View Full Version : Getting the best audio from your PC

01-10-2008, 03:17 PM
Ok, before we start, this is not a pitch to buy a new product.

This is a series of tips to help you get the best possible sound from your computer, for little to no cost. Yes, it is in fact a bunch of ways to optimize what you already have.

OK, before we start, I'll assume that you know a bit about computers, and very little about audio. Some of you may be offended, some of you may be flattered. It matters not, simply proceed with an open mind, and if you feel that I've missed something, or have offered incorrect information, please feel free to call me on it. :D

Here we go!

1. The first (and most common) thing we'll address is SPEAKER PLACEMENT.

To get the best possible sound from your speakers, their location is incredibly important. Ideally, they should be an equal distance from your ears.

Yes, that means if you are sitting in front of your computer, and have a speaker on either side of your monitor, you should be able to draw a triangle with your head, and the two speakers as points. All sides of the triangle should be an equal distance! Yay! If the speakers are 24 inches apart, then the distance from each speaker to your head should be 24 inches too.

The speakers should be roughly ear level, and aimed at your ears, rather than firing straight ahead. If you have the distance correct, then go ahead and turn them until they sound the best.

While we are talking about positioning, I'll bring up imaging. This is the ability of your speakers to create the illusion of sounds not just on the left and right, but at all points in between the speakers too. If the speakers are too far apart, it will be difficult to get proper imaging.

Imaging can also be affected by "Phase". A speaker receives audio over the wire plugged into it (speaker wire, duh). Each wire has a positive (+) and negative (-) lead. (Positive or + is usually marked with a red terminal.. if you have typical computer speakers with premade plugs on them, you can pretty much ignore this section.)

If you have trouble locating a sound coming from left or right, then it's possible your speakers are out of phase. If you have speakers with wires that you can switch around, try that. Red = + = Positive. Remember that.

Another trick for positioning is to move them closer to a wall for more bass. If you put a speaker into a corner, WAY more bass. But keep in mind that you want to have both speakers producing equal amounts of sound, or it'll sound out of balance. A subwoofer is safe to put into a corner for a gain in bass, since low frequency sounds from subs are non-directional.

2. Proper wiring to eliminate interference and crosstalk is a must. Try (if possible) to plug your speaker power into a different power bar or outlet than your computer. If you have to cross any power cords with your audio cables, have them cross at a right angle to eliminate noise.

DO NOT COIL UP EXCESS WIRE LENGTH. OMFG, this is a bad one. People think that they are doing something right by tying up excess wire; THEY ARE NOT. They are just creating coils that increase resistance, generate extra EMI, etc. If you have more wire than you need, route the wires differently.. dont bundle them up. (I am of course talking about wiring behind your desk or whatever, not within your PC case, though that doesnt hurt either.)

Basically, try to keep audio and speaker wire away from power and signal wire.

3. Adding a bit of isolation to your speakers can make a big difference also. Some people swear by speaker spikes, others by heavyweight stands. The most common tip I hear is "use bluetak". Also known as funtak, this blue goop is the adhesive that is often used to stick pictures and posters to walls.

Roll it into a little marble sized ball, and stick a ball under each corner of your speaker. Instant dampening, and better bass response. I'm serious, and it's cheap.

If you have separate speakers which can be placed on speaker stands, use the bluetak between the speaker and the stand. Ideally, the stands should be pretty solid so they dont vibrate. If possible, fill the stands with sand (if they are hollow). In a perfect world, sand filled stands with concrete or metal bases would sit on floor spikes, and the speakers would sit on bluetak on the stands.

4. GIGO - Garbage in, garbage out.

The music that you play should be of decent quality, or no matter what speakers you have, or how carefully you set everything up, it'll still sound like crap.

Winamp, Windows Media player, Foobar2000, VLC, whatever you use, there are pros and cons of each.

I personally use Foobar2000 and Winamp for my listening. Winamp for streaming radio, and Foobar2000 for everything else.. it sounds great, but it's a very plain looking app, with a pretty dull interface. Foobar can handle almost all file types too, and did I mention it sounds great?

I dont even keep any audio files that are less than 256k anymore.. even most of the stuff I do have at 256k rarely gets played anymore. I'm almost completely 320k or lossless. FLAC and APE are two of the best for lossless (IMHO), so look into them.

CD or DVD audio still sounds the best, but a good quality lossless rip is about 99% as good.

5. Stuff that costs money..

Upgrading to a better soundcard, better speakers, better wiring, will definitely improve the sound, but as above, GIGO. An X-fi sound card through a set of Z5500's will still sound like garbage playing a 56k mp3 stream, and if the speakers are parked all over the place, forget it.

Before spending money to improve your sound, try the tips above, and see if you still think that $200 soundcard or $500 speakers are necessary.

As I type this, I'm listening to a lossless audio file, from my laptop's headphone out jack, into a pair of 5 year old Sonlab desktop speakers... and it sounds amazing.

01-11-2008, 10:13 PM
Good guide, touches on the most important aspects of audiophilism.

I did however notice one thing you didnt mention. It may not come into play with most peoples speaker setups. KEEP SPEAKER WIRE OFF CARPET! Keeping your wire's off the carpet will reduce the "Dielectric Effect".

From, http://www.walkeraudio.com/faqs.htm

Q: What is the dielectric effect?

The insulation around a conductor is a dielectric. The insulation will absorb a small amount of changing electrical energy and release it out of phase. The poorer the dielectric is the greater the effect. Putting your cables on the carpet, which is a bad dielectric, increases this effect. That is why the sound improves when you take your cables off the carpet and keep them from touching other cables.


Under carpet seems to be allright. i think the effect is most noticable when touching the tiny soft fibres of the pile as opposed to the foam underlay. Also, keeping power cables off the floor helps to reduce the amount of EMI that the component recieves. I had this problem with my onboard sound, i would randomly get large amounts of EMI through the speakers. However, moving/wigling my dvd rack neer the surge protector would clear up the problem.

01-15-2008, 06:02 PM
Nice stuff Luke. Might try that Blutack idea on my sub.

The rest of the stuff i.e triangle will not work with my desk, i could wall mount them, maybe... and my reatr speakers are on the floor, but for music that means bugger all because MP3 is 2.1 only...

01-15-2008, 08:35 PM
I use a year old pair of sony headphones ported through an M-audio fast track pro ( http://www.m-audio.com/products/en_us/FastTrackPro-main.html )

Sure, this isn't an audiophiles sound card, but i cannot find any bad sounds coming out of this thing. Plus the dual mic imputs, some 1/4 "Inserts" (seriously, what are these things for?) and midi in/out. It's a USB box, and I love having all of my audio controls right at my fingertips instead of having to key shortcuts or alt tabbing out of something to a volume control.

It's really a midi box, and i use it with reason.

01-16-2008, 12:41 PM
I have an M-Audio USB Mobile-Pre also, which is what I use when I connect my PC (or laptop) to my hifi system.

I use the 1/4" inputs all the time for guitar/bass DI (direct input) as the onboard pre-amp can do wonders. Also, some amps have a 1/4" line out, as opposed to a balanced XLR connection. (Mobile Pre also has XLR input.)

J-Roc: I've never experienced the dielectric interference that you are talking about from carpet, but I'll certainly test that out now. Thanks for the tip on that!

01-16-2008, 12:42 PM
After testing this quickly (with a few random songs, nothing too high quality), I did notice a slight difference, but I suspect it's more in my head than anything. I'll test again with some lossless stuff from Foobar, and see what the deal is.

01-17-2008, 01:57 AM
It all depends on the carpet aswell. Somtimes weather conditions can affect the amount of interference you get from the carpet. A good way to judge this is to see if you can zap people by draging your feet across the carpet. In wet weather it will be less noticable and more so in dry weather.

If you can zap people/yourself then you should deffinitly raise the wire. Some higher end cables are shielded from this, most are not.

02-03-2008, 09:39 PM
also, I'd like to add (you kinda touched on in #3) acoustic-ing your room. a couple of bass traps in the corners of your room can make a world of difrence.

05-22-2008, 12:23 PM
also, I'd like to add (you kinda touched on in #3) acoustic-ing your room. a couple of bass traps in the corners of your room can make a world of difrence.

The "Clap Test" (not VD) will help you determine if you need traps or not. Just sit in your listening position, with the room quiet. Clap your hands.

Did you hear an echo, a ping, or any sort of flutter? If so, get some acoustic treatments into that room ASAP. If not, you might not get much improvement from it, but it's always a good idea to have some anyways.

11-18-2008, 02:08 PM
whoa, it's been a long time since I've posted on this site.. and now I'm here I might as well put a up a few posts...

anyways, a few more comments:

Clap test: yes yhe clap test is great for the mid to high frequencies but it doesn't reveal the bass that's usually trapped in your corners, not does it show the frequency spikes throughout the room.

and just a warning for new audiophiles, putting the speaker(s) near the wall or in a corner might boost the bass, but at the expense of a clear sound, and it's also an unpredictable way of doing so. it's usually a better Idea to invest in a sub woofer.

and again I would like to say that you've put up a nice set of guidelines :)

feel free to correct me if I'm wrong :)



11-18-2008, 04:54 PM

Yes, the clap test is only good for mid-hi frequencies, and wont cover bass. Typically though it's pretty easy to tell if you have bass troubles. Muddy/boomy sound is the easiest indicator. Also, get ahole of a test tone cd, play the sine sweep. Put it on repeat, and walk around the room while it plays.. this will help you isolate rattles or spikes in the room.

11-23-2008, 06:47 PM
I like this. Very well done

01-11-2009, 07:28 AM
Are there any free downloads for good test tones that you would recommend? just curious would like to fine-tune my surround :) great suggestions btw... will definitely take these into account!

01-11-2009, 02:33 PM
I just found this, but havent actually tried any of their sounds yet: