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You might want to take a look at the cics Memory Player. I recently built it with great results. Even if you don't want to go down the route of cMP/cPlay, I would still recommend the PC optimizations that are discussed in detail. The improvements in sound quality is a significant step forward.
Windows has many responsibilities, one of which is audio but understandably the OS was never built with for audiophile purposes in mind. The cics philosophy is try to minimize and streamline the OS to reduce RFI/EMI noise, latency and jitter which is detrimental to good sound. I would have never believed the impact that some of these parameters make to the overall sound quality. Who would have ever expected that sound improvements can be had with going from dual to single channel memory.
The cics Memory Player consists of two independent programs: cMP and cPlay. cMP replaces the standard XP/Vista/7 shell with a barebones shell to reduce all the administrative overhead that is inherent with XP/Vista/7. cPlay is the minimalistic audio player which sacrifices convenience/features for sound quality. I believe most people who implement the cics solution also use the cPlay player, but you are free to configure cMP to launch your favourite player.
The recipe is well documented on their site with links to forums discussing their experiences and practices. I encourage you to take a look as everything that I have mentioned has been discussed in detail by people a whole lot smarter than myself.
Interesting. THis is from the CMP^2 sorceforge site that Nikki posted. Some tips for better USB DAC performance. Not exactly on topic, sorry.
1. Connect the DAC to a back-panel socket, not to the motherboardÂs on-board USB headers;
2. Provide the DAC with its own power supply Â do not power it off the motherboard;
3. Use an after-market USB cable. (These can make a measureable difference.)
4. Disconnect all other USB devices when playing music;
5. Disable USB 2.0 in BIOS (enable USB 1 only: USB 2.0 can be re-enabled when needed);
6. Disable USB power management. Select Control Panel > System > Hardware > Device Manager > Universal Serial Bus Controllers and expand (click on +). Right-click each Root Hub in turn and deselect [Power Management] > Allow the computer to turn off this device to save power;
7. Disable unused hubs. Select every Root Hub as above and find the DACÂs (right-click, Properties > Power). Disable the rest (perhaps leaving one or two for housekeeping): right-click and select Disable (not Uninstall as XP will reinstall the hub at the next restart);
8. Remove Ânon-presentÂ devices. XP notes devices hitherto connected to the USB. To clear the record, launch a command prompt, type set devmgr_show_nonpresent_devices=1 [Enter], then devmgmt.msc [Enter]. Leave the window open. In Device Manager, click View > Show hidden devices and uninstall all USB devices (both ÂghostÂ and current) and reboot with the DAC on. The step may have no effect but can resolve obscure driver issues;
9. Check the DAC has a unique IRQ (see Step 6 above);
10. Check PCI latency timing. The values determine how many clock cycles elapse between a device taking and relinquishing control of the PCI bus. Some manufacturers set defaults too high so that their devices deny prompt access to others. The shareware ÂPCI Latency ToolÂ can view and possibly adjust them (depends on mobo chipset): if some are unduly high, try reducing them to 64 or 48. Note that crudely setting the DAC high and all else low is counter-productive Â the idea is to enable smooth access by preventing any device from bus hogging;
It is not claimed that the above steps will tranform the quality of an entry-level DAC but, taken together, they tend to make for more reliable performance and usually for better sound as well.
Last week started using J River 14 instead of WMP, which led to a significant upgrade in sound quality. Audio setup with J River 14 granted my ASIO-supported RME HDSP 9632 soundcard exclusive access to the ASIO output mode of the J River application, meaning I'm bypassing 'Shared Mode,' and all that it may entail in possible sound degradation, instead now running in 'Exclusive Mode.'
For more on J River 14 and its setup, please follow below link:
Below quoted test(from link above) assured me of the use of exclusive mode in my system via J River:
Users who have a DAC that displays the current sample rate being fed from the music server can run an easy test to determine which Mode is in use. Simply play two tracks with different sample rates. If Exclusive Mode is in use the sample rate on the DAC should change. If Shared Mode is in use the Default Format (sample rate) that is set in the audio device Properties >> Advanced tab will be displayed on the DAC. If the Default Format is set to 24 bit, 48000 Hz (Studio Quality), playback of a single 16/44.1 track will provide a quick answer to the Exclusive or Shared Mode question as well."
To begin with I wasn't aware of running in exclusive mode with the J River application, but simply noticed the sound being more saturated, allowing for a more colorful and ultimately lively performance. Space around voices is more pronounced as well, the voices appearing more solid and real, and the decay of high notes seems more extended and natural. The WMP-sound feels somewhat enclosed(soundscape-wise), monochromatic, slightly hollow, and a bit bright or "glassy" in comparison. We're not talking night and day here, but especially after listening via J River some days the difference shines through - when going back to WMP.
Moreover, J River enables you to playback Flac files, and if the DAC of the system houses the ability; high-res and -sample rate files as well:
I must point out that the J River 14 application, in my setup, functions as a preamp(via the internal digital volume control), if you will. That is, I'm using no preamp in the usual sense, but simply outputs directly from the RME soundcard analogue out into my poweramp - with great results.