Hard drives and usb converters: Ext versus int

Hi all:

I’ve been following the many threads on getting clean PC audio to an external DAC. The following questions have been batted around quite a bit, but I’ve never been able to put together a complete answer.

Hard drive: external versus internal
Many recommend an external hard drive, presumably due to increased physical distance between the drive and all of the electrical noise created by the internals of the PC. Since hard drives function in the digital domain (and benefit from extensive error-checking, from what I gather), isn’t there a high degree of immunity to electrical noise regardless of location? Is there really an audible benefit to using an external drive, or is an external drive just a good hedge?

USB to S/PDIF converter: external versus internal
The following question concerns only the conversion of the USB signal to a coaxial S/PDIF digital signal (I’m not interested in analog or optical). Again, everyone likes the idea of an external converter (eg, Waveterminal U24) versus an internal converter. So same question as above…if all I’m after is a coaxial digital output to feed an external DAC, is there really an advantage to having the device located outside of the PC? If there is an advantage, is it due solely to the fact that the unit is external (and away from the noise), or are there other variables at play? Let’s assume I’ll be using a high-quality DAC with strong reclocking features.

Sound card versus usb converter
Sound cards seem to get maligned in general, but I can’t tell if that’s primarily due to the fact that they are mounted in the PC (see question above), or due to their general design. As an example, take the Audigy 2 NX, a sound card that’s an external USB device (and has the recommendation of at least one user on this forum). With this card, the entire conversion process is happening external to the noisy PC environment. It has a coaxial S/PDIF digital output, just like the preferred items (U24, etc.). Is the Audigy (or any other external sound card regardless of price) capable of equaling a converter like the Waveterminal, or do sound cards degrade sound due to something inherent in their design and implementation (additional processing, driver quality, etc.)?



Here is my 2 cents ...

I have been working professionally with computer systems and data networks for about 20 years. In regard to the hard drives: I run external but it's strictly a matter of heat. I keep my PC as cool as possible. Heat kills harddrives ... it's that simple. I run a cheap, quiet external desk fan and three external drives powered by a single power switch. When I want to listen to PC music I flip the switch and it all comes on, the drives appear and away I go. The drives never even get warm as I keep air moving across them at all time. I upgraded my last drive set after three years and never had a single problem. If you’re worried about data throughput USB 2.0 can handle the data stream with about 50% or more to spare. If you really want to obsess about the data stream between the external drive and the PC you can run external SATA and that should make anyone happy. As for noise? I guess one could argue that in the digital to analog conversion it's possible you might pick up noise inside the box but I would argue that if you run any kind of compression you are adding more "noise" than you would ever pick up inside a PC. Most of the higher end soundcards shield the RF and have specs that will give you an idea of their noise threshold. All that being said; if I was going to REALLY get serious as it appears you are (I applaud you for that) I would run the BEST quality, external, USB D/A converter I could afford and get top quality IC's to carry the precious analog signal into your system. I believe there are several posts regarding these USB D/A converter devices in the archives. Don’t worry about the digital side for the most part it's immune to noise. I wouldn’t run ANY sort of compression – this means you’re going to have huge files and that equates to big drives. I'm sure you know this.

I don’t worry about redundancy of the data as I have the music on CD and can re-rip if I ever have a catastrophic failure. If you need to protect your data … that opens up another can of worms. If I needed redundancy I would possibly consider a data network and run a drive array with some sort of RAID system. I would keep this array in a separate box. The stand alone RAID boxes are often referred to as a "NAS" boxes. Buffalo Technologies has one that will do 750 gig with RAID 5 protection for about $900 I think. This solution gets expensive and requires a moderate degree of technical expertise. I guess DVD media is pretty cheap. You could always burn off any data you wanted to backup to DVD.

I will tell you what I tell my clients - cover your back-side. PC's (and Macs) hate people and they will fail at the worst possible time.
Internal HDs work great. Then check out the following websited to get connected. http://www.slimdevices.com/ if you decide to get one of these let me know as we could go in on two and get a discount.
i have bypassed the tranport all together. what i am using now surpasses even the best ones. one thing players cannot do is recreate a cd that is error free. i went to a slimdevice squeezebox sb3 wirelss version. the software that i use to rip the cd's first is called
exactaudiocopy. www.exactaudiocopy.de/. this software corrects for the errors in your cd's and believe me there are alot and when finished lets you know if any errors accured during the riipping process. what you have then is a error free copy to be downloaded. the company slimdevices recommends this company for this reason . you should look into it if you have not already . the SB3 has a digital out so you will be in digital as you wanted. the sound of cd's never sounded better even with $$$$$ transports. i was told to get a external hardrive as well which i have to since i started downloading my music system. the squeezebox lets you do a variety of ways to access your music in all types of forms plus when i am on my computer i can control the entire system from there as well. if you get the above mentioned software rip in uncompressed . it may take up more storage space but it sounds better and thats what its about. no more loading cd's and good quality internet radio as well if you find the right stations. if the word gets out on this device these high priced tranports will be a thing of the past. i could never justify the price difference especially when the sb3 costs $299.00 in wireless. if you go to millenium system under ever evolving and scroll to my system you will see what it looks like and how little gear i have for a highend system. best sound out of cd's i have ever heard.