First Steps into Computer Audio


I have shifted from traditional rig (first Vandy HT system w/ Arcam receiver, to Acoustat 2+2 with Belles 400 amp), to computer audio.

My main system is a desktop Dell Dimension P4 system, that has a SB Audigy 2 card. Will be listening to lots of classical, jazz, etc, as well as movies. Room is a very small 8 by 5 or 8 by 6 room

I just bought Audioengine A5's with the 25% off coupon, and likely will also buy some Quad 11L's to compare and sell the one I don't like as much.

So chain will be P4 w/ SB audigy 2 to A5 or Quad 11L (I assume the Quad 11L will be way better but will review and let folks know).

Now the question is what next to improve sound (and I will of course wait to do my next upgrade but already planning as most everyone says Audigy 2 is not very good.

I don't need a headphone amp (ok if it comes with) as 95% or more of listening will be done with speakers so I guess I could

1. Buy a better soundcard to output analog to speakers (say Chaintech low end, or 1212M higher end, or Xonar STX not sure my mobo is PCI E)

2. Use a USB dac from the usb ports, and feed speakers

3. Use the CB Audigy 2 digital out (SPDIF) to a DAC, or use the better sound card's digital out to the DAC to speakers.

I think would want very good SQ, but also keep price relatively reasonable.

Thoughts? Opinions welcome

Get the DAC out of the noisy electronic environment of the computer....definitely will make an improvement. I don't know what your budget is, but based on what you've done so far I'll hazard a guess and recommend an MHDT Labs Paradisea DAC..You can probably find a used one for under $500. Their Havana DAC is even better, I'm told, but quite a bit more expensive and more difficult to find used.
You might want to see if you can find a pair of AVI ADM 9.1 speakers; they're a 2 way monitor from England that's very popular over there among those using a computer for source. They are an active speaker with built in pre-amp, power amps and 24/196 DAC. Very nice sounding, and perfect for computer audio. We're dealers for it up in Canada, sells for 2K USD. Well worth looking for.
Definitely agree with Jax2 - do not do your audio in a computer unless you are prepared to spend for a very, very good sound card - not worth it IMHO

I favor USB - very standard, nothing too exotic is required in the cable - get a Belkin Gold.

I am delighted with the Valab sold on ebay for $180 shipped to your from Taiwan - for the price and much more its a giant killer. The Keces units are also excellent. No argument about the Paradisea btw.

BUT you will not be able to feed the speakers from the DAC unless they are active (contain their own amplifiers). Sorry I am not familiar with the ones you mentioned. Generally speaking you will need an amp - I suggest an integrated with the preamp built in.

The other alternative which I have not researched are the amps with a built in USB DAC. While not the ultimate, I like these kinds of solutions for several reasons:

1) they work as a unit - no messing with matching

2) it is compact which in a room your size is a significant consideration

3) fewer boxes means fewer interconnect and power cables which add up fast

Let us know how it turns out
I'm also researching computer audio and came across this site:

which has lots of reviews and recommendations. Probably not the last word, but lots of good stuff to read through.

Over the years I've probably built 10 computers buying all my parts from NewEgg. So I did some research on sound cars there. When I searched the category and sorted by highest rated here is what I found:

HT-OMEGA is far and away the highest rated with SB not even showing up until like 10th place. Now, I've never heard or heard of HT-OMEGA, but I read the reviews and people love this company's audio cards. And many of the reviews are clearly audiophiles.

Anyway, hope my research helps you. Good topic and I'm looking forward to seeing it progress.