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  • Kahbrohn
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Direction...
Hi.

I am a 52 yo late 1960's, 1970's and early to mid 1980's rock fanatic. Have been working up to this point in my life to give my kids the best education possible and I am glad to say, "Mission Accomplished". Damn proud of my kids and what they are achieving in their lives now.

So, now that the kids are gone, Uncle Kah here is looking for his hobby and decided on my passion... music. Only problem is that I can basically say I have no high end equipment and even worse, not a clue where to start. That's why I am here. I am not looking to be silver spoon fed but if you tell me where the spoons that I need to use are, I'll take it from there. I want to explore the options available to me and tinker/tweak away. With this all said, I have decided to use my computer as my music station. It is equipped with a budget/mid level MSI Z77A-G45 (MS-7752) motherboard. I plugged in an Intel® i5-3570K CPU.  Rounding out my rig (in audio terms), I installed my venerable SB Titanium Fatal1ty Pro soundcard.

Through a Lepai 2.1 amp, connected with RCA cables to my soundcard, I am listening to my music through a pair of Bose® 251 speakers I was not using.

My CD music has been converted to FLAC (level 5) and I have been using FooBar2000 along with FidelizerX.

Basically I'd like to know if I am on the right track to getting the most out of what I have available to me or if there is either something better out there for me to try or if there are possibly some "tweak" guides for me to follow. I will be searching a bit deeper but so far what I have come across is more in line with making large investments of money (which I know will give me the music I want). Not really what I am looking for. I want to understand all the "basics" of this hobby first before going out and buying the biggest and baddest equipment or software available.

I know audio is purely subjective. I understand that. I am looking at finding out what I need, with what I have, and how to best set up what's on hand to obtain the best possible sound. Once I achieve that, then it would be my time to start moving up.

Not sure if I am making sense but bottom line. I want to walk before I run.

Thanks in advance and "Support Your Local Audio Noob!"...
  • Last Edit: 27 September, 2013, 02:10:40 PM by db1989

  • julf
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Reply #1
I know audio is purely subjective. I understand that. I am looking at finding out what I need, with what I have, and how to best set up what's on hand to obtain the best possible sound. Once I achieve that, then it would be my time to start moving up.

Hi!

All I can say is that there is an unbelievable amount of superstition, folklore, pseudoscience and old wives tales out there. Don't get sucked into pointless tweaking and upgrading without verifying the results.

Usually the biggest returns come from improvements to loudspeakers and room acoustics. I would definitely recommend "The Audio Expert" by Ethan Winer as a starting point.

Direction...
Reply #2
My advice:
Know what the Placebo effect is, and remember that it will always be there in one form or another.

  • Kahbrohn
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Reply #3
@julf - Exactly what I am trying to avoid. For example, I read about "DAC's" and was curious. But the more I read, the more I actually wound us wondering... do i need this or do I want it? Tweaking is not a concern. You can always go back if you need to. Upgrading though is a whole different ball game. You make an investment and wind up with no improvement or a "placebo" effect - neither is good.

@andrew_berge - Agreed. If whatever I do is going to give me minimal return (even if measurable), then I can most likely live without it. I am looking for "measurable and/or unquestionable" improvements. For example, I know that the new SB "Z" soundcards are better than mine but so far, I have not seen one single review or post stating and/or proving that the "Z" is MUCH better than my Titanium Pro. Therefore, it's not worth an upgrade IMO (I could be wrong though).

I'll take a look at that "Audio Expert" book/disc. I only hope it is in layman's terms.

Thanks guys. 

  • Apesbrain
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Reply #4
Do you plan to listen while seated at your PC or do you want to fill a room?  If the latter, what are the room dimensions?

(You already have a DAC; it is built into your sound card.)

  • Mach-X
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Reply #5
The only improvement the SBz offers over your card that is audibly useful is the dedicated headphone amp/circuit, which is a beast. If you plan to do high end headphone listening, its a consideration, otherwise don't waste your money.

  • greynol
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Reply #6
FidelizerX

Has this piece of red meat been overlooked by our courageous group of skeptics?
  • Last Edit: 26 September, 2013, 03:47:25 PM by greynol
13 February 2016: The world was blessed with the passing of a truly vile and wretched person.

Your eyes cannot hear.

  • db1989
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Reply #7
Heh. I refuse to link to the page, but check this out:
Quote
Improved multi-level service priorities optimization for better system stability and more natural sounding harmonics
A giant mouthful of meaningless faux-technical gobbledegook to reel in those easily impressed by big words, followed by a wildly acrobatic somersault into a warm-and-fuzzily worded conclusion about sound quality. This could be the type specimen for the dictionary to quote next to audiophoolery.
  • Last Edit: 26 September, 2013, 03:02:57 PM by db1989

  • DVDdoug
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Reply #8
Like Julf said... SPEAKERS, SPEAKERS, SPEAKERS!!!!

With digital recordings and (reasonably good) modern solid-state electronics, everything other than your transducers (speakers & headphones) should be better than human hearing.  Amplifier power can be a consideration, but noise, distortion, and frequency response are generally non-issues with the electronics.    Some cheap soundcards can be noisy, but building a good soundcard or DAC is not expensive...  Some of the most expensive (over $1000 USD) DACs use high-end DAC chips that cost about $5.

The other "weak link" can be your program material.  Some music that was originally recorded in analog is not up to today's standards.    But, much of it is very-good.    In the 1960's pro studios had some very-good analog recorders, and analog continued to improve until came-along and the recordings were suddenly "perfect" (in terms of noise, distortion, and frequency response).    Modern recordings can also be a "weak link".    Although modern recordings are 100% digital, most popular music has suffered from the "loudness war" and excessive dynamic compression.

I haven't purchased Ethan Winer's book yet, but his website has lots of useful information.  His Audiophoolery article is worth reading, and there's a link to YouTube video of his presentation to the Audio Engineering Society.

Before upgrading, I always recommed going to an audio/video shop to listen to some speakers.   Even if you don't buy anything, it's good to get an idea of what various speakers sound like...  All speakers sound different.

Consider getting a subwoofer.  But, get a good one.  A cheap subwoofer can be wimpy, or it can put-out "boomy" one-note bass.  I usually recommend at least 12-inch woofers/subwoofers...  But there's more to speaker design than size...   

Most subwoofers are "powered" (AKA active).  They have an amplifier built-in, so you may not need the subwoofer amp built-into your Lepai amplifier.    Many subwoofers have a "speaker input", so that you can run the sub from the Lepai sub-out.  That will allow you to use the Lepai's crossover.  (The speaker-input still uses the subwoofer's internal amp.) 

While you're at the audio/video store, listen to some surround sound setups.  CDs, MP3s, and (most of) iTunes AACs are 2-channel stereo, but home theater receivers and some soundcards have Dolby "soundfields" that can take advanage of the surround speakers with effects like rear channel reverb.  It's a matter of taste and purists don't like messing with the sound, but I like a little surround-reverb!    I also have a shelf-full of concert DVDs, and most have 5.1 surround.

  • Audible!
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Reply #9
There's an echo in here!

You have a very nice computer, now buy some good speakers and kick those Bose units out onto the patio.
In the overwhelming majority of cases the quality of an audio system is determined by the speakers. I always enjoy Paradigm and Pinnacle speakers, but there isn't a good substitute for going and listening for yourself. I'd recommend against Bose unless speaker box aesthetics is far important than sound quality; if you need to go "big box" the Harman International brands (Infinity, JBL) are generally quite good quality, and the Pioneer units aren't bad these days. Ebay and second-hand stores can have surprisingly good deals on used speakers...

Incidentally, if your Lepai amp came with a 4A/12V DC adapter you could replace that with a higher amperage unit for more power output (a 12 or 14.4V, 6 amp unit would probably be ideal). With the PE included unit you're limited to 48 Watts total; subtract 10-15% lost to entropy and you're looking at maybe 20Watts per channel continuous output, assuming the "subwoofer amp" isn't engaged at all.
Regardless, high efficiency speakers are probably a good idea with any low-priced chip amp.

Reputedly the subwoofer amp on those "3" channel Lepai units are crap, but I have no direct experience.

2.1 setups are great, and a powered sub will take quite a bit of the load off of the Lepai. If you don't watch action movies or listen to bass heavy music then it's less important.

Edited: In reading the comments on PE regarding that Lepai unit, one of the commentators claims the unit is using ~7W/channel class AB amps (and a pair of them bridged for the "sub"). If accurate, this would suggest that a power adapter upgrade might not be worth your while relative to a new amp.

Further edit: Yeah, if that Lepai is in fact using the TDA7266S, the data sheet states that it is a 5W+5W amp IC, listing 4.5Watts (@8ohms) as the minimum  power output to reach 10%THD.
This suggests you'd be much better off with the Lepai 2020+ amp and a 4A/12V DC adapter, as the tripath 2020 chip can put out 12+12 Watts (4ohms) with 0.1% THD.
  • Last Edit: 26 September, 2013, 09:40:34 PM by Audible!

  • honestguv
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Reply #10
So, now that the kids are gone, Uncle Kah here is looking for his hobby and decided on my passion... music. Only problem is that I can basically say I have no high end equipment and even worse, not a clue where to start.

If clearly audible improvements to sound quality is the objective rather than the possession of luxury goods then, as others have said above, you need to look at loudspeakers and room treatment. Electronic equipment can be audibly neutral for fairly modest prices but, unfortunately, this is not always the case and it can be difficult to determine what is what when the commercial press has little option but to push audiophile nonsense if it wants to stay in business.

DIYing loudspeakers and room treatment is a hobby that might serve your interests. However it should be recognised that economics are against you when it comes to small speakers for a few hundred pounds. You cannot purchase the parts for the price asked for competent, mass produced in Asia, active 2 way "pro" monitors. DIY works if you are not doing it for commercial reasons and/or you are building larger speakers.

  • 2Bdecided
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  • Developer
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Reply #11
1. Listening room.

2. Decent speakers in the right location.

3. Proper tags so you can find the music you want.

4. A cool interface to playing it, so browsing, selecting, playlisting and listening becomes a joy not a chore.

5. Enough "free" time to listen.


Given the era of music you're interested in, also check that you have the best sounding release. Some of your tracks will have been released on CD 5-10 times. Usually one version is better than the others. Sometimes all are hopeless and a vinyl rip is better. Sometimes all are more than good enough.

Hope this helps.

Cheers,
David.

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Reply #12
FidelizerX

Has this piece of red meat been overlooked by our courageous group of skeptics?



Well, I clicked the OP's link and was greeted by a full page ad for HP superimposed over the home page that I could never make go away without closing the window, home page and all.

This may have been the pay-off for the OP. People can collect bounties for placing these links.

The basic product could be a veiled package of spyware or what?  Some how I'm running several computers and obtaining good sound both subjectively and measured, without it.

  • db1989
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  • Global Moderator
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Reply #13
I’ve removed the link because, whether or not there’s any validity to the cynical interpretation suggested by Arny and that I considered after my previous post, I’d rather we don’t donate referrals to such nonsense.

  • 4season
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Reply #14
Basically I'd like to know if I am on the right track to getting the most out of what I have available to me


+1 for posting this query here rather than any number of subjectivist sites: You'll save a bunch of money which can be applied to things which actually do make a difference.


As a recovering audiophile (!), I thought I'd mention how easy it is to get sucked into believing that everything makes a sonic difference, to the extent that "everyone in the room hears the same thing". Don't believe it! Even "night-and-day, jaw-dropping, wife-could-hear-it-from-the-next-room" sonic differences can (and do) mysteriously vanish when testing procedures are tightened up. Which is why proper ABX-type comparisons are audiophile poison. I never thought I'd hear myself say it, but it turns out that the old-timers who claimed that decent amplifiers sound pretty much the same, and that speakers + room acoustics were where the big differences lay--were basically correct.

Good guys:
NWAVGUY
Linkwitz Lab

Formerly a bad guy, but he recanted and became a (mostly) good, if cranky, guy (plus he's got a bunch of free downloadable magazines):
The Audio Critic

  • Mach-X
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Reply #15
I didn't get any ad when I clicked, and the OP linked all products he is using, I doubt any intentional phishing was involved.

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Reply #16
I'll take a look at that "Audio Expert" book/disc. I only hope it is in layman's terms.

Thanks to julf for the plug. Yes, my Audio Expert book is written in plain English with minimal math (almost none). This page on my web site describes the book in detail:

The Audio Expert

--Ethan
I believe in Truth, Justice, and the Scientific Method