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Speakers Popping and Background Noises w/Xonar STX
TomoR
post Nov 30 2012, 00:01
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Recently, I switched from a conventional component stereo to computer audio; my son set up the computer and installed the ASUS Xonar Essence STX sound card. Although it sounds good, I found a few problems and would like to have suggestions from computer audiophiles.

I am almost exclusively a classical music fan. I have nearly 200 CDs that I made by recording CBC FM broadcast in the past 10 years. I have a few commercially recorded CDs, most of which I do not like, as a quiet section is almost inaudible and a loud section makes me jump out of skin.

Also, apologies for my English; it is not my native language.


1. Popping noise, through speakers, when restart the music from pause

While playing a CD on my computer, I may interrupt the music by clicking on the start/pause button on the Windows Media Player. When restarting, a popping (explosive) sound may come out of the speakers. The sound is similar to one that happens in an old radio set with a dirty on-off switch. It could be quite loud. It does not happen all the time but does quite frequently.

Now, beside the sound card STX, I still have my old Yamaha hard-drive recorder (CDR/HD1000, a year 2002 vintage) which has a DAC mode. As a test, when I use it as an external DAC, bypassing the STXs DAC, it never pops in the same pause/restart operation.

2. Low background sound (noise) when playing a CD via STX

This occurs in a section of the CD where no music is played, such as the very start of playing the CD, in a pause between movements, or at the end of music. The sound is significantly reduced or nearly eliminated when the music starts. There is no such sound in the section of the CD in which no recording was made. If I play the same CD via the Yamaha recorder as an external DAC, it is almost absolutely quiet. This might be because the STX has a wider range of audible frequencies than the old Yamaha, or the Yamaha DAC might have a device to attenuate the noise; just guessing.

BTW, to my personal taste, the Yamaha DAC sounds more musical (very comfortable to listen to for a long period of time), as compared with STX that sounds, albeit crisper and more detailed, somewhat too bright to my taste. Of course, it may be that I am more comfortable with the Yamaha as I have used to it for the past 10 years.

3. Volume control in the Xonar Audio Center

At which level should it normally be set for playing a CD? At the moment, I set it about 40% so that the highest sound level is about 0 dB, and use the volume control of the amplifier for finer adjustments.

Thank you for any advice given.

Regards,
Tomo
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Apesbrain
post Nov 30 2012, 00:42
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Some additional information would be helpful:
1. Please describe in detail the type of PC you are using and how it is connected to your audio system, e.g. Between what components and into which jacks? What kinds and lengths of cabling?
2. Is the PC plugged into the same power circuit as the audio system?
3. When you "play" a CD are you inserting the CD into your computer and playing audio from it or are you playing files previously ripped from the physical CD and stored on the PC hard drive?
4. You mention better results using your Yamaha CD recorder as an external DAC; how is this wired up?
5. Have you visited the ASUS website and updated to the current drivers?
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DVDdoug
post Nov 30 2012, 01:34
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QUOTE
While playing a CD on my computer, I may interrupt the music by clicking on the start/pause button on the Windows Media Player. When restarting, a popping (explosive) sound may come out of the speakers. ....

...when I use it as an external DAC, bypassing the STXs DAC, it never pops in the same pause/restart operation.
That's probably your soundcard/soundchip, or it could be a driver problem. Make sure your drivers are up to date and if they are, or updating does not help, maybe try a different soundcard.

QUOTE
2. Low background sound (noise) when playing a CD via STX
That is also probably your souncard. An external USB soundcard (or other DAC) will be isolated from the computer's internal digital clocks and related potential noise sources. External soundcards are not always better than internal soundcards or motherboard soundchips, but sometimes... I've got a fairly cheap (about $20 USD) USB soundcard that I use for "testing purposes", and it's dead silent with no sound playing... With headphones I don't hear any difference if the headphones are plugged-in or not (when no sound is playing). Of course there's always some noise in every analog output, but with that USB soundcard, I can't hear it.

QUOTE
This occurs in a section of the CD where no music is played, such as the very start of playing the CD, in a pause between movements, or at the end of music. The sound is significantly reduced or nearly eliminated when the music starts.
That could just be masking ("drowning-out" the noise).

QUOTE
3. Volume control in the Xonar Audio Center

At which level should it normally be set for playing a CD? At the moment, I set it about 40% so that the highest sound level is about 0 dB, and use the volume control of the amplifier for finer adjustments.
Usually, the idea is to max-out the signal for the best signal-to-noise ratio (as long as you can do that without going into clipping/distortion). Then, when you turn-down the signal and noise together at a later stage.

QUOTE
I am almost exclusively a classical music fan. I have nearly 200 CDs that I made by recording CBC FM broadcast in the past 10 years. I have a few commercially recorded CDs, most of which I do not like, as a quiet section is almost inaudible and a loud section makes me jump out of skin.
The dynamic contrast is supposed to be a good thing... a great thing... with classical music! biggrin.gif But, it takes an ideal listening environment and "serious listening".

But there might be something you can do about that... Radio stations often use dynamic compression to even-out the loudness. With an audio editor (Audacity is FREE!!!) you can add some compression yourself. It can be tricky to get good compressoin that sounds natural, especially if you want a lot of compression, so it will take some experimenting to see if you can get satisfactory results. Or, you may need some better (non-free) software. And of course, you'll have to make copies of the music since you can't edit a CD.

QUOTE
BTW, to my personal taste, the Yamaha DAC sounds more musical (very comfortable to listen to for a long period of time), as compared with STX that sounds, albeit crisper and more detailed, somewhat too bright...
Please be careful with descriptions like that! wink.gif I understand what you mean by "noise", but when you use words like "crisper" or "more detailed", you are going to get "reminded" of TOS #8. If you are not hearing noise, distortion, or frequency response variations, most DACs/soundcards will sound identical in proper level-matched blind listening tests.

QUOTE
Also, apologies for my English; it is not my native language.
Really? Your written English is excellent!
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TomoR
post Nov 30 2012, 01:40
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QUOTE (Apesbrain @ Nov 29 2012, 15:42) *
Some additional information would be helpful:
1. Please describe in detail the type of PC you are using and how it is connected to your audio system, e.g. Between what components and into which jacks? What kinds and lengths of cabling?
2. Is the PC plugged into the same power circuit as the audio system?
3. When you "play" a CD are you inserting the CD into your computer and playing audio from it or are you playing files previously ripped from the physical CD and stored on the PC hard drive?
4. You mention better results using your Yamaha CD recorder as an external DAC; how is this wired up?
5. Have you visited the ASUS website and updated to the current drivers?



(This is his son answering since Dad doesn't know much about the PC hardware or its connections. I know very little about stereo components, while Dad is very knowledgeable. The setup is our "best guess" for the correct configuration.)

1. There are four components to the system:

PC: Windows 7 (64 bit) PC, AMD Phenom II x4 975 Black, 4GB RAM, 120GB SSD drive, Asus Xonar Essence STX, DVD/RW optical drive
CDR: Yamaha HD-1000
Receiver: Yamaha R-S700
Speakers: Pair of Paradigm Studio 10 Bookshelf

The PC is connected two ways so Dad can test the Xonar DAC vs the CDR DAC:

Xonar DAC - analog RCA cable (6ft) from sound card to receiver
CDR DAC - TOSlink cable (4 ft) from sound card to CDR
* He switches the Xonar Audio Center's settings to select which OUT method should be used (SPDIF or RCA line out).

The CDR is connected to the receiver via 2ft of RCA cable. The Receiver is connected to the speakers via 14 gauge bi-wired cable.

2. Yes, everything is on the same circuit. The stereo components, the PC, a printer and floor lamp all plug into a common power bar.

3. He is playing a physical CD in the PC. He wants to start ripping them to the hard drive but has not done so yet.

4. See answer 1 for details.

5. Yes, I installed the sound card using the latest ASUS driver from their website. I had read online that there were third-party drivers for the Xonar but I haven't tried them.


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Apesbrain
post Nov 30 2012, 02:21
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Based on your reply, the first thing I'd try is to plug the PC into a different electrical circuit from the audio equipment.

Also, find out what happens when your dad rips one of his CDs and plays back the files via Windows Media Player. Does the popping/noise still occur?

If so, try something other than Windows Media Player; foobar2000 is a fine alternative player for testing. Do the "full" install.

Finally, be sure both playback components are going into the proper jacks on the back of the receiver: LINE, TAPE PB, or CD.
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TomoR
post Nov 30 2012, 02:44
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Thank you Apesbrain and DVDdoug for your insight. I will conduct your suggested tests tomorrow and post the results.

(also, thank you DVDdoug for pointing out the TOS#8 rule. I will more carefully review the rules in future. No disrespect was intended.)
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mixminus1
post Nov 30 2012, 05:16
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My guess would be that WMP is closing and reopening the connection to the sound card each time it is paused/un-paused, hence the pops.

It's highly likely that there are corresponding interruptions in the TOSLink output, as well, but given that the Yamaha unit is a CD recorder, it's almost certain that it has a resampler on its digital input(s) to ensure that any incoming digital signal is resampled to the audio CD standard of 44.1 kHz. Since you're already feeding it 44.1 kHz (or should be - I'm not familiar with that ASUS card), the Yamaha's resampler is essentially just reclocking the signal, and in doing so, inserting a stream of digital silence on its output any time the input is interrupted, thereby keeping a constant, uninterrupted signal flowing to its DAC.


--------------------
"Not sure what the question is, but the answer is probably no."
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TomoR
post Dec 1 2012, 07:30
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Folks,

Among several things suggested by Apesbrain, I first tried Foobar 2000 and, lo and behold, it never popped. To compare with WMP, I used several CDs with different types of music composition, ranging from a solo or small chamber music to a big orchestra. I tried the same sections of the same pieces of music on both players. I switched frequently between pause and play. With Foobar, popping never occurred, while with WMP it occurred frequently. WMP would not pop each time but it tended to do it at a loud, high-frequency section of music, and it was difficult to hit the key for a pause at an appropriate moment on both players. So I repeated the pause/play operation very frequently through a particular section and compared the two players. Result: for hundreds of pause/play trials, Foobar never popped, while WMP did often.

As for the problem of excessive (to me) dynamic range, I will try some compressor software. I can put up with the problem of background noise for now, as it is not as bothersome as the popping noise.

I thank everybody for help.

Regards,
Tomo
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Apesbrain
post Dec 1 2012, 15:00
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Glad it worked out. foobar2000 has an optional component called Effect DSP that includes a "Dynamics Compressor". Download and install it, then add it to your playback chain (File > Preferences > Playback > DSP Manager).
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jswp
post Nov 18 2013, 11:02
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laugh.gif FIXED
ASUS Xonar Essence STX
Asus STX pops clicks and noise between tracks and formats on Foobar and other media players.
Here is an imperfect fix that works perfectly.
What ever player you use for music [I use foobar] you need another one for this fix, but not for playback, rather as a decoy. I use VLC player for video so I just use that.
Here is how it works.
You start playback of any music track in the second media player, [In my case VLC] and pause the playback, it wont matter where, and it can be any audio format, bit rate bit depth flac, mp3, wav, ogg etc.,anything. Thats it, you're good to go. Start your usual music player and enjoy.
NOTES.
My system was making huge bangs and pops when I started playback and when changing tracks, and happened randomly, often between tracks of different formats or bit rates before this fix and nothing else worked. It was horrifying to hear this from a high performance system or through expensive headphones. It even did it when closing an explorer window from which I had selected the track. Thought it was a lost cause until I figured it out, which would be tragic
because it sounds so good and is in my opinion the best value for money audio hardware device in history.
HOW DOES IT WORK ?
The processing engine begins decoding a track, and when it finishes playing the stream and finds a different format or bit rate, has to drop the process entirely and load the new codec. [This is an oversight of programing, perhaps to do with juggling resources].Upon loading the new codec, occasionally, the end of one stream does not mate smoothly with the new stream and the result is a beautifully faithful reproduction of a mortifying and jagged square wave effect. The problem is the dropping of the output altogether to create silence between tracks. Well intentioned but defeating its own purpose spectacularly. By having another player in the back ground with a track playing but paused, ie zero output, but stream intact, you maintain the stream continuity without adding noise to the system. Not a perfect fix and not tried with all combinations of players, but working perfectly on several systems, Intel and AMD.
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stv014
post Nov 18 2013, 12:31
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QUOTE (TomoR @ Nov 30 2012, 00:01) *
2. Low background sound (noise) when playing a CD via STX


Some possible sources/solutions to this problem:
- check if you have a ground loop (the most common source of "sound card computer noise problems" when using external analog hardware). Is your speaker amplifier grounded (have a 3-prong AC connector) ? Do you also hear the noise when connecting headphones directly to the sound card (do not use the front panel jack on the PC) ?
- since you seem to be using the card in shared mode on Windows, make sure that the Windows audio output format is 24-bit PCM, rather than 16-bit. This is important especially is you are using the headphone output, or the line output at less than 100% volume
- if possible, use the line (RCA) output at full volume (master volume=100%, wave=100%, left=76%, right=76%), and control the volume on the external amplifier
- check the mixer settings, and mute any analog inputs (line and especially microphone)

In case you do have a ground loop, and not some software related issue, it is probably simplest to use the CD player you already have as an external DAC for the speakers, and the sound card itself only for driving (preferably high-ish impedance full size) headphones.

Less commonly, interference problems can be caused by a bad/low quality power supply, EMI (the Xonar STX does have shielding around the analog output components, though), or internal ground loops in the PC. If you cannot eliminate the noise even when only using headphones, it is probably best to sell the STX, and use some kind of external DAC/audio interface instead.
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extrabigmehdi
post Nov 18 2013, 16:51
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Well, I suggest you go to control panel / sound, and disable on the playback & recording tabs every stuff you don't use.
Personally I only have the device "speakers" enabled in playback , and "stereo mix" in recording tab.
Also check that property of playback , advanced tab, have same sampling rate than the one use in your "xonar audio center" panel.
This disturbs me a bit that you can set two different sampling rate in xonar panel & system panel, I'm not sure how it is handled.
You can also "force" the sampling rate with sox in foooabr, if you are using something else than 44.1 khz

There's also a hotfix that affect audio in windows 7:
http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2653312
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