Skip to main content

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

Results: Dragonborn / Jeremy Soule

Track notes

If you're reading this page and you've never played Skyrim, then stop reading. Now. Go play Skyrim. One hundred or 200 game-hours later, you'll appreciate the remainder of this page...

...or will you? In the game's encoded format (a lossy, compressed, WMA-related format with an .xwm extension), Skyrim's soundtrack is pretty outstanding. But the official soundtrack on CD has a special degree of immersiveness that goes beyond the in-game music (or so my brain seems to think).

So, after you put in your game time, go buy Skyrim's soundtrack, spend some more time just listening to that, and after you catch yourself singing out Dovahkiin! with those 90 voices, you will really appreciate the rest of this page.

The Dragonborn track itself is a Red Book-standard 16-bit, 44.1 kHz file. It is remarkable because of its deep vocals and bass-heaviness, intermixed with high treble female vocals that create an extreme sonic contrast.

Test results (Listener A)

RunActual DeviceGuess deviceCorrect / Incorrect
1Benchmark DAC2 HGCBenchmark DAC2 HGC or JDS Labs O2+ODAC (uncertain)(Directionally) Correct
2Realtek ALC889*Realtek ALC889 (uncertain)Correct*
3Realtek ALC889*Benchmark DAC2 HGC or JDS Labs O2+ODAC (uncertain)Not Correct*
4Asus Xonar Essence STXAsus Xonar Essence STX (uncertain)Correct
5Benchmark DAC2 HGCBenchmark DAC2 HGC or JDS Labs O2+ODAC (uncertain)(Directionally) Correct
6JDS Labs O2+ODACAsus Xonar Essence STX (uncertain)Not Correct
7JDS Labs O2+ODACRealtek ALC889 (highly uncertain)Not Correct
8Asus Xonar Essence STXBenchmark DAC2 HGC or JDS Labs O2+ODAC (uncertain)Not Correct

Listener A's comments:

As we start our blind tests, I'm not really sure what exactly to listen for. Based on the results above, obviously for an untrained ear it is hard to tell most devices apart. I'm really curious to see if I improve as I listen to more content. From my notes, it seems that the device I subjectively preferred was what turned out to be Asus' Xonar Essence STX (runs four and eight). That is surprising to me. I'm curious to see if that continues to hold true.

*: Tests of the Realtek ALC889 codec marked with an asterisk had a volume level calibration issue that was corrected later. We kept the results in for the sake of transparency, although they should not be considered representative of an actual ability to distinguish the ALC889 from the other devices being tested.