November 30, 2007

What a Difference a DAC Makes

Posted at November 30, 2007 03:02 AM in Personal , home theater .

The home theater bug is getting the best of me again, which means I am heavily researching my next purchase.

As part of the process for selecting speakers, I am putting together an audition CD, which consists of clips of various types of music (classical, jazz, rock, vocal, etc). I listen to the CD religiously on as my "reference" setups, which are my Klipsch computer speakers and my surprisingly decent sounding car stereo (Alpine receiver + CDT speakers).

After listening to a few recordings in both environments, I noticed that my computer setup was severely lagging behind the car. I was hearing detail in the car that I couldn't on the computer -- even when traveling! Something had to be wrong, especially since I remember my computer sounding better than my car.

Could it be my computer speakers were failing? Was some sound setting configured improperly?

It turns out, everything was configured properly. I just fell victims to the marketers. When I bought my new computer, the Gigabyte DS3R motherboard came with an advertised "high performance DAC with a 106dB S/N playback quality." I just kind of assumed that it would be comparable to my aging Sound Blaster Audigy Platinum (I think they have Audigy 4's now). In addition, I wasn't willing to "pollute" my new black case with the Audigy's beige drive bay expansion unit (I guess I never made the connection I could install the PCI card without the expansion unit).

What a mistake that was.

Tonight, I decided to put in the Audigy to see if that would affect the sound quality. From the first few notes emanating from the new setup, I could tell what a different it made. Everything is so much cleaner and crisper. The clarity and definition across the spectrum is now where it should be. It is as if a blanket that had been draped over the speakers has been lifted away. Oh, it sounds so beautiful now.

This is definitely the last time I trust the built-in audio on a motherboard to be high quality.

Now, I just need to figure out what speakers, pre/pro, and amp to buy. I am currently enamored with the Emotiva Holiday Deals (especially the IPS-1). It is more than I need right now, but those offers are just too good. I keep telling myself that I need to select speakers first. Aye aye aye. The only way this is ending is with my wallet a lot lighter...

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