This Click’s For You: The Perfect Digital Sound Set-Up

By: Chris Ott

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Posted 04/18/2005 - 01:06:33 PM by gaddio:
 Because I'm lazy, can you offer any links to specific things? I mean, I guess I COULD open Google...
Posted 04/18/2005 - 01:15:15 PM by Billy43:
 Agreed completely with everything until you talked about the sound card, etc. I'd go with Klipsch speakers (GMX or ProMedia) + Creative Labs SoundBlaster sound card(Audigy2 and up).
Posted 04/18/2005 - 01:51:29 PM by gaddio:
 I figured I should clarify... I am not sure about the OctiMax plugin for Winamp. I've found a few things that go by the OctiMax name but they aren't the same.
Posted 04/18/2005 - 03:39:38 PM by paul-docs:
 Headphones are great. My sony MDR-EX71SL set are superb for earbuds. But no matter what kind of cans you use, you can't "feel" the sound like you can with a proper set of floorstanding loudspeakers. You simply can't experience Leftfield, Dizzy Rascal or Roots Manuva without them. Pity I need a transit van to listen on the move though... ;)
Posted 04/18/2005 - 10:26:50 PM by ectocooler:
 My setup: Emachines PC that I've had for three years with no hardware upgrades whatsoever. 192kbps MP3 through Winamp through headphone-to-rca cable through $90 stereo receiver (no 5.1 or anything like that) to a pair of speakers older than I am. I've done it this way for two years, and I'm very happy.
Posted 04/18/2005 - 11:46:25 PM by destro713:
 I've never seen the point of going through a CD ripping/encoding process that takes more than one step. If you're dedicating that level of time and energy on a DOWNgrade from a medium that you already have readily available, you're better off just setting aside a good $700 or so and buying yourself a real CD player, an integrated amp and a set of B&W;'s or PSB's or something. It will save time and sound better. With the right make and model of 6" bookshelf speakers you can have a more emotionally resonant musical experience than any soundcard and any Japanese electrostatic headphones can offer. Then once you have a good home rig you can start making compressed copies for portable listening only. Compression is a convenience tool and it should be treated as such. It's like a photocopy. Does it give you the gist of an image? Yes, and conveniently and inexpensively so. Would you hang it on your wall? No. The exception, of course, is if you're low enough on cash that a $200 sound card and some decent headphones are your absolute limit in a home system. In that case I guess using compressed formats for home listening as well might make sense. But at that level, can you really tell the difference between codecs? Well, if you stick with higher bitrates (which this article covers, I'm assuming), the only information you're really losing is harmonic stuff that your computer/portable rigs can't even resolve in the first place, even on CD. In short, no. So basically, if you're using standard Redbook CD's and you want good playback at home, you should be playing your actual CD's through a real DAC and some loudspeakers. If you want good portable playback, just pick the most convenient file type. It's much easier to stop compression from adding things (artifacts) than is it to stop it from taking things away, but taking things away doesn't matter because your iRiver/Grado combo wouldn't even give that stuff to you if it was still there. Pick the lowest possible bitrate that allows for the absence of (audible) artifacting and run with it. Your enthusiast friends might be squeezing better fidelity out of their compression by using EAC and some funky LAME command line option, and you can opt for the canned iTunes AAC default setting and spend all the time you saved on actually enjoying the music, or at least the gist of it. Once you learn to accept the fact that all compression (and all portable listening) is a sonic compromise, why split hairs? The goal of a home system is fidelity -- no, fuck that -- musicality, and the goal of a portable system is convenience. Don't get it tangled and twisted, yo, or you're liable to waste time and money.
Posted 04/18/2005 - 11:55:16 PM by destro713:
 But regardless, props on the nerdly discourse. The world needs more people who care about this shit.
Posted 04/19/2005 - 11:08:11 AM by rasm0225:
 Great article. For what it's worth, I've got a iMac, iTunes, a lacie 250gb external firewire drive, and a ariport express to my stereo in the living room. From a hardware standpoint, I've never had a problem with my drive. And from a sound conversion standpoint, the only way I've heard the difference between an uncompressed aiff file and a 192 kbps rip was going to my friend's top of the line mastering studio. I've got friends that complain about mp3 compression, but then don't notice that the pre-release download of Interpol's new record is in mono! I encourage most people to really listen rather than get caught up in the hype about mp3 compression etc. I think this article helps do that. And Chris, are you still writing for Pitchfork, or have you moved on?
Posted 04/19/2005 - 04:59:16 PM by danzap:
 "iPods...announce to the world that a) you’re a shameless consumer whore, and b) you don’t really listen to music." Right. And your endorsment of iRiver and Maxtor makes you less of a slave to commerce because...? It's fine if you're annoyed by the iPod's advertising ubiquity (I am), but why the sweeping slam of the people who carry them? I mean, damn--it sounds like you're the one actively defining people by their brands, and you're doing it on a fairly popular website. Doesn't that announce your whorishness a little louder than someone walking down the street with a pair of white earphones?
Posted 04/21/2005 - 11:18:21 AM by scooper:
 Holy Christ, a 3,200 word article and I can count on one hand the number of useful recommendations? Do college students really have this much free time?
Posted 04/22/2005 - 08:25:52 AM by NickSouthall:
 I need to know if destro713 is named after the metal-faced arms dealer from GI Joe. This is urgent & key.
Posted 04/23/2005 - 04:49:23 AM by marwood:
 You don't necessarily need a soundcard. I actually use a little commercially produced box, that takes the data stream straight out of a USB2 port. I plug in RCA cables from the box to the Amplifier and it sounds marvellous. Also has a digital output option if your amp supports digital inputs.
Posted 04/24/2005 - 11:55:23 AM by destro713:
 Yes, I am.
Posted 04/24/2005 - 12:02:45 PM by destro713:
 Oh, I forgot, Blu-Ray discs are not 25 gigs per disc. They're 25 per layer, and word is they have managed to produce 8-layer discs. That's 200 gigs.
Posted 04/25/2005 - 07:42:36 PM by justinbb:
 An engaging piece with a good deal of helpful information... and a whole lot of personal opinion masquerading as uncontrovertible facts. In audio as with colors and flavors, you have to believe what your own senses tell you; the advice of others is just advice. The observation that hard drives must be considered as disposable storage is particularly wise. The comment that "the digital audio file is the only format that will never skip, fade, or fall behind the couch" is, in equal measure, foolhardy. Preserving digital data against loss and obsolescence (both hardware *and* software) is a task that doesn't show many signs of getting simpler as time goes on. Also, as others have pointed out, the article has some glaring inconsistencies. Unless I've missed something important, I don't see why "all midrange" is a reason for hating iPods but admiring OctiMax. Feed an iPod some decent data (not 128 kbps stuff) and it will give you glorious sound. It's a portable, not a home stereo - and yes, you're paying for the design - but it's not a device to be sneered at. I also wonder: are hard drives from major manufacturers such as Hitachi, Fujitsu, and Toshiba inherently more unstable than those from Seagate, Samsung, and Maxtor? Somehow I doubt it.
Posted 04/26/2005 - 06:09:47 PM by peterdeep:
 Sorry... but what a load of opinionated horsecrap. I used to sell audio in a high-end shop and this article reminds me of the comments from the endless procession of opinionated, unmovable, stubborn, judgmental and self-righteous audiophiles that worked there and customers who paraded in and out spouting absolutes. What could be more subjective than what sounds good to a person? BTW, Chris, if you are a college student, I bought my first iPod when you were probably in junior high. No one says you have to listen to an iPod with the stock earbuds - which DO sound lousy to me. We're now a five-iPod family and quite happy about it, thank you. There are 19,400 songs on my Mac (which you don't seem to like) that I send wirelessly using Airtunes to stereos all over my house - using its optical connection - and it sounds great (to me) and could not be more convenient. Life is sweet. Funny you didn't mention this option. You also forgot that Macs come stock with digital 5.1 optical audio out in your lengthy discussion of soundcards.