The trouble with playing back music from your computer, is it is not very good quality, unless you have a high quality sound card installed.
Most computer sound is being processed by a cheap on-board sound chip. Even if you do have a good quality sound card installed, the card is inside a computer whose circuits are generating lots of electro magnetic noise. This noise affects the sound, causing listening fatigue, a less than enjoyable musical experience.
A way around this is to use an external sound processor. You could use the Creative Labs Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS, (http://www.soundblaster.com)at around $500. The Audigy 2 can just about do anything you would like to do with sound processing using your computer, reprocess, record, change, rip, and playback in surround sound.
A simpler, more cost effective device that would suit the needs of a person who just wants to improve their MP3 music playback, CD, DVD movies, or games sound, is to use the SilverStone Ensemble EB01 DAC at around $150. As described by Silverstone on their web site.
“The SilverStone Ensemble EB01 is a convenient device that can instantly translate your PC’s digital signals into lifelike analog sound, suitable for personal high end stereo setups. EB01’s advanced internal circuitry will ensure that any sound effect or music from your CD, DVD, MP3 files, or games will be reproduced in quality, as the artist and content creator originally envisioned.”
The SilverStone and Creative Devices are Digital to Analog Converters (DACs), and there are lots of other brands of DACs available, Slimdevices, Headroom, Music Fidelity are a few.
Because digital sound and video are recorded as digital data, before we can view or here it, it has to be converted back to an analog signal. This is what the DAC does, converts the data back into viewable images or listenable sound.
The SilverStone, and Creative Devices we are talking about are sound processing DACs. Now the advantage of using an external DAC device to process the computer sound, is all those data digits can be transmitted externally away from the computer to the external box, and then turned into the music we want to listen to.
Because the digits are being transmitted, and not the sound signal, the sound quality is being protected from the distortion cause by the electro-magnetic storm going on inside the confines of your computer box.
Once the digital data gets to the external DAC, it is converted into the analog sound or music, which then can be plugged into a good quality Hi-Fi system or good computer speakers. This will make a big difference to the sound quality you may be used to hearing from your computer.
It makes listening to CDs, MP3, music, DVD movies, and games a much better experience. The one disadvantage of the SilverStone DAC is at present it is a stereo device. Mind you, you can spend $10,000 or more on a DAC, but I think the SilverStone EB01 DAC can give a very pleasant improvement to your computer sound, for around AU$150. It is also one of the cheapest DACs around if you want to try out the idea.
I have also found that if you plug a USB DAC into a good powered USB hub it can improve its performance. This is because the USB hub can supply more clean current than most computer powered USB ports. Firewire DACs are considered to be better than USB DACs, but are a lot more expensive.
© Peter Daley 2010
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