Windows 8 Setup:

Introduction

To set up Windows 8 for the best audio performance, understanding some of the underlying technical information will be helpful. The main concern when setting up any computer for high-performance audio is to ensure that the music files are delivered to the D/A converter in a bit-perfect fashion, without any alterations that might degrade the sound quality.

The difficulty is that a computer normally must handle a wide variety of different sound files. In addition to your music player, various other programs will also play back sound files (e.g., viewing a YouTube video with your web browser). The operating system may also generate sounds to signify specific events (e.g., "New E-Mail Alert").

Beginning with Windows Vista, Microsoft has re-written the entire audio pathway compared to the older Windows XP architecture. However, the result is something of a mixed bag for many users. Despite the many improvements made with Windows Vista, a fly has been introduced into the ointment at the same time. Specifically, the Windows Vista audio hardware setup creates a fixed (user-defined) output sampling frequency for each playback device. Furthermore, a bug exists in Vista and beyond such that it will not directly play back music files recorded at 176 kHz through a USB D/A converter.

If your music collection solely consists of CD's that you have ripped to your hard drive, then this is not a problem. Simply set the playback sampling rate to 44,100 Hz and you will achieve bit-perfect playback. But many people are adding high-resolution audio files to their music collection, via a growing number of sources. And if you don't manually change the playback sampling rate to match the files you are playing, you will not achieve bit-perfect playback.

So in addition to our goal of achieving bit-perfect playback that we established when setting up a computer with Windows XP, we would also like to find a solution that also offers both automatic sample-rate changes as well as playback of 176 kHz music files. Then you will achieve automatic bit-perfect playback of all of your music, even when the sample rate of the music files change.

One way to accomplish this goal is to install the ASIO4ALL driver, and then configure your music player to use it. This method works for both of our recommended players, J.River and Foobar, but is only for the advanced user, as installation and configuration can be somewhat complex.

Fortunately, simpler solutions exist for both J.River and Foobar. The latest version of J.River Media Center (version 14 or greater) supports WASAPI Exclusive Mode for asynchronous USB audio D/A converters.

Both methods are quite straightforward and will achieve the desired goals of bit-perfect music playback and automatic sample-rate switching. Instructions for setting up each music player can be found in the Playback page under Windows. On this page we will concentrate on configuring your Windows Vista or 7 computer.

Nearly all modern PC's, both desktop and notebook, have built-in soundcards. We will set up your computer so that only your music player can access the Ayre USB D/A converter. All other sound files will be sent to the built-in soundcard.

Go to the Control Panel by hovering your mouse pointer in the top right corner of the screen. When the side bar comes out, select the gear labeled "Settings" and then select "Control Panel".

Select "Hardware and Sound" to open the settings window.





Then select "Manage audio devices" from the "Sound" section.





On the "Playback" tab select the built-in soundcard, not the Ayre USB Interface, and click the "Set Default" button.





A green circle with a check mark should appear next to this device. This will ensure that all sounds from the computer's operating system and other software applications are sent to the built-in soundcard and not to your stereo system. Only your music player software will be able to override this setting and access your Ayre D/A converter.

Next, select the Ayre USB Interface and click the "Properties" button.





Select the "Advanced" tab. Set the "Default Format" to "24 bit, 44100 Hz (Studio Quality)" and make sure to check both the boxes in the "Exclusive Mode" section. Note: If you use a player such as J. River or Foobar that features automatic rate switching, it is best to set the Ayre USB Interface to its maximum sample rate in the Audio MIDI Setup (96 kHz or 192 kHz). This ensures that the maximum rate the player can switch to is not limited by this setting.





This completes the setup for Windows 8 for use with your Ayre USB D/A converter.

Next go to the setup instructions for the music player you have selected in the Playback section.

Going Beyond 96 kHz

Before you attempt to work with files beyond 96 kHz, please go through the normal setup instructions with your Ayre D/A converter set in Class 1 mode. Make sure that everything is working properly and you are familiar with your system and its software. Only then should you attempt to work with files beyond 96 kHz.