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bonzini
November 7th, 2006, 05:50 PM
Hello good people;

Something we are seeing more of every day is convergence of computers and audio (and video for that matter).

If you're an audio geek and a Linux aficionado like me, you must be thinking about using your Ubuntu machine to stock your songs and play them back through your expensive audio system - unless of course you've already made that step!

If you're like me, you aren't satisfied with the quality of sound that comes out of your PC sound card, and you're looking for alternatives.

There seem to be a number of options, some crazily expensive:

1. buy a high-end USB DAC, like the wavelength cosecant or brick
see http://www.wavelengthaudio.com
not cheap but I bet it sounds great!

2. buy a high-end SPDIF DAC, like the benchmark DAC1
see http://www.benchmarkmedia.com/dac1/
or the musical fidelity xv-3 bundle
see http://www.musicalfidelity.com
still US$1k or more, not for the faint of heart

3. buy some crazy-priced audiophile extreme DAC like those made
by nagra or mark levinson
hmm. way too much money for me.

4. buy a decent integrated amp or receiver with SPDIF inputs
probably the cheapest but I have a nice Linn audio system
back home and this seems like a weird way to do it

All of the above would work fine with a Ubuntu machine providing audio either over its USB or SPDIF output.

Then there's the option of using the Ubuntu machine as a music server in combination with some "middleware" from the good people at slim devices or their competitors. This eliminates the need to get at the computer to select the music.

Besides using music ripped from CD to Flac (can't use a lossy format here we're talking REAL HI FIDELITY [-( ) there is of course the option to use this gear to listen to the wonderful selection of internet based music services, admittedly lower-fi but with web sites like http://www.pandora.com a great way to find new music.

Any of you out there embarked on this quest for aural nirvana?

What about the newer hi-resolution formats like SACD or DVD-Audio?

My Name
November 7th, 2006, 06:39 PM
Well I use my record player and a teac3340 reel to reel if i want to Really listen to my music. You can't beat the analogue gear yet. [-(

But for casual listening i just use the onboard sound output to my hi-fi amp. Does the job :-D

Sushi
November 7th, 2006, 06:45 PM
The most important thing in good sound-quality is the speakers. Therefore, you should only accept the best ( http://www.genelec.com/). If you have crappy speakers, you could spend zillion dollars on all the other stuff, and still get crappy sound. But if you have great speakers, you could get good sound even though rest of your equipment was quite mediocre.

So invest in good speakers!

mips
November 7th, 2006, 07:16 PM
Any of you out there embarked on this quest for aural nirvana?

What about the newer hi-resolution formats like SACD or DVD-Audio?

Nope, I just play my cd's on my dedicated system.

Would like to try sacd & dvd-audio. Only problem is that it's not that widely available as your standard cd format.

Edit: I just had an idea. I still have a NAD 3020i (Brilliant little amp) that I'm not using, should consider hooking it up to my pc. Just need to speakers though...

mips
November 7th, 2006, 07:17 PM
You can't beat the analogue gear yet. [-(


I really miss vinyl, to me it sounds better than cd, almost like it has more dynamic range.

mips
November 7th, 2006, 07:25 PM
The most important thing in good sound-quality is the speakers. Therefore, you should only accept the best ( http://www.genelec.com/). If you have crappy speakers, you could spend zillion dollars on all the other stuff, and still get crappy sound. But if you have great speakers, you could get good sound even though rest of your equipment was quite mediocre.

So invest in good speakers!

I do not really agree with the above statement. If you have a crappy source and crappy amplification your good speakers are not going to make it sound better, if anything it will highlight the flaws of your system.

I would say you need good components throughout the chain.

Speakers are a subjective & personal choice. What works for one person does not always work for others. Ideally a speaker should be neutral and not change the sound in any way. The same goes for the other components.

And then there is your budget, let's not go there. I had a limited budget and purchased what I could afford after demoing some stuff. I would love to build my own speakers but right now it's not an option.

Bigbluecat
November 7th, 2006, 08:27 PM
I use a Roku Soundbridge M2000 with WiFi hooked up to my Roksan kit and I love it. Very convenient. And there are so many internet radio stations to access.

Still use the Roksan CD player some of the time when I want to take more time and listen to one particular CD.

The Soundophiliac
November 7th, 2006, 09:18 PM
AFAIK vinyls do actually have a wider dynamic range.

Anyway, if I had your budget, I'd probably go with the DAC with S/PDIF inputs assuming that you have a decent sound card. I don't think a USB DAC would benefit you in any way since there's no hassle in getting good enough (near enough bit-exact) digital audio data out in linux if the hardware's supported and decent. This statement is by no means based on knowledge but experience.

As for the ultra-high-end stuff, I think it would make little if any difference compared to something like the Benchmark DAC1. BTW I've had excellent experiences with the Musical Fidelity X-CAN V3.

I've dreamt of building a nice audio system like your doing. Good luck with that!

Sushi
November 7th, 2006, 10:21 PM
I do not really agree with the above statement. If you have a crappy source and crappy amplification your good speakers are not going to make it sound better, if anything it will highlight the flaws of your system.

Speakers are by far the most important element in good sound-quality. After all, they are the things that actually generate the sound that we hear. While other components do help as well, their effect is a lot less important that speakers.

Unless you are a audiophile, but then we have just placebo-effect from $2.000 speaker-cables ;).


I would say you need good components throughout the chain.

If you can't afford good components everywhere, concentrate on the speakers, period. Instead of getting a hi-end amplifier with mediocre speakers, get mediocre amplifier and good speakers instead.


Speakers are a subjective & personal choice. What works for one person does not always work for others. Ideally a speaker should be neutral and not change the sound in any way. The same goes for the other components.

Well, Genelecs are used in studios that record the music you listen to. They are designed to sound 100% neutral.

mips
November 7th, 2006, 11:00 PM
Unless you are a audiophile, but then we have just placebo-effect from $2.000 speaker-cables ;).


Don't get me started, especially when it comes to digital interconnects. A sucker is born every minute.

bonzini
November 8th, 2006, 10:05 AM
An interesting set of responses, thanks for your thoughts!

To those advising me to get good speakers or other bits and pieces, the stuff I have is pretty good - Linn CD player, preamp, power amps with active crossovers and speakers. My turntable is way old - an Ariston Audio with Grace 707 and a new-ish Linn Adikt moving magnet cartridge. Not bad, a bit nostalgic in the sound but OK and lots of fun. (I bought this turntable and tonearm back in 1976 and it's followed me around ever since. Now I use it to make my kids realize how old I am - except lately, vinyl is cool and they're starting to wonder if it is at all possible that Dad has a small streak of cool in him).

The Linn pre-amp, a Kolektor, is a fine unit but does not have DAC capabilities. So if I want to hook up the computer and play stuff with Rhythmbox, my only option is to plug the crap-ola analog output from the computer into the analog inputs of the Kolektor. This is the weak link in the system as far as computer-stocked audio goes, hence my interest in nicer DACs.

To those advising me on interconnects, the standard Linn interconnects aren't too bad and I must say my native skepticism precludes me from spending more on high end interconnects than most people spend on their entire audio-video system. Maybe I'm wrong, but I doubt if I'll ever find out :-k

To the person advising me that analogue is the only way to go, I could dispute that from personal experience - I have a fairly large collection of largely ghastly sounding LPs with a few real knockouts that prove that good things are possible but not common with analogue recording and vinyl. One particular record that just blows me away is a new pressing of the Dave Brubeck album that originally introduced "Take Five". The recording quality is just astounding, and the 200gm pressing makes the best of it. However, this as I say is the exception that proves the rule, just go and listen to almost anything Jimi Hendrix (moment of reverent silence) recorded to realize how bad analogue can be.

Anyway, that's not the problem. The problem is, all those CDs and the idea of ripping the stuff I like onto a hard drive in lossless format and then being able to deliver that high quality to the speakers. Plus all the cool internet audio out there.

Has anybody tried a Squeezebox? To the person with the Roku, how did you end up with it and not a Squeezebox? Has anybody tried one of these units but bypassed its (probably mediocre) DAC?

I guess that, at the end of it all, I'm not really sure why a person would buy a really good CD player (for example) when for about the same price they could buy a nice computer and a really good DAC and run it all with Ubuntu. Any comments on this?

mips
November 8th, 2006, 10:24 AM
To those advising me on interconnects, the standard Linn interconnects aren't too bad and I must say my native skepticism precludes me from spending more on high end interconnects than most people spend on their entire audio-video system. Maybe I'm wrong, but I doubt if I'll ever find out :-k

I guess that, at the end of it all, I'm not really sure why a person would buy a really good CD player (for example) when for about the same price they could buy a nice computer and a really good DAC and run it all with Ubuntu. Any comments on this?

I agree on the interconnects 100%. Due to the digital medium I cannot see a $1000 interconnect being better than say a $100 interconnect. People out there don't seem to get the digital thing.

I don't really want a pc in my living area, for me it goes in the study. Others might be different.

bonzini
November 8th, 2006, 10:45 AM
I don't really want a pc in my living area, for me it goes in the study. Others might be different.

I can understand that, and I agree with it to a considerable degree. The temptation to start surfing the net and ignoring the wonderful music would be too great ;)

That's one reason I like the "intermediary units" like the Squeezebox or Roku. The computer stays in the den and serves up music to the Squeezebox, which lives in the living area. Or for that matter a person could run a few Squeezeboxen around the house. Hmm squeezbox plus NAD3020 plus LS3/5As in the bathroom, I could stay in the tub for quite awhile listening to that.

Also, I'm completely in agreement with you with respect to digital interconnects. I can see the point in buying a durable, high quality cable but after that they're just digits... I'm not so confident on the analogue end but I'm pretty sure I won't ever have 1000 euro / metre analogue interconnects.

Bigbluecat
November 8th, 2006, 09:20 PM
On the Soundbridge vs Squeezebox choice.

Well I made the choice about 18 months ago. Looked seriously at the Squeezebox.

A friend was doing similar and tried the Squeezebox first but had problems with it.

So we went with Soundbridge. Outside of that the M2000 (which they don't make any more) has this huge display which just plain looks good.

The new Squeezebox devices do look good though and I would be tempted if I got another for a different room.

Lord Illidan
November 8th, 2006, 09:27 PM
About the high end speakers, I always thought that it would be useless having high end speakers with a poor setup because they would show you how shoddy your setup really is.

I am no audiophile, in fact, I have some minor hearing loss, thus all music sounds good to me...192 kb mp3s are the way to go.

mustang
November 8th, 2006, 10:13 PM
Getting a hi-fi setup on linux is quite problematic.

For starters, the high end "audiophile grade" cards---namely the EMU flagship by creative, is windows only. There's been a lot of lobbying at the unofficial EMU forums for linux drivers but so far, nothing has happened. I did however read a news report at alsa-project.org that Creative submitted specifications (maybe an api?) to ALSA. So perhaps things are changing, but so far--nothing.

This leaves you with very few linux compatible cards: the RME (http://www.rme-audio.com/) brand cards which I've read perform very well but for a price---$300+. Or the Juli@ (http://www.esi-pro.com/viewProduct.php?pid=43) which is around ~$100. However, from what I've read, it is not as good as the EMU or RME cards.

An alternative option is something the thread starter mentioned---externals DACs. However, good DACs do not come cheap. I'm actually in the process of building an alien dac (http://www.myexposition.com/diy/usbdac/overview.html) which performs better than my current card (chaintech av710) and with parts, it'll come out to around $40-$50.

To those interested in linux audio solutions (or hifi stuff), I'd urge them to head over to www.head-fi.org and search their forums. They have a Computers-As-Source subforum dedicated to covering these kind of topics.

bonzini
November 9th, 2006, 10:46 AM
Thanks for the suggestion on head-fi, I visited again (after many months) and was reminded that it's a nice forum, lots of interesting stuff there.

But! No special focus on us Linux fools, let alone the Ubuntu subset.

So, refocusing:

1. Can I play DVD-Audio from my laptop's DVD drive on Rhythmbox or Totem or something like that? Anyone tried? Strange / different codecs?

2. Can I play SACD from my laptop's DVD drive (I doubt it, I'll probably just get the CD part)?

3. Can I rip either DVD Audio or SACD to my hard drive (I know I'll need a 2500Gb hard drive)?

4. OK, back to plain old CD music ripped as FLAC to my hard drive:
a. any recommendations for high-quality USB-based DACs that work with Ubuntu?
b. any recommendations for PC Card sound cards with SPDIF out that work with Ubuntu?
c. any favourite high-quality DACs out there to work with b. above?

5. We have one person recommending a Roku, anyone else with a Squeezebox or something else different?

Thanks!

ago
November 9th, 2006, 02:25 PM
I do not really agree with the above statement. If you have a crappy source and crappy amplification your good speakers are not going to make it sound better, if anything it will highlight the flaws of your system.

I agree with the original poster if you have to invest $X the speaker will give you the most noticeable difference. Obviously you need decent DACs and amps, but the "marginal utility" of those is far lower above a certain treshhold. Moreover the speakers suggested by the original poster have built in amplification, and good quality one at that, and also the DACs suggested do not seem too thin...

And I agree with the OP that it is a good idea to buy active speakers (I like Event 20/20) generally used as professional studio monitors. Most of them are infact very accurate, and have a well matched amlifier (in fact often they have bi-amplification and active cross-over). Matching speaker and amp is not trivial, so you solve 2 problems at once. In fact, by going for active monitors you solve a third problem as well: speaker cables. With traditional passive speakers you need cables of higher quality from the amp to the speaker. But with active speakers you only have to connect the preamp/dac/soundcard to the amp in the speakers, this signal is much less "fuzzy" about cables, particularly if you use balanced connections, = you can use far cheaper cables.

You will have to spend far more on Passive+Amp+Cables to achieve sound on par with a good pair of professional active speakers. The only downside of active speakers is the wife-factor. Active monitors are REALLY ugly...

Once you have active monitors all you need is find a good Soundcard with decent DACs. Here the best route is to probably to have an external box, possibly on firewire, with an separate transformer and with balanced outputs. SPDIF is a second best, because of jitter issues.

This is where I stop. Still have to buy the soundcard/DAC

What is a good external soundcard that matches the description above and works well with Linux in your opinion?

Bigbluecat
November 9th, 2006, 09:52 PM
So why not take the music digitally to you audio HiFi.

Forget the sound card. Use ethernet or WiFi to Soundbridge or Squeezebox.

Take a digital output from there to the DAC/amp of you choice.

This way you stay digital as long as you can and you get all the normal audiophile choice of equipment.

kylevan
November 9th, 2006, 10:19 PM
I'm leaning towards a Silverstone EB01 myself, since I'm not an Uber hi-fi guy, and want something I can just leave plugged into my USB hub which I can then plug into my laptop when I'm at my desk. Leaves a good upgrade path for my nearly-broke-university-student self, too. It'll go through my sony mini-system and into my Grado SR-80s for now. I might buy (or build... maybe) a CMoy-type amp later for the headphones, and so that I can take it with my iPod nano.

Plus, the chip it uses is supposedly well-supported. http://www.qbik.ch/usb/devices/showdev.php?id=1317

http://modthebox.com/reviews/silverstone/eb01/silverstone10.jpg

ago
November 9th, 2006, 11:25 PM
So why not take the music digitally to you audio HiFi.

Forget the sound card. Use ethernet or WiFi to Soundbridge or Squeezebox.

Those are indeed very good solutions. The advantage of going for a soundcard is that you can use a single professional level component (pro soundcard with very good dac/crystal/balanced out) straight to active speakers, using cheap balanced cables, the same set-up often used to produce the music you listen to... as opposed to have: soundbridge + coaxial cable + dac + RCA cable + preamp + RCA cable/bridge + poweramp + speakercable + passivespeaker. If you start from scratch, the first approach should give you better quality for less $$$. Moreover you can use it for audio/video as well in a set-top-box configuration (freevo/mythtv). But I agree with you that if you just want to listen to music with little hassle and/or if you want to use your existing hi-fi, your suggestion is more than good enough, and anything else is probably not worth it.

zzztownsend
June 24th, 2007, 11:11 PM
So here's the natural next question to this thread....!
I'm planning to build a media/mythTV box to live under the TV and output to a stereo amp (NAD C320BEE) and speakers. My priority is for quality sound (obviously restricted by mp3 compression)

Any recommendations for a "good" sound card - tonal quality, noise, distortion etc?

mips
June 25th, 2007, 09:35 AM
EMU, MAudio, Roland, Turtle beach comes to mind.

jethro10
June 25th, 2007, 10:49 AM
I'm sure lots of people have an opinion here.
Now this is mine.......

I previously had Linn Naim, Tanoy level gear so am reasonably sure what good sounds like.

However i'm a little more for convenience now.

I have a good soundcard with digital out, take the digital out signal to my Surround Amp I also use for my TV, DVD player etc.

These feed a set of 5 Anthony Gallo Micro Nucleus speakers with a MP-150 sub.
So its still reasonably good Kit and very discrete

I actually use MP3's ! recorded at 320KB VBR in banshee.
It's actually close enough to keep me happy.

Hope this perspective helps someone.

Jeff

jethro10
June 25th, 2007, 10:53 AM
I can understand that, and I agree with it to a considerable degree. The temptation to start surfing the net and ignoring the wonderful music would be too great ;)


Thats an advantage to me.
Use Banshee or similar and audioscrobler linked to Last.fm

I find out all sorts about groups. I find it very interesting.
However it can be distracting, I see your point.

J

koshatnik
June 25th, 2007, 02:40 PM
The most important thing in good sound-quality is the speakers. Therefore, you should only accept the best ( http://www.genelec.com/). If you have crappy speakers, you could spend zillion dollars on all the other stuff, and still get crappy sound. But if you have great speakers, you could get good sound even though rest of your equipment was quite mediocre.

So invest in good speakers!

Wrong. Completely wrong.

Source is the most important thing in an audio system. You cannot make up for poor sound later on in the audio systems hierarchy. The priorities are

Source > AMP > Cabling > Speakers

A system with great source and amp, and mediocre speakers will sound far better than a system with mediocre source and amp and great speakers. Audio systems are like sausage machines - put crap in, you get crap out.If you have very very good speakers, you'll output very well reproduced crap.

In terms of DACs, whacking a DAC on a cd player with poor transport and insulation is a waste of time. Audio CD's played via computers CD drive will never sounds as good as a those played through a dedicated CD player - computers have terrible vibration insulation and CD rom drives have awful transports.

And Yes, vinyl pwns all. :p

mips
June 25th, 2007, 02:52 PM
Wrong. Completely wrong.

Source is the most important thing in an audio system. You cannot make up for poor sound later on in the audio systems hierarchy. The priorities are

Source > AMP > Cabling > Speakers


Nah, some people like amplifying noise etc, it sounds better on a $10 000 speaker ;)

koshatnik
June 25th, 2007, 03:06 PM
Nah, some people like amplifying noise etc, it sounds better on a $10 000 speaker ;)

Tell me about it. I once did a custom install for a guy that spent around 20,000 on his audio gear. I advised him that the set up he had chosen was "imbalanced" (polite for awful) but he wouldnt have it. He'd spent a fortune on some lush B&W speakers, trouble was his CD player wasn't the best. He'd blown the majority of the budget on the speakers. It all sounded kack. A few months later he calls me up and asks me to source him a decent CD/DAC combination. :p

Some people won't be told.

herbert
February 10th, 2009, 01:38 PM
I like good music and as a audiophile I know that true Hifi is probably out of the question in ubuntu. I would just like my music from my computer to be the equivalent of what I hear with windows. Any thoughts?

gn2
February 10th, 2009, 02:27 PM
I like good music and as a audiophile I know that true Hifi is probably out of the question in ubuntu. I would just like my music from my computer to be the equivalent of what I hear with windows. Any thoughts?

I think you should provide more detail, because I am unaware of any problem with audio quality in Ubuntu compared to Windows.

ssam
February 10th, 2009, 04:04 PM
The main problem with audio from my ubuntu box is electrical noise. every disk seek and network packet somehow makes its way into my hifi. I moved from using the built in sound to a usb griffin iMic, but still some noise gets through. at some point i plan to switch to SPDIF optical to electrically isolate the computer.

the beresford DAC looks interesting, and is fairly inexpensive.

leftfield technology
February 10th, 2009, 10:33 PM
Interesting thread.

We're currently developing a server/player system that also hooks into Squeezebox kit. You'd be surprised how decent a sound you can get from a Ubuntu PC without breaking the bank.

The internal layout is quite important. Your soundcard needs room and you want to site the PSU and the power/HDD cables away from it. You'll probably still get a little HDD noise creeping in, but you can get this right down with a good layout. We are using a simple DC-DC psu with and external brick though and no fans. You don't need heaps of horsepower for a hifi pc.

Soundcard itself. Plenty of high-end kit out there. We tested many and found the Prodigy HD2 is the best bang for buck, although you'll want to swap out the EU market crappy Op-amps for some Burr-Brown ones - 2xOP2134 and 1xOP2604 works well with most kit although you can play around to get a sound that suits you. The Op-amps are socketed so this is an easy job.

We've also done some work on the capacitors on this card, but that's getting pretty hardcore. The unmodified HD2 with the BB OP-amps sounds as good as a 500 CD player. Only stuff like the new Cyrus spinner has any kind of edge on it.

Finally, get those levels down - Set alsamixer so you're outputting at 0db.

After all this the usual hifi rules apply when it comes to amps,speakers and what not.

For the record, we're using Ubuntu 8.04 server and standard alsa from the repositories. Using lame and flac for playback of most material and mplayer for any other formats.

thisllub
February 10th, 2009, 11:30 PM
AFAIK vinyls do actually have a wider dynamic range.


Sorry but you are wrong.
Vinyl has about half the dynamic range of CD.

There are different parameters that come out in favour of vinyl.

This is a good read.

http://www.audioholics.com/education/audio-formats-technology/dynamic-comparison-of-lps-vs-cds-part-4

seanlano
February 11th, 2009, 11:36 AM
So if I get a USB DAC and plug it into my Ubuntu laptop, it will simply work? Obviously I have never tried this before, but I am interested. I have a lot of flac files that aren't done justice by the inbuilt soundcard in my laptop. I read in Sound + Image that the Styleaudio Carat-HD1V TCXO (http://styleaudio.typepad.com/styleaudio_hifi_usb_mini_/2008/03/carat-hd1v-feat.html) is good, and not too expensive. Would it just appear in System -> Preferences -> Sound as one of the playback devices?

koshatnik
February 11th, 2009, 05:02 PM
Sorry but you are wrong.
Vinyl has about half the dynamic range of CD.

There are different parameters that come out in favour of vinyl.

This is a good read.

http://www.audioholics.com/education/audio-formats-technology/dynamic-comparison-of-lps-vs-cds-part-4

And flawed, as all the "OH LOOK I DID A COMPARISION" articles are. Firstly, if your LP has pops, crackles and hiss on it, you are using a rubbish cartridge and tonearm. A good combo kills all noise dead. I have a copy of CCR's Green River album from 1969 I think it is, and its scratched to hell, including massive gouges. On a cheap deck it sounds awful, on a decent deck I can hardly hear a pop or hiss. On an expensive deck you wont hear a thing. Most people conduct these comparisons with cheap decks and tone arms.

Secondly, its personal preference. I've yet to hear a single CD/DAC combo that sounds better than my deck, at any price.

Ho-hum.