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CheynSaw
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Need Some Audio "Umph!"

Hi, this is my first post. I am struggling to trying to get the clarity and volume that I want out of my Mp3s from itunes on my laptop (Mac Powerbook G4). I was wondering what is the best way to get more umph! I am a college student living in a "party frat" so loud clear music is essential I live for really loud music.
My current setup is:

Receiver: Sony STRDE197 (good receiver?)
Speakers: Two polk audio RTi4s and two sony ss-B3000 (to add some bass)
The hook up: I have my stereo hooked directly to my computer through my computers headphone jack.

Right Now I get decent volume, but i can tell something is lacking from my system. I want some more Umph, and clarity. What is the best way to do this?

Would I want to buy a preamp to put between my computer and stereo?

Do I want to buy a whole new reciever?

Or should I buy a computer peripheral like an external soundcard that runs through my USB or firewire port?

I am merely a poor college student so I cannot get too expensive, but I am willing to pay for good sound. Your opinions are greatly appreciated (espeacially by my neighbors ).

Thank you for taking the time,
Will

buysell99999
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Re: Need Some Audio "Umph!"

Being a neophyte myself, I had asked a similar question about playing from iTunes - as it seems to be a very practical way of buying and organizing music. The immediate answer I got was that unless you play lossless files, it will most likely sound like crap in any event - regardless of the equipment. The more detailed explanation, which I'm taking the liberty to pass on, follows below:

WAV (on Microsoft Windows) and AIFF (on Apple Macintosh) are the regular uncompressed formats with identical data volume as you find on a CD.

What is normally referred to as "lossless" is the first level of compression (more compact files with less data volume) FLAC, Monkey's Audio, Apple Lossless, WMA Lossless etc. Despite of being more efficient and compact (the file size often varies due to the complexity and loudness of the music) the formats still classify as "lossless" (all music data remains) as opposed to the "lossy formats"
where music information is compressed to whatever level whoever made them feel are "acceptable".

With a MAC you definitely want to use Apple Lossless. See here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WAV

***

If you want to get a bit more adventurous (on a MAC) than iTunes, these are some better sounding applications:

http://sbooth.org/Max/ (Conversion and import/ripping application)

http://cogx.org/ (Player application)

MAX may be a bit tricky to use, and it is not always self-explanatory. Especially it is difficult to set it up for Apple Lossless ripping and conversion because there are two different versions of Apple Lossless (in this application) and only one of them will work properly for normal music files.

***

You may still want to simply use iTunes and rip to Apple Lossless and also use iTunes for playback, and also for synchronizing an iPod Touch 32GB for example that you connect to a Wadia 170 iTransport and then take the digital output and route it to your favorite DAC.

This will work perfectly with Apple Lossless files.

Apple Lossless files also work perfectly for burning out CD-R for playback on suitable CD players.

However, for better sound quality, we recommend moving files to the iPod Touch and playing them back through the Wadia 170 through a very high quality DAC.

jackfish
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Re: Need Some Audio "Umph!"

1. At least double the power output in a new amplifier or get a quality amplifier with at least the same power as the Sony.
2. Get larger, more efficient loudspeakers.
3. Go lossless digital.
4. In addition, some Mac G4s allow setting the headphone output level separately from the speaker level. Setting the headphone output level high should give your amplifier more to work with.

andy19191
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Re: Need Some Audio "Umph!"

> Receiver: Sony STRDE197 (good receiver?)

It depends what you hang on the word good. Good value - probably. Good enough to do the job and not be the weakest link - probably.

> Speakers: Two polk audio RTi4s and two sony ss-B3000 (to add some bass)

Stereo is intended to be used with 2 speakers. Using 4 in the same room(?) is going to generate a confused sound field. To get more bass you would normally use a subwoofer which plays only the low frequencies leaving the 2 main speakers to play the upper bass, mid and high frequencies.

Does it sound clearer when using only 2 speakers?

> The hook up: I have my stereo hooked directly to my computer through my
> computers headphone jack.

There is the potential for a sound quality issue here since a headphone output is meant to drive headphones and on computers this task is often not well implemented. I would suggest checking first before spending any money which should be easy enough given the computer is a portable.

> Right Now I get decent volume, but i can tell something is lacking from my
> system. I want some more Umph, and clarity. What is the best way to do this?

I am not sure I understand what umph means but clarity is clear enough.

The quality of the sound you hear is going to be dominated by the quality of the speakers so long as the other components are being used as intended. If you want loud and clear then you need to buy speakers designed to play loud and clear.

Are your Polk speakers on their own loud enough without noticeably distorting compared with a bit quieter? Same question for the Sonys.

> Would I want to buy a preamp to put between my computer and stereo?

No. Your receiver already does what a preamp does.

> Do I want to buy a whole new reciever?

Probably not. But there is a case for avoiding it altogether and buying active speakers.

> Or should I buy a computer peripheral like an external soundcard that runs
> through my USB or firewire port?

This might be a good idea if the headphone output is performing poorly as an audio line out. If one of the other students has an iMic or similar it should be easy enough to check.

> I am merely a poor college student so I cannot get too expensive, but I am
> willing to pay for good sound. Your opinions are greatly appreciated
> (espeacially by my neighbors ).

If you want to play loud and clear on a tight budget then I would suggest looking at proaudio speakers rather than home audio speakers.

CheynSaw
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Re: Need Some Audio "Umph!"

Thanks all for the response. I find it all very helpful especially "andy19191"
haha... by "umph!" i just mean loud and clear.
I have some new questions now though. So by "proaudio speakers" do you mean something like MTX DJ 12" Loudspeakers?

also, I would consider these if

a. you think my current receiver can power those suckers (I am still not sure how to tell if the receiver fits the speakers, despite having read about it several times.)
b. you guys could let me know what to look for I am rather new to this (buying a sound system), and am very nieve to speaker set ups, I know what sounds good, just not how to get there) I want a loud and clear set up, but a majority of the time I am keeping these speakers in a frat house, but there in my 24' x 24' room so I dont need something too over-kill (just better then what I have.)

So any recommendations for proaudio speakers that wont be a pain in the ass to drag to and from school and put in my lil' dorm room?

thanks again guys.

Elk
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Re: Need Some Audio "Umph!"

I think he is suggesting self-powered PA speakers. They can sound quite good and are capable of putting out serious amounts of undistorted sound.

CheynSaw
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Re: Need Some Audio "Umph!"

Elk, I appreciate it, but I am a lil ignorant to this stuff. So I am not quite sure what that means.
Wouldnt it be better for me to use the amp I have and power two pa speakers?

andy19191
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Re: Need Some Audio "Umph!"

> So by "proaudio speakers" do you mean something like MTX DJ 12"
> Loudspeakers?

No. Such speakers will do loud but not clear.

Proaudio speakers come in two types: ones that do loud for use on stage and ones that do accurate for monitoring the recording process. I was suggesting the latter.

> also, I would consider these if

> a. you think my current receiver can power those suckers (I am still not
> sure how to tell if the receiver fits the speakers, despite having read
> about it several times.)

Your Sony speakers have a sensitivity of 88 dB whereas the MTX have a sensitivity of 92 dB. At the same setting on your amplifier the MTX speakers will be 5 dB louder (assuming the sensitivities use the same reference which is not always the case).

> So any recommendations for proaudio speakers that wont be a pain in the ass
> to drag to and from school and put in my lil' dorm room?

I was suggesting something like a pair of Behringer B2030A/B2031A plus B2092A subwoofer if you listened to music with deep bass:

http://www.zzounds.com/item--BEHB2030A

http://www.zzounds.com/item--BEHB2031A

http://www.zzounds.com/item--BEHB2092A

These are active speakers (2 per box - 1 for each drive unit) and so you do not need the receiver. I would suggest a squeezebox to play music off your computer, other students computers or the web:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Squeezebox-Wireless-Network-Music-Player/dp/B000LWGPQ0

Now I am not particularly recommending the brands but more the kind of equipment. Behringer is pretty much the cheapest of its type but the Squeezebox is not. Given that you already have hardware, change everything is not really the advice I am giving but I would suggest going to a music shop and having a listen to get a better idea of the volumes available and whether the increased clarity is worth the money to you.

I have a 5 year old G4 powerbook and tried connecting a cable from the headphone socket to the input of an amplifier and comparing it with a squeezebox reading the same file from computer. The difference was substantial suggesting that avoiding the headphone analogue audio circuitry in the computer might be wise.

CheynSaw
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Re: Need Some Audio "Umph!"

Some more things:
The squeeze box is only to get my music wirelessly from my computer to my reciever right?
and
With self powered speakers like "Behringer B2030A/B2031A" how do I actually hook them up to my computer? Through the receiver I already have? Do these speakers not require a receiver?

I am sorry, but I know nothing about PA speakers.

Your help is really appreciated. I just want to know what I am getting myself into before I buy.

I have another questiont two. the sony reciever that I currently have only has hook-ups for a maximum of 4 speakers (the red and black holes where stick the wires) and it has no subwoofer port.

So how does all this work?

andy19191
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Re: Need Some Audio "Umph!"

> The squeeze box is only to get my music wirelessly from my computer to my
> reciever right?

It can get your digital music files from your computer or from web so it can also be a radio. It contains a decent digital to analogue converter and so you will not suffer the degradation due to your computers using too cheap analogue audio circuitry. It also provides a screen and a remote which is more convenient than lumping around a portable PC to control the music.

> With self powered speakers like "Behringer B2030A/B2031A" how do I actually hook them
> up to my computer?

Having tested the headphone audio out on my G4 last night I would suggest not plugging them into the headphone socket on your G4 although it would work. Instead I would suggest using an external digital to analogue convertor such as that in the squeezebox or a reasonable $100 external sound card that is powered from the mains.

> Through the receiver I already have?

This would work if your connected the speaker cables to audio line out and not the main speaker connections. But it would only have a point if you had more than one source and wanted to use the receiver as an expensive switch.

> Do these speakers not require a receiver?

They do not require a receiver. But you do have to plug them into the mains in order to provide power for the internal amplifiers.

> I am sorry, but I know nothing about PA speakers.

PA speakers would usually be understood to mean Public Address speakers or tannoys. Do Americans call tannoys tannoys? We call hoovers hoovers sometimes.

> I have another questiont two. the sony reciever that I currently have only has hook-
> ups for a maximum of 4 speakers (the red and black holes where stick the wires) and it
> has no subwoofer port.
>
> So how does all this work?

It only needs connections for 2 speakers because that is all stereo uses.

Sub woofers can be connected in different ways but the Behringer is likely to require you to take a cable from the line out or preamplifier out of your computer/receiver (not your speaker connections) to the subwoofer which then removes the low bass, amplifies it and drives the sub woofer. Cables are then taken from the subwoofer to the left and right active speakers. The signal to the left and right speakers has the low bass removed which will enable them to play louder without distorting since it is the low bass which moves the cone the most. In the case of passive left and right speakers the cable out from the sub woofer would have to be returned to an audio input on the receiver in order to be amplified before being taken to the left and right passive speakers.

To repeat, the above is a guess since subwoofers are not all connected in the same way but this is the "right" way. In order to know go to the Behringer site and download the relevant manual which will tell you how to connect it.

I do hope you are not going to spend any money based on the content of some anonymous posting on the web. Go to a music shop and have a listen to determine how much money volume and clarity is worth to you.

CheynSaw
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Re: Need Some Audio "Umph!"

Ok, I have done a lil research, online, with manuals and such for different self-powered monitor speakers. And "andy19191", you are right I definitely need to go in and try these puppies out to see if I like it and if it is worth the investment. But I have a very specific question now:

The Inputs for these types of speakers are TRS (which to my understanding is just a 1/4") and the xlr. Now, If I am going to be running my music out of a headphone jack, a 1/8". What do I need to do to have this type of speakers working correctly? The receiver I have does not have RCA audio outs, it does not have TRS audio outs and it does not have XLR audio outs. The only outputs it has are were you stick the lil copper wires and a 1/4" output for "headphones" in the front.

the only I idea I have now is very basic: take the 1/8" normal headphone jack->1/8" male to a 1/4"female adapter -> 1/4" male to two 1/4" female adapter/splitter-> then have two male to male TRS cables from the adapter to the speakers.

I think this would work, but just not very well. I know before that you recommended the squeezebox, but I am not entirely sure how that works, Does it give left and right audio outs for the speakers, does it have a trs or xlr output?

Thanks for the help.

andy19191
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Re: Need Some Audio "Umph!"

> Now, If I am going to be running my music out of a headphone jack, a 1/8".

Using the headphone output really is not a good idea if sound quality is of any concern. Whatever the problems you are currently perceiving there is a fair chance a chunk of it is because of this. Speakers dominate sound quality only if everything upstream is as it should be. It is easy to hear what you are losing by using your computer headphone socket by taking your computer to a shop or another students room that has an external powered sound card or squeezebox-type device and comparing. Alternatively if there is an optical out on your computer this could also be used to check what you are losing by using the analouge audio circuitry in the computer.

It only costs a few dollars to make audibly neutral (in most circumstances) line level analogue audio circuitry and certainly does not require the hundreds if not thousands of dollars that regularly get recommended in audiophile publications. However, the cheap built in audio circuitry in computers is normally below this standard and is likely to be even worse if you use a headphone rather than line out socket. You also need to be a bit suspicious of consumer game cards which can also cut corners which result in non-neutral audio circuitry.

> What do I need to do to have this type of speakers working correctly? The
> receiver I have does not have RCA audio outs, it does not have TRS audio outs
> and it does not have XLR audio outs. The only outputs it has are were you
> stick the lil copper wires and a 1/4" output for "headphones" in the front.

According to the sales specification I looked at it has RCA audio line outs. In the unlikely case that it does not then you cannot use it (not that it is needed with active speakers anyway).

You would use RCA-XLR cable to connect from receiver audio line out to the subwoofer and then XLR-XLR cables to connect to the active monitors. Various cables here:

http://www.sweetwater.com/shop/cables/

Professional audio equipment normally uses balanced connections (3 pins) in order to run long cables without picking up noise. Home audio normally uses unbalanced connections (2 pins) and if you want to mix home and pro equipment you will need an adaptor to convert from RCA to/from XLR. There is lots on the web on how to convert (pin-to-pin, transformers and electronic boxes) but a <$10 convertor cable usually works fine but it is something that needs to be checked first. Also the signal level in pro equipment is higher than in home equipment which also needs checking. However, cheap pro equipment that might also appeal to home users will often have mechanisms to cope with both the level difference and the balanced/unbalanced connection issues. But it needs checking.

> I think this would work, but just not very well. I know before that you
> recommended the squeezebox, but I am not entirely sure how that works, Does
> it give left and right audio outs for the speakers, does it have a trs or xlr
> output?

It is a home audio device and has normal home audio connections (i.e. RCA) which you can plug into your receiver using RCA-RCA cables or into powered speakers using RCA-XLR cables.

CheynSaw
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Re: Need Some Audio "Umph!"

I was reading a lil about balanced and unbalanced connections... to my understanding: I am able to do it as long as I am not running long cables (I would not be.)
If I am not mistaken the unbalanced connection come form the RCA to the XLR cable, right?

But I also came across some audio interface devices for my mac computer, all only 100 bux. Would any of these allow me to use balanced connection? or any recommendations on these devices:

M-Audio Fast Track USB:
http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/FastTrackUSB/

Lexicon Alpha:
http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/Alpha/

GIGAPort AG:
http://www.esi-audio.com/products/gigaportag/

From looking at them, the lexicon alpha looks as though it could provide me a balanced connection because I could run trs outputs to the xlr inputs on the behringer subwoofer. but, I am still a humble noob... and for all I know this could be competely unneccessary

Some help on the significance on these devices for my situation would be awesome.

Thank you very much.
-will

andy19191
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Re: Need Some Audio "Umph!"

> If I am not mistaken the unbalanced connection come form the RCA to the
> XLR cable, right?

I would not bother too much about balanced/unbalanced since a <$10 cable with the right plugs on the end is very likely to be fine.

> Would any of these allow me to use balanced connection? or any
> recommendations on these devices:

Your choice of external sound cards does not seem to match your possible needs particularly well. If we stick with the Behringer brand (which I am not particularly recommending but it is cheap) this would seem more appropriate:

http://www.zzounds.com/item--BEHFCA202

because it does what you need and little else.

> Some help on the significance on these devices for my situation would be
> awesome.

Unless you diagnose what your current issues/problems are then proposing a solution is rather difficult.

There is something about the sound you do not like but we do not know what. Is there an absence of bass because, for example, you want to be shaken around by moden dance music? Is it clarity in the sound? What have you heard that sounds good? I suggested earlier you listened to a single pair of speakers to see if this improved things. Is it clearer?

You are doing two things that would seem incompatible with good sound quality which is using 4 speakers and the headphone out on your computer. Your receiver might not be audibly neutral because of the use of too cheap circuitry (but I do not know) although it is unlikely to be a big issue. Your speakers are not as good as ones costing a bit more or more tailored to your needs and this should be the main issue if everything else is OK/sensible.

A squeezebox does everything an external sound card does plus wi-fi, small computer, screen and hand controller making a receiver and other hi-fi boxes unnecessary if you use digital music from a computer or the web. So if you want to control your music with a handset, have fewer boxes, put the noisy computer in another room,... a sqeezebox-type device might be a better choice than an external sound card.

dcstep
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Re: Need Some Audio "Umph!"

Welcome to the Stereophile Forums. This is a great thread, starting with the recommendation to improve your music format and lots of general advice about improving the signal from the Apple to the speakers.

I'll just focus on the speakers and amp. You mention no budget that I saw (sorry if I missed it) but you really need good floorstanding units for a room that size. A really great speaker/amp combination might be several thousand dollars, but there are lots of good price points below that. So, how much can you spend?

Dave

CheynSaw
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Re: Need Some Audio "Umph!"

Thanks for the interest
Some Problems:

>There is something about the sound you do not like but we do not know >what. Is there an absence of bass because, for example, you want to be >shaken around by moden dance music?

Your right I need to be more specific. My speakers do get pretty loud, but my problem: they do not have nearly enough bass that I want... and sometimes when they get loud they distort (which I believe is from the small woofers in the RTI4s trying to drive too much bass.) Main Problem: I DO NOT HAVE BASS

>Is it clarity in the sound?

At low volumes The RTI4s are clear... any problem here I believe is a direct result of having them hooked through my receiver into my headphone jack.

>What have you heard that sounds good?

Unfortunately (believe it or not)... I am the only one of my friends that is really into music, so none of my friends have speakers or equipment form me to try out

>I suggested earlier you listened to a single pair of speakers to see if this >improved things. Is it clearer?

Actually, I was a little misleading... I have not actually bought those sony's yet... The reason I put them in is because I was planning on buying them when I got home from studying abroad in Spain. After this discussion on this site I do not plan to buy them anymore, in hopes of something better and longer lasting. So I have only heard my system with two speakers (polk audio rti4s) which sounds like stated above.

>Pricing
I have actually been slowly thinking about it, thats why I never put it up until now. Well, I was hoping to spend only around $500 - $600.

Right now, I am not certain on the equipment I am only certain that I do not want to spend more then 600. (I am in Spain right now studying abroad, so when I get home, to the U.S. I will be listening to some different speakers at audio stores). And I am not completely opposed to replacing my current system (I can always sell it...)

Right now, a lil over $500 would cover some (used/new) behringer equipment, that has been recommended. I was checking out ebay and I could get an excellent sub and active speaker set. But i want to have a listen before I make any purchases.

So, I hope this makes things clearer, and you all are now able to make more educated recommendations of options for me to explore?

Thanks,
Will

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Re: Need Some Audio "Umph!"

Whew, $500 is understandable given the temporary condition, but it's hard to do much really good. Have you considered getting a really good headphone system to see you through the visit to Spain? You could get a very nice, truly high fidelity system for your budget and then bring it back with you.

Dave

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Re: Need Some Audio "Umph!"


Quote:
Whew, $500 is understandable given the temporary condition, but it's hard to do much really good. Have you considered getting a really good headphone system to see you through the visit to Spain? You could get a very nice, truly high fidelity system for your budget and then bring it back with you.

Dave

I second that recommendation. You can do so much better with a headphone system for this kind of money.

Elk
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Re: Need Some Audio "Umph!"

Yes!

Headphones and headphone amp!

CheynSaw
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Re: Need Some Audio "Umph!"

Yeah thanks guys, but I have a some real good headphones already I am more interested in the speakers in my room. I am going to be home in 2 weeks anyways.

Can you guys give me some help on the speakers and sub ideas?

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Re: Need Some Audio "Umph!"


Quote:
Yeah thanks guys, but I have a some real good headphones already I am more interested in the speakers in my room. I am going to be home in 2 weeks anyways.

Can you guys give me some help on the speakers and sub ideas?

I can't think of anything worth buying at this price range.

smejias
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Re: Need Some Audio "Umph!"


Quote:
Can you guys give me some help on the speakers and sub ideas?

I recently purchased the PSB Alpha B1 loudspeakers and the matching SubSeries 1 subwoofer. I don't know if that combo will satisfy your needs, but I can tell you that they play plenty loud, and the sound is exciting and involving. And they're affordable -- the speakers cost $250/pair and the sub's a little more.

You might try taking a look at our budget component reviews and see if anything interests you. Don't be discouraged if you see a few $1000 pieces in there.

andy19191
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Re: Need Some Audio "Umph!"

> Main Problem: I DO NOT HAVE BASS

The Sony's were a move in the right direction in being a 3 way with an 8" bass unit and may well do what you want. However, they are very cheap which usually means the sound quality is fairly poor with an uneven frequency response and to distort at higher volumes because the cones break-up, the linear region of the voice coil is short, etc.... If you get a chance to listen then take it. I would suggest keeping it on your list as the minimum cost solution. You may get most of the price back when selling the Polks which are likely to be better speakers in the mid and high frequencies although I cannot say with certainty.

A similar solution would be to look for better quality (more expensive) 3 way passive speakers with at least 8" drivers. Second hand, factory direct or department stores would all be options. Apart from the last, determining sound quality at volume is likely to be a problem.

The next option is to buy an active subwoofer and try to keep the sony receiver and the Polks. It would be important to filter the subwoofers low bass from the signal fed to the Polks because you have already established they cannot do the job at high volumes when fed the full signal. Connections to your Sony receiver may be a problem because it does not have a preamp-out/poweramp-in link on the back to take the preamp signal to the subwoofer and then bring back the filtered signal for the power amplifer to the Polks. Nor does it seem to do the filtering itself. There is an audio out but this is likely to be for recording and will ignore the position of the volume control. You may not be able to pursue this course of action without incurring volume control or bass to the Polks issues.

Replacing the receiver with one that has a preamp-out/poweramp-in, buying an active subwoofer and keeping the Polks might be an option. Ditto buying an AV receiver with a subwoofer-out although this might be less flexible depending on what the subwoofer can do.

Active main speakers can be easily connected to an active subwoofer but you will still have a question of how to control the volume and select the sources. Using the volume control on your computer will normally incur a small sound quality penalty although this can be minimised by setting maximum volume on the computer to normal the listening level. A volume control on an external sound card would be a possibility but not all have one. A squeezebox-type device would be a possibility as would a dedicated preamplifier. Some active 2.1 speakers systems come with remotes.

Sound quality will almost certainly be noticeably improved by avoiding the analogue audio circuitry in your portable computer. A reasonable external sound card powered by the mains will do this at a cost of under $100. A $30 usb sound card powered by the portable computer will also almost certainly bring noticeable improvements but the extra step is likely to be worthwhile. Probably the most cost effective solution is to have the sound card in a box that also does other things like a squeezebox-type device. So long as you need this extra functionality of course.

> Right now, a lil over $500 would cover some (used/new) behringer equipment, that has been
> recommended.

It was not recommended by me. It was used as an example of a type of equipment that might address your requirements. As a brand Behringer provides lots of bangs for the buck but at the cost of sitting close to the borderline in terms of quality. There are probably 10 or so other established brands in your price range for 2.1 active "studio" monitor speakers and I am not recommending one over another because I lack the experience to do so.

However, I would suggest ignoring "computer" 2.1 powered speakers and those where the main speakers have less than about 5-6" drive units because they will not cross over low enough to the sub or do loud cleanly. Another sign of doing things "properly" is having separate amplifiers for the tweeter and bass/mid drive units. If a manufacturer is incurring this cost penalty they are almost certain to have made efforts to produce a flat frequency response and play loud cleanly albeit within significant cost constraints.

> I was checking out ebay and I could get an excellent sub and active speaker set.

Excellent is not the right word. Sound quality will noticeably improve with price if you listen to the best examples at each price level until you are spending over $10000 or so. $500 does not get you excellent sound quality but it can get you good sound quality with a bit of care.

> But i want to have a listen before I make any purchases.

I would suggest this is very wise because it will enable you determine whether an improvement in sound is worth the price to you.

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