make for a nice headphone system.


The DAC1 has received quite some rave reviews and comes even with an international 110/220 power supply.


Cheers


Thomas


P.S.: I am currently happy with HD600 and an EarmaxPro
 
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