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Lossless Playback via Receiver from PC, How to get the best quality audio through a connected receiver.
post Jan 17 2013, 11:48
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I have a few questions regarding the best way to play audio from my PC through my surround-sound receiver.

I recently purchased a nice receiver that supposedly has good audio quality and can decode a wide variety of digital formats. I plan to use my PC as the main audio source when listening to music or gaming. I am aware of the benefits of digitally transmitting audio to the receiver to avoid loss of audio quality in the transmission, but I am unfamiliar with what goes on inside the computer to produce this digital stream. I plan to use the HDMI output from a graphics card (once I get around to installing it).

I am guessing that for the purest sound I should leave all the audio processing to the receiver, rather than allow the PC to apply any processing, but I don't really know. The computer could be allowed do the decoding of files (and so could the receiver), but my guess is that for the purest sound I should not allow the computer to do any modification to the audio itself before streaming it through HDMI. This PC doesn't even have a sound card as far as I know (but does somehow produce audio through the pre-installed HDMI and 3.5mm stereo connections), so perhaps it wouldn't do a good job of processing the audio.

I am running Windows 7. I would like to use Windows Media Player 12 for normal music playback (if doing so won't affect audio quality). I also have foobar2000 but my mom is familiar with Windows Media Player. I have installed some DirectShow filters on this PC, which I believe allow me to play certain audio file formats in Windows Media Player, as well as burn CDs from them using ImgBurn, but I don't know what exactly these filters are or how they work, or whether they alter the audio output at all after decoding a file.

Here are all the questions I can think of thus far:

-- Do you agree that I should probably leave all audio processing (EQ, surround effects, mixing, etc.) for the receiver rather than the PC?

-- Do I need to reserve surround-sound format decoding for the receiver, or would the PC transmit all audio channels through HDMI after decoding? (Will it automatically down-mix to 2 channels or anything like that before sending it to the receiver?)

-- Is it possible to send un-modified (but decoded) audio digitally through HDMI? Does this happen by default in Windows Media Player and/or foobar2000?

-- When playing music, how can I send un-modified (but possibly decoded) audio through HDMI? Do I need to install anything more / change any settings to get Windows Media Player or foobar2000 to do this? (I did a quick search and saw mention of something called "ASIO" that I should probably read about when I have time.)

-- When playing games, how can I send un-modified (but possibly decoded) audio through HDMI? Do I need to install anything more / change any settings to achieve this?

-- When transmitting audio to the receiver through WMP or foobar, if it is possible to bypass audio processing within the PC.... and if I have it set up properly.... Will anything happen if I start messing with the EQ settings in WMP or foobar, or will the sound / digital stream remain the same?

-- Is there a way to transmit audio files directly to the receiver to be decoded entirely by the receiver? (I understand this question might require me to look in the receiver manual.)

-- Does the use of DirectShow filters on a PC have any effect on the output, other than decoding certain file types?

It would help a lot if I understood what happens to the audio within the PC once an audio file is decoded.

I really appreciate any insights you can provide!!!! Thank you.

This post has been edited by heyo_speaker: Jan 17 2013, 11:54
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post Jan 21 2013, 17:21
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ok some quick answers:

1) Rx can either be sent audio "bitstreamed" where the Rx decodes or already decoded, but still digitally (PCM/Linear PCM)
2) Most common bitstream formats played by Rx are surround sound by Dolby or DTS, though some might support mp3 via USB
3) Most computers send non movie surround sound via multi-channel PCM, though some computers (MoBos or sound cards) over the last 12 years have supported Dolby encoding
4) By default when a computer sends a bitstream this is the only sound going to the Rx, when it is going PCM, then it is mixed - unless an app asks for "exclusive mode"
sending an mp3 or flac in its pure (but uncompressed) form is often called Bitperfect
5) Even exclusive mode might not provide you bitperfect if the sound goes through Windows mixer, so you need WSAPI or ASIO or the like to ensure the sound correctly gets to the Rx - add-ins for Winamp, foobar or the settings in JRiver help with this
6) Most games for the PC are NOT sending dolby sound, so HDMI is needed for surround sound listening
7) But many HDMI links require a video path before the audio works, so SPDIF cable might be needed for audio only in the digital domain.
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