Using Your PC instead of a CD Player
I don't think the hifi magazines are talking to the new generation of hifi users, for whom "mp3" is the de facto standard, and who would like a great sound from their computer. There are many reasons for this - cost, usability, being able to create playlists, storage, etc etc.
There is very little out there in the magazines about getting the best out of computer audio, they are only really latching onto the portable side of the market, like in this month's edition there's a supertest for portable mp3 equipment.
In fact, in my experience it is quite easy to use a computer with a high quality dac to beat equivalently priced cd players. Not only that, but you can often use the same DAC for your dvd player and freeview box and get a much better sound out of them too.
The basics of getting the best computer audio are:
a. using a DAC: either a high quality soundcard or an outboard usb DAC. Using your computer's built-in dac will be the weakest point
b. good encoding (preferably Apple lossless or other lossless). Important but in my opinion not as important as the dac.
c. installing an Asio driver to bypass the windows XP digital audio processing (it resamples everything). If you're using Vista it's apparently better.
d. adjusting any other settings in the audio player (iTunes should be at 100% volume and Sound Check disabled)
... and then it's up to your normal hifi setup.
USB Dacs... Occasionally you will see a review of usb dacs, but this is rare, although there are some integrated systems appearing such as active AVI speakers and Naim (and Bryston if I remember correctly?) amp with a built-in dac. In my opinion we should be hearing a LOT more about:
- Trends Audio UD-10 (£95)
- Dared MP-5 hybrid tube amp / usb dac / headphone amp (this is apparently what Fatman modify and sell) (£250)
- Carda / Meier Audio do some usb dac headphone amps that have a Pre-Out (up to £700 I think)
- Musical Fidelity X-DAC v8
- the Russ Andrews dac (£699)
- Benchmark DAC-1 (£700 i think)
- Squeezebox, although I've heard that the sound quality is not up to much
So, What Hifi, please do a supertest!
p.s. Have you ever seen a review for a sound card in a hifi mag? I haven't. Why not?