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.

Enter the Yamaha DSP-E800.  Here’s a modern classic, a piece of hi-fi that is in some ways rather dated and yet seems to have no successor from Yamaha or any other company.  I’m talking about a high-end sounding, budget-priced surround processor and 3-channel amp that has been doing the rounds for years.  This is a niche market, a product that only does part of the overall job, blending into your 2-channel system without introducing compromise.  You simply connect the main channel outputs to your existing 2-channel amp or pre-amp and you have 5.1 channel functionality – just add some more speakers and plumb into the digital output of your sound-card (it has both optical and coaxial inputs).  I personally use one with some basic 1990s bookshelf speakers as rears and set the centre channel to “none” to allow my stereo speakers to do all the hard work.  I know three other people who use the Yammy – all superb setups, one very expensive – and none of them can even think of a way to move away from it without spending the large monies.

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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