Author Topic: Sound cards and PC audio  (Read 648 times)

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Offline André Le Nôtre

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Sound cards and PC audio
« on: September 04, 2020, 06:04:29 PM »
After many years of pouring money, time, and energy into my two audio systems that I use for serious listening--even though I probably spend 20X more time with casual (and some serious) listening at my PC--I am now a believer in the power of a good sound card (or something). Below I unfold my fascinating, spellbinding tale of PC audio woe and redemption:

A few years ago, I wanted to upgrade my PC's audio from the suck-o speakers that came with my system, so I bought a pair of Tascams for about $100. I was actually pretty impressed with these for the price and size, but I soon wanted something better, so I bought a pair of AudioEngine A2+ speakers. At first, I thought they actually sounded no better than the Tascams and was kind of disappointed ($250). I heard these speakers require a very long break-in period, so I waited, and waited. Sure, they sounded OK, and could indeed play very loud without distortion (which I very rarely do). But, zero soundstage or imaging, missing-in-action bass, and not much in the way of detail.

Then, last year the IT fairies infiltrated my office at work, and they installed my new Dell PC that I get every three years-- and along with it came two dumpy round little "Dell" speakers. My desk in my office at work is deeper than my desk at home, so, without thinking, I just pushed those speakers a little farther back than previously. I thought they sounded quite good--not audiophile approved, but, perhaps better than my AudioEngines??? WTF? I was not sure of the reason, but I thought it may be that these speakers are situated farther away from my ears than at home.

Then, yesterday, at home I took down my old Asus system I've been using since 2014 and fired up a new Dell--pretty well-equipped, new enterprise-level machine (I am sick of consumer-level crap). WOW, the difference in sound is absolutely night and day! The bass came out of hiding and was well-defined and tight, the soundstage and imaging began to show themselves, and the level of detail also greatly increased. (And I haven't even started listening to my FLAC files yet, just radio streams.) If not the difference in sound card, then I am not sure what to attribute this. In any case, I had pretty much given up on getting good sound out of my desktop PC, but now I am a believer that it is possible.

A few questions if you can offer advice on any/all of these:

1.) Have sound cards improved much between 2014 and 2020, or is this just the result of buying a much better PC?

2.) The new Dell has a 450W power supply, whereas the Asus had--I don't know what--250 at most? Could the increased power supply have something to do with this in addition to the sound card? The AudioEngines are powered speakers of course, but the input is still important I would guess.

3.) What are the best sound cards for PC in your opinion without getting too exotic (no tubes!!) or costly?

4.) Would adding something like an AudioQuest Dragonfly DAC make much of a difference?

5.) Gimme some cable suggestions for the AudioEngines (again, without getting too exotic)--right now I am using the crappy cheapo cables that came with it. There are RCA jacks and a sort of binding post that I assume will take a banana plug or something like that.

6.)I am considering adding the AudioEngine subwoofer that goes down to 26 Hz. What is your opinion on subwoofers for desktop PC systems? I do listen to a lot of pipe organ music and I think this would be a nice addition, but my home office is not all that large.

Thanks for any thoughts.


EDIT: OK, sorry, I thought I was in the OT forum. Please move this post over there if that is appropriate!  :o



 


« Last Edit: September 04, 2020, 06:32:05 PM by André Le Nôtre »

Offline Daverz

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Re: Sound cards and PC audio
« Reply #1 on: September 04, 2020, 06:43:14 PM »
You don't need a sound card per se for playback.  Most any USB DAC will do, like the Topping E30.  If you want RCA cables that give more confidence than the cheap molded ones, I suggest the Amazon Basics cables.  But the cheap ones are probably fine.

https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/topping-e30-dac-review.12119/

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01D5H8P0G/







Offline Holden

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Re: Sound cards and PC audio
« Reply #2 on: September 04, 2020, 11:13:08 PM »
My PC speaker system, consisting of Edifier satellite speakers and a subwoofer sounds pretty good to my ears and they are not necessarily a top of the line brand - you have that with your A2+! What helps my system is the subwoofer which is quite large for a PC set up. I think the system cost me about $200.

What really makes the system shine is the DAC/Amp that I run from my iMac. As Daverz has mentioned, something like the Topping E30 would work rather well and significantly improve the sound. However, it is a DAC only.

The power of the amp is what improves the speakers and the DAC is what improves the source of the sound. It totally bypasses the DAC in your Dell and in doing so also gets rid of any electronic artifacts generated from the PC internals. The more power you use to drive the AEs the better they should sound. So I think you need a DAC/Amp. There are models available from Schiit, Topping, Fiio, iFi and many others. You would be amazed at how they improve the sound. If you've got headphones, even better.

Cables? Don't bother at this price range. You probably won't hear any difference.
Cheers

Holden

Offline André Le Nôtre

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Re: Sound cards and PC audio
« Reply #3 on: September 05, 2020, 01:12:42 PM »
Thanks gentlemen,

The DAC/Amp sounds like a good idea. I already own two Fiio X1s and love them, so I would definitely check their offerings (and the others as well).

Any thoughts on this one? https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1494827-REG/audioquest_dragonflycob_dragonfly_cobalt_usb.html/overview

Correct about the cables; I'm sure my dealer would love to try and convince me to buy $500 cables for my $250 speakers! However, I'm thinking something like $50 or so, RFI and EMI shielded, because these cheapo plasti-coated copper wires occasionally pick up a little. 


What really makes the system shine is the DAC/Amp that I run from my iMac.

Can I ask what your DAC/Amp is?

(BTW, Love the Wally avatar!! I am a huge Dilbert fan!)
« Last Edit: September 05, 2020, 01:30:25 PM by André Le Nôtre »

Offline Holden

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Re: Sound cards and PC audio
« Reply #4 on: September 05, 2020, 01:55:33 PM »
Thanks gentlemen,

The DAC/Amp sounds like a good idea. I already own two Fiio X1s and love them, so I would definitely check their offerings (and the others as well).

Any thoughts on this one? https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1494827-REG/audioquest_dragonflycob_dragonfly_cobalt_usb.html/overview

Correct about the cables; I'm sure my dealer would love to try and convince me to buy $500 cables for my $250 speakers! However, I'm thinking something like $50 or so, RFI and EMI shielded, because these cheapo plasti-coated copper wires occasionally pick up a little. 

Can I ask what your DAC/Amp is?

(BTW, Love the Wally avatar!! I am a huge Dilbert fan!)

If you need portability then the Audioquest is the way to go. If not, then a standalone DAC/Amp should suffice.

My DAC/Amp is the Burson PLAY. Burson are an Australian company with a very good reputation and as an Aussie I thought I'd give them a try. At 2W into 8ohms it's a very powerful amp. On Burson's website it's no longer listed, possibly superseded by the Playmate. Reviews suggest the Play was slightly the better of the two. It's sound is marginally north of neutral. The ability to 'roll' the opamps (like tube rolling) is a plus. I've got the V6 vivids in mine. There are also V6 Classic opamps  which have a warmer sound. You can also combine the two. If you don't need portability, then this is seriously worth looking at.

https://www.bursonaudio.com/products/playmate/

Three of my favourite Dilbert quotes.

"Everybody is someone else's weirdo"
"There's a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line.
"Never argue with idiots. They drag you down to their level, and then beat you with experience." 
Cheers

Holden

Offline Daverz

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Re: Sound cards and PC audio
« Reply #5 on: September 05, 2020, 02:22:17 PM »
AudioEngine A2+ speakers

These have a USB input, so it seems that you don't need a soundcard or DAC.

Offline Holden

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Re: Sound cards and PC audio
« Reply #6 on: September 05, 2020, 09:53:47 PM »
These have a USB input, so it seems that you don't need a soundcard or DAC.

I should read things more carefully - the A2+ has a Qualcomm CSR8670 DAC. This means that amplification alone is all that's needed.
Cheers

Holden

Offline Holden

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Re: Sound cards and PC audio
« Reply #7 on: September 05, 2020, 10:42:54 PM »
I'm looking at maybe replacing my desktop speakers and the A2+ might fit the bill.

That said, I have a the Edifier MS3300SF which is a 2.1 system which I bought in 2015 . These have been discontinued so I had to search to find reviews. The reviews are very flattering and mention the fact that the satellite units have a mid range speaker as well as a tweeter. The sub bass unit is awesome and can be tuned by a dial on the back.

Running the Edifier through my Burson Play makes it sound so good though bass is not as tightly defined as I would like.

Here is an image of the Edifiers

Cheers

Holden

Offline André Le Nôtre

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Re: Sound cards and PC audio
« Reply #8 on: September 06, 2020, 08:03:59 PM »
The A2+ are quite good now that I can hear them properly--I think you would be very happy with them. I had heard very good things about the Edifiers, and they were on my short list when I bought the A2+s.

I also have a pair of AudioEngine A5+ as a second system (Vandersteen 2Ces in the first, but not used all that much). I bought a pair in the bamboo finish--gorgeous!. Anyway, I am a skeptic in anything that good in a desktop system because the limiting factor is the distance from the speakers. Sitting a meter or less away is just not conducive to great sound, no matter how great the gear is--as far as I can deduce.

Interesting about the USB input on the A2+s--I never even noticed that. Would the USB from the PC (letting the speakers do the DAC conversion) result in better sound than using the 3.5 mm plug?? Guess there's one way to find out (would have to order that exact cable).

I am also very tempted by the subwoofer... Too many expensive hobbies (audio, photography, watches)

 

« Last Edit: September 06, 2020, 08:15:08 PM by André Le Nôtre »

Offline André Le Nôtre

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Re: Sound cards and PC audio
« Reply #9 on: September 06, 2020, 08:10:33 PM »
As for Dilbert, the 'weirdo' quote is classic, but I have never actually seen that one in a strip. Can you link to the strip?

I have nearly all of the Dilbert books, but lately, I have found it easier to just browse the complete archives on the Dilbert/Scott Adams site. Unlike my books, they are all in color, and are all easily save-able to my PC.

A couple of other Scott Adams' books I really enjoy are How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big (Kind of the Story of My Life). I don't usually read that type of self-help/business book, but he is such an interesting and funny guy, I couldn't resist. There are actually some very good insights in the book.

Also, Dilbert's Guide to the Rest of Your Life. A favorite quote from this (paraphrased): 

"It is better for your career to fail spectacularly on a big project than to succeed on a bunch of smaller ones" I've seen this in the real world too many times!

Also, one from Nassim Taleb (inspired by the weirdo quote): "If my detractors knew me better, they would hate me even more" It is exactly the way I feel!  :P

Offline Daverz

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Re: Sound cards and PC audio
« Reply #10 on: September 06, 2020, 09:23:27 PM »
Interesting about the USB input on the A2+s--I never even noticed that. Would the USB from the PC (letting the speakers do the DAC conversion) result in better sound than using the 3.5 mm plug?? Guess there's one way to find out (would have to order that exact cable).

Not necessarily, but it certainly simplifies the wiring.