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Xitel Analog HiFi Link - opinions?

 

New member
Username: Brikface

Post Number: 1
Registered: Mar-05
Hi ppl. I've been nosing around for a good computer/music setup for my daughter's dorm room this coming September (congratulate me, she made it into the freakin Ivy League-- first person in 4 generations to even come close).

It's been tough trying to settle on a setup. My budget for it is about $2200, no more than $2400. At first I was determined to put together a whole networked audio thing with a low end component stereo system playing her MP3s and other digital music off the PC via Ethernet, and she would use the stereo for CDs (standard and data), DVD-Audio and AM/FM radio. Then I said "Hold on-- this is a dorm room. The stereo will be so close to the PC, might as well scrap the Ethernet and run direct audio wires from soundcard (Audigy) to the stereo (either the 1/8" stereo plug->rca plugs->aux jacks trick or some sort of 1/8" plug->coax->optical input scheme).

Then I started worrying that the space would be so cramped that magnetic fields from normal stereo speakers would mess with her PC monitor (19" flat panel) and even her hard drive. So I started looking into the best available PC audio setups and was on the verge of ordering Klipsch ProMedia 5.1 (apparently only $200 through Dell).

But I soured on that. Kept reading bout Klipsch and other pricey PC systems crapping out as if on cue at the end of warranty. And I didn't like the idea she would miss out on everything a proper receiver gives-- nice balanced output even for symphonic music, AM/FM tuner, carousel disks, etc.,.

So I read a lot about PC->stereo system hookups. Discovered there's a fair availabilty of shielded speakers. Decided my budget couldn't accomodate both a decent PC and a full component system and that a real rack system was overkill for a dorm room anyway, so I looked into top-of-the-class mini stereos from Philips, Onkyo and JVC.

The 1/8" plug->rca->aux idea was looking good until I read something on this forum about a power mismatch between the Audigy lineout and the typical aux in. A lot of people were getting away with it, but it seemed a real threat to eventually fry the receiver. That's when I came upon the Philips MCM530, a mini stereo sys that uses a USB connection to the PC. But I soured on that too. It just seemed that a self-powered connection like USB would _have to_ introduce serious noise into an audio stream, and I've been less than thrilled with USB in general. I want my daughter to use the stereo system from the PC with as much ease as a normal computer speaker setup and I was sure this USB-with-special-drivers deal would have her messing with software settings and/or endlessly plugging/unplugging the USB cable as the PC tried to see whether it was outputting to the MCM530 or to the soundcard.

It was back to the Audigy lineout->rca->aux deal, but the power level mismatch still bothered me. I looked into digital connections but was discouraged by the Audigy's use of a mini-din output for digital and the scarcity of real digital input on mini stereo systems. That's when I came upon the "Xitel Analog HiFi Link" (http://www.xitel.com/product_hfl.htm) for about $50.

Xitel says "By taking digital information from your computer's USB port, the HiFi-Link also avoids relying on the typically inferior audio characteristics of installed soundcards." They go on to gush about how they massage the signal into just the right form for an aux jack. Is this believable? Are the "audio characteristics" from an Audigy lineout actually "inferior" in any way?

Ok, I've spewed enough. The "HiFi Link" does look interesting, but I'd like to hear what some of you audio mavens think of it. I'm distrustful of its use of USB, but it doesn't look as bad as the Philips arrangement which had special drivers... What do you say? And, if you were me, what would you put together?

tia,
BrikFace
 

New member
Username: Mrmike6by9

Edgewood, MD USA

Post Number: 1
Registered: Mar-05
I have a Xitel that I used to use to take streamed audio out to a tape deck. It sounded perfectly fine. I stopped using it when I obtained TotalRecorder to do the same thing without the content leaving the PC since I now burn to CD or DVD. The only problem comes from the fact that Xitel loads a driver to operate and I have to switch drivers depending on which device I want to use but that takes mere seconds.
YMMV
 

Anonymous
 
Would it be easier to just install an Audigy Optical Digital I/O Card II, and then just run an optical cable from the PC to the receiver.

Here's a link: http://us.creative.com/products/product.asp?category=1&subcategory=16&product=30
 

edster922
Unregistered guest
BF,

Wow your daughter sure is one hell of a lucky girl, I wish my Dad had bought me a $2200 sound system when I went off to college! : )

Personally I wouldn't worry too much about the power mismatch issue, I've never had any problem connecting my PC's soundcard to an external receiver with the old fashioned aux input. Then again I use an external USB sound card (cheapo $40 Creative Blaster 2.0)---my main reason for buying it was not so much that I think it's any better than an internal card sonically, only that it requires zero software and therefore doesn't take up any system resources which I'd read that the Audigy soundcards do. I also looked into the Xitel but decided it was not much more than an overglorified external sound card, so I passed on it---plus the Creative was available locally so I could always return it much more easily if I didn't like it or if it crapped out on me.

As to your daughter's system---my first question would be, what sort of music does she listen to, and just how picky is she about it? Most 18 year olds tend to be into rock/rap/dance music and are not exactly audiophile-picky, they usually just like a big thump and exaggerated treble (read: they often love Cerwin Vegas or the like).

If she is more like the typical 18 year old that I'm describing above, my guess is she'd be perfectly happy with a $120 Logitech Z-2300 system (poor sub but OK if you turn it sideways) and prefer to spend the other $2000 on clothes or spring break in Cancun! Or a better pair of computer speakers are the Swans M-200 ($190 from newegg.com) though she'll need a subwoofer if she wants thump.
 

Silver Member
Username: Touche6784

Post Number: 215
Registered: Nov-04
i agree with edster here. i would never dream of wasting $2000 on a sound system for my younger sister who is the same age. my parents just got her the HK soundstick computer speakers and she is more than happy using them for her ipod and soon for her computer once she gets one for college. they actually sound just as good as the stereo setup that we had in our study, mission bookshelves and sony reciever, not the greatest but worked quite well. though i think i can relate to your happiness for her accomplishments i think the money will be wasted unless she has a genuine appreciation for hifi which most women do not. i would ask her what she would be willing to get herself as a present for that much money. i wouldnt spend more than $200 on a speaker system. you could spend the rest on buying a whole new computer. i would say edster's characterization of 18 yearolds is pretty accurate coming from a 21 year old. i had similar taste in music until i got into hifi and now i listen to jazz, classical much more and have a system that is worth much more than my computer speakers ever will be. i would think really hard before making this decision.
 

New member
Username: Brikface

Post Number: 3
Registered: Mar-05
Thanks for the responses guys.

Glad to hear from Mike Wilkins that the Xitel gadget works as advertised.

Anonymous asked if I couldn't just install a Digital I/O card and run an optical cable to the receiver. The problem there is that we'll be buying a mini-stereo system and, as far as I can tell, not one of them comes with digital input. You have to go to real component stereo systems or "home entertainment" packages for that.

Edster and Christoper Lee-- I'm sorry, I didn't make it clear in the original post that the $2200+ will be for the stereo system *and* the PC. My girl has worked so hard thru highschool, I think I could justify giving her just about anything. But my money situation took a dive in 2001 and has yet to really recover. The PC is gonna be at least $1700, leaving ~$600 for the audio solution (which may require more than just the mini-stereo).

My daughter is very musical. She likes a range of rock n' rollish stuff from Trent Reznor to Bob Dylan to Bjork (wish I could zap the first from her playlist but what can u do?). She's also been involved in classical from an early age, plays Chopin and Beethoven on the piano in her spare time, heads her own a capella group and sings Italian arias with people twice her age (am I bragging? it's hard not to). She's also into an assortment of crazy "roots" stuff like ragtime and klezmer. This is why I didn't want to confine her to computer speaker playback thru her college days. Top of the line Klipsch or Harmon Kardon PC-Audio setups might equal good mini component systems sonically, but they wouldn't give her AM/FM tuner and CD/DVD carousel. So I'm pretty convinced PC<->Mini-Stereo via audio wires or Ethernet is the way to go.

It turns out I misread the earlier Ecoustic thread about a supposed voltage mismatch between soundcard analog lineout and receiver analog aux in. The writer really said the voltage problem was between soundcard digital out and receiver optical in (it was a discussion involving a true rack system). So I'm good to go with my preferred solution and have basically ruled out any USB shenanigans.

Thx again folks, BF.
 

Silver Member
Username: Touche6784

Post Number: 220
Registered: Nov-04
brik face, the budget misunderstanding is definitely cleared up now. i would still ask her about whether or not she would appreciate it. i am sure she will enjoy playing all those types of music from real stereo equipment but i am not really sure how many people at that age really have an appreciation for stereo equipment. my dad was hinting at getting me some stereo stuff before i started college but i insisted that computer speakers were more than enough for me. now i wouldn't even dream of using my computer speakers. you might also have to consider she may be a bit more concerned with how it will all look as opposed to how it will sound though being as musical as she is she may also need decent sound. if you do go ahead and get her stereo equipment i think you should take a look at paradigm speakers namely the Atoms. they are $200 a pair had have had many good reviews. i actually have a HK 3480 that i replaced recently with a HT reciever that i would be willing to sell if you are interested. i am sure other people can give you some better reccomendations.
 

andw99
Unregistered guest
Any recognised HiFi / audiophile magazine or store would say - spend the least amount of money on speakers and the most on the "front end" (the signal source, CD player etc.)
As you are proposing to use a PC as a source for MP3 / other lossy format and also play the radio, then the quality of the input signal is so massively compromised that it basically becomes irrelevant how much you spend on the stereo & speakers. Only bother with the expense of HiFi if there is quality CD or vinyl input.
The more that is spent on the stereo system, the more it will highlight just how bad the input signal is.
PS - if she has internet connectivity then she has radio.
 

edster922
Unregistered guest
BF,

Actually $1700 for a PC nowadays is extreme overkill, unless your daughter is a hardcore gamer, runs complex mathematical computations off her computer all the time, or edits a ton of video. If like 90% of PC users she mainly uses it for word processing, spreadsheets, Web browsing, maybe a PDA---you don't need to spend more than 1/2 or even 1/3 of that amount for a decent quality Dell desktop with LCD monitor, and no more than $1000 for a very good Pentium Centrino laptop, $700 for a lower grade Celeron laptop. Go to sites like techbargains.com and dealnews.com for ongoing specials...online will save you tons of money. Whatever you do don't buy a PC from some place like Best Buy or Circuit City, you'll be paying more for junk.

With the remaining $1200 you can buy her an EXCELLENT dedicated music system. Here's some ideas:

Pioneer 1014 receiver, $350 shipped at jandr.com
or JVC RX-F10 all digital receiver, $230 shipped at amazon.com or the Harman Kardon 3480 for $300 shipped from jandr.com

SONY CDP-CE375 5 Disc CD player, $126 shipped at jandr.com or TOSHIBA 3960 CD/DVD single disc player, $50 shipped at jandr.com (see referenceaudiomods.com for why they use this as their base model) The single-disc players are said to be more reliable due to fewer moving parts than multi-players.

ASCEND ACOUSTICS CBM-170 bookshelf speakers, $344 shipped from ascendacoustics.com (google them to see a HUGE paper trail of glowing reviews from both professional reviewers and consumers) These speakers would be IDEAL for the type of music your daughter likes!

I must say, she certainly sounds precocious, my musical tastes were pretty horrible at that age, LOL. Just curious, which Ivy is she going to?

The icing on the cake would be a HSU STF-1 subwoofer, $311 shipped from ascendacoustics.com (good for your daughter's occasional forays into more percussion-based music or movie watching)

Now a system like what I've described above will take a little more trouble for her to move around each year, but if she is a true music lover she won't mind too much. No PC-based system or compact shelf system will come anywhere close.
 

edster922
Unregistered guest
andw99:

> Any recognised HiFi / audiophile magazine or store would say - spend the least amount of money on speakers and the most on the "front end" (the signal source, CD player etc.)

OK, then try running a $1000 receiver with a $1000 CD player into a pair of $100 Sony speakers sometime.
 

New member
Username: Brikface

Post Number: 4
Registered: Mar-05
C. Lee -- I think she will appreciate the real stereo sound enough to justify the outlay. If I have enough $$ left after the puter purchase I'll look into the Atoms and a better receiver than we could get if we stuck to mini systems.

andw99 -- You say "As you are proposing to use a PC as a source for MP3 / other lossy format and also play the radio, then the quality of the input signal is so massively compromised that it basically becomes irrelevant how much you spend on the stereo & speakers.", but I don't see it that way. For one thing, the majority of her MP3 collection is encoded at 192kbps (with many at 248), so the source is quality enough for the difference between computer speakers and stereo speakers to matter. In addition she'll have a lot of store-bought CDs, CDs ripped as straight WAV and eventually a fair number of DVD-Audio discs. These will all be better on a mini-stereo carousel than in a PC drive hooked to computer speakers. Finally, I want her to have a source for "news of the world" that doesn't rely on the school's internet connection (she'll be in Manhattan and we're all still a bit nervous here). So the AM/FM tuner on the mini-stereo fits that bill.

edster -- You really think $1700 is extreme overkill for a PC? I don't. There's a good chance she will go into a math/sci. major and will need some hefty number crunching ability (you ever try to compile an involved C++ program with GUI elements, use browser/email and play MP3s at the same time?-- decent multitasking like that takes at least 1/2 Gb RAM these days... couple that with a 19" flat panel and printer/scanner, you're not coming in much below $1700)... But thx for your stereo sys. recommendations. I may have enough to go for something like that (and I'll certainly be using jandr). BTW she's going to Barnard (sister school of Columbia U.).

--
BF

 

edster922
Unregistered guest
BF,

I didn't know you were including a printer/scanner but yeah $1700 is still a little high even with your daughter's possible number-crunching future.

http://www1.us.dell.com/content/products/features.aspx/outrageous_desktops?c=us& cs=04&l=en&s=bsd

I'd get her the Dell 4700 for $550 which includes a 19" LCD, then an extra $200-300 for an HP all-in-one. Well under $1000 total, the 512MB of RAM is plenty and if she needs more (I can't imagine her needing over 1GB) just buy and install it yourself (newegg.com is one of the best) it's much cheaper than having Dell do it for you, ditto with any DVD/CD burner.

With the savings from your $1700 budget you can easily get her the JVC digital receiver, Ascend speakers and Sony carousel, add an extra $300 or so for the Hsu subwoofer, and you'll have one very happy freshwoman!
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