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The Official PC building thread - 4th Edition

Discussion in 'Building a new PC' started by ddp, Sep 13, 2010.

  1. Estuansis

    Estuansis Active member

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    Basic Run-Down of How PCs Output Audio

    PCM is the uncompressed output format that most digital audio is encoded in. It can be stereo or multi-channel. Optical/Digital Coax(same signal, different cable) have some technical limitations with multi-channel PCM because they were originally designed as a stereo-only interconnect. Multi-channel audio through optical was a later addition to the technology and engineers had to use compression to make it work. Optical was designed with consumer-grade stereo equipment in mind, and optical surround was designed with compromises. Analog is limited in ability only by the PC's internal audio processing hardware and DAC, and by the quality of your cabling. The soundcard/software combo acts as your media source, decoder, effects/surround processor, encoder, DAC, and pre-amp all at once and in that order. It plays any audio in raw form, compressed or uncompressed. A receiver or PC speaker kit receiving analog audio only amplifies the signal and sends it to the speakers.

    When using digital formats, such as Coax, HDMI, or optical, you are still internally decoding to computer language and internally encoding to a PCM signal before output. Digital is different because it places the final Digital-to-Analog conversion on external hardware. This can mean a huge increase in quality if you have good audio hardware. You can further remove your PC from the equation with bitstreaming. Bitstreaming is sending a direct ones and zeros Dolby/DTS/ASIO signal through Optical or HDMI with the use of A/V software. It allows your compatible receiver/DAC or other piece of hardware to not only convert the sound to analog, but to decode the ones and zeros computer file entirely on its own. This almost entirely removes your PC's influence on sound quality, but is dependent on your external hardware's processing capabilities for function and compatibility. A/V receivers are designed with consumer hardware such as game consoles, CD players, and Blu Ray players in mind, not PCs.

    Sound cards often offer much more flexible and compatible sound processing for PC-based sources due to the use of more powerful software and more specialized hardware. They are also optimized for use with multi-channel PCM PC games, uncompressed PCM surround, and other PC-based sources. In short, they arguably have better capabilities with handling audio produced by a PC than dedicated external audio equipment. Sound cards are also starting to rival dedicated hardware in playback quality, and often match or beat dedicated DACs and headphone amplifiers. I'm talking only the best, newest sound cards currently available though. It's taken a log time for PC audio to catch up to home entertainment audio on the sound enthusiast side of things.

    Optical can only send uncompressed stereo or compressed multi-channel such as Dolby Digital and DTS. It can also only bitstream Dolby Digital, DTS, and ASIO stereo. That's the limit for its transmission capabilities. This means optical can't send the uncompressed multi-channel PCM surround from games or software-decoded movies without special software(see below) to compress the multiple channels. HDMI can send up to 8 channels of uncompressed PCM and additionally bitstream Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA, but HDMI is sometimes problematic for PC->receiver connections. Video cards and A/V receivers are not ideal sound cards and the support is spotty.

    Dolby Digital Live/DTS: Connect are real-time software compression tools included with some soundchips that can compress any multi-channel audio and do their own form of bitstreaming. These tools are intended solely to expand the options for optical users. They work reliably for movies, but are hit and miss for games. About 50/50 or worse. Max Payne 3, for example, has no center channel in cutscenes, so is ruined. Dolby Digital and DTS use lossy compression the same as DDL and DTS:C so they fit perfectly within that format and lose nothing in the conversion. DTS-HD MA and Dolby TrueHD are both codecs with lossless compression and default to their lossy versions when you try to bitstream through optical. DDL and DTS:C can be used for the same effect, ie no better. Also, DDL and DTS:C require certain sound cards to work. The latest RealTek codecs are capable of it, but it's hidden at the driver level and inaccessible without a hacked driver. And cards that do support natively sometimes have only one or the other.

    What's the Actual Difference in Quality Between Lossy and Lossless Surround?

    Lossy
    -Dolby Digital Live: 640kbps max 6 channel 48KHz 16-bit
    -Dolby Digital 5.1: 640kbps max 6 channel 48KHz 16-bit

    -DTS Connect: 1.5mbps max 6 channel 48KHz 24-bit
    -DTS: 1.5mbps max 6 channel 48KHz 24-bit

    -No reliable solution for Lossy Multi-Channel PCM

    Lossless
    -Dolby TrueHD: 18mbps max 6 channel 192KHz/8 channel 96KHz 24-bit
    -DTS-HD Master Audio: 24.5mbps max 6 channel 192KHz/8 channel 96KHz 24-bit

    -PCM: 27mbps+ 6 channel 192KHz/8 Channel 96KHz 24-bit

    So you see, you lose quite a bit when you compress lossless surround to fit over an optical cable. Optical is great for stereo because its stereo quality is nearly unlimited. Pretty much perfect. But it's very outdated for modern surround applications. You need either a way to decode in software/hardware for an analog connection, which I have, or go the easier but more issue-prone route of HDMI. Some games also have lossless or near lossless audio quality so even if all games worked with DDL or DTS:C you're limiting some of them by using those modes.

    Normally with PC based audio, you pick one direction to go so cable choices are easy. My PC is needed for semi-serious HTPC, gaming, and entry-level audiophile use all at the same time. So analog is the only thing that covers all bases, but it takes the right combination of hardware to get truly nice analog sound from a PC. A high-end sound card expands my options. Audio and video are very tightly controlled industries, and there has never been an accepted universal standard for sound. Right now, analog with a good sound card is about the best PC output you can get without relying on expensive dedicated hardware. My receiver and speakers are entry-level in the audio world. Certainly not bad at all, but nothing special. So optical won't do me much good without say an external DAC(2 channel) + headphone amp, and then it's limited to stereo or badly gimped surround. The sound card has a set of pretty good DACs(for multiple channels) of a known type, a decent headphone amplifier, and still allows me PCM multi-channel without the constant HDMI headache. As a bonus it offers me Creative EAX support through the ALchemy software, which a decent number of older games support. X3, CoD2, FEAR, Diablo II, etc. Games I still play pretty regularly solo and with friends, and would like to have surround in.
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2016
  2. Estuansis

    Estuansis Active member

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    [​IMG]

    There, I've officially taken the plunge. Lots of research put into this choice. It simply offers my best bang for buck, and is straight up the best way to get game audio period. Only the ASUS Essence STX rivals the Creative Soundblaster ZxR in component/circuitry quality and outright performance. The two cards have nearly identical features. The Creative was the cheaper choice, and no real issues being reported with it. Hopefully this should end my quest for the best output from PC.

    The extra desktop to the bottom right is a consequence of using HDMI. That's just my audio connection. Currently the best option, but with some obvious and unavoidable issues due to its design.
     
  3. sammorris

    sammorris Senior member

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    Not bad - I only recently discovered when testing that my optical audio has stopped outputting 5.1, will have to check what happened there, I'm guessing something to do with switching to the MSI board from the Gigabyte.
    I've been using cheap Sennheiser headphones (HD202) for years - they don't last long as they're used on a daily basis, but they're cheap, widely available, comfortable and sound good, so I'm happy to just keep replacing them annually.

    Windows 10 test mode eh? ;)
     
  4. Estuansis

    Estuansis Active member

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    Ahaha loading unsigned drivers.

    I literally can't get a better headphone for my needs without going to about $250+ for a set of HD600s or the equivalent Grado/Sony/Audio Technica/BeyerDynamics. That's just too much right now. I can get a better pair later though, now that I'll have a decent headphone amp to run them from.

    I imagine the 5.1 through optical you have been getting is an effect enabled in the processing software being left on by default. Probably a basic stereo expand mode or Dolby Digital Live. Or possibly a setting on your receiver, if you have been playing with the settings lately. Pro Logic II or DTS Neo can be pretty convincing. Also, make sure you configure you sound setup in playback devices. Optical is otherwise still the best quality, it just has gimped surround capabilities.
     
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2016
  5. sammorris

    sammorris Senior member

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    Nah the receiver has lights on it to show which speakers are actually receiving a signal through the cable, and I used to see them light up. I normally use 'Ext Stereo' as predominantly my speakers play music, not video or games, so I want use of the other speakers with only a stereo source, hence only used to seeing 'L' and 'R' light up, but I definitely used to be able to. I tried it the other day and as you say, the only surround modes were thins like DD Live, ProLogic etc. but with these enabled, only 'L' and 'R' are lit, as that's the signal actually coming in. I'll have a play with it later on, it's quite possible I may never have installed the MSI board's sound drivers...
     
  6. Estuansis

    Estuansis Active member

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    That's likely the explanation. With that setup, I think Extended Stereo WITH Dolby Digital Live should give you a surround signal to the speakers. Or some combination along those lines. Not entirely sure what your onboard chip and receiver are capable of. The receiver should also have a mode to use all 5 speakers for stereo music that you can use INSTEAD of software. For movies, Dolby Digital Live or DTS: Connect with the receiver set to straight input should work fine. DTS: Connect may have a different name in the software if present, but if you see an option for DTS Neo that's really a Pro-Logic competitor. Pro Logic and DTS Neo are not real surround with discrete channels. DDL and DTS:C are.
     
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2016
  7. Estuansis

    Estuansis Active member

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    Well everything got here safe and sound. No cable for the daughter card of the Sound Blaster ZxR which is somewhat frustrating but it looks like a female to female USB3 internal cable. Same pin-out and everything. Will experiment with that at a later date as I was interested to try the optical capabilities of the card. I love the desktop volume control and headphone jack for the headphone amp. It is billet aluminum and very premium. Knob turns smooth as silk. Allows me to control volume on the fly without compromising my sound quality. Software volume control manipulates the 16/24-bit resolution of the music, possibly affecting quality at lower levels. The knob in the Creative module is a simple potentiometer which is a much better solution.

    The headphones/amp combo is interesting. With the HD598SE it started out very bright, almost harsh. The amp on the receiver is slightly less so. The Razer headset doesn't have the same issue due to its inherent bass emphasis. Some slight EQ sorts out both pairs of cans pretty well. My Creative Fatal1ty headset needs no EQ at all and sounds ludicrously good for a $50 headset. Not as good as the Razer or Sennheiser, but better than I've ever heard it before.

    As the Sennheiser headphones break in I'm noticing a significant smoothing of the treble response. It's gone from sharp and nasty to very sweet and smooth within about 20 hours of listening at medium levels. This allows me to lessen the EQ bit by bit and get a more transparent impression of the ZxR's headphone amp. It is very powerful and capable. Even my previously muddy Razer BlackSharks benefit hugely from it. Truly an excellent addition to this generation of sound cards.

    The Sennheiser HD598s themselves are excellent. Very sharp fit and finish. Extreme comfort and ergonomics. Huge, soft velour ear pads for low surface pressure on your head and to give your ears some wiggle room. They also breathe beautifully so no hot, sweaty ears. A must for glasses wearers. The expensive aftermarket FiiO cable I got for them is awesome quality, but very stiff and soft due to the type of wire being used. The strain relief in the ends is not enough. I made it much stouter with some shrink tubing. Should remove the chance of any issues. Along with the cable, the headphones look and feel very premium. They also sound very premium.

    I gave a listen to some Steely Dan who are very well known for excellent production and sound quality and insane attention to detail. They are generally an easy-to-listen jazz-fusion band with very smooth music. Well suited for the Sennheisers and also extremely well suited to my beloved Polk Monitors. I played the "Countdown to Ecstasy" 2008 SHM CD remaster, the "Aja" 180g Cisco LP Vinyl, and the "Gaucho" 180g MCA LP Vinyl, all by Steely Dan. I also threw in the CD Remaster of "American Woman" by The Guess Who. Particularly I listened to the song Humpty's Blues, which has an extremely heavy emphasis on vocals and un-amplified instrumentals. All albums sounded wonderfully smooth and clear on the HD598SE. I can hear every little pop and click in the Vinyl, but I can also almost hear the dynamics and reverb of the studio room they played in. The sound is hard to describe. Extreme detail and resolution. I'm hearing the little breaths they take while singing, and the scratch of their fingers on the strings. I can almost identify the make of keyboard being used. It is truly an eye-opening experience. I didn't realize what kind of detail was captured in these old recordings. It makes me excited to see what else in my collection reveals new details.

    They lack quite a bit in the bass department, but it's still present if very tight and controlled. They can get shaking a bit when I play very bass heavy music. They have great extension, but almost zero emphasis. This means the bass is there and you can hear very low frequencies easily, but the bass doesn't bump or hit very hard. They have an extremely flat response, with some slight emphasis on mid-bass, and mid-high. They are fine for most types of music, but they shine like the sun on acoustic, orchestral, classic rock, and jazz. They also excel at live performances. Being open-type headphones, their stereo imaging is naturally very, very decent. I listened to several binaural positional headphone recordings, and the effect of the open drivers is straight-up creepy. Sound effects like knocking doors, vehicles driving behind you, planes flying overhead, people talking to you, etc. The first time I heard the door knock, it made me jump out of my seat. It felt truly as if the knock were coming from the door next to me, and as if I were not wearing the headphones at all! They reproduced the reverb of a small room, positioning, frequency response, everything perfect. It was insane. I couldn't believe headphones could do something so precisely. I had listened to these recordings several times before on other headphones, and while a neat effect, I had NEVER heard such realism and clarity from a piece of sound equipment in my own possession.

    As an analog source the Creative ZxR is absolutely astounding. Its capabilities and features totally blow away even my lovely X-Fi Fatal1ty. All without hacked drivers too which is a major bonus. Running analog out to my receiver means it bypasses all room correction and EQ which forces the PITA of setting it all up by ear within software. It sounds spectacular though and is worth the effort to configure. I watched several HD/4K films with DTS-HD MA and Dolby TrueHD and it drives everything very competently. Music is much the same, very detailed and clear. Is it an upgrade from the processing hardware in my receiver? That's a tough question. My Yamaha RX-V663 has a very reasonable DAC and amp. It's definitely enough power and quality for these headphones, and more than enough to drive my speakers to excellent effect. However the Creative ZxR has transparency and detail just not present in the receiver. For pure musicality I still have to give the nod to Yamaha's excellent hardware, but the ZxR provides a much more detailed and analytical sound. I would say it's actually giving a flatter response, and the receiver is coloring the sound a bit.

    My impression of the Creative Sound Blaster ZxR is excellent. Its on-paper specs are literally the best available in a consumer sound card, and it lives up to them very well. Creative have stepped up their game and started a new chapter for themselves. It is a better product than anything else before it, period. It seems reliable so far as well. *knock on wood*. I will be playing around with my settings for a long while, but I think my quest for quality PC sound output is over.

    As far as the headphones go, they are just as good as the sound card. A major upgrade and supplement to my existing equipment. A very satisfying purchase and a great learning experience. A bit disappointed in their lack of bass response, but absolutely thrilled with their other features and their fantastic sound quality. The initial break-in was brutal on my ears due to such harsh treble, but subsequent listenings have smoothed out greatly. Their sound reproduction is awesome and they have a very unique sound signature. My now long broken HD212s had a similar sound with deeper bass emphasis, but they were far weaker in detail/clarity and cheaper. The HD598s are leagues ahead. I think the Sennheiser sound could grow on me. My Razer BlackShark headset still has a few advantages and I do have another PC in the room so they will hang around as a backup. They are still pretty good. To get anything that clearly beats the HD598s right now is $200+ easily. The HD598s were less than $140 I think all said and done.
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2016
  8. redice

    redice Regular member

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  9. sammorris

    sammorris Senior member

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  10. omegaman7

    omegaman7 Senior member

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    I bought this 4 yrs ago, this September. It's been running almost 24/7. Granted there have been advancements in the SSD department since then.
    My 2 cents? If you can find one, they're likely cheaper than the modern counter parts. And have clearly survived the test of time. Lest I got one of the few good ones. I haven't researched the product line. Just my 2 cents ;)
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820227792
     
  11. sammorris

    sammorris Senior member

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    You got pretty lucky there. Not all were as bad as the infamous ones, but every OCZ SSD had a much higher than average failure rate, there are few still operating in the wild.
     
  12. omegaman7

    omegaman7 Senior member

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    It's worth noting minimal write processes on the drive, have attributed to its long life ;)
    I just read a review of someones quitting after 3.5yrs of use :S
    I have been considering an upgrade. One things for certain, there are a few things on the drive, that are not backed up... Time to deal with that lol
     
  13. Estuansis

    Estuansis Active member

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    Any flagship series Samsung SSD will likely be solid gold in my experience. Quite a lot of them being used by my circle of friends and they are great. Several 840 Evos and Pros, and my excellent 850 Pro with a friend running a 950 Pro M.2 as well. All come in 250 and 500GB flavors.

    This 850 Evo is cheaper than the crucial M500 and likely would be similar in performance.
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=9SIA12K47T6040

    Here it is in M.2 flavor if you're so inclined
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=9SIA12K3WZ2837


    If looking for better performance drives, these are awesome:

    850 Pro, which will be a step up from the Evo model in lifespan and performance
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=9SIA12K3K39517

    950 Pro M.2, Some research will be needed for this because Win 7 in stock form won't install on it. Win 10 will however. Ultimate performance. Trusted name.
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produ...461&cm_re=950Pro_512GB-_-20-147-467-_-Product
     
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2016
  14. redice

    redice Regular member

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    @sammorris and @Estuansis

    Thanks for the information on the ssd drives. i will give them a look over and go from there.

    @omegaman7

    How have you been? thanks for the ssd input. Its good to know that your ocz ssd is working great. i have also read a lot of online stories of those about those drives not working after a few months.

    @Estuansis and @omegaman7

    i know that both of you have the coolmaster haf932 case as well. do i need to by a 2.5 to 3.5 drive bay for the ssd or does the haf 932 already have one?
     
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2016
  15. omegaman7

    omegaman7 Senior member

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    I'm good, and hope you are as well.
    Mine is generally just a boot drive. Could be why it's lasted so long. It's only had windows installations performed twice, in 4yrs. Though I guess when you count windows cache files, it has seen a fair amount of write cycles. Guess I got lucky. After speaking with you guys, I'm strongly considering retiring her though. Perhaps my brother would like to use it in his HTPC. If it only lasts a year, it might persuade him to finally update lol
     
  16. redice

    redice Regular member

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    @omegaman7

    you have the coolmaster haf932 case as well. do i need to by a 2.5 to 3.5 drive bay for the ssd or does the haf 932 already have one? i'm doing good as well.
     
  17. omegaman7

    omegaman7 Senior member

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    I don't recall the haf coming with an adapter for SSD. Mine just resides in the bottom of the case, loosely. Though it seems like my SSD may have came with an adapter. Not certain. Rather than occupy a 3.5 space, I just let it sit in the bottom of the case.
     
  18. redice

    redice Regular member

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    ok thanks omegaman7
     
  19. Estuansis

    Estuansis Active member

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    My HAF 932 Advanced came with SSD adapters but my original HAF 932 did not.
     
  20. redice

    redice Regular member

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    ok thanks for that information Estuansis
     

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