Using an HTPC, HTPC Software and Media Server as a source for your HiFi home audio system

 

even use Digital Crossovers that are powered by the PC as well

 

Lately I’ve gotten several inquiries to explain how the HTPC system and HTPC software works together with a digital crossover and speaker system.

htpc software

So this article discusses how you could setup an entire home audio system using a home theater PC or Media Center computer that could play back music, movies or other media files while also performing the digital crossovers for the speakers.

The HTPC or home theater personal computer can be used for many functions. Obviously, it’s a computer, so it can perform any basic PC functions in addition to what we discuss here. HTPC software can also be used for measuring the speaker systems it is connected to or separate systems as well.

It can be used as the source component in a high end home theater replacing the DVD player and receiver by driving amplifiers directly from a high quality DAC or soundcard using the HTPC software as the volume control.

The HTPC and HTPC software can also be used to drive a receiver which is the more common way that people use home theater PCs.

First it’s important to understand the equipment and what we need, then we will discuss the software…

A system based on all digital crossovers that are run by the HTPC software or Media PC would be outlined as follows

1.  A computer (the PC can control the volume in many installations, so you may not need item #3 below)

2.  A digital to analog converter (you will need 1 channel for each ‘way’ or individual driver type of each speaker) Stereo 3 way speakers would need 6 channels of amplification and DAC processing.

3.  (optional) you may need some type of volume control (preamp, receiver, or surround processor if you are not using a software solution that cannot control the volume)

4.  Amplifiers to drive the speakers (may also use a receiver) you will need 1 amp channel for each ‘way’ of each speaker. So if using a 3 way speaker set, you need 6 channels of amps. A 3 way 5 channel system would need 15 channels of amps plus a subwoofer if that were separate.

5.  Speakers that are setup and built for active amplification; passive crossover parts removed or unhooked from the signal path. The amplifiers output is connected directly to the speaker terminals with no passive units in the way.

6.  HTPC remote control can be configured to remotely control your HTPC system or even an iPhone or Droid phone may easily be configured to connect to your home network and control the HTPC as well.

 

Now the software for the HTPC media center and HTPC speaker crossover:

Playing back the music or movies is another task needed. Here we use very specific HTPC software to accomplish our goals. In most situations music should be played back from the hard drive. Hard drive space is pretty cheap. So I always store my files as full size WAV files.

Some think this is excessive, but again, it’s cheap considering the grade of components that we can use. And I don’t have to worry if I ever want to convert the files later as they are full size and uncompressed right now.

For Windows, I recommend J River Media Center, this will play back DVD’s from the DVD drive, from memory, play back stored music files and even view photos and such. This is what I use.For Mac, Amarra or Channel D work well and come highly acclaimed. Channel D also has its own included speaker crossover legs built into it as this is becoming so popular; More about that in a bit.

HTPC speaker Crossovers; “Smoke em’ if you got em’ HTPC guide

If you plan to use digital crossover legs for your speakers you will need some type of software that can do the splitting and calculating so you don’t fry the speaker drivers. But more than that, this is where the real magic happens. This is what helps you eliminate the passive crossovers inside the speaker.

There are many other options but I like these the best

(I make nothing $ by recommending these to you)

1.  Thuneau offers three versions of products that may be useful in your system:

a.  Thuneau Allocator Lite (IIR filters) crossover

b.  Thuneau Allocator HTPC software(IIR filters) includes both the crossover and phase correctionThuneau Frequency Arbitrator speaker correction and phase and transient correction

2.   Acourate Music Correction HTPC Software (FIR filters) speaker, phase, and crossover setup. This system is notably expensive, but many swear it’s the best.
3.   Channel D software using their included speaker crossover application (its included with Channel D but this will only work on a Mac)

Other useful software for Digital Crossovers and Speakers

Reaper or Console; (I use Reaper, it’s cheaper and works just fine)

If you are planning to use a PC and digital crossover solution then you may also want to use a ‘Console’ type program that will allow you to internally ‘map’ your software together digitally. Basically, this lets you run virtual cables from your playback software such as J River to Thuneau Allocator Lite then to the Digital to analog converter before amplification. We have the mapping for this exact setup below should you need it, or you can setup your own routing too.

There are many ways and software applications that can be used at the same time. This is by no means the only way or full scope of what you could accomplish with this. Additional filters such as decoding AC3 signals could also be done prior to the crossover slope manipulation stages done by Thuneau or other programs.

The basic setup of hardware and software looks like this

1. Your music software or DVD software will play the file or disc.
2. In your settings you tell the above software (J river for example) to output to the soundcard by digital output of your choice (if doing so all digitally you may use Reaper so the signal never leaves the PC until the very end – the D to A conversion)
a. The speaker crossover picks up the signal from a second soundcard on the PC machine; so essentially you have a cable looping out of the PC and back in.
b.Again, this loop can be eliminated by using Reaper as shown below in the example)
3.The speaker crossover (Thuneau Alloc Lite) will now split the signal according to your settings. Here you will need to know a bit about the specific drivers you are using.

a.You will need to setup the crossovers to best suit the speaker drivers being used.
b.This will take some additional expertise, but that is beyond the scope of this article. See the speaker drivers page to learn more about which drivers to choose for using together in a hi fi speaker system.

 

4. When the signal manipulation is split into the separate crossover legs that you need, Thuneau will then send the signal to each separate Analog output on your multi channel DAC or soundcard. You have to set this mapping within Thuneau Allocator Lite or other. This is just like telling your playback software where to output the signal. Except now you have to do the same with the speaker crossover software.

5. You will need to test to be sure you have all the cables setup correctly. Use a cheap full range dummy driver to establish you have it wired correctly.

6. When you get this far, if you have not blown anything up its time to start doing some testing. First just listen and quickly set your levels to get them close. You will just balance the bass, midrange and treble so that they don’t sound horrible.

7. Now you need to run some measurements. Download Room EQ Wizard from Home Theater Shack. They ask for a small donation to do this, and it’s worth it. Give them a little something. No sense in being a scrooge. It will take some time to familiarize yourself with the Room EQ wizard program. Take your time to test different things out and try to get some signal playing out of your speakers using the tutorial.

8. You will also need some type of microphone to record the in room response. Follow their instructions and take some test sweeps. Then adjust the crossover legs on Thuneau Allocator to fix problem areas in the response.

a. It may be helpful to use the filter generator in Room EQ Wizard, this will help you to understand what type of filters will be necessary to correct your response.
b. Continue to make measurements and correct response until you are satisfied with the results. There is good information both on the Thuneau Allocator PDF manual and also the Room EQ Wizard manual for measuring loudspeakers. Use both of their methods until you really get a feel for what your speakers are doing well and improvements that should be made.

HTPC software?

There are literally hundreds of possibilities for how to use a computer in your home theater audio system. Once you’ve heard what a properly setup system like this can do, I doubt you’ll ever go back to the same old way of doing things. The experience is revelatory if you have the patience to set one up and invest the time to optimize your system. The tweaking possibilities are nearly limitless with the use of DSP phase correction, and time coherence, etc.

Some purists may claim that this approach is not the most analog like or “pure”…

I disagree… Because the speaker and room are such an integral part of the signal chain it is important to get the most control over the final outcome or final signal being replicated inside the room. The most powerful way to achieve this control and access the power to process large amounts of data is the HTPC or more accurately the personal computer.

Furthermore, it is even possible to install this computer into HTPC cases that meets your unique tasts.

I for one am very optimistic about digital audio in the coming years. Music playback in this area of Music servers, high resolution downloads, and HTPC software is quickly becoming known to be sonically superior to all but the analog record of which there is no clear winner between the two.

High resolution digital media holds many advantages over a HiFi analog playback system and definitely holds the most capability to fix the problems of the room and speaker in a way no other analog playback system can approach.

If you have the moxy; get your own HTPC software downloaded, play around with it a bit, compare it to your old CD player and see what you think. Just know; this is just the beginning of what is possible using a Home theater personal computer in your audio or home theater system.

Next (Page Page 2) >> – How to setup the HTPC system routing in “Reaper”

Go to (page 3) >> digital music server questions answered

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