0Yahama DSP-E800 LogoGetting high end sound from your PC

For many people, there’s either sound or no sound, the qual­ity doesn’t really come into it. For oth­ers, spe­cific­a­tion and brag­ging rights rule: bit-rates, sampling fre­quen­cies, band­width, power hand­ling.  For many a simple set of pc speak­ers will do very nicely, espe­cially if there are 6 or more of them (more is bet­ter, right?)  But what do you do if you want awe­some sound from your com­puter?  What do you do if you are an audi­o­phile on a budget?  What if you play games and want sur­round sound but play music through the same sys­tem?  There are many choices and this could get very expens­ive and com­plex, but it doesn’t have to.

Some sound-cards won’t give you a Dolby Digital (never mind DTS) sig­nal and mine was only on the cusp of want­ing to do this.  Being the cheapest full-chipset X-fi avail­able when I bought it, I had to pay Cre­at­ive a few pounds to enable Dolby Digital Live sup­port.  I’m glad I did as it works very nicely.  DVDs, large file size movies, Call of Duty and many other games all work very well with this set-up.  You just have to accept that you won’t be able to digit­ally stream TrueHD or other formats that were developed way after the Yamaha was born.  To be hon­est, though, with the newer formats (SACD, DVD–A, TrueHD, DTS-MA…) it’s easy to sur­pass those expect­a­tions of excel­lent sound with the old ones — DD 5.1, DTS, Red­book CD audio etc. — if your play­back sys­tem offers suf­fi­cient fidel­ity.  I have heard at least one 1990s model CD player that can sur­pass sev­eral thou­sand pound’s worth of SACD hard­ware, when play­ing equally excel­lent lay­ers of the same hybrid Linn SACD/CD.  I will say no more.

For the h******e amongst you, upgrades are more than pos­sible.  Re-clocking, improved voltage reg­u­la­tion, bet­ter capa­cit­ors and op-amps will make the most of the DSP-E800, though I have to say it sounds great as stand­ard.  In terms of 2-channel music it’s roughly on a par with two or three hun­dred pounds’ worth of CD player when fed from some­thing like a Sound­blaster X-Fi, though I’m quite sure most digital sources will work sim­il­arly well.  Com­pared to the X-fi’s ana­logue out­puts it is slightly ahead — both being in stand­ard, unmo­les­ted trim — giv­ing a pleas­ingly warm and con­cise account of your source mater­ial, albeit with slightly con­strained dynamics.

So why the review of what in com­put­ing terms seems as old as the hills?  Well it’s excel­lent and every time I’ve looked they’re avail­able on Ebay, some going for as little as £50.

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