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A PC-User's Purchase "Guide" (it's not...just the ramblings of an idiot) to High Quality Audio on your system.

Hello friends, today I'd like to talk about an aspect of our glorious systems that get overlooked a lot: our audio experience on our battlestations. Thanks to paoper for formatting. Again disclaimer that I am an idiot, so take this post with a grain of salt. Better info and more accurate info from people way more knowledgeable than I am is readily available from /audiophile /budgetaudiophile and /headphones, this is just a start-up guide for the beginner.
NOTE: The monster I gave birth to has become too long. I felt that instead of a short list of things to order, I needed to give context as high fidelity is really all about what sound is like in your experience. Also a fun read if you are interested. Feel free to skip to the actual list (ctrl+f active speakers, passive speakers, headphones, subwoofer, amplifier)!
I have limited the price range of the products, because this is after all just food for thought and not even a proper guide; real audio purchases will require elbow-grease and research from your end to see if the product's sound signature will match your preferences in music and sound.
I am an audiophile of the musician background, I know what instruments sound like and have a decently trained ear (insert usual audiophile shenanigans).

So wtf is this?

So occasionally while answering questions on this subreddit (mainly on why new builder's systems aren't posting, or what components they should get, or just mourning with fellow builders for systems that have passed on as well as celebrating the birth of new systems and fellow pc builders who take their rite of passage of building their own system with their own two hands) I would come across the occasional "what speakers/headphones are best under $xx" and with the state of pc products being "gaming rgb ultimate series XLR" or w/e, it's hard to discern what audio products are actually worth your money. Note that if you are using just "good enough" cheap speakers, any of the speakers/headphones on this list will blow your mind away. Get ready to enter a new world of audio.

Why should I bother getting better speakers/headphones?

I have owned $20 logitech speakers, I currently own $1500 speakers. I have owned varying levels of headphones. The first half-decent (to my standards) speakers I had was a hand me down stereo set from an uncle. This thing was massive, but this thing was good. It's difficult to explain to you the sensation of music enveloping you with great speakers. Speakers are meant to reproduce sound, as in the sound of the instruments in the song. So great speakers and headphones can literally make you FEEL the music like at a rave or a concert or performance in the comfort of your home. This is why Home Theaters were so popular in the 80s/90s.

General considerations (or feel free to just skip ahead to the list)

Now, I totally understand using simple logitech speakers due to budget/space/easy-access from best buy or not knowing about the wider audio world. So I am here today to give you a perspective on what audio components are TRULY worth your hard-earned cash. I have owned $20 logitech speakers in college, I have owned guitar amps as well as studio monitors/other speakers ranging from $100-$1500. Do know that all of this information is readily available in /BudgetAudiophile /audiophile and /headphones . I am merely condensing all of it into a single list, and attempt to sort of explain it to the pc builders, or just an idiot rambling.
If you would like more information on specific speakers, I would check out reviewers on youtube like zerofidelity, steve guttenberg, nextbigthing (nbt) studios, and thomas and stereo. For headphones, metal751, innerfidelity, Ishca's written reviews, DMS.
Z reviews is good, as he gives the most coverage on different audio equipment, though his style of reviews leave much to be desired and I mainly watch him for gear coverage or for entertainment.
Also with speakers, speaker placement is extremely important. Get those speakers off your desk and the woofers/tweeters to your ear level NO MATTER THE COST. Stack boxes/books, buy speaker stands/isolation pads from amazon, at worst buy yoga blocks from amazon. Put your speakers on them, get ready for even better audio.
Now this list is just simple guide. Obviously for $300 budget, theres probably like 10 different speakers to choose from. You will catch me repeat this many many times but sound is subjective, I don't know what genres of music you enjoy and what sound signatures in headphones/speakers you would prefer (warm sounds? bright? aggressively forward? laid back sound signature? importance of clarity vs bass?) So consider this list with a grain of salt, as this is after all, the ramblings of an idiot on reddit.

Categories

So I will be splitting this list into 4 categories: - dacs - active speakers, - passive speakers, - amplifiers - headphones
And before I start, bass depth and low end does not fucking equal bad boomy bass. I absolutely detest low quality boomy bass like in Beats headphones and general "gaming speakers" or w/e. Also the budetaudiophile starter package is the dayton audio b652 + mini amp combo from parts-express. All the speakers that were considered were basically compared to the b652 before making it on here (and whether they justified the price bump over the b652)

DACs

A DAC is a digital to analogue converter. Your music/sound coming from your pc is a digital signal, which is then converted to analogue so that the signal can reach your speakers/headphones. DACs are built into any device that has a 3.5mm output (your pc, ipod, smartphone, etc). The general consensus is that modern DACs have come a very far way that even budget dacs sound great and clean. Your audio chain will go pc -> dac (via USB or optical) -> amp (via rca cables) -> speakers (via speaker wire to 5-way binding posts or banana plugs)/headphones.
  • Schiit Fulla (dac/amp combo) $100 - The schiit fulla is a decent dac/amp combo that has a mic input for headsets. They definitely went for the gaming headset market. Back in the 2010 days, the schiit fulla and the e10k were the only things being recommended on reddit, but audio tech has advanced and now there are better options at the same price range.
  • Fiio K3 $100 (dac/amp) : the k3 is a great budget option if you have $100 in your budget but would like both a dac and a headphone amp. Really not much to say. Get the schiit fulla if you really need that mic input, else get the K3.
  • JDS Atom Dac $100 - a popular dac primarily due to the fact that the JDS Atom amp is probably the most recommended amp as it has the best objective performance and measurements out of the $100 amplifiers, and many people tend to buy the corresponding dac to their amplifier for the stack. The atom dac is a no bullshit dac, measures well and is a solid buy for $100.
  • Topping E30 $130 - When the topping e30 came out, I was genuinely surprised at how good dacs had come in recent years for so cheap. For $130, you're getting performance that used to be locked away behind the $3-400 price gate. Probably the best "bang for buck" dac on this list, as well as part of my active setup.
  • Fiio K5 Pro (Dac/headphone Amp combo) $150 - This is the best option for if you just want a good amp and a dac without shelling out too much. I personally had the k5 pro for a month, and usually with dac/amp combos, the maufacturer will usually skimp out on either the dac or the amp if in the budget pricepoint. One example is the ifi zen dac/amp; same price as the k5 pro, but if I had to split up the $150 on the dac and amp section, the ifi zen would have $100 spent on the dac, and $50 on the amp. However the K5 Pro has split evenly $75 on each section. The amp has plenty of clean power while the dac is also sufficient. Great budget option.
  • IFI ZEN (dac/headphone amp) $150 - an alternative to the k5 pro. The dac on this unit is objectively better than the k5 pro and sounds cleaner, however the amplifier leaves much to be desired as it lacks power. I would personally rather have more power on the k5 pro, but the ifi zen is no slouch either, the dac is quite good.
  • SMSL AD18 (dac/speaker amp) $150 - a great budget dac/amp for speakers that also offers a subwoofer out and bluetooth, 2 rare features in this price bracket. This little unit has enough clean power for nearfield speakers and features usb, 3.5mm, coaxal, optical and bluetooth connections though bluetooth will be limited to aptx codec. Features a headphone amp that is a side show, so is quite weak. For $150 you get a dac, headphone amp, and a speaker amp with bluetooth. Great value for $150 if you're looking to fill all 3 roles.
  • Schiit magnius $200 - a very recent release, this is Schiit's attempt at correcting the flaws of the magni. The magnius, like the e30, is another dac that has benefited from the massive improvements in audio technology at budget price bracket in the past couple years. Offers the usual connections but also has balanced XLR input/output (if you don't know what this means, feel free to ignore as balanced will only add to your audio chain cost) This dac is probably the new standard to beat for under $500 dacs.

Active vs. Passive (crude explanation)

So when a speaker plays music from your pc, the audio is processed by the audio card on your motherboard, which is then sent to the amplifier where the signal is amplified, and then finally is sent to be played on your speakers. Active speakers like logitech speakers that have a power cable running from the speakers directly to the wall socket have built-in amplifiers to power the speakers, whereas passive speakers require a separate amplifier to amplify the audio signal and feed the speakers power.
Active vs passive, no real difference as both types of speakers will have good audio quality depending on how they are made and which ones you buy, but in the ultra budget section of speakers (under $300) actives tend to be cheaper than their passive counter parts. This is due to the manufacturer cutting corners elsewhere.
Now generally speakers should be recommended based on your music/audio preferences and tastes as speakers and in a larger part, speaker brands will have their own unique sound signatures that some will love and others will hate as sound is such a subjective experience. But since this is meant to cater to a wide audience, note that my list is not the ALL inclusive, and again is only the ramblings of an idiot.

ACTIVE SPEAKERS

Simply connect to your PC or TV via 3.5mm (or the occasional usb).
Note: you may experience a hissing with active speakers that may annoy you to no end even up to the $400 mark. This is a result of the amplifier being built in to the speaker in close proximity, as well as sometimes the manufacturer cutting corners elsewhere. Passive speakers do not have this unless you buy a really shitty amp. Note that while bigger woofer size does not necessarily indicate better quality/bass, this does more often than not seem to be the case as manufacturers put bigger woofers on the higher stepup model.
Note that while I have included 2.1 systems here, I would always recommend you get good bookshelves first, save up money and buy a subwoofer separate.

Example options

  • Cyber Acoustics CA-3602FFP 2.1 $40. This is the I'm broke af but I need speakers route. 2.1 setup for 40 bucks. We do not have the luxury of options here. Enough said. Amazon
  • Okay, for under $100 for good quality active speakers, there really is no other choice here besides Edifier speakers on amazon. In fact, their entire lineup is pretty solid all around ranging from the 980T for $70 to the S350DB which is a 2.1 system with 2 bookshelves and a sub for $300. Differences in the models are basically bigger woofers/tweeters as you go up in price, resulting in better bass performance and clarity (again crude explanation). If you don't want to research much and want simplicity, any of the edifiers are the way to go, with the 1700BT being the goto 2.0, or the 1850db which as a sub-out so you can add in a subwoofer into your setup later.
  • Micca PB42X: $120- The active version of the popular MB42X passive speakers. Very good performance for price.
  • Mackie CR3/4 $90/$140- Now normally I don't recommend these, but they are okay/meh speakers and have that razer aesthetic going on, and aesthetics are big part of speaker choice, so if you like the black/green color scheme, I guess these are passable.
  • Klipsch Pro Media 2.1: $150- the only 2.1 system I'd recommend under $200. The thing about adding in a subwoofer to a 2.1 system under $200 means they have to cut corners elsewhere. This is the main difference of 2.1 systems vs bookshelves. While the subwoofer will allow your music to hit the lower notes in frequency resulting in deeper and more bass, this will usually come at a cost of audio quality in the mid and upper ranges in the music. If you are a BASSHEAD then yeah you probably want a subwoofer, though bookshelves under $200 also have decent bass. Note, ALWAYS BETTER TO BUY BOOKSHELVES AND SUBWOOFER SEPARATELY, but this will be pricier. Klipsch Website Direct or amazon.
  • Fluance ai40/ai60: $200/$300- nice looking speakers that come in white and walnut and black that also have good clarity and quality. Their bass is surprisingly okay as they are rated to go a little bit below in the lower frequencies than speakers in similar price. I have listened to these before shortly for 2 hours, and would recommend. IIRC the ai60 has a subwoofer out. Mind the size of the 60s, quite big. Fluance direct or amazon.
  • Kanto YU4: $270 Direct competitor to fluance ai series. Comes in white as well.
  • Audioengine A2+/A5+ :$270/$400. I have no experience with this lineup, but lots of love/hate dynamic with this brand over on budgetaudiophile. Good and bad thing.
  • JBL 305P: $300 - maybe the endgame speakers of this list. These are very famous and respected studio monitors that music artists and producers use often. They are sold $150 per speaker, and you will need to get 2. Hooking them up requires separate cables, as these are standalone speakers with it's own volume control on each speaker. Simplest way is to buy a 3.5mm to dual TS Cable. Set both speakers to same physical volume level via knob, and adjust volume using windows settings (having a volume knob on your keyboard helps immensely here). Or buy a separate in line volume control from amazon ($20 bucks or under) and connect via 3.5mm to rca. Being studio monitors, these are meant to reproduce sound neutrally (they will have no external flavoring like how Beats adds muddy boomy bass to its headphones to use as a bad example) and may not sound alive or bright or to your tastes. They can be demo-ed/tested out at guitar center if you have access to one in this pandemic.
  • Logitech G560 RGB Gaming Speakers: $200 (yes, you read that right): Okay, now normally I'd be crucified for recommending a logitech speaker in the other audio forums. But I have used these speakers briefly for about 3 months when I got them cheap from a friend. The sound quality of these satellite speakers are....surprisingly not bad? Might I dare to say that these are even....decent for it's price? Now these are $200 speakers for a 2.1 system. This means that it's either this or Klipsch 2.1. Honestly my vote here goes to the logitechs. I owned the Klipsch promedia 2.1 for about half a year. I can definitely say I prefer the clarity of the logitechs vs the boomy bass of the Klipsch. The subwoofer on the 560 does NOT have its own control knob, so you would need to adjust bass settings through logitech eq. Note, these speakers will not sound good out of the box. You will need to go into the eq settings via logitech software, and change the settings to match your tastes. Honestly the fact that you have to tweak the eq through shitty logitech software to make these sound good is pretty bullshit. Note that I am not recommending the z623/625. Don't get those. I used these in college in my apt in brooklyn, and while boomy bass, I'd definitely go with the B652 + mini amp, klipsch 2.1, or the g560 over the z623/625 FOR SURE.
  • Second-hand market: okay, let's say you are determined to get quality speakers but you do not have the budget. Look around on the second hand market for stuff from KRK, Emotiva, Ascend, HSU. Make sure to demo them out for as long as you can until the seller gets pissed (please don't), so that you can test to see if you like the sound.

PASSIVE SPEAKERS

These speakers will require you to buy a separate amplifier, as well as separate cables. But the passive route allows you to have a modular audio system that allows you to upgrade parts as you go along in your life (yes I said life for once you dip your toes into high fidelity, you will get hooked onto a great lifelong journey searching for the perfect setup), or even just add parts in altogether (like having a miniamp on your desk for your passive speakers, having a separate dac or bluetooth module for your speakers so you can connect the passive speakers via USB or bluetooth wirelessly, stacked on top of a headphone dac/amp combo, stacked on top of a preamp, etc). Amplifier list to follow later.
Passive speaker specs to pay attention to will be their impedance (measured in ohms) and their sensitivity (measured in xx db/1w/1m). Speaker ratings in wattage are measurements of how much power can be driven to them (higher watts, higher volume...once again crude explanation). A 20 watt x 2 channel amp (measured in 4 ohms) is enough to power 4 and 6 ohm speakers rated at 100 watts to moderate/decently loud listening levels on your desktop. Now the sensitivity thing. A speaker with a rating of 85db/1m/1w means it will produce 85 decibels of noise at 1 meter with 1 watt of power. Now this not linear....to make the same speaker go up to 90 decibels may require 10 or 15 watts of power depending on other variables. Depending on how loudly you play your music and what impedance/sensitivity your speakers have will result in your choice of amplifiers. More on this later.
The thing about passive bookshelf speakers are that you can use them in your desktop setup, AND with your TV as a legitimate starter 2.1 home theater setup (which you can upgrade to 3.1, and then 5.1/5.2, just buy a used receiver from craigslist for 50 bucks, ez)

What you will need for passive setup:

Note that passive speakers and amp require you to purchase speaker wire separately (fairly cheap) and strip them (youtube video will guide you, very easy). Or if you like clean cable management and easy setups, banana plug cables from amazon will set you straight, and while these banana plugs and cable are nice and PURELY OPTIONAL, they will add up in cost as your buy more of them for frankenstein 2.1 cabling. Also a 3.5mm to rca cable will be required. The connection will be your pc -> 3.5mm->rca->amp->speaker wire-> speaker wire->speaker. (replace speaker wire with banana plug if going that route). Subwoofer connection will be explained in subwoofer section.

Example options

  • Dayton audio b652+ mini amp combo on parts-express for $60/70. Two combos, two separate mini amps, one from lepai (china) and one from dayton. Same shit. It LITERALLY does not get better than this for under $100, maybe even $150. CHIEF THIS IS IT, i cannot stress this enough. This is the budgetaudiophile 101 starter pack. I'd recommend these over the active Mackies, Edifiers (up to the 1700), and any and all logitech/creative pebble/cyber w/e EVERYTHING systems (except for the g560). These are very BIG speakers and hence will deliver good sound and good bass due to its big woofers. If you have less than $100 to spend on the ENTIRE audio setup, go get these and speaker wire/banana plugs no questions asked. gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
  • Dayton Audio B652 AIR $70- The difference between the AIR and the normal 652 is in the tweeter. The AIR tweeter on this speaker costs as much as the entire b652 speaker. This tweeter upgrade gives even more clarity and quality in the treble range (middle upper sound frequency). The next best thing for under $100, though doesn't come with the mini amp combo.
  • Sony SSCS5 Bookshelf Speakers. $150 msrp, $120 on amazon/bestbuy until recently, and sometimes goes on sale for $75. These are 3 way speakers with woofer, tweeter and supertweeter. The strength of these speakers lie in its unmatched clarity in the highs and upper mids. I still have these in my collection, and VERY WORTH though my opinion of these is skewed as I got them for $75/pair. If you appreciate bass, you will need to add a subwoofer with these (or generally any speaker below $500....some people would say you cant listen to music on bookshelves without subwoofer) as they sound a bit thin compare to the b652s (a bit less bass because smaller woofer) but better sound quality (though this is just my SUBJECTIVE thought after listening to the cs5s and b652s). These have 5 in woofers and have okayish small form factor.
  • Micca MB42X $90- the passive version of the powered PB42X in the active list. The difference is between the amplifier built into the PB42X vs the one you're going to buy separately to power the MB42X. Obv the MB42X route is going to be better because the amplifier in the PB42X will be shit compared to the one you're going to buy ($30/50/75/150 options to follow later)
  • Micca RB42X $150 - Amazing small size speakers. For under $200, either this or the cs5s. The rb42s have a bit more bass.
  • Elac Debut 5.2/6.2 $280/350. These are speakers highly acclaimed by many of the speaker reviewers I consider the best (imo zerofidelity, steve guttenberg, nextbigthing (nbt) studio, thomas and stereo). Great bass, warm sound signature. Just go, what are you waiting for. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
  • Q Acoustics 3020/3030i $230/400. Highly acclaimed by reviewers, look VERY NICE in white, and have a warm sound signature with lots of bass clarity and bass depth. These speakers are big, which is why they have great bass. Check the dimensions. Their size is the only downside to these fantastic speakers.
  • PSB Alpha P5 $400: Great speakers for nearfield listening, aka at your desk, excels in this department more so than the other speakers (better at low volume, etc). Just all around amazing. Get these if the Q Acoustics ones are too big.
  • Triangle BR02/03 $450/550. Coming from across the atlantic, these french speakers made a splash last year destroying its competition in the below $1000 range. Highly acclaimed to the point where some see them as overrated (too much hype out of nowhere in such little time). If you have the space in your setup as well as in your wallet for these, they are the way to go. Comes in black, walnut, white.
  • Obligatory Klipsch R15/R51/RP600 post: you've heard of klipsch. They're widely available audiophile speakers, and so sometimes get the "overrated" hyped up treatment. They are good speakers but their have their own unique aggressively forward sound signature with the horn style tweeter. These were designed to make you feel like you're at the rock concert direct, may not be for everyone (much so not for me).

AMPLIFIERS

Active speakers have built-in amplifiers so they are exempt. But passive speakers will require separate amps and so you will need to pay attention to certain specs. In speakers you will need to pay attention to their impedance (measured in ohms) and their sensitivity (measured in xx db/1m/1w).
Take for instance the popular SMSL SA50. This is an amp that delivers 50 watts to its 2 channels, rated at 4 ohms. Speakers will have impedance of 4, 6, or 8 ohms usually. 50 watts at 4 ohms can be 25 watts at 8 ohms, but is probably more like 20 watts at 8 ohms, refer to product specs for specific wattage ratings at specific ohms. Speakers with high sensitivity (85-95 db/1w/1m) that have 6 ohm impedance are easier to drive with lower wattage.
But here's the thing, an the smsl sa50 will not deliver 50 CLEAN watts. Somewhere in the 30-40w range distortion will start to appear. But for reference, 30 clean watts is enough to drive sony cs5s to uncomfortably loud levels in an apartment (the whole apt, not just your room) so listening on your desktop, you only really need 10-15 clean watts (only after turning up your preamp input to maximum volume, which in this case is your youtube/windows10 volume level). Do note that if you have the space, a used $60 AV Receiver that will just shit out watts and have 5.1 surround will be the best, but these things are massive.

Speaker Amps

  • Lepai 2020ti (LEPAI and not Lepy be wary) $25. 20 watts in 2 channels. Budget
  • SMSL SA36 $62: SMSL's 2x20w.
  • SMSL SA50 $72: The most bang for buck amp that's also decent. 2x50watts.
  • Topping MX3 $130: Speaker amp, headphone amp, dac rolled into one. Allows for your speakers and headphones to be connected via USB and Bluetooth.
  • SMSL DA-8S $170: A great amp with LOTS of clean power for nearfield listening. I have one powering my canton ventos, and out of 60 volume, I literally max out at 35 before it gets waaaay too loud. This thing has a ton of clean power and operates at very cool temps (literally never approaches warm). Highly recommend. Honestly before this unit and the SMSL SA300, there really was no speaker amp that had a small enough form factor without sacrificing on power output or in total harmonic distortion while NOT breaking your wallet.

Headphone Amps

  • Fiio e10k $75: The cheapest one I'd recommend
  • SMSL M3 $85: A solid budget headphone amp. Nothin else to be said. If you're strapped on cash, you'll buy the e10k, but if you have more cash you will certainly buy the JDS Atom. This one has an awkward price but I would personally get this over the e10k.
  • JDS Labs Atom $100: Heralded by many as the budget standard amp. This thing is $100 and has 1 W of clean power @ 32 ohms, and was heralded by many as the king of under $300, which is no longer true. The only downside to this unit is the build quality. Upon it's release there was nothing better in the $100 range, but that has changed. Now this is just a plastic construction amp that has clean power. Still a great amp but personally I would rather get the Topping l30 for better construction and headphone/preout/off switch.
  • Topping l30 $140: A pretty much state-of-the-art headphone amp from topping. It has enough watts to power most headphones very cleanly and adds no coloration to the sound. Comes in a nice metal chassis and personally I see the l30 as the king of budget amps. Also the front headphone/preout/off switch is a godsend for people with speaker+headphone setup at their desk. Part of my active setup.
  • Schiit Magnius $200: state-of-the-art amp from Schiit. This is probably the new standard for under $500 amps as it offers 2 w single-ended, 5w balanced @ 32 ohms. Lots of clean power and offers balanced input/output. I highly recommend this.
  • Rupert Neve RNHP $500: This is the cheapest headphone amp you can buy that is from the renowned rupert neve. This is an amazing amplifier with great amounts of clean power, and is the only amp that I would describe as having a very organic sound with great timbre. If you're ready to spend this amount of money on just 1 peace of gear in your audio chain, this surely requires more research from your end.

SUBWOOFERS

Good subwoofers are expensive, and cheap subwoofers will hurt your listening experience rather than improve it (muddy boomy shitty bass). Your best bet may be to simply find a used subwoofer from craigslist or offerup, just dont get the polk audio PSW10, this is a very common sub you see on the 2nd hand market, because it is a shitty sub and so people get rid of it. Now as to whether you need a subwoofer. If you are in a dorm, don't get a subwoofer. Because.... if you live in a dorm, do not get a fucking subwoofer. Now if you live in a small apartment, fear not, proper subwoofer management will save you noise complaints. A good subwoofer will produce good quality low end you can hear and feel without having to turn up the volume. You want to look at the subwoofer's lowest frequency it can go to. That will show you how "tight" the bass will be. Now, low volume levels on a good sub will produce that bass for you without vibrating your walls (though subwoofer and speaker isolation as well as PLACEMENT (refer to the sub-crawl) will do more for getting the most sound out of your speakers without having to turn up the volume....and just turn off the sub after a reasonable time)
Now as to how to add a subwoofer to your system will depend on what setup you have and the available connections. If your speakers or amplifier has a subwoofer output, simply connect that to your subwoofer, set the crossover freuency (the frequency at which the subwoofer will start making sound) to 80hz, or lower depending on how low of a frequency our bookshelves can go down to.
If your speakers/amp do not have a subwoofer out, you will need to find a subwoofer that has high level speaker inputs. You will need to connect your bookshelves to the speaker outputs on the subwoofer via speaker wire/banana plugs, and then run speaker wire/banana plugs from the subwoofer input to your amplifier, ending with rca to 3.5mm connection to your pc.
  • Dayton Audio SUB-800 $100: The cheapest one, don't go any cheaper. Enough said. Get from parts-express. If you need cheaper, 2nd hand market.
  • Dayton Sub-1000 $120: The bigger brother. This thing is 10 inches, be prepared for a BIG box sitting in your room.
  • Bic Acoustech PL-200 $300: Has good bass, goes down to 22hz. Very good bang for buck "good" subwoofer. A BIG step up from the daytons.
  • SVS SB-1000 $500: Bassssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss.

HEADPHONES

Generally headsets are for the most part frowned upon by audiophiles well because they usually offer garbage audio quality for how much you are paying. The way around this was to get a proper pair of headphones, and then buy a separate USB mic or get a v-moda or antlion modmic, as those are designed to be attached to your headphones to mimic the headset functionality.
The TWO EXCEPTIONS that I have observed to this rule are the Hyperx Clouds and Cooler Master mh751/752 and the recent hyperx headsets that were made in collaboration with Audeze.
  • Hyperx Cloud CORE/1/2/ALPHA (please find prices on amazon). So these headphones are a rare instance of when a gaming branded pair of headphones was actually a good no bullshit product. These are hyperx reskins of OEM Takstar Pro 80, a pretty damn good pair of cans from china for under $50 (no longer available on aliexpress but Seoul had a SHIT load of these) with a mic attached to it. Chief, this is it. Reasonably good audio quality from headphone drivers for their price, and you get a mic for discord needs.
  • Coolermaster MH751/752 $90/110. Now beware, on amazon there are the mh630/650/670 series headphones that are in the same...product "selection" styling part of the product page. Do NOT GET THESE, these are the typical bullshit gaming branding and are pretty bad. Now, the mh751 and 752s are coolermaster's copycat of the hyperx clouds. They are coolermaster reskins of the Takstar pro 82, another good pair of headphones. I cannot comment on this one, as I have not used either the takstar variant nor the cm variant. But the pro 82s are just as good as the 80s. If i had to guess, different styling (headband) and maybe slightly different sound signature. Difference between the 2 is the dac (the block thing in between your headphones and the wires to your pc). The dac the mh752 is most likely inferior to the dac on your mobo's build-in soundcard. Get the 751, unless you have a laptop, then the 752's dac may be better.
  • Audio-Technica ath-m40x $80: You may have heard of the ath-m50/x. Now these headphones are looked down on, on the headphone forums or reddit. The m40/x is the bass reduced, aka the neutral version of the m50x for cheaper too. Great headphones for under $100. Now, I have owned the m50 waay back, and I think if you enjoy bass, then go for it. After all, they are YOUR fuckin pair of headphones and ears, who are others to say shit?
  • Sony MDR7506 $100: I remember these were $75, but I guess everything changed when the coronavirus attacked. Anyway, these are the venerated mdr7506, the industry standard for headphones in the professional audio/music industry. Great quality, cheap price. They just, dont have anything going on in the looks department. These are it for pure price/performance.
  • Phillips SHP-9600 $130: The successor to the popular shp-9500. A budget open-back headphones that could be powered without a dedicated amp with great soundstage for this price. The 9600 aims to be the sleeker improvement.
  • BeyerDynamic DT770 (32, 90, 250 ohms) $150: Good pair of cans, very comfortable. 32 ohm version if simply plugging into your motherboard. The higher ohm versions may require separate headphone amp. Generally more amps=better audio quality, but differences are NEGLIGIBLE to nonexistent with low output amps (this is like the difference in sound of the same 100w speaker powered by a $30 smsl amp vs a $5000 Mcintosh amp at the same volume levels, very subtle and small but it's there) The biggest downside to the dt770 (and beyerdynamic in general) is that the beyer house sound is treble peaky and very bright. I personally cannot stand the beyer sound as the treble spike in their house sound is painful to my ears.
  • Hifiman he400 2020 edition/ he4xx $160: the new 2020 edition of the he400 is out, pretty much leaving the he4xx kaput. The he400 2020 edition has the nicer headband from the Deva model while managing to match the 4xx's price. The budget king of planar headphones.
  • Shure 440/840/1540 $100-500: Shure is a renowned name in the audio world. Their gear is always high quality, and their headphones are no exception. Their entire lineup is really solid all around, with good build quality and sound quality. You can't go wrong with this brand.
  • Sennheiser 650/6xx from massdrop/660 $220-$400. The legendary series of headphones from sennheiser. Highly venerated. This is the pair of headphones that is usually present in any audiophile's headphone collection. The 600 line has been around for a very long time and have received endless praise. I personally have a 6xx, and while they are difficult to drive and require a good amp, for $220 the sound quality you get is really just amazing. Open back design and does not suffer from "fragile" issues that planars seem to have in general. Very comfortable, light, and neutral sounding on the side of warm.
  • Meze 99 noiclassics:
  • HifiMAN DEVA with Bluemini Receiver $300: Interesting set of open-back planar headphones that came out recently that also allow for usb connection, as well as 3.5mm, but the bluetooth function is a separate module (with a built-in mic) that you connect to the side of the headphones. So it's actually a wired set of planar headphones, but the separate bluetooth module also allows for wireless connection. The module only has enough battery for 5ish hours, so while that is charging you will have to use the wired connection. This is a usb dac/amp/bluetooth module rolled into one. Very stylish and interesting design.
  • Audeze Mobius $400: "Gaming" wireless headphones from Audeze, a high end audiophile grade planar magnetic headphone manufacturer. If those words don't mean anything to you, these are wireless headphones with a detachable mic made by an extremely respected audiophile headphone manufacturer. If you want wireless headphones, I would also suggest these or the hifiman deva. These are closed-back headphones vs Hifiman's open back. These headphones also have an onboard dac for usb/3.5mm/bluetooth connection.
Now obviously, there's other choices. A metric fuck load of them. But I had to account for how much you should be paying (price range) for upgrades in sound quality and performance.

Example options (Wireless headsets)

Okay. Wireless headsets, now let's think why do you need a wireless headset? Do you want to walk around your house while on discord? Maybe you want to keep the headset on while having to afk real quick for a smoke break or whatnot.
  • TaoTronics 5.0 Bluetooth transmitter+receiver unit $30. It's a small device that can either A: give your non-bt PC bluetooth capabilities by acting as a receiver, or give your wired headphones wireless connectivity to your pc by acting as a transmitter. This thing is battery powered (like a wireless gaming headset) up to 10 hours. You just plug your wired headphones in, put the thing in your pocket and leave your pc.
  • See Hifiman Deva above.
  • Other wireless recommendations: Sennheiser pxc 550,Sony wh1000xm3 and Bose QC35.

MICS

  • V-MODA BoomPRO $30: this is a mic with a 3.5mm that plugs in to your headphones that have a removable cable, simple.
  • Antlion modmic $50: yes the modmic. You've probably heard of this.
  • Fifine K669B condensor mic $46: simple mic on a stand that plugs in via usb. Imo has better recording quality than Blue snowball.
  • Blue Snowball $57: Yes, you've most definitely heard of this.
Other mics? Yes, but are they worth the extra $$ for marginally better audio recording? You decide.

Concluding remarks

Cool. Stay safe in these dark times brothers. Have a glorious day.
submitted by Kilroy1311 to buildapc

I work on an oil-rig in the North Sea. ...The 'Entity' in the deep is angry, and awake. [FINAL]

[1/3]
[2/3]
The great Chain smashes through the side of the skeleton tower in a shower of broken metal. It tears through the edge of the rig, it swings round towards me, and it brings with it the enormous wheel from below.
My screams become one with those of the siren.
And a pair of rough hands grab me by the back of my jacket. I am hastily hauled across the platform through the rain as the Chain swings by. It becomes clear that the links run through the colossal iron wheel, and between them they tear up the edge of the rig and smash the loading bays and the remaining cranes to shreds as easily as if they were made of paper. The roof of the rig’s central hub is destroyed in a hail of shattering beams and concrete as the Chain crashes relentlessly right through it.
The hands release from the scruff of my neck and I slump to the wet ground with a splash; none of this feels real. It’s like I am in a dream. A terrible, swirling nightmare. I turn to look up at my saviour, and a flash of lightning out at sea illuminates the profile of the Commander, his good eye shining in keen copper, the other shrouded in shadow. His coat is torn and his beard whipped wild.
“TO YOUR STATION LAD!” He bellows in a voice like the rippling thunder, glancing between me and the Chain, “THIS NIGHT’S NOT OVER YET, I TELL YOU NOW!”
I scramble back through the puddles and grab a hold of the nearby rail, trying to bring myself to a stand.
“What the hell is this!?” I shout at him, “What are we going to DO!?”
“OUR DUTIES”, he barks back; more helicopters fly out overhead, struggling through the wind. An officer approaches and stops to a shaking salute as the shuddering chain is steadily dragged out to sea overhead.
The rig trembles.
“Confirmed, Commander!” the officer shouts, “catastrophic failure in the accused section. But it’s too late, they say, there’s nothing they can do now!”
“They’ll be dealt with come the morning”, the Commander replies, “Tell me about the Pneumatics. The Emergency Reels, what have we got?”
“Pneumatic Reel One is gone, Commander!” the officer replies, “completely destroyed. Reels Two and Three are fit for operation, though Reel Three has been damaged”.
“Get them affixed to the tower. Or, hell, what’s left of it”.
Soldiers sprint past in manic squads across the platform. The battleships fire into the waves in great rolling booms.
“Both of them?” the officer asks uneasily, “But, Commander, the Chain’s current duress would suggest…” he stutters, “If- if we lose BOTH the Reels-”
“GET THEM AFFIXED!” The Commander roars, “NOW, FUCKING NOW!”
The officer swiftly brings up his arm into a salute and sprints off through the broken shifting shadows of the rails and the metalwork.
“Don’t make me ask you again”, the Commander grunts at me, then turns to take his leave, but I call out after him, foolishly and desperately over the groan of the storm. Never in my life have I felt such dread, I am drowning in it. It feels like the end of the world.
“What is this place, Commander? You have to tell me! … What’s down there? …I- I know, alright! I know about the ENTITY! WHAT IS IT? WHAT ARE YOU HIDING?
The Commander stops in his tracks. His coat ripples and thrashes in the wind, in time with its distorted mirror image, reflected in the flooded platform below. He lights up from all angles in glaring orange, then blue… orange, then blue. Random bursts of white from the searchlights, from the lightning, and from the artillery fire of the distant warships accompany the colours of the siren in intermittent flashes. The shadows thrown are ever-changing and void-black.
He swivels on the spot and marches right up to me, I stumble back in alarm but he grabs my collar.
“Questions, questions, questions”, he mutters, loudly above the clamour, “I HATE when the questioners are brought on board the rig, you know that? I fucking HATE IT”. His eyes are wide and mad as he begins to drag me across the platform. His worn and hardened features, his white beard… They are deceptive, I now realise. The Commander is strong, and must be years younger than his looks would suggest. “You know where they love QUESTIONS, Reg? That is your name, isn’t it? The submarines”.
His words register sharp. A tide of panic crashes against my broken constitution. I try to fight the Commander away but he trips me, throws me to the ground.
“They’re struggling for crew”, he says. “They weren’t prepared for active deployment tonight. I was about to order them down anyway. But you know what? I think they’d benefit from your expertise. You’re of no use to me on the rig tonight”.
Visions of being trapped in a submarine flash through my head. Claustrophobic, cold, unforgiving metal.... Surrounded by only the icy, churning black waters and the horror beneath the waves. The pressure growing as we sink deeper and deeper…
“No… NO! I WON’T!” I shout.
His features are shadowed once again, but his silhouette shines bright against the thunderous night sky. “So you know about the Entity. Well you’re not the only who KNOWS things, Reg… I KNOW that you ABANDONED your station tonight. I KNOW that you shirked your one duty to the RIG. And I KNOW that the Hydraulics section, during YOUR departure, has catastrophically FAILED”. With every ‘know’ he takes another step closer, his voice rising. My heart lurches in distress. “Get your arse in that fucking submarine, and maybe I’ll FORGET a few things! YOU UNDERSTAND ME? NOW ON YOUR FEET! ARE YOU A MAN OR A FUCKING DOG?”
He hauls me up and drags me through a corridor of criss-crossed pipework and down onto a lower platform on the opposite side of the rig, a section with an edge that remains crack-free, unharmed by the drag of the colossal and broken iron wheel.
He squats and hauls open a door in the ground with a clank. It reveals a rusted ladder that extends down towards the sea. He looks at me.
Oh God.
My options whirl around in my head to the beat of the siren’s wails. I force my rain-soaked fringe from my eyes. What the hell do I do? What CAN I do? Run? Could I run somewhere?
…And what then? If by some miracle the rig survives the night then they’ll find you eventually, won’t they? There’s nowhere to run to. And you’ll be court-martialled… Can civilians even be court-martialled? Would I just be shot on the spot? Or WORSE? FUCK. FORGET BEING COURT-MARTIALLED, THIS IS ABOUT YOUR LIFE!
I swear with frustration.
And what if the Chain pulls the entire rig into the sea? What then? ...A submarine might literally be the safest possible place for you... But why the Commander’s change of heart? What the hell is his game here?
All these thoughts and more froth and bubble like the foam of the grey waves below, but at the end of the day, there’s no point pretending that my decision wasn’t already made. In times of intense stress, chaos and disarray, when your options are as complex as mine, it is just easier to simply follow the orders of the person in charge.
Maybe with hindsight I would have acted differently. I would have come up with some genius plan. But I don’t have that luxury in the fire of the moment. So I furrow my brow, I call the Commander a prick, and I ease myself down onto the ladder, bracing myself against its icy rungs.
“See you on the other side!” the Commander shouts at me, and I see him raise a radio from his belt to his mouth. He kicks the trapdoor closed as I begin my shaky descent. Down I climb, rung by slippery rung.

The sounds of the sea below grow louder.

There’s a monster down there.
I’m sure of it. What else could it be?
The Entity.


Rung after rung.


“Oi!” shouts a megaphone-distorted voice from below, breaking my train of thought, and I nearly slip from the ladder in fright. I grab a tighter hold and twist my neck to see below. There’s not much of the ladder left. It goes down a couple more metres, and then the end is lost to the swirling, swelling waters. The uppermost hub of a great grey submarine has surfaced beside. It rocks subtly in the churn.
I didn’t even hear it rise.
A man in overalls has opened the hatch on the top of the hull, his upper half visible. He waves at me.
“HYDRAULICS?” his voice blares through the megaphone.
I nod as obviously as I can, I force the fear from the lungs to shout out a reply: “YES! FUCKING YES THAT’S ME!”
“GREAT! …JUMP!” he replies.
JUMP!?
“JUMP!? I can’t bloody well JUMP! Shouldn’t there be a boat, or a bridge, or-”
“I CAN’T HEAR YOU MATE”, Megaphone replies, “COME ON, QUICK AS YOU CAN!”
I bang my head against the ladder in anguish, but before I can psyche myself out any further I use the adrenaline to the best of my ability, powering down the remaining rungs of the ladder, turning, calculating…. And I push myself off.
My legs kick through the ice and the salt of the sea air, my arms flail, and I land with a thud on the hull of the submarine. Megaphone reaches over and grabs my jacket, and he hauls me through the hatch and down into the vessel’s body. I use the rungs of the submarine’s ladder to slow my descent, but essentially crash to the floor in a rain-soaked heap. I roll onto my side, coughing.
“I’m in hell”, I choke out.
“Not yet you’re not”, Megaphone replies grimly, helping me to my feet. He then climbs the rungs, reaches up and draws the hatch closed with a slam. The sounds of the storm and sea are muffled instantly, largely replaced by a low and all-surrounding rumble.

“Terry”, he says, sticking out his hand. I take it, shivering.
“Reg”.
“Thanks for coming down Reg, we appreciate it”.
“I, yeah, well I didn’t really have much of a-”
I feel my surroundings shift. I flinch as my ears pop, one after the other.
We’re going down.
This is all so sudden… All of this… it’s just go, go, go. It’s insane. Only moments ago I was watching the Chain get RIPPED out of the tower itself… What could do that? What kind of thing would have such power? And what if the whole length of the Chain unravels, what then? The recent memories flash through my mind and I have to grab ahold of a nearby line of pipe to keep myself from staggering. Terry looks at me with sympathy.
“Hang in there mate. You’re better off in here than up there, trust me. They tell us they’re losing the Chain”.

I nod, breathing deeply, in and out. In, and out.

“Come on. I’ll show you to the exhaust valves. They aren’t operating quite as they should be. Wouldn’t normally be cause for major concern, but, you know. These are relatively uncharted waters, if you’ll pardon the pun”.
I don’t respond, but straighten and follow him to the engine rooms further below. The rumble of the water around us is paradoxically rather calming… if I don’t think about it too much.
Terry continues. “We’re glad to have you. Our normal hydraulics guys were stolen yesterday for maintenance on the HODDer”.
“The what?”
He gives me a look. “Don’t you know? The Drill? It’s an acronym. Hydraulics Operated Deep Drill. We call it the HODDer”.
Military folks sure love their acronyms. I remember what I had read in the report; in the secret file:

‘ALL DRILLING OPERATIONS TO CEASE IMMEDIATELY. 1986- report to Cmdr. R. Cleese’

“I… thought they stopped all the drilling?”
“Yeah, for oil, obviously. But the HODDer’s tiny. They send that thing down on rare occasions for samples from the seabed”.
Bewildered, and struggling to process, I come to a stop in the engine room. Terry clasps me on the shoulder and directs me to the tools, then takes his leave, telling me where to find him if I need him
And so, like a programmed machine, I just set to work. I do what I do best. It’s why I’m supposedly here, after all.

I look around me as I work. There are no windows. I haven’t seen any since entering the submarine. I quite like it; I can sort of pretend that none of this is happening. I can pretend I’m back on my own rig. Working happily. I haven’t been blackmailed into a military submarine. I’m not trapped hundreds and hundreds of metres beneath the sea. I was never sent to an uncharted rig in the middle of the ocean.
I am not at risk of losing my life in a world of unimaginable nightmares.

…And I am not at the immediate mercy of an unspeakable terror that sleeps beneath the surface.
Except it’s not sleeping any more, is it Reg?

I push these thoughts aside, and work as best as I can on the hydraulics before me.


*


I don’t know how much time passes. But once I believe I have completed my task to a satisfactory degree I clamber back up through the levels and head through the submarine corridors. They are narrow and cold. The clanks of my footsteps echo and reverberate softly around the walls.
They are also curiously empty. I always imagined military submarines to be busier.
I do, however, find some other people when I push through a metal door at the end of a corridor and into a room near the front and top of the submarine, a room affixed to the central hub. The level of light is low and green; the room is illuminated by a series of dim bulbs overhead. To my surprise, the front of this room is curved, and not made of metal. It has instead been built with glass, or at least, some other, thick transparent material. Beyond is only the deep and the dark of the sea. The submarine’s weak beam-lights catch on nothing but water.
There are five others in here with me. One is clearly the Captain, a man in grey, he turns in his chair and nods at me. Another is Terry, who smiles.
I’m still taken by the glass.
“What the hell is this?” I ask, “military subs don’t have walls of GLASS, do they? I thought they were solid metal?”
Terry shoots me another questioning look. “Well… of course they don’t. But this isn’t a typical sub, is it?”
Some of the other members of the crew have turned to look at me, with similar curiosity.
One of them, I realise to my bewilderment, is shrouded in what appear to be religious robes of some kind.
“I feel like I’m losing my mind”, I choke out, “What are YOU doing onboard?”
“Well, I’m the submarine chaplain…” he replies cautiously, raising an eyebrow.
“The what? You mean like a priest, or whatever? Why would they need one of those on a submarine?”
Everyone is staring at me now, the confusion on their faces even greater perhaps than the confusion on mine. It becomes clear that I am not the type of person they were expecting to get sent to them. Their silence is sharp. The engine grinds. The sea rumbles.

And then several of them lean forwards and start asking me questions at once:
“Wait- you were briefed, right? You’ve done the exposure training?”
“You do KNOW about the Entity, right..?”
“Did you even get the psychological assessment?”

“N-No”, I stammer in return, “I really don’t… I just wanted to…”
“FUCK!” the man in grey shouts suddenly, running his hands through his hair. “Who the hell sent you down here, exactly?”
“The Commander did!” I reply with frustration.
“For fuck’s SAKE, what the HELL is his problem? This is fucking insane, you shouldn’t be here”.
“I KNOW!” I splutter out in retort.
The chaplain steps towards me, he takes my hands in his, and speaks earnestly. “Are you religious, son? Are there any spiritual convictions you feel comfortable drawing from?”
“Not really, no”, I reply. “Look, if someone could tell me what’s going on, I would really, really appreciate it”.
“Is there a passage from the Bible I could read out for you? Something to help ease your soul?” the chaplain asks. I pull my hands away and grimace. I’m sure he’s only trying to be helpful, but to be honest his presence here is freaking me the fuck out. What kind of submarine needs a chaplain? I don’t even know any Bible passages. Not really. I know a couple, maybe. The classics:
In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth.
From dust we came and to dust we shall return.
The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.
He sure does. I mumble this last passage out loud.
The chaplain nods at me. “Yes, the book of Job. Chapter one. A work of true literary prowess. Alfred Lord Tennyson himself called it the ‘greatest poem of ancient and modern times’”.
Alfred Lord Tennyson. Where have I heard that name before? The gears turn in my head. I can see before me so many pieces of the puzzle in my mind’s eye. I just cannot fit them together. The eyes of the crew bore into me as we stand together, cast in the grim green glow of the submarine’s luminescent bulbs.
“I’d like a reading from the book of Job then, please”, I say quietly, as the submarine pushes through the deep. The radar blinks silently.
The chaplain nods and draws a small bible from his pocket. “Certainly lad. Any particular passage?”

The numbers scratched on the wall in the rig library return to the forefront of mind.
41-1-34

“…Yes, actually”, I mutter. “Chapter forty-one… verses one to thirty-four”.
The chaplain furrows his brow but nods. “I’m not familiar with that particular passage, I must admit…” he thumbs through the pages and, as he scans over the lines, he pauses, and shoots me a look.
I hold his gaze.
And, perhaps reluctantly, the chaplain begins his reading. His voice is deep and sombre, every word a wave upon the rocks.
Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook, or tie down its tongue with a rope?
The atmosphere in the room tightens at once, but the chaplain licks his teeth, and continues uninterrupted, the cadence of his speech like drums, dark drums drawing us down into the deep.
“…Can you put a cord through its nose, or pierce its jaw with a hook? “Will it keep begging you for mercy? Will it speak to you with gentle words? “Will it make an agreement with you, for you to take it as your slave for life? “…Can you fill its hide with harpoons, or its head with fishing spears? “If you lay a hand on it, you will remember the struggle and never do so again; “Any hope of subduing it is false; the mere sight of it, overpowering. “None are fierce enough to rouse it. Who then is able to stand against me? “Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me”.
The chaplain’s chest rises and falls in time to the beat of his words, but I am not audibly aware of his drawing in of any breath. He dutifully reads on through the verses…
“When it rises up, the mighty are terrified; they retreat before its thrashing. “The sword that reaches it has no effect, nor does the spear or the dart or the javelin. “Iron it treats like straw, and bronze like rotten wood”.
His reading brings to me nothing but distress, and I can see this distress reflected in the faces of the crew around me, their features caught in the shadows of the rippling green. But they can no more ask him to stop than I. It is hypnotic. The chaplain goes on, but as sure as the night must fall with the sunset, he too must eventually draw to a close.
And he does so, with a voice that shudders and ripples down through my core:
“Nothing on earth is its equal; a creature with no fear inside, “It looks down on all that are haughty… it is king, over all who hold pride.”

Shapes emerge through the darkness ahead. The external beams of the submarine reveal a section of the great Chain through the murk, and I watch as we drift past it.
There is energy in this place. In this submarine. In this secret world beneath the stormy seas.
I drop my gaze to meet the eyes of the Captain. The man in grey. “Please, just tell me”, I whisper. “Tell me about the Entity”.
A beat passes. The man in grey turns his back to me and looks out into the water, adjusting the submarine’s course. But he replies. “The Entity was discovered by the oil drills, in 1986”, he says sombrely. “We don’t know what it is, to be frank. Nobody does. "I admit, however, that it is entirely possible that the folks at the top know more, and are just keeping the information a secret. The sonars give us an idea, a rough picture of the Entity’s form, but we have never been able to see it all at once. We believe it to be asleep, but it’s always churning. Ever-changing. Writhing in the deep”.
A shiver passes through me. The man in grey speaks on.
“The Entity seems to be more and less ‘alert’ with the varying cycles of the moon, and different seasons of the year. We use firepower, when necessary, to try and push the Entity in directions we deem desirable, and keep it down with the chains. There are further chains connected to the other three primary rigs: UK-B, the Norwegian rig, and the Danish rig. The chains were easier to attach at the beginning”.
He swallows. “It’s harder now, they tell me. They’re afraid… afraid that the Entity is going to wake up. Though, given tonight’s reports from the rig, it’s quite possible that the Entity’s sleep has come to an end”.
My head throbs, and my mouth has gone death-dry, but I lick my lips and give voice to my clouded thoughts. “So why don’t you just destroy it? Nuke it, or whatever? Surely it must be more… more cost effective, and less DANGEROUS… than whatever the fuck is being done right now? Right?”
“It’s not about the Entity itself, Reg”, says Terry, to my left.
“What do you mean? How can it NOT be about the fucking monster? The massive, sprawling-”
“Intel suggests ,Reg, that the Entity is sitting on something. Slumbering above it. Something important. Important beyond our understanding. The current working assumption is that the Entity is situated above what we believe to be a gate. Of what manner exactly we don’t know, but the fear is-”, he sighs, “-the fear is, that if the Entity goes… if we actually succeeded in destroying it…”
“…Then whatever lies beneath… The gate… It would be wide open”, I finish. “Unguarded, perhaps”.

Terry nods. “…And we don’t know what might come through from the other side”, he says quietly.

Shadows dance in the corners of my vision. A deep and terrible cosmic fear rushes through me; I have never before felt such a sudden and powerful surge of vicious realisation… of understanding… of seeing for the first time how utterly, truly tiny I am. How comically insignificant. I am barely comparable to the smallest spark in the shortest wire in the most purposeless machine on the entire rig. Bile rises up in my throat, and I choke it down, my stomach contracts, my breaths come sharp and shallow in time to the sudden beeps of the sonar.

And I’m vaguely aware of everyone rushing back to their stations.

I can feel the submarine further adjust its course.
The chaplain is muttering under his breath, a low and steady chanting…. And the shifting grey-black shapes beyond the submarine’s windows light up a little brighter with a boost to the beams.
The beams reflect off massive lines of chain, all interwoven and connected, dragged across the submarine’s field of vision through the deep. They’re huge. So impossibly huge.
And the water, in places, places beneath and around the chains, hardens. It shimmers in ways that don’t make sense. It absorbs the light like the black of space, and yet somehow seems to return it in strange new patterns across its form. Shifting grey, to green, to black. Over and over. I cannot look away.
I am aware of shouting voices. The vessel shudders and fires. Torpedoes are launched through the water ahead, and when they connect with their target, with the terror beyond size, they flash, just for a second, providing only the briefest of glimpses of their surroundings.
They show me colossal, writhing, long and interwoven limbs, jointless and furious.
A flash.
Further sections of chain that ensnare them, pulled taught, grinding.
A flash.
Great black and shifting rune-like lines and markings across these titanic appendages.

I can hear a song.

It flows with the roaring beyond in the deep. The melody, jarring at first, changes rapidly. It becomes quickly soothing, and the sound of it makes me feel… It makes me feel calm. It comes with none of the dread I felt with the words of the chaplain.
Instead it makes me feel… whole. Like I matter.
I take a step closer to the glass. The submarine weaves its way through the chains
A flash.
I see the material of the great twisting limbs pulled taught over something skeletal, the size of a mountain.
A flash.
I see one of the limbs thunder through the dark water right in front of the glass. The submarine takes a hit and I stumble to the floor. A siren blares, but still I do not look away.
A flash.
And I see an eye. Out there in the dark. I look into it, and it looks back into me. The membrane peels back and a brighter eye pushes through, the pupil long and rectangular. This pupil breaks apart into smaller circles beyond count as I watch, mesmerised, and it splits open further. The surface of the eye rolls back to reveal only darkness. Pitch-void. Nothing.
And the world goes black.


*


I dream only of the song.


*


Its melody does not dissipate when I awaken.
I am in a medical bay, of sorts. I’m not sure where. The presence of the Commander at the far side of the room would suggest I am back on the rig. A window is visible in the corridor beyond the open door. The pale light that streams through would imply that the rig survived the night.
For a moment we exchange no words.
Then I break the tension.
“You saved the rig, then?”
“Aye”, the Commander replies.
My head spins. My joints ache like hell. And the song is still playing.
“You found a way to calm it? The Entity?”
“There is always a way”, the Commander replies grimly. His eyes do not leave mine. He clenches his jaw.
Another pause, then:
“Thank you”, I whisper.
The man’s eyebrows shoot up. His surprise at these words is clear. “Thank-you?” he repeats, “And why would the hell would you be thanking me?”
“You knew I wanted answers, right?” I reply with a weak grin. “But you weren’t able to tell me directly. That’s why you sent me to the submarine. So that I could find some?”
The Commander chews his tongue. He does not return my grin. “Is that what you think…?” he replies quietly, his voice strained. A flicker of emotion passes over his face. Regret…? Pity…? Or perhaps… guilt..? He turns away. “You seem like a decent guy, Reg”, he says to me. “I’m sorry they sent you here. Truly. And I’m sorry I sent you down to the submarine. In the state you were in last night you would have done nothing for the rig but drum up further panic. And whilst the failure of the Hydraulics section cannot be placed entirely on your absence, we do not know how the night might have unfolded if you had remained at your post”.
I swallow. The sounds of the song fade momentarily. “Did anyone… you know. Did anyone die, last night?” I’m not sure if I even want to know the answer, but my compulsion for information bids me ask regardless.
The Commander sighs. “Fourteen from the rig. And we lost a Destroyer. The copters are still plucking survivors out of the sea”.
A Destroyer. They lost an entire Destroyer.
I try to imagine the chaos that took place on the waters whilst I was beneath the surface in the submarine. How did it go down? Did the Entity breach the surface? Was the warship torn in half like a toy? Smashed into pieces by a length of rogue Chain? Crushed into shrapnel to the drums of the hammering thunder?

I wonder if it had been Captain Irons’ Destroyer. I wonder if he made it out alive.

There’s no way my absence was responsible for the destruction of the tower… for the damage caused by the Chain, there’s no way, there’s just no way… I was a part of a team of about ten… Ten others… I couldn’t have had that much impact, there’s just no way.
But still. These rationalisations do little to ease the guilt.
The song helps. It returns. It soothes me.
The Commander tips his cap, his expression grim, and makes to depart, but he pauses at the door and turns back to me one last time.
“Reg”, he says. “Do yourself a favour. Just keep your head down, do your work, and take the ship to the debrief in Norway in three days’ time”. His good eye shines with sorrow before he turns to leave. “And quit snooping around. I know you were in the backroom cabinets. If I catch you in there again I’ll throw you overboard”.
An attempt at a joke, I think.
He chuckles awkwardly, and I chuckle back, but the air is one of sadness.
The song helps. It mellows me.
I listen to it play through my head as the Commander leaves, and his footsteps echo away down the corridor.
And for the next two days, I follow the Commander’s advice. I try my hardest. The Chain is gradually hauled back in, Pneumatic Reels affixed and groaning under the strain. Supposedly, hopefully, doing their jobs. Helicopters bring to us parts and grids of metal for repairs. The platforms are cleared of debris. The work goes on. But I am present only in body. My mind twists and turns and constantly swirls… I dwell upon the mysterious scratchings left by Figgs on the library wall… the true nature of the Entity… the things I heard and saw in the dark beneath the icy waves…I think about the files, locked away. I know the combination. I could go back. I could try and learn more. The Gate. I could try and find out what lies beneath the Gate.
I wonder how they managed to stop the Entity. If it's truly awake.
And the song just keeps playing. I find myself humming along to its haunting melody. Other workers shoot me glances as the days progress. I have to keep checking myself. The song agitates and stresses my thoughts and theories into a fever. I begin to wonder if there are ways back onto the submarine. Just for another look.
One more look at the Entity. That’s all I need. Just one more look.
One more look.
I think about that eye.
Terrible, and yet… incredible.



The following nights are eventful, as I had come to expect, but none are so wild and chaotic as the night that the Chain was torn from the tower. The storms rage on, but the warships are not called into action. They watch cautiously from the sidelines out at sea as the waves crash ceaselessly against their hulls.
And on the fifth day, I find myself here, in the break room. Enjoying a rare and not entirely within-the-rules burst of WiFi. Typing out my experiences into this email to you, Figgs. Apologies for the formatting. I wanted the words to flow as my thoughts did at the time the events took place. I’m breaking the Secrets Act here, so don’t screw me over! Besides, the connection keeps dropping; I’m not sure if this email will even ever get through to you. Maybe if it does, this will be the time you finally reply to me.
I hope you’re alright mate, wherever you are.
A window in the wall besides me shows the approaching storm that gathers in the distance. Lightning crackles silently against the horizon, and the hairs on my forearms rise.
I’ve taken a risk, and gone against the Commander’s advice. An opportunity has arisen, you see. The HODDer, the little drill that Terry told me about, is going down to the seabed tonight, to collect samples. You can fit people inside it, about a dozen or so. I requested to go down with them, down to the bottom of sea, just for a chance at another glimpse… a glimpse of the Entity… Not that I told them that, of course.
I was refused. But I was informed by one of the officers that the Pneumatic Operated Deep Drill will also be going down a little later in the night. For the same purpose, I presume. I’ve had a little look around it. It’s a strange looking thing, like a big metal square.
…Well, not that big. Big enough for maybe six or seven people. Connected to the rig via tubes and pipes and cables. The floor is made of two different metals, with a crack that runs down the middle. And they need volunteers. They’re here in the break-room with me now, waiting to be allowed on-board. They’re all chatting excitedly, asking all sorts of questions, guessing what they might find or see down there in the dark.
And I’m going with them. I have to. I have to know.
I just have to.

I wish you could hear the song, Figgs. It’s like nothing I’ve ever head before. It’s beautiful.
It’s beautiful.
Anyway, I’d better sign off there. I think they’re calling for us.
Hopefully, mate, I’ll get to see you soon.
All the best,

-Reg.
submitted by Darkly_Gathers to nosleep

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