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What's the point of expensive CD players?


tfarney
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I'm not trying to be controversial, honest. And I'm probably missing something, if the incredibly noisy, wobbly CD drive in my Mac can transfer zeros an ones to a hard drive. and cheap (like...free) software built into iTunes can error-check and compare it to make sure it's a bit-perfect match to what came from cd, and then the computer can load bits of it at a time, re-checking again for bit perfection, into ram, then play it back without a single moving part involved...why are there cd transports that cost more than 5 times as much as all of the hardware and software above, which includes a pretty good laptop for free? Even if you just WANT to play the cds instead of the bit perfect lossless files from your computer, why don't cd players just contain a basic, inexpensive data transport like the one in my computer, and a chunk of ram in them, and a bit of error-checking software in rom to accomplish the same thing? There would, of course, be a slight delay (I think it takes my hard drive about 3 seconds to feed the first bits into ram and get started), but I would think that would be worth a few thousand dollars.

 

What am I missing? I have to be missing something. Lots of audiophiles spend thousands of dollars on CDPs.

 

Tim

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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I like it Tim.

 

You make a very good case that is 100% logical to me. I'll never own another CD player, unless I can get a fantastic deal on something like a NAIM 555 which is beyond what any music server can do right now. But for $30,000 I won't be jumping on it. Memory players do exactly what you suggest. They load the disc into RAM before playback. Boulder had one of these at CES, but it is $24,000. To me these are just products to bridge the gap for people not ready to jump into the music server thing. The Hovland unit had the best of both worlds. Music server functionality with 2 GB of RAM to run Linux and buffer playback of physical discs. I think there are current transports that cost 5 times as much as a Mac solution because they've been around a while and manufacturers have a lot of money put into them. They can match the price of a Mac. Plus, "old schoolers" must like those units.

 

Again, I'm with you all the way on this one!

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

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Thanks, Chris. That leaves me with an obvious question, though. If we're talking transports, and assuming a separate DAC, WHY would even a $30K Naim be better than no transport, no moving parts during playback at all? It doesn't make sense that it would. If the Naim and a Mac Mini are feeding exactly the same external DAC, through exactly the same cable, RAM, from inside a quiet electro-mechanical environment (a Mac) should be superior. And if the stuff going on inside the Mac can add noise to the zeros and ones in ram (which seems unlikely), then...and this is really a paradigm-shifter...a flash player, like an iPod Nano, with a straight digital out (yeah, I know it doesn't exist I'm speculating here), should be the best transport of all!

 

Whoa. I think I just blew my own mind.

 

Tim

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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Hey Tim - I think your logic is good but only to a certain point. The Naim 555 is such a piece of engineering that makes CDs sound absolutely incredible. Thus, it is just better than any competition right now. The 555 doesn't have a digital input so I didn't even consider feeding it with a Mac Mini. You point is a great one and I doub't we'll ever know what it would sound like. Naim does have a music server now. maybe it uses the same DAC as the 555.

 

Speaking of a nano with digital out. The new Wadia iTransport will accomplish this by taking the digital signal from an iPod Touch which is solid state. But, there are some things going on inside the Wadia unit that will effect the sound.

 

I see what you are saying and I am with you for 99% of it.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing The Audiophile Style Podcast

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If you invite your audiophile friends over for tea, and start playing music from a Mac Mini, they won't be impressed. If you use a big, heavy, expensive CD player they will be impressed. If you have the $30K to spend for one, by all means do so.

 

The computer isn't a perfect environment, but assuming that you're starting from a standard, 16-bit, 44.1kHz CD the sound quality will end up being dictated by what you're using to convert the digital data into music. You could keep the bits in your back pocket, and as long as they come out in the right order at close to the right time, the DAC will manage the translation well.

 

There are moving parts in a computer. The hard disk is spinning, and the music data is rread from that in more or less sequential blocks. The computer has to assemble the blocks, convert that stream to a digital output for the DAC section, and then do the further digital-to-analog conversion.

 

When I first heard about the CD I figured there was no way it would work. Sure, they're sampling the sound 44,000 times per second, but what about the intersample period? That all gets thrown away. No way can it be as good as an analog signal, which has everything. Then I heard a CD for the first time, and within a month I owned a CD player.

 

People can argue theory until they're blue in the face and looking for the heavy weaponry. While they're doing that, I'll be using my lashed-up music server to swim around in some lovely music.

 

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None of my non-virtual friends are audiophiles. Last time a few of them were over, just to keep background music going and interesting, I took the signal out of the headphone jack of my iBook, split it to two RCAs and ran it into the receiver in the den/kitchen while I streamed 128kbps music from Pandora.

 

They were very impressed.

 

Of course it was an internet radio station customized to my own personal taste in music that impressed them. I'm sure they didn't even notice the fidelity.

 

Tim

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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On the contrary, if our non-audiophile friends can get the full cosmic vision and gut-bucket growl of Van going animal on "Listen to the Lion" through an iPod and a pair of earbuds, they not only have a clue, they have the point.

 

But I get your meaning. I only hang on the fringes of audiophoolery, yet my wife and friends sometimes look at me with great suspicion.

 

I'm with you on keeping a drive around. Mine is a DVD player as well, because digital signals best take advantage of my amp's best work (see the last post of the digital to digital thread).

 

Tim

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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Most of our cocktail sipping pals are audioclueless. They just sit and stare at KHorns and look at the pretty cover flow shots jabbering contently, or watch me fly across the room arms flapping chanting - can you hear that dust on the needle????? Who cleaned that record - Banzaiiiiiiiiiiii

 

Okay, I will say that a small CD player makes sense to me, particularly when somebody drags over a CD and wants to play a song and skip around, sharing this song and that one. I've been using an old DVD player for this until I find the right solution. Which would be something more along the lines of a portable player sized gizmo.

 

 

 

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Ha - well it's not terrible per se, I'm just a little hesitant to have martini or scotch swillin pals fiddling around to much with everything. Most people know CD players, but given that the laptop tends to rip anything somebody were to feed it, and given iTunes desire to not let go until it's hunger is satiated, it just seems to avoid issues that could force me to put down my scotch or martini to sheepishly explain why I'm stealing their CD or such. I could always change the preferences, I know ...

 

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I would never change that preference. I love the fact that iTunes wants to rip everything you put in the drive! And there's your answer. I'll always have a DVD player around if I want to simply play discs, but if my friends bring over anything good, there is a better alternative...

 

Tim

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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Hey Tim

 

I don't really know the answer to your question. I am here to learn in terms of music servers. I will say that so far, I have been unable to find anything that sounds as good as an Audio Research CD7 cd player. Please keep in mind that I have not yet been able to get my hands on anything above a Wavelength Brick to use as a DAC. I think your question is a valid one, but perhaps not the no brainer it first seems to be. There do seem to be advantages to using a server but I have heard a variety of reasons for this and frankly, I'm not sophisticated enough to know what is true. I had a long conversation with a good friend of mine who distributes the T+A German products into the U.S. They were early to the market with a USB DAC that will handle lots of streaming inputs. He offered an explanation that is different from the usual lower jitter and error correction theories. Who knows?

 

I will say there is one thing I miss with a server, and it doesn't have anything to do with sound quality or convenience. I love music and am very interested in players, producers, engineers, etc. I use iTunes on a Mac mini with a BAD (big assed drive) and an iTouch running the signal emulator for a remote. As convenient as it is, there are times when I want to know who that guitarist was, who engineered or mastered a great recording, etc. I know this has little or nothing to do with your question, but it and the limited ability to manage classical recordings do frustrate me a little on the server side.

 

For the record, 15 years ago I owned a Mark Levinson 31.5 transport and 30.6 DAC. About 26K worth of CD player. Servers did not exist at that point. However the Levinson actually used a cache/buffer to allow for error correction. As far as I know it didn't re-read the disk, but the concept has been around for a long time.

 

Do keep in mind that, valid as your point about transports may be, there are relatively few DACS available today. DVD Audio and SACD effectively killed the market segment about 8 years ago, since they would not allow their signal to leave a transport in a digital bitstream. Unfortunately it set high end digital back a good ways. So a lot of the expense of the big dog CD players is in the DAC. And the gorgeous metalwork is not cheap either although it contributes nothing to the sound quality.

 

Much as I enjoy my server based system, I still turn to the ARC when I want to listen critically. Or my turntable. I think that will change with some of the more upscale DAC's coming on the market. ARC will have a USB DAC available in May and I have already ordered a couple.

 

Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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It's a great answer, Rom, especially given that the question was more of an opening for discussion than anything I expected a definitive answer to. I know that in the rarefied air of the high end, great attention is paid to the smallest details of any electrical or mechanical component and that there are incremental improvements to be found in those details. But I suspect you're right in your guess that the DAC is probably most of it. The good news is that good quality DACs, for those of us (me) looking to make the most of every $500 are getting less expensive and more readily available. I can only guess that will become even more the case as computer-sourced music becomes more popular. In the meantime, here where I'm sweating the details of every dollar spent (and spending most of it on music!) to see if I can't push my audiophool status just that much closer to audiophile, I take comfort in my belief that great music sounds great on marginal equipment and bad writing, performance, recording and mastering aren't helped by the best equipment in the world. In fact, sometimes the sins are just painfully revealed.

 

Right now, I'm listening to Van Morrison's "It's Too Late To Stop Now." Do you know it? It is one of those rare live popular music albums that is really well done. There are horns, strings, background singers and a full R&B band that all seem to understand that sometimes the greatest musical statement is NOT playing that note. And it is recorded and mastered appropriately. There is air and space and ambiance in the thing. It's a 2-disc set, though, and I lost disc 1 somewhere along the line. Desperate, one day I downloaded it off of iTunes, so right now, I'm listening to it as a 128kbps file, straight out of my Mac's headphone jack, into my Senns. But even in that highly compromised form, it sounds better than most modern pop recordings with their digital compression and horrid, bright eq. I just try to keep it in perspective.

 

And with that said. I'd love to hear that cdp of yours! What do you play it through?

 

Tim

 

 

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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I'm a Van fan so I will have to check it out. Another great live double disk set is one by Delbert McClinton that he put out a few years ago. Like Van, Delbert is getting up there but this live set recorded from a performance for a radio station in Norway, just smokes.

 

The rest of my system is an Audio Research REF3 preamp, Classe CA-M400 monoblocks, Audioquest Signature interconnects and Audioquest Everest speaker cable. Surround is not a priority for me but it is handled by a Classe SSP-600, a Proceed PMDT, one of about three still working in the world, and a Proceed Amp 5 for the surrounds. Front speakers are Vandersteen 5A's. I don't use a center or a sub.

 

Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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