Laptop -> hifi setup, audio quality advice wanted


Oct 12, 2014
Hi all,

I'm playing music from a laptop through a hifi. It sounds terrible - much worse than if I burn the same MP3 files to a CD and play them from the CD player that came with the hifi. Sounds blurry and unclear as if you put the speakers inside a box and listened to the sound coming out. I'm wondering what I can do to make this sound better?

Full details of the setup below.

I'm mostly listening to ambient music while working (Drone Zone, Ultima Thule, Hypnagogue Podcast..)

I'm thinking about getting a DAC (a standalone ODAC maybe) and connecting the laptops and MP3 players through that instead of plugging them directly into the hifi. That will hopefully come with its own cable to replace the cheap one I bought as well.

Should that produce good audio quality?

Or am I better off getting rid of this whole thing and just buying some good, active, powered PC speakers that are designed for plugging laptops and MP3 players in directly? Even with PC speakers I think I might still need a DAC to make up for the poor audio chipsets in the laptops and MP3 players. Might be a simpler way to get good audio though, and use less energy (I usually listen to music while I'm working from home, so I have this thing playing all day, every day).

Many thanks for any advice!

The setup I have now:

I inherited this old Harman Kardon HK6150 hifi, Mediac Speakers, and Marantz CD player (not clearly pictured, sorry):

I hooked the CD player up to the hifi using this:

The speakers are broken and I didn't know where to get them repaired, so I bought a pair of Behringer monitors to use instead:

I hooked these up to the hifi using the speaker cables that came with the hifi (probably not the best cables for these speakers):

I'm quite happy with the sound quality that comes out of this when playing the CD player. It's not great maybe, but it sounds pretty good to my untrained ears.

Unfortunately I rarely listen to CDs. Most of the time I'm playing music through a laptop (ThinkPad X200, X220i or X230, or 2007 white MacBook) or through an MP3 player (Sansa Clip+ or iPod Touch 3G). This is what I use to connect the laptop or MP3 player to the hifi:

When playing from the Sansa Clip for example it sounds terrible, even to my ears. I have to turn the Clip's volume way down (to about 30%) or the sound is completely distorted. I can still get plenty of volume by turning the hifi's volume up, but it sounds very blurry and unclear, like if you put the speakers inside a box and listened to the sound coming out.

Playing from a laptop sounds better than the Sansa Clip (which is surprising to me - the Clip has a good reputation and is supposed to have a good internal DAC), but it's still much worse than the CD player, the same "speakers inside a box" effect and having to turn the laptop's volume way down to be able to listen to it at all.


The problem with using any headphone output device, such as an mp3 player, phone, laptop, is the output is not a "line level" output, it's amplified to power headphones. Plugging an amplified output into an amplifier, results in distortion as you have noticed, unless you turn the volume all the way down, but then it doesn't sound as good because it's being too limited.

You need some sort of USB audio sound card that will not aplify the signal to use for the laptop, and the MP3 player ,that is always a problem with MP3 players.


Oct 12, 2014

So a USB DAC such as an ODAC then? That looks to me like it connects to your laptop via USB and then to your hifi's line in.

Fair enough that MP3 players are never going to sound good with the headphone port going into a hifi. I think I read somewhere that it is possible to get a Sansa Clip to output digital audio via USB into something like a DAC, not sure though.
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