I can give you some options to try. For windows, you can download a free program called Foobar2000. It does look a little dated but it is very feature rich and reliable. Some may perfer other programs, but you should be able to get everything you need with Foobar. I'm not a big Windows fan and use Linux on a daily basis and Windows only when I must. Linux may be a very good option for you as well. It is very ease and simple to demo. Try this: Go to Distrowatch.com. Scroll down until you get to a list of 100 top linux distro's on the right side of the screen. Pick the one that say Mint. (It should be 1 or 2 on the list.). Go into mint and select the newest stable version of Mint 12 KDE and download it. If you get a choice between CD or DVD, chose DVD because you will get more apps. Once you download and burn the iso to a dvd, boot your system up from it. (Make sure your computer is set up to boot from CD/DVD.) At this point, you will be able to run the distro "live". This means nothing is changed or installed on your computer. The OS runs from the CD and RAM only. When you are done using it, take the CD out and reboot to go back to windows. I believe the app you get for music is Amarok. I would give it a try; you might like it (and the OS as well). If you really like it, you have the option to do a full install and run it next to windows. If you chose to try any of this, let us know what you think.
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As you probably realize, there are a great many possible causes, so it's hard to give solid direction. But here are some things to try. I assume that you are using Windows 7:
1)Temporarily disable your realtime anti-virus protection.
2)If the computer has a headphone jack, try using that instead of the line out jack. It is conceivable that the output impedance of the line output is too high to be an optimal match to the A2's 10K input impedance. That wouldn't account for the WMP issues, but it might account for the "lackluster" sound with the other program.
3)Defragment the hard drive, unless the drive is an SSD (solid state drives should not be defragmented).
4)Right-click the sound icon in the taskbar, select "playback devices," then "speakers," then "properties." See if all of the settings make sense to you. In particular, under the "enhancements" tab make sure that "setting" is selected as "none", and under the "advanced" tab make sure that both boxes in the "exclusive mode" area are checked.
5)If you have an external hard drive, but are playing the files from an internal drive, copy one of them to the external drive and try playing it from there. And vice versa.
6)Open Task Manager (enter "task manager" into the search box that appears when you click the start button, then click "view running processes with task manager"). Select the "processes" tab, then check "show processes from all users," and while playing an audio file see if any unrelated process is consuming a significant cpu utilization percentage.
7)Open dxdiag.exe (by entering that term into the search box under the start button, and clicking the corresponding search result that will appear). Wait for the green progress bar to finish. Under each of the tabs other than "system," in the "notes" box, verify that "no problems found" is indicated.
If none of that gets you anywhere, let us know the exact model number of the computer, and perhaps researching that will lead to further ideas.
My guess is and guess only, you were probably listening to files that were 16/44 or better in the store demo and at home you might be using 320k or so now. There is a noticeable quality difference. The above suggstions from the other 2 guys will get you going. I'd download foobar 2000 also, it runs smooth and tells you what resolution and bit rate the files are that are playing. Also, you didn't say, but I guarantee your store demo used some sort of DAC. What about you? Night and day improvement there.
Good Luck, Tim
Your post provides a lot of really useful tips. I have a question that you might know the answer to. Have you ever tried any type of line conditioner with a computer and external drives? Given that computers are not really made for high end audio, I can't help but think that it may make a substantial improvement.
03-15-12: Xxqq250Good question, but I have no relevant experience. Even though I'm both an audiophile and a computer enthusiast, who builds his own computers, ironically I haven't yet merged the two and the only digital source in my audio system is a one-box CD player :-)
I'd imagine that a power conditioner could very well be helpful in many setups, mainly by minimizing the amount of computer-generated noise that might find its way into the power wiring and from there into the audio components. Also, if the computer is located close to the audio system a shielded power cord would seem to make sense, to prevent rfi from escaping from the power cord and radiating into the system.
I would guess that the effects of a power conditioner will tend to differ depending on whether or not the computer's power supply uses active power factor correction, perhaps making less of a difference if the computer provides that feature. Recent computers are increasingly utilizing active PFC, especially the better ones and those that are Energy Star compliant.
FWIW, I'll mention that I use a CyberPower CP1500PFCLCD true sine wave UPS on my desktop computers. It works great for my purposes, but I wouldn't recommend its use close to an audio system because I've found that it radiates rfi, as detected by a portable AM radio brought near it. Inexpensive UPS's that put out stepped approximations to a sine wave, btw, should not be used with computers that have active PFC.
Thanks for your comment, and thanks to Tom6897 as well.
I have digital recordings I made out of a headphone jack on an old HP laptop years ago when I first started to dabble with computer audio that still sound pretty good, so I know it is possible to get a Windows computer to produce good sound, but it can be very hit or miss with any given Windows computer.
I would not rely on any Windows computer to deliver "audiophile" quality sound. It can happen by design if that is a goal of the maker or you are smart and persistent enough to find the right tweaks, but not likely by chance otherwise.
Newer devices and home versions of Windows are better optimized for multimedia in general than older ones, so the newer stuff is probably a better place to start in general.
I use WMP to rip CDs to lossless .wav only these days. It works fine for that all digital process which does not alone involve any sound making.
Once you have a decent audio file though, the best strategy to assure best sound for minimal cost (unless you know a good PC recipe otherwise that is proven to work) is to use a separate network player designed for good sounding audio (like Squeezebox) to stream the files OFF and AWAY from the general purpose computer. Then you can use a separate outboard DAC or your choice attached to the NP to tweak the sound to your tastes as needed from there.
Or, if you must use a computer as the music maker, Apples are a safer bet in that many use these, they are pretty much all the same, and it is easier to know what to expect.
First of all, let me thank you all. I'm going to try the items you've all noted above and hope that I find the culprit. And if I can't, I'm headed down to Magnolia Design Center where I got the A2s and see what they say.
Yes, I have Windows 7 and WMP 12. I have listened to .wav files I just ripped to my system last weekend as well as many .mp3s. Not a huge difference between them. Maybe that's telling me (us) something?
I'm not trying for audiophile sound on my computer. I just think it could and should be allot better than it is now. I really don't want to spend much more on the issue. Already spent the two hundo on the A2s. The way it sits now, they are not much better than the $30 Logitech speakers I had before. And the A2s smoke them cause I heard the A2s with nothing more than a MacBook Air. -No external dac. So, there's definitely something wrong with the audio coming out of the computer. I am doing that via the headphone jack on the back panel.
My computer system was purchased about two months ago. It is a Gateway SX2855 with i3 Intel processor and 4 gigs. I removed all the bloatware and slimmed it down as much as I could. I run defrag most every day and keep up with Advanced SystemCare 5. Only other thing differnet than stock is a wireless keyboard and mouse. I use NOD32 anit-virus/spam and Windows fire wall.
Again, thanks for the help. I'll update this thread tomorrow after I sit down and try out the helpful suggestions you've all provided. I hope and pray I'll find it.
Well, it sounds like you've been doing a lot of the right things. And the machine looks like it should be a reasonably decent performer, certainly powerful enough to cleanly handle .wav and mp3 files.
I use NOD32 myself, although just the anti-virus program rather than the full "Smart Security" suite which it sounds like you are using. The NOD32 a-v is about as good as it gets among a-v programs in terms of having minimal impact on system performance. I have no particular familiarity with the other components of the suite, though.
Defragmenting on a daily basis strikes me as overkill, actually, which will result in unnecessary wear and tear on the hard drive. For typical computer usage, once every week or two should be more than enough IMO.
Good luck with the experiments! Regards,
A few further thoughts:
1)The Gateway site indicates that a BIOS update was released on 11/21/11, which was about two months before you purchased the computer. So conceivably that update is not present on your machine. Unfortunately the site doesn't indicate what the changes were, but perhaps one of them was audio related.
The version of the installed BIOS should be indicated briefly when you start the computer. The version released on 11/21/11 was P01.B2.
2)If you haven't already, try playing a CD directly from the machine's optical drive, and see if you get results that are the same as when you play the corresponding .wav file from the hard drive.
3)Look at the file sizes of the .wav's, as a rough check to verify that they weren't inadvertently compressed during the ripping process. A 3 minute track should be roughly around 30 MB.
Just getting started here. Haven't checked on the bios yet, but I have played a CD in the drive and it is much better. At least acceptable and I've used the equalizer and it does not seem to be negatively affecting the sound and the pulsing in volume and distortion is not present like when playing from the hard drive.
I also checked some of the .wav files and they are indeed around the size you suggest they should be. I'm now gonna start with the list of recommendations in this thread and try to get to the bottom of this issue.
Again, with a CD in the drive it sounds pretty good, much better than the .wav being played off the computer.
Muchos Gracias Al.
Well, I've tried selected advice here so far. Just as a preferrance, I wanted to keep WMA and not rely on a different player. So I have used it and compared it to the CD drive and its not as good as the CD drive playing the CD, but it is better than before I started applying your suggestions. I have also tried the PowerDVD 10 software that I noted in my first post was already on my computer. I think I like it a bit better than WMA for playback only. Now, to answer the questions asked by all:
Al, disabled the antivirus and that made no audible difference.
Speakers are plugged into the headphone jack at the rear. Doesn't seem to be any other way to connnect them.
I defrag too much according to you Al!
Got all my settings straight by right-clicking on the task bar speaker. This did seem to help some and now pulsing is gone or at least mostly so. While in this area, I did click again on the button to update the driver and to my surprise, it updated the driver and I rebooted after the update. Not sure it made any significant difference, but I am glad I have the newest driver now.
Moved some .wav files to my external hard drive. Sound is pretty much the same.
Went to the Task Manager to see if any processes were running. This is where I found some processes running and turned them off. There was an immediate change in sound and maybe resolution. They were three desk apps that showed computer CPU usage, hard drive usage, and a weather app. They were indeed using significant percentage.
Tried the Dxdiag.exe app and it showed that there were no problems found.
After all of this, the music indeed sounds better. I prefer the PowerDVD 10 software, which sounds much closer to the music being read from the CD drive. WMA is also indeed better, but still has some of that upper-midrange grit and distortion, which is what makes it "lackluster" as I'd previously stated.
I have noted several Foobar 2000 suggestions. May try that in the future. Sticking to WMA for now.
I'm not sure how to tell 16/44 files from 320k files as noted by Timlub. I know that the files I have listened to today are .wav and are quite large, like Al said, about 30 MB for a three-minute file.
I have definitely used EQ settings in WMA where I adjusted the individual bands and that helps some for sure. Also, one of the presets in the PowerDVD 10 software is nice.
I have not tried an upgraded PC on my computer, but that is a bit farther than I've been willing to go. But thanks for the thought.
So, these are my findings and though I'm pleased, I don't think I'm all the way there yet. Seems that WMA should be able to sound a bit better, read cleaner, if it weren't for the upper-midrange still being slightly distorted after these changes (and the BIOS has not been updated). Actually, you'd think WMA would be better than the CD playing in the drive because WMA is reading a loss less file.
Thank you all very much for the help. And I'm still open to more suggestions. BTW - Somebody refresh me on how to get email notification when a thread is updated.
Al, indeed, I have the PO1-B1 7/8/2011 BIOS, not the updated file. But I'm not sure how to update it. I hoped to see an update button while I was in the BIOS but didn't.
I have something here that you may want to try. In a previous post, I recommend that you give Linux a try because a lot of people (including myself) seem to be having good results with regards to sound quality. Instead of going about it the way I mentioned in my first post, you may want to check this link out instead.
This link takes you to a guide on how to get the best sound from Linux. It was put together by an audiophile that uses Linux and wanted to achieve the best results. Basically, you get a very detailed walk through starting with downloading and installing linux OS. After the install it goes into how to configure the OS for the best sound quality possible. Once that is done it gives instructions on downloading, installing and configuring an audio player for best sound just like with the OS.
From what I can see, nothing is left to chance. There are a lot of small steps involved but the instructions are very clear; a beginner should have no problems working through the process. I can't comment on sound quality because I just went through it myself. Also, I was reading through some of your posts where you are concerned about system performance. Linux uses FAR less system resources than both Windows and Mac. Anyway, I hope this info can help you out in some way.
If the programs you disabled restart automatically when the computer is booted, you can prevent that by one of several means, depending on the particular app. First, see if the app itself offers a means of enabling or disabling automatic startup. Next, if that is not possible, see if it is listed under "Startup" in the listing of installed programs under the Start button. Delete its entry if it appears there. Next, if it does not appear under "Startup," enter "msconfig" in the search box under the Start button, click on the corresponding search result, and uncheck the item in the "Startup" tab, if it appears there. The final possibility is to enter "Services" in the search box, then click either "Services" or "View Local Services," then right-click the entry for the particular service, and select "Properties" and then "Startup Type." Take a look at the "Dependencies" tab before changing the "Startup Type" setting, to see if there is anything else you might be affecting.
As far as the BIOS update is concerned, I would do that only as a last resort after all other approaches are exhausted. In the meantime, it would probably be a good idea to email Gateway and ask them if they can tell you what the changes were intended to accomplish, and specifically if any of them are audio-related.
According to this reference the update procedure is simply to download the latest BIOS file, and start the update process by double-clicking the icon for the downloaded file. A BIOS update is usually straightforward and takes very little time, probably less than a minute once it is started. HOWEVER, if something goes wrong, perhaps because of a bug in their software, or if power were to happen to drop out during the update process, the computer can be "bricked" (i.e., rendered inoperable, and repairable only by replacement of the integrated circuit chip that stores the BIOS on the motherboard). That is why I suggest not doing the update, at least for now.
Also, in some cases doing a BIOS update on a computer from one of the major manufacturers can necessitate re-activating Windows with Microsoft, although that is not a big deal and can often be done via the Internet with just a few mouse clicks.
Since playback from a CD gives good results, you have proven that there is no problem involving the computer's DAC function, or compatibility of the output impedance or other characteristics of the audio circuitry with the speakers. And given that playback of .wav's from either the internal or external drive gives similar results, my guess is the thing that should be focused on next is the possibility that your .wav's do not have bit-perfect accuracy. Try EAC. (Note that EAC is NOT one of the converter programs that are linked to on that page). It can also be downloaded here.
As far as automated email notifications are concerned, I don't think there is a way to do that.
Continued good luck!
Alright, glad to understand I'm on the right path. I don't need a brick, so I'll leave the BIOS out completely. I'll see if ripping a .wav file in WMP can be done bit perfect. That'd be sweet. I thought I read something about error correction in WMP but forget where I saw that. I'll also take a look at EAC, which I remember having read good things about.
Hmmm. I thought that there used to be functionality here at Agon that allowed a person to subscribe to a thread so they got notification when it was updated. Oh well. Thanks Al for your help, all of it.
Xxqq250 - Much appreciate your encouragement to move to a more streamlined OS. I've thought of it before but just have never made the move. Everything is going quite smoothly at the moment with this new Windows 7 setup, so I'll just try to be content for now. I'll post if I decide to make the move. Again, thanks for your concern.
Well, I've used both WMA and PowerDVD 10 today. PowerDVD is much better sounding getting rid of the upper-midrange distortion that WMA displays. WMA is definitely better since doing all of the experimenting I did yesterday, but its not there yet.
I did turn on error correction for ripping .wav files. I also removed and re-ripped the disc I was listening to yesterday. Can't tell it made any difference.
In any event, if somebody with sound problems in general on their PC reads this thread, there are many great suggestions.
Thanks again for the help.
When I get some time I may try Foobar 2000. And EAC as well.
Finally, I'm really liking the Audioengine A2s. Pretty nice sound for $199, which is half of what I paid for the computer! But it makes listening at my computer much more enjoyable now.