Thursday, April 03, 2008

Vista Audio Playback, Part 1

I've been following this thread on diyAudio Forums titled, "Is Vista really capable of bit-perfect output"? There are some comments that I thought readers of my blog might find interesting. As you can see I added Part 1 to the title of this thread. I don't know if this is really going to be a multi-part article, but what the heck, I'll add it to the title just in case.

The original poster starts out by telling us what audio equipment he's using. He has a PC running Vista Ultimate. For the PC's audio, he has a MOTU 896HD sound card, which is an 8 channel 24/192 audio interface that costs around $1,000. This is connected to his PC via a FireWire connection. He uses the digital AES/EBU outputs of the MOTU to connect to the digital inputs of his Esoteric D70 external DAC. Esoteric, which is a division of Teac, doesn't look like they still sell the D70, so I couldn't find a link to their product information. Anyhow, it is/was a pretty highly regarded $6,500 stereo DAC. It's a shame that he's only using 2 channels from his multichannel MOTU interface. Next, the analog output from each channel of his D70 are sent to Pass Labs XVR1 active electronic crossovers. Each of these babies normally cost $5,000. Each crossover is taking a input signal and dividing them into high-pass and low-pass outputs. For a stereo system, you normally have the left and right channels feeding a single XVR1 and it outputs the low frequency and high frequency signals for each channel. So that is two channels in and four channels out. In this case, since he has 2 XVR1s, I assume he is splitting it up so that the left and right channels are each getting 4 output channels. These 8 outputs are connected to 8 Hypex UcD700 amp modules. So that's 4 amp modules per channel. I have no idea how much he paid for his amps, but that's a lot of power. Each one of these UcD700s provide 700W rms power. That's 2,800 Watts per channel. Most likely, this was a diy project. It might not be as expensive as a commercial product with similar performance specs, but based on the other components in his system, I doubt he scrimpted on the parts for his amps. Just to give you an idea of the price of a couple components he probably included, the amp module and matching power supply for the UcD700 cost up to $500 and $350 respective (using the current exchange rates). Since he probably has 8 of each, just those components cost $6,800. Next add in the transformers, interconnects, chassis, etc. and his amp probably cost at least $7,500 - $10,000. The amps are feeding a pair of Wilson Benesch Chimera loudspeakers that cost somewhere between $21,000/pair and $33,000/pair, depending on your source of information. So, if price is a determining factor, this approximately $50,000 sound system must sound pretty damn good.

Now why would someone connect a PC to a high-end system like this instead of an expensive high-end audiophile CD, DVD-Audio, or SACD transport? Actually he does own one of the $7,500 Esoteric P70 transports, but still prefers the sound through the PC. When asked if the PC chain was really better or just different, he responded that it was definitely better. Then he gave an example of a test he performed to compare the sound of a CD playing from his P70 transport to the sound of the same CD ripped as a WAV file to his hard drive and the same song downloaded from Linn Records website in a 24/96 FLAC file. He said, "
When played through Foobar, the FLAC version is simply stunning. The Wav version is very good, though flatter than the FLAC. The CD played through the transport sounds more edgy, less fluid and less solid." Then someone responded that there must be something wrong with his transport because he has a modded version of the same one and it sounds perfect. To which, our original poster responded:

"I agree, the standard P70 is a stunning transport. I've not heard any modded versions, so can't comment on their performance."

"I don't think there's anything wrong with my transport though. It's dead silent when playing CDs and handles (my wife's!) badly scratched CDs easily. It literally blows my Pioneer DVD, acting as a transport, out of the water. No, I'm pretty sure it's doing a sterling job, given the constaints of the ancient 'red book' standard."

"But as you yourself admit, the standard P70 is not perfect. You reckon that the modded version sounds "even more relaxed, richer and bigger". Well, I reckon you get all of this (and maybe more?) by extracting and playing wav/flac files well."

"As for 24/96 FLAC files, I'd venture that no transport on the planet, modded or not, comes anywhere close to the sound quality you can get from them. If more and more companies start offering these downloads, I think the audiophile community is simply going to have to start taking more of an interest in PC music."

I guess I will make this into a multi-part article, since I'm going to go ahead and post this now and then continue with the discussion about Vista playback in the following parts.

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