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Old 2nd August 2005, 11:15 AM   #1
deandob is offline deandob  Australia
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Default PC Soundcard experiences with Tripath amp

Hi,

I just thought I'd share my experiences with building a Tripath system for my home PC.

I have a pair of tangband W3-871S and used John 'Zaph' Kutke's monitor design, which sits either side of my LCD screen. These drivers run almost full range, I have an active filter -12db/oct below 100hz. For a subwoofer I use a peerless 8" woofer in a 12" x 15" x 17" enclosure downfiring, and it too has an active filter matched to the W3-871S high pass and that uses the linkwitz transform to force the driver to deliver down to 35hz in this small enclosure. All the active filters use OPA2134 op amps and metallized polyester caps when needed in the signal path.

For the amplifier I have 2 tripath amps, 41hz "amp1" kits. The first one drives the monitor speakers @ 30w per channel and the second one runs in bridge mode for the subwoofer @ 150w (linkwitz transform requires a lot of power).

Anyway, onto the topic. Recently I have been playing around with different soundcards with this setup to see how the soundcard affects the sound quality. I have ripped 500 of my CDs into lossless format and use foobar as the player using ASIO. The three soundcards I tried were:
1) Audigy 2 ZS (using 2 x upsampling to stop the Audigy 44.1Khz to 48Khz resampling). This was my default soundcard for a couple of years and although it sounded OK initially, in comparison to the other sound cards it has weak bass and has a recessed sound.
2) M-Audio Delta 410. I'll be using this card for a whole of home audio setup. It has significantly better bass than the Audigy 2 ZS and slightly better soundstage and resolution.
3) M-Audio Revolution 7.1. This is the card in my home theatre PC and it produces a sound similar to the 410 but with a more forward sound and a slightly improved the soundstage
4) EMU 0404. This card has been getting rave reviews over at head-fi.org for headphone listening, and as its relatively cheap I thought I'd buy it to give it a try. I wasn't expecting much difference from the M-Audio cards but was pleasantly surprised that the bass was firmer and fuller, and the amount of detail in the sound increased. I also took the opportunity to remove the on board caps and output buffer, which added to the soundstage and surprisingly improved the "speed" (attack) response of the system and produced a clear, smooth treble response.

I'm now very happy with this setup, which gives a huge soundstage, high resolution, solid bass and the ability to resolve individual instruments in a complex passage (Tripath is famous for this). It is also very forgiving of poorer recordings, which is different to my main (and more expensive) setup which shows every flaw in a recording. So this little system has finally hit the
synergy of all its components, something I've found very hard to find when building / setting up a hifi system. Now to stop fiddling with it an enjoy the music

If you are looking for a soundcard for a PC based system, I'd recommend looking into the EMU 0404 & modding it, it certainly bests the M-Audio cards at least for this setup.

Next project for this setup is to add microprocessor control for mute & volume through a USB connection to the PC and writing a small amplifier management application on the PC to mute the amp when the PC shuts down & adjust the volume in software using a LM1972 volume chip. (did I say something before about stopping fiddling )

Regards,
Dean
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Old 2nd August 2005, 11:38 AM   #2
soongsc is offline soongsc  Taiwan
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Do you have these systems in different rooms? I was wondering whether your setup is for individual listening or more open listening.
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Old 2nd August 2005, 12:36 PM   #3
deandob is offline deandob  Australia
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Hi,

Its for near field listening in my bedroom. The speakers are either side of my PC monitor so I'm physically only 2 feet away from the speakers. Makes for an almost headphone experience, however it does a reasonable job filling the room with sound. The tangbands being 3" drivers can't go too loud, but are loud enough especially for near field listening. The tripath amp is only good for 30W but this is heaps.

I have proven with this setup that it is possible to get audiophile performance out of a PC speaker setup (very rare to find). I spend much more time on the PC than listening to music in my media room, so I thought it makes sense to build a top notch system for the PC.

The main disadvantage with the setup is that I can't get the subwoofer to perfectly integrate with the tangbands, 100hz is a little high for a sub crossover and the tangbands react faster than the subwoofer. Its not bad, just not perfect.

Regards,
Dean
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Old 3rd August 2005, 12:02 PM   #4
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Thanks for the thread, very interesting.

The card you mentioned seems reasonably priced, I've seen pro audio ones that were priced insanely. Wonder if there's any other contenders out there?
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Old 3rd August 2005, 09:23 PM   #5
deandob is offline deandob  Australia
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These guys have explored many different soundcards for headphone use: http://www4.head-fi.org/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=59

For very high performing soundcards, try RME and Lynx, although the cost is higher. I'll be using a lynx two soundcard for a new home theater PC I'm building for my main system.

Regards,
Dean
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Old 9th August 2005, 01:55 AM   #6
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Hi,

I took a look at RME and Lynx two, Lynx in particular seems like a choice card, but they're both well out of the price range.

I also found Gina3G as the next underdog which seemed like a decent unit, and "Juli" from ESI looks hard to beat for what it gives you in a cheap card, I think a very likely contender for the 0404.

I just picked up an EMU 1820M, I think it will give my amps an ideal source given their specs are nearly equilavent or better then they are. I'll let you know what I think when I hear it Vs my audigy 1 platinum pro.

I'm also expecting a good level of difficulty in actually getting it to work at all.

Regards,
Chris
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Old 9th August 2005, 11:30 AM   #7
deandob is offline deandob  Australia
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Chris,

A couple of tips if you are looking to extract audiophile quality out of a PC:
- Use a quality drive (eg. Plextor) to rip your CDs with software like exact audio copy that can compensate for disk errors better than any high end transport (due to multiple re-reads).
- Covert wav files to a lossless format like WMA lossless or FLAC.
- Use a quality player like foobar or Winamp setup to send the audio directly to the audio card (bypassing the windows mixer) using kernel streaming or ASIO
- Dont use any software processing and leave the windows/device volume at 100%
- Use any of the cards you have identified below.
- Tweak the audio card by removing any on board coupling caps (ensure your amp has DC input protection) and replacing the output opamp with a better device.

You might just be pleasantly surprised with the quality! If you are having problems getting it to work, post to this thread as I'm sure we can get you working.

Regards,
Dean
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Old 11th August 2005, 02:32 AM   #8
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Default sound card question

What DACís and opamps are used on the EMU 1820? How are the opamps powered? I havenít messed with any of this yet but am planning on doing a worthy system. I plan on a series of sound card mods/upgrades to try. I donít have much of a budget but that has never stopped me before. Thanks, in advance,
Roger
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Old 11th August 2005, 05:00 AM   #9
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Budget? lol....... aaaaah if only you knew, I'll be laughing about that for hours!

I had my reasons I swear lol, I just see no point in doing anything half "way".

AAAAAnyway...

Let's look at it from my point of view. Say you go buy a receiver (ick) in a store you get a few toys you'll never use, some DSP effects, probably full surround sound, junk performance, quality.. etc. For this you pay how much? Can we agree on ~$1000 give or take?

It's been a long time since I've bothered to look I'd imagine it's more now and that's just for the cheap stuff.

So I'm thinking I'm going all out building amp only to plug it intoooo... eeewwwww (yup, that's the technical term).

Some nice info here:
http://www.digit-life.com/articles2/.../sound2k4.html

Op amps used in it are JRC2068, supposedly closely related to burr browns OPA2134. An obvious area for improvement sure, will I? Yeah but not for awhile! I haven't looked at the specs but I'd assume replacing the op amp for a better one would be the surest cure for the only quip about the card and that's that the frequency response starts to drop off a little early. A wider bandwidth op amp just might be the only cure required here. What do you think?

The downside to modding this is obvious... alllllll those channels. $$$

The upside .... could be fun for a tweaker, use different op amps on every channel and you can have some serious A/B/C/D etc fun.

Some nice pics of the guts of the it here:

http://www.digit-life.com/articles2/creative-emu-1820/

BTW I've seen some Rightmark loopback tests that...... well..some are more believable than others.

http://www.mikrobitti.fi/nettijatkot...e-mu_1820m.htm

http://www.mikrobitti.fi/nettijatkot...-e_premium.htm

http://www.ixbt.com/multimedia/creat...out-2444.shtml (spdif out?? .... seems like a pointless test to me?)

Anyway you can keep looking and keep finding... biggest problem I've seen users have with this card is a lack of driver support for certain features (shocking I know, being creative and all), and possible problems with old hacked up VIA chipsets like mine! Didn't know that when you offered to help me did ya Deandob? lol.

It's also said to be a bit of a learning curve to just get it to play sound given the new "pro" type software.... I taught myself linux somewhat.. I figure I have a 10% chance.

So this card is supposed to be the best thing going, it looks like it could be, to EMU's defence they actually aren't creative so we can hope driver issues will at least be solved in good time, and overall the support should be alot different.

It also seems to have an edge cost wise over the closest competition which are the much more expensive pro cards that it likely stands a very good chance of out doing.

If you really want to give this a go/home theatre/pro audio style I'd give this card a serious look.

I found the best place to buy it from is right from the manufacturer, and if you're poor like me, you'll be clicking on the "deals and bargains" link to order the factory recertified "B" stock for a few bucks less, comes with the same warranty.

A few key differences between cards:

1820:
BB PCM1804
CS4392
N5532

1820M:
AKM AK5394
CS4398
JRC2068

How they're powered? No idea. This is all internet information here.. card isn't in yet.

Also the 1820M comes with a daughter card which I believe is an external clock to push it up to 192Khz @24bits, without it, it can only do 96khz which I understand is still very high quality audio and leaves little to be desired.

I just thought it was a great source that will allow me a balanced signal path from start to finish and totally DC coupled, on all eight channels.

I don't want the source as the limiting factor of the amplifiers. This way if I make a tweak to an amp hopefully it's the tweak that I'm hearing and not something else, and I expect to hear the amps full potential.

So for what I paid, I got good dollar value out of it considering the alternative (which it isn't) of buying commercial junk for even more money. The featurs I got and at the apparent quality of it, seems to leave one with no other real alternative, I think a sound card is the only way to go.

Also, even with my flawed Audigy 1 platinum pro gamer type card, the sound was improved enough my pioneer 1 bit cd player (more cheap stuff..... ~$450) that the only time I've powered it up since I got that over two years ago was to take CD's out of it.

This will be a new leap for me and I'm getting anxious for the experience.

Looking forward to seeing others go the same route too.

Regards,
Chris

PS: If you call EMU.... they're "going" to try really hard to sell you their software packages with the card.... just tell them you don't want it for composing or mastering. Once they stop sputtering tell them it's for testing amplifiers with and you'll be able to get off the phone.
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Old 11th August 2005, 06:46 AM   #10
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Default sound ideas!

Chris,
Thanks for all the input and links. My idea is basically the same, to not buy an expensive single use front end that I canít afford anyway. In fact I might even get the company to spring for it by claiming itís a piece of test equipment and I do plan on using it as a poor mans analyzer. Wonder what the software will cost?
The main thing is to build a reference front end out of it to use to evaluate amp changes. It will be possible to generate and use short clips that are particularly difficult to reproduce. It should be a useful tool.
The BB1804 I know about but what is the story on the AK5394? Is it any good? I will probably use the LM6172ís as they are way better than their price would lead you to believe and you do need a few. One just has to do a good job bypassing the suckers or they will ring and sound hard as nails. If the card has DC coupling they must be using a Ė voltage generator of some kind, that will need some looking into as will all the decoupling caps. All in all, an interesting project.
The only catch is it all is computer based with all that that implies. Right now I am really down on them as I just spent untold hours trying to solve a host of problems. The major one ended up the easiest to solve, just dumped all the Norton trash! Hard to believe those people actually expect that stuff to run. The other real aggravation was very long boot up, Microsoft to the rescue! Loaded up bootvis and found all the problems. Now boot in 25 sec, with all the kaka I have this is really excellent.
Like the Chinese philosopher said ďmay you live in interesting timesĒ well here we are! The only unknown is if it was a blessing or a curse.
Roger

Ps. Seen this? http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/sep0...es/emu0404.htm
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