How to configure a PC for outstanding Audio?

How do you configure a PC for outstanding Analog Audio Output?

I am about to invest in a new PC (preferrably a standalone, but perhaps a laptop with external monitor or a desktop)and would love to have the capability to use it to connect to my hybrid NAD/McIntosh/ADS audio/HT system.


Thank You,

Either have an HTPC built, build it yourself or buy a pre-built model.

There are so many different ways to get what you want. Just depends on what you want to spend.

The newer Dell HTPCs come with both digital coax and optical outputs.You could use one to connect directly to an outboard Dac and one to your HT processor or receiver.

You could also buy a cheap ASUS Netbook with a solid state HD for $400 and use it for audio with a USB DAC or converter. For HTPC all out assault I would use a desktop because of the expandability.

Some guys use high performance sound /video cards.

You can do searches in the forums here and find most of the answers to your questions.

While you're at it install Windows 7 RC OS. Looks like MS has knocked a home run with this one! You can build a serious HT/ audio system around this OS!

With the newer OS, there's no special configuring to be done. It is plug n play.

It makes Blu ray native to Windows as wells as gives you a ton of options for hooking up your displays, flat panels,front projectors.

If you can find an HTPC with true HDMI output(transfers video and audio) that would be a good start!
I assume HTPC means Home Theater PC? Sorry for being such a novice. Is Windows 7 shipping in PCs now or is it still a Beta?

Thanks for sharing your experiences.

"While you're at it install Windows 7 RC OS. Looks like MS has knocked a home run with this one! You can build a serious HT/ audio system around this OS!"

GMood1- I understand your enthusiasm, but having used every windows iteration ever issued, I gotta say they have to come a long way to escape the clunky, dreary architecture they seem burdened with.

I used to make fun of the Mac guys, joking that they were like religious zealots. After using OSX for the past year, I don't joke them anymore.
Hi Mark,
right now Windows 7 is in the release candidate stage. This version will be good till this time next year when the final release will be available. From what I've read it will be quite easy to go from the RC to the final cut next June. You can download it for free and use it free for the next year. The 7000 Beta version expires in July, 2009.

Danlib1, I know you and others are Mac fan boys, nothing wrong with it if it fits your needs.

I have only one question..have you tried it? If not you have no idea what you're missing.

Last time I checked Mac doesn't do Blu ray.Not only can I play Blu rays, I can burn data to a 50 GB blu ray disc if I so choose. I've had a friends Mac mini here for evaluation. Notice I still use Windows. lol

I like the vast amount of software and hardware available with Windows. I feel limited when using Mac for my needs.

You should try a dual boot and run Windows 7 for kicks on the Mac. I think you'll be in for a big surprise! ;-)

It runs beautifully and boots faster than pretty much anything out there.

MS has stepped their game up on this one, I wouldn't dismiss them so quickly, they still control 90% of the market for a reason.

I like it so much, I use it on all three of my PCs at home. Networking is a breeze with this OS. My XBox 360 is used as a media extender and was recognized instantly when I added it to the network.

I have my external hard drives wired to the main rig. From there, I share my music and over 200 movies with the other 2 PCs and Xbox on the network.

Mark, you could order a Netbook or PC without an OS, save yourself the money by using the Windows 7 RC.

Mark if you have a display in the room. You can also add a blue tooth keyboard and mouse, controlling everything from your seat.

I use my main PC this way. I can scroll through libraries of music or movies and play them without ever getting off the couch.
Without getting into pointless and age-old Windows vs. PC debates, I just want to say that Gmood1 appears to be correct about Windows 7 being an excellent operating system. I haven't yet tried it, but I am a moderator (under a different screen-name) at a forum for computer enthusiasts and builders,, and it has garnered widespread praise there and elsewhere on the net, even among confirmed Vista-haters. Which is remarkable for an os that is still in the release candidate stage.

Re dual-booting Windows 7 on a Mac, there are two ways of doing that, virtualization and "boot camp." Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Here is an overview:

Mark -- Although your question was about sending analog audio directly from a pc to your audio system, I would suggest that you consider outputting digital from the pc, to an external dac. That is what is most commonly done, for several reasons:

-- The digital devices and switching power supply in a computer are potent emi/rfi generators, which figure to pollute analog circuits and outputs in the computer to some degree.

-- A good external dac will most likely provide much better sound quality than the one on a computer sound card or motherboard.

-- You would probably have to connect to flimsy, unreliable 1/8" mini-jacks on the computer.

-- The audio outputs of the computer are likely to have an unspecified output impedance, which I suspect would be highish (perhaps as a cheap means of short circuit protection). That would result in high frequency rolloff in combination with the capacitance of the lengthy cables you are likely to use.

Also, keep in mind that acoustic noise generated by the computer is a key consideration, assuming the computer will be in your listening room. I would expect most standard desktops, and many laptops, to be unsatisfactory in that regard, although those who build their own computers can choose combinations of cases and other components which would probably be quiet enough. A lot of people use the Mac Mini for this kind of purpose, and praise its noise levels among other things. I have no particular knowledge of the noise levels of computers that are physically in htpc cases/form factors, though -- hopefully others will comment.

-- Al
In the first line of my previous post, obviously I meant "Windows PC vs. Mac," not "Windows vs. PC."

-- Al
The problem I have with all the early Windows 7 love is that only a bunch of computer nerd/hacker type/gamer/developer guys are using it right now. What would be a confusing and non fixable error screen for the masses is figured out in a snap by those guys. When it gets mass release it'll be Vista all over again. Also Danlib did not sound like a fanboy in his post. You sound like a fanboy.
Oh yeah...Mac does Blu-Rays as well.
Sythfreek I see you flapping your virtual mouth. Again I ask...HAVE YOU TRIED IT?

A chimp can configure and run Windows 7! It is that easy. lol
It's not rocket science my friend.

Oh yeah where do you find Mac playing commercial Blu rays? You still need to run the dreaded Windows OS to do it.
Gmood you're obviously computer literate but you are simply saying what everyone was saying about Vista though before it was released. Easy interface, works great, snap to use, blah blah, etc. and everyone knows how that turned out.
I didn't say you didn't have to boot into XP/Vista on the Mac to play Blu-Ray because at this point you do but I suspect that will change very soon. I agree that it's ridiculous OS X via an update can't do that though. Apple does consistently forget about their customers that use their computers instead of iPhones & iPods.
Sorry to flap my mouth...I mean state my opinion.
Windows 7 isn't Vista or any of MS former iterations. It is
a new OS plain and simple.
I would encourage you to atleast try it before all the
negativity. Follow Al's link and boot it up!
Windows 7 is very hard not to like!

Unlike the former OS builds. This one isn't being rushed to
the market. MS has figured out what they need to do to make
things right after the former blunders.

I've been using Windows 7 for roughly 7 months now. It is
the real deal. I have no interest in using anything else
because of it.
I have Windows 7 on a second hard drive, Linux on the other. I have been a Linux user for some time now, and only used windows when I had not very often.

I agree with Gmood1...Windows 7 is a "fantastic" operating system. I was running the beta and now I have RC installed. (I'm glad I have it for free for one year!)

The media center is very nice. I'm using USB converter to Monarchy DAC, to main system, and desktop system.

I promise I didn't mean to set-off a bi-polar comuting war...really!

Let's recap some good things you folks have tought me here:

1) HTPC can be a good thing, and if field-proven by the idiot-cast (such as myself) Windows 7 might be an ideal OS for this.

2) Whether using HTPC or a "normal" PC an external DAC is the way to go presently. Anybody besides me see the need for an audiophile quality HTPC (or MAC) that would find a way of housing both and offer the computer advantages of being able to adapt to latest media format, download the Dolby / THX / Et al flavor-of-the-month? well as store a good chunk of your media?

OK, now back to specifics and today's world: What HTPC (we had a Dell candidiate earlier)? and what DAC? Any way to hit $1000 with this? Now if we are getting a new PC in the deal (my other sit-down hobby is photograhy) I could see the investment..err-OK..expenditure...moving up to $1500 to $2000.

So where do we go in these two scenarios...dedicated HTPC and new PC with HT capability?

Thanks for the lively discussion.

I suggest you build your own computer, "Newegg" and "Tiger Direct" have everthing you need to roll your own. There is nothing hard about it...mostly research on the parts you need, and or want for "your" system.

You should come in at under $1,000 for an outstanding computer system. Install two hard drives....Linux mint 64 bit on one (free), and Windows 7 64 bit on the other (free for a year).

Mark -- I think you'll find reading through this thread about Squeezebox approaches to be very thought-provoking, and perhaps particularly applicable because it could facilitate using a high performance desktop pc that would be a good way of serving your photography and other purposes in addition to being a music server:

-- Al
Outstanding. Thanks to All.

Me a Mac Fanboy? Wow- if I respectfully state my reasoned opinion that after using both for years, I prefer Mac to Windows products that are currently released (7 is not) I am labeled a Fanboy?

Maybe this explains the crappy level of discourse that unfolds in the political arena as well. No respect for anyone else's opinion- just slap the guy down by calling him a name- like Fanboy.

What's the point of sharing opinions? What is this, the WWF of Audio?
You guys need to relax. lol
I wasn't slapping you down guy. It was a joke. I just get tired of people trying to shove Mac down mine and others throats. Some of you guys act as though no one has tried a Mac besides you. Mac isn't for everyone neither is Windows.

I said up top that if it works for you that is fine. Doesn't mean it will work for me and everyone else.
Enjoy your Mac and i'll enjoy my Windows 7. ;-)
This could be an incredibly fruitful thread. Please continue with germane comments and re-emerge from childhood. Good Grief.
I have been using a dedicated PC as my main source for about two years. These are some of the tweaks I have used to improve sound quality in my Windows XP system.

1. Using high quality PSU. I recently upgraded to the Corsair HX850 with great results. You can read a review at regarding the excellent DC output from this unit. Others suggest using a linear PSU but that usually means modifying and/or building your own.

2. Minimizing power draw by underclocking cpu (1.2ghz works for me) & going fanless. I also put my HDD in an external enclosure and use the esata port so that I am not using the PSU for power. At this point I only have the motherboard and CD-Rom drive plugged into the PSU. Going fanless can cause some heat related issues so you will want to use a high quality cpu heatsink. I have been a Thermalright fan for a long time so I use the AXP-140.

3. Remove all but necessary services (done in msconfig). Black Viper's website is helpful in determining which services are useless. The biggies are Themes, Remote Access & Indexing.

4. Use a media player that supports ASIO/Bit Perfect output. I use the JRiver Media Jukebox 12 because it has a GUI that I like along with support for ASIO. Foobar2000 is another great choice if you like a stripped down look with lots of configuration options and plugins.

These are just some of the basic tweaks I would recommend to anyone just getting started in the PC audio realm.

My System

Custom PC -> Tascam US-144 -> Benchmark Dac1 -> McIntosh MC7100 -> Proac Reference 8 Signature w Sub (Cardas/Audioquest Cables)
Interesting suggestions by Stateradiofan. As someone who builds his own computers, I can second the thought that Corsair power supplies are among the best. They also tend to be remarkably quiet acoustically.

The Tascam US-144 looks like something which provides a lot of capabilities and features for its $135 cost (at B&H)). Would I be correct in assuming that you are using it as usb in and spdif out, and if so that it does that conversion purely in the digital domain, without a d/a and then a/d conversion?

Also, I'd imagine that a major benefit of going fanless, and also of underclocking the cpu, besides minimizing power draw, would be reduction of emi/rfi (electromagnetic/radio frequency interference) that might couple through the cabling (or the air) into the dac. Running without fans would increase the operating temperature of the cpu and other digital chips on the motherboard, which would tend to slow down their risetimes and falltimes (and propagation delays as well, perhaps making the underclocking necessary), which would reduce digital noise that could increase jitter and/or couple into analog circuits in the dac.

-- Al

Wow -- very interesting suggestions. Could you describe the rest of your computer: Mobo, CPU, Case, etc. everything?


I do use the Tascam US-144 as a USB to SPDIF converter. It was works well in my setup with great sound. As far as I know there is no d/a or a/d conversion with this unit if you are sending out via SPDIF. It does include analog out but I wasn't interested in using it as a DAC.

I was considering the offerings from Empirical Audio & Bel Canto but I decided to wait for a 24b/192khz model before I drop $500+ on a USB converter. So In the meantime I am more than happy with the US-144 considering its bargain basement price.


My PC Specs are...

Intel E6300 CPU (considering a 35w Celeron 430)
XFX Nforce 630i Mobo (not the best board for audio, may replace)
1TB Western Digital Caviar Green HDD
AZiO ENC311SU31 HDD Enclosure
G.SKill 1GB DDR2 PC6400 (underclocked to 600mhz at CAS 3 Latency)
Corsair HX850 PSU (excellent low ripple & dc ouput)
Thermalright AXP-140 Heatsink
Omaura TF8 Aluminum Case (Company may have gone bye bye)

You should also check out the cics guide "The art of building computer transports" which you can find at I didn't follow the guide step by step but some of the recommendations helped me with my system.
Isolating the pSU from the PC case also helps (nice rubber grommets) as well as a good power cord and a line conditioner. Also, if using an internal CD player (I don't-I use an external Lacie), also isolate CD from from case w/grommets as well as any internal hard drives. Supporting the PC on isolation device also helps (check out mapleshade PC isolation) -hey, if going all out, why not? For external drives, I place them on symposium fat pads. I use firewire out, though, as USB is too cpu dependent.
Cerr, Al, Strat, I've printed these posts out, so significant is their worth. Thanks. I've been building PCs for years too but must get away from thinking simply windows platform and towards Audiophile gear.
I've been using the Windows 7 release candidate on my PC and Laptop and it is the best operating system I've ever used.
What do you think of the newer Atom 230 with ION based nettops, like the Dell Zino, Lenovo 110 and the Acer Revo? Since they are fanless and slower processors, would they work for less money than it would cost to build a HTPC. Why or why not? I am trying to decide whether to spring for one of those, or get a regular PC with a faster processor, more ram, fan, etc. I have never built a PC and am not very mechanically inclined, nor do I know much about configuring and tweeking a PC. Thus, whatever I get will have to be a purchased package.