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Sound Fury
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PC and DAC for streaming music

Is anyone else using a pc and DAC to stream music?

I use YouTube (will try Tidal and Qobuz) and a Sound BlasterX EA-5 Plus soundcard with an ESS Sabre 32 Ultra DAC with a max playback resolution of 32-bit / 384 kHz. (I'm just starting to learn what all that means.) The headphone jack in the EA-5 is bi-amped, so I use that for output. I have a Mediabridge 3.5 mm to RCA cord from the soundcard to my amp.

It sounds great. A good EA-5 DAC is not really expensive (around $140.00 USD) and makes a next-level jump in imaging, detail, clarity, and bass.

Does anyone use the AE-5 or another DAC?

deercreekaudio
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Re: PC and DAC for streaming music

Your AE-5 Plus is a very well performing soundcard indeed, as it is a challenge to get this low of noise and distortion performance in a PC environment.

An interesting alternative might be the miniDSP 2x4 HD ($230) which would be external to the PC, connected via direct streaming USB. An advantage of the 2x4 HD is that it has four output channels allowing you to drive active subwoofers. The 2x4 HD also provides very flexible parametric equalization, crossovers, delay and level control on each of the four outputs. Plus it's a very good sounding DAC.

Deer Creek Audio is an authorized miniDSP dealer.

manunkind
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Youtube will play a maximum

Youtube will play a maximum audio bitrate of around 126 kbps, and no equipment will make it sound any better- essentially any music will come out as a fruit of a poisoned tree.

I used an audiocard with a DAC (Asus Xonar STX something...)- I found that the shielding wasn't good enough to escape tge multitude of interferences from the PC guts.

If you want to look at budget DACs, I recommend Schiit - they have some very simple, budget and yet decent equipment (all made in USA).

Sound Fury
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A DSP is an interesting idea.

deercreekaudio, A DSP is an interesting idea. And miniDSP is well respected in the car audio community. I'm thinking, though, isn't a DSP mostly for active component speakers, EQ, and timing? My speakers and phones are coaxials so the passive crossovers are all set. Also, I think I want to play everything flat or adjust bass and treble a bit on the amp. And my amp has pre-outs for a sub if I get one. I have very old Bose 301 Series III with 8" woofers and ports that play pretty low.

What I really want to do is find a way to compare DACs by connecting them through USB or an soundcard without a DAC into my amp and switch between them while a song is playing. I wonder if that can be done. Also, I'd love to switch between amps and between speakers and between headphones so I can hear the differences. It would be like trying on shoes lol.

And it wouldn't be too expensive. I already have an Audigy Rx, an EA-5, and a Fiio M6 that can be set to DAC only, and a cell phone that must have a DAC, and my old DAC module on my NAD C356BEE integrated amp. And Fiio makes a very inexpensive DAC module I could try. That's six DACs already. I already have a collection! And I didn't even know what DACs were. It's amazing how much difference just a good DAC, all by itself, makes.

Sound Fury
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I'm still trying to learn

manunkind, I'm still trying to learn about bitrates, resolution, and all those numbers of kbps and kHz.

YouTube has a setting link you can click to choose from 144p up to 1080p sometimes. What does that mean? Is that the bitrate or the resolution or something else? What does the "P" mean?

And I didn't know there could be interference from the pc. If I've heard that, I didn't know so.

People speak very highly of Schiit. I will check them out for DACs. Thanks.

Sound Fury
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Manunkind, Schiit Modi and

Manunkind, Schiit Modi and Modius DACs look good, for what I know. USB in and RCA out. And I think the ESS DAC in the Modi is the same brand as the one in the EA-5 soundcard I have. And I suppose the AKM in the Modius is a step up. And the prices are competitive with the EA-5.

Those would be fun to compare. And then compare with cheaper ones and with high-end ones.

What could I do with my pc to set it up so I can connect two or more DACs from the pc USBs to different RCA inputs in my amp so then I can switch between, for example, the CD button and the tuner button to switch between the DACs that are plugged into those RCA inputs?

Imagine if you could stream music for comparing components. It would be the same music continually for times (like 2 seconds to 10 minutes) you select so all you have to do is push the input buttons on the amp to switch between DACs. Then you could really compare how the different DACs feel (10 minutes) or compare individual notes from individual instruments (2 seconds) to find, for example, the smoooooothest highs.

Kal Rubinson
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Sound Fury wrote:
Sound Fury wrote:

Those would be fun to compare. And then compare with cheaper ones and with high-end ones.

What could I do with my pc to set it up so I can connect two or more DACs from the pc USBs to different RCA inputs in my amp so then I can switch between, for example, the CD button and the tuner button to switch between the DACs that are plugged into those RCA inputs?

EZ.
1. Use a music player app that will handle more than one output simultaneously, sometimes calling them zones. (I use JRiver Media Center or Roon but there are others.)
2. Connect all the analog outputs to a simple stereo switch. They can be bought cheaply from eBay or Amazon.
3. Adjust the output levels to be identical using a multimeter.
4. Switch ad lib and see for yourself.

Examples:
https://www.amazon.com/Panlong-Switcher-Composite-Selector-Consoles/dp/B00KXVBB3Q/ref=sr_1_8?keywords=audio+switch&qid=1655731068&sr=8-8
https://www.walmart.com/ip/Ametoys-Linepaudio-Audio-Switcher-Rca-2-In-1-Out-A-B-Switch-Stereo-Splitter-Box-With-No-Distortion-Jack-For-Switching-Between-Computer-Speakers-And-H/769038703?wmlspartner=wlpa&selectedSellerId=101043423
https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/718845-REG/Sescom_SES_AUDIO_AB_SES_AUDIO_AB_RCA_Stereo_Audio.html

Sound Fury
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Here is what I don't

Here is what I don't understand. Why not just use a pc with a good DAC in the soundcard as the source to feed a good analog amp to power the speakers or phones? Is there interference or is the SQ otherwise not so good? Maybe my ears lack sensitivity or maybe I would hear the difference if I used better equipment? Why don't they make a soundcard with just a great DAC, whatever other hardware is needed, whatever software is needed, and bi-amped RCA out? A super SQ soundcard? Is it just because of interference? Is there interference? If so, they can't fix that?

Sound Fury
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Awesome instructions, Kal!

Awesome instructions, Kal! Thanks! Learning about and following your steps and examples will be my new hobby! I'm psyched to do DAC comparisons. So curious about how the same sound can sound different, especially at the treble frequencies. And there has to be an instantaneous change between DACs without missing a beat, or as close to that as possible.

Sound Fury
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Kal Rubinson wrote:
Kal Rubinson wrote:
Sound Fury wrote:

Those would be fun to compare. And then compare with cheaper ones and with high-end ones.

What could I do with my pc to set it up so I can connect two or more DACs from the pc USBs to different RCA inputs in my amp so then I can switch between, for example, the CD button and the tuner button to switch between the DACs that are plugged into those RCA inputs?

EZ.
1. Use a music player app that will handle more than one output simultaneously, sometimes calling them zones. (I use JRiver Media Center or Roon but there are others.)
2. Connect all the analog outputs to a simple stereo switch. They can be bought cheaply from eBay or Amazon.
3. Adjust the output levels to be identical using a multimeter.
4. Switch ad lib and see for yourself.

Examples:
https://www.amazon.com/Panlong-Switcher-Composite-Selector-Consoles/dp/B00KXVBB3Q/ref=sr_1_8?keywords=audio+switch&qid=1655731068&sr=8-8
https://www.walmart.com/ip/Ametoys-Linepaudio-Audio-Switcher-Rca-2-In-1-Out-A-B-Switch-Stereo-Splitter-Box-With-No-Distortion-Jack-For-Switching-Between-Computer-Speakers-And-H/769038703?wmlspartner=wlpa&selectedSellerId=101043423
https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/718845-REG/Sescom_SES_AUDIO_AB_SES_AUDIO_AB_RCA_Stereo_Audio.html

Kal, As I look into your instructions and links, I wonder if it could be even simpler.

My pc has several USB ports and my amp has several sets of RCA inputs. Can I use them instead of an external switcher?

I can stream one hi-res song through the internet. Can I use that instead of J River or Roon?

If so, could I use the USB and RCA plugs to connect several external DACs and also the soundcard DAC simultaneously and just switch between the DACs by changing the input through the amp? And then everything, except the DAC, is all the same? Then any differences in sound are due to the DACs?

Kal Rubinson
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[quote=Sound Fury]Here is
Sound Fury wrote:

Here is what I don't understand. Why not just use a pc with a good DAC in the soundcard as the source to feed a good analog amp to power the speakers or phones? Is there interference or is the SQ otherwise not so good?

Yes. The inside of a PC is an electrically noisy environment with physical constraints.

Quote:

Why don't they make a soundcard with just a great DAC, whatever other hardware is needed, whatever software is needed, and bi-amped RCA out? A super SQ soundcard?

"They" do but the products are usually targetted at the gaming or pro markets and not at the home audio market. Stereophile has reviewed some in the past but not lately. Here's a link to some recent devices: https://10scopes.com/best-audiophile-sound-card/

Sound Fury
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What I really want to do is

What I really want to do is to compare how the background instruments (like in The Boxer by Simon and Garfunkel, and Long Long Time by Linda Ronstadt) sound through different DACs. Those are my favorite parts of the songs to follow. And those are the parts I've always had to struggle to hear in the past. Now I have a great NAD amp and great Focal OG Clear phones. The imaging and soundstage is definite and big, and everywhere. Sometimes I think I hear noise from outside, but it's coming from inside the headphones! That's good imaging and soundstage. My research question is which DAC reveals and expands all those sounds the best. It cracks me up when it sounds like the music is coming from outside the phones!

Sound Fury
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If computers cause

If computers cause interference so people don't use them to stream music from the internet, what do people use to connect to the internet, to connect to the streaming services, and to the amp?

In other words, if I don't use my computer, how will I stream the music from the internet to my amp?

Is there a component that connects to the internet and the streaming services and to the amp?

How do people stream music from the internet to the amp without using a computer?

Kal Rubinson
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Sound Fury wrote:
Sound Fury wrote:

If computers cause interference so people don't use them to stream music from the internet, what do people use to connect to the internet, to connect to the streaming services, and to the amp?

Sure we use computers for this. (I just built a new one.) What we do is use the PC to do all the digital processing, something they are made for, and externalize all the analog signals, including the D/A conversion.

Sound Fury
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I see. I think. So what is

I see. I think. So what is the build? We used to just plug in the turntable and tape deck into the amp. Now we plug in streaming music from the internet through the pc. What is the best computer hardware for that? A soundcard without a DAC because the DAC should be external to avoid interference? And then what kind of cable from pc to DAC? And then RCA from DAC to amp?

You say we "use the PC to do all the digital processing." In your computer that you just built, what did you put in for all the digital audio processing?

Kal Rubinson
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Sound Fury wrote:
Sound Fury wrote:

I see. I think. So what is the build? We used to just plug in the turntable and tape deck into the amp. Now we plug in streaming music from the internet through the pc.

My PC server/streamer streams music from the Internet or from my NAS drives where I store my personal library.

Quote:

What is the best computer hardware for that?

Depends on your needs. It can be a simple SBC or something much more powerful. Since I play a lot of high resolution multichannel files and I also apply DSP for room correction, I use a much more powerful PC.

Quote:

A soundcard without a DAC because the DAC should be external to avoid interference? And then what kind of cable from pc to DAC?

Again, that depends on what else is in your system. Mostly, I use USB but also, as required, ethernet, S/PDIF and HDMI. I try to avoid WiFi.

Quote:

And then RCA from DAC to amp?

Possible but I prefer XLR.

Quote:

You say we "use the PC to do all the digital processing." In your computer that you just built, what did you put in for all the digital audio processing?

Intel i9-12900K, Optane boot/OS drive, 32Gb RAM and silent (fanless).

Sound Fury
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What if you were just only streaming music online without a DSP

Hi Kal, so your system has an NAS and DSP. What if you were just only streaming music online without a DSP? What are the best pc hardware components for that? And if they are extremely expensive, what are the best components that are really good, but down a level or two in price range? Also, what DAC do you use?

And if it depends on the system, what does the system have to be to accommodate the best, or the best affordable, components?

Yeah, as I think about it, they should make "music computers" that are focused on hi-res music and also do all the other stuff computers do. There could be "hi-res packages" so people can look for computers that come with the package they want. For example, I would get the computer that came with the "hi-res streaming only without DSP" package with all the best affordable hardware for that.

Sound Fury
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System design
Kal Rubinson wrote:
Sound Fury wrote:

If computers cause interference so people don't use them to stream music from the internet, what do people use to connect to the internet, to connect to the streaming services, and to the amp?

Sure we use computers for this. (I just built a new one.) What we do is use the PC to do all the digital processing, something they are made for, and externalize all the analog signals, including the D/A conversion.

So the computer itself is a DSP. So a DSB does two things. It processes the music and it adjusts the music. A computer is a DSP that processes the music without much adjusting, such as xover, timing, and EQ.

If so, they could make DSPs for pcs that do all of the processing, from the web to ethernet and then to amp. So the whole sound system is disarticulated, an inner removable module, that can come in lots of models with various features, specs, and options.

The pc is the receiver. We need to liberate the receiver from the pc so the receiver can be itself. The receiver could even be external, from router to amp with only USB to operate it from the pc. So then the receiver can be the receiver again, but it's operated from the computer. It would be like a head unit in car audio. Right. Signal to head unit (with more or fewer DSP options) to amp. And they could make one totally flat with no adjusting and all it does is stream music incredibly well. Has anyone ever hooked up a car head unit to a home amp?

Kal Rubinson
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Sound Fury wrote:
Sound Fury wrote:

So the computer itself is a DSP. So a DSB does two things. It processes the music and it adjusts the music. A computer is a DSP that processes the music without much adjusting, such as xover, timing, and EQ.

The computer hosts software that can do all of that or just play the music (from stream or NAS) or anything in between.

Sound Fury
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Kal Rubinson wrote:
Kal Rubinson wrote:
Sound Fury wrote:

So the computer itself is a DSP. So a DSB does two things. It processes the music and it adjusts the music. A computer is a DSP that processes the music without much adjusting, such as xover, timing, and EQ.

The computer hosts software that can do all of that or just play the music (from stream or NAS) or anything in between.

Yes, so there is audio hardware and software in the computer. Let's take all that out of the computer (lowering the cost of the computer). What did we take out? What are the essential parts for functioning, streaming only, with as little as possible and with the best flat SQ possible with no timing or xover? And can it automatically play whatever sampling rate it receives?

Now we go get better versions and upgrades of all that hardware and software. And we assemble it in a box with ethernet in (from the router) and RCA out (to the amp). Then, we operate the streaming through the computer, but the incoming audio signal goes to the separate box we built with all the hardware and software, and then to the amp. There is so little hardware and software in the box that it is not too expensive to get amazing hi-res sound. And then people can give and receive upgrades as gifts.

Kal Rubinson
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I think you need to do some

I think you need to do some wider reading because there are answers to all your technical questions/proposals. I do not know of an up-to-date book on this but the stuff is all over the internet.

Sound Fury
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That's why I joined this

That's why I joined this group. Forums are good places to talk about ideas, ask questions, and learn. It all depends on who we talk to in the forums.

Why not just say what you think of my idea of liberating the receiver so people can get the one they like best and give them as gifts.

Also, what are the hardware and software that are needed to take the hi-res audio signal from the ethernet cable and send a flat, hi-res, SQ signal through RCA to an amp?

I like how the simplicity is profound and affordable. Hi-res and sound quality for regular folk like us.

I hope I'm mistaken to sometimes feel like us ordinary people are not always so welcome in the community of golden ears. That's the only place where we can talk about our audio ideas.

Kal Rubinson
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I am afraid that I find it

I am afraid that I find it hard to understand a lot of what you talk about so you will have to hope that someone else will be able to help.

If you want to look at what I would call a starting point, consider Volumio. I reviewed their Primo box (https://www.stereophile.com/content/volumio-primo-music-playerstreamer) but their software is applicable to other simple platforms (https://volumio.com/en/) There is, also, a growing library of plug-ins to enhance its capabilities.

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Yes, that's the sort of thing

Yes, that's the sort of thing I'm trying to describe. Now, let's make a different version. This one is bare-bones, but what's in it is highest resolution and best sound quality. We can keep the excellent Sabre DAC. The only input is ethernet from the router. The only output is RCA to the amp. All the hardware and software is to stream a song flat and at the sampling rating of the recording. That's all it does. There are no adjustments the user can make. Operating the streaming is done through the pc. What hardware and software would be in that and how much would it cost for one that is great SQ, but not extremely expensive? And would it sound a lot better than whatever is in an average pc with a good soundcard and DAC? I realize there are lots of variables in all this, but the idea is to get a big improvement in sound for a low cost.

Kal Rubinson
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Sound Fury wrote:
Sound Fury wrote:

Yes, that's the sort of thing I'm trying to describe. Now, let's make a different version. This one is bare-bones, but what's in it is highest resolution and best sound quality. We can keep the excellent Sabre DAC. The only input is ethernet from the router. The only output is RCA to the amp. All the hardware and software is to stream a song flat and at the sampling rating of the recording.

Yes.

Quote:

That's all it does. There are no adjustments the user can make.

Yes but you can opt for more.

Quote:

Operating the streaming is done through the pc.

Nope. Operating it is done via your phone or tablet. No PC required.

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