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C'est la vie; c'est la guerre; c'est la pomme de terre . . . . . . . . . . . . . email: jpalmer at uwo dot ca

. . . . . . . . . . .Richard Posner should be awarded the next Nobel Prize in Economics . . . . . . . . . . . .

Monday, August 15, 2005

Better Quality sound from your PC

Sometimes, when I'm listening to Otto's Baroque via WinAmp on my laptop, I think to myself, "Gee, this sounds sort of tinny."


My solution has been to run a cable from the earphone outlet to my mediocre sound system. The improvement in sound quality has been considerable; the result is adequate for me, most of the time, but it isn't anywhere near the quality I can get directly from a CD. Here, from Slate, is an explanation of the problem:

The trick is to bypass the built-in sound hardware. Your desktop's soundcard, not digital file compression, is the weak link in PC music.

... First, the digital-to-analog converter—a circuit that translates binary bits into old-fashioned voltage—is low grade in most computers. Second, the converted analog signal is subject to all kinds of electronic interference from your computer's other hardware. That adds hiss, hum, and whiny robot noises to your music before it reaches the output jack.
The solution is to get an add-on that connects to a USB port to bypass the soundcard in the PC:

It doesn't matter how old, slow, or crappy-sounding your PC is—these gadgets will bypass its internal hardware completely. Each unit connects to your computer via a USB port, which also provides all the power they need. For maximum bliss, run a USB extension cable as close to your stereo or theater inputs as possible. Park the USB audio converter there, then run a short analog audio cable the rest of the way to your hi-fi gear. This will reduce the amount of interference and degradation the analog signal suffers en route.
The Slate article reviews three of the many devices on the market. The iMic is inexpensive but suffers from less dynamic range and from interference from other devices.

The device that looks better-suited to my tastes is the M-Audio Transit. It costs less than $80 from Amazon and does a better-than-decent job.

At the high end, the article reviews the Total Bit-Head, which doesn't appear to be available from Amazon.

Before you get one of these gadgets, read the Slate article and check out the Amazon reviews.
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