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Thinking about audio

Posted <2017-10-08 Sun 00:04> by Aaron S. Jackson.

I have a Sony TA-FE370, which was given to me by my uncle. I'm not convinced I'd really notice a difference if I had something better. Connected to my 4Ω Alesis MK2 monitors, it sounds great. However, the build quality is a bit shoddy and I've had to re-solder several connections to keep various inputs working. So, maybe it is time to replace it, and in the process, upgrade.

Usually I listen to music directly from my computer or from CD, very occasionally I listed to a record from an old moving magnet Rega Planar 2.

At the moment I am pretty stuck between digital input or purely analogue. I'm no expert of course, but it seems to me that if it's coming out analogue, the only difference between a good digital amplifier, and an analogue amplifier is that the digital amplifier has a built in DAC.

I've looked at some of the digital amplifiers. Namely, the NAD C 368 and Cambridge Audio CXA80. Both seem good. They both have 24bit, 192KHz DACs and are about the same price. I'm not sure I want to spend that much money. Although, I did really like that the NAD has an RS232 input for remote control, and the protocol seems fairly well documented.

Perhaps instead it is better to look at some good quality second hand analogue amplifiers, and then buy a good 24/192 DAC. Has the sound quality of the analogue side really improved that much in the past 20 years? Maybe something like the NAD 302 would be a good choice. Much cheaper, and with it being analogue, much easier to fix if/when something goes wrong.

I dunno. I'm confused, don't know what I am talking about, and need to sleep on it.

<2017-10-08 Sun 00:47> Still thinking. The CXA80 uses a DAC based on the Wolfson WM8740 chipset. There are boards on eBay you can buy, pre-built but without enclosure which have this chip for about £40. They have USB, optical and coaxial, sampling at 24/192 and output suposedly very high quality audio. If I got something like this, and a good quality second hand analogue amplifier, I'd basically have a CXA80?

<2017-10-08 Sun 01:11> Hmm maybe not. The eBay boards use a PCM2704 USB interface which can only acheive a sample rate of 48kHz, way below that of the WM8740 DAC, unless I misunderstood something.

<2017-10-08 Sun 01:28> I am now looking at the USB Creative Sound BlasterX G1. It outputs 24/96, which to be honest is completely fine. The sound chip in my ThinkPad X220 is 16/44, so that alone should be quite an upgrade. Additionally it can drive headphones up to 300Ω, which seems very high. My open back AKG K702 have an impedance of 62Ω. So, I think I will get one of these DACs, and take a look at some good second hand analogue amplifiers. Sorted… maybe.

<2017-10-08 Sun 17:54> I've ordered the BlasterX G1. Let's see how it is.

<2017-10-16 Mon 21:30> Forgot to update this. The BlasterX G1 arrived and it could power my headphones pretty well. However, under Linux it won't work any higher than 44.1KHz, which is worse than the DAC built into my laptop. I emailed the alsa-users mailing list and according to one person, the device needs to creative software to be installed in order to activate the higher quality sound mode. Very annoying, completely stupid and just a way of getting users to install bloatware.

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