Laptop as source - that didn't turn out well

Discussion in 'PCs & Music Servers' started by rkic, Feb 14, 2017.

  1. rkic

    rkic AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    My daughter laughed when she found out that I still listen to CDs. I was kind of flabbergasted because my technological experience pretty much began with the 8-track and ended with the CD and I haven't paid much attention to any developments since.

    So the other day I decided to hookup my laptop to my new home stereo - Swan speakers, SE Gemtunes KT88 integrated. I was all excited to reintroduce music back into my life.
    I used the headphone output on the laptop with a miniplug to RCA connectors to the input on the amp and fired everything up.
    What came out was harsh, no low end, not much middle. Well, maybe the amp needs to warm up a little. Maybe the speakers have been dormant too long and need to rebreakin. Nope, neither worked, what came out was still harsh and tinny. OK. So let's try an actual CD from a CD player.

    It was like switching on a light in a dark room. Everything was there. Highs, lows, middles, detail, the presence I had seen from my little SE amp when I first got it. This is gonna work.

    I am disappointed that my laptop won't be my music source though. Are headphone outputs that harsh that it can't be used for input into an amp?
    Anybody run into this before?
     
  2. guiller

    guiller Toscaninichus Australis

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    Unfortunately, yes, the headphone outputs of your laptop use a cheap internal soundcard for the Digital to Analog conversion. If your laptop has USB or HDMI outputs you can get your digital signal out from your laptop and feed it into an external, high quality DAC, which in turn will have to be connected to your audio system as another source.
     
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  3. savatage1973

    savatage1973 Super Member

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    There are many threads on this issue, but they pretty much all come to one conclusion--on-board sound cards (unless heavily upgraded) just SUCK. They are not audiophile quality, and will sound exactly like you describe. The preferred way of doing computer music is to utilize a stand-alone USB DAC between the computer and the rest of your rig. The USB output of your computer will bypass the on-board sound card and the external DAC will transfer the digital signal to an analogue feed w/o compromise. The other factor is your source via the computer--are you playing a CD via the computer drive, using a streaming service, or playing massively compressed MP3 files? Garbage in = garbage out--so consider the source...
     
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  4. GChief

    GChief AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    I mostly listen to Vinyl at home. But when I do hook-up my laptop I do it the same as you but with a Schitt Fulla headphone DAC in between, it connects to a USB port. I bought this for listening on the road with headphones as I travel a lot for work. It does make a difference with Amazon Music/iTunes. I think playback software and a DAC are your friends here.

    All that being said, I really do not listen to much digital so someone with way more knowledge will add way more than my $.00002 worth.
     
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  5. TPettenati

    TPettenati Active Member

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    There are few things you can do to try and get the best sound out of your laptop.

    1. Don't set the volume any higher than 75%, otherwise you will experience high levels of distortion.

    2. Disable any windows 'sound enhancements'. Easier said than done. But if you can navigate to your sound output device properties, you should be able to find a disable button.

    Speakers Properties.jpg
     
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  6. Mamrak1

    Mamrak1 AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    The bottom line is: a laptop is not an audiophile device.
     
  7. Alobar

    Alobar Pulling out of the Last Chance Texaco.. Subscriber

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    Get a good USB DAC(doesn't have to break the bank), and get good media player software that will bypass Windows sound "enhancements" and then you should be able to get sound from your laptop that will rival your cd player.

    I don't know where the exact issue you are experiencing is coming from but whatever it is, a bad internal DAC, or Windows software settings , it will improve greatly once all that junk is bypassed.
     
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  8. gadget73

    gadget73 junk junkie Subscriber

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    +1 on the external sound card. The internals seem to be mediocre at best. Perfectly fine to listening to knucklheads on youtube, not so much for a euphoric high fidelity listening experience.
     
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  9. bshorey

    bshorey AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    What he said. I've found that setting the output volume on any headphone related device (laptop, iPhone, etc) greater than 75% or so results in clipped and distorted output.

    Generally speaking, laptops make for terrible audio devices. I think the disk I/o is way too slow, and some times you'll notice that during a disk read or write you can see the rest of the system hanging until the disk operation finishes. A desktop with a fast disk, better I/o bus, and a real audio card makes for a much better audio system.

    My .02,

    bs
     
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  10. drew_t

    drew_t Well-Known Member

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    If CDs are your source of choice, and you have a CD player, why are you even trying to involve the laptop?
     
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  11. sKiZo

    sKiZo Hates received: 8641 Subscriber

    All of the above, +1 or so. Even if the onboard sound doesn't suffer total suckage, there's just way too much interference and crosstalk inside a typical laptop to handle audio elegantly. The newer ones ain't as bad.

    A cheap and effective solution is the Behringer UCA202. Maybe $25 and surprisingly good sound for the money, performing well above it's price point. That's what I started with here.

    [​IMG]

    Plugs into any available USB 2.0 or better port. No drivers required in WindOHs ... it's identified as a generic USB sound device. Also acts as a handy dandy ADC if you want to get your feet wet ripping some vinyl or old tapes.

    PS ... if you don't hear anything after plugging it up, make sure the monitor switch is turned to on.
     
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  12. Alobar

    Alobar Pulling out of the Last Chance Texaco.. Subscriber

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    I was able to improve my computer audio performance greatly by getting the media software completely off my PC. My PC still stores all my digital music, but simply serves it to a wallet size computer that is dead quiet, known as a Raspberry Pi and it has JRiver Media Center running on it. This ran me about $100, $50 for the RPi and $50 for a Linux version of JRiver that comes on a micro sd card and was virtually plug and play. Now my windows machine simply transfers the files to the Raspberry via an Ethernet cable. Much better sound for little money.

    As far as using a computer to play your music files instead of CD's and a player, I could never go back to the old way. Hundreds of CD's everywhere, no playlists, having to always feed the CD player with new music every time my mood changes. It simply would change my listening experience too much and I would not get near the enjoyment out of it. YMMV of course.

    The challenge to any computer based music player is SQ. Just a PC (laptop or desktop) alone most often is not nearly enough. A few hundred dollars on a good DAC (I went with the Modi Multibit) and either a way to have an isolated USB or some sort of noise filter can make any computer an audiophile machine. It does take a bit of research, reading up. basically educating yourself on what is involved in getting the file on the hard drive to sound as good as the same file stored on a CD. No reason it can't as far as I know. It is just that the CD music player was designed from the ground up to play music whereas the PC wasn't and needs a little help.
     
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  13. Markoneswift

    Markoneswift Quartz locked n ready to rock Subscriber

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    You can always try streaming. I use an Apple Airport Express connected to my wireless network and a little utility called 'Airfoil' on my laptop. Airfoil converts the digital source (I always use FLAC files) into an Apple Airplay-compatible stream and sends it over the wifi to the Airport, which contains a pretty high quality DAC. The beauty of this solution is that you are not tethered to your amp / receiver and Apple Airports are generally much cheaper than even an average quality dedicated DAC. Try it out, I bet you'll like it :)
     
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  14. sKiZo

    sKiZo Hates received: 8641 Subscriber

    Worth noting ... PC's are getting better with each generation as mfgs begin to figure out what all we're using them for. Onboard audio is MUCH improved over what we had just a couple year back, and getting better all the time.

    That said ... no matter how good the computer, you've still got cross talk and noise issues, as there's a LOT of devices on the average home system competing for resources. I find a major improvement can be had just installing an inexpensive USB expansion card that creates it's own dedicated USB channel and pulls power directly from the power supply instead of the PC's card normal buss. Simple and very effective - only thing gets plugged into that is the sound device. Just that got rid of a lot of residual fartz and brapples on playback here ... enough so, I went ahead and upgraded to an "audiophile grade" expansion card. Expensive, but hey, I'm worth it. <G>

    [​IMG]
     
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  15. Alobar

    Alobar Pulling out of the Last Chance Texaco.. Subscriber

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    What are the USB options for laptop owners?
     
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  16. sKiZo

    sKiZo Hates received: 8641 Subscriber

    No plugin cards usually ... :(

    But there ARE breakout boxes like the Behringer UCA202 that are especially handy for hooking up to a classic analog system. There's better (and more expensive) options available, not to mention a vast plethora of dedicated DACs.

    (Knew I'd get to say "vast plethora" today!) ;-}

    But ... that's also why I run a standard desktop type computer here as my server. More options for better sound. One of the big(ger) problems with those is background noise though - my old ATX setup had six fans that could sound like an A10 warthog passing overhead if the box got warm. Latest build uses a low watt ITX board with APU (doncha just love it when we speak alphabet?) and smart fans (just on the mother chip and power supply) that is virtually noise free.

    PS ... if you've got an old ATX build ... I was pleasantly surprised to find out an ITX mini board mounts right up. Tiny little things too ... Here's mine hiding under the chip cooler ...

    [​IMG]

    That big fan barely ticks over under load ...

    OH ... why still use an old ATX case? In my build ... just because it's so dang purty ... <G>

    [​IMG]
     
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  17. Alobar

    Alobar Pulling out of the Last Chance Texaco.. Subscriber

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    Nice stuff sKiZo! I have a cheaper n dirt HP tower that I bought a few years ago, discontinued model bare bonez office machine from Office Max for $250. It had a half terabyte, 6 gigs of ram, but I suspect its innards are full of the cheapest stuff possible. When I first got into PC based digital audio I went through the usual problems, crappy sounding internal DAC, then replaced it with an entry level $99 Schiit and the sound was much improved, but I could hear a slight buzz that was timed to when the drive light flickered. This buzz went away when I ran the PC with power saver on, and with hi performance power option the buzz was constant. Not loud, and I could only really hear it on very quiet passages or between tracks but still it bugged me.

    So I went with a new thing called a Wyrd (another Schiit product) and it is basically a filter (I think) but also provides its own squeaky clean power supply. This almost eliminated the buzz, and my $99 Schiit Modi liked having the dedicated USB power supply. Then I bought the Modi Multibit which has its own supply and decided then I wanted its own dedicated USB for the cleanest source I could get. Unfortunately the cheaper n dirt PC has NO expansion in it what so ever! HA! my cheap ass purchase bites me in the butt once again. That was when I went with the Raspberry Pi3. It now is completely isolated from this noise maker PC, and the whole process only uses the PC to access the files from its HD over a network cable (not USB).
    I feel like I am as good as I can do now unless I went for a better DAC, but at which point is enough enough?

    BTW, I have the Behringer UCA 222 and it does have a good sounding DAC in it. I use it for playback sometimes through my headphones when ripping vinyl to FLAC. It would likely get me 90% there just on its own and for $27 it is a bargain..
     
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  18. Markoneswift

    Markoneswift Quartz locked n ready to rock Subscriber

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    I like your style there, very nice case and setup. I had a similar thing but ultimately I went the 'stealth' route and grabbed myself a nice laptop with a busted screen off Ebay. I loaded up Airfoil and Winamp, connected to my wifi, and then hid the laptop away and just remote manage the playlists from my phone or tablet :)
     
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  19. rkic

    rkic AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    I've got something like 7 gig of music on my desktop so I would like to be able to harness that. I've copied some of that music to CDs and the quality was excellent. But this laptop is very disappointing.
     
  20. petemcfc

    petemcfc Active Member

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    My cheapest build was using an old ATX motherboard with a couple of gig of ram,and a M-Audio 24/96 soundcard ,
    For a OS I use Ubuntu,Windows dropped support for the soundcard around 15 years ago but with Ubuntu it works out of the box.
    Kodi is the media player.
    Cost.
    Motherboard+ram-free.
    Soundcard-£25.
    Ubuntu-Free.
    Kodi-Free.
    Interconnects,We all have too many of them lying around.
    Then just fit it into a case of your choice.
     

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