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Scrith
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Computer Hardware Test?

I'd love to see a comparison of some popular high-end computer audiophile equipment (e.g. E-Mu 1212M, M-Audio Transit, etc.), especially in comparison to non-computer digital transports (how about plugging some expensive transport into a computer and measuring whether or not it really is outputting "bit-perfect" data?).

As a computer-as-source audiophile, my main concern continues to be: is the data I'm getting out of my PC really perfect? By this I mean, is the E-Mu 1212M whose digital output I'm using (both toslink and coax into a Benchmark DAC1) somehow compromised by the 'dirty' nature of the electronics inside my PC? Or is that type of thing not really a valid concern (particularly with a supposedly jitter-immune DAC like the DAC1)? I see lots of claims by people that I might be better off with an external USB device (electrically isolated from the computer) for generating the digital output that I feed the DAC1, or perhaps a DAC with its own USB input...but is it really true that I can't even trust a computer to output a reasonably good digital signal, even from a high-end sound card like the E-Mu 1212M?

arnyk
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Re: Computer Hardware Test?

>As a computer-as-source audiophile, my main concern continues to be: is the data I'm getting out of my PC really perfect? By this I mean, is the E-Mu 1212M whose digital output I'm using (both toslink and coax into a Benchmark DAC1) somehow compromised by the 'dirty' nature of the electronics inside my PC?

Heck, the Lynx L22 which puts the DAC inside the PC is cleaner in many ways than the SP test set that SP uses.

The electrically dirty nature and its intuitively clear impact is often exagerrated. It's potentially all downhill as soon as you put any digital gear inside the same box as your audio. Both PCs and DACs have both logic and audio inside the box, and that box has to meet the same FCC rules because they have the same potential to spill noise all over the place.

>Or is that type of thing not really a valid concern (particularly with a supposedly jitter-immune DAC like the DAC1)? I see lots of claims by people that I might be better off with an external USB device (electrically isolated from the computer) for generating the digital output that I feed the DAC1, or perhaps a DAC with its own USB input...but is it really true that I can't even trust a computer to output a reasonably good digital signal,

You don't have to go to a higher end DAC like the Benchmark to get good resistance to digital sources with jitter. Years ago I found that the buffering inherent in Dolby Digital decoders can reduce jitter from clearly audible as warble to just plain nothing to hear.

>even from a high-end sound card like the E-Mu 1212M?

I would say that the E-Mu line are more like mid-range audio production grade audio interfaces. No doubt very good in practical use, but last I looked their pricing and technical performance is a bit short of say a Lynx L22 or LynxTWO.

I think that the top RME interfaces compete with the Lynx interfaces, though.

FRANKe
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Re: Computer Hardware Test?


Quote:
I'd love to see a comparison of some popular high-end computer audiophile equipment (e.g. E-Mu 1212M, M-Audio Transit, etc.)

Scrith, if you are interested in a USB solution like the M-Audio Transit, you should check out Empirical Audio:
http://www.empiricalaudio.com/
I've been reading about their "USB Off-Ramp Turbo", which is a modified Transit. It sounds (reads) pretty impressive, coupled with their modified Perpetual P-3A DAC or Benchmark DAC1. It

Scrith
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Re: Computer Hardware Test?

Yes, I've read quite a bit about the M-Audio Transport (and the expensive modifications offered by Empirical Audio). That is part of what lead to the questions later in the post:

I've heard lots of talk about how an external device like the Transit (modified or stock) will have less jitter than an internal sound card (like an E-Mu 1212M)...but how much less? Is there an audible difference? And, with a Benchmark DAC1, is jitter reduction really necessary?

By the way, I ended up trying an M-Audio Audiophile USB (like the Transit, but with a coax output and its own power supply) and was very disappointed by the M-Audio drivers: they did not support ASIO output from Foobar2000 at all, and the Kernal Streaming output became corrupt if Windows (or a an application like a game) made a sound. I've gone back to my 1212M (which has much, much better drivers, in my experience) and am happy with it, except for this haunting concern that somehow my digital signal is not as "clean" as the one I might get from an external USB device. After my experience with the M-Audio drivers, I really can't see myself going back to one of their products (or a modified one), however, so I'm curious about other options if the digital jitter really is a problem from a great card like the 1212M.

carl valle
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Re: Computer Hardware Test?

I am curious what you mean by "computer as source audiophile." Do you mean playing audio CD from a pc, or do you mean recording to a PC and playing back from HD? Also, when you play back digital from a PC through an external DAC, which system controls the clock? I would guess the source would have to control the clock so there were no timing problems?

mikechai
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Re: Computer Hardware Test?


Quote:
I am curious what you mean by "computer as source audiophile." Do you mean playing audio CD from a pc, or do you mean recording to a PC and playing back from HD? Also, when you play back digital from a PC through an external DAC, which system controls the clock? I would guess the source would have to control the clock so there were no timing problems?

A perfect digital copy of the CD is ripped by a program called Exact Audio Copy (EAC) and store in the hard disk and playback from hard disk later.

arnyk
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Re: Computer Hardware Test?

>I've been reading about their "USB Off-Ramp Turbo", which is a modified Transit. It sounds (reads) pretty impressive, coupled with their modified Perpetual P-3A DAC or Benchmark DAC1. It

mikechai
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Re: Computer Hardware Test?

Sound is so subjective that sometimes doesn't always correlate with measurements.

That makes audio review even harder. A lot of things just un-measureable. What is musicality?

arnyk
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Re: Computer Hardware Test?

>Sound is so subjective that sometimes doesn't always correlate with measurements.

The question as to whether two components sound identical or not seems to be kinda low on subjectivity, no?

carl valle
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Re: Computer Hardware Test?

Differences in measurement from a suitable reference point must indicate differences in the actual output signal. The question is what should be measured to obtain meaningful results. If actual musical differences exist without correlating measurements, then all the parameters have not been considered. Likewise even if all measurements indicate sameness, and no dicernable musical difference exists for one or more listeners, either in formal or informal listening situations, there is no proof that differences do not exist that have not been considered.
As far as two components sounding identical, due to variation in the precision of building even the highest level systems, it is impossible for two components to sound identical. They won't measure identical either. It's a matter of the significance of the difference combined with the limits of perception of the listener or of the test equipment (read resolution). If two different designs are used to accomplish the same end result, the odds of the two systems being identical are remote.

carl valle
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Re: Computer Hardware Test?

When you record to hard disk using EAC do you do this to get better quality than you get from a CD player? Is hard disk playback as accurate as CD? Seems like an awful lot of time and trouble plus backup of drives, and cataloging. I have used EAC but honestly Nero produced the same 'sound' at 40x on my machine just copying a CD that i had scratched. I am sure I am missing something here...

carl valle
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Re: Computer Hardware Test?

I am quite computer savvy. I simply suggest that the actual sound produced by a computer system reading from a hard drive, and a cd player reading from an optical disc will be the same. (Unless you are talking about un-recovered read errors) And if the sound is the same, the work of putting the discs on a computer, backing up hard drives, and cataloging a collection seems like an incredible waste of time. Additionally, since i have seldom kept a computer system for more than a few years, there is the issue of transporting this collection through numerous hardware and software upgrades. I consider CD to be a near perfect offline permanent storage solution. I consider HDD to be a fragile, wear prone, maintenance problem suitable for short term storage only. The idea that a virus or lightning strike could destroy thousands of hours of work storing music is troubling to me.

FRANKe
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Re: Computer Hardware Test?


Quote:
And if the sound is the same, the work of putting the discs on a computer, backing up hard drives, and cataloging a collection seems like an incredible waste of time.

Well "straycat", for me, having a standalone CD player is no longer a viable option. You see I have a CD rack in my family room of over 500 CDs and I also have a 6 month old baby. He is just starting to reach out and grab anything he can get his hands on, so I think it's time for me to box up those precious CDs before they get chucked across the room. If I can build a media computer with audio quality equal to or better than my Denon CD/DVD player, then it's the way to go. Besides there's the "iPod ease of use" factor. Imagine having 500+ CDs accessible, all organized and playlisted, ready to be clicked, rather than going over to the rack, searching for the disc(s) and loading them into the crazy slow CD player.

-FRANKe

Scrith
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Re: Computer Hardware Test?

straycat, I highly recommend you try ripping 10-20 of your favorite CDs just as an experiment. I think you'll find that the incredible convenience of a computer (or music server) makes the usage of physical CDs the less desirable approach for making the most of your collection.

Also, keep in mind that hard drive storage is unbelievable cheap these days, and will only become less expensive in the future. Only in the last couple of years has it become feasible to store a collection of 1000+ CDs on a computer for less than $500...I think as time goes on most people will be storing their music this way. At these prices you can easily afford to keep one (or more) backup drives for your collection, if you are really worried about viruses or some other problem harming your data.

carl valle
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Re: Computer Hardware Test?

Thanks for the advice. I should tel you where I am. Right now I have some 1000 CD's all of which are stored in a Herman Miller file cabinet without the jewel cases. HM makes a file cabinet which has half height drawers 36" wide.
(jpeg of one drawer attached)
For the last year or so I have been adding new CD's to iTunes to load up on a iPod player. I have ripped approx 380 cd's with this system which i back up onto DVD disc in the MP3 format. It takes about 10 minutes to rip a CD this way.
Almost all of the CD's in my collection, some of which are recorded from LP on Sound Forge, are classical.

If you have tried using the CDDB database to catalog, you will find that this data is almost always wrong and must be edited. It is a huge hassle. I also have a huge collection of tape, some 2400 or so LP's archived on VHS HiFi with automatic locators. All of this is in a Access Database. 2400 LP would require 6 months to play continuously.

I also have approx 1000 sealed LP's which I have not found time to catalog, review or archive. These i generally record on 4 hour DAT tape. All these tapes and lp's are stored in HM file drawers also. My stereo system is in a Sound room which is seperate from my living room and den and is on the second floor. The cabinets are in another room next to the sound room. Although I suppose it would be easy to access the music off a computer as you say, i don't fnd it that difficult to thumb through the drawers and find something to play just by browsing.

After coding these songs in Itune I have found that I never listen to them. I am too busy adding new materials. I always have something new to audition so when i want to listen to something from the archive it is not that tough to find it.

I use my main computer for editing my digital video of mostly travel footage and if you have tried that you know that it takes hours to get 3 minutes of film. I would need a dedicated computer system for audio. As luck would have it, when i am editing video or printing my photographs is the same time i have to listen to my music.

And all of those reasons considered, my main question was actually this. Is it a matter of convenience, or a matter of better sound? I think your vote was the former. I think you are saying the sound quality is the same.

I agree with your access being a bit easier, but I think you put an awful lot of work in the front end to get there.

My last point, is that it is a copyright violation to defeat the SCMS copy protection on CD's which is what you are doing by making bit perfect copies on a computer. I refer you to Stereophile September 2005.

But I wish you fun with whatever way you enjoy the music. It is not my place to argue, i was just asking for confirmations of some things i was also considering.

carl valle
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Re: Computer Hardware Test?

didnt seem to attach the picture of the cd drawer ...

Jim Tavegia
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Re: Computer Hardware Test?

There are a number of CD players that use a ram buffer and retransmit the data stream.

Jim Tavegia
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Re: Computer Hardware Test?

A link from the EAC web site:

I was just using a trial version of some new computer recording software from a company I had never heard of called nch.com.au off a link from another web site. This $50 download allows differing bit rate files up to 96KHZ which my basic verion Sony Sound Forge @ $89 does not. It also has truncation software allowing me to record at 88.2 or 96khz, listen, truncate to CD RedBook and compare file quality. I have been using my Echo Indigo I/O 24/96 card favorably reviewed by JA in my Dell Laptop. To me 88.2 and 96 is very smooth and their truncation allgorithm seems good to me so recording on location at 88.2, mastering and then converting to redbook for all of $50 is very nice. It even offers ripping and cd burning in the download package. This seems like a great value to me as an amature recordist and former broadcast engineer. I am spending more time these days learning what it take to capture great sound which is helping me appreciate the end product more.

I also transferred these hi-rez files to mini-disc for comparison purposes of a compressed format. Minidisc might be an acceptable "portable" format in it's day, the loss of air, detail, and 3D is too much for me. The IPod/wav/aiff files are the ticket for portability. Check it out. A trial version is avaialable. If you are transfering lps to your computer this inexpensive software might just be your ticket.

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Re: Computer Hardware Test?


Quote:
I agree with your access being a bit easier, but I think you put an awful lot of work in the front end to get there.

There are various routines and scripts to automate the process of ripping and encoding a large collection - basically, you put in a CD whenever the drawer opens, and the system does the rest. It does work better with popular music, mostly because the CD database lookup tools aren't that accurate with classical, but if you're using an Access database to track all your different recordings, then you already know the benefits of having accurate, searchable information across your entire collection. If your database could link to actual bit-perfect FILES of the music, and send those bits to various playback locations around your home, you'd have complete command of your music.

Playback choices could better reflect your own thoughts and feelings. Instead of being confined to albums or rudimentary mix tapes, you build your own structures and moods, then refine them on the fly. It's no different than a simple query in Access. Like, "I wanna hear female vocalists in recordings between 1975 and 1979, but no jazz and no songs over 4 minutes". Boom, 2 seconds, you're hearing it. In your system of file cabinets stuffed with music on different formats, it might take 2 days or 2 weeks to accomplish that, and by then you'd probably not be in the mood; you'd want to hear something else.

As for the sound quality issue, if streaming bits via a network protocol results in 100% accuarcy on the receiving end (and it does), then it is the same as the best possible performance form a disc transport. Since error-correction in a transport must work "on the fly", there's the possiblity for uncorrected errors. "Ripping" the data from a CD using Exact Audio Copy allows you to make sure that the data comes off with all errors corrected, a bit-perfect copy.

carl valle
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Re: Computer Hardware Test?

I agree with all of your points actually. I have tested this and found no difference between feeding toslink into my Technics from either a Sony CD player or my Extigy USB. My only issues are the time and work involved in getting the music in the machine, and the almost certain prospect that hard drives storing vast amounts of data will fail. This will lead to total destruction of many hundreds of hours of work. If a CD fails, only 1 track is usually destroyed, and often easily recovered with EAC or other software.

If you are talking about a RAID array you can be somewhat protected, but hardware costs go up. It is also difficult to expand a RAID array once the system becomes loaded up. Raid systems also tend to be noisy.

The only other alternative I can see is building 2 complete servers and keeping them synched.

If you are talking about a small library then perhaps this works well, but if you are talking about my library ultimately you are talking about 4 to 5 thousand album many of which are box sets of 3 to 5 discs (opera and classical) possibly around 75,000 individual cuts or tracks.

To store this amount of material in uncompressed format like wave would require 10 250GB drives, plus 10 more for backup.
This would be 30 drive RAID array. Not impossible, but expensive and extremely failure prone.

To store this data would require a pass thru of about 10 minutes per disc - 40,000 minutes, plus the editing to maintain the id3 tags.

All of this is on top of the fact that 2/3 of my library is not on CD now, so that would need to be replaced where possible, or recorded in real time for OP entries.

I suspect that there are many audiophiles in this same position, with large collections of vinyl, or massive quantities of materials, for whom the situation is similar.

As to the playlist question, I suppose this is important for pop music, but for classical, symphonies and operas should be heard in proper sequencing, so this is not a feature.

All in all I see the computer as a wonderful audio editing system. It is great at taking noise out of vinyl. But because of the hardware and software failures, I just don't see it as a reliable long term storage solution.

Optical disc is the only wear free permanent storage solution available at this time. (Actually one could make an argument for solid state memory)

carl valle
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Re: Computer Hardware Test?

You have addressed a major concern, that of FLAC allowing meta data attachment. I do store MP3 files on DVD, and I have approx 500 albums on itunes. Itunes allows your data to remain intact even when restored from DVD. Also DVD Mp3 can be played stand alone in many DVD machines, which is a big plus.

The playlist thing just isn't an issue. If the few of my friends are here that are into music, and we are talking music, we play what's under discussion. If otherwise, background, I just slap on one of my hundreds of 10 hour VHS HiFi Pop, Jazz or classical tapes and let it eat...

As for the detail search someone posted before, "Female Vocalist, no jazz, 1975 to 1978 no more than three minutes per song," I don't think itunes can do that either. It doesn't allow multi-SQL queries, and there is only one genre tag. How do you deal with Jefferson Airplane and Grace Slick or Fleetwood Mac and C. McVie for example.

I would use my knowledge and some reference works to figure out a list of CD's and just punch it up in my access database which does allow sql queries. I have full catalog cards from LC in my access database. Sure I would have to pull half a dozen CD's and maybe some tapes. My Tapes all have index points on them so I could cue up some stuff.

I have no disgruntlement with itunes or other organizational tools at all. Don't get me wrong. My only real comment is that, unless you are starting out with nothing but CD, converting to online system is difficult. It is also loaded with non-audio pitfalls, such as recording to a format which may no longer be supported in the future, such as my earliest mp2, or loss of data.

I want to use my computer to perform various audio functionality, including automated library management. I also want my library to survive without a computer. This is why playback on standalone equipment is so important to me.

Right now, I have to maintain a functional collection of open reel decks, cassette decks, lp playback equipment and vhs HiFi equipment. If I ever stop collecting music, I may get around to down converting all these thngs to mp3 but that doesn't seem to be a direction.

Considering my age, it might just never happen.

But whatever, enjoy the music! I sure do.

I also agree with the input side being fun, just that I have no time to get much of it accomplished. I just picked up another set of Vox Boxes at goodwill, 45 sets at 50 cents a box.... it's no wonder I am so far behind.

stealthaxe
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Re: Computer Hardware Test?


Quote:

Quote:
Hard drives die! I would suggest NEVER keeping anything you can't "afford" to lose on a computer HD.

All of the hard drives in my house have outlived MANY of my CDs.

I have children.

But, anyway, it's very un-difficult to make backups, and in fact if you do as I do and keep your music on an external (USB2) drive, you can back up music to any computer in the house, while you're sleeping!

Pt

That was me. I forgot to log in.

By the way, once you've ripped your 500 or 1000 CDs or so, you can back them up overnight in one stroke.

How hard would it be for you to back them up WITHOUT copying them to a computer?

Pt

carl valle
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Re: Computer Hardware Test?

by ripped i suppose you mean mp3 or something like that. If you mean ripping and saving the wave or flac files, there is no way to get 1000 cd's on a usb drive. Also it would take quite a bit more time if you are talking about 5000 or 6000 cd's like i am and lossless files. 2 cd'd per gig, that's 3000gig or about 10 usb drives to back up. and you don't have a clue which one might fail... i have yet to have a single cd fail, skip maybe, but not fail.

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