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Getting High-Quality Audio From a PC 295

audiophile writes "Just because it's a PC doesn't mean it can't output good-sounding audio. In the same vein as specialty A/V products, you can find PC-based A/V systems with extensive audio processing and step-up performance specifications, including Signal-to-Noise ratio, which can make a significant difference when using the analog outputs. Media center manufacturer Niveus shares tips for getting high-quality audio from a PC."
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Getting High-Quality Audio From a PC

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  • Isn't that how it usually goes?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by davidwr ( 791652 )
      Bill Gates: Can you hear me now?
    • by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @12:37PM (#18719991) Homepage Journal
      "Isn't that how it usually goes?"

      Well, like most things...hardly anyone gets all the high end stuff all together, right off to bat!!

      My stereo? I've been building it since I was about 12 years old. Right now it is all in storage as that I'm still a bit 'nomadic' since Katrina, but, I've built it starting with money I made back then babysitting, and doing yard work. Started with a Zenith stereo...el cheapo. I saved, and bought a Marantz reciever...then, my Dad found a good closeout sale on some pretty good sized Fisher speakers...I saved and couple years later, bought a pretty decent pioneer turntable. From there an Xmas present of a pretty decent at the time cassette deck (the sharp one which was one of the first to be able to skip songs, etc)...from there over the years, CD players when they came out in college....found a pair of 15 yr old Klipsch Cornwall speakers available just as I got a tax refund...later, Marantz gave out...found a Carver pre-amp with pro-logic, and their 4 channel cathedral amp...Klipsch got with insurance allowed me to spend $1800 and get Klipsch K-Horns (the same speakers I'd been drooling over since 12 yrs old). I've since gone to using the Decware tube amplifier...etc.

      I run this system off a media box I've built, with my tunes ripped to FLAC...and I love the sound. But, while the system I have now (other equipment omitted), is in the multi-thousands of dollars, I didn't buy it all at once. Unless you are born into money, do like the rest of the world, and work hard and save and build slowly. Once you get to the point when older that your starting to pull down some serious bucks...well, you can splurge then...but, if you've been building all along, you'll find you have MOST of what you want by then.

      I'm at the point now, of looking into higher end sound cards, I'm figuring that is probably the weak link in what I have now...when I buy a home, I'm gonna look into getting another set of some type Klipsch heritage speakers for the surround small as Heresy's, or maybe even LaScalla if the room is big enough.

      See? you never have to quit dreaming and building your system...

      • by grommit ( 97148 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @01:36PM (#18721005)
        When you move into your new home, don't forget the Ultra Super Mega Hi-Definition Monster Cables, just $199.99/linear foot! The increased resonances fidelities and resolutions will be well worth it. Also, it's much better to be safe and completely isolate your audio system from the power grid by running it entirely off of car batteries (I buy the batteries that Nascar uses since they're the highest quality). It may seem expensive but it's well worth it. I've spent over $150k on my audio system so far and I can *hear* the difference. Every time I buy a new component that costs 10x what the old component cost, it definitely sounds better.
        • ROTFLMAO. My favorite is the Wooden Volume Knob [].

          It's funny. Laugh.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by powerpants ( 1030280 )
            The key feature, not mentioned on the webpage, is that these knobs go to 11.
          • by chris mazuc ( 8017 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @03:43PM (#18723303)
            The point here is the micro vibrations created by the volume pots and knobs find their way into the delicate signal path and cause degradation (Bad vibrations equal bad sound). With the signature knobs micro vibrations from the C37 concept of wood, bronze and the lacquer itself compensate for the volume pots and provide (Good Vibrations) our ear/brain combination like to hear...way better sound!!

            Hahahahahaha, at $485 the only knob is the one buying this kind of product.

        • "When you move into your new home, don't forget the Ultra Super Mega Hi-Definition Monster Cables, just $199.99/linear foot!"

          Excuse me for getting a mop...the sarcasm was dripping a bit from you post.


          Actually...I think different wires do make a difference...but, not necessarily something expensive. I'd been reading about the virtues of using Cat-5 cabling. Some were pretty extravegant like THIS [] ....the using of the teflon coated wires being best do to I think 'dielectric' properites of it. Anyway, I

        • by radish ( 98371 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @02:33PM (#18722097) Homepage
          Monster cables suck. There are good cables and bad cables, but you'll often find the good ones cost less than the bad ones. For example, I know audio engineers (designers of equipment costing 10's of thousands) who use CAT-5 for interconnects and mains power cable for speakers. Why? Because it sounds good, it's easy to get hold of, and it's cheap.

          Whilst I understand that the world of high end audio has more than it's fair share of snake oil salesman selling overpriced crap (like the wooden volume knob) I get really sick of sarcastic comments from know-it-alls whenever anyone mentions having a decent audio setup. You wouldn't mock someone for having a kick ass computer setup, but there's some kind of geek prejudice against audio - which just seems weird to me.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Applekid ( 993327 )
            "You wouldn't mock someone for having a kick ass computer setup, but there's some kind of geek prejudice against audio - which just seems weird to me"

            If said kick ass computer setup included a $59.95 3ft length of cable called "XXXtreme Gamer Cat5e(+++)" connecting it to his cable modem, yeah, I'd probably make fun of them. Particularly if they're going to pretend it gives them an edge in competition gaming and if I don't see if I'm OBVIOUSLY not a good enough gamer. ;)
      • Excellent advice! I'm not so much of an audiophile as I am a home theater fanatic. My basement is finished off and I have at least $10K worth of Audio and Video equipment, most people who see it think I'm loaded but that's hardly the case. I've been building it for more then a decade. Nice equipment can last a long time, and by setting aside X amount of money each week for your project it affords you lots of time to research the absolute best equipment for what you want out of your system, as well as the ab
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        The M-Audio 2496 is pretty cheap and has excellent ADC/DAC and not bad op-amps. It gives a very nice line-out into a hifi (I run my through a Quad 303 for monitoring on my desktop).

        For the ultimate hifi upgrade, get a Benchmark DAC and run it from the SPDIF of the M-Audio. Superb audio quality.

  • by StarvingSE ( 875139 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @12:12PM (#18719605)
    Because at first glance I seriously thought that this article was going to be about smoking pot...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by darkvizier ( 703808 )

      I need more coffee... because at first glance I seriously thought that this article was going to be about smoking pot...

      Maybe it's not more coffee you need, but less pot?

      Why has my submitted story been marked as "pending" for over 2 weeks now?

      Don't call us, we'll call you.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by enc0der ( 907267 )
      You're not the only one. I saw it as "Getting High" "Quality music on a PC" I just had the visual of someone staring at Winamp with Milkdrop running and commented "Dude, this sounds AWESOME" :)
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by zakezuke ( 229119 )
      Because at first glance I seriously thought that this article was going to be about smoking pot...

      Getting High - Quality Audio from the pc. I thought it was going to be about someone releasing an extended dance remix of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida [] by Iron Butterfly.
  • Age considerations? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by svendsen ( 1029716 )
    I wonder if they have taken into consideration the age of the audience when doing stuff like this. What I mean as we get older our ability to clearly hear certain sounds diminishes. A sad fact of life.

    So I wonder when they take specs like this to build systems they go well our target audience is X years old so 90% of them don't need as good of quality in the sound so we can build something still good but cheaper because we don't need to use the 80% of the time to get the final 5% of sound?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cayenne8 ( 626475 )
      "I wonder if they have taken into consideration the age of the audience when doing stuff like this. What I mean as we get older our ability to clearly hear certain sounds diminishes. A sad fact of life. "

      That's why you need better systems...and add some volume. Of course, this perpetuates the 'cycle' till all hearing is lost.


      I find it nice however, that someone IS talking about the merits of building for good sound reproduction!! It seems that so many of the past couple generations have grown up with

      • I wonder if there is no midrange or treble in the song at all.
        There is, you just can't hear it because it gets filtered down before the whole thing is compressed to about 50dB of dynamic range. Almost a waste of plastic to put them on CDs, cassettes would sound about the same (and wouldn't have a skipping problem, which I've noticed on some cars with [presumably] CD players co-located in the trunk along with the four woofers and two "800 watt" (16 clean) amps...)
        • by Kadin2048 ( 468275 ) <slashdot.kadin@xoxy. n e t> on Friday April 13, 2007 @01:42PM (#18721093) Homepage Journal
          To be perfectly honest, except in cars that are really well-insulated from the outside world, most of the quality on a CD or a decently-encoded digital file is going to be lost.

          If your threshold for music listening is around 95 dB (which is only safe for 4 hrs/day anyway), and the road noise in the car at highway speeds is 60-75dB (the latter is allegedly the figure for my car as-built, a VW GTI, from an auto magazine) then you only have at most 35dB between the noise floor and max while driving.

          That's already worse than most cassette tapes, particularly decent ones with Dolby NR. (I don't think they even sell the metal tapes anymore, but my recollection is that they were 30+ dB right out of the package without any noise reduction at all.)

          In a way, it explains why so much popular music and FM radio is compressed: there's no reason to offer more than 40dB of dynamic range, because (assuming your listeners don't turn it up to unsafe/painful volumes) they'll never hear the quiet parts because of all the noise in the listening environment.

          Frankly, I think the biggest single thing you can do, in terms of improving the sound system in your car, is to install a lot of Dynamat or other sound-insulating material. Most car stereos, even the factory ones, have far more resolution than you'll hear except when sitting in a parking lot. If you can drop that noise floor even 5dB, you'll get that much more "loudness" out of your stereo without upping the volume to dangerous levels.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Reverberant ( 303566 )

            If your threshold for music listening is around 95 dB (which is only safe for 4 hrs/day anyway), and the road noise in the car at highway speeds is 60-75dB (the latter is allegedly the figure for my car as-built, a VW GTI, from an auto magazine) then you only have at most 35dB between the noise floor and max while driving.

            While I don't dispute the fact that a noisy car environment limits the effective S/N, your computation of 95dB - 60dB = 35dB isn't necessarily true since we can detect audio signals tha

    • Bose (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Kamokazi ( 1080091 )
      I think you just outlined the reason Bose is successful...
    • by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @01:57PM (#18721363) Homepage Journal
      While your ability to hear deteriorates with age, your ability to listen tends to increase, and you have more data in your brain for comparison, to know when something isn't quite right. When you're 18 and volume and bass is what counts, you might not notice that the high hat sounds like broken glass and the xylophone appears to move between the speakers depending on the note played. You might even think it's supposed to be that way. When you're older, you might be more critical and less accepting of flaws, even if you can't hear all the flaws.

      Anyhow, I think the OP should have mentioned that this article is about audio for *AV*, and not pure audio. There's a vast difference between that and pure audio. While a movie can sound awesome with a bunch of small satellites and a sub, that will never do for, say, a recording of a symphony orchestra, where you know the timpani and double bass players aren't sitting on top of each other. Yes, bass at high volume (like in a movie) isn't very easily positioned, but at lower volumes, it's very noticeable. Likewise, when listening to a church organ, you can hear where the different pipes are. They don't move around, depending on the quality and frequency range of 7 different speakers. And when you listen to an AV system, you never play with the volume way down -- you're really only interested in accuracy at high volumes, quite unlike with high end audio.
      • by arth1 ( 260657 )

        Anyhow, I think the OP should have mentioned that this article is about audio for *AV*, and not pure audio.

        (Just to be more precise, since I see that this might cause reactions that he did just this, I meant in the title, which many of us filter articles on, especially with RSS.

        I.e. "Getting High-Quality AV Audio From a PC" would IMO have been better.)
  • by mosel-saar-ruwer ( 732341 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @12:15PM (#18719661)

    This is some serious sampling hardware [no affiliation]: []

  • My answer (Score:4, Insightful)

    by evanbd ( 210358 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @12:15PM (#18719663)

    Audio should not be done inside a PC. Well, not the analog portion, anyway. Ever looked at anything inside a PC with an oscilloscope? The noise environment is awful. You should not be trying to clean up the power the PC provides to the point you can use it for analog work; it's just not worth it. Especially when you'll just get hit by all the radiated EMI inside the case.

    The solution? Simple -- ship the data out digitally and do the analog work elsewhere. Fortunately this has become very easy, with S/PDIF and the availability of good amplifiers with digital inputs. Amplifier power supplies are designed to be clean, and there aren't high current noisy loads on them -- they're designed for analog work. I have a fully digital amplifier from Panasonic that I'm very happy with. (Fully digital meaning all the way to the output FETs -- it does a delta-sigma pulse density modulation directly on the output signal, which turns out to be a very low noise, inexpensive way to get high quality output.)

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Banzai042 ( 948220 )
      The difficulty in this comes from the DRM restrictions on where digital audio can be sent. It's starting to look like the only way to get digital audio out will be via HDMI or some other encrypted digital audio interface, because of course we're going to use a digital out to make a perfect copy. Analog output is more popular with the MAFIAA because it can't create perfect copies.
      • by evanbd ( 210358 )

        Well, to wander off on a non-topical rant...

        I won't be finding it any more difficult to get digital audio out than I do now. I run Linux, and I'm not about to pay for DRM'ed music. A lot of the artists I listen to publish online, and they certainly don't DRM their CDs. I'll keep watching DVDs and listening to CDs (or my ogg vorbis/flac rips of them), and I don't yet see any sign of a need for me to change that. If it limits my selection somewhat, then I'll continue to quietly vote with my wallet.

      • So just keep buying CDs. Unlike DVDs for video, they are actually good enough to do the job for 99% of all music out there (*really*-well-recorded acoustic rock/pop/etc., anything with a harpsichord, and certain chamber music being IMHO the exceptions).

        If you're running a reasonable operating system, no CD has DRM.

        The ubiquity of CDs is also why I don't understand TFA's concern about standard SPDIF not being able to handle multichannel at high sampling rates. It's pure pie-in-the-sky. Who actually has 8

        • Who actually has 8-channel 24-bit 96kHz audio content and how do they get it?

          DVD-Audio is 6 channel, 96 KHz. Of course, it failed in the marketplace. (SACD is kind of similar, but doesn't use PCM, and Sony's paranoia prevents the widespread use of external DSD decoders anyway).

          Both HD-DVD and Bluray support 8 channel 192 Khz audio, which might prove useful for concert recordings. Conceivably, you could use your computer as a glorified graphic equalizer for room connection. But copy protection paranoia will

        • Agreed. It would be kinda nice to be able to download un-DRMed high resolution music, but I think it's a niche market at best. The only thing I'd buy from such a service would be some acoustic and classical recordings, and even then the classical stuff is iffy because so many of the really good recordings (in terms of performances) were made onto media that aren't that great by today's standards (analog tape without noise-reduction, mostly). And given a choice between a good recording of a crappy performanc
      • USB should work fine. Seriously, you shouldn't need HDMI. Hell even ethernet might work. We're talking audio, not video here.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nine-times ( 778537 )

      I'm not disagreeing or criticizing, just chiming in but-- who the hell is doing analog work in a PC anyway? You're right, the EM fields inside PCs are ridiculous-- to the point where some hardware will actually make mouse movements and big changes to your display audible in your speakers-- but the whole point of doing any audio/video on a PC is to make it digital!

      So really it's a pretty simple principle: whatever you're doing, focus on making the analog->digital and digital->analog conversions as cl

      • by evanbd ( 210358 )
        I completely agree. I just go as far as to say you should get *all* the analog bits out of the PC. PCs aren't designed for analog, and they're not good at it. Ship the audio outside the case in digital form to something that's designed to handle the analog half. And besides, most PC users don't have to do the A/D half *ever* -- they get their audio in digital form, so the goal should be to keep it that way until it's as close to the speakers as possible and then only do the conversion once.
        • Personally, I find it slightly confusing as to why we have soundcards convert to analog at all instead of having the analog conversion take place in the speakers (for consumer-grade speakers where you aren't going to have a separate amp anyway). I guess it's useful for headphones (and backwards compatibility), but it'd be better to put the headphone jack in the speakers anyway.
          • This was tried back when USB was new. Microsoft came out with USB speakers, which got their sound digitally across USB. I don't think they were terribly successful.
    • ...except for not understanding the "delta-sigma pulse density modulation" bit. In my quest for understanding, Wikipedia (which knows all things) tells me [] that's a technique for analog to digital?

      I have one of those Panasonic devices (SA-XR55), and it's very good indeed.

      So here's a pointless bit of pedantry: is it technically fair to call the Panasonic devices "amplifiers" (when taking digital input). As I understand it, what they do is take the PCM [] input, convert it to PWM [] entirely in the digital dom

      • duh, I obviously didn't read Wikipedia very well on the "delta-sigma pulse density modulation".... ahem.
      • by evanbd ( 210358 )

        An analog engineer would agree with you, an audio one wouldn't :) (my guess, anyway -- when thinking about my sound system it's the amp, when designing electronics I'd agree with you).

        They actually don't do simple PWM -- it turns out that doing so requires much more time-domain precision than is available. You may be right about the delta-sigma bit, it's not something I know very well. I do know that what these sorts of amplifiers (ADCs, whatever ;) ) do is pulse density modulation, as opposed to pulse

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by dal20402 ( 895630 ) *

        As an owner of one Sony and one Panasonic digital "amp" owner who is equally happy...

        Just see what happens when you are sitting around eating BBQ in the backyard and you try to tell people about your kick-ass PCM-PWM converter and amplitude modulator.

        (On second thought, /. readers are probably inured to the resulting reaction. Never mind.)

    • Audio should not be done inside a PC. Well, not the analog portion, anyway. Ever looked at anything inside a PC with an oscilloscope? The noise environment is awful. You should not be trying to clean up the power the PC provides to the point you can use it for analog work; it's just not worth it. Especially when you'll just get hit by all the radiated EMI inside the case.

      You don't need an oscilloscope to notice the noise. You can hear it even on headphones. It makes me wonder why sound cards are not shield
      • The USB power source for my LTB headphones used to produce HUGE amounts of noise until I bought and external USB power source for them. I can still hear the sound of my mouse cursor moving sometimes when my headphones are quiet. When I have something playing though those background noises are so low that they never interfere from a practical standpoint.
      • by Deagol ( 323173 )

        You don't need an oscilloscope to notice the noise. You can hear it even on headphones. It makes me wonder why sound cards are not shielded.

        Hell, I just need to send a ton of traffic over my wireless PCI card, and get all sorts of cool boops and beeps out of my speakers. That's with my actual PCI sound card, too. The sound built into the MB is 10 times worse.

    • Re:My answer (Score:4, Informative)

      by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @01:09PM (#18720553) Homepage
      unfortunately your answer is wrong though. Most high end sound cards are PCI. 24 channel recording cards for pro tools do a GREAT job at rejecting and shielding against PC noises.

      these guys have been doing this for quite a while now. and if you only want "good audio" from a pc for your hom theater, get something with spdif and toslink and call it done. Let a high end reciever/processor do the work converting the AC3 track to analog instead of the garbage consumer level PC audio cards.
      • High-end and pro sound 'cards' often have a PCI board that handles the interface to the computer, plus AD/DA converters in a separate, shielded box to keep the analog circuits away from the computer's EM fields.
    • Which amp?

      I'm looking at buying a complete A/V setup this year and have no idea what I'll get for the audio side (other than x.1)..
    • Audio should not be done inside a PC. Well, not the analog portion, anyway.

      Ideally. A couple years ago when I built my HTPC, I had a horrible time finding a cheap digital sound card that was linux-compatible. I finally found one. But there are still glitches, such as low sample rate / bit depth audio (from webcasts, youtube, etc) not playing because the ALSA driver does NOT automatically convert it to something the card can handle. (Or maybe it's my Denon receiver that can't handle it, who knows?)


    • As a Mac user the digital output is really attractive. What I miss is a really simple integrated amplifier with a digital input, a volume control, and speaker outputs -- sort of like my old Audiolab. Some of the new digital amps are cool, but awfully pricey. It would be sort of cool to be able to add in a modular card for wireless as well, or simply use an Airport with digital outputs!

      Does anybody know of any powered speakers, like the Meridiens, that have optical inputs?

      Reduction is the key, but as you can
    • I have a tin ear and can't tell good sound from bad... but I did notice something when recording a voice-over... I have a cheap Creative external USB sound card for my laptop. If I record via that device the sound is cleaner than using the laptop mic input. However, it still has noise (visible because of the non-flat wave). Even if I set the sensitivity of the mic it's still present. I attached a cheap portable mixer so I could plug in a couple 1/4"(??? about as thick as a pencil) mics. If I run it off the
    • I do sound design for a small regional theatre comapny. I have a nice sound card (M-Audio DiO 2496) with S/PDIF in/out and an professional digital recording deck. I maniulate all my sound cues digitally, transfer them to the deck digitally, and they're only converted to analog during the performance. I've also used the deck as a glorified A-to-D converter too. I've record a friends music. I run his audio into the deck and then recorded the digital signal from the deck.

      The setup dates back to the late

  • Why? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Stavr0 ( 35032 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @12:18PM (#18719703) Homepage Journal
    Wouldn't it be simpler to use a recent sound card, and redirect all audio to the bitstream output? , or use a stream-capture driver that redirects the sound card output to a disk file?

    Unless you happen to be on a DRM-encumbered OS like Vista where this is no longer poss---Ohhhh I see what's going on here...

    Right. Move along. Nothing to see here.

  • by vivaoporto ( 1064484 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @12:19PM (#18719709)

    Like most CE products, the audio performance levels of PC-based products run the gamut, starting with basic devices like standard desktop or laptop PCs with sound that could be compared to commodity CE A/V gear such as compact systems or portable radios.M

    Come on! Didn't some editor read it before posting it to Slashdot front page? This is nothing but advertisement for their A/V product line, and their summary is ridiculous. I will spare you people the trouble to read it in TFA:

    - Pay attention to available connections
    - Consider the effects of bass management
    - Analog offers the highest performance soundtracks
    - Digital connections generally work best set to Dolby Digital Live or DTS Connect
    - Choose High Quality ripping settings

    And, look at this pearl:

    Lossless CODECs preserve all of the detail of the original media. For example, the WMA lossless CODEC is recommended for storing music which will be played back on a hi-fidelity home audio system.

    I rest my case. Anyone advocating WMA lossless codec (specially to Slashdot target audience) is not worth your time. Nothing to see here, move along.
  • by Jason1729 ( 561790 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @12:21PM (#18719737)
    audiophile writes "Just because it's a PC doesn't mean it can't output good-sounding audio.

    Why would anyone even think that? Just because you have a processor that can perform gigaflops you'd think you can't output good quality sound? The only reason such a perception would exist is to get so-called audiophiles to spend more on garbage that doesn't make a difference to sound quality but they can pretend it does.

    For proof, just look at this $1200 Power Cable []. How stupid does one have to be to spend $1200 on a power cable. What do you think conducts the power from the breaker box to the wall outlet? Why would someone build a $3000+ amp and not properly condition the power inside the power supply?
    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )
      how about directional speaker cable. Yes this crap does exist and costs insane prices.

      Remember audiophile/videophile almost ALWAYS will = rich guy with too much money and no audio/video education.

      Unfortunately there are some EE degree holders that believe the crap like spewed from some of the power conditioner companies... my favorite is " it wont sound better right away. it will take a couple of weeks for your capacitors to re-train to the new cleaner power".

      This is for a Richard Gray power conditioner.
      • I never did understand how anyone would think that directional cables was a legit product. What, as if there is a diode effect in copper? The fact that an audio signal in electrical form is basically AC makes me wonder if anyone that buys this stuff even had a high school physics class.
    • by hairykrishna ( 740240 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @01:17PM (#18720663)
      That's the funniest product description I ever read. It honestly looks like something off the Onion.

      "Better clarity and resolution for video

      Guess I don't need no stinkin' high def TV, it's just my low-quality power cable that is lowering my TV's resolution.

    • by Rageon ( 522706 )
      If you ever get a chance, it's awfully amusing to browse around "The High End" show that goes on concurrently with CES in Vegas. (Note -- it's an "industry only" event) That's where you meet the real crazies. Like the dude who, for a few thousand bucks, will come to your house and leave strategically placed stones on your furniture -- no scientific method involved, he just knows. And the "magnets guy", who randomly places magnets under your speakers wire because he was told in a dream that magnets under the
    • Sorry, but audiophiles generally ignore PC's for serious listning. There hasn't been a sound card invented yet that has the same quality of output as even mid-grade hi-fi stereo equipment. Sure, you folks that consider your Bose system "audiophile" quality won't understand this, but actual audiophiles will.

      Find me a sound card with discrete output stages (an output stage that doesn't use an integrated circuit) and I'll eat the server Slashdot is hosted on with a knife and fork. Sure, I listen to my computer
    • Why would anyone even think [that a PC can't output good-sounding audio]?

      A lot of PCs have historically used really, really cheap components in their audio systems, that introduce noticeable distortion and have crappy signal-to-noise ratios. In some applications, that crappy S/N ratio may just not be good enough. This is not rocket science, and it's certainly not spending $1200 on a power cable. It's just common sense.

      And I preemptively apologize for the snappish tone of this, but whenever anyone mentions anything that suggests one might want to buy an audio component higher quality than what you can get at RadioShack, they're immediately hit with "Have you seen the expensive cables audiophiles buy LOL audiophiles are stupid ha ha." Yeah, ha ha, funny funny. There's been "snake oil" in high-end audio for decades. There are also great price-to-performance values, and systems that--as shocking as it may be--really do have measurably better sound.
  • Olde Sound Cards (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CompMD ( 522020 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @12:24PM (#18719803)
    I miss the old Sound Blaster 16s. They were pretty decent cards. I still have a couple of them around, but the lack of ISA slots in most machines is keeping them out of service. My mp3 playback computer uses an old Diamond Monster Sound MX300 (Vortex2) card, and its pretty awesome. Old, but awesome.
  • MP3 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rlp ( 11898 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @12:32PM (#18719923)
    Given the proliferation of MP3 as a standard audio format, I wonder how many people actually care about high quality audio?
    • who cares about mp3, what about the people using built-in soundcards played through tinny computer speakers? "Oh, but there's a subwoofer, so it's not tinny!"
    • Even with headphones, I can't tell the difference between, say, 224kbit (or whatever it is) mp3 and lossless codecs. Some people may have phenomenally good ears, but most are pretending, I'd bet. When minidisc was big I remember blind tests that showed that people couldn't reliably pick out which one was the minidisc (which uses a lossy codec) and the actual CD. I'm happy with 320 or even 224kbit vbr files. Yeah, I wish I could go back in time and re-rip everything in OGG, but that isn't really going t
      • Re:MP3 (Score:5, Informative)

        by dal20402 ( 895630 ) * <dal20402@ma[ ]om ['c.c' in gap]> on Friday April 13, 2007 @01:39PM (#18721053) Journal

        99% of music is indistinguishable from CD in 256kbps AAC (I don't have many 256k MP3s).

        But some waveforms are just too hard to compress. In particular, harpsichords, solo classical string instruments, and solo electric guitar (through some filters) start to sound strange even at 256k.

        A good but not foolproof way to figure out what is going to be troublesome to compress is to compress it losslessly using FLAC or ALAC and look at the resulting mean bitrate. Most stuff that compresses to between 400-600kbps, which is most music, will be fine at 256k. Some of my music, though, exceeds 900kbps lossless, and I even have a couple tracks over 1000kbps (where uncompressed PCM = 1411kbps). In all cases this stuff sounds like crap compressed to 256k. The harpsichords, in particular, sound harsh and flat, since the exceedingly complex waveform they make just can't all fit.

        For me, it doesn't matter in the end, since I rip everything losslessly and then compress it for the car or the iPod where sound quality really doesn't matter anyway. But some people may not want to use hundreds of GBs of disk space or may have more music. For them, strategic ripping is in order.

  • by rueger ( 210566 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @12:36PM (#18719965) Homepage
    Just because it's a PC doesn't mean it can't output good-sounding audio.

    I guess it didn't occur to him that virtually all audio today is recorded and edited using some form of computer, whether Mac or PC. The statement above is really rather pointless.
  • It's a USB audio card the size of a thumb drive. Its ground is completely isolated from the computer, and as such it is dead quiet - this is especially great in laptops. I have Shure e3 headphones and if you ran them directly into my laptop you'd hear clicks and pops as the HDD was operating.

    Here's a link: 788 []

    The TBAAM is pretty much the best value upgrade for a laptop's audio out.
  • Without proper room treatment, forget it.
  • by DG ( 989 )
    I just wish the SoundMax drivers for my m9700 would stop BSOD-ing.

  • by ( 601843 ) <> on Friday April 13, 2007 @01:03PM (#18720445) Homepage Journal
    Why would you bother? Makes a lot more sense to get one of these and output to whatever you need... RME Fireface []
  • by Saffaya ( 702234 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @01:08PM (#18720521)
    When I built my home theater system 2 years ago, I decided to invest in a professional audio card.
    [For example, after reading buyers reviews and critics, I settled on the Terratec phase 28. &name=News&file=article&sid=7 [] ]

    Its output is directly connected to my Hi-Fi amplifier (no pre-amp).

    The only thing to be careful about with such a setup is to not shut down your PC (reset/reboot is fine) while your amp is still on.

    Investing in a high grade sound card is the same as investing in a good amplifier or speakers : you are likely to use it for a long time (unlike a graphics card for example).

  • Getting good quality audio from your PC is more difficult then people realize, and is very important if you use your PC to listen to a lot of music or watch movies (ie. as an HTPC).

    Since a lot of PC audio equipment is geared towards gamers and people listening to low quality MP3's, it is easy to get loud, deep, multi-channel audio. The hard part is getting clear crisp sound. The one downfall I have found with HTPC's is that I have a much harder time hearing the dialog clearly for some movies then I would
    • Any sound card with a SPDIF output hooked up to a reasonable quality A/V receiver (with SPDIF input) and standalone speakers. (Get the decoding and analog out of the PC and you'll be fine.) Get bigger speakers and skip the subwoofer. For the card, receiver, and speakers together you can get what you need for under $500 for perfectly clear and decent sound. (Of course, you can --not "will" -- get better sound if you spend more.)

  • As some here, I use digital out from the computer and keep analogue audio on equipment that are made for that.

    If you read a bit of French, here's my actual setup []

    Basically, music is stored on firewire drives,

    • encoded with lossless codec (AAC/FLAC) on a Mac,
    • then goes out via Optical or USB-SP/DIF
    • to a 3D-Lab DAC-2000 (reformats the signal in 24x192, then converts it in analogue, symmetric dual mono configuration)
    • then it goes to a integrated amp (Krell KAV300il)
    • and then to SL3 panels.

    The result is

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by radish ( 98371 )
      I pipe FLAC over wifi (how's that for electrical isolation!) to a Slimdevices Transporter [] and from there to the amp with a regular analogue hookup. The sound is amazing, the DAC in that thing is a work of art.

      I have a question - why are you resampling to 24/192? If your source is 16/44 you're not going to improve anything by resampling...and that ratio is potentially going to lead to degredation (192 is not an integer multiple of 44).
  • by fred fleenblat ( 463628 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @01:51PM (#18721275) Homepage
    not to be a downer, but the #1 thing is to protect your ears.

    * keep the volume down, whether speakers or headphones
    * be careful of occupational noise...use foam earplugs or over-the-ear mufflers, make your employer pay for them and make sure your co-workers know about hearing damage too
    * stay away from loud concerts, parties, dance halls
    * get your hearing checked every couple of years by an audiologist
    * don't overdo the drugs, booze, or caffiene
    * if you are exposed to even moderately high sound levels, let your ears rest for a couple weeks before exposing them again. do not *ever* go to two rock concerts in the same weekend
    * at the first sign of infection or fluid buildup, see a doctor
    * hearing loss can be instantaneous and permanent, don't risk it

    All the megabits and SNR in the world won't help if your nerve cells and eardrums are making little buzzes, whines, and clicking noises. You can buy a better sound card or nicer speakers but you cannot replace damaged hearing: PROTECT IT
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      don't overdo the drugs, booze, or caffeine
      Or better yet, stop putting them in your ear altogether!

      (Actually, I didn't know caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine could exacerbate hearing loss/tinnitus. Thanks for the interesting post.)
    • by karnal ( 22275 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @04:49PM (#18724323)
      * stay away from loud concerts, parties, dance halls

      I play drums (with myself, I'm so lonely) - it gets amazingly loud in a short period of time if you have no earplugs in. In addition, I've been to concerts where my ears physically start hurting. I end up going home at that point.

      I've got a new solution though:

      Etymotic Research ER20BP []

      I just bought 2 more sets of these since I lost my first set. Me and the wife are going to a concert in a few weeks and I want to be prepared. These plugs help you hear the full frequency range of hearing, just 20db less. In contrast, most ear plugs really squash the highs out....

Never buy what you do not want because it is cheap; it will be dear to you. -- Thomas Jefferson