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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  • kleshodnic - Monday, December 1, 2008 - link

    Uh, just go digital out (TOS/link or HDMI) to a receiver and let ther receiver do the DAC'ing.

    Want a better DAC? Buy a better receiver. Not only will you get the better DAC, you will get a ton of other great features with a higher end receiver.

    All this talk about computer audio is assuming that you would want to come analog out from the computer. WHY?
  • phusg - Tuesday, December 2, 2008 - link

    It would be a lot easier I agree, but AFAIK only really expensive top-end receivers can challenge the analog out you can get from a quality consumer audio card with upgraded opamps, especially when it comes to stereo music. They are also not usually moddable. Can you link to a review of receiver with audiophile quality stereo DAC?
  • pedobosz - Monday, December 1, 2008 - link

    an interesting place to publish such an article. Have you thought of perhaps submitting to Stereophile or The Absolute Sound ? I'm sure you are just trying to raise the awareness of the PC crowd to the possibilities of great audio, but reading through the other replys, I think you are preaching to the deaf......with the exception of the Martin Logan fellow.
  • jnmfox - Monday, December 1, 2008 - link

    Computers and audio (mostly Home Theater) are my main two hobbies. I agree this article doesn't fit here at I've never understood the esoteric audio crowd. If you want quality audio information go to or other reputable audio sites.
  • jabber - Monday, December 1, 2008 - link

    I have to say the article and lengths gone to are way over the top for what in most cases is required.

    The kits combined with the PC audio side is way esoteric too.

    Well intentioned but sledgehammer to crack nut.......
  • haukionkannel - Monday, December 1, 2008 - link

    Hmmm... When we talk about HiFi nothing is "bit over".
    For a hifi system this was relative middle range solution. The biggest consern, if you have to find one, is that the speakers will most propably have the biggest effect an the hearing experience. These type of speakers ar not meat to be the most precise in their "room" picture. And I don't say that it's a bad thing! They are good speakers. Some studio monitors would maybe be better for testing the PC as an "Hifi" sound source, because they try not to affect the sound at same way as some High end HiFi speakers, but again it's more of a matter of taste. For example Genelec speakers sound good for Vocal based music. These in here are better in music where accuracy is not so important. So it allso depends on what music you like to listen to. Just like someone above said.

    I would like to see how the sound compares between good Hifi cd-player and a PC. With the same music piece and speakers. This set with those tubes can make the sound varmer, that is good for some not so good mp3 files. More accurate monitor speakers and normal amplifier, will most propably reveal the difference between good cd and not so good PC based mp3 more clearly.

    Most people who are really interested in HiFi systems spent even more money than in test to their system. The real guestion is that is the PC good enough soundsource for system like that.
  • jabber - Monday, December 1, 2008 - link

    Yes but real high end hifi is really usually bought by what Top Gear would call 'cocks'. Folks that just see money and how much they spent rather then just enjoying music. $50000 hifi systems geared to playing just 10 specialist audiophile CDs just screams "I've led a sad and lonely life!" to me.

    Show me a $1000 system surrounded by piles of CDs and LPs, now thats an exciting system!

    The readership of this site I would say on the whole would have far more modest hifi setups.

    Once you spend so much on a hi-fi you fall into the trap of listening to the equipment rather then the music itself.
  • Spivonious - Monday, December 1, 2008 - link

    Spending that much time and effort to listen to pop music is just about the silliest thing I've ever heard.

    At least put something on that will work the equipment, like a Beethoven string quartet, or a Bach choral work.

    And you never even touched on the issue of vinyl vs digital. To my ears, vinyl sounds so much more organic than the plasticy sound of CDs, even through a $15,000 tube-driven stereo system.
  • Rajinder Gill - Monday, December 1, 2008 - link

    Actually, I'm just listening to some Vaughan Williams right now. Just because there's no mention in the article does not mean to say I live without classical pieces.

  • Hyperion1400 - Monday, December 1, 2008 - link

    Amen to that. There is no set style of music for audiophiles. I personally enjoy metal and classic punk (bad religion,sex pistols etc.) as well as a mix of classical composers(I have always had a strange love for Beethoven's 9th after watching Neon Genesis Evangelion)

    Also, will you be doing a review of the X-fi Elite Pro or will you be primarily dealing with external hardware. I know I will most likely be shunned for mentioning such a thing in the same post as (vicariously) declaring myself an audiophile, but I absolutely love mine. Without that card and my Senhiesser HD 650s, I don't think I could listen to my music/games the same way again(no pun intended)

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