The very best quality possible

Scythens

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Feb 15, 2015
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I love audio. I have quite a good set of speakers and a good pair of ear and headphones for every occasion. Now I want to get the very best out all these pieces of equipment, where do I improve? I currently listen to music from my laptop, an Asus X75V-something.
Please keep in mind that I'm not multi-millionair. I would love to know the best for all, but if this option is extremely expensive, I'd love to know the option that is within reach

- What's the best source of music? An LP, CD or does a very high-quality digital music also compete?
- Where do I find higher-quality music? Most music I have is 128kbps or sometimes 160kbps.
- Does changing the soundcard of my PC make a difference? Or maybe an external soundcard?
- Does using an pre-amp, headphone amplifier etc work?
- What's the best plug for the best quality of audio? TOSLINK, RCA, HDMI or TRS Jack?
- Is there a difference between a $2 and a $200 cable? Or is this only for certain types of cables (Analog or something?)?

And as a final question: What is the best set-up to listen to literally the best quality possible? What type of audio source do I need, which other pieces of equipment and which type of cables?

Thanks in advance!
 

ien2222

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Mar 28, 2010
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Let's clear some things up.

First, from an accuracy standpoint, digital is superior to LP, be it CD or formats that are 16bit/44kHz and higher quality. People may prefer the sound of LP, but that's not the same thing. The easiest reason to cite is that the LP has a very compressed dynamic range as compared to digital. There's plenty of music out there where if they tried to get the same dynamics on an LP as on a CD, the needle would never stay in it's groove during the loud parts. Also in practice the resolution gets nowhere near redbook CD quality.

HDMI is superior to SPDIF...but that's just because of what it's able to transport. SPDIF is limited to 20bit/48khz into 2 channels and lossy into 5.1, HDMI can do much more. A good RCA connection will be just as good as HDMI.

If you are outputting digital from your computer, then sound cards are unnecessary if your motherboard supports it. Otherwise a $40 sound card with be the same as a $300. Only if you are using the analog outs will it start making a difference, though you'll always want to use digital out to something else if quality is the goal.

For cabling, in the digital realm if the cable passes spec and you are operating within that spec, then it's all the same...within reason. If the environment you're in is extremely noisy from an interference standpoint (say right next to a transformer) you may need a better constructed cable (unless you are running optical) which most likely will cost more.

For speaker wire, nearly pure copper of sufficient gauge for the run is all that's needed, assuming the insulator doesn't help promote corrosion (except for the reasons where you'd want to use balanced). For terminators (spades, plugs), it matters even less, brass connectors are fine to use, gold or silver plated, copper etc. Gold plated is usually preferred for it's corrosion resistance properties.




 

random stalker

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1 - analogue - LP, then anything digital - lossless like flac, last but not least lossy formats - aac, ogg, mp3...

2 - look for lossless formats - any decent store has them.

3 - yes. great audio depends on source>dac>amp>speakers/headphones. and the chain is as strong as the weakest link.

4 - sure it does. but the most important is the adc/dac. then good source and good output.

5 - personal preference - I like jacks :D

6 - mostly price as the gains are marginal at best /unless you use pure crap/. there is also the connectors plating - gold plating seems to be the best /due to conductivity/, silver loses some highs and copper is the decent contender.

final question - depends on your budget - if I wanted to use my laptop, I'd go for nwavguys odac /or a odac+o2 combo/. source would be random flac files, headphones are dependant on my music of choice :D
 

delaro

Distinguished
1. LP gives a much better Audio quality over CD but FLAC files give you the best at the moment and files need to be directly recorded into it and not converted from other lower end formats. 320Kbs isn't to bad but you will notice a difference on a high end setup wont comparing it to FLAC.

2. A cheap way to have access to 320 Kbs for all of your library is to get a Amazon Prime Account, with a Prime account all of your library will have a 320kbs equivalent version on their Cloud but it can not be downloaded. Itunes mp4 normally has good quality bit rate if your willing to shell out lots of $ there are other equivalent sites out but I don't use them.

3. Yes there is a difference between sound cards paying $300 vs $15 will get your a massive amount of overall quality and options but most motherboards have very decent quality cards included that are 24-bit / 192kHz audio output with TOSLINK.

4. Nearly all soundboards are amplified normally less than 15watts, adding a amplifier just boost up the output signal for larger speakers which is then determined by the quality of the amp. Does using a Preamp work? Yes on a larger home setup it will boost and clean the signal as well as giving you options to tailor the sound before the AMP get it. If your using a LP player then a Preamp is a must to really improve a signal.

5. TOSLINK by far is the best, HDMI would be the next best.

6. Is there a difference in Cables by price? Yes wire thickness, Wire type and insulation material. Cheap cables use thin wire and insulate bad so you are more prone to get static.

Last question I wont even bother to get into what is the best on the market, you could easily drop $30K in a high end system and speakers, hell my monitor speakers alone retailed $800 new and they are low end for that. Look here and drool http://www.audioholics.com/



This is what I use and is very nice for the $$$ I have invested.
Asus Xonar Essence STX PCI-Express x1 Sound Card Paid $90 Black Friday deal
Sonos CONNECT paid $150 had to repair it
Harman Kardon AVR 1610 paid $100 blown had to repair it
Advent prodigy II Tower x4 Had to refoam the Subs $10 each $8 to refoam
Harman-Kardon-CEN-11BQ came with the amp

 

md1032

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Dec 31, 2007
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Download music from HDTracks and listen to it on a high quality 32-bit DAC through a good amp/speaker combo or a good headphone/amp combo.
 

Scythens

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Feb 15, 2015
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First of all, thanks for the elaborate answers! I do have some other small questions though:

1. So TOSLINK is the best choice for cables up to the DAC, then go for analog cables? If so, what's the best analog cable?
2. In which case would I need an headphone amplifier?
3. Do I need a DAC when I have either a good external soundcard OR a good soundcard?

So for the best quality I'd have to:
Analog source: LP > Pre-amplifier > Amplifier > Headphone/Speakers ?
Digital Source: PC with good soundcard > DAC > Pre-Amp > Amplifier > Headponhe/Speakers?

Thanks again!
 

sportsfanboy

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Mar 16, 2008
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For the money, you'll never beat a good turn table, well produced/pressed record, and a good preamp with headphones.

Similar quality speaker setups can cost thousands more.

 

ien2222

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Let's clear some things up.

First, from an accuracy standpoint, digital is superior to LP, be it CD or formats that are 16bit/44kHz and higher quality. People may prefer the sound of LP, but that's not the same thing. The easiest reason to cite is that the LP has a very compressed dynamic range as compared to digital. There's plenty of music out there where if they tried to get the same dynamics on an LP as on a CD, the needle would never stay in it's groove during the loud parts. Also in practice the resolution gets nowhere near redbook CD quality.

HDMI is superior to SPDIF...but that's just because of what it's able to transport. SPDIF is limited to 20bit/48khz into 2 channels and lossy into 5.1, HDMI can do much more. A good RCA connection will be just as good as HDMI.

If you are outputting digital from your computer, then sound cards are unnecessary if your motherboard supports it. Otherwise a $40 sound card with be the same as a $300. Only if you are using the analog outs will it start making a difference, though you'll always want to use digital out to something else if quality is the goal.

For cabling, in the digital realm if the cable passes spec and you are operating within that spec, then it's all the same...within reason. If the environment you're in is extremely noisy from an interference standpoint (say right next to a transformer) you may need a better constructed cable (unless you are running optical) which most likely will cost more.

For speaker wire, nearly pure copper of sufficient gauge for the run is all that's needed, assuming the insulator doesn't help promote corrosion (except for the reasons where you'd want to use balanced). For terminators (spades, plugs), it matters even less, brass connectors are fine to use, gold or silver plated, copper etc. Gold plated is usually preferred for it's corrosion resistance properties.




 

Scythens

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Feb 15, 2015
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First of all, thanks for the reply.
I understand that there is a big discussion around whether LP's are better than digital audio files, but let's keep that aside for now.

What is the best set-up for listening to music from a PC on my headphones? So the road from clicking on my play-button trough every cable, soundcard and whatnot. Which pieces of equipment do I need (Better soundcard, dac, pre-amp, amp, headphone-amp)?
So the equipment itself, no brands or specific products.
 

ien2222

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Heh, it's a discussion about personal preference. From an accuracy standpoint there's no debate as to which format is superior, physics gives you that answer. There's issues regarding mastering, but again that doesn't have anything to do with the formats, it's more of a "audio engineers being dumb" type of thing.

As far as headphones for computer use goes, I personally would go with a quality USB dac -> amp if need be (assuming the dac isn't capable of powering the headphones adequately) -> headphones. The computer needs USB 2.0 though to really be worth it as an fyi.
 

Scythens

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Thanks again. And if I have a really good DAC, does my soundcard still matter then?
 
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