Anyone give up on PC Surround sound and just go stereo? Any regrets?

Discussion in 'Computer Audio' started by DoubleTap, May 14, 2019.

  1. DoubleTap

    DoubleTap 2[H]4U

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    I'm using an (Onkyo) Integra DTR 40.2 AVR (circa 2011) and Kef LS50 speakers with an M&K 12" sealed sub. JBL Arena 15s for side and rear surround, but of course those don't play music.

    Main source is Amazon Music - now in HD

    I've never used a tube amp or a vintage amp so I guess I don't know what I'm missing, but it sounds good to me. The sub blends really well and doesn't jump out at you and the LS50s in nearfield are just excellent.
     
  2. B00nie

    B00nie [H]ardness Supreme

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    Vintage amps have often a lot of harmonic distortion which makes them sound warm. Modern amps with low distortion will sound cold and clinical in comparison. I noticed this as a teenager when I bought my first 'real' hifi amp, the Yamaha AX-590. My old amp was the legendary Köykkä design Salora Ortoperspekta with zero negative feedback design (although I didn't know it then) and I was amazed how flat the Yamaha sounded in comparison.
     
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  3. D-EJ915

    D-EJ915 Gawd

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    Oh yeah an amp without negative feedback will definitely sound a lot different from one designed for hifi lol. For people that don't know (or don't play guitar) negative feedback reduces distortion, flattens and increases frequency response.

    These days people design circuits like that to get the type of sound they want but back in the day they had not invented/learned about it yet lol.

    Solid state amp output is considerably different so it's not relevant to them. They usually have a higher damping factor too to keep motor distortion lower and also makes things sound a bit more "boring".
     
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2019
  4. B00nie

    B00nie [H]ardness Supreme

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    Actually the Köykkä amplifier design is legendary for it's good sound. Plenty of negative feedback does reduce distortion but it doesn't mean that it's necessary a perfect solution.

    The damping factor is totally overrated. Do some quick math what 10 feet of copper speaker wire do to your amps damping factor... In reality a true damping factor higher than 1 is considered to be sufficient :)

    The only way to practically have a high damping factor is to place the amp directly to the speaker driver i.e. active speakers.
     
  5. D-EJ915

    D-EJ915 Gawd

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    Just get a high gauge cable and you won't have any problems. Speaker damping does make a big difference but it depends on what you are doing and what speakers you are using.

    This is kind of going way off track anyway. Bottom line is test out stuff, get what you like and enjoy.
     
    Last edited: Oct 5, 2019
  6. B00nie

    B00nie [H]ardness Supreme

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    Actually any length of practical cable sizes will destroy your damping factor because the internal impedance of the amp is really, really low compared to the speaker impedance. Any extra resistance in between just thwarts the ratio instantly.

    Speakers are damped mostly by their enclosures, suspension and the volume of air (dipole) and lesser part through the amp (again for practical solutions).

    Here's a discussion on PS Audio forums on it: https://www.psaudio.com/askpaul/what-is-amplifier-damping-factor/

    You can see that a damping factor of 1 is already sufficient to stop ringing.
     
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2019
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  7. DoubleTap

    DoubleTap 2[H]4U

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    I've long believed (but not known) that the amplifier was a lot less important than your speakers and your source (within reason).

    My main upgrade path from here is to get a nice 2ch amp and use it on the L/R pre-outs coming out of the AVR.

    I'm worried I'm going to spend some money on an amp and not notice any real difference.


    Any suggestions on a good approach? I suspect the biggest factor in how my system sounds (and I think it sounds pretty decent) is probably the room and it feels like an upgraded amp is too little vs the power of the environment.
     
  8. B00nie

    B00nie [H]ardness Supreme

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    I can only speak for myself as a lot of the audio hobby is subjective - but I have found that the speakers and the room acoustics are the most difficult and expensive parts to get right. Quantatively speaking you get the best bang for your buck by getting a low-mid price source and amp and then put the majority of your money to a good speaker (and if your life situation permits, acoustic treatment of your listening room). Small details such as positioning your speakers correctly away from walls make 10x moree difference than any amplifier purchase ever will.

    The problem with speakers is that they interact with the room so a speaker that sounds awesome at your friends house may sound average in yours. It's important to try before buy or at least study which models should in theory be suitable for for your room shape and size. For difficult reflective rooms (such as lot of glass surfaces or concrete walls) you need highly directive speakers such as planar dipoles (Magneto/electrostatics). For 'easier' rooms moree conventional solutions work. Basically the bigger the room you have and the softer building materials you have the easier time you have choosing your speaker.

    If you listen in your basement that has hard walls, sink the majority of your investment to acoustic treatment, especially bass traps. Front/rear wall diffusion, side wall absorbing and fill corners with bass absorbers (preferably diaphragmatic absorber, wool is ineffective so you need huge amounts for bass).

    The effectiveness of velocity based absorbers (foam, wool) is proportional to the wavelength of sound. You get optimal absorption when your absorbent depth is a quarter wavelength. 20hz has 17 meters of wavelength... do the math :D

    This is also why one of the biggest mistakes people make trying to improve room acoustics is to glue thin foam pads all over the room. It usually just increases the problems because the low end gets untreated and is emphasized even more.
     
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2019
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  9. DoubleTap

    DoubleTap 2[H]4U

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    Agree about over treating and that people easily forget that treatments usually only work on a certain range of frequencies.

    I'm renting this house and my office is almost square (10x10.5') - there isn't a lot I can do for the room in my situation, but my LS50s are about 15" out from the wall, 4 feet apart and 4 feet from my head at ear level - so a pretty good near field placement where I think direct sound vs reflected sound is as good as I can get. I'm wondering - and I get that you can't tell me - just how much difference a good amp will make.
     
  10. B00nie

    B00nie [H]ardness Supreme

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    The good thing with amps is that they're relatively small usually and easy to ship for testing. Try before you buy - and get someone unbiased (wife, girl friend etc) to listen to it also. They have less of a placebo effect usually and give a cruel honest evaluation.
     
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  11. Lastan010

    Lastan010 Limp Gawd

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    After going with external ESS 9038 Pro DAC($500) with my Anthem MCA 225 AMP($1999) and KEF Q350 speakers ($700) in stereo mode two months ago I can never go back to surround stuff or PC sound cards.


    The sound quality that I am getting right now is out of this world, and everyone should experience it once in a life time, music, games, movies all sound mind blowing. Even for games, the sound positioning and imaging is better than 5.1 setup that I had in the past, I just set surround mode inside the game options and boom, 3d sound field all around me.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2019
  12. B00nie

    B00nie [H]ardness Supreme

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    Now buy 5 more of the Q350 and build surround - it will sound even better with movies and games.
     
  13. DoubleTap

    DoubleTap 2[H]4U

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    I'm glad you like your setup, but I think you're suggesting a false dichotomy here. You can have really good 2.0 or 2.1 sound as part of a PC Surround sound system.

    My AVR sounds really good and seamlessly changes from 2.1 to 7.1 when I fire up a game. For people that need a fancy DAC and Amp, you could easily integrate those (but that would require you to fuss with inputs and outputs)

    I don't know what your 5.1 system was like, but I suspect that it's deficiencies were due to the gear you were using, not the 5.1 format it's self.
     
  14. Lastan010

    Lastan010 Limp Gawd

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    pumping 225w per speaker into 5/7 speakers is extremely costly. Most 7.1 AVR's are pumping only 40w-60w per speaker, and that is if you're lucky, also, AVR's are poorly implemented in the DAC section, most of these AVR's bench 70-80db, my D5 DAC does 120db, its above CD quality sound at all times.There are costly AVR's from Macintosh and few other that make AVR's that cost over $5k and speaker amps that cost also $5k, that might mimic what I got right now into 5/7 channels, so you would need to buy a $5k pre-processor that does 7+ channels and 5/7 channel power amp that is also around $5k, issue is I cant afford that right now.
     
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2019
  15. Sycraft

    Sycraft [H]ardness Supreme

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    Might not be quite as much as you think, though still not cheap. For one, you probably don't really need 225 watts in to all 7 channels. Surrounds don't get the big hits fronts do, and it is rare for all speakers to need full power at all times. That said, you can get an amp that does what you want for about $2k, not $5k. The Emotiva XPA-7 will drive all 7 channels to 200 watts RMS, on 8 ohm speakers, continuously. The channels themselves are more powerful doing up to 300w/550w in to 8/4 ohms if they aren't all fully driven. Likewise the Monopirce Monolith will do 200 watts per channel 7 channels for $1600 and is built by ATI to boot. For processors again you can look at Emotiva. The Emotiva XMC-2 is a 16 channel processor for $3000. I don't know of any benchmarks on it (you coudl ask Emotiva themselves, they have in the past given me Audio Precision reports for their products) but if it is on par with their XMC-1, it is Good. There are multiple reviews that praise its design, specs and sound quality.

    Just an FYI if you are looking for doing good multi-channel. It is still not cheap, adding more channels will always cost more money than just having 2, but it can be done for less than you think.

    Also as I indicated, you might want to rethink your priorities on amplifiers. You don't need a big amp, particularly if you are listening to your speakers up close. If you have your speakers at arm's length, I would be surprised if you ever exceeded 10 watts output, even with highly dynamic music. While I am certainly of the school better to have an amp that is too big rather than too small, that doesn't mean you should spend tons on one you don't need. As an example I use a Rotel RB-1050, which is 70 watts per channel in to 8 ohms, to drive my speakers for computer use. Even driving it up to reference THX levels for movies, I've never seen the clip light flash. The speakers are only about 4-5 feet from me so it just doesn't take much power for them to get pretty ear splittingly loud.

    Likewise your amp shouldn't be where you spend the most money. Other than the room, the sole biggest problem in a system is speakers. You will get the best improvement for your money getting better speakers compared to other components. You'd probably be surprised at your inability to tell virtually any well built transistor amp apart in a blind test, so long as it wasn't driven past its linear response. Having an amp that cost over double what your speakers do isn't a problem, but means you could probably better allocate your money.
     
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  16. B00nie

    B00nie [H]ardness Supreme

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    The greatest and finest High-End 100 000 dollar LP player plays vinyl records that have S/N of max 65db. It's easy to get lost with technical specs that are not significant in reality.

    Also, amp power is meaningful only when combined with a speaker. With a sensitive speaker (say, 105db/1watt) you can play very loud with a 20 watt amp. With a non-sensitive speaker (say, 85db/1watt) you need (off the bat) 1000 watts to play as loud as the former on 20 watts.

    You need to increase the amp power 10 times to get a doubling of perceived sound pressure (+10db).
     
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2019 at 12:28 PM
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  17. IdiotInCharge

    IdiotInCharge [H]ardForum Junkie

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    I need to buy a house with a theater room.

    In an apartment... my computer speaker setups (LS305's with a 10" studio sub, a pair of Kanto YU2's with an 8" HT sub...) are too much.

    The surround setup with a mishmash of speakers (Klipsch 6.5" towers up front) and a 12" HT sub? Yeah. The Pioneer receiver runs that all just fine.
     
  18. dark_reign

    dark_reign 2[H]4U

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    Was a speakers fan for years, but now prefer using headphones mainly because of living in an apartment and better immersion. I currently use the Sound BlasterX AE-5 sound card and ATH-AD700X headphones. Not high end, but sounds really good.

    Had issues with some older Creative sound cards in the past, but the AE-5 has been rock solid on my system. The 7.1 virtual surround setting does sound amazing for games and movies. The Gaming and Cinema presets do sound great even on a cheap set of headphones. I do miss my speaker setup, but it's not a deal-breaker.
     
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  19. demondrops

    demondrops Limp Gawd

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    used my harman / kardon soundsticks stereo that i bought 10 years ago or smh, use them still... probably the first set i think, i know they still sell em but newer. still great today, good sound age well. hate to use headphones really :p
     
  20. DoubleTap

    DoubleTap 2[H]4U

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    My LS50s are 85dB and my JBL surrounds are 87dB

    Turning it (110W/ch) up to 5 gets complaints from the family.

    My only issue with headphones is that they make my ears hot.
     
  21. D-EJ915

    D-EJ915 Gawd

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    If you run high pass on your surround system it'll require less power to go louder, bass sucks wattage. For music full range is better but for movies who cares.
     
  22. daglesj

    daglesj [H]ardness Supreme

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    I just pump the onboard audio (set to Red Book CD output) from my X99 board through TOSLINK to a Fiio Taishan DAC into a Creative 2:1 speaker set that I upgraded the cheap op-amp in the amp section to a OPA2227. I then play that through the speaker controller headphone port out into some $15 Amazon Basics headphones.

    I can still tell from what direction a distant shot came from in Fallout 4 etc. no problem.

    I have a set of Audio Technica AD700's but can#t be bothered to use them, the Basics are just great to chuck about on my desk.
     
  23. xmadror

    xmadror Gawd

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    I'd say the amplifier is just as important as the speakers (assuming at least an entry level audiophile system).
    In my experience from the vintage market you can usually get inefficient speakers that will require a big amp cheaper than a sensitive speakers that will run great on a smaller amp.

    When I had B&W DM-3000 I started with a 40W rms receiver it was only "ok" and it got a lot better with a Bryston 3b 100W rms, even when played at lower volume.
    A few years later I swapped the DM-3000 for my current Kef 105.2 and the 3b was lifeless with the kef at lower/moderate volume and went with a HK citation 16A.
    Both time the amplifier upgrade was very rewarding and worth the $.

    With the DM-3000 and the bryston 3b I had about 1.5x more money in the speaker vs the amp while my citation 16a was 2.5x the price of my kef 105.2 but that doesn't mean much since vintage gear price can vary a lot...
     
  24. B00nie

    B00nie [H]ardness Supreme

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    With speakers there are always tradeoffs. If you want small size and bass, you sacrifice sensitivity. If you want sensitivity and bass you sacrifice small size. Or you can have small size and sensitivity but then no bass.
    Many tests have shown that differences between two working hifi amps are often so small that people can't tell them reliably apart in a controlled ABX test, especially when talking about same price category.
     
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  25. IdiotInCharge

    IdiotInCharge [H]ardForum Junkie

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    Try something more open, if you can -- my HD600's for example are great for long use. You can get the Massdrop 58X and 6XX variants inexpensively, and the new(er) HD660s is excellent.
     
  26. DoubleTap

    DoubleTap 2[H]4U

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    I use headphones when I play more competitive games like Apex Legends and I'm on a discord with people who are using salty language and I don't want my kids to hear if they walk in or walk by the office.

    I use V-MODA M100s and I'm happy with the sound quality - especially for gaming, but the heat is always an issue.

    Also, I like the modular 3.5mm cable on the V-MODAs and while I'm open to trying other headphones, my very strong preference is to stick with models that have a 3.5mm input so I can just leave my cables where they are and swap only the headset.

    This has actually turned out to be a lot more restrictive than I originally planned, but I'm sticking with it - at least for now.

    I almost never listen to music on the headphones, I like my speakers too much, plus - comfort.
     
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  27. IdiotInCharge

    IdiotInCharge [H]ardForum Junkie

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    Might look into Philips Fidelio 2 XR then, which are open, comfortable, and have your desired input.
     
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  28. DoubleTap

    DoubleTap 2[H]4U

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    I just got an email on the new Sound Blaster X3: https://us.creative.com/p/sound-blaster/sound-blaster-x3

    My Xonar U7 MkII does basically the same thing with a few minor differences (the X3 has an IOS/Android remote control app)

    I only use the Xonar U7 as a headphone amp right now - when I got it, I used the discrete analog 7.1 outputs for gaming surround sound and it worked very well, but had one fatal flaw:

    The Xonar has no bass management in discrete mode so no way for it to cross over and send the bass to the sub. If you play music, it goes to the L/R outputs only.

    I also found that my AVR (and this is pretty common) basically turns into a dumb amp when you use the 7.1 inputs. You lost almost all internal DSP functions (including bass management)

    This meant I would have to be constantly switching between 3 modes on the sound card (7.1, coaxial for 2.1 and headphones) and 2 modes on the AVR (7.1 and coaxial) which just made it too much of a hassle.

    I prefer the SoundBlaster EQ features to Asus so if the X3 has the bass management features I need to run the discrete outputs, it might be an interesting alternative and way to get away from HDMI.

    I do think they missed the boat somewhat by not having a bluetooth audio input (it's only for control) but I use an Amazon Echo on the line in and it makes a decent BT bridge.
     
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  29. IdiotInCharge

    IdiotInCharge [H]ardForum Junkie

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    In that situation I agree wholeheartedly. I actually haven't run into said issue, but I haven't really ever done analog 7.1 out to a receiver, and certainly not with a Xonar. I will say that there is likely software that will do what you want, though -- particularly look at Equalizer APO and related plugins.

    I'd recommend ordering from somewhere you can return, but it will probably fit the bill as Creative does a pretty good job all around when it comes to making the software 'make sense'. ASUS' stuff can still look like it was done by 'requirement' rather than tuned to actual use-cases.

    Agreed, it would certainly have made sense for many. The optical out could even feed say a balanced amp, that could split out for studio monitors like what I use on my desktop.

    What I would like to see would be an 'X3 lite' or 'X1' that omits the 7.1 analog output altogether, maybe dropping down to stereo, and perhaps upgrades the headphone output with a balances 4.4 pin and provide appropriate adapters to 3.5mm, 6.3mm, and four-pin XLR.

    I also want to see the microphone input tested with a nicer mic as well as the headphone output tested with low-sensitivity headphones that require juice to hit their full frequency range, but I'm going to go ahead and bet that the X3 has the typical headset range well covered.
     
  30. DoubleTap

    DoubleTap 2[H]4U

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    I've had my fill of headset mics - I use a USB Samson Meteor Mic on a clamp and goose-neck. It's overkill for gaming but it sounds great and just works - all the time.

    The X3 uses USB C input - it comes with an A to C cable, but I wonder if it can take advantage of the higher power output of a real USB C port if you used a C to C cable....
     
  31. Lastan010

    Lastan010 Limp Gawd

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    tweeters don't need much power, you can get away with 5w amp, it is the mid/bass driver that need lots of power.

    most companies that make speakers downplay the real power you need for their speakers, if you look at passive ELAC speaker and powered ELAC speaker which use same drivers, the passive ones recommend around 50-100w but their powered ones use 260w per speaker for the mid/bass driver. The powered ones cost $1400 more than the passive ones.

    I believe this is to make sales happen with passive speakers so people don't have to skip on them, I am happy with my 225w x 2 amp, big difference in dynamics and midrange from 100w x 2 amps I had previous.
     
  32. D-EJ915

    D-EJ915 Gawd

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    Sucky thing about open headphones is they are still pretty loud "on the outside" and can be heard by those around you.

    Multichannel inputs are designed to be used with an offboard surround processing system like an old dvd player or something so makes sense that the dsp is bypassed using it.

    Usually speakers with amps in them have them set really low to prevent clipping so you can't really compare the two on an even level. Also they don't want people blowing the speakers by overdriving them with a high wattage amp with the level high. Speaker drives can and will catch on fire lol.
     
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2019 at 1:45 PM
  33. B00nie

    B00nie [H]ardness Supreme

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    Yeah good luck trying to watch porn undetected in a crowded bus.
     
  34. IdiotInCharge

    IdiotInCharge [H]ardForum Junkie

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    Shoot, I have it sitting on the living room computer, maybe elevated 6" and 6" behind the keyboard. Nice little mic for the price!

    Also have a Blue Snowball on an arm for the main rig but that's unsightly for public use ;).

    If that's a concern, well, it's a concern. It isn't always; most of my headphones are open -- HD600, Focal Elex, DT880 250Ω, HE4XX... if I'm going 'outside', then it's the noise-cancelling AudioTechnicas.
     
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