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Garf

Computer Audio on a budget?

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Greetings all, my name is Gary, and I like to listen to good music. Good meaning in the sense of a quality recording, not necessarily a specific genre or specific performer. I like listen to a variety of music, from classic rock, acoustic blues, jazz to classical, and have been know to cue up Marilyn Manson on my walk home from work (yes, I did that the other day after buying my B&W C5 headphones).

As a father with a 7 year old daughter, and a 4 year old son with special needs, I do not (yet) have the resources to devote to a listening room/area in our three bedroom condo. I can not count the number of times my Boston Acoustic VR-M50 bookshelf speakers have been pushed over onto the floor. So I will not be buying new speakers anytime soon.

So is it possible to have a computer based, audiophile quality system on a budget? This blog will detail my experiences. My first blog entry will be on budgeting and priorities, from my expected goals, to the money I have wasted, as well as the wife and kid acceptance factors. Look for it soon!

Gary
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  1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
    Hi Gary - I love the idea and your leadership in being the first CA Blogger :~)



    I look forward to reading your Blog.
  2. bikemig's Avatar
    Gary: I'm a fan of keeping our hobby within budgetary restraints as well. I'm also looking forward to reading your blog.
  3. Paul R's Avatar
    Boy howdy- you can do some bang up audiophile class systems on a budget.



    I have a special needs daughter who simply loves to listen to music, and is thrilled when we let use an iPad to pick and control her own music. She like the iPod too, but it is a tad too small for her to clearly see. :)



    You didn't list what gear you already have, but one of the things you can do is wall mount some speakers. The Magnepan MMG-Ws are $325 a pair, and sound great. Bass shy, but they will fill a room with music. Great as TV speakers too, if you happen to have the television and stereo co-located. :)



    To drive them, NAD makes some great gear, from the $329 NAD BEE316 to the $499 NAD BEE326, and upwards. Both are integrated amps, and sound really nice with small speakers, or even with some not so small speakers.



    For a source, well, I am impressed with the no cost Vortexbox software, and it runs pretty well even on a $228 netbook from WalMart. Close the lid, it is out of site, out if mind. Easily remote controlled.



    The one thing to not cheap out on in my opinion, would be a DAC. A decent DAC is the lynchpin in a computer audio system. And probably the single most expensive item in a budget system.



    Good luck with your project. Remember! Try before you buy! :)



    -Paul
  4. ringenesherre's Avatar
    Hi Gary,



    I'm also a big fan on good results for little money.



    I would recommend to use active speakers - they can be very good and you skip the costs for pre-amp and amp.



    So all you need to begin is a pair of active speakers and an inexpensive DAC (see other threads here for DACs that are a couple of hundred dollars).



    My setup is 2x Genelec 8020B active speakers + 1x Cambridge Audio DacMagic. It's playing very nicely, easily comparable to my >10000 EUR 10-year old stereo. I payed a total of 940 EUR (ca. 1280 dollars) for it.
  5. subjective's Avatar
    Except, I don't know anything about Vortexbox or Windows computers.



    I DO know that the cheapest computer is the computer you already have ;-)



    -Richard G.
  6. tomtom's Avatar
    Hi Gary,



    I think of myself as a committed audiophile and suggest you start with a great sounding music/media player. Foobar is an excellent place to start especially when setup/tweaked properly. If you care to go one step further try PotPlayer 32-bit version and install ReClock. I was amazed at the sound quality even from a pair of inexpensive Swan computer speakers. And of course , the player won't sound any better than the quality of your recordings, it's all in the details!



    German Proverb: "Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten."
  7. wgscott's Avatar
    Be sure to take care of your own needs and have an outlet/escape. Both he and you will benefit in the long run. I essentially abandoned listening to music for about 10 years for this kind of reason. In retrospect, it didn't help, even though the wrong music could trigger a temper tantrum...



    Child-proofing is a good idea. Tubes can be quite dangerous, and kids love pushing in tweeter domes on speakers, for example, and large speakers or other equipment can fall over and kill them. So it is quite a challenge.



    Just from casual conversations here, I can tell you that you are not alone. Best of luck.
  8. 4est's Avatar
    Consider DIY...



    Your money goes farther and you will have the resources to repair what will inevitably break. Besides, it is sort of like being a minor league player as opposed to a spectator in a pro game - and a hell of a lot of fun. It adds a depth and richness to this hobby that supersedes buying anything.



    There are very active DIY forums for anything you can imagine in audio, and plenty of very helpful people. And at the risk of pissing some off, some of the best audio is DIY or hand assembled systems by experts, not off the shelf items.



    There are always trade offs.
  9. wgscott's Avatar
    My DIY amp project was definitely worth it. I learned a little bit along the way too.
  10. Jud's Avatar
    DIY - I'm very strongly considering DIY for a couple of things, in my case speaker cables and maybe, one of these days, an amp. (I was *very* impressed by a friend's Pass integrated amp recently, and Nelson Pass has been active on the DIY front for decades. There is a project well documented on the Net to build an amp pretty much equivalent to Pass's X series for between $400-$1400 in parts costs ($400 for stereo 40wpc, $1400 for a pair of 100wpc monoblocks; around $500-$600 for 100wpc stereo seems like a screamin' deal to me). There are DAC kits, particularly from a company called Twisted Pear, with a good reputation. User barrows here built himself one, and might be a good source of info.



    DAC - I noted the Twisted Pear, if you'd like to go DIY. If that's too much time and trouble right now, I'm about to take delivery in the next couple of weeks of the Bifrost DAC from Schiit (yeah, really). $350 without USB, $450 with. I'll let you know how it sounds. There are other reasonably well-thought-of DACs in the same general price range or lower. They won't be the last word, but then again I've got the impression you are searching more for "enjoyable over the long term" than "ultimate at any price."
  11. tonyo123's Avatar
    Fully agree on NAD as amp/pre ($300-500). Frankly, there are also some good receivers (some used on ebay) to be had that can cost less and will still do a nice job. For a DAC, I use Musiland monitor US 01 (not USD) at $80 & free shipping. It's asynch USB that supports up to 32/192 sound. Has a great control panel on windows that can serve as the volume pre, equalizer, DSP, plus headphone amp control. Buy it direct from China on ebay - takes about 10-14 days. Also, support is provided on their chinese forum and ftp site (for latest version 2 drivers). For PC, any 2 year old Win7/VISTA/Win3.1 used PC will work well ($100-200)- clean out most old software and crapware. Then add latest new (usually best value/performance) external USB 2-or eSATA hard drive (~$70-~$250 based on size) like one of the latest Western Digital MyBook series (I use the double hard drive 2 Trig mirrored setup in case I lose one of the drives-I am almost ready to add 4 Trid HD). For audio software, download Foobar2000 1.1.8 and devionART Spotifoo configuration (free - search, download, install, after you set up the basic Foobar2000). You can also use itunes (free) for synch to ipods ($100-$300 if needed). For file types use Apple Lossless, FLAC, and when not important, mp3/mp4. dBPoweramp (free but a life-time license powerpack @ $20) is great for translating any one file format to another in bulk. For cables get good quality Radio Shack as needed. If eventually you do want to upgrade your speakers, I agree with the post on the Maggies (~$500)for audiophile budget sound, however, they are very delicate and not childern friendly (floor and large cross-section). Also the B&W 685s (~$600) have great sound at moderate price. If you want to bypass the amp/pre option try M-Audio BX series Active speakers sellign for $150-300 (amazon or sweetwater.com). You can add sub later ($200-300). I am sure you will have great sound, plenty to tinker with, improve and add to your blog.
  12. Gregor Samsa's Avatar
    Very much agree with the NAD & Magnepan recommendations. I've had one or more of their components in my systems for years, and with the exception of an ill-fated T752 AVR, all have been exemplary.



    However, the biggest bargain in computer audio to me is the Wavelength Proton. I've heard no DAC near its price that touches it, and it also functions as a headphone amp, and obviates the need for a preamp if you have no analog sources.