Digital Volume control - how bad is it?

EndersShadowEndersShadow Posts: 16,705
edited July 2014 in Going Digital
So I am looking at trying to snag a REALLY nice amp for the Infinity RS-II's. In order to do this there is a chance I may have to sell most of my gear (amp & pre) to get one.

Right now I am using Coaxial out of my computer to my DacMagic, then Analog to the Pre then to the amp. Here is my question:

Can I just bypass the pre-amp entirely and go straight from my DacMagic to an amp? I would then use the volume control on my computer for the coaxial output to start with while saving up for a decent pre-amp.

Will I totally kill the sound to the point where I shouldn't do this, or is it something I can do to start with but shouldnt be a long term solution?

Should I buy JRiver to use its digital volume, should I stay with just using the Windows volume?

Just looking at what my options are.
"....not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." William Bruce Cameron, Informal Sociology: A Casual Introduction to Sociological Thinking (1963)
Post edited by EndersShadow on

Comments

  • OleBootOleBoot Posts: 493
    edited June 2014
    So I am looking at trying to snag a REALLY nice amp for the Infinity RS-II's. In order to do this there is a chance I may have to sell most of my gear (amp & pre) to get one.

    Right now I am using Coaxial out of my computer to my DacMagic, then Analog to the Pre then to the amp. Here is my question:

    Can I just bypass the pre-amp entirely and go straight from my DacMagic to an amp? I would then use the volume control on my computer for the coaxial output to start with while saving up for a decent pre-amp.

    Will I totally kill the sound to the point where I shouldn't do this, or is it something I can do to start with but shouldnt be a long term solution?

    Should I buy JRiver to use its digital volume, should I stay with just using the Windows volume?

    Just looking at what my options are.

    I use JRiver and am very impressed with it. As far as I can tell, the 64 bit digital volume control causes no degradation in sound quality. I am not plugging this into a power amp, but into my Musical Fidelity integrated set at the highest volume I can ever imagine I would need listening at if the JRiver volume is at 100%. I am a fan of JRiver and find it gives lots of options and good quality, and the team that produce it are very responsive and helpful via their forum site. Also, given the availability of web browser and phone/tablet apps as remote controls, it's very convenient. I have an old PC as a music server with an Asus ST sound card using ASIO and the Windows audio service is totally turned off.
  • heiney9heiney9 Posts: 24,088
    edited June 2014
    Big compromise to use the computer volume control. Save more or spend less on the amp so you can get a proper pre-amp.

    H9
    "Appreciation of audio is a completely subjective human experience. Measurements can provide a measure of insight, but are no substitute for human judgment. Why are we looking to reduce a subjective experience to objective criteria anyway? The subtleties of music and audio reproduction are for those who appreciate it. Differentiation by numbers is for those who do not".--Nelson Pass

    Pass Aleph 30 | EE Avant Pre | EE Mini Max Plus DAC | MIT Shotgun S3 | MIT Z P/C's | updated SDA 1C| SQ Box Touch/Welbourne Labs P/S- Tubes add soul!
  • TNHNDYMANTNHNDYMAN Posts: 2,153
    edited June 2014
    What amp are you looking to acquire? I don't think you will need more than you already have honestly. It's nice to crank and have some headroom on the few occasions you can take it all the way to 10, but I doubt that's often enough to justify compromises elsewhere in the chain.
    2-ch System: Parasound P/LD 2000 pre, Parasound HCA-1000 amp, Parasound T/DQ Tuner, Phase Technology PC-100 Tower speakers, Technics SL-1600 Turntable, Denon 2910 SACD/CD player, Peachtree DAC iT and X1asynchorus USB converter, HSU VTF-3 subwoofer.

  • EndersShadowEndersShadow Posts: 16,705
    edited June 2014
    TNHNDYMAN wrote: »
    What amp are you looking to acquire? I don't think you will need more than you already have honestly. It's nice to crank and have some headroom on the few occasions you can take it all the way to 10, but I doubt that's often enough to justify compromises elsewhere in the chain.

    Parasound HCA-1200ii. My 750a is only rated fro 125 wpc @ 4 ohm. Not too sure if it will handle the impedance dips below that.
    "....not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." William Bruce Cameron, Informal Sociology: A Casual Introduction to Sociological Thinking (1963)
  • OleBootOleBoot Posts: 493
    edited June 2014
    heiney9 wrote: »
    Big compromise to use the computer volume control. Save more or spend less on the amp so you can get a proper pre-amp.

    H9


    Why would a properly designed computer software volume control be a compromise in this situation? I'm not looking to argue, it's just that I have not heard any difference in my system, although the system may not be of high enough quality to notice a difference.
  • heiney9heiney9 Posts: 24,088
    edited June 2014
    OleBoot wrote: »
    Why would a properly designed computer software volume control be a compromise in this situation? I'm not looking to argue, it's just that I have not heard any difference in my system, although the system may not be of high enough quality to notice a difference.

    In a word, noise and missing bits of information.

    Not saying all digital volume controls are bad. But you need a pretty sophisticated piece of gear for it to have an advantage over analog, and that's not computer software. The Windows volume is absolutely horrid. I'm sure the J-River is better, but still not close to even an average analog pre-amp.
    "Appreciation of audio is a completely subjective human experience. Measurements can provide a measure of insight, but are no substitute for human judgment. Why are we looking to reduce a subjective experience to objective criteria anyway? The subtleties of music and audio reproduction are for those who appreciate it. Differentiation by numbers is for those who do not".--Nelson Pass

    Pass Aleph 30 | EE Avant Pre | EE Mini Max Plus DAC | MIT Shotgun S3 | MIT Z P/C's | updated SDA 1C| SQ Box Touch/Welbourne Labs P/S- Tubes add soul!
  • EndersShadowEndersShadow Posts: 16,705
    edited June 2014
    heiney9 wrote: »
    In a word, noise and missing bits of information.

    Not saying all digital volume controls are bad. But you need a pretty sophisticated piece of gear for it to have an advantage over analog, and that's not computer software. The Windows volume is absolutely horrid. I'm sure the J-River is better, but still not close to even an average analog pre-amp.

    This I agree with. The thought wasn't to replace forever an analog pre-amp, simply use it as a stop-gap after getting the new amp until I could afford a decent pre-amp of some sort.
    "....not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." William Bruce Cameron, Informal Sociology: A Casual Introduction to Sociological Thinking (1963)
  • Habanero MonkHabanero Monk Posts: 716
    edited June 2014
    So I am looking at trying to snag a REALLY nice amp for the Infinity RS-II's. In order to do this there is a chance I may have to sell most of my gear (amp & pre) to get one.

    Right now I am using Coaxial out of my computer to my DacMagic, then Analog to the Pre then to the amp. Here is my question:

    You could use a passive external volume knob like Emotiva's Control Freak for $49...

    Could you sell your pre, your amp, your DAC and just get a nice DAC with 24 or 35 bit volume control? So straight from computer to DAC with it's own volume.
    So hot it burns twice :eek:
  • EndersShadowEndersShadow Posts: 16,705
    edited June 2014
    You could use a passive external volume knob like Emotiva's Control Freak for $49...

    Could you sell your pre, your amp, your DAC and just get a nice DAC with 24 or 35 bit volume control? So straight from computer to DAC with it's own volume.

    I would prefer to keep my DacMagic and not have to sell it. For what I paid it does wonders and finding something that could perform all its functions would be VERY hard.
    "....not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." William Bruce Cameron, Informal Sociology: A Casual Introduction to Sociological Thinking (1963)
  • OleBootOleBoot Posts: 493
    edited June 2014
    heiney9 wrote: »
    In a word, noise and missing bits of information.

    Not saying all digital volume controls are bad. But you need a pretty sophisticated piece of gear for it to have an advantage over analog, and that's not computer software. The Windows volume is absolutely horrid. I'm sure the J-River is better, but still not close to even an average analog pre-amp.

    I think that the aim of digital volume controls is to equal analog performance - can't see that they would ever have an advantage. The JRiver volume may be more sophisticated than you think. It certainly does not lose bits. As for noise, I would have thought that there would be more possibility for that in the analog domain as opposed to digital. You need a lot of noise in a computer to alter bits. Having said that, a preamp is in the chain of my system as part of my integrated, so I have no long term experience of listening to a computer based system plugged straight into power amps. I have listened to a friend's system that does this: it sounded pretty good to me, but I have only listened on social visits, not for critical listening.

    OK, I'll shut up now.
  • heiney9heiney9 Posts: 24,088
    edited June 2014
    OleBoot wrote: »
    I think that the aim of digital volume controls is to equal analog performance - can't see that they would ever have an advantage. The JRiver volume may be more sophisticated than you think. It certainly does not lose bits. As for noise, I would have thought that there would be more possibility for that in the analog domain as opposed to digital. You need a lot of noise in a computer to alter bits. Having said that, a preamp is in the chain of my system as part of my integrated, so I have no long term experience of listening to a computer based system plugged straight into power amps. I have listened to a friend's system that does this: it sounded pretty good to me, but I have only listened on social visits, not for critical listening.

    OK, I'll shut up now.

    Those that don't know, don't know that they don't know.

    Better get your read on as you aren't really in the ballpark on this one. Sure, there are digital volume controls that are excellent. But proper implementation is more than a program on a computer. Think BAT or Pass Labs for proper implementation

    Of course I'm talking from an audiophile perspective. There are too many compromises when it comes to what you're talking about and again Windows is HORRID as a volume control, simply horrid!

    Here is a brief read to get the gist of what I'm talking about, even though it's not *exactly* in reference to the discussion. But it hits the same major points.

    http://www.esstech.com/PDF/digital-vs-analog-volume-control.pdf

    H9
    "Appreciation of audio is a completely subjective human experience. Measurements can provide a measure of insight, but are no substitute for human judgment. Why are we looking to reduce a subjective experience to objective criteria anyway? The subtleties of music and audio reproduction are for those who appreciate it. Differentiation by numbers is for those who do not".--Nelson Pass

    Pass Aleph 30 | EE Avant Pre | EE Mini Max Plus DAC | MIT Shotgun S3 | MIT Z P/C's | updated SDA 1C| SQ Box Touch/Welbourne Labs P/S- Tubes add soul!
  • OleBootOleBoot Posts: 493
    edited June 2014
    heiney9 wrote: »
    Those that don't know, don't know that they don't know.

    Better get your read on as you aren't really in the ballpark on this one. Sure, there are digital volume controls that are excellent. But proper implementation is more than a program on a computer. Think BAT or Pass Labs for proper implementation

    Of course I'm talking from an audiophile perspective. There are too many compromises when it comes to what you're talking about and again Windows is HORRID as a volume control, simply horrid!

    Here is a brief read to get the gist of what I'm talking about, even though it's not *exactly* in reference to the discussion. But it hits the same major points.

    http://www.esstech.com/PDF/digital-vs-analog-volume-control.pdf

    H9


    My apologies for a post written far too quickly. First, I completely misunderstood your comment about noise - I had just been reading another thread about computer noise causing bits to be flipped, and rather obviously in the context of this thread that is not what you meant. Stupid of me.

    Secondly, the article you referenced caused me to revisit my thought train when I decided to use the volume control in JRiver. My digital music library is 99% ripped CD's, which have a 16 bit depth. My DAC accepts 24 bit input. JRiver uses a 64 bit internal representation, including the volume control. On output, data is converted to what the particular DAC expects. So there are 8 bits of "headroom" to play with before the output gets rounded or truncated. Just like the ESS article talks about when getting a 16 bit input and using 32 bits in the DAC to provide a digital volume control, although in that situation there would never be any attenuation, as there are 16 bits to pay with.

    In my system with an extra 6 bits, at 6dB per bit, that's 48dB of attenuation, which would probably be 7 o'clock on most volume controls. Maybe it would be a problem with highly sensitive speakers and a gazillion watt amp, I don't know, but I never get the volume control that low. For these reasons, at the time I decided I could see nothing practically wrong with using this volume control, and couldn't hear any difference anyway.

    What I never considered until I read the article and got to thinking about all this stuff again is the use of this digital volume control on higher bit depth files. I have downloaded a few 24/96 and 24/192 files, and hadn't thought about it. The volume control will indeed cause these files to be truncated or rounded during requantization. However, JRiver uses a very well implemented dithering mechanism which pretty much eliminates quantization noise. I haven't done any comparative listening tests of this scenario, as I've only just though about it, but I intend to.

    Of course, none of this is "bit perfect", which is important to a lot of digital audio buffs. If you fall into that camp, please ignore this post.

    Anyway, in regards to the original question, I think that buying JRiver for 50 bucks would be a very acceptable interim solution for EndersShadow, the only downside is that it does take some time to set up.
  • OleBootOleBoot Posts: 493
    edited June 2014
    OleBoot wrote: »
    In my system with an extra 6 bits,

    Typo, 8 bits
  • steveinazsteveinaz Posts: 18,987
    edited July 2014
    Doesn't the DAC Magic work also as a DAC/pre?
  • tonybtonyb Posts: 31,126
    edited July 2014
    Most people who use dacs as a pre are less than satisfied with the results....even good dacs don't do the pre amp position justice. Like many things, just because you CAN do it, doesn't necessarily mean you should.

    But as we like to say, there's only one way to find out if it tickles your nads, try it yourself.
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