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Re: OT question about sound cards/chip-sets and high-end music systems

On Monday 05 October 2009 12:18:10 Paul E Condon wrote:
> one's computer to one's home sound system, and showed me a short cable
> that they have for sale that has a triaxial plug on one end and two
> RCA jacks on the other and assured me that this was what he used at
> home and that this was all that I needed. This is very reassuring, if
> I can believe it, but ... Is it true?

That will work.  Some audio cards also have support for optical audio jacks 
and/or SPIDF (sp?) cables.  I'm far from an expert in audio cables, but I 
believe you get the best quality out of a cable technology that is both 
grounded and balanced.

> Is the analog audio signal at the
> output socket of *all* consumer-grade computers equally good?

No.  In particular, on-board audio processors in both laptops and desktops are 
generally not (electrically) isolated enough from the rest of the system.  The 
analog output picks up electrical noise either at the DACs or on the way to 
the plug.

You'll want something off-board.  Cable technology *does* matter, so find a 
audio card that has good output ports.  If you do any of your own mastering, 
make sure the audio card supports 24-bit sample sizes.  Don't be afraid to 
consider completely external solutions like USB-audio devices.  They might be 
less portable/manageable but they are often the better system.

> If it is
> not, how can I avoid wasting time and money on a computer with
> inferior sound? 

Read reviews.  Test out systems if possible.  Get advice from early adopters.

> Are there other technical issues with the quality of
> 'ripped' music from CDs? What are they? 

If the CD has been damaged, the rip may contain crackles and pops reminiscent 
of vinyl.  That's about it.  CDDA is a open, DRM-free format that virtually 
any device reading that media can understand.  There's no compression or 
encoding so things a relatively simple.

Raw wave files are rather large, but flac can shrink them by 40-60% 
losslessly.  It's rather easy to own 10s of TB of storage space right now, so 
it might not matter at all.  1 TB ~= 2000 audio CDs, uncompressed.

> As I write this, I am
> wondering how the analog music is actually encoded on the CD. Is is
> purely digital, or are there analog timing variations in the optical
> marks?

It is purely digital.  16-bit (not sure if this is floating- or fixed-point), 
stereo, 44.1 kHz samples, IIRC.

Some consumer-level audio cards are capable of handling 32-bit (floating- or 
fixed-point), 8-channel, 96 kHz (or more) audio data in real-time.  So 
producing CD-quality output is trivial for them.
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