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Old 22nd June 2012, 11:46   #2431
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Default re: The Computer & Configuration Thread

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vasudeva, congrats on your promotion. You need a good PSU @ around 1KW to complete the deal especially since you OC.

I too made a small change to my PC configuration. My venerable Creative X-Fi Elite Pro has been replaced by an Asus Xonar STX PCI-E audiophile card, that came with TI Burr-Brown DACs, arguably the best for analog audio and replaceable OpAmps to tailor the sound to your liking.

However, this DAC is a moot point as it is connected to my 6.1 surround sound receiver with a Van del Hul coaxial cable (instead of the Van del Hul optical toslink cable) I used earlier. This has led to less clutter as the SB had a break-out box.

Difference? There's a very small improvement in sound quality (it could be my imagination as well). The SB was already an audiophile level sound card when I bought it in 2005. It also has a brilliant headphone amp capable of driving 'phones upto 600 Ohms - perfect for my Sennheisers HD650s.

The SB X-Fi Elite Pro cost me Rs 24K at that time. Hence ~Rs 8.5-9K I think the Asus Xonar STX card is a worthwhile upgrade for anybody looking for high quality audio card to replace the normally sucky onboard audio.
The days of sucky onboard audio are long past.

Today, the only difference is past -100 dB level. Frankly if you can hear the difference at -100 dB, then you really have golden ears (which has not been found till date on any living human being).

Last edited by GTO : 23rd June 2012 at 13:14. Reason: Rule #11. Strictly no discussion on alcohol please
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Old 22nd June 2012, 12:30   #2432
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Default re: The Computer & Configuration Thread

Well, some may be of the view that integrated video is a good match for a dedicated graphics accelerator. Sure, integrated video does the job - just not as well as a PCI-E card.

Let me point out that the SNR is only for analogue line-out and headphone jack - which I use with the audiophile grade Sennheiser HD650s. And yes, with these headphones you can make out the difference and no they cannot be driven by the onboard headphone out jack due to the high impedance of 300 Ohms. Onboard is ok for impedances <32 Ohms

For normal listening via external amp and speakers, I use digital so, as I said in my OP, the SNR is a moot point.

This product has been reviewed by Stereophile magazine here:

ASUS Xonar Essence ST/STX soundcards | Stereophile.com

or for the conclusion you can check this out:

ASUS Xonar Essence ST/STX soundcards Page 3 | Stereophile.com

After having bought a SB X-Fi Elite Pro for 24K in '05, with the Asus Xonar STX @ 9k you can't get a better audio card today. That's the point I am trying to make.

Last edited by GTO : 23rd June 2012 at 13:15. Reason: Removing quoted post which has been edited
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Old 22nd June 2012, 13:15   #2433
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Default re: The Computer & Configuration Thread

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you can't get a better audio card today.
I'm sure you can! But it is an academic point, because to do so, you would have to move into the semi-pro/pro-audio field. The disadvantage of doing that is that they are mostly not aimed at domestic use, and many have facilities we do not need and will waste our money on --- or lack facilities that we do need. RME and Lynx (as mentioned by Stereophile) may still be the kings, but even before buying, one has to dig deep into the specifications to find out if one can get simple stereo analogue input/output!

The sound card manufacturers are not really interested in the domestic/hifi market, it seems. Asus have done a great job in bringing cards/interfaces to cater to stereo and home theatre users, and their sound quality is well spoken of. Good for them!
Quote:
The days of sucky onboard audio are long past.
True. But that does not mean that on-board audio cannot be improved on. SNR is just one measurement: In itself, it does not tell us what the quality of the sound will be.
Quote:
Let me point out that the SNR is only for analogue line-out and headphone jack
SNR is an analogue measure indeed, so it comes into play at your external DAC or amplifier digital input.

Whilst analogue output is going to vary from card to card, just as it would from amp to amp, it is still a moot point whether or not there is any difference between on-board digital and add-in-card digital. In theory it is all digital. I do not know the answer to that, and would be interested in any links to tests --- but please, not the usual "audiophile" tests! That's easy to find.

I do wonder, by the way, why people buy a good sound card just to take digital out to a separate DAC. A good soundcard has a good DAC already!
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Old 22nd June 2012, 14:10   #2434
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Default re: The Computer & Configuration Thread

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I'm sure you can!
@ Rs 9k?! I seriously doubt it. If you are aware of a sound card in this price/performance bracket do enlighten me. I may choose that for another PC I plan to build in the future.

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SNR is an analogue measure indeed, so it comes into play at your external DAC or amplifier digital input...
Not quite - it comes into play at the output of the external DAC --> amplifier's pre and power amp circuitry that output an analogue signal to the speakers.

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Originally Posted by Thad E Ginathom View Post
whether or not there is any difference between on-board digital and add-in-card digital. In theory it is all digital.
It is digital from source (CD/MP3/FLAC etc) to the processing stage and then onto the DAC, it's analog once outputed by he DAC. And a good quality DAC like the TI Burr-Brown holds the key.

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I do wonder, by the way, why people buy a good sound card just to take digital out to a separate DAC. A good soundcard has a good DAC already!
I also use headphones for private listening that could do with a soundcard with a good built-in DAC. The 180w RMS/channel amplifier is for music + movies with the family. My amp doesn't offer 6.1 surround via analogue inputs. So digital is the way to go.

If you want to check non-audiophile tests; by PC and tech enthusiasts, here are some links:

ASUS Xonar STX Audiophile Sound Card and Headphone Amp Review-Hi Tech Legion-ASUS Xonar STX Audiophile Sound Card and Headphone Amp Review

ASUS Xonar Essence STX soundcard review

The Guru3d review also has block diagrams of the circuits should you be interested.

Two in One: Asus Xonar Essence STX Sound Card Review. Page 8 - X-bit labs

Last edited by R2D2 : 22nd June 2012 at 14:11.
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Old 22nd June 2012, 14:50   #2435
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Well, some may be of the view that integrated video is a good match for a dedicated graphics accelerator. Sure, integrated video does the job - just not as well as a PCI-E card.

The two things are in completely different league.

You do realize that video applications are built using certain specifications - which are available memory, no of cores, the speed of cores, cache.
If the video card is incapable, the video application will not run.

HENCE, the reason why we put PCI video card is because your software is not able to run properly on the onboard video (because of hardware limitation).
Not because the video is more "crisp" or "contrast and gamma more accurate", or SNR better in the PCI video card.

BTW how many times have you actually looked at the Video output measurements spec sheet? Mostly ppl look ONLY into the video processing capacity of the hardware (video memory, core, speed etc).



In audio applications, whatever minimum requirements are there - is already met by the onboard sound card like Sampling rate, bit rate, cache/buffer.
Hence, the audio application can run fine (unless your software asks for high sample rate, 32 bit audio etc).

So looking at the audio processing capability of the hardware, both meet the spec. (Otherwise you will have a lot of frame dropping when you play audio on your PC, or totally in audible / distorted sounds)

Why do you bother with SNR, and frequency response of audio signal, when you don't check any of these in a video card?



I'll tell you why.
Video processing requires high capacity hardware. You cannot live without it.
And hence, there is a constant demand for such products.
Therefore, not much marketing to be done.


Audio cards. Since there is no mandatory requirement, there is no demand.
So how do you create a demand? By marketing, by invoking "peer reviews" by magazines like Stereophile, by making it seem that if you don't hear the difference then your ears are not working. ("you cannot miss the difference - its like day & night")
*btw the funny thing about Stereophile is that they take measurements, but don't tell about the audible impact of these measurements. On the other hand, whenever tube gear or turntables are reviewed, the measurements are not emphasized (obviously because the analog gear has poor measurements most of the times)

There is huge part of audiophile industry built on these lines.



Now lets come to the analog audio conversion part (DAC).
Realtek
SNR is 95 dB

ASUS - Multimedia- ASUS Xonar Essence STX
SNR 124 dB


a big difference in numbers! But audible?
Lets say I play audio at deafening levels of 100 dB, you really believe that you will be able to make out difference between SNR 95 and SNR 124??
(btw, the CD has SNR of about 96 dB, so anything more than that is definitely not going to make any diff)

http://www.audiocheck.net/blindtests...ic.php?dyna=78


So what about headphones. Of course if impedance matching is not done, the output will not be consistent, and full power will not be transferred across.
So I agree, there can be a difference with headphone/earphones - which take the signal directly from the sound card (without any amplifier).



Do we want to talk about sampling rate?
Yes I want to - all the commercially available audio is at 44.1 kHz.
Even if my sound card has 192 kHz sampling rate - it doesn't add any quality to the existing (44.1 kHz).

You have a 192kHz sampled audio, and feel that at least this audio will sound better on a 192 kHz card compared to 44.1 kHz?
Lets do a frequency test then to see the upper limits of ears ...
High Frequency Hearing Loss Blind Listening Test

Last edited by alpha1 : 22nd June 2012 at 15:06.
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Old 22nd June 2012, 16:18   #2436
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Default re: The Computer & Configuration Thread

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Originally Posted by alpha1 View Post
You do realize that video applications are built using certain specifications - which are available memory, no of cores, the speed of cores, cache.
If the video card is incapable, the video application will not run.

HENCE, the reason why we put PCI video card is because your software is not able to run properly on the onboard video (because of hardware limitation). Not because the video is more "crisp" or "contrast and gamma more accurate", or SNR better in the PCI video card.
Err..let me point out that a PCI video card is a legacy device even older than the now defunct AGP. All video devices, being made currently are PCI-E in versions 1, 2 and some even in 3. Bus bandwidth range from 2x to 16x. You are right that we choose video cards based on hardware capability not vibrance contrast etc. But I differ on the point you made that there's no limitation imposed by hardware on sound? The example you gave below..the sampling frequency (another moot point) is just one of them along with Harmonic distortion that largely depends on the components used to make the board and the design of the board itself.


Quote:
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In audio applications, whatever minimum requirements are there - is already met by the onboard sound card like Sampling rate, bit rate, cache/buffer. Hence, the audio application can run fine (unless your software asks for high sample rate, 32 bit audio etc)..
Which is precisely the point i am trying to make with the example of the video sub system - the onboard sound chip will do..but if your expectations are higher then you need to look at other solutions.

The correct term in digital parlance is jitter and streaming audio data drops. Quality it is also affected by error correction performed whilst playing or ripping CDs.

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Why do you bother with SNR, and frequency response of audio signal, when you don't check any of these in a video card

So how do you create a demand? By marketing, by invoking "peer reviews" by magazines like Stereophile, by making it seem that if you don't hear the difference then your ears are not working. ("you cannot miss the difference - its like day & night")
*btw the funny thing about Stereophile is that they take measurements, but don't tell about the audible impact of these measurements. On the other hand, whenever tube gear or turntables are reviewed, the measurements are not emphasized (obviously because the analog gear has poor measurements most of the times)

There is huge part of audiophile industry built on these lines.?
I'll be the first to admit that there's a lot of hype in the high end audio industry - having known people who own freakishly expensive audio and video equipment and peripherals. But this is moderately priced and highly specced PC sound card that we are talking about.

That said, let's not tar all audio magazines or sites with the same brush. The same can be said for publications of any type. Which is why we have sites like TBHP and other internet fora to share our personal experiences and thoughts.

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Originally Posted by alpha1 View Post
Lets say I play audio at deafening levels of 100 dB, you really believe that you will be able to make out difference between SNR 95 and SNR 124??

(btw, the CD has SNR of about 96 dB, so anything more than that is definitely not going to make any diff).?
When you make authoritative statements like 'not going to make any diff' as above I assume you are speaking for yourself?

I am speaking about my experiences and preferences.

No one plays audio at full blast..I certainly don't and am able to distinguish quite clearly the difference between 95 dB and 124 dB SNR when I use the headphones referenced earlier. And the CD SNR depends on the DACs employed in the CD player and the pre amp outputs to the power amps. Audio equipment is like a chain - the weakest link will distort or colour audio.

Quote:
Originally Posted by alpha1 View Post
So what about headphones. Of course if impedance matching is not done, the output will not be consistent, and full power will not be transferred across.
So I agree, there can be a difference with headphone/earphones - which take the signal directly from the sound card (without any amplifier)
The sound card has a built in headphone amp. Also, the SNR is for analog out @ the line-out RCA jacks and 117 @ the headphones. By comparison my surround sound amplifier's analog circuit SNR is 103 db.


Quote:
Originally Posted by alpha1 View Post
Do we want to talk about sampling rate?
Yes I want to - all the commercially available audio is at 44.1 kHz.
Even if my sound card has 192 kHz sampling rate - it doesn't add any quality to the existing (44.1 kHz).

You have a 192kHz sampled audio, and feel that at least this audio will sound better on a 192 kHz card compared to 44.1 kHz?
Lets do a frequency test then to see the upper limits of ears ...
High Frequency Hearing Loss Blind Listening Test
The sampling rate and human ear frequency response are 2 different things. But the sampling rate has a relation to the human ear's max frequency response. If an audio sample is recorded at 44.1 kHz (chosen as it is a little over 2x the max frequency response/range of the human ear) listening to it at an upsampled frequency of 192 KHz is not going change anything. You can't put back data that wasn't there in there in the first place. It only affects audio that was 'captured' or recorded at those frequencies and which is played back subsequently. However, not ALL audio is recorded at 44.1 kHz...for e.g. DVD Audio, which is at 192 Khz or 96 KHz for stereo and SACD @ 2.82 Mhz. This is where the higher frequency sampling capabilities of the DAC come into play.

Super Audio CD - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

DVD-Audio - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Bottom line - As I said earlier, to each his own. if one wishes to use onboard audio or video, it will meet expectations of nearly 90% of PC owners. But some want or desire a little more than what is given by the PC board manufacturer - I am one of them. Why? My headphones are 300 Ohms impedance and the onboard audio chip (driving @ 32 Ohms and 95 dB SNR) simply wont do.

PS - Thanks for the hearing test link. Interesting site.

Last edited by R2D2 : 22nd June 2012 at 16:30. Reason: Added PS
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Old 22nd June 2012, 18:41   #2437
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Default re: The Computer & Configuration Thread

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No one plays audio at full blast..I certainly don't and am able to distinguish quite clearly the difference between 95 dB and 124 dB SNR
I have some doubt that you actually can, and I would ask you to try this test on each card: listen to silence. Can you hear the difference between silence on card A at 95dB SNR and silence on card B at 124dB SNR? I'd guess that you can't, and that I can't either. In fact, I'm doing a bit better than guessing, because I've spent a lot of time "playing" with that wonderful blind-listening tests site, and I know I can't, even in the night, with everything turned off that I can turn off, score anything like it.

Please read the next bit before responding

I have no doubt at all that you can hear the difference between the analogue outputs (including headphone where provided) of different sound cards. They sound different. There is no doubt about that at all.

So I don't think we are disagreeing about anything except the relevance of one particular specification, which is a very small matter.

Once upon a time, not long ago, built-in sound cards were lousy, and cheap soundblasters were true to their name. Now, built-in soundcards are pretty good. However, they don't satisfy me either

I haven't heard anything bad about the Asus cards, and I'm certainly not saying anything bad.
Quote:
Not quite - it comes into play at the output of the external DAC --> amplifier's pre and power amp circuitry that output an analogue signal to the speakers.
Yes: at the point that the sound becomes sound not bits.

What I want to see a comparison of is the digital outputs of built-in and sound card. In theory, they should be the same. In practice, they may not be.

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Old 22nd June 2012, 19:46   #2438
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Default re: The Computer & Configuration Thread

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Originally Posted by Thad E Ginathom View Post
I have some doubt that you actually can, and I would ask you to try this test on each card: listen to silence. Can you hear the difference between silence on card A at 95dB SNR and silence on card B at 124dB SNR? I'd guess that you can't, and that I can't either. In fact, I'm doing a bit better than guessing, because I've spent a lot of time "playing" with that wonderful blind-listening tests site, and I know I can't, even in the night, with everything turned off that I can turn off, score anything like it. .
LOL! I have a big grin on my face as I type this. I took the hearing test I could hear 18 kHz not bad for a guy in his 40s, given that sensitivity to high frequencies tends to decrease with age. So I guess my hearing is pretty good. That site is amazing. Thanks alpha1. Ok, I can hear the difference in sound quality between say 95dB SNR and 124SNR. the sound just seems cleaner. Like all things in audio this is purely subjective.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Thad E Ginathom View Post
Please read the next bit before responding

Once upon a time, not long ago, built-in sound cards were lousy, and cheap soundblasters were true to their name. Now, built-in soundcards are pretty good. However, they don't satisfy me either

Yes: at the point that the sound becomes sound not bits. .
Ok I read this carefully, and yes SB started out with pretty bad sound quality in the 90s. And yes OB Audio has improved big time over what I used to see 10 years ago.

And at the time the signal leaves the DAC the bits become sound/analog signals ready to be amped up to feed the speakers or a headphone.


Quote:
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What I want to see a comparison of is the digital outputs of built-in and sound card. In theory, they should be the same. In practice, they may not be.
The digital outputs will the be the same. A given digital stream say MP3 will never vary in amplitude or frequency, it is true to the source on the HDD. It is the DAC that makes all the difference to what we hear. There may be clock jitter and other timing 'colourants' but that is only detectable thru an oscilloscope. That is why audiophiles use external DACs and statospherically priced CD decks pegged to pre-amps and power amps. All in the name of preserving the signal. Whether the ear can detect these changes..I don't know. the prices scare me off.

I am a budget audiophile if I could call myself one.
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Old 22nd June 2012, 21:19   #2439
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Default re: The Computer & Configuration Thread

It's a good thing to be. Seek the best quality, avoid the hype, and, at all costs ... don't let it become like a religion . It's only in recent years that I've learnt enough about Audio to realise how unreliable my ears/brain are, and why. It's a fascinating journey of discovery, and un-discovery.

My high-frequency hearing has always been poor. I was always the guy who couldnn't hear a conversation at a party. At sixty, it's only getting worse. Look after your hearing! At the same time, check out the band of frequencies that actually make music. It is surprisingly narrow: Interactive Frequency Range Chart.
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Old 23rd June 2012, 00:09   #2440
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Seek the best quality, avoid the hype, and, at all costs ... don't let it become like a religion . It's only in recent years that I've learnt enough about Audio to realise how unreliable my ears/brain are, and why. It's a fascinating journey of discovery, and un-discovery..
Sound advice..sorry, pun not intended.

Yeah, I am not about to spend my hard earned money on equipment that sounds good only on paper. I am not totally enamoured by those expensive audio components however beautifully made they may be. If it fits in my budget so much the better. My ears and wallet decide what is good.

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My high-frequency hearing has always been poor. I was always the guy who couldnn't hear a conversation at a party. At sixty, it's only getting worse. Look after your hearing! At the same time, check out the band of frequencies that actually make music. It is surprisingly narrow: Interactive Frequency Range Chart.
Thanks for the chart Thad. Interesting.

Yes I do look after my hearing. That's why no listening to very loud music even when I harken back to my head-banger days in school/college.

Now it is mostly rock (for old times sake), soft rock, jazz, pop and easy listening/instrumental. One needs to move with the times.

Cheers!
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Old 23rd June 2012, 01:10   #2441
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For all that (and to keep the audio related to the thread subject) I could, if I had it, spend lakhs just on computer audio, let alone hifi.

But I don't have it.

And I just bought a modestly expensive amplifier anyway <Blush>
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Old 23rd June 2012, 01:28   #2442
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And I just bought a modestly expensive amplifier anyway <Blush>
AHA! I was LMAO when I read this. So Thad, you are a closet audiophile! The Cyrus 6VS2 a great amp. My brother loves high end audio and is willing to spend on it. I am a little wary of spending too much on audio as I have other hobbies to cater to. Had a Pioneer A400 from 91 to 2006 (yes, 15 years). It was replaced by a NAD surround sound receiver and subsequently a Pioneer VSX-LX70 receiver in 2008.

The Cyrus distributor for India is about 2.5 kms from my place. Jay also deals in Van Del Hul and other products. You probably know his site: sound & vision I avoid going to his office for fear of falling for an audiophile component.

Cheers!
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Old 23rd June 2012, 16:33   #2443
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So Thad, you are a closet audiophile!
<Struggles to stay on-topic >

Oh... I want Genelec speakers for my computer.

As it happens, being a married night bird in a small house, I do most of my listening with headphones these days, and far more from the PC than the hifi. PC audio has been an interest for a while, with a fairly substantial percentage of the PC budget having been spent on this aspect. A decent, solid case; a silent power supply; a never ending quest for silent fans and cooler; and a decent audio interface. And, of course, yes, I could upgrade.

But, as computers become the audio source of choice, I am, as an ex-IT manager who has seen dozens of the things, very, very wary of audiophoolery being brought into the field. We now see, on the net, guides to computer audio which are written by cable companies, and that fact is horribly obvious without even knowing. I firmly believe: it is digital until it reaches the analogue circuitry of your DAC, soundcard or media player, and no, it doesn't matter what kind of hdd, sata cable, memory chip or network cable it passed along.

I can be found spouting this stuff on HifFiVision.com! That site and this have a number of members in common.

(Yes, the Cyrus came from Soundnvision)
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Old 23rd June 2012, 17:24   #2444
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<Struggles to stay on-topic >

Oh... I want Genelec speakers for my computer.

But, as computers become the audio source of choice, I am, as an ex-IT manager who has seen dozens of the things, very, very wary of audiophoolery being brought into the field.
That's a nice term - audiophoolery. Assuming you are ok to use the OB Audio solution you could choose generic computer audio speakers. There are plenty of them available. Though after listening to music thru a Cyrus amp (not sure what hi-fi speakers you use but I can imagine they are fit for the Cyrus) it may be a bit of a dampener.


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I firmly believe: it is digital until it reaches the analogue circuitry of your DAC, soundcard or media player, and no, it doesn't matter what kind of hdd, sata cable, memory chip or network cable it passed along)
Absolutely. It remains digital from the time it is loaded from the HDD by your entertainment/audio application till it crosses into the DAC and therein transformed into analogue sound.
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Old 23rd June 2012, 19:54   #2445
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Assuming you are ok to use the OB Audio solution...
No: I have an old on-the-shelf RME PCI card and currently use a firewire interface: Echo Audiofire2. They feed entry-level monitors, M-Audio AV40 and, more often, my Audia-Technica ATH AD900 open-back headphones. These, in particular, give a great PC-audio experience

My PC also sports an old Dual turntable connected via a Musical Fidelity V-LPS-II phono stage and a small Soundcraft Spirit Notepad mixer

Connection to the hifi used to be by cables, both analogue and digital, in and out, via a tape-switching box to a variety of devices: TT, casette, minidisk. Now that is not possible, but a Logitech Squeezebox Duet provides a wireless link for playing only.

My PC is quite well connected for sound

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