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Audio in the Digital Age
Old 10-28-2012, 10:53 AM   #1
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Audio in the Digital Age

Since another thread was getting somewhat over-run with audio conversations, here's a separate thread per the OP's request.

I had been meaning to start a thread on my process of digitizing my vinyl collection and 'ripping' my CDs and some concert DVDs to a hard drive. I really like the convenience, flexibility and features of playing the music with a program like iTunes (though I use Rhythmbox on Linux - similar). Plus, I can easily back up everything cheaply with no more space than a small portable hard-drive.

I'll add more details later, but my basic playback setup consists of a netbook, this DAC (see below), which plugs into the USB port w/o any drivers, and converts the digital output from the computer to audio to drive my amp directly. The DAC has a physical, rotary volume control on it, so I can just grab it to change volume, no searching for a menu or a key combo.

What I also love about this set-up, is I have such a 'clean' audio path. Just a connection from that DAC directly to my amplifier, then amp to speakers. No switches needed like in the old days, to switch between CD, cassette, turntable, radio (you can tune in internet 'radio' stations or things like Pandora on the netbook).


Amazon.com: NuForce Icon uDAC-2 Black Digital Audio Converter: Electronics

For added convenience, I set up a separate user on that net-book just for music playing. I select that on start-up, I don't password it since there is nothing else that user can access, and it auto-loads the music program. I can do just about everything with just the TAB and ARROW keys, so I don't need to fiddle with selecting little things with a touchpad or mouse. I wanted to keep it as simple as possible for the basic stuff.

As I make time, I'll detail my process, and hopefully get some great tips and viewpoints from others. But this should kick things off, and save the other thread.

And this is just to remind myself to touch on tagging and playlists - this is so powerful and simple if you put a little upfront thought into it.

-ERD50
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Old 10-28-2012, 11:23 AM   #2
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For digitizing my vinyl, or other audio source (cassette, VCR audio, etc), I use this:

Amazon.com: ART USB Phono Plus Interface - Version 2: Computers & Accessories

Great little device - it has a built in phone pre-amp and ADC so you don't need anything external. You can monitor the record as you digitize it, or just use this as a pre-amp if you want to just listen to vinyl or other audio source direct. My pre-amp/receiver is just sitting there on the shelf, unplugged. I'll probably re-purpose it as an amplifier for some other room.

As you can see, these devices are pretty cheap, yet they get great reviews from audiophiles. For reference, I consider myself a 'pragmatic audiophile'. I won't go nuts spending obscene amounts on esoteric questionable stuff, but I do search out what I believe to be good value, and will spend a fair amount when I feel it is warranted.

For perspective, my speakers were ~ $1500/pr (Magneplaner 1.6/QR), I bought an 'audiophile' high power amplifier used for $375. Add in $120 for that DAC, a re-purposed netbook (I use it for travel occasionally), and that is the total investment for really great sound. That might be more than some would want to spend, but you can definitely scale down the speakers and amp to fit a more modest budget, and still have fantastic sound - you won't be able to fill a large room at high, clear volumes, but the quality can still be fantastic. I have a set of small $300 B&W bookshelf speakers in the bedroom that sound fantastic - they just won't kick out impressive volume, but that's OK.

Where you save is, you don't need an expensive source. Just use the CD reader in your computer. I don't use the audio CD players on my setups at all. They are obsolete for me.

Decoder ring:

ADC (Analog to Digital Converter) - takes the analog signal from 'old school' devices and converts them to bits to store on the hard drive. Most computers will do this from their audio inputs, but the quality is often an unknown. But for just 'functional' or very casual recordings, that's an option. You will need a phono pre-amp to record from vinyl (built in to the unit I linked).

You probably guessed this:

DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) - takes the digital bits that the computer is getting from the hard drive, and converts them to audio to feed an analog amplifier. There are also digital amplifiers on the market, that do a conversion from digital to analog as part of the amplification process itself. I'm not very familiar with these, but they are becoming more popular.


-ERD50
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Old 10-28-2012, 12:30 PM   #3
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I don't have any interest in digitizing my records. I like the sound from my turntable, and don't mind the associated "ritual."

I agree with your comment about fewer electronics in the path being best. I have a minimalist system consisting of tube amps. I chose this design because they use a minimal number of high quality parts. The attached pictures show how few electronics they put in the path.

As a fellow "pragmatic audiophile" I built my system on a budget. In this case that means I literally built it myself from kits. The amps you see below, plus my homemade speakers, cost just a hair more than your Magneplanars.

Bottlehead Foreplay Pre-Amp:


Paramour monoblock amps:


Seduction Phono Amp:

But, I have been intrigued with how to hook up a computer to my pre amp. This product looks like a good way to dip my toes in that water.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ERD50 View Post
What I also love about this set-up, is I have such a 'clean' audio path. Just a connection from that DAC directly to my amplifier, then amp to speakers. No switches needed like in the old days, to switch between CD, cassette, turntable, radio (you can tune in internet 'radio' stations or things like Pandora on the netbook).


Amazon.com: NuForce Icon uDAC-2 Black Digital Audio Converter: Electronics



-ERD50
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Old 10-28-2012, 12:38 PM   #4
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I like those electronics Kiem (though I am all solid state, I think tubes are interesting).

For years I was going to build a minimalist pre-amp (that Pass design with the single power mosfet, IIRC). Once again, my procrastination paid off, as I don't need a pre-amp with that DAC. I love the simplicity of getting rid of the rats nest of wires and switches. I used a NAD receiver as my pre-amp for years, and I swear it has some odd intermittent noises, and the volume control became scratchy years ago (it's sealed, and a bear to replace it looks like). So I love getting rid of all that.

I recall running some test tones when I was trying to check out the room acoustics, and I was getting some weird distortion. Turns out that darn volume control had actually gone 'micro-phonic'. It would respond to certain frequencies and 'scratch' and distort the sound. So who knows what it was doing with music tones? Anyhow, cleaning all that up seemed to give a much more 'solid' sound.

-ERD50
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Old 10-28-2012, 12:43 PM   #5
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I'll bet that NAD uses a carbon pot resistor. Those are known to go bad, and effect the sound. Mine uses a stepped attenuator. Much better sound, and if it gets scratchy just spray it with some cleaner.

I did add some comments in my original note that may interest you.

Tubes are interesting. I started with them about 10 years ago. Had a SS receiver go bad after only a year, and I couldn't get it repaired. I said !@#$ it! I'll build one myself. If it goes bad I can fix it then. Ended up finding the Foreplay. The tubes had a wonderful sound in my otherwise SS system at the time. I converted over the next few years...
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Old 10-28-2012, 12:47 PM   #6
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For transferring my DAT's to hard drive, I simply ran the digital output of the DAT machine to the digital input of the soundcard. No digitization needed, as everything was already in the digital domain.

For ripping CD's, I use a program called Exact Audio Copy, which does pretty accurate rips. I rip to FLAC. The most time consuming part of the process is that I insist on scanning all the artwork that comes with each CD (every page of the booklet, as well as the insert in the jewel case tray and a scan of the actual CD too. If there is a slipcover over the CD jewel case, I scan that too.) This makes the digitization of my rather large CD collection an arduous process that will take years.

For 1/4" tape reels, vinyl, broadcast carts and cassettes, I plan to acquire the appropriate machines and play them in real time, while recording them with Adobe Audition.

I almost wish I could just get rid of many of them without even attempting to archive but every time I think about it, the OCD party of my personality kicks in.
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Old 10-28-2012, 12:56 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Major Tom View Post
For transferring my DAT's to hard drive, I simply ran the digital output of the DAT machine to the digital input of the soundcard. No digitization needed, as everything was already in the digital domain.
Yes, the beauty of digital - making exact copies in no time.


Quote:
For ripping CD's, I use a program called Exact Audio Copy, which does pretty accurate rips. I rip to FLAC. The most time consuming part of the process is that I insist on scanning all the artwork that comes with each CD (every page of the booklet, as well as the insert in the jewel case tray and a scan of the actual CD too. If there is a slipcover over the CD jewel case, I scan that too.) This makes the digitization of my rather large CD collection an arduous process that will take years.
Yes, I think it's important to use a ripper that doesn't automatically try to cover up read errors. I want to know what I'm reading and if there are problems. I'll have to dig up and see what I'm using, I researched at the time, but have forgotten. I think it uses the same libraries as EAC, but may go by another name.

I also did some scanning of CD covers, and it was tedious. It's one reason I don't really want to ditch my CDs or digitized LPs, but a reasonable alternative is to just google the album. You can generally find all the info (and more) on-line.

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