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  1. #1

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    Default Digital / Computer Audio Starter Guide

    So I figured with the digital audio section and more people wanting to explore this realm of audio I'd make an attempt at a very brief starter guide. This is not intended to be an exhaustive 'how-to' but rather an overview that's intended to help someone new to get an idea of what's involved. The objective isn't to teach you everything you need to know, but to get you started. At the conclusion you likely won't have all the answers but you'll at least know which questions to ask. I'm trying to keep opinion out of this and keep it to just what I believe are industry agreed upon facts.

    I'll start by clarifying, by 'digital audio' I mean playing audio files from a computer or similar device on an audio system. CDs are technically a form of digital audio, but that's not what we're after here, we're talking about playing digital audio files from a library or file system. This world is easily broken into two main areas of equal importance: Creating your digital files and Playing back your digital files. I'm going to cover each of those separately

    Creating your Digital Audio files - Rip, Tag, Organize
    There are two basic types of digital audio files, compressed and lossless. There are multiple variations of each, but everything falls into one of the two buckets. For an ideal listening experience you'll want to have a library of lossless audio. Some people will argue that you can't hear the difference between a 320kbps compressed file and a lossless file, but general conventional wisdom is that many people with good enough systems and ears can hear a difference. Hard drive space is cheap enough these days that it just makes sense to rip to lossless.

    There are basically two ways to get digital audio on to your computer: you can rip it yourself from your CD collection and/or buy it from an online service like HDTracks. Note that using a service like iTunes isn't ideal if you want lossless audio because their music collection is compressed. I've never given iTunes a dime of my money. There are services like HDTracks that do sell lossless files (and even some higher than CD resolution lossless files). Either way, your music comes in via one of these two methods. My collection consists of a lot of each.

    The goal when ripping is to end up with an accurate bit for bit rip of your CD. The first thing you'll need to do is decide on the software you'd like to use to rip your CDs. There are LOTS of options out there that will vary slightly depending if you're on PC or Mac, but they all do essentially the same thing. My product of choose is dbPowerAmp because it has a system in tact that helps ensure that you get an accurate, bt for bit, rip of your CD. It's not the only option, and the purpose here isn't to sell you on dbPowerAmp, so you can do your research and determine what works best for you. Just make sure you end up with something that can give you bit perfect rips.

    The next thing is to make sure that your music is tagged properly. Most software and hardware playback solutions work on the concept of a music library, where your library software uses tags that are stored in the media files themselves to organize by things such as genre, artist, and album. The easiest way is to typically tag the files the way you want them as you rip them. I personally use a non-conventional method where I rip my music into a given folder structure and then use software to create the tags based on that folder structure, but most people prefer to let the software manage the tags. Either way, the goal is to use a consistent tagging structure and get your tags the way you want them.

    So now you've got your music ripped and tagged, all you need now is a method of actually playing back the files.


    Playing your digital audio files
    When playing back audio, the goal is to get that bit perfect files that you ripped or downloaded all the way to your preamp or receiver with as little alteration to the original file as possible. There are countless permutations of how playing back a file can be accomplished, but again they fall into two categories: connecting your computer directly to your audio system and using the computer or a remote control app to play back the files OR using a device that sits on the same network as your computer and can stream (wirelessly or wired) audio files. I'll briefly discuss the two:

    The first option basically consists of 9for example I can control iTunes on any of my Macs from any of myou somehow hooking up your computer to your audio system and using either the computer itself or a remote control app on maybe a tablet or smartphone to control the audio player on your computer (for example I can control iTunes on any of my Macs using my phone or iPad). This tends to be the cheapest initial option as you can do something like hook up an optical cable directly from your computer to your receiver. However, there are lots of variables like random quality of the digital output on different computers, the need to bypass the system audio mixers on both Windows and Mac, asynchronous USB, etc etc. So this option CAN be cheaper, but it can also get more complex if you really want to do it right.

    The other option is to use a device that streams the music from your computer. The two most common examples are the Sonos players and the Squeezebox players. Each work differently but have the same basic function - they stream files wirelessly or wired from your computer or network drive into themselves and output audio into your receiver or preamp. These are a simpler approach because they bypass a lot of the potential issues you can run into with outputting directly like a computer (all those I listed above). The only downside here is expense. They're not incredibly expensive but are an additional cost. These often sound better than a poorly implemented computer output rig, and can sound as good is an expertly implemented one.

    I suppose I can't have a digital audio section without at least mentioning DACs. Regardless of which path you choose, you'll also likely want to get an external DAC as well, although which one you get may be defined by which approach you take. There are computer sound cards that have good DACs on board and can potentially output very good sound, and there are streaming devices that also have good DACs inside (I'm particularly fond of the DAC section in my Squeezebox Touch). Remember, the DAC turns a digital signal into an analog one, so digital cable (coax, optical, USB) goes into your DAC, two analog RCA cables comes out and into your preamp or receiver.

    So there you have it. Like i said, not a really thorough guide, just a very brief intro for someone thinking about jumping in to the world of digital audio.

    Enjoy the music!
    Main HT
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  2. #2

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    Thanks for posting this, should come in handy to many looking to get into digital music for the first time. Maybe even make it a sticky so it doesn't get lost over time.

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    Nice thread...should we dip into some recommended software?

    You are using MAC? If so, maybe you can start listing all the 3rd party stuff e.g. Amarra, PureMusic, etc.

    I can start on Windows...

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    Great post, this is my next step for a two channel system. Thanks for your efforts!
    Home Theater
    Onkyo PR-SC5508 Sharp LC-70LE847U
    Emotiva XPA-5 Emotiva XPA-2 Emotiva UPA-2
    Front RTi-A9 Wide RTi-A7 Center CSi-A6 Surround FXi-A6 Rear RTi-A3 Sub 2x PSW505
    Sony BDP-S790 Dishnetwork Hopper/Joey Logitech Harmony One Apple TV
    Two Channel
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    With hard disk storage so cheap, there's really no valid argument to go lossy---for any reason. Just my HO. It's tough enough (read that: expensive) getting great sound from 16/44, I don't think we need to up the ante by going lossy. Save that crap for the ipod shuffle. To be brutally honest, lossy audio has no place on a hi-fi forum, or in an otherwise hi-fi system.

    Advice: BEFORE you start ripping, definitely educate yourself. Ripping CD's is a long, boring process, you don't want to have to do it again*. Also--(see above) BACKUP your music library. Think of it like you're getting ready to develope a database; think thru all the possibilities, tagging, categorization, etc before you begin--anyone who has a spent a day building a new database knows it's far easier to plan better, than to start adding data columns after the fact.

    I use EAC (Exact Audio Copy) for ripping, and MediaMonkey for tag editing. I rip using flac.

    *If you have 380 CD's, it'll take you 38 DAYS to rip your library at 10 cd's a day. This is what I did as EAC is pretty slow at ripping (about 10-15mins per CD).
    Last edited by steveinaz; 07-30-2012 at 10:35 AM.

    Transport: Oppo BDP-103/USB HDD (flac)
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    Just to add to this I'm using a NAS system by Synology. The one I have allows me to have up to 8TB of storage. I have it in my home network and it streams my Flac Files to my Yamaha AVR which supports Flac files up to 96/24. I've ripped all my CD's to Flac and also buy Flac albums @ 96/24 from HDTracks.

    I can see the day coming when CD's will be a thing of the past and buying music will be as easy as a click and a download for CD or better quality. It's so easy to use this way, no player, no fumbling thru CD's and albums. You even get the album cover on your Plasma and the liner notes when you buy from HDTracks.
    Polkaudio Fronts: RTi A7's Vr3 Fortress Edition / Wyred 4 Sound mAMP's
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  7. #7

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    gce,

    Get yourself an outboard dac if you want to up the ante in your sound. While many if not all of todays receivers have decent dac chips in them, chips alone do not dictate the sound they make. With digital audio, it's practically a must have if you want better than cd sound.

    On the cd thing going away.....not so sure. Vinyl was to go away too but is enjoying a good comeback. Digital is fine as another medium, another audio option, but artist are going to have a say, a bigger say, lets say, in the coin they make. Music services pay them crapola, and file sharing is going to have to come down to some sort of copy protection. This really wasn't that big of an issue when you were shelling out 20-25 bucks for a cd but now you can pick and choose which songs you like for a fraction of the costs. This only tells me that music files will get more expensive, they have to, or choices limited. Just a matter of time imho.
    Last edited by tonyb; 08-02-2012 at 09:04 PM.

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    tonyb,

    On the outboard dac, I've been thinking I should do this but I'm dac illiterate! I've searched and read up on this but don't know how a dac would fit into my system. I mean, a usb dac? does it hookup to my NAS or the AVR? I know what a dac is I just can't figure out how they hookup to a/my system. I need to know that so I get the right dac....right?

    Kinda glade you brought this up so maybe I can learn something here.
    Polkaudio Fronts: RTi A7's Vr3 Fortress Edition / Wyred 4 Sound mAMP's
    Polkaudio Center: CSi A6 Vr3 Fortress Edition
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    Marantz SR-7008
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  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by gce View Post
    tonyb,

    On the outboard dac, I've been thinking I should do this but I'm dac illiterate! I've searched and read up on this but don't know how a dac would fit into my system. I mean, a usb dac? does it hookup to my NAS or the AVR? I know what a dac is I just can't figure out how they hookup to a/my system. I need to know that so I get the right dac....right?

    Kinda glade you brought this up so maybe I can learn something here.
    With your current setup you can't integrate a DAC because you're streaming directly to your AVR. To integrate a DAC you'd need to add a component like a Squeezebox or Sonos into the mix, assuming that your NAS doesn't output sound over USB. The SB or Sonos would pull and stream music from your NAS and you would use that device (or something like a tablet or smartphone) to control playback, then run from that device out to a DAC and finally into your AVR.

    Hell, you'd probably get a decent upgrade in sound just by using the DACs in one of those devices over what your AVR already has, and could add an external DAC later.
    Main HT
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  10. #10

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    That's kinda what I thought but wasn't sure because the NAS has usb but I believe thats for external storage only.

    Thanks for the info...it's a little clearer now.
    Polkaudio Fronts: RTi A7's Vr3 Fortress Edition / Wyred 4 Sound mAMP's
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    GCE,
    Dacs, like everything else in audio, come in different flavors and prices. Some suggestions to start off with would be Audio-gd, Keces, PS Audio digital link 3, Anything by Musical fidelity, Bryston,Cambridge.....a gazillion out there but these are some of the best bang for your buck dacs around.

    Connecting is easy, some but not all have multiple ways to connect up. You can use USB, digital coax, or the same digital cable you use for your dvd player. From there, going out, it's just 2 regular rca cables to your receivers front left and right inputs.

    Word of caution though, buying too cheap of a dac may not yield better results over your avr. Lots of junk out there, like anything else. We will steer you straight if you decide to go that route, just ask.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tonyb View Post
    We will steer you straight if you decide to go that route, just ask.
    Ok, right now I have an AVR, cat5 running to the router and a NAS, cat5 to the router streaming Flac to my AVR. So with this before I can add a better dac to the system I need to add a Squeezebox or Sonos to the mix? How would I hookup one of these so it would take the stream for the NAS and send it to the AVR?
    Polkaudio Fronts: RTi A7's Vr3 Fortress Edition / Wyred 4 Sound mAMP's
    Polkaudio Center: CSi A6 Vr3 Fortress Edition
    Polkaudio Surrounds: FXi A6's
    Sub: SVS PC12-NSD
    Marantz SR-7008
    Marantz TT-15S1
    BDP-Denon DBT-1713UD
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    That is great to hear gce!! i found my answer....so yamaha will play flac files? There are times when i dont care so much about the quality of the sound and i just want to hear through my yammy (RX A3000). For listening with as good a quality as I can afford I stream off my Synology ds3611 NAS to a computer that i have hooked up to the Brick DAC. This then feeds a Dodd preamp and then two dynaco mkIII amps completely redone by Will Vincent. The music files are lossless windows and seems only windows will play them.

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    WAVE Ripping - dbPoweramp, to server
    Streaming - Logitech Touch with switching power supply
    Computer Audio - Evaluating JRiver Media Center with Tascam US144 as USB DAC with laptop. In the market for better USB DAC.

    @GCE I have A1000 will have to check out if the sound is good streaming through the AVR

  15. #15

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    This site is pretty good for computer audio.
    http://www.computeraudiophile.com/forum/
    Click on there FAQ for basic info. Forum's packed with info.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hobbyguy View Post
    That is great to hear gce!! i found my answer....so yamaha will play flac files? There are times when i dont care so much about the quality of the sound and i just want to hear through my yammy (RX A3000). For listening with as good a quality as I can afford I stream off my Synology ds3611 NAS to a computer that i have hooked up to the Brick DAC. This then feeds a Dodd preamp and then two dynaco mkIII amps completely redone by Will Vincent. The music files are lossless windows and seems only windows will play them.
    Yeah, it works great in my home network. I have the Synology ds212j and the interface with the Yamaha is fantastic. You can pick and see clearly whats songs are playng on the front panel of the Yamaha, very easy to use. I know from reading that the sound might not be up to par for many around here but me not knowing (yet) what sounds better the sound is very very good to my ears, especially in 2 channel (pure audio) mode. You can play up to 96/24 Flac on our Yamaha's.
    Polkaudio Fronts: RTi A7's Vr3 Fortress Edition / Wyred 4 Sound mAMP's
    Polkaudio Center: CSi A6 Vr3 Fortress Edition
    Polkaudio Surrounds: FXi A6's
    Sub: SVS PC12-NSD
    Marantz SR-7008
    Marantz TT-15S1
    BDP-Denon DBT-1713UD
    Denon AH-D5000's
    Synology DS 212j-4TB
    TV: Panasonic TC P55VT30

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    I think my yamaha sounds really really good to my ears also. The quality of the source to my ears also makes a difference and now I have to (groan) convert all those albums to FLAC. I wonder if there is a batch converter out there.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hobbyguy View Post
    I think my yamaha sounds really really good to my ears also. The quality of the source to my ears also makes a difference and now I have to (groan) convert all those albums to FLAC. I wonder if there is a batch converter out there.
    I got an external writer plugged it into my laptop and used dbpoweramp to rip lossless Flac. I did it in the evenings while watching TV. I think it took about 2 weeks or so. dbpoweramp has a batch converter with the program I got from them but I've never used it as I went straight from CD to Flac.
    Polkaudio Fronts: RTi A7's Vr3 Fortress Edition / Wyred 4 Sound mAMP's
    Polkaudio Center: CSi A6 Vr3 Fortress Edition
    Polkaudio Surrounds: FXi A6's
    Sub: SVS PC12-NSD
    Marantz SR-7008
    Marantz TT-15S1
    BDP-Denon DBT-1713UD
    Denon AH-D5000's
    Synology DS 212j-4TB
    TV: Panasonic TC P55VT30

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    Very helpful post A, I bought dbpoweramp as you suggest, any recommendations on ripping settings?

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    Quote Originally Posted by drgalexo View Post
    Very helpful post A, I bought dbpoweramp as you suggest, any recommendations on ripping settings?
    It's been awhile since I set it up. Can't remember all the settings but this is where I went to get the right settings for my rip's http://www.dbpoweramp.com/cd-ripper-setup-guide.htm
    Polkaudio Fronts: RTi A7's Vr3 Fortress Edition / Wyred 4 Sound mAMP's
    Polkaudio Center: CSi A6 Vr3 Fortress Edition
    Polkaudio Surrounds: FXi A6's
    Sub: SVS PC12-NSD
    Marantz SR-7008
    Marantz TT-15S1
    BDP-Denon DBT-1713UD
    Denon AH-D5000's
    Synology DS 212j-4TB
    TV: Panasonic TC P55VT30

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    Got it, thanks gce.

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    Question for you guys who have a MUCH better understanding of this stuff: My Oppo 83SE player has a USB port. Could I download FLAC files from HD Tracks to my computer, copy that to a thumb drive, and plug that into the Oppo and maintain the high quality?
    Thanks!

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    Thanks OP, We were in the middle of our move to KC when this was posted and totally missed it.

    Great write up.

    I use Amarra mini for MAc playback and XLD for ripping.
    Speakers: SDA-1C (most all the goodies)
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    Amp: Wright WPA 50-50 EAT KT88s
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    Digital: Mac mini 2.3GHz dual-core i5 8g RAM 1.5 TB HDD Music Server Amarra (memory play) - USB - W4S DAC 2
    Cables: Mits S3 IC and Spk cables| PS Audio PCs

    Ofc: Wright WLA12 preamp: Anthem Amp 1: Pio Elite DV-79AVI: Airport Express: CAL Sigma II DAC: PA LS90 sonicaps and mills

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    For those looking for a simple, high quality computer DAC, the AudioQuest Dragonfly has gotten a bunch of stellar reviews lately, and at ~$250, is pretty affordable. On the lowend of things, some of the Fiio headphone amps have DAC circuitry and an auxiliary out that can be used for a stereo... better than a typical computer out and a great investment in the $50-$100 range.
    5.1 theater - Pioneer SC-07, Mirage OMD-CC center, 4 x Mirage Omnisats, Boston Acoustics VPS-210 sub
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    2.1 bedroom- Arcam Solo, 2 x Mirage OMD-5's
    FOR SALE - Genesis Servo-10 sub, Genesis Servo-12 amp; Martin Logan Dynamo sub; Mirage MM-6 sub; Harman Kardon DPR-1001 7.1 receiver

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    On the PC audio player recommendations, Foobar2000 works well and is free, which makes it ideal for the office...
    5.1 theater - Pioneer SC-07, Mirage OMD-CC center, 4 x Mirage Omnisats, Boston Acoustics VPS-210 sub
    2.1 living room - NAD 7400 integrated, 2 x Platinum Audio Duos, MIT Terminator4 cables
    2.1 bedroom- Arcam Solo, 2 x Mirage OMD-5's
    FOR SALE - Genesis Servo-10 sub, Genesis Servo-12 amp; Martin Logan Dynamo sub; Mirage MM-6 sub; Harman Kardon DPR-1001 7.1 receiver

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    Default HDMI or Dac for 2 channel via avr

    So in the past I have had great results using sperates and intigrated amps. I had the Dac Magic, PS Audio Digital Link III and a few others. Once I got the Peachtree Nova I got rid of them, becasue it took care of everything. Recently I sold the Nova to get a reciever.

    Now I am a little bit at a loss. For right now I have my Mac Book Pro through Itunes / via HDMI / to my Marantz SR6006. Its a decent Blue Jeans Cable and the on screen display says its supporting 192. I dont think its actually getting that high of a file though.

    All of my CD's are ripped to itunes in applelossless and I have no desire for high res files. I also have a smaller budget this time around. Can I bypass my mac and maratnz and use something like a dragonfly or HRT if I just connect it in the anlog inputs on the marantz? Is HDMI the best way to go right now? I would prefer to get 2.2 audio ultimily.

    Id like to keep it at 300.00 or less. I recently saw the Teac refurb on accessories4less that caught my eye.

    http://www.accessories4less.com/make...-Silver/1.html

    The other idea I had was to use a spdif converter via my macbook to the marantz, dont know if this would yield any better results.


    I apreciate any help. Thanks,


    Logan

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    in my setup I use
    Foobar as the player with the WASAPI driver to bybass the windows audio mixer.
    I have a cheap chaintech card that allowed the bit perfect output to my DAC via an optical cable.
    If you are using the digital output of your sound card and you have configured the PC to use bit perfect does it matter if you are not using a DAC with USB functionality or a high end sound card?
    Is a bit-perfect digital signal sent out of the PC always going to be the same at this point in the system

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    That depends really on the card. I've found that the quality of the spdif output on sound cards varies greatly. Some still allow a great deal of jitter to get through while others perform fairly well. I found a good USB Dac or USB to spdif converter in front of a DAC both performed better when compared to the spdif output on even my expensive Asus Xonar card.
    Main HT
    Magnepan 1.6QR fronts, POlk R15 surrounds, Pioneer SC-25, Parasound Halo A23, Oppo BDP-105, Panasonic TC-P60ZT60, Sony PS3, Apple TV

    Bedroom System
    Polk Blackstone TL3, Polk PSWi225 Wireless Sub, HK 3490 Integrated, Oppo BDP-103, Sharp Aquos 32" TV, Apple TV

    Office Rig
    27" iMac w/Amarra, AudioQuest Dragonfly 1.2, Focal XS Book, Schiit Valhalla, Cypher Labs Theorem 720, Philips Fidelio X1, Sennheiser HD600, HiFiMan HE-500, B&W P7, LG 47LM7600, Sony PS3, Apple TV

  29. #29

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    Quote Originally Posted by AsSiMiLaTeD View Post
    That depends really on the card. I've found that the quality of the spdif output on sound cards varies greatly. Some still allow a great deal of jitter to get through while others perform fairly well. I found a good USB Dac or USB to spdif converter in front of a DAC both performed better when compared to the spdif output on even my expensive Asus Xonar card.
    That's helpful... I have a new computer and have been debating putting in a soundcard vs. getting a USB-DAC for everything. Do you have suggestions on a high-value USB-DAC you'd recommend based on your experience?
    5.1 theater - Pioneer SC-07, Mirage OMD-CC center, 4 x Mirage Omnisats, Boston Acoustics VPS-210 sub
    2.1 living room - NAD 7400 integrated, 2 x Platinum Audio Duos, MIT Terminator4 cables
    2.1 bedroom- Arcam Solo, 2 x Mirage OMD-5's
    FOR SALE - Genesis Servo-10 sub, Genesis Servo-12 amp; Martin Logan Dynamo sub; Mirage MM-6 sub; Harman Kardon DPR-1001 7.1 receiver

  30. #30

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    I have ripped my cds with dbpoweramp and I'm playing them back with jrivers. They say ASIO or WASPI is the best way to playback. Im using a Dell laptop with Windows XP that doesn't have ASIO. Is that something that can be added or is it only in Window7 and 8?

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