Over the past couple of days, we’ve been addressing the problem of playing multichannel music files through a high quality surround playback system. Here’s what I presented so far:
1. I did mention the playing of multichannel music using optical discs…either SACD, DVD-Audio discs and/or Blu-ray discs. This is the easiest way and suitable for home theaters but it’s old school thinking.
2. Play the 5.1 interleaved .WAV or .FLAC files from a large USB (32 or 64 gigs) memory stick plugged into a player capable of high-resolution multichannel playback. I use one of my Oppo BDP machines, which can handle just about any physical optical disc format AND any sound file format as well…including the dts files that I make available on iTrax.com. I received a couple of comments that not all USB input players have the right implementation of the USB spec and therefore fail to deliver the necessary bandwidth for surround music playback. I can assure you that the Oppo BDP-93/95 and 103/105 players handle surround files just fine.
3. Use a custom configured HTPC (Home Theater PC) equipped with a multichannel sound card (LynxTWO-B or Creative Labs X-Fi HD are both good options) to get great sound of your PC in full 5.1 surround sound.
4. MCH high-resolution files are very large and using a USB stick is less than ideal if you really get into surround music. You’re going to need to connect a large capacity and reasonably fast USB-equipped hard drive to the back of your compatible player. Again, the Oppo line of Blu-ray players provides you the opportunity to connect a hard drive through the eSata port on back panel of the device.
5. Acquire a dedicated multichannel DAC. The exaSound E28 Multichannel USB DAC is the first multichannel, standalone DAC that I’m aware of..and it’s a very high quality piece of gear. At $3300, it’s not cheap but also not crazy expensive. The E28 handles both PCM and DSD. I’ll have to reach out to George Klissarov, founder and president of exaSound Audio Design about getting a unit for review. I’ve listened to his units at trade shows and know that he builds exceptional equipment.
My friend Michal Jurewicz, Founder and Principal Designer of Mytek has also been demonstrating multichannel file playback using three of his company’s stereo units…which Benchmark or any other high-end DAC manufacturer can do too. There are clocking challenges, but it does work. In fact, this is what I did with my HTPC years ago. Until MCH becomes a bigger part of the market, there is really no incentive for manufacturers to dedicate the design and engineering time necessary to do it right. So we’ll keep getting stereo DACs with ever higher sample rate and longer word lengths.
I’ve spoken and lobbied hard to John Siau, the chief designer at Benchmark about the need for a good multichannel DAC but so far the investment of resources hasn’t happened. I haven’t given up yet.
6. In several recent trade shows, I’ve used a dedicated Bryston SP-3 preamplifier built around with 8 spectacular sounding DACs. In my opinion, this box has the finest multichannel DACs on the planet…completely neutral, very accurate, and noiseless. Bravo Bryston. Just hookup the outputs from your media server and you’re good to go. It’s not cheap ($8000) but it does a lot more than a dedicated DAC and doesn’t waste its time on DSD.
I’ll dig further into the details of making surround file playback happen with drivers, software etc in a future post.
By the way, all of the illustrations can be enlarged.