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CD vs. computer and DAC what is the verdict?

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Hi everyone, I am a long time audiophile and I have been bitten by the computer audio bug. I have a mac mini running into a Cary cinema 11 in my home theater system, the sound with uncompressed tracks ripped with EAC is excellent, and the convenience is to die for. I am now tempted to buy a top notch DAC and install it in my main system with another Mac Mini, but convenience aside, I want the best possible sound from 16/44. For a while I was thinking that a computer feeding a DAC had the potential to be better than a CD player, and I understand why, however recently I read a post by Charles Hansen that made me doubt that. I have great respect for Ayre and Mr. Hansen, I bought the first Ayre product available, the V-3 in 1994 and loved it and my dealings with Ayre and Mr. Hansen. I don't remember the specifics but the post implied that a good CD will always better a computer.


What's an audiophile to do? Before I go the the expense and trouble of getting an Ayre or Weiss DAC and another computer, I figured I would ask those of you who have tried it. Have any of you compared a computer based system against a top notch contemporary CD player in your system side by side. If so, did the computer based system equal or better the CD player?? I would love to hear your experiences. If any of you are afraid of being flamed, please feel free to e-mail me privately at [email protected].


Thanks in advance,


Andrew Levy


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I don't have personal experience with "top notch" cd players, but I can tell you that my high-end audio dealer uses a higher end Linn network player at home (I forget which model) even though they don't carry DACs or network players in their store (last I checked). I certainly take that as a high endorsement of a computer based systems capability considering that he must have had the pick of most players cd or otherwise.


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If you can find the article, I'd really like to read it.


I don't see how it's possible for a CD player to sound as good as a computer base system.

A number of reviews I have seen for the Naim HDX state that audio playback from it's hard drive is better than from the CD.


My computer audio based system sounds better than anything I've owned before. There is a reason why some of the so called highend manufacturers are producing these computer based units; they know they sound better and they know it won't be long before their usual buyers realise that too.

The Naim HDX is nothing but a PC motherboard with some fancy software and dedicated drivers. There's a lot of development work gone into it hence the price but you could build the same for far less using pro cards such as the Lynx, stuck in a cheap PC.


Also, check out Linn's website - "the DS outperforms ANY cd player" .. quite a statement.


Serengetiplains - maybe your ears prefer the computer audio because all the error correction was completed when you imported the CD. Your point re moving parts makes sense - and just think, it'll not be long before solid state hard drives become cheap enough for the masses. Whether it makes a sonic difference or not I don't know ... (but at least you'll never hear at hard disk again - though you don't have to now anyway).




HTPC: AMD Athlon 4850e, 4GB, Vista, BD/HD-DVD into -> ADM9.1

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Hi Andrew - I've compared some pretty good CD players to computer based playback and each time I preferred the computer based playback. Take that statement for what it's worth, after all I'm the founder of this site and this site is based on computer sources :~) Some people I respect have listened to both sources and the general consensus I've gleaned from my conversations with them is that an all out assault on CD playback is needed to compete with a great computer source. These spinning disc players are usually very expensive, like the Naim CD555 ($30,000). I am aware of a few trade show situations where manufacturers of CD players would not allow their components to be A/B'd with a computer source. There are many plausible reasons for not allowing this some good some bad. I am willing to bet if the CD player was absolutely better than the computer source the A/B would have taken place.


Founder of Audiophile Style | My Audio Systems AudiophileStyleStickerWhite2.0.png AudiophileStyleStickerWhite7.1.4.png

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Andrew, I don't see how there should be any inherent superior difference between a system that reads data from a spinning disc and one that reads from some form of computer memory. Bits are bits, and the various effects that render the interpolation of those bits less than ideal---effects like buzzy power supplies on bit-ordering and the such---seem to me balanced as between CD and computer systems.


Having said that, my ear prefers a computer system. I've owned some stalwart disc-spinning gear (Emm Labs, for instance), and very quickly found myself preferring the sound of computer-using gear.


Assuming my experience is qualified by statistical contrast with other peoples' experiences indicating a contrary opinion, there are good arguments for ditching the spun disc:


1) the average net difference between CD-pro and computer-pro positions very probably nets to nil preference, so short of extensive comparison you're probably best choosing on other than sonic factors;


2) computer playback is convenient---it allows you to access all your music by a kind of sight requiring almost no movement of the head---I've done handstands with a flashlight to find that blasted CD---and allows you to play said music without religious, regularly repeated ritual: just press a button;


3) related to 2), computer playback increases storage space in and possibly the aesthetic comfort of one's living environment by ridding that environment of rows of plastic containers;


4) computer playback is the future, and the near future---development efforts will ever more go to improved computer playback, particularly hi-rez bitrates.


Do expect statements from CD manufacturers extolling the superiority of CD playback. There's more margin in selling two pieces than one: ask Starbucks, they'll tell you.


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Andrew, I don't THINK I'm too tired and cranky right now, but isn't asking that question at a website named "Computer Audiophile" sort of like walking into a Brown and Williamson tobacco factory and asking if anyone has a cigarette? Look around here at the multitude of 'cigarette' flavors that are available, and give it a try for yourself. You could do this (assuming that you have a computer already) for as little as $200 and change. Just to get started, you understand.


I think the answers you have received to your question here just shows how polite and accommodating a group of people exist at this place. I saw this post earlier and decided not to say anything and moved on, hoping that it would just go away.


I won't ever own a CD player of consequence again - never did really, though I listened to them via audiophile relatives and friends and I always thought they were a waste of good money. Sorry if that is contrary to your experience, but.... you asked... I've been doing audio with computers since around 1993 and will not go back to a CDP, no matter whether it is a high or low end player. Rip it to the HD brother!


regards, markr


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I only wish I would have tried this earlier, because I just bought the Classe CD player a few months before the Mac Mini. I thought that I would use the Mini as general listening, jukebox type device and the Classe player for critical listening. Then, after the Mac was all set up, I took a day to do some A/B testing of the original CD playing through the Classe player compared to the Mac Mini playing the Apple Lossless version of the same album. To these ears, the two were very close in sound quality, and I actually slightly preferred the sound of the Mac. Both the Mac and the Classe player were being used as transports, with the Classe connected to my Classe SSP-800 prepro via coax digital and the Mac via optical.


Cheers,[br] - Tim

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Thanks for the quick responses and for sharing your experiences. I guess this is the little push I needed to get off my ass and get me a good DAC. I do understand that my question was a bit like asking if the Pope is Catholic, but I had to ask, thank you all for being so accommodating. This is a great fourm, keep up the good work!






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Before I have my computer music server, I used Sonos music server with NAS for a couple of years. In comparison, my old CEC TL-51XR CD player as transport, my Sonos was just fine and I sold the CEC. When I got my Esoteric D-05, I also had P-05 for home demo for a few days, in comparison to Sonos, I decided that it was not worth the additional almost $6000 or whatever it was for a tranport (Sonos via Stereovox RCA vs P-05 via dual XLR Purist Audio cables with all the upsampling etc). If D-05 was any better, the difference in the money could be spent to improve the system elsewhere a lot more effectively, I think.


In comparison to Sonos, even the one with Cullen modified digital module, my Lynx based computer is better, not by a wide margin but definitely. However, I still keep a Universal CD player for my SACD playback though. I never did compare D-05 side by side with my computer but I really feel no urge to add another high end transport to mysystem even though I have a major audiophile upgrading bug right now :)



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Hey Suteetat,


Buy some really stupidly expensive and expansive HORNS!


Really, save your money. It sounds to me like you have what you need for playback. Or .... maybe you should travel the world to see great music performed in various places instead.




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Markr, Every year when I can get time off work, I do travel abroad with a special point of going to music festivals, attending concerts etc . Over the past one year, I have seen Murray Perahia, Radu Lupu, Martha Argerich among others. When I cannot leave and when there is nothing interesting to see locally, that's when my stereo system and my grand piano (which is much much more expensive than my stereo) give me plenty of music keeps me relax and stress free. So a little audiophile bug is not such a bad thing.


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I live in Thailand.

Horns is never part of my audiophile bugs for some reason even though a few friends swear by them.

However, I have been bitten in the past by electrostatics, ribbons, vaccuum tubes etc before!

Now back to the original question, still a firmed believer in computer server as high end transport

unit, audiophile bug or not! :)




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