Using laptop as the ultimate source/receiver

bizarre

Active Member
Joined
Oct 23, 2009
Messages
96
Points
28
Location
Mumbai
Hello hi-fi friends,

Like any other famous and useful forum, hifivision too has lots of silent suckers. I am one of them. I have been reading this forum for a few months now without bothering to post even once! But here I'm all prepared to ask my first question.

I am a newbie in the world of hi-fi and have never used any audio component that I feel is of good quality. The best I have had is Sony Ericsson HPM-70 (earphones) and Nokia HS-62 (headphones, probably manufactured by Sennheiser). The usual player is a desktop or laptop machine and source music-killer MP3s (128-192Kbps). I was aware with the fact that there are better headphones in the market but I considered Desktop/Laptop to be the best player one can have! Then came to know the word 'hi-fidelity' and in the company of guys like you, I realized that what I am aspiring to have is not even beginning.

I have decided to build a quality, budget, 2-channel home audio system. I have no budget in mind but would like to keep everything on VFM side. The upper limit at most is 1 lakh rupees (quite stretched) including every single component of the system. I will it over a period of six months or so and in phases. I listen to almost everything, from Hindi oldies to latest bollywood songs to old soft-rock to latest pop. I don't want a system that is bad at playing a certain genre, rather I would want something that can play everuthing decently.

The first step is receiver. I am a software professional and am quite attached to computers as such. Do you think it's a good idea to get a quality USB-DAC and make good use of music in my computer? I have been looking at various options, from Wolfson/TI DAC chips to Head-Direct EF2/Pico but am getting more confused by every minute. I would love to built a system around computer/laptop as long as I can still make it hi-fi grade.

So my question is, what do I need to do to make laptop my hi-fi system receiver. Will it ever be able to provide what a quality CD player (<Rs.25,000) can do, even if I spend the similar amount on it? Or can I get it achieve it cheaper... or costlier? Or computers are hopeless when it comes to quality sound?

Thanks very much! :)
 

hemantwaghe

Banned
Banned
Joined
Sep 23, 2007
Messages
3,658
Points
0
Myself in similar process alibit on far lower budget and mostly secondhand componants!
Acquired a chinese dac and old Pc ( Dual Core -512 Ram ,500Gb acquired today)
will experement and let you know the results
feel free to drop if our mutual time free!
 

thevortex

New Member
Joined
Jul 7, 2008
Messages
2,619
Points
0
Location
Chennai
The computer has a lot of potential. And they can favourably compete with even mid range CD players. That I can attest to.

But there are a lot of factors behind building Music PCs as in choice of components. In that regard, laptops could be less than ideal because components will not be hand picked. You would be working with what you get and try to better it through the use of a DAC. Still, I dont see it as a bad option, per se.

I just believe that with a PC there is more flexibility and more room to keep on improving.
 

bizarre

Active Member
Joined
Oct 23, 2009
Messages
96
Points
28
Location
Mumbai
Awesome! Sounds like a turbo kicking in!

I keep the CDP option aside for a year or two in this case. The option may take a break forever, if my computer-based system keeps me happy. :)

I am very much aware that laptops are quite inferior to computers on almost every aspect. Getting a PC for the system would not be a problem but I don't want to be dependant on PC/laptop for anything other than media library management and player software. My setup has to be completely plug-n-play (except for software/drivers, if any). May work on a laptop or PC or whatever with a USB/digital interface. Apart from power supply, what other laptop components play role in producing music? Isn't the DAC supposed to do everything, almost I mean?

My laptop has a FireWire port. I won't mind getting a FireWire DAC, only thing is most of the FW DACs look like devices for absolute pro, with facility of mic inputs, mixing, blah blah. I don't mind having them but since I'm not going to use them, why not save money there? If FW-DACs are much better and are available with these options only, I will go ahead. Recomment me a few DACs, both FW and USB, please.

I want to go ahead step-wise and wish to enjoy the upgrade on every step. Right now, even Nokia HS-62 on stock Dell soundcard brings smile on face in several cases! On the contrary, I have listened Onkyo SR505 + Jamo S40 + Jamo Sub 200, Bose Wave music system + Bose CineMate HT speakers and Alpine 9887 hu + Morel Tempo 6 compos + Eclipse EA4100 amp setups failed to impress me.

This tells you how confused I am. :)
 

iaudio

Well-Known Member
Joined
Mar 9, 2009
Messages
3,043
Points
113
Location
Kuwait/Kochi
Awesome! Sounds like a turbo kicking in!

I keep the CDP option aside for a year or two in this case. The option may take a break forever, if my computer-based system keeps me happy. :)

I am very much aware that laptops are quite inferior to computers on almost every aspect. Getting a PC for the system would not be a problem but I don't want to be dependant on PC/laptop for anything other than media library management and player software. My setup has to be completely plug-n-play (except for software/drivers, if any). May work on a laptop or PC or whatever with a USB/digital interface. Apart from power supply, what other laptop components play role in producing music? Isn't the DAC supposed to do everything, almost I mean?

My laptop has a FireWire port. I won't mind getting a FireWire DAC, only thing is most of the FW DACs look like devices for absolute pro, with facility of mic inputs, mixing, blah blah. I don't mind having them but since I'm not going to use them, why not save money there? If FW-DACs are much better and are available with these options only, I will go ahead. Recomment me a few DACs, both FW and USB, please.

I want to go ahead step-wise and wish to enjoy the upgrade on every step. Right now, even Nokia HS-62 on stock Dell soundcard brings smile on face in several cases! On the contrary, I have listened Onkyo SR505 + Jamo S40 + Jamo Sub 200, Bose Wave music system + Bose CineMate HT speakers and Alpine 9887 hu + Morel Tempo 6 compos + Eclipse EA4100 amp setups failed to impress me.

This tells you how confused I am. :)

Pray why are you then looking for another system?:)
 

bizarre

Active Member
Joined
Oct 23, 2009
Messages
96
Points
28
Location
Mumbai
Because this is how I am. I believe in evolution. Lol.

Jokes apart, I did a small experiment the other day. I ripped 'Dil Se' to .Wav then encoded it to FLAC, 320Kbps VBR MP3 and 128 CBR MP3 and I did an ABX testing on all four files. To my horror, I couldn't find any difference in sound quality of Wav, FLAC and 320Kbps VBR at all. I researched and figured out that only quality components can make you feel the difference and hence here I am, in the hunt of a music system that can give me better/clearer/more detailed music.

You can argue with me that I'm no audiophile and I will not be able to know the difference even with hi-quality components but anyway I want to experiment and learn. And I will always prefer speakers over headphones. Hence this hunt.
 

audiodelic

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 20, 2008
Messages
987
Points
63
Location
Hyd/Del
Cheaper DACs may not be a worthwhile upgrade. The absolute entry level is the Alien DAC, which is based on the PCM2702 (so is the Keces mentioned in the other thread). You can get a built-up Alien for about $70, or get the kit ($40) and ask someone here to build it for you. It's cheap, and it's very good for what you pay. I built three of 'em (all gone) and they are a big step over the laptop's audio cards (though they don't drive cans directly).

Cranky
the keces dac is based on pcm2702 whereas the beresford tc-7520 dac is based on the 2902 i believe which is superior to the older 2702 .... what are your thoughts on this ?
 

venkatcr

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 1, 2008
Messages
7,287
Points
113
Location
Chennai
To my horror, I couldn't find any difference in sound quality of Wav, FLAC and 320Kbps VBR at all.

Don't fret on this. Your ears are correct.

Even with the best of equipment, unless you have a trained ear and have listened to the song 100s of times, it will be very very difficult to make a difference between these three formats. These three, at least, are equally good. In addition to class of the equipment, you also have to worry about room acoustics, sound staging and all that razzmatazz.

I am going to write about this in another thread, but a CD Player is becoming more of a clich now. A good HTPC or a music server, at times, with good ripper such as EAC, can give you the same sound quality or even slightly better than a CDP. Many reviewers including from Stereophile have heard nuances and notes in a FLAC or WAV file that they never heard from a CD before.

There is a certain amount of ground work that needs to be done, but since you are familiar with software, this should not be an issue. A good MOBO, a 1 or 2 TB drive, a good sound card, should keep you happy for the next 10 odd years.

Cheers
 
Last edited:

bizarre

Active Member
Joined
Oct 23, 2009
Messages
96
Points
28
Location
Mumbai
What's your budget for the DAC? The Focusrite Sapphire LE is a good entry-level FW DAC (it's a pro card, but we won't use the inputs) with a dedicated power supply, IIRC it also connects over USB, but if it doesn't, the m-Audio 0404USB is pretty much the best USB sound device on the market under $300. It's also a pro card, though. There are a couple other suggestions in another thread for a USB DAC ~$200, search and take a look.

The Sapphire LE is selling for $249 while M-Audio 4x4 USB for $172 (I hope 4x4 is what you are referring as 0404USB?). For some reason, Sapphire LE is pretty large in size and is heavy too, on the contrary the M-Audio 4x4 is very light and small. Which one is recommended? And do we get these in India or getting them from US through a friend is best bet?

Also, how would you benchmark these devices? For example, if I am aspiring to get sound quality of a Marantaz/CA/NAD CDP (~25k budget), will these devices come close?

Cheaper DACs may not be a worthwhile upgrade. The absolute entry level is the Alien DAC, which is based on the PCM2702 (so is the Keces mentioned in the other thread). You can get a built-up Alien for about $70, or get the kit ($40) and ask someone here to build it for you. It's cheap, and it's very good for what you pay. I built three of 'em (all gone) and they are a big step over the laptop's audio cards (though they don't drive cans directly).

What would be the difference in sound quality between the Focusrite/M-Audio and the Alien/custom made DACs? It's always easy to buy a $70 equipment. It won't hurt much if I have to throw it for some reason! But then no point in spending $70 if I'm left wanting for more from day one onwards.

Please suggest.
 

bizarre

Active Member
Joined
Oct 23, 2009
Messages
96
Points
28
Location
Mumbai
There is a certain amount of ground work that needs to be done, but since you are familiar with software, this should not be an issue. A good MOBO, a 1 or 2 TB drive, a good sound card, should keep you happy for the next 10 odd years.

It's a question how how big a jump you want to take...

...The 0404 uses reasonable parts, but uses the vastly superior USB 2.0 transport (proprietary drivers) and recording facilities. The 4x4 Midisport is not the same as the 0404USB...

...The Focusrite is far superior to any CDP in the <50K segment for sure...

Thank you guys, those words are acting like octane-boosters!

A few questions:

1. When we say these interfaces are as good or even better than many traditional CDPs if the computer is good enough. Since I am beginning with a laptop + Foobar2k + FLAC, it shouldn't be too off?

2. I am highly inclined towards Focusrite Saffire LE, however, at $250 it's not an easy call. It's a discontinued model and there is a new interface Saffire Pro 24 available at merely extra $50. Another issue is, I am using a Dell 1420 right now and on Internet people are complaining about instability of Saffire LE on Dell machines because of poor performance of FW port. I'm comfortable with a few blue-screens or re-installations sort of issues but if the instability is like distortions or cracklings, the interface becomes unusable. What do you guys think about it?

3. After Cranky's suggestions, Keces 151 and EMU 0404 too are on my short-list. The confusion is they are costing as much as Saffire LE costs but according to Cranky, Saffire LE is way superior! Keces is looking solid while EMU 0404 is known to have very good compatibility with Windows and laptops in general. EMU is around $50 cheaper too. Keces DA-151 MK2 seems to be costlier than Saffire LE! Very very confusing now.

4. If EMU 0404 is very capable then 0202 too is great-bang-for-the-buck and there are people who find its sound warmer and more harmonious (though less detailed) than 0404. It looks better than 0404 but draws power from USB itself. What's you guys' opinion on this?

5. Cranky, are M-Audio and EMU same companies? You are talking about both interchangeably, it seems or am I not able to comprehend it properly?

The main area of concern is compatibility with Windows and laptops. The deciding factor would be bang-for-the-buck factor. I wouldn't like to pay extra $50 for 5% improvement in SQ but would love to spend $100 for a 25% jump.

I would like to reach to a conclusion quickly as a friend is leaving to India from US in Nov last week and would like her to bring it along.
 

audiodelic

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 20, 2008
Messages
987
Points
63
Location
Hyd/Del
If you are considering a dac you should also check out the beresford tc-7520 there is also a thread on this forum for more info.
 

bizarre

Active Member
Joined
Oct 23, 2009
Messages
96
Points
28
Location
Mumbai
If you are considering a dac you should also check out the beresford tc-7520 there is also a thread on this forum for more info.

Thanks. I checked the Baresford DAC and I just loved the way it looks. Then the extensive research began on this forum and a few others, came across Mr Stanley Baresford posts and here I am... no Baresford for me, please.

Anways, I read several threads on USB DACs on hifivision and found out that EMU 0202 too has USB 1.1 related issues.

Let's cut it short. It's between Focusrite Saffire LE ($250) vs E-MU 0404 USB ($185). Criteris remains the same, less hassles in terms of compatibility and most bang for the buck factor.

Help with this one and I will make my first step towards hi-fi audio world. Thank you in advance. :)
 

bizarre

Active Member
Joined
Oct 23, 2009
Messages
96
Points
28
Location
Mumbai
One update from my side. On an offline discussion, I had asked Cranky to suggest me one final thing and his reply is as follows (posting for others' benefit):

"I would pick the Sapphire - but check driver issues and compatibility, you also may need to shoot them an email. If it looks like too much trouble, get the 0404. I think the Sapphire is the way to go if your lappie can handle it, otherwise the 0404 - it'll just work without needing too much to think about."

So, as per the suggestion, I am going to shoot an email to Focusrite and if they suggest everything would be fine, I will go ahead with it. Even if they don't respond, I will go ahead. The only case I may going ahead with 0404 if they respond negatively. :yahoo:

I am getting the Saffire LE for $209 on eBay. The seller seems to be very reputed (99.7% positive feedback by over 30,000). I hope there is no risk involved in this type of purchase mode? The item will be shipped to US and a friend will bring it to India.

Thank you Cranky and others for helping me out. I really appreciate it. :)
 
Last edited:

bizarre

Active Member
Joined
Oct 23, 2009
Messages
96
Points
28
Location
Mumbai
One update from my side. On an offline discussion, I had asked Cranky to suggest me one final thing and his reply is as follows (posting for others' benefit):

"I would pick the Sapphire - but check driver issues and compatibility, you also may need to shoot them an email. If it looks like too much trouble, get the 0404. I think the Sapphire is the way to go if your lappie can handle it, otherwise the 0404 - it'll just work without needing too much to think about."

So, as per the suggestion, I am going to shoot an email to Focusrite and if they suggest everything would be fine, I will go ahead with it. Even if they don't respond, I will go ahead. The only case I may going ahead with 0404 if they respond negatively. :yahoo:

I am getting the Saffire LE for $209 on eBay. The seller seems to be very reputed (99.7% positive feedback by over 30,000). I hope there is no risk involved in this type of purchase mode? The item will be shipped to US and a friend will bring it to India.

Thank you Cranky and others for helping me out. I really appreciate it. :)

"Double Post". Please delete this one. :(
 
Last edited:

thevortex

New Member
Joined
Jul 7, 2008
Messages
2,619
Points
0
Location
Chennai
If you have used Firewire devices before, then yes, the Focusrite sounds just fine. But if not, then the 0404 USB from EMU seems to fit the bill.
 

bizarre

Active Member
Joined
Oct 23, 2009
Messages
96
Points
28
Location
Mumbai
Is it necessary to have used firewire in order to try the Focusrite? And when you say it sounds just fine, does it mean it sounds good or it actually sounds just fine? :( If you're looking at complexity, I will manage probably but which is a better sounding device between the two?

By the way I sent an email to Focusrite and they replied promptly. The guy said, though there is no compatibility problem as such, they cannot gurantee anything on some specific cases. Also, he suggested that I buy from a local dealer where I can return it if I have to. Another problem he tells is power supply, as per him it will come as 110V as I am buying in US! He provided me Indian dealer's details (Pro Musicals, Chennai) and recommended to buy from him. I called the dealer and shocked to know the price as Rs.22,850. Six months warranty. When I asked for a cheaper alternative, he recommended Focusrite Saffire 6 USB as it uses the same DAC but with fewer i/o options and is brand new product. Price of Saffire 6 USB is Rs.14,750. :mad:
 

thevortex

New Member
Joined
Jul 7, 2008
Messages
2,619
Points
0
Location
Chennai
To clarify, I have not heard the Focusrite. When I mentioned that it sounded fine, I meant it as an option which is apt for your needs. Not aurally, per se:).

Well, the Indian prices are hugely different from the US ones - which is no surprise. The ball is in your court now.

Maybe somebody who has heard both the solutions can help you choose between them.
 

bizarre

Active Member
Joined
Oct 23, 2009
Messages
96
Points
28
Location
Mumbai
I was looking for discussions reg problems with Dell / 0404 across the web and I came across this really interesting comparison. According to the guy, the 0202 is almost similar to 0404 in terms of sound quality. He notices the 0202 as warmer sounding while 0404 more detailed. His opinion on inbuilt amp is that both are more or less same, however, 0404 is slightly better.

A big area of concern is power supply of 0404. If 0404 comes with 110V power supply then I have to buy an step-down transformer which is another device in itself and makes my room more messy (it's already messy!)

This confuses me further. 0202 is available for $90 while 0404 White Special Edition is for $190.
 
Get the Wharfedale EVO 4.2 3-Way Standmount Speakers at a Special Offer Price.
Top