An Inexpensive High-Resolution Music Server for PC (by Dave Keith)

m-audi23.jpgI recently ordered the very inexpensive M-Audio Firewire 410 ( $299.95) in hopes of finding a cheap way to get high resolution sound out of my computer.

IT WORKS!!!!

It was a bit of a hassle setting it up properly. The sticker on the equipment said to install the drivers first, before hooking up the Firewire 410.

I first had to juggle around Firewire connectors, and eventually went from my primary Firewire connector (4 pin) out to the Firewire 410, then via a separate Firewire connector to my Firewire external drive.

Since 4-pin Firewire connectors do not provide external power, I then had to connect the external power supply. I turned it on with the button on the upper right of the unit.

On restart, Windows XP found the new hardware, and it went through the driver installation again. When it indicated that the drivers were properly installed and ready to go, the computer had to be restarted before the drivers took effect.

I had already connected my ER-6i earphones hooked up to one of the two headphone connectors, and I got the Windows startup wav clearly through the earphones.

Then I just had to go straight to the HRx example I had previously downloaded from my Crown Imperial HRx disc. I played the Strauss Festival Intrada file as clear as a bell with wonderful power. There seems to be a much cleaner sound coming through the Firewire connection to the Firewire 410 with virtually no interference from my router, which is only about 4 1/2 feet away.

The setup with a Mac will undoubtedly be easier, and here you probably really will need to have the drivers installed first, as indicated in the instructions. By the way, I have read horror stories about using the other included software for producing your own music. I only installed the Firewire drivers, and that’s all you need to use this wondrous device as a DAC.m-audi26.jpg

Only Line Outputs 1 and 2 (and the headphones) can output 24-bit 176.4 kHz and 24-bit 192 kHz, but all the others can apparently output at 24-bit 96 kHz, so you can output sound for a complete surround system, at a suitable sample frequency for the AIX surround files.

Tomorrow I need to go and buy at least 2 of the male mono phono jack to female RCA connector adaptors so that I can output to my sound system, but in the meantime I have been blown away listening  through my earphones to the various 24-bit 96 kHz high res files I have downloaded from HDTracks – really hearing the wonders of them for the first time. I have other stuff I need to do tonight, but I can’t take the earphones out.

I previously listened to these files diluted via the USB connector of my computer to only 48 kHz – they sound amazing via the Firewire connectors and the M-Audio Firewire 410.

I LOVE THIS!  THERE IS JOY IN MUDVILLE TONIGHT!

Based on my experience, I’ll bet the RME Fireface 400 and Apogee Ensemble work very well indeed when used as the system DAC.

Now here’s what happened the next day….

——— PART II  Day 2 ———–

Hi Bob,

This is a follow-up to my Hooray e-mail of yesterday.

I purchased a couple of male 1/4″ phono plug to RCA female adaptors (not cables) today, and hooked them up to line outs 1 and 2 of the M-Audio Firewire 410.

A brief description of my observations follows:

To start with, I am getting a quieter background level than I though possible out of my rather modest system. I don’t know if I could call it totally “black,” but I can hear nothing coming from the speakers between selections.

I, of course, played the selection from my Crown Imperial HRx disc – “Strauss Festival Intrada” – first. Again sound was coming up from total silence. No pops or clicks like I was hearing when I attempted to play this file though my USB connection. There was wondrous dynamic range. At the very lowest frequencies I heard some wobbling, but I think this is simply shortcomings of my modest system. I did not hear those wobblings from either my earphones or regular headphones plugged into the M-Audio Firewire 410.

I then played a number of my downloaded 24-bit 96 kHz files. They sounded fantastic, and I did not hear that bass wobble I heard in the Strauss. Perhaps it’s the recording, although I doubt that.

Perhaps it’s my imagination, but it seems to make even 44.1 kHz files sound better. I know that the background level is most definitely much lower even on these recordings.

It’s like I am finally able to hear what’s possible with computer audio. I had planned to put together a totally separate Mac Mini system like Bob’s, but this sounds so good, I will probably stick with my used Dell Laptop with the same external 500 GB drive that Bob uses, but playing through the Firewire 410, at least for a while.

Some general hints learned the hard way for those who might want to consider buying this DAC.
1. Based on my experience, and those of others I have read on line, do not “hot-swap” this unit. In other words, start it before you start your computer, or set it to start at the same time as your computer starts if your computer as a 6-pin Firewire connection that provides external power. Similarly, do not turn this unit off, or disconnect it, while the computer is running. I accidentally touched the Firewire connector and both the Firewire 410 and the connected external Firewire drive went away until after 3 reboots.

2. I misspoke previously about the drivers being installed several times. I read the user’s guide (it’s on the CD) after the fact, and in fact you do need to load the drivers first, and then the installation program runs twice again after the new hardware is detected by Windows XP to get everything up and running – apparently normal operating procedure – very strange. I don’t know how this would work on a Mac, but I am sure that the installation is likely to go as planned by M-Audio, as it did here.

3. I have sent off an e-mail to M-Audio tech support with two questions:

  • a: When obviously playing the high resolution files correctly, why does the “sample rate detected” section of the Hardware tab of the Control Panel on my computer only show 44100 Hz?
  • b:  Which numbered analog outputs of the Firewire 410 correspond to RF, LF, CF, LS, RS, RSB, LSB, and LF speakers? It is obvious that 1 and 2 correspond to either LF or RF, but I haven’t figured out which is which.

I will let you know the answer to these questions when I receiver them.

The headphone and line output are both active at the same time, by the way. I have ordered a set of the AKG K710 headphones to take full advantage of this new improvement to my system, although I am not ready to pay $275 for an audiophile cable for these phones (the price has gone up).

My stereo system:

  • A pair of the KEF Q15 system monitors (concentric speakers with great stage depth)
  • A VMPS Smaller subwoofer driven by a 100 watt/channel Proton D1200, which has 6 dB of headroom – one channel used
  • A 65 watt/channel Denon Receiver – After trying others, only Denon from now on
  • A Sony Playstation 3 – now plays SACDs very well, along with Blu-ray discs, DVD-Videos, and CDs
  • An inexpensive Sony CD/DVD/SACD Player – No DVD-Audio capability, but plays DTS audio, which the Playstation does not
  • Low-cost cables

I have additional components for the theater portion of the system, but that is not the issue here at this point.

In short, this has been one of the most significant improvements I have made to my system in years – well worth the $299!

Hope this information proves helpful.

Dave Keith

Saturday, February 14th, 2009 Equipment, Music Server

5 Comments to An Inexpensive High-Resolution Music Server for PC (by Dave Keith)

  1. [...] is the original: An Inexpensive High-Resolution Music Server for PC (by Dave Keith) Categories : Computer, Phone, software Tags : announcements, audio-firewire, [...]

  2. An Inexpensive High-Resolution Music Server for PC (by Dave Keith) on February 14th, 2009
  3. Hi! Are you playing your music through iTunes? As I understand iTunes, probably incorrectly, if you are playing both 44.1 and higher resolutions, you may have to quit and restart iTunes to get it to play the higher rez?

    This has always been confusing to me as it is difficult to figure out whether the system is actaully sending the higher rez to the dac without a display like in the Berkeley Dac.

    Anyone want to clear this up?

  4. ptruce on February 14th, 2009
  5. Correction to my previous comment: On a Mac, the resolution passed from iTunes to the DAC is controlled by Audio Midi. Thus if it is a 44.1 file and Audio Midi is set to 96, it is upsampled and the reverse is apparently true. Not sure how it works on Windows. Peter

  6. ptruce on February 14th, 2009
  7. @Peter: Your second post is correct – set the freq in Audio Midi (or Weiss App, etc.) and play away.

    Note that while Leopard has an above-average sample-rate converter (SRC) built in, you will likely get best sonics by playing back at the original sampling freq.

    - Bob

  8. Bob on February 14th, 2009
  9. Regarding:

    “3. I have sent off an e-mail to M-Audio tech support with two questions:

    * a: When obviously playing the high resolution files correctly, why does the “sample rate detected” section of the Hardware tab of the Control Panel on my computer only show 44100 Hz?
    * b: Which numbered analog outputs of the Firewire 410 correspond to RF, LF, CF, LS, RS, RSB, LSB, and LF speakers? It is obvious that 1 and 2 correspond to either LF or RF, but I haven’t figured out which is which.”

    I have a M-Audio Firewir4e 410 and I believe that the analog outputs are not providing 5.1 surround sound. The only way you can feed CF, LS, RS and LF is to use the SPDIF output

  10. craigs on February 21st, 2009
February 2009
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