Building a PC as a High Performance Digital Stereo Source

A

admin

Audioholics Robot
Staff member
With the CD as we know it today starting to go into obsolescence, I figured it was high time to build myself a back up media to store and playback all of my music. Most PC's simply aren't up to the challenge sonically for delivering high performance playback on a serious hi-fi system. This article details the process I took at building a PC suited for this purpose while at the same time not breaking the bank and satisfying the needs of a critical music lover like myself.


Discuss "Building a PC as a High Performance Digital Stereo Source" here. Read the article.
 
M

MDS

Audioholic Spartan
Sounds good although I have one suggestion: don't bother with EAC. There is no such thing as 'degree of exactness' and it produces no better results than any other decent ripping program. The problems it was meant to address, namely that cd drives cannot reliably hit the same block every time, are a thing of the past.

There is no table of contents on an audio CD and the frame:minutes:seconds 'address' only gets you to within 1/75 of a second (588 samples) of the actual start of the track. So the player will either be 1/75 too soon or 1/75 of a second too late. In the past it would be different every time. All EAC does is read it multiple times and pick the block that the drive returns the most number of times on the assumption that it is the correct one. It is still not technically 'correct' and never can be. Besides you cannot verify that the result is bit for bit identical unless you had the raw bitstream that was used to master the disc in the first place.

It doesn't matter anyway as your ears cannot hear the difference no matter what. So save some time and use EAC in its normal (non secure) mode or choose something else - otherwise it will take you years to rip 400 CDs.
 
sholling

sholling

Audioholic Ninja
I’ve been experimenting with a similar concept. My Mk1 was an old unused Athlon 2200+ system I have sitting in a corner. The system board lived in one of those gamer cases with 6 or 7 fans that make enough noise to wake the dead. But it was just a proof of concept and did its job well enough to convince me that when I got the time and money that I’d have to revisit this idea for real. I think that I may have already written something about this so if I’m repeating myself please accept my apologies. Anyway when Fry’s put the Antec Sonata II case on sale I decided it was time to build the Mk2 proof of concept. Antec claims its Sonata is the quietest case on the market, and quiet is just what I want - just the ticket for a media PC. I justified it by telling myself ‘how much could it cost when I can strip the guts out of Mk1’.

Well I won’t go into too much detail but I installed a nice quiet Seagate 500GB drive I had laying around and upgraded the sound to an Auzentech XMYSTIQUE 7.1 soundcard with both coax and fiber outputs. I like it, but once I finish it’s evolution into my go-live Mk3 version it will probably be with Auzentech’s top of the line X-Meridian.

Antec didn’t lie, the case is super quiet. My video card is fanless and I replaced the stock CPU fan with a sub-21db unit. I have about 200GB of FLACs copied over and organized in the same manner as Dan. And also like Dan I chose WinAmp for playback. My only complaint is that some of the tracks seem bass heavy. To confirm it wasn’t an issue with the rip I reburned a couple to CD and played them back from the same system’s CD player. No bass distortion. This ruled out issues with both the rip and the sound card, and I believe narrowed the problem to the FLAC codec included in WinAmp.
 
M

MDS

Audioholic Spartan
FLAC is supposed to be lossless so if it is working correctly there should be no change whatsoever to the audio data and it would not be the cause of increased or decreased bass response.

There are so many variables involved though that it would be tough to narrow down the cause if the bass is indeed different than the original uncompressed track.
 
D

Dan Banquer

Full Audioholic
Sounds good although I have one suggestion: don't bother with EAC. There is no such thing as 'degree of exactness' and it produces no better results than any other decent ripping program. The problems it was meant to address, namely that cd drives cannot reliably hit the same block every time, are a thing of the past.

There is no table of contents on an audio CD and the frame:minutes:seconds 'address' only gets you to within 1/75 of a second (588 samples) of the actual start of the track. So the player will either be 1/75 too soon or 1/75 of a second too late. In the past it would be different every time. All EAC does is read it multiple times and pick the block that the drive returns the most number of times on the assumption that it is the correct one. It is still not technically 'correct' and never can be. Besides you cannot verify that the result is bit for bit identical unless you had the raw bitstream that was used to master the disc in the first place.

It doesn't matter anyway as your ears cannot hear the difference no matter what. So save some time and use EAC in its normal (non secure) mode or choose something else - otherwise it will take you years to rip 400 CDs.
I think the last paragraph is a bit of an exageration. It is certainly NOT taking me years to copy 400 CDs. I am approximately 2/3 of the way through my library after approximately 3 months part time. I expect this to be completed sometime in August if not sooner. I'm showing my age here but I think too many young people want everything fast. I'll sacrifice speed for the best attempt I can get for archival storage.
The EAC uses the good old digital comparator method as you describe. If it's good enough for the most accurate in medical and military applications, it's certainly good enough for my applications.
To sum this up in a Nutshell; I wish to preserve my music library, the money I have spent on it, and am still spending on it, because most of this will NOT be put in a new format that is a real time increase in fidelity. (I'll leave the debate on that to others). In addition I do not wish to repurchase my library in MP3.
Call me Dan Slowski if you wish; but that's the way this old fart likes it.
d.b.
 
M

MDS

Audioholic Spartan
The point was that believing EAC is the holy grail for the best possible rips is misplaced. It does no better than anything else although it can be twice as slow.

It produces the exact same bit for bit identical rips as Sound Forge and a few others I've tried just for the heck of it. It's free and it works - nothing more.
 
A

autoboy

Audioholic
Quiet computing is a difficult quest. As you found out, making a computer quiet is near impossible without help, or buying contributer to SilentPCReview.com. It is the best place hands down to ask quiet computing questions. It is also the best place IMO to ask any computer questions. The folks at SPCR know more about computers than any other forum out there and don't waste time with a bunch of BS. I currently have 3 HTPCs in my house and all three are inaudible under all circumstances except maybe 3AM when I can barely make out a harddrive clicking away. I suggest you go over there and ask these questions. Many are audio buffs and are trying for the same thing as you. I'm not into exact digital playback yet, but there are plenty of folks there who are and I'm pretty sure they use a cheap Chaintek sound card for their bit perfect playback.
 
sholling

sholling

Audioholic Ninja
Actually you can get pretty darn quiet these days. Not silent yet. But quiet. My Mk3 project will include a fanless CPU cooler and a near fanless power supply. One that only runs the fan when it has to. That only leaves the hard drive and two big slow moving 120mm fans and they make hardly any noise.

You'd probably stunned by how quiet my new main PC is and it has 7 hard drives.
 
D

Dan Banquer

Full Audioholic
As I look on some of the posts above I think I should add a bit more.
After much experimenting and measuring I found that getting rid of Microsoft/Windows Media was the best way to go for accuracy. Sure some of Direct Sound can sound good & yes you can get decent rips using other software, but that's not why I wrote this article.
I wrote the article for folks who don't trust microsft with much of anything in this area. I don't need my data stream to have the LSB dithered, I don't need it resampled at 48 kHz with artifacts that I don't need or want. I don't need my copies to the hard drive to be generally O.K., and I don't want to worry about what the next Microsoft update will bring me.
What I do need and want is what's on the CD and not much of anything else. This would appear to be a simple thing to ask for but that did not seem to be the case.
EAC is one of the most "brutal" of the copying software. It takes me about 25 to 30 minutes to copy the average CD. Why do I take the time? because I want the accuracy on a consistent basis, & because I am attempting to archive my library. Note I use the term archive, and I use the term archive because I don't expect that in my life time that there will be reissues of my library on a better format.
The article was written for folks who are interested in that and are wise enough to understand that the trends in consumer electronics are making that a necessity for folks who have invested in large CD libraries.
I make no judgements on other peoples needs, wants or desires, but I do intend to take care of my own.
d.b.



http://www.audioholics.com/news/industry-news/is-the-cd-becoming-obsolete.html
 
Joni_78

Joni_78

Enthusiast
I've also ditched CD player and ripped all my CD's into HD with EAC (Wav).

Fanless Vista Media Center PC is connected into Yamaha RX-V659 with SPDIF.

To get bit-perfect output I had to get Motherboard with Realtek ALC-882. It has the ability to send data in any Hz through SPDIF, also it bypasses Windows Kmixer. With this setup I'm getting DVD's, SACD's and DVD-A's etc with bitperfect 5.1 sound into receiver.

In the receiver:

- DD lights up when playing DVD's with DD.
- DTS lights up when playing DTS DVD's, SACD or DVD-A

Note that in Windows you cannot adjust volume because kmixer isn't in use. Also from Realtek sound settings you have to set 44,1kHz as default and also check 48kHz box so when playing something it automatically switches kHz depending on the source.

Also note that this works on any player, Media Center, WMP, Winmp etc.
 
D

Dan Banquer

Full Audioholic
"Note that in Windows you cannot adjust volume because kmixer isn't in use."
Thank you for mentioning this, as I totally forgot to put that in the article.
20-20 hindsight strikes again!
d.b.
 
Gimpy Ric

Gimpy Ric

Moderator
Now, if the PC case makers would make a case that looks like our audio gear, and would look good in a stack of amps, preamps, etc.
 
T

tomo22

Enthusiast
This is a very good article

You have spent a lot of time and energy creating this system and you are obviously happy with the results.

However what ever program you use to store your music is only as good as the quality of what you are copying. To back up your collection if they are only on CD then use disk imaging software. This gives you 100% including the flaws. Then use something like demon tools to mount your image and you will get good results. If this is to technical please come back and I will explain more.

Every conversion process will degrade performance so imaging is best and don't worry about error correction because the software will tell if it can not copy bite for bite.

The only sound cards with any quality are very few and far between I suggest you do some more research.

I would also suggest getting someone to modify the output jacks from your sound card do not use The normal computer type this is very easy if you no what you are doing.

Make sure you have a clean earth to the computer then you will get perfect reproduction.

This is more important than any other point for good Hi Fi from a computer.

P.S. Don't forget the earth and your sound card can be far better.
 
F

fmw

Audioholic Samurai
I just went through this process. I started with the 200GB drive on the spare computer I decided to use and calculated that my CD collection would fit in 2/3 of it by ripping MP3's at the highest level that Win. Media Player does.

I installed a sound card with an S/PDIF optical output and a DVI video card so I could connect to the TV. I also added a WiFi transceiver to connect the thing to my network.

The results have been good for the most part. I can play from the computer and I don't notice the difference between that and playing the original CD through the system. I don't think compression is that horrible if you don't overdo it.

My main problem is that some of the rips had imperfections for whatever reasons. I don't discover this until I play the music. Re-ripping solves the problem but I feel like it will be a long time before I have 100% acceptable rips on the hard drive.

I think the original media and players will outlast me (I'm a geezer as well) so I can continue to play with it going into the future without fearing any losses.
 
T

tomo22

Enthusiast
You want the best images then get Blindwrite. If this programe can copy all the protections for pc games it will do you well. And if you cant afford the programe theres alternatives like P2P that will help you.. Dont forget your earth thats where most HiIFi problems come from. Thats easy to do and I can Explain.
Bye For Now.
P.S.
Make Shure Your Sound Card Has Good Shielding Car Poon Cab Thai For Saying Thank You
 
M

MDS

Audioholic Spartan
Misinformation at its finest. Like Mark Twain said, 'It's not that people know too little, it's that they know too much that just isn't so'.
 

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