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one box streaming vs. pc + dac


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Hi!

 

I am new to this forum from Germany. Great discussions and a wonderful site - congratulations. I was thinking about computer transports for quite some years now and it seems their time has come, at last.

 

Right now I am building up a little trial system with a shuttle PC, rme 9632 soundcard (comparable to lynx) for digital output feeding the spdif input of my linn unidisk sc player. I gathered a lot of information on how to configure the pc (downclock CPU, memory, downsize windows xp, etc) and I am at a point where my computer transport sounds at least as good (better most of the time) as the cd/sacd playback. Next steps will be to replace the unidisk with a better DAC. So much to my background.

 

I was wondering whether anybody had the chance to (blind) compare a pc + dac like Chris´ reference system to one of the high end one box streaming solutions like naim hdx or linn akurate ds. The price for the systems are comparable: 6000$ for a Berkeley DAC + computer, 6500$ for a Linn Akurate DS. At least the Linn streamers get a lot of great press here in Europe. I personally heard the akurate ds and the klimax ds at a demo. They were both great and the klimax is a bit better but in my opinion not worth the extra dollars (the akurate was really VERY good!). Any opinions?

 

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As a comment, I would say the majority of active people on this site are tinkerers with their computer systems (largely Apple Macs).

 

Other audiophiles would favour a canned (one box and one solution) music server.

 

I know of one site where it is a McIntosh forum where many of the people think nothing (financially speaking) of buying a McIntosh hard drive server to connect to the remaining Mcintosh components.

 

Just comments. Not trying to upset anyone.

 

Keep on Upgrading!!!

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I see your point - everyone has his own ideals. Nevertheless, I am looking for the best sounding solution to get my data from a harddisk (ideally ssd in a couple of years) to my speakers (and my ears) within certain budget limitations. I have not decided yet which track to take but my first experiments with a PC are promising.

 

I also like to tinker around with my computer but I could imagine that canned solutions may have some advantages (e.g. short circuits, aligned and balanced parts, etc). On the other hand, companies like Linn have (need to have) much larger margins on their products compared to computer companies and you may get more "sound for the buck" with solutions which are being discussed here.

 

In my opinion, no matter how much you play around with "do it yourself" solutions, at the end of the day you need to compare yourself to what others (maybe the industry) has to offer instead.

 

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"As a comment, I would say the majority of active people on this site are tinkerers with their computer systems"

 

Hi Firefly - I don't really agree with you on this one. The majority of people around here are looking for the best sound possible and right now that is only available via PC or Mac solutions. Since these solutions are not necessarily plug n play like a canned music server the CA readers must find a way to get the great sound they are seeking.

 

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing The Audiophile Style Podcast

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Hi Johniboy - I have listen to many canned systems and compared them to PC or Mac based systems. I've done direct head to head comparisons in my listening room but the exercise was not even close. In terms of sound quality I have yet to hear a canned system sound as good as a properly configured Mac or PC based system. That said, many of the canned systems are not built for sound quality rather ease of use comes first. Did you read the review of the McIntosh MS750 at Stereophile? http://www.stereophile.com/mediaservers/108mac/index.html

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing The Audiophile Style Podcast

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Chris, thanks for link. I don´t want to push this too hard but Stereophile also reviewed the Klimax streamer: http://www.stereophile.com/digitalprocessors/308linn/index.html with somewhat different results. I know, the klimax is awfully expensive but the akurate is not much worse and costs much less. The naim server didn´t get bad reviews either...

 

Any comparison to the Berkeley or Weiss DACs?

 

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"Hi Firefly - I don't really agree with you on this one. The majority of people around here are looking for the best sound possible and right now that is only available via PC or Mac solutions. Since these solutions are not necessarily plug n play like a canned music server the CA readers must find a way to get the great sound they are seeking. "

 

Hi Chris,

 

I should say at first I very much appreciate your knowledge, advice and contribution.

 

I agree with your statement largely in part. Many people do want the best sound quality within their budget.

 

To the objective observer, there are many questions on this website on what file format, need help with this connection etc. If you see too many of these forum posts, it creates an impression for some that some people have not considered using a canned music server of a bif hard drive ipod.

 

If someone (like myself) looks deeper at canned music servers and the many forums/discussions on this website it is not a cost effective option when you can purchase very very good DACs like the Berkely, Weiss and Benchmark etc with a computer and it helps digital music a lot.

 

I agree with your statement largely but differ in some of the details.

 

It's a healthy discusion and please (expecially) others I am addiing to discussion not criticing people.

 

 

Keep on Upgrading!!!

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Hi FireFly - I agree this is a really good topic to discuss and encourage everyone to jump in. I'd love to know why people are using canned or custom servers and what their thought processes are when considering the options. I have my guesses, but hearing straight from the people is always great.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing The Audiophile Style Podcast

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I too have noticed a lack of talk about canned systems particulary Squeezebox and Sonos (which I am very interested in and I coin 'open canned' ) as you link them to your server and can attach a different DAC. The Linn options are meant to be very good as well- I feel usability is a BIG part of the experience. Its one of the reasons I have gone this route in the first place :) It has given me an idea on a new topic so I'll leave it at that.

 

 

PS3 60bg (160GB installed + Native music Browser)-AVI ADM9.1-Klipsch SW12 Subwoofer-Belkin Power Board- Custom power cables-Supra Sub Cable- No Name Toslink Cable - PROUD NZer

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My experience

Chris, about two years ago I started a research project on the net to try and find a device that would play jpeg on my TV while looking for the files on my pc or network. I found and bought the HRX-1000. Turns out the unit will play wav and flac up to 24/192. Pretty impressive what this simple device can do with internal hard drive or over my home network. I quickly forgot about the pics and was hooked on hi res audio. I brought my audio pal over to sample the unit and we concluded that it sounded good, but it could be better. More research was needed. At the same time our local dealer had a eureka moment at the CES show and has since become a Berkeley dealer. I visited the store with my audio pal to here the Berkeley DAC in action with the Lynx card in a pc using Media Monkey played on 7' maggies (speakers not really sure) in what I call the great room. Needless to say we both had a eureka moment. Funny, I thought I had had one already. The Berkeley DAC is so good that when you play 16/44.1 you swear it’s hi res and when you play hi res you sear it’s live on steroids. I’m sorry for not doing this for a living and I am not able to compare it to other dacs or sum it up into warm or lean or any of that, but we both felt that it was the most incredible thing we had ever heard. My audio pal has an extreme system and it tells me a lot that he couldn’t stop talking about it all the way home. We don’t like that it only has the one AES input, but such is life. Right now my pal is waiting for the new Ayre piece and I am looking things in my budget range. One thing for sure, we have seen the future....good by cd and hello pc. Not that I ever had more than a few cds.

Anyway, just wanted share and say thanks for the site!

 

Regards

 

vortecjr

 

 

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The linn servers are very good, or so everyone seem to say. Sounding good is one thing but it's not all when considering audio server solutions.

What is extremely important is how easily you dig into your library and find what you want. But even before that: how you build you library. And for this, to date, noone found better systems than Macs or PCs.

If you want to use a server such as the Linn (or any other for that matter) you'll still need a Mac/PC to build, to tag and to organise your library. Now, the next question is since you have to have a PC, why would you need these boxes? You may have very good reasons for this, but seeing these cute and silent little Mac/PC things they do these days, it's kind of hard to say: I don't want an ugly and noisy plastic box in my room.

That being said, if it's only about finding the best sound without considering the other aspects, you'll need to test by yourself.

=> In the examples that your give you're at $6K budget. With these budgets, most solutions will sound very good. With that budget, most owners will swear that their solution is far superior to any other...

 

Back to the Linns, these are network connections + relatively standard interface + DACs in one box. Only the DACs change from one version to another and I have red in another forum that they all have the same motherboards and only the DAC chips and analog stages are different.

One advantage these may have is that you reduce the risk of jitter or other sound degradation due to the fact that everything is the same box and natively optimised.

One disadvantage they have is that, although they're already ready to read 24/192 files, there is no possibility to have them evolve over time (unless you're a DIY tweaker).

Another disadvantage of these products: they don't have any other input than network, therefore they can't be used as DACs (which is a pity when you hear the quality of a $15K Klimax).

 

Personnally, these days, I use a Tranporter + DAC + Clock, mostly because I find the sound excellent and the whole thing very easy to use compared to a PC. Like Chris, I don't doubt that a well optimlsed PC/Mac can be a better transport than the TP and I might go back to that eventually. When that happens I'll keep the same DAC. What would I do if I had a Linn?

 

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A timely question johniboy.

 

I went for the computer + DAC option and I am now convinced it was a mistake. I bought an Aluminum Macbook (quiet, looks good and the os produces bit perfect from itunes) and a Cambridge 840C (immune to jitter on the spdif input) and I am mostly happy with the sound.

 

However, it now drives me crazy that there is no way to mix 16/44.1 and 24/96 files in the same playlist without having one or the other distorted. The closest I have come to a solution is to batch re-sample my favorite CD tracks and save them as 24/96 files in my 24/96 playlists; this is just tolerable but simply not good enough. So, with the Spring upon us, this set-up will be relegated to balcony use and I need to find something more convenient. For me, the Mac platform just doesn't work.

 

I have looked at going PC based but, like the vast majority of consumers, I can't be bothered messing with asio drivers, k-mixers, food-mixers or putting cards in slots etc.. So, it will most-likely be one-box (Linn or Naim) for me once I can get round to an audition.

 

On the same topic; does anyone see the Naim Uniti as a game changer in this respect? Going the computer route used to be cheaper but I don't think it is any more. If you are setting up a brand-new system 2000 quid now gets you a high quality CD Player, DAC, Network streamer, tuner and Amplifier + change for a pint. It all seems like a great deal (assuming it sounds good of course).

 

- John.

 

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Hi John,

 

I don´t know too much about apple systems. I do see they are greatly designed and everything but I just know PCs better. I bought a Shuttle PC with 1TB HDD, Celeron Processor, 2GB Ram for 170 EURs and an RME 9632 PCI card for 350 EUR (it just got cheaper, because RME came out with a new PCI Express card - costs 500 EUR). Just plug in the card and it works. ASIO wasn´t a big deal either. The PC optimization is more work. I found a wonderful paper by "cics": "The art of building Computer Transports" from 2007. If anyone is interested, I can attach the pdf. This helped me a lot.

 

This system works fine for files up to 24/96 (my unidisk can´t play higher resolution) and I do not need to adjust the sampling rate in any way. I downloaded the Audiophile Jazz Prologue in all sampling versions and can mix and play the different sampling rates without problem. Higher resolution does sound better!

 

Canned systems are more robust when setting up. You can´t do too much wrong. Either is works and you get the sound you payed for, or it has some connection problems that you (and your dealer) needs to solve. In my opinion (today) there are 2 interesting players for canned digital streamers: Linn and T+A (a German audio company). I don´t like the naim solution because I don´t want to have my HDD integrated in the player. HDDs are getting cheaper every day and I want to be able to update them when the solid drives become cheap! T+A has a nice player called MP 1250 R. I did´t have the chance to listen to it yet but many people like its sound AND it has a much better user interface than LINN. The LINN Klimax player is the reference digital streamer but I also see the user interface issue - my guess is that it will become better though. It is an open source interface and people are working on it to make it better. The only question is, whether there will be enough pressure by unsatisfied users for further development.

 

I think both routes have their advantages and disadvantages which were discussed here and also in other forums (e.g. the LINN forum http://forums.linn.co.uk/bb/). My question is still: Can you make a computer system, Mac or PC, sound as good as lets say a LINN Akurate for less or equal money? If yes then everyone can decide for himself whether a better user interface and more flexibility, maybe even a better sound, is worth an additional box (computer) and a bit more complicated setup. If not, I would probably go with the canned system. Unfortunately, I do not have the possibility to do a blinded A/B comparison, because I do not have either system, yet. It would be great if anyone could share his experience in this forum!

 

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Thanks Fyper for the thoughts. I agree with you in some aspects. It is a pity that the LINN akurate and klimax do not have a stupid digital input. LINN´s really good CD players (CD12, Akurate CD, etc) didn´t have a digital input either - also very disappointing. The CD players also could have been used as very good dacs! But sometimes sacrificing connectivity results in better sound. Linn has a preamplifier (Exotik I think) that has a built in DA. Most people say it doesn´t sound as good as the linn streamers (even compared to the sneaky, which costs less than 1500 EUR). By the way, the T+A MP 1250 R streamer DOES have digital in AND outputs and comes for 2.500 EUR!

 

For me, I see the following 2 options:

1. dedicated computer (PC in my case) for audio steaming which will sit in my living room + DAC or

2. T+A or Linn streamer

For both options I need in addition: a PC for ripping, tagging, etc, NAS and a remote (I will probably use an ipod touch).

 

For me the questions are: Does the "reduction the risk of jitter or other sound degradation due to the fact that everything is the same box and natively optimised" result in a significant sound improvement over an optimized computer system and is the quality of the Linn / T+A DAC comparable to a Weiss or Berkeley?

 

 

 

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Have you considered the forthcoming PS Audio Perfect Wave system ($6,000 in the US)?

 

The DAC has all sorts of inputs, including ethernet, so, it will have the functionality of the Linn Klimax, but with the added ability to plug in a transport, a computer (via USB or Toslink) etc.

 

Meanwhile, the transport can play WAV files stored on data CD/DVD at up to 32 bit/192 kHz.

 

These products are due to be released imminently, and, yes, I have put in my order.

 

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Yes Wooster,

 

That is a serious option, it seems to bring the best of 2 worlds, especially if you realise that you can have either the Transport or the DAC or both. Both the Trasport and the DAC can receive the optional network audio server option. They can be handled remotely by an ipod touch.

3 options then : the Transport + the DAC + server option, the memory Transport (capable to read anything it seems) + server option (and the DAC of your choice), or the dac + server option (standalone or add other didigtal sources).

 

I'm looking forward to hearing feed back on the quality comprared to Linn or T+A and Computers...

 

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Hi johniboy,

 

"For me the questions are: Does the "reduction the risk of jitter or other sound degradation due to the fact that everything is the same box and natively optimised" result in a significant sound improvement over an optimized computer system and is the quality of the Linn / T+A DAC comparable to a Weiss or Berkeley?"

 

I'm not aware of any published comparison of these products and it's difficult to get the products to do it yourself... One thing is sure though, with that kind of system, you'll have something very good.

The T+A is a good option too: you can connect other sources to it's DAC and it has Wifi as well. I don't know about its interface but it's said to sound pretty good.

 

 

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.. which could catch one up too easy ;)

 

Johniboy, I´m also planning to get rid of my "high-end" playback system (rest of it - see below) and switching over to a "streaming" based system for mixed audio (in different resolutions).

 

At the beginning I was also looking for the mentioned streaming clients (Transporter, Linn or even T+A), but I have changed my mind very fast, because of the fact that this still would be a kind of "one-way" route (which, in a few months/years - might be outdated).

 

The main point for me - after digging into the possibilities of good tagging and fb2k - is that a computer-driven system might be way better in handling and it will definetely better in terms of updating (or upgrading parts of it).

 

Currently I´m on the way to rip all of my cds and dvds (audio only) to my main PC, and after that I try to get a benchmark DAC 1 USB (Pre/HDR) and/or the Lavry DA-11, and, maybe, also a Weiss DAC to listen to into my rig.

 

As aa long time user of professional audiosoft- and hardware, I'm sure that the playback of such a system could be at a very high and enjoyable level, for even a less amount of €€€ as the typical "hifi-high-end" systems.

 

Cheers

Harald

(also germany ;) )

 

Esoterc SA-60 / Foobar2000 -> Mytek Stereo 192 DSD / Audio-GD NFB 28.38 -> MEG RL922K / AKG K500 / AKG K1000  / Audioquest Nighthawk / OPPO PM-2 / Sennheiser HD800 / Sennheiser Surrounder / Sony MA900 / STAX SR-303+SRM-323II

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Hi Harald! Greetings from sunny Berlin!

 

My mind is also set more and more on using the computer as transport. I was playing around with my shuttle for some days now - a lot of work to find the best tweak for computer performance: underpower the pc to decrease electrical noice but still leave enough power for the remote control and display. Even the driver for mediamonkey makes a huge difference: the kernel diver results in better latencies and sounds more precise and open but tends to be harsh in the highs, the asio driver is nice and smooth but less controlled... both should theoretically be bit perfect. The sound is good enough to enjoy music.

 

I also started ripping all my cds. Very time consuming but i hope it just has to be done once. Probably I will wait a year or so to really decide which DAC to get. I think there will be a lot going on in the near future and I am curious about the new innovations (Ayre, PS audio, etc).

 

By the way, my system today: Shuttle -> rme 9632 -> Linn Unidisk SC -> Linn 2250 -> Dynaudio C2

 

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... its a step by step route to go here.

 

I'm also keen to see what products will pop up in the near future.

Seems that the industry has got the signs spot on, and finally providing interesting products to us "computerophiles" ...

 

Cheers

Harald

 

Esoterc SA-60 / Foobar2000 -> Mytek Stereo 192 DSD / Audio-GD NFB 28.38 -> MEG RL922K / AKG K500 / AKG K1000  / Audioquest Nighthawk / OPPO PM-2 / Sennheiser HD800 / Sennheiser Surrounder / Sony MA900 / STAX SR-303+SRM-323II

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