Again a little out on a limb, I'm a fan of Single Ended Triode amplifiers.

Welborne Labs had a pair of Yote 300B amplifiers in need of a little TLC listed in their bargain bin at $1000. The simple addition of tubes and a couple of plate chokes was enough to get them both working again and they sound sublime. The 96dB sensitivity of the Supravox driver marries in well enough with the 8W output of the 300B tubes. While 8W does not sound like a lot compared to the power output of most solid state amps, it's more than enough to drive the Supravox drivers to ear splitting levels. I seldom need more than 85dB or so at the listening position, so can barely account for 1W of power from the amps.

The remarkable simplicity of SET amplifiers means that they reveal every nuance of detail from the source and throw an utterly convincing soundstage that's full of texture and tone. While SETs are not everyone's cup of tea, partnered with the right speakers they manage insight and dynamics that other topologies seem to smear. I have found the addition of these amplifiers driving the 3D Sonics speakers to be revealing of almost every change I have made to upstream components, making them a perfect base to use as a test system.

A Stevens & Billington transformer volume control provides volume attenuation rather than using software level volume controls in Vista. Unfortunately, software based volume controls attenuate the signal in the digital domain by dropping bits, which can lead to a loss of resolution as soon as the volume is moved below maximum output. I've found transformer based volume controls to be very close to sounding neutral, even outperforming shunt volume control made up entirely of 0.1% tolerance laser-cut metal film resistors.

Lastly, I suppose I should mention cables. Despite my attitude towards other components, I don't do funky high-cost cables and all the fuzz associated with them. For speakers, I use a single strand of solid core 24-gauge silver covered in a simple cotton jacket. The whole shebang costs a few dollars per foot from most good audio DIY outlets and sounds fine to my ears. Interconnects are made up using either Cat 5 cable or suitable solid core coax. Power cords are all generic off the shelf types, no special plugs or dielectrics needed.

The PC

There's nothing remarkable here: a Gigabyte X48T, 4GB of OCZ Platinum DDR3, a Corsair modular PSU, and an X6800 dual-core processor. A 250GB Western Digital Caviar hard drive stores audio files in WAV format. The operating system is Vista 64, which is not ideal for audio due to some of the open source software failing to function properly if at all. There have to be compromises somewhere and current study requirements keep me on the Vista coach just to keep up to speed with its administration. Anything using a dual-core processor running at over 2GHz is likely more than sufficient for an audio server. 4GB of memory is pretty much mandatory for Vista 64 to work efficiently when placed under any kind of load. Another caveat is that I have not managed to locate any USB-ASIO drivers for the Vista 64 platform. ASIO drivers are preferred to help lower latency by routing signals directly to hardware where possible. Vista 32 and XP are fully supported by USB-ASIO, so that's something to bear in mind if you'd like to keep latency as low as possible.

The Test System Outboard DAC solutions
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  • Clauzii - Monday, December 1, 2008 - link

    .. I can recommend a Terratec Phase 22. No computernoise whatsoever. Pure, clean sound. I don't have a surroundsetup, but movies through this card sound brilliant, with a lot of detail and no digital 'fnitter-fnatter'.
  • Clauzii - Monday, December 1, 2008 - link

    Have to correct myself: With the card You can actually hear all the bad mixing of the movies themselves.
  • daar - Monday, December 1, 2008 - link

    Honestly, for a tech review site, I'm very disappointed that you nixed any pro sound cards and went for the audiophile kool-aid. Proper regulation and filtering can deliver clean enough juice for the best audio applications and while the USB option is kind of interesting, it creates more clutter, is more expensive, and the supposed better quality can't even be objectively tested.

    There wasn't even an attempt to build a measurement procedure, and while some sustain the notion that audio is beyond measurement, since when does AT throw out standard science and efficient engineering in favor of pseudoscience?

  • RobinBee - Monday, December 1, 2008 - link

    "Proper regulation and filtering"

    Yes. A good motherboard does this. And: A hi-fi sound card such as ASUS Xonar D2 (PCI bus) delivers »clean juice«, very much better than Creative's x-fi. And: A good case makes a pc rather quiet.
  • RagingDragon - Saturday, December 6, 2008 - link

    And a sufficiently powerful amp and/or headphones with good isolation make PC noise irrelevant.
  • Servant of Shodan - Monday, December 1, 2008 - link

    Not meaning any disrespect to the author - it was a good article - but I've notice a lot of camera reviews recently, and now a review about audiophile stuff... and it just seems so out of place for a PC enthusiast site.
    There are hundreds of credible sites for both cameras and stereos/speakers/amps/etc.; and I feel that it sort of muddies the waters here to have these types of articles, when there are other excellent places where they fit in perfectly.
    I come to Anandtech for computers. I think it should keep to that topic.
  • SpeedyVV - Monday, December 1, 2008 - link

    Holy cow, audiophiles i think are THX certifiable!!!

    Can you guys actually hear yourselves???

    All joking aside, I love music, and sound, and guitar tube amps, a nice hi-fi.

    But the stuff you guys talk about is way, WAY, beyond me ;-)

  • Boushh - Monday, December 1, 2008 - link

    DRC does realy work. Last year I exchanged my old SONY AV receiver for a new Denon AVR-3808 with Audyssey. With the SONY I was unable to get a good sound at my listning postion (specialy the rears never actually worked). And even though I had my reservations for things like Audyssey, I ran it on the Denon. And low and behold: Now I was in the middle of everything. I was realy amazed that taking some samples with a microphone could have such impressive results.

    The second thing: DAC's for computers. I recently saw that Cambridge Audio released a DAC for (among other things) computers ("> Maybe a good idea to compare that to the setup used in the article. It seems to me that instead of all those components it would (for the most of us) be alot easier if it was just in one box. But maybe that is just me :-)

    Anyway, nice article. It shows that people who are intrested in audio and are willing to do something for it are always on a never ending road B-)
  • strikeback03 - Monday, December 1, 2008 - link

    ... that this article shows that looks are not everything, as those drivers look like the cheap junk that comes in stock car systems.
  • jabber - Monday, December 1, 2008 - link

    They probably are! Remember in the world of 'high-end hi-fi' you build a component out of $20 worth of bits, stick a bit of varnish sanded wood on it then add on the 2000% 'hi-fi mug tax'.

    Its one of the best businesses to be in if you are unprincipled and lazy.

    Your customers are easy because they have invested so much money in their systems they are always open to fear and doubt about it. Easy prey!

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