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Getting best quality from PC, Need help/advice
MrCogline
post Dec 11 2011, 15:47
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Hello just signed up on these forums for some desperate help, I'm going to get to the point here.

I'm receiving from my dad his old sound system. It is made up of a CD player, two speakers and a pentode valve amp (el 88's) i hear the tubes are real rare and i want to make the most out of em. He bought the whole setup about 15 years ago for about £16000 so it's real loud and capable of outputting really high quality audio!

So here is the questions I'm putting to you lot ;

what would be the best way of playing music on the setup, i was thinking of playing it through my computer so i believe i will need a sound card but does it have to be specific and what cables will i need? But is that the best way of playing music or is good old CD's better?

Secondly will playing .mp3's be a waste? cause I'm struggling to find .wav's of my favorite artists such as Tangerine Dream and ATB, and other more recent electronic artists and house beat producers.

and finally how can i go about repairing the hardware, my dad says the tubes are damaged and don't sound the same as when he first got em. I myself have played around with plenty of circuitry and such since i'm doing electronic engineering with physics at uni but this is new territory for me.

Oh and can someone throw some good progressive electronic producers names at my face? looking for some new stuff to listen too! biggrin.gif:D

Thanks for you time folks!

Jake Larkin.

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soulsearchingsun
post Dec 11 2011, 16:18
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Okay, short answer:

QUOTE (MrCogline @ Dec 11 2011, 15:47) *
what would be the best way of playing music on the setup, i was thinking of playing it through my computer so i believe i will need a sound card but does it have to be specific and what cables will i need? But is that the best way of playing music or is good old CD's better?

Secondly will playing .mp3's be a waste? cause I'm struggling to find .wav's of my favorite artists such as Tangerine Dream and ATB, and other more recent electronic artists and house beat producers.

1. CD Player and computer (WAV as well as MP3 with reasonable bitrate) can and will sound equally good (if done right). If you doubt that MP3 can sound as good as WAV, you can check yourself. You need to make yourself familiar with the concept of double blind listening tests (ABX). Comparing CD player with computer sound card is not that easy, but unless one of them is of inferior quality and/or has serious flaws you probably wont be able to detect which is which, let alone say which one's of higher quality. The cables you need depend of your setup of course, computer sound cards usually have stereo mini jack output, some may have cinch. About the inputs of your amp you should know best. No need for some fancy cables with monstrous prices, as there hasn't been proof yet that one cable sounds better than the other. I can't give you advice on which sound card you need, but there are a lot of threads out here about sound card buying advice. Consult them.

QUOTE (MrCogline @ Dec 11 2011, 15:47) *
[...] how can i go about repairing the hardware, my dad says the tubes are damaged and don't sound the same as when he first got em. I myself have played around with plenty of circuitry and such since i'm doing electronic engineering with physics at uni but this is new territory for me.

2. Your tubes are probably 'worn out'. You should find a shop that sells (matched?) replacement tubes, because dead tubes are the most common reason for tube amps getting worse. Good chance if those tubes are real rare as you say. Don't know what else could be wrong though.
I don't know how the perception of tube amps is in this forum, but I cite my EE prof: "I don't get why people want highest fidelity and buy ultra-expensive audio components - and then put a tube amp in that chain" He was talking about distortion characteristic. As you might know, tube amps produce a lot of distortion, mostly? harmonic. I think if you want highest fidelity, you should sell this and invest in a good quality high power solid state amp. Not being offensive, but I take the statement of high sound quality together with tube amps with a grain of salt.

edit: I should have added concerning MP3:
To most people the level at which MP3 files become transparent (=they are not able to discern between the source (wav) file and the MP3 in a properly conducted blind test) is below that 320kbps that is being sold by most download shops nowadays. At some places you can find losslessly compressed files (flac) for download, too.

This post has been edited by soulsearchingsun: Dec 11 2011, 16:27
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dhromed
post Dec 11 2011, 16:22
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> what cables will i need

Any ol' cable will do. Nothing too thin, and nothing broken, obviously smile.gif Don't buy into the whole "audiophile-grade cable" nonsense.

> Secondly will playing .mp3's be a waste?

A good mp3 ripped from the original CD and encoded at VBR V2 or higher will do just fine. Don't think for one minute that mp3 must equal poor quality. And forget about wav files. It just means the data's not compressed, but says absolutely nothing about quality. It only guarantees an unreasonably large file size. If you want non-lossy, go with FLAC or ALAC.

When in doubt, take the original CD, rip and encode to FLAC and mp3, and ABX the resultant files. If you can't tell the difference, then mp3 will suit your purposes.

> £16000
I hate to break it to you, but above a certain amount — say, several hundreds of dollars — price becomes a poor indicator of sound quality. smile.gif

The biggest influences on the sound are the speakers, the room and the input file. Focus on that.

Finally, my eletronic artists:
CODE

Underworld
Orbital
Autechre
Aphex Twin
Venetian Snares
Squarepusher
Amon Tobin
Paper Tiger
Four Tet
Mouse On Mars
Pogo
The Orb
Ghibli (recommend Pythia)
Homestuck
Clark "Plazmataz" Powell
Urchin
Casey LaLonde
Charlatan
High Skies
Orifex
Tangerine Dream
noisemusic
Trentemøller
Kraftwerk
Massive Attack
Lamb
Styrofoam
Air
The Knife
Slagsmålsklubben
Goldfrapp
Björk
Thom Yorke


Enjoy!
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Brand
post Dec 11 2011, 16:35
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QUOTE (MrCogline @ Dec 11 2011, 15:47) *
what would be the best way of playing music on the setup, i was thinking of playing it through my computer so i believe i will need a sound card but does it have to be specific and what cables will i need? But is that the best way of playing music or is good old CD's better?

I'm assuming the amp has regular line in RCA inputs, so you should get a soundcard with such outputs, at least for simplicity. There's a lot to choose from, look for specs and reviews/opinions.
In theory, playing digital files through the PC or a similar device is better, since CDs get scratched, can produce errors and produce noise when spinning.
Ideally you'd have a silent PC or - since that's not always easy to achieve - a silent digital player. Something like the Logitech Squeezebox (just as an example).
If you're willing to replace the old amp you can find a new amp/receiver that will itself play the digital files, either through USB, LAN or just decode them to analog while they're digitally played back on the PC (connected via HDMI or coaxial/optical).


QUOTE (MrCogline @ Dec 11 2011, 15:47) *
Secondly will playing .mp3's be a waste? cause I'm struggling to find .wav's of my favorite artists such as Tangerine Dream and ATB, and other more recent electronic artists and house beat producers.

If you want to know whether or not you hear the difference between lossy and lossless files you should do some testing. Foobar has a handy ABX plugin. In general I believe the consensus is that high bitrate lossy files are mostly transparent, save from some rare cases.
When you're looking for lossless files online you should also check for compressed formats, since they are more appropriate than uncompressed WAV for downloading and tagging while - being lossless - sound exactly the same. I'm talking about formats like FLAC, ALAC, WMAL etc. I think a lot of recently made music gets sold in lossless format online, do some searching.


About repairing the hardware and music recommendations, I'll leave that to others.
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Light-Fire
post Dec 11 2011, 19:00
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QUOTE (MrCogline @ Dec 11 2011, 10:47) *
...I'm receiving from my dad his old sound system. It is made up of a CD player, two speakers and a pentode valve amp (el 88's) i hear the tubes are real rare and i want to make the most out of em. He bought the whole setup about 15 years ago for about £16000 so it's real loud and capable of outputting really high quality audio!..."


I suggest selling the tube amp (you can always find lots of audiophiles that are stupid enough to buy it), and buying a new solid state amp and or receiver. I am assuming a stereo amp 100 to 200 W per channel would be OK. In this case you should not pay more than 1,000 US dollar for it (more like 500).

Please note if your CD player is from some kind of fancy audiophile brand you can also sell it for good money on eBay and replace it with a brand new DVD/Blu-ray player (just make sure they also play CD's) they cost from 60 to 200 dollars. Or you can completely replace it with your computer.

This post has been edited by Light-Fire: Dec 11 2011, 19:01
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MrCogline
post Dec 11 2011, 21:50
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Well thank you guys for the quick replies, I'm not going to sell the Tube Amplifier i want to keep it as it's a gift and a great memory of my dad. Finding the replacement tubes though are going to be a massive pain though the only thing i can find on the EL88 is a little picture and diagram of the circuit. Where would be a good place to look for buying some new Tubes?
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Apesbrain
post Dec 11 2011, 22:24
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There are many online sources for vacuum tubes including eBay but if your amp uses EL-88 they will be hard to find. Are you sure they are not KT-88 or EL-84 which are more common? What brand/model of amp is it? How about brands/models for the remainder of the system?
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MichaelW
post Dec 11 2011, 22:25
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I well understand the desire to get old gear working again, but the cost effective answer is pretty certainly to hang onto the valve/tube amp as is for the personal reasons, and find an A/V receiver made by one of the household names in consumer electronics for actually playing music. You know, Pioneer, Onkyo, Panasonic, Sony--that mob. Look for something at a deep discount because it's been discontinued, or a good deal on a second hand one. Should be easier and cheaper than looking for the mystery valves, and the sound will be not less accurate. Enjoy the speakers, which ought to be good at that price.
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MrCogline
post Dec 13 2011, 16:37
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Yeah these are the tubes the amp uses http://www.radiomuseum.org/tubes/tube_el88.html

Anyway thanks for all your help I'll open another thread no doubt later this week asking for help once i get all the gear to Scotland from Wales!

Thanks much,
Jake Larkin
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Apesbrain
post Dec 13 2011, 19:26
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Let us know more when you have the amps in hand. If you can read/translate German, there are some ideas in this thread:
http://www.jogis-roehrenbude.de/forum/foru...der=last_answer

Looks like there may be a substitute (E80L see link below) or a way to rewire the sockets to take a more commonly available tube. No doubt that will be expensive, but because the amps have sentimental value you may think it worth it.

EL88: http://www.radiomuseum.org/tubes/tube_el88.html
E80L: http://www.radiomuseum.org/tubes/tube_e80l.html
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MrCogline
post Dec 20 2011, 16:18
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Thanks for the info guys much love! biggrin.gif

This post has been edited by MrCogline: Dec 20 2011, 16:19
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Roseval
post Dec 20 2011, 17:24
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You have a couple of options to connect the PC to the audio

- Y-cable from headphone out to RCA in. Dirt cheap but as good or as bad as the onboard DAC and heaphone amp.

- Discrete sound card. You need a desktop model

- USB DAC, a very flexible solution as all PCs comes with USB ports.

A bit more can be found on my website: http://www.thewelltemperedcomputer.com/HW/Connect/index_connect.htm



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slks
post Dec 23 2011, 12:25
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For connecting your system to the computer:

I myself use the aforementioned "Y-cable" with a headphone plug on one end and normal RCA plugs on the other. I just plug one end into the back of my computer (specifically, its integrated sound card) and the other end into my stereo receiver. I've been totally satisfied with the sound - there's no discernible noise or anything of the sort.

A decade ago, integrated sound cards on PCs were generally of poor quality. However, they've become much better in recent years. (This is a generalization, of course.) My computer's integrated sound hardware, circa 2007, is capable of 24-bit/96 khz audio, and as I said I'm very satisfied with it. So I'd recommend just hooking your computer up with a Y-cable, and seeing if that does it for you.

Now, if you're unsure how good the DAC in your computer is, you could always buy an external one. M-Audio's cards seem to be highly regarded as "professional quality" on these forums. A quick check of their web site, looks like their cards start at $100. You can also get a Creative SoundBlaster card for something like $20-40, but those are more marketed towards gamers, and I'm not sure how they would compare to an M-Audio card. (My guess is that you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the two.)

This post has been edited by slks: Dec 23 2011, 12:42


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