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Author Topic: Audiophile feature  (Read 10023 times)

JimH

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Audiophile feature
« on: January 16, 2010, 09:51:05 am »

This is an idea Matt had last week.  It would be nice to get your feedback.

Consumer Electronics receivers are becoming computers.  Good ones are in the same price range as computers -- $500 and up.

The idea Matt is thinking about is this:  Use the PC to do all decoding and pre-processing and pass an analog signal to a device that is only a simple, pure amplifier.  He believes the quality can be at least equal to the normal CE approach, and the setup for receiver features like room correction can be made a lot easier.
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d_pert

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #1 on: January 16, 2010, 10:19:24 am »

Hmm ... isn't this what most of us are doing already? Not sure I get what's "new" here. ;)
I mean, sometimes I output from my PC using a S/P_DIF 16/44.1 or 24/96 signal ... using that to get to my DENON receiver. At the receiver, I'm just using it as a simple DAC and amp (2ch mode). I could just as easily be using a simpler, integrated amp with a coaxial input.

Other times I make my Steinberg MR816 (a pro interface and awesome DAC) my 'sound card' and listen off the TRS analog outputs which go straight to a set of amplified studio monitors. I could just as easily be using a straight home stereo amp, or 6ch amp I suppose.

Media Centre has been the centerpiece of my 'PC as receiver' for years. My attitude has always been to invest in the PC/soundcard combination as 'the platform' for all decoding, processing, etc. and then just amplify the final output somehow. That means I will always have the greatest flexibility - the PC will always be 'open' in terms of what software, DSP, processing, formats, etc I could ever want to run. A bought receiver will always have way more limitations, even the really feature rich ones coming out now - compared to a PC.

What else is anyone who's using Media Center and a PC doing?

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gappie

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #2 on: January 16, 2010, 10:27:49 am »

This is an idea Matt had last week.  It would be nice to get your feedback.

Consumer Electronics receivers are becoming computers.  Good ones are in the same price range as computers -- $500 and up.

The idea Matt is thinking about is this:  Use the PC to do all decoding and pre-processing and pass an analog signal to a device that is only a simple, pure amplifier.  He believes the quality can be at least equal to the normal CE approach, and the setup for receiver features like room correction can be made a lot easier.
i really like this idea of matt. a big thanks. ive been playing around with the new dsp tools the whole day and it is really nice.

first my setup:
audio card with 8 analogue outputs (rme Fireface 800 (about 1400 $). for playback i only use 4 of those.
front 2 nearfield active studio monitors yamaha msp5 (about 150 $ each back then).
back an very old sony amp and jbl speakers with a passive subwoofer in between.

with the mixing software from the audio card this has always made it possible to play 7.1 movies with good sound.
now it would be nice if it would also be possible to leave stereo files stereo files, but clone them to the back speakers, so nothing from the center speaker or subwoofer, to my ears and with my setup it sounds better that way.
now i can set in dsp that i use four speakers and clone the channels, and that sounds great, especially with some of the effects, but it makes it necesarry to rerout stuff in the mixer software when i get 5.1 files, because the 5.1 (cccp) see the 3rd channel as center and the 4th as subwoofer. so it would be nice if the second stereo pair get an other ofset.
one problem is though, that when you set the speaker output to 4 speakers, and try to play a 7.1 wav (i only have one, the ms test file) the file wont play, when i set it to 7.1 it does, but the center and the subwoofer channel gets a signal.

Thanks again

 :)
gab
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JimH

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #3 on: January 16, 2010, 10:28:48 am »

If you don't mind, please add approximate prices of devices used.  Just for perspective.
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Vincent Kars

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #4 on: January 16, 2010, 10:37:19 am »

Maybe I understand you totally wrong but what is new about this idea?
A PC with a sound card driving a power amp directly is not uncommon today.
Some go even a step further, using a multi channel soundcard even the crossover is done on the PC.

Whether  the PC delivers analogue or digital out doesnít make to much difference, one rather do the DSP on the PC before DA conversion.
If I look at active speakers, more and more models accept digital input only so donít rely to much on analogue.

Modern active designs use DSP internally to do the crossover, phase correction, bass correction, etc.
Feeding them analogue means one do DA , feeds this in the active speaker where AD is applied  to do the DSP, then DA to feed the amps,  two conversions to many.
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Matt

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #5 on: January 16, 2010, 10:37:24 am »

In my home theater, I've always let the receiver do all the processing.  This includes things like speaker level correction, distance correction, channel mixing, equalization, DTS / Dolby Digital decoding, and more.

I think moving all of that processing into the computer can provide better audio quality, more flexibility, more upgrade-ability, lower cost, and a nicer user experience.

It's almost certain that we have a lot of users already doing this type of thing.

But I think Media Center could do a better job of replacing the processing normally found in a receiver.  The 'Speakers' DSP added to today's build is one example.

For me this was a shift in thinking.  I was looking at progressively more expensive stereo receivers to get (basically) a fancier built-in computer.  I already have a computer hooked to the stereo that's much more powerful.  So why not leverage it?
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Matt Ashland, JRiver Media Center

cncb

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #6 on: January 16, 2010, 10:57:34 am »

The big problem as I see it is cost.  You can get a nice inexpensive receiver (~$500) that has advanced room correction (Audyssey) and all the processing you need including amplification.  There are inexpensive video cards (<$100) with HDMI that can pass the audio digitally to the receiver. 

If going the PC/amp route you would have to find equivalent room correction software.  Someone posted a link in another thread for Audyssey software for a PC that was $600 by itself and it does not even have the new Dynamic EQ and Volume features found in the new receivers (although it did come with a microphone which would have to be factored in for cost if using another room correction software solution).   Then, you would have to buy a quality multichannel amp which tend to cost more than most receivers (Emotiva has one for $600 which is the cheapest I have found).  It also seems likely to me that there could be some noise introduced by doing all the decoding and outputting analog from a PC.
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Matt

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #7 on: January 16, 2010, 11:28:34 am »

Quote
The big problem as I see it is cost.  You can get a nice inexpensive receiver (~$500) that has advanced room correction (Audyssey) and all the processing you need including amplification.  There are inexpensive video cards (<$100) with HDMI that can pass the audio digitally to the receiver.

This cuts both ways.  Receivers need replacing every few years.  Power amplifiers do not.  Also, most existing receivers support analog input or HDMI multi-channel input so there's a good chance you could use fancy processing in Media Center without buying any new hardware.

 
If going the PC/amp route you would have to find equivalent room correction software.  Someone posted a link in another thread for Audyssey software for a PC that was $600 by itself and it does not even have the new Dynamic EQ and Volume features found in the new receivers (although it did come with a microphone which would have to be factored in for cost if using another room correction software solution).

I guess this is the argument I'm trying to make about the opportunity for JRiver to help on the software side.
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Matt Ashland, JRiver Media Center

datdude

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #8 on: January 16, 2010, 11:46:16 am »

This is pretty cool, but for things like speaker placement and volume normalization, getting these as far down stream as possible is the key and that's where a receiver comes in.  When I plug in my cable box, ps3, vieracast tv, and PC, the only way to have consistent sound processing for all of them is a receiver, unless there is a soundcard out there with at least 4 ditigal audio inputs and can auto switch the input.
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benn600

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #9 on: January 16, 2010, 11:46:31 am »

There is little chance that a HTPC will have much luck in an analogue output.  There is so much noise from digital elements that would destroy the signal compared to a dedicated home theater component.  Audio dealers will always encourage a lot of coin on the analog to digital conversion.  Standard systems with onboard audio are not that great at all.  Digital output seems more likely to be perfect and contain less distortion.

My desktop system has a several hundred dollar sound card in it and I output an analogue signal to an integrated amp at my workstation.  I wouldn't dream of doing this in our theater, for instance, with a many-thousand dollar pre-amp renowned for its processing abilities.  This all depends on the equipment and particular configuration of an area because the scale ranges from a laptop with headphones, to a standard desktop and computer speakers and beyond into my particular workstation with an expensive integrated amp all the way up to separates and gigantic equipment.  In some of these cases it might make sense--but outputting the mini-plug output is an analog output everyone is familiar with and has used at some point!  Who spends hundreds or thousands on high end sound cards???  It happens but is not nearly as common as video card expenditure.  Putting money into audio equipment generally reveals a better result and I don't think using the computer as an analog to digital converter means you won't need to spend the money on other equipment.  It's still in the equation.
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)p(

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #10 on: January 16, 2010, 12:18:18 pm »

In my home theater, I've always let the receiver do all the processing.  This includes things like speaker level correction, distance correction, channel mixing, equalization, DTS / Dolby Digital decoding, and more.


I use ac3 filter with mc for our projector setup to do most of those things...has always worked very stable. But I can see that it could be a useful addition to the core of mc.

peter
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gappie

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #11 on: January 16, 2010, 12:18:52 pm »

but there are enough people, ben, who spent some money on a sound card that has some balanced outputs and dont need an theater amp as you use. and i think that that is a big market (musicians).

the winter NAMM is this weekend, not sure if mc is standing there, maybe the summer NAMM?

 :)
gab

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cncb

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #12 on: January 16, 2010, 12:48:01 pm »

I guess this is the argument I'm trying to make about the opportunity for JRiver to help on the software side.

I'm pretty sure Vista & Windows 7 have some kind of room correction built in but I'm not sure how effective it is.

There is a guy that has posted on AVSForum that I think is working on some kind of USB/Firewire-connected amplifier that might fit into your plan.  He even mentions MC in his blog: http://amplioaudio.blogspot.com/
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benn600

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #13 on: January 16, 2010, 03:02:16 pm »

but there are enough people, ben, who spent some money on a sound card that has some balanced outputs and dont need an theater amp as you use. and i think that that is a big market (musicians).

the winter NAMM is this weekend, not sure if mc is standing there, maybe the summer NAMM?

 :)
gab

I didn't realize balanced computer outputs were even available but I guess it makes sense.  Isn't the "feature" in question nothing at all--outputting 7 discrete channels has been around for a while--7 mini plug ports.  So take 7 balanced XLR outputs and they should already be running.  What is the change?
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gappie

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #14 on: January 16, 2010, 03:29:13 pm »

I didn't realize balanced computer outputs were even available but I guess it makes sense.  Isn't the "feature" in question nothing at all--outputting 7 discrete channels has been around for a while--7 mini plug ports.  So take 7 balanced XLR outputs and they should already be running.  What is the change?
there is no change, ben, i actualy think 8 (and more) balanced outputs were there before any 7.1.  they were and are used for recording.

the thing is that people who use such a setup might appreciate the new additions in the dsp in mc.

 :)
gab
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leezer3

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #15 on: January 16, 2010, 06:03:05 pm »

The biggest issue with this is convincing the 'cable nuts'
Try telling them that your PC is better than their $$$$ amplifier with all the shiny bits etc. etc. and you're a braver person than me  :P

I also agree with the lack of inputs problem- I've got huge amounts of crud going into my reciever, and nowhere near enough inputs on the PC to accomodate all of these.

-Leezer-
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jmone

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #16 on: January 16, 2010, 07:02:00 pm »

These features are a great addition but we need to keep perspective on what will be used and how popular it will be.  Computers are great all round generic tools that can do the processing of most thinks OK, but like all jack of all trades they are masters of none.  We have been able to use computers to Fax, Phone, Play CD, DVD, watch TV etc for ages yet each of the dedicated devices do it better and cheaper than a PC.  A key missing feature that most (not all but most) need is multiple input sources - I still want to get my STB, Games Console, Blu-ray player, etc etc as well as my HTPC routed to the TV and Speakers....that said, while the mass produced CE Receivers will have a better price/performance ratio than what is proposed, it is still alot of fun and will appeal to the hobbyist in this area (which most of us are!). 
Thanks
Nathan
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benn600

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #17 on: January 16, 2010, 07:39:11 pm »

I don't necessarily question that the computer is capable of similar to what audio equipment is but there is a difference in usability.  With a piece of audio equipment, you get the stability of a set-top box as opposed to a full computer system that can get destroyed from any number of software or hardware failures.  In addition, the software requires more tweaking because there is so much available.
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jacky

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #18 on: January 17, 2010, 12:29:55 am »

could a computer full of fans, integrated psu, harddrives, wireless, be electronically quieter than good Receivers as to not contaminate the analog audio wave?
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llafriel

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #19 on: January 17, 2010, 01:37:07 am »

could a computer full of fans, integrated psu, harddrives, wireless, be electronically quieter than good Receivers as to not contaminate the analog audio wave?

Cards like the Asus Xonar ST has a SNR of 124dB, I think it's safe to say that noise is a non-issue.
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nikkieneuken

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #20 on: January 17, 2010, 02:49:34 am »

I'm using my pc as preamp for years  now. Just go to http://www.lynxstudio.com/product_detail.asp?i=12
Here you have the card I'm using. It's very high end.  Read the reviews about it  on the internet and you will notice they are saying it's blowing away every single  very expensive pre amp.
 It's going straight into my digital amps. Dts and dolby are processed by the movieplayer software and music is done by combination of J.river and izotope ozone 4 vst plugin.
 Is this what you people are talking about?
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gappie

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #21 on: January 17, 2010, 03:15:46 am »

I'm using my pc as preamp for years  now. Just go to http://www.lynxstudio.com/product_detail.asp?i=12
Here you have the card I'm using. It's very high end.  Read the reviews about it  on the internet and you will notice they are saying it's blowing away every single  very expensive pre amp.
 It's going straight into my digital amps. Dts and dolby are processed by the movieplayer software and music is done by combination of J.river and izotope ozone 4 vst plugin.
 Is this what you people are talking about?
indeed, a nice card and there are a lot more with great preamps, internal or external soundcards.

 :)
gab
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XAHTP

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #22 on: January 17, 2010, 03:12:08 pm »

Outputting analog sound from computer is very hard to keep audiophile. There is too much noise and sound degrading properties going on inside a computer, very little number of audiophiles will find it even acceptable. Even getting a digital out from the computer is hard, since there are issues with jitter. In addition, using computer as DSP/processor won't let you play SACDs and use Audeyssey room correction.

IMHO, sooner or later computer will become more suitable for audiophile use, but for now they good just for casual listening and HTPC.
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gappie

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #23 on: January 17, 2010, 05:08:00 pm »

Outputting analog sound from computer is very hard to keep audiophile. There is too much noise and sound degrading properties going on inside a computer, very little number of audiophiles will find it even acceptable. Even getting a digital out from the computer is hard, since there are issues with jitter. In addition, using computer as DSP/processor won't let you play SACDs and use Audeyssey room correction.

IMHO, sooner or later computer will become more suitable for audiophile use, but for now they good just for casual listening and HTPC.
maybe its an idea to read something about soundcards. as a start the wikepedia is good enough. look for the chapter: profesional soundcards.

.. here is the link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sound_card#Professional_soundcards_.28audio_interfaces.29
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newsposter

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #24 on: January 17, 2010, 08:01:40 pm »

yes, ID'ing decent sound cards, drivers, codec software and establishing methods for protecting 'pure' audio/video including switching streams will be important.
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XAHTP

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #25 on: January 17, 2010, 08:06:09 pm »

maybe its an idea to read something about soundcards. as a start the wikepedia is good enough. look for the chapter: profesional soundcards.

.. here is the link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sound_card#Professional_soundcards_.28audio_interfaces.29

Maybe its a good idea to try and compare for yourself, in a decent system preferably.

In my experience, none of the LynxTWO (~$900) and RME digipad (~$500) could not hold a candle to a PS Audio Digital Link III DAC (~$700). These pro-audio sound cards are great for the features you get like recording/etc, but don't automatically assume they're the best choice for audiophile use.
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)p(

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #26 on: January 18, 2010, 12:25:35 am »

Outputting analog sound from computer is very hard to keep audiophile.

I disagree, but that is a matter of opinion...but one thing is certain the output of the better soundcards do measure very very good...

peter
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gappie

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #27 on: January 18, 2010, 02:02:23 am »

but don't automatically assume they're the best choice for audiophile use.
i dont. but they are a choice, and can give good quality playback.
and i like it that mc now added some tools that makes sence for those who use cards like that.

 :)
gab
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cncb

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Re: Motherboard with amplifier card
« Reply #28 on: January 18, 2010, 08:18:32 am »

This would be the ultimate "PC as receiver" solution but it seems to have disappeared: http://www.msi.com/index.php?func=proddesc&maincat_no=134&prod_no=1654
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mojave

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #29 on: January 18, 2010, 11:54:17 am »

My HTPC has been using analog outs directly to an Outlaw Audio 7100 amplifier for the past 5 years. Yesterday I built a new HTPC and was very pleased to see the new features when I downloaded MC14. I am using the Asus Essence ST soundcard with the H6 add-on board for 7.1 channels.

The bass management still needs a little work. First, instead of subwoofer cutoff, I think it should say subwoofer crossover to be consistent with receiver settings. Next, there doesn't seem to be any way of listening in a 2.1 mode. I have my soundcard drivers set to 7.1. In MC I have surround mixing set to No Mixing. With the subwoofer cutoff set to 80 Hz, nothing is routed to the subwoofer. I think that there should be an OFF setting for the crossover (cutoff) so that when it is set to OFF, nothing is routed to the subwoofer. If a frequency is selected, then sound below the frequency for all speakers should always be routed to the subwoofer even if No Mixing is selected. This would allow the bass crossover to be used for all music and movies even if we don't want any artificial surround mixing.
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glynor

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #30 on: January 18, 2010, 03:03:01 pm »

I've been away on a mission for a week and a half or so, but I just wanted to say...

Matt, I am 100% with you on this.  After looking through all of that stuff about the receivers, I just kept coming back to the fact that I hate to spend so much money on crappy hardware with terrible UIs and underpowered parts, when a PC would be dramatically better in almost every conceivable way.

I think I'm just going to replace my failing amp with a new, dumb 5.1 power amp and buy a better sound card for my HTPC and be done with it.
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benn600

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #31 on: January 18, 2010, 07:30:43 pm »

Yea, I guess I'm doing this in some way with an integrated amp--basically an amp with a little dumb pre-amp stuff.

It's nice to not throw money away on crap but of course people can still spend money on high powered amplification which obviously is a separate deal.  You can't compete with nice, well powered amplification paired with nice, able speakers.
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Tolga

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #32 on: January 20, 2010, 01:30:12 pm »

I would love to create profiles, that can send different channels to speakers connected to different sound cards. For example, I want to be able to send the front channel to the TV with  HDMI, and LF center to a subwoofer connected to a different sound card. Currently, I think this can be done by creating multiple zones and synchronizing them, but in real situations it does not sound to be practical.




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Tolga

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #33 on: January 20, 2010, 01:32:21 pm »

As a DJ, I would love to have a control panel that shows what is going on in each zone, allow me to change volume without changing zones, and synchronize using a method easier than pull down menu.
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benn600

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #34 on: January 20, 2010, 06:22:05 pm »

Maybe a fourth utility button for zones?
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gvanbrunt

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #35 on: January 20, 2010, 07:48:05 pm »

Wouldn't it be great if there were audiophile sound cards with Audyssey built in? They are installing now on Automotive systems. Perhaps that is next? You could defiantly kick the receiver to the curb if you need it for your setup. Anyone know of anything in the works or already on the market?

One other feature I would need is switching. I still have a wii and sat box that I need to connect. Any ideas?
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HiFiTubes

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Re: Audiophile feature
« Reply #36 on: January 21, 2010, 10:24:00 am »

I'm not into any major DSP. Analog ouputs direct to your power amp or receiver. Do DSP in the PC if needed.

If you can make a small mini HTPC/DAC with something like a ESS Sabre chip onboard.

You would make lots of money.

You eliminate the need for a high end DAC, volume control like Wavelength does, and people can then use your proprietary Library Server. Make a low power PC that can handle this and use the new ESS chip that does up to 192kHz.

You put Squeezboxes and Transporters out of business.

You would make LOTS of money. JRiver would then stop making software and we'd all be out of luck  ;D

Might be tough to make all this in a tiny box. I used to run my Lavry direct to my monoblocks and that was some killer sound.
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