Well, I finally got a copy of UE3. It’s worth detailing the current PC I’m testing it on.
The current PC candidate–
It’s an Athlon II x4 630 processor on an MSI K9N6PGM2-V2 mainboard. It has 4GB of ddr2 with nvdia graphics (GF7025) and a recent vintage samsung 1gb HDD (back when they were $50!!). It’s a reasonably modern motherboard with a bios date of 11/10. It’s the most modern amd mb I could fine that was budget and allowed me to use ddr2. I wanted to reuse my 4GB of legacy ddr2 (this is the “new” kids PC). In retrospect, given how ridiculously cheap ddr3 is now, that was a mistake. Anyway, it represents a kind of low end. It’s an older processor and on board video but still reasonable processing power. This was made from parts of my old main PC that has become my kids’ PC. It also has a delta 410 and Xonar sound card inside. The OS is a new copy of Win 7 home premium 64 bit.
The actual setup gritty details–
It’s also worth taking a moment to describe the setup for UE3. It’s a little convoluted, no pun intended. UE3 was not designed to work directly with a software player, like foobar or JRiver. Rather it was meant as a PC based xover with the sound card inputs as analog inputs from a CD player into the soundcard. For whatever technical reason, UE will not accept a direct software audiobitstream. If you want to use a software player, you have to route it out of one sound card via analogue out and then back through the analogue in of another soundcard associated with UE. That’s right–two separate soundcards. The problem is that there is an extra DAC–>ADC conversion in those two separate soundcards. This is not very audiophile.
There is an alternative. Most motherboards have an SPDIF digital stream out. This out is actually usually in two places. Most of the time there is an SPDIF out on the back of the PC on the sound out header. However, the SPDIF signal comes in an optical wrapper, and the sound card UE3 uses has a coaxial wrapper. You can buy optical to RCA converters, but most motherboards have a TTL level SPDIF signal out that’s meant to go into the graphics card or other sound device. However, there is no reason you can’t use this pinout with an adapter plate like this one.
If you’re wondering what the bracket is doing, well, very little. However, you can’t just connect the output of the TTL level pinout on your mainboard to an RCA female plug. The signalling voltage is different. See Rod Elliot’s appendix at the bottom of his project page. Does Rod have a day job, or is he independently wealthy?
(To be more explicit, I did buy and am using the header in the amazon listing above. However, you can build one yourself if you want from the info at Elliot Sound Products.)
So what you have is the following.
digital SPDIF out via Motherboard–>spdif header–>outboard RCA patch cable–> coaxial SPDIF in on the back of the 410. A bit circuitous, but it does avoid an unnecessary set of DAC/ADC conversions.
Step one is to route the output of foobar into the onboard spdif output. Then a single rca patch cable on the back from the spdif output header into the delta 410. Even though the 410 is a legacy card, there are current drivers available. Start foobar, and the M-audio mixer showa a nice digital signal on the spdif input channel. The application is set up to control the volume, and the mixer features of the M-audio are disabled. To test this part of the setup, I routed the 410 output directly from the input. It works flawlessly. In this step, UE3 isn’t used. It’s just a test to see that the spdif routing via patch cable works correctly, and it does. Step two is to reroute the 410 so that the inputs and outputs are under software control, i.e. UE3 and see how it all works.
Now that we know foobar correctly routes a signal into the delta 410, the real question, “How does UE3 work?”
On a very preliminary weekend review, it works well. I’m using a number of flac rips of my CD collection. So this means all the files are 16bit/44.1k. The spdif in are correctly routed to inputs 1 and 3, (front right and front left). I used the sample 2×2 stereo file in UE3 and just hooked it up to a speaker. I individually listened to each of the output channels, L tweeter, L woofer, R tweeter, R woofer (i.e. delta 410 outputs 1-4 and not necessarily in that order). Yes, yes, the frequency response is screwy since I used BR’s sample FR with my speaker, but the point was to see if this works correctly, and indeed it does.
The computer shows ~15% cpu utilization and works flawlessly-assuming you don’t do certain tasks while using UE3. Curiously, trying to resize the UE3 window will causes audible clicks and pops, and if sometimes will actually corrupt the filter permantly. That is, if you resize the window enough, the audio will become choppy and even if you stop resizing, the audio continues choppy. The only way to recover is to stop and restart UE3. Somehow the realtime filter becomes corrupted. Even more curiously, I can resize and open almost any other application and the effect is much less severe.
It does seem to work fine if you don’t do other things on the PC. I don’t think it’s a cpu issue. I think the hangups have more to do with drivers, the system bus and video. The on board video is pretty weak and simple screen redraws place some stress on the cpu, or at least interrupts that hang the cpu. I ended up buying a 6770 card for my i5 and I think I’ll buy a 6570 card for this machine. Not because UE3 needs a graphics card, but to offload the cpu a little bit. The onboard video has to borrow memory and cpu resources across the bus, so this probably hampers things. Plus, the PC does not have an HDMI out, so it needs a video upgrade anyway. This PC will also get an SSD. Why do 10 year olds need SSD’s you might ask? Well, actually I want the 1gb Samsung hard drive as a network music HDD. I’d by one, but they’re not $50 anymore, they’re $150. So, it turns out to be cheaper to by a 64gb SSD (enough for my kids’ pc for now) and swipe the 1gb drive. It’s a crazy world we live in…
So far though it looks like the delta 410 works well at least in a simple stereo configuration with an athlon 630 based system. As I posted before, I have a couple other systems I might try this on. My wife’s PC is one. It uses an A6-3500 on an FM1 mainboard with 8gb and an SSD. This is basically the same/similar Athlon II core (well, 3 of the 4 cores anyway) with a much faster mainboard bus and video. So it will be interesting to see if I can surf the web and resize UE3 while listening.
If you’re interested, I tried selecting the Xonar card and also the usb amp (uses standard usb class 1 audio drivers). It’s a no go. SE gives an “unsupported audio” something something error. It appears for now, that only cards officially recommended by BR are useable, and even the delta 410 only works “unofficially” but it seems to work.
Here’s a screenshot. Click on the image to get a 1900×1000 full size jpeg.
More to come in weeks ahead.