Hi-Fi sound in PC
You only need to follow four things
My components are given as an example, buy your preferred brand.
A quality power supply that cleans the input current and then guarantees the same clean voltages on each separate branch. You then plug the separate branch only into the sound card, which requires an external power supply. This ensures a quality power supply not just for the sound card. This solution is very inexpensive compared to an expensive external sound card that has to run on asynchronous communication via USB like the Xonar Essence One.
High quality sound card
The current more expensive motherboards sound good and can handle even headphones with high resistance. But what will always be different from an add-on sound card will be the sound presentation. Buy what you can afford. The Xonar meets the use of an auxiliary power supply, has a 100 ohm output and a real ASIO with own driver. Plus, for movies and games, you can choose 5.1 input and stereo output, letting you process audio audibly on a whole other level. The resistance in your headphones should match the amplifier of the sound card: for example, don’t connect 2 ohm earbuds to the 100 ohm output of the sound card, where 32 ohms will be the minimum. The Xonar Essence II, for its price, offers a headphone amplifier with up to 600 ohm output, interchangeable MUSES op-amps and all the best quality regulators and capacitors including crystal oscillators for precise timing, but most importantly headphone and monitor output directly on the card. Easily connect and switch between high quality headphones and monitors. The sound of this card is different, softer and if you get used to it, you won’t like the sound from the motherboard very much.
Let’s first try to explain how sound travels in the application system.
- At the beginning is an audio player that loads an audio file into an audio stream. The player itself adjusts the volume by digitally changing the amplitude of the sound, it can add reasonable effects such as lowering the volume at the beginning and end of the song. Of course, it also includes a digital equalizer that shifts the volume of selected sound frequencies. By default, the prepared digital stream in the player is sent to the system sound mixer, but by changing the option to ASIO, the sound can be sent directly to the sound card and thus skip the Windows sound mixer.
- In the system audio mixer, the audio stream is mixed with the other audio signals of the system environment. The amplitude of the strength of the original signal is changed in the ratio of the input volume setting and the total output volume. Thanks to the sound card driver (WDM), the system knows the capabilities of the sound card. Depending on the output settings, the stream is digitally mixed into multiple channels for a predefined speaker system. The mixed affected audio stream then goes to the selected driver sound card.
- The sound card uses a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) to create an audio signal from the digital stream, and at the same time, operational amplifiers (OPAMPs) amplify the audio signal for the desired output.
The sound sent through the ASIO driver gives the output maximum amplification and liveliness. If you’re playing through true ASIO, you can’t affect the volume in the system’s audio mixer. Some people drive the signal at the output through some external amplifier to correct the sound. ASIO is a better solution.
An alternative is to use WASAPI (Windows Audio Session API), which tries to control the flow between the application and the sound card and ensure BitPerfect communication by selecting WASAPI Exclusive (Event). There are people who claim that there is no audible difference between WASAPI and ASIO, but WASAPI still goes through the system audio mixer.
You can see the settings in the images below. You select ASIO and notice that if you are playing music tracks that are mostly in 44kHz quality, you are also playing them in that quality. Do not set the quality higher, because oversampling will not produce a better sound, there is no point.
AIMP3: Playback settings
Windows Media Player: download and install the plug-in ASIOWmpPlg.
In the ASIO control panel, leave again the 16-bit in which you have the recording, increase the latency to 50 ms, because you need to cover fluctuations in the communication between the processor and the sound card when the computer is busy.
Don’t buy headphones under 80 EUR, and remember that the resistance in your headphones should match the capabilities of the sound card amplifier. The Sennheiser HD 650s have a resistance of 300 ohms. A regular motherboard won’t handle the headphones, but today’s better motherboards do. However, if you want to rock headphones with 600ohm resistance, you will need a better headphone amplifier on the sound card. Years ago I did some research on what different brands of quality headphones can do. In the Choosing Headphones project, I help you clarify what you’re looking for, and what ideal headphones you can buy.
If you want a famous European brand, prepare a substantial budget starting from 600 EUR per monitor. But sound is about physical properties, not the manufacturer’s brand. Where else can they design monitors cheaply than where they can also make them cheaply. Back then, a fledgling Chinese audio brand called Edifier was selling quality monitors for 240 EUR. But that’s in the past, now it’s as expensive as other Hi-Fi brands. When you make your own choice, remember that the monitor needs to be big, bulky and will be heavy. The manufacturer’s written frequency range doesn’t carry much weight, you need to find a review where they measured the frequencies and the monitors were able to play 50Hz to 15kHz properly. You ideally need stands for the monitors, as the monitor does not belong on the floor or on a desk or cabinet.