What Does It Take To Turn The PC Into A Hi-Fi Audio Platform?

Results: Symphonic Dances / Andante Con Moto / Rachmaninoff

Track notes

HRX's version of Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances is made available in a DVD-R format of 24-bit/176.4 kHz (after a 176.4 to 88.2 to 176.4 kHz process). That created similar issues as Daft Punk's 88.2 kHz album, and the reason is the same. Only the Benchmark DAC2 supports this sampling frequency; the JDS Labs O2+ODAC and Asus Xonar Essence STX do not. Realtek's ALC889 codec does support that frequency in its specs, but in WASAPI mode using foobar2000, neither 88.2 nor 176.4 kHz worked.

Since we were going from 176.4 kHz all the way down to 44.1, we wanted to show that resampling using the same foobar2000 PPHS resampler in Ultra mode introduced no audible artifacts. Both listeners tried multiple times, and neither could tell any difference. In our subjective opinions, 176.4 and 44.1 kHz are exactly the same.

Test results (Listener B)

Swipe to scroll horizontally
RunActual DeviceGuess deviceCorrect / Incorrect
1JDS Labs O2+ODACN/A - "Less preferred"N/A
2Realtek ALC889N/AN/A
3Asus Xonar Essence STXN/A - "More preferred"N/A
4Realtek ALC889N/A - "Less preferred"N/A
5Benchmark DAC2 HGCN/AN/A
6JDS Labs O2+ODACN/A - "More preferred"N/A
7Benchmark DAC2 HGCN/A - "Less preferred"N/A
8Asus Xonar Essence STXN/A - "Less preferred"N/A

Listener B's comments:

I was surprised at the results, struggling to decide whether the validity of our blind tests could be called into question, or rather if these tests indeed show our auditioned devices cannot be reliably told apart. I do believe that the story would be different if we used full-sized speakers, rather than headphones.

  • SuckRaven
    Bravo ! Awesome, and a very thorough review. Even though as you mention, audio gear is not usually the forté/emphasis of the reviews here, it's refreshing to have someone at least try to cut through the (more often-than-not) overpriced arena of bullshit that is the field of "high-end" audio. I applaud the review, and the effort. Keep up the good work. More please.
  • PudgyChicken
    Just wondering, why not test a Creative X-Fi Titanium HD or something like that alongside the ASUS Xonar? It would be interesting to see some of the differences between different PCIe sound cards in this matchup. However I understand that what you were really going for was showing the difference between price point and form factor at the same time, so perhaps not testing two PCIe cards makes sense.
  • kitsunestarwind
    The biggest thing I have found for the PC is no matter how good your DAC is , if your speakers and AMP are crap, then it will never sound better.People spend big money on DAC's and forget that you need a high Quality amp with very very low THD (total harmonic distortions) and a very good set of Full Range speakers with high sensitivity if you want good sound, instead of crappy (albeit expensive) computer speakers especially sets with a sub.
  • shahrooz
    this article just won Tom's Hardware Readers Elite award
  • maestro0428
    Wonderful article! I love listening to music and do so mostly at my PCs. I try to set up systems where audio is important in component selection. Although we all love drooling over expensive equipment, many times it is not all that necessary for an amazing experience. I'd love to see more! Including smaller, studio speakers as I believe that speakers/headphones are the most important part of the equation. Keep up the great work!
  • blackmagnum
    Don't forget that for PCs: the hardware is as good as its software (drivers).
  • Someone Somewhere
    Agree totally with this. It always annoys me when people say they're spending over $100 on a sound card, especially when it turns out that they're using Optical out, and the whole thing is basically moot.I now have a nice source to link to.
  • 1zacster
    The thing is you can't just pick up two sets of good headphones, try them on different DACs/AMPs and expect to hear major differences, it takes longer than 5 minutes for your ears to adjust to newer headphones and for the differences to actually show. This is like taking food from Left Bank and then bringing in a bunch of hobos and asking them tel tell the differences between the foods.
  • dogman-x
    I use an optical cable from my PC to a home theatre receiver. With this setup, stereo CD audio content is sent as raw PCM to the receiver, not compressed into DD or DTS. These days you can buy a very good quality home theatre receiver for less than $200. Audio quality is outstanding.
  • Memnarchon
    I would love to see ALC1150 in these tests too, since its widely used at most Z87 mobos.