Puzzle Over Soundcards,HiFi & Computer Music?

  Big L 266 10:44 28 Feb 2009


I've recently purchased a new Dell Studio computer with Windows Vista Home Premium 32 bit into which was fitted a Creative PCI Express X-Fi Xtreme Audio sound card. It's then connected to my hi fi system which consists of a Arcam CX Alpha 5 Plus amp and then fed into two Mission Tower speakers (both bought in 1995).My cd collection was transferred onto computer in WMA at 192kbps and takes up 163gb of space.

Although I'm happy with the sound,I feel that it could and should be much better.In some cases,the top end frequencies sound as though they've been 'clipped' and some lower basses sound very distant and not prominent.In the quiet passages,the music seems to be 'boosted' and this is annoying somewhat especially in classical pieces.

I knew the Creative soundcard didn't have Dolby although this was available as a separate download.However,playing music through it was difficult when you've got 36,000 tracks over 7300 individual files. I therefore need your help with a viable solution please.

1.Should I remove the current soundcard and look for a new Dolby based soundcard? If so,which one? I'm prepared to pay serious money for it.

2.Should I keep the current soundcard and add the Cambridge Audio DacMagic on offer for £200?

3.What are the alternatives and possibilities?

I do thank you very much for any help and assistance you can give this older computer user.

  canarieslover 13:27 28 Feb 2009

All compression seems to achieve it's results in a way that compromises both ends of the sound spectrum. Its a touch of the 'Well they can't hear it so don't include it',which may be fine on an MP3 player with relatively low cost headphones. When you try to play it back on anything much better then you are exposing it's weaknesses. This is even more noticable in classical music where sustained notes are prone to 'warble' with compression and some of the subtle harmonics are missing. Try copying a few of your favourite albums as wav files, ie. no compression. You should immediately notice an improvement in playback. Limitation with this method is that you need much more hard drive space. There are alternatives to mp3 and wma that use lossless compression but even these will give much bigger files than you are currently getting. click here Have a look at this, it may help solve your problem. I don't think that Dolby or Dacmagic are going to be the best answers at the moment as it is always the same with Hi Fi, get the front end right first, ie the signal you are feeding the system.

  Big L 266 15:18 28 Feb 2009

Hello Canarieslover. Thank you very much for your kind reply. You sure are right regarding classical music - Ravels 'Bolero' positively shrieks at me right from the onset! I have looked at the link you kindly sent me,but I don't have the expertise or the knowledge needed to do it justice I'm afraid.

I will have a try at copying in WAV lossless.File sizes matter little if I can get back the breadth and width of the music as I would like to hear it once again.My computer has 500gb of space and music really is my first love.

Ideally,I wish I knew where to get a Creative Soundblaster Audigy 4 Pro.I had this on my last computer system and the sound in my monitor phones, computer speakers and hi fi speakers was breathtaking. I've tried everywhere to purchase this 2005 Creative system to no avail. Even if I could,I'd doubt it would serve well on Windows Vista Home Premium as it was designed for Windows XP. (Unless Creative had updated drivers to run it with.)

I agree with wholeheartedly about gettng the front end right. I've had hi fi since I started work in 1970. To have less than near perfect sound which I can still detect at 55 (even though bits of me are clapped out), amazes me! Even the original thick heavy-duty copper-wired made-for-speakers cable back in 1995 was over £3 a meter then.

Thank you again for your very kind help.

  canarieslover 16:53 28 Feb 2009

If file size isn't a problem, with the cost of current drives being so comparatively low, then stick with wav files if they give back the bits that you feel are missing. My next step then would probably be to go for the DAC rather than Dolby as, unless the music is Dolby encoded, Dolby will just introduce another set of unnecessary processing.As always it's your ears that should be the judge, you alone know what they like.

  Stuartli 20:21 28 Feb 2009

Try FLAC (free lossless audio files) on one or two of your music CD tracks and check if it offers an improvement:

click here


click here

One well known example of lossless audio software:

click here

  100andthirty 20:38 28 Feb 2009

Just on the offchance, have you checked whether any of the equalisers - either in your music player (you don't say which you use) or in the soundcard control software. I have found that some of the Creative effects can either be on by default or come on automatically. I would suggest you need as flat and clean audio as possible

also check carefully the settings in the control panel for sound. Make sure speaker settings are for as high a quality as the system allows.

if you move from 192kBps mp3 to wav, you'll need a 1 Terabyte disc. Also, if you want to avoid ripping again if a hard disc fails, you should invest in an external disc or two for backup. Ripping and organising sevel hundred CDs can be a chore (or labour of love???)

  Big L 266 10:47 01 Mar 2009

Canarieslover....Thank you kindly for your help.I may well go for the Dolby option first and/or the DAC second.Its very difficult to make a decision.

Stuartli....I will give the FLAC a one-off try with a familiar classical and pop piece of music.The problem would be converting 36,000 other tracks to FLAC. A daunting task.Thank you for your help though.

100&30....All the music was ripped as 192kbps as stereo WMA files.None were ripped as mp3. I have indeed made fine adjustments to the Creative and believe its as good as I can make it.My old Creative Audigy 4 Pro had a built-in Dolby processing system which the new Creative didn't.I have three external hard-drives with all the songs on.I couldn't re-rip as I had to sell all 1500 cds off to pay my debts a few years ago.I can say tha ripping 1500 cds took three months working 12 hours a day - I had to do it twice as I forgot to turn off the DRM! Six months of frustration! Thank you for your help though.

  canarieslover 18:31 01 Mar 2009

Should you manage to locate a Creative Soundblaster Audigy 4 Pro then you will be pleased to know that Creative have produced a driver for Vista in both 32 & 64 bit variations. click here

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