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Old Apr 17, 2008, 05:48 AM   #1
ncc1701d
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Digital v's Analogue speakers

Hi. Thought I'd post my question here first as you guys seem to be the ones that woudl best know. I've done some searches, but nothing came up for what I'd like to know. This question may be a bit novice, so if it needs to be moved please do so.

What are the pros and cons (if any) of getting digital speakers over analogue ones? Shouldn't all the decoding (5.1 / DTS etc.), be done by the software on the computer? I will just be buying a standard Mac Pro with no additional high performance software / hardware.

Thanks!
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Old Apr 17, 2008, 09:34 AM   #2
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What will you use the speakers for? You mentioned surround sound formats. is that just for watching movies, or what do you have in mind?

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Old Apr 17, 2008, 10:21 AM   #3
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digital speakers?

um, what?

i think you mean having your source for your speakers be digital vs analog?

in the end, speakers only see analog.
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Old Apr 17, 2008, 12:01 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sdashiki View Post
in the end, speakers only see analog.
he's referring to monitors that have a digital in and a d/a converter (and amp) inside.
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Old Apr 17, 2008, 12:34 PM   #5
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I actually had a chat with a fairly well informed friend today about this. Here's what he said about the Miridian's

Pros
-Perfect digital crossovers for perfect frequency response

Cons
-You blow a tweeter and in his words 'you have a very tall paper weight'
-New digital formats will be unplayable
-No upgradeability
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Old Apr 17, 2008, 03:20 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RedRedBlockhead View Post
I actually had a chat with a fairly well informed friend today about this. Here's what he said about the Miridian's

Pros
-Perfect digital crossovers for perfect frequency response

Cons
-You blow a tweeter and in his words 'you have a very tall paper weight'
-New digital formats will be unplayable
-No upgradeability
I don't see what he's saying about the tweeter - this goes for any speaker - although with 'digital speakers' - you do tend to need to get them re-calibrated after a driver replacement.

The digital formats thing isn't so much an issue IMO. I've used 'digital speakers' extensively, which can take 24 bit audio signals up to 192 kHz, and run at at 32 bit internally, there is no real need to run audio at a higher quality than this. A recording at this quality will outperform any analogue system you can think of, as long as no A/D or D/A conversion is going on at any point between the very first point of recording and the very last point of audio reproduction.

Also, RE upgradeability, there shouldn't be any need to upgrade components etc... if it's designed/built properly in the first place.
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Old Apr 17, 2008, 06:22 PM   #7
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You're confused 24bit 192khz, 16 bit 32k, 16 bit 44k1 are sample rates and word lengths. Not formats.
Formats could be
DTS, DD, PCM or that one that's used by SACD the name of which escapes me.

About the tweeter it's that if in ten years they stop making the parts you now have a useless D to A and power amp stage.

And I'd have to disagree with you on upgradeability, either that or you misunderstood me. I meant upgrading elements of a system i.e. PA/PreA/DAC/Speakers/SUB etc. This is impossible because everything is in one box. This is also one of the main appeals of the system however. But for
for those of us who don't have great big wads of cash to throw around upgradeability is really quite important.
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Old Apr 17, 2008, 07:45 PM   #8
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Um... I definatley think I've posted in the wrong place... sorry guys - nothing as high end as what you're talking about. Just looking at speakers for a Mac Pro for mp3's, watching movies and extremely basic video editing. I found a pair of analogue speakers. I thought that if all the decoding was done from the computer, the output to the speakers wouldn't matter. Thanks again and apologies for the newb question!

EDIT: Perhaps if I post the link to the analogue speakers I'm considering it would help? Media Desk (2.1 or 5.1) or Exo 2.1 from www.abluesky.com
V's any digital speaker of a similar price.

Again, please move to appropriate forum if this is not the right place! Cheers.

Last edited by ncc1701d; Apr 17, 2008 at 08:08 PM. Reason: Trying to clarify!
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Old Apr 17, 2008, 08:51 PM   #9
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Hahaha. How very good natured of you. I'll start by saying that there's no way you can apologise for my gearheadedness! Now onto your question

There's a general advantage of digital speakers - they usually have a good quality DAC section. In most audiophile/proaudio applications this is done with a separate DAC itself and the macs do this easily as you can plug an optical cable into the headphone outs to get a digital signal!

Decoding of surround formats DTS/DD is done on the amplifier/receiver/decoded itself, otherwise your computer or source would need 6 analogue outs.

In terms of high performance software, itunes set right (bit perfect) is about as high performance as you can get. That or VLC. If you're interested in how to do this there are a few good articles floating round the net, if you can't find one give me a PM.

You said -
I found a pair of analogue speakers. I thought that if all the decoding was done from the computer, the output to the speakers wouldn't matter. Thanks again and apologies for the newb question!

-I don't quite know what you mean, the output as in the sound output? Every component in the system matters. (except the cables, if they work then they work on budget systems at least)

TBH I'm a little sceptical of the speakers as digital speakers are a new technology and I like to buy second hand old but reliable. Furthermore I'm no expert on this genre of gear anyway, but I know where to find one -

www.avsforums.com

If they're any good let us know.
Just out of interest, what's your price range?
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Old Apr 17, 2008, 09:05 PM   #10
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Slightly OT:

Quote:
Originally Posted by RedRedBlockhead View Post
Formats could be DTS, DD, PCM or that one that's used by SACD the name of which escapes me.
DSD
And let me tell you, hearing several different types of SACDs in a pro theater room was amazing. Especially when you switch to the CD layer and hear what's missing. SACD's are like hearing it in person. Just bloody brilliant.

On Topic:
I have an older Boston Acoustics Digital BA790 2.1 set and it really sounds much cleaner with the digital (SPDIF/Coax) input than with the analog one. I'd recommend getting a good 2.1 digital set that has optical inputs since the Macs don't have digital Coax outputs. Klipsch is a good way to go (if they have an optical in) since Boston Acoustics decided to stop selling computer speaker sets ... WHY!?
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Last edited by QuarterSwede; Apr 18, 2008 at 09:36 AM.
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Old Apr 17, 2008, 09:31 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by QuarterSwede View Post
Slightly OT:

DSD
And let me tell you, hearing several different types of SACDs in a pro theater room was amazing. Especially when you switch to the CD layer and hear what's missing. SACD's are like hearing it in person. Just bloody brilliant.
Even more OT:

Lucky you. I've never heard one! From what I've read however the differences are actually imperceptible when 16/44k1 is done right, it's just that the mixes on CDs aren't done for audiophiles whilst the high res audio mixes clearly are. In fact this is why a lot of people say vinyl is better, even though the format is cack compared to modern standards the mixes were done with large systems in mind and of course they used a form of RIAA. SACD actually has an established RMS limit well below it's peak to prevent people pumping volume into the top few bits!

Sorry OP!
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Old Apr 18, 2008, 03:00 AM   #12
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OK, now I know I'm waaaayyyyy ou of my depth! LOL!
I assumed that if I plug speakers in via USB, opical or coaxial, it would be digital and have some sort of advanage over these "blue sky" ones that I wasn't aware of. the "analogue" I refer to is that these speakers don't need "drivers" installed into the computer, you just plug them straight into your computer.

to answer your question on price, I think the "MediaDesk 5.1" sell for about GBP 700. (USD $1,300 approx?)
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Old Apr 18, 2008, 05:00 AM   #13
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hey there I'm British too!

But before you buy please wait a while and find out a bit more otherwise salesmen will have you for breakfast. Please please please hold off spending your money! £700 will get you much better sound than your aiming for, however you have to spend A LOT of money before digital speakers make sense! That's because the really expensive ones are very different from the cheap ones, which are less about sound quality but ease of use.

In terms of value for money second hand is almost always better because hi-fi technology develops very slowly. Even dacs aren't made that quickly.

OK you CAN use the analogue out of your mac, but the sound isn't going to be nearly as good as an external DAC (it makes the signal digital to analogue). You're right that USB speakers would have their own analogue to digital stage, but you can't be assured it's going to be any good. Here's what I can recommend from personal experience:

A good system for you might be:
Beresford DAC http://www.homehifi.co.uk/main/main.html £110 delivered
Second hand Kef reference 102 speakers with kube (the kube is important, its an outboard eq for them) -ebay £170
Second hand Quad 306 -ebay £110

Alternatively you could get the same speakers but with a
Cambridge Audio Azure 540r. - ebay £160
This would do the DAC and if you hook up extra speakers will do you 5.1 straight from your mac! I've owned this and it's a lovely amp, wouldn't be as good as the system above but much more plug and play and very expandible with LOADS of inputs.

That total system would set you back about £400, and sound really good. If you wanted to spend more money you could get an apogee duet instead of a beresford, the DAC in that is ********** amazing. I've owned both (kept the duet!). If you want a sub, and you have to consider that using a sub may not necessarily give you better sound quality, it may just give you bass, the sensible suggestions are
REL quake
Rel Q100e
Rel storm
-All these are pretty cheap and available in the UK off ebay
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Old Apr 18, 2008, 09:00 AM   #14
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Just to emphasize one thing: On the Mac, if you want surround sound (5.1), you cannot use the built-in analog output since it's only stereo. An optical digital link to an amp/speaker system with a built-in surround decoder will likely be the most affordable option. If you want to do surround with speakers taking an analog signal, you'll need an audio interface of some sort (external firewire, or internal PCI are the most common options).

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Old Apr 18, 2008, 09:18 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ncc1701d View Post
OK, now I know I'm waaaayyyyy ou of my depth! LOL!
I assumed that if I plug speakers in via USB, opical or coaxial, it would be digital and have some sort of advanage over these "blue sky" ones that I wasn't aware of. the "analogue" I refer to is that these speakers don't need "drivers" installed into the computer, you just plug them straight into your computer.

to answer your question on price, I think the "MediaDesk 5.1" sell for about GBP 700. (USD $1,300 approx?)
Just to clarify, there is a big difference between USB powered speakers and optical/coax digital.

*USB powered speakers need drivers on the OS and generally sound terrible.
*Optical/Coax use standards to just send the pure digital audio without affecting the quality.

When you play a song in iTunes for example, what happens is iTunes (Core Audio in OS X really) decodes the Mp3, AAC, etc file and shuttles it to the Optical Audio Output which sends it as a PCM bitstream (no loss of quality mind you) to a receiver (think home stereo). From there your receiver, which most likely has a much higher quality DAC (digital to analog converter) turns it into an analog signal your speakers can reproduce. While not technically accurate this gives you a basic idea of how it works.

Now if you just want to buy a pair of speakers for your computer then the easiest way, as I said above, is to get a 2.1 or 5.1 computer set that has a powered sub. The powered subs in these systems actually contain the amplifier for all the speakers so all you would have to do is plug your optical cable from your Mac to the sub's amp and your set. Easy and it'll sound 10x better than by using a 3.5mm analog cable.
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Last edited by QuarterSwede; Apr 18, 2008 at 09:38 AM.
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Old Apr 18, 2008, 09:28 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RedRedBlockhead View Post
Even more OT:

Lucky you. I've never heard one! From what I've read however the differences are actually imperceptible when 16/44k1 is done right, it's just that the mixes on CDs aren't done for audiophiles whilst the high res audio mixes clearly are. In fact this is why a lot of people say vinyl is better, even though the format is cack compared to modern standards the mixes were done with large systems in mind and of course they used a form of RIAA. SACD actually has an established RMS limit well below it's peak to prevent people pumping volume into the top few bits!

Sorry OP!
Slight OT again, sorry OP as well!

That's probably true. The big advantage is that SACD mixes are almost always done in 5.1. And when 5.1 is done right ... wow, just wow there is a difference. Of course when it's done wrong you'd rather listen to the regular stereo mix on the CD layer

By the way, in the same session I also heard SACD compared to DVD-A and I definitely preferred SACD. It's just something about DSD that delivers smooth uncompressed sound. Of course, if you don't have $50,000 worth of speakers like they did (in school) then yeah, you probably wouldn't notice a difference.

Funny thing about that is after listening to $100,000+ studio grade speakers (5'x5' I'm talking here), while it was pretty amazing, I still prefer to listen to music in my car. It's just a lot more fun. Audiophiles are wasting their money in my opinion. No offense guys and gals!
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Old Apr 18, 2008, 02:58 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RedRedBlockhead View Post
You're confused 24bit 192khz, 16 bit 32k, 16 bit 44k1 are sample rates and word lengths. Not formats.
Formats could be
DTS, DD, PCM or that one that's used by SACD the name of which escapes me.
Yeh dw I know the difference between codecs/formats and bit depth/sample rate etc..., format is an easier word to use though.

Also, I agree with RedRedBlockhead - the OP can get a very nice sounding little stereo system for £700 - and not a very mediocre/average sounding surround sound setup.
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Old Apr 18, 2008, 10:05 PM   #18
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Wow. Holy smokes. There's s lot for me to think about here. I'm going to have to do some more reserarch. Thanks RedRedBlockhead for your thoughts and recommendations. I've got to admit I never thought to look at second hand equipment. Thanks again. This may take some extra time, but it sounds as though it will be worth it.
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Old Apr 19, 2008, 08:18 AM   #19
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You're absolutely welcome. A lot of audio and hi-fi is totally snake oil. Get yourself into a good hi-fi store and have a listen. Don't buy anything there though as its usually overpriced even for new.

Also remember everyones ears are different. Ideally you will get a system that's very neutral for monitoring purposes so your mixes translate to other systems, but, IMO it's equally important to get something you like the sound of.
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Old Apr 19, 2008, 01:29 PM   #20
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I don't think the OP is interested in monitoring as such - simply enjoying music/movies.

I would strongly recommend the system RedRedBlockHead suggested, but there are other options available - I would tend to recommend something different, but it's all personal opinion...
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