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Video: Getting great sound with computer speakers

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Dave, a Crutchfield audio enthusiast, tests in the Crutchfield Labs whether or not upgrading computer speakers with Audioengine 2 (A2) speakers and adding a Music Fidelity V-DAC II (digital-to-analog converter) makes the low-res music on a computer sound better.

Goal: Make low-res music sound better

Dave: Most people typically wind up, for better or worse, with Lo-fi audio files on their computer that they downloaded from iTunes years ago or they're streaming music from the internet, you know, via PANDORA® or Spotify and a lot of those files just don't really sound all that Hi-fi, so we thought, well, what can we do to make that sound better so you can really hear your music more clearly?

Step 1: Entry-level computer speakers

So what we did was we first started with the sort of cheap plastic speakers. I think everybody kind of knows what they look like. You know, they're just very light-weight and they really just don't sound that great. So we started with those figuring this is how a lot of people get their music, and we wanted to see, well, can we make this more awesome? And we felt that we probably could.

Step 2: Adding better speakers

So the first experiment we tried was plugging in some Audioengine A2 amplified speakers which were connected directly to the headphone output on my laptop computer, just like we did the cheap plastic speakers that we started with, and I think all of us agreed that as soon as we turned them on the sound was immediately more impactful and robust.

Nice, huh?

Marshall: That is really warm. You know, these are great speakers but when you look at them too, they're still sized like computer speakers, but they sound like something much bigger.

Dave: There was plenty of volume whereas the other ones wouldn't play very loud. The Audioengines clearly could fill a room with no problem whatsoever.

Step 3: Add a DAC or digital-to-analog converter

So we decided well what can we do to make it even better? And the biggest improvement we felt we could make was let's add an outboard DAC, or digital to analog converter, between my laptop computer and these speakers and see what happened. So we took the Musical Fidelity V-DAC II, we plugged it into the USB output on my laptop and in effect it became the sound card for my computer. And then we hooked up the V-DAC to the Audioengines, and we turned it on again and sat back and listened one more time. And once again the difference was really profound. We could notice that the realism of the sound of the tracks we were listening to — there was much more detail. The sound was much wider and deeper.

Ralph: You know I think for me the big difference was the sound of the water because it went from something that sounded like crinkling cellophane to something that was recognizably dripping water.

Dave: It did. And I know the dude that recorded this and it was water. I mean he recorded it with a microphone in front of water and so that came across much more accurately I thought with the DAC in place. I won't say it completely reverses but it sort of undoes some of the effects of the compression and makes it sound more dynamic and as it was originally recorded. You know, just a pair of good powered speakers, an outboard DAC, and your laptop or your desktop computer — I think you could get some pretty awesome sound, even if you're using Lo-fi files.

If you have any questions about computer speakers or DACs, just give us a call.

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