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From a quality perspective, what is better: turning volume up in the software, in the OS, or on the speakers?

Which of these three methods generally provides the best audio quality?

  1. Maximum digital volume and get the desired volume by turning the analog knob.
  2. Maximum analog volume and regulate volume using the digital controls.
  3. Set both on minimum volume, and increase both until the desired volume has been reached.
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marked as duplicate by Sathya Oct 30 '12 at 5:51

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

Could you explain the exact situation? is the digital volume the volume of a computer and the analog volume the volume on a stereo receiver? is the computer connected to the stereo using a digital or analog transport (toslink/RCA S/PDIF or the mini stereo output)? – jcrawfordor Jan 4 '12 at 10:26
Barring abnormal software, if I'm correct and this is a computer connected to a stereo via S/PDIF (which it should be), then keep in mind that the digital->analog stage occurs inside the stereo receiver. In this case I would concur with the answer you marked correct. If the computer is connected to the stereo via an analog connection, though, then leaving the volume on the computer maxed risks clipping in a lot of setups. – jcrawfordor Jan 4 '12 at 10:29
up vote 3 down vote accepted

The rule of thumb I've used is to maximise the volume at the source, and manually set the volume using the analogue control (i.e., option 1). The reason is that the digital/software representation of the audio ought to be mostly distortion-free (no clipping, etc.). There will be quantisation noise in the digital signal, so increasing the amplitude may improve the signal-to-noise ratio (assuming the quantisation noise stays constant). Any distortion introduced by the analogue system may be amplified by the analogue gain circuitry - so it may be best to set the analogue volume as low as possible.

However, the disadvantages that may occur are:

  • Distortion, if the software audio processing does clip the signal at high-volumes
  • Eventually you may wear out the hardware analogue volume control

So I would experiment with options 1 and 3 to see which best suits your software and hardware configuration, and which is the most convenient to use.

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Does a hardware analogue volume control wear out more quickly if set low? – StackedCrooked Mar 2 '10 at 16:46
@StackedCrooked It may wear out if the digital output was set to max volume, and only the analogue control was used to vary the volume (and was varied on a regular basis). Even then, it's probably not really worth worrying about... – sblair Mar 2 '10 at 17:18

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