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What do I need to equal a cd transport plus dac ?


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Hey guys,

 

Great to be here.

 

Quick introduction:

 

Been an audiophile for the last 20 years. Did LPS, CDs and finally moved to a digital file playback system 2 years ago. I was using a naim NDX. I needed to sell the Naim for some personal reasons and I am now in the market for a pc plus dac solution. And what other place than the computer audiophile website to begin my search !!!

I have been seeing a lot of discussions that suggest that a cd transport plus a dac is the best solution. For a file playback system to work as well, the pc needs to be custom made and / or hardware / software tweaked to the max…etc..

 

I am in two minds now.

 

-Should I go back to a single box solution like a Naim or similar player ?

-Will a stock mac mini connected to an appropriate dac sound as good ?

-What kind of tweaks are the minimum one should do to a Mac mini or a similar custom pc to accomplish what a cd transport plus dac could do ?

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Hey guys,

 

Great to be here.

 

Quick introduction:

 

Been an audiophile for the last 20 years. Did LPS, CDs and finally moved to a digital file playback system 2 years ago. I was using a naim NDX. I needed to sell the Naim for some personal reasons and I am now in the market for a pc plus dac solution. And what other place than the computer audiophile website to begin my search !!!

I have been seeing a lot of discussions that suggest that a cd transport plus a dac is the best solution. For a file playback system to work as well, the pc needs to be custom made and / or hardware / software tweaked to the max…etc..

 

I am in two minds now.

 

-Should I go back to a single box solution like a Naim or similar player ?

-Will a stock mac mini connected to an appropriate dac sound as good ?

-What kind of tweaks are the minimum one should do to a Mac mini or a similar custom pc to accomplish what a cd transport plus dac could do ?

 

What's the budget?

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Don't know if you need to worry too much about mods straight away. I'm now getting great results simply using an off the shelf fanless PC (Zotac C1320, about £100 barebones in UK) with SSD running HQPlayer software into a Hugo DAC. Even though I'm simply using stock power supplies and USB cable, I very much doubt any conventional cd transport would beat it using the same DAC.

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I have played with fanless PC (Intel NUC board w/ SSD in Akasa NUC chassis) running Windows Server 2012 R2 and Audiophile Optimizer 1.30, and got decent results driving my DAC, but my most recent discovery is Auralic Aries with its coaxial SPDIF output delivering sound quality that trumps all my PC efforts so far.

 

My current setup is Aries driving a Vega DAC, and this all-Auralic combo has exceeded my expectations. Redbook CDs (in FLAC format) have never sounded better, to the point of almost making hi-res content unnecessary (I hear very small differences between redbook and 24/96 or 192 or DSD content, even with HD 800 headphones). Aries and Vega each by itself is very good, but the combo is especially impressive. Aries supports music carried in an attached USB storage device (HDD/SSD/flash drive) so a NAS is not required. The convenience of controlling music playback using an iPad is also a big plus.

 

In my book, good things happen to a digital sound system when a PC is intentionally excluded from it. While a carefully optimized PC (or PCs) can sound very good as a digital music source, I'm still amazed at how easily and quickly the Aries managed to trump my silent PC despite all the tweaking and money I put into it.

 

Aries + Vega is about $5K, but I'm confident you can achieve comparable sound quality for less. The Exasound e12 DAC at $2K is more affordable than Vega and is worth looking into. Others can chime in for good sounding DACs in the $1K range. Aries + $1K DAC should meet your cost target.

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...I have been seeing a lot of discussions that suggest that a cd transport plus a dac is the best solution. For a file playback system to work as well, the pc needs to be custom made and / or hardware / software tweaked to the max…etc...

 

Hi hertz,

 

Welcome to Computer Audiophile!

 

As I often say, what is "good," "better," or "best" depends on precisely what one is seeking.

I also say that if you ask three audio folks a question, you will receive at least four different answers.

 

In my experience, we all hear differently, so all I can do is report my own goals and experiences and hope they may be of use to you.

Some folks want gear that sounds good. I don't. I want the sound to come from the musicians, the room they're in, and the recording, not from the hardware or software used to play it. (During recording, I want the sound to come from the musicians and the room they're in but some recordings seek something other than this.) I want my gear, not to "sound good" but to get out of the way and let me hear the recording.

 

With this in mind, I've said, since the first CD I mastered in January of 1983 that CDs made at different replication facilities (sometimes different lines within the same facility) all sound different from each other and *none* sounds indistinguishable from the master used to make it. I've found this to be true regardless of the DAC and regardless of the transport or player used to spin the disc.

 

When I first tried playback from the computer -- sourced from CDs I "ripped"(i.e., extracted)-- I found that for the first time, I was hearing the sound of the master. Further, differences between pressings all disappeared when they were all extracted to the computer, all now sounding like the master used to make them.

Still further, differences between ordinary CDs and "super" discs like SHM pressings or HQCD pressings, if all made from the same master, all disappeared when extracted to and played back from the computer.

 

I should add that I rip only to raw PCM format (specifically, .aif) and not to a so-called "lossless" format, which to my ears does not sound the same.

All that said, some folks want something else from their listening and I'd never argue with whatever brings anyone their listening pleasure. But if the goal is to have the playback sound like the input (e.g., the master used to create the CD), I've yet to hear any transport or player at any price that gets close to good computer playback.

 

So, in my view, good computer playback will not equal a CD transport feeding an identical DAC. It will surpass it, by a long, long, country mile.

I wrote a bit more about this in my blog entry called Listening to Tomorrow (an edited version of which was reprinted by HiFi Critic in the UK).

 

My suggestion is to try some comparisons if you can. This way you'll find out how the two different approaches sound to you.

Have fun!

 

Best regards,

Barry

Soundkeeper Recordings

http://www.soundkeeperrecordings.wordpress.com

Barry Diament Audio

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I have played with fanless PC (Intel NUC board w/ SSD in Akasa NUC chassis) running Windows Server 2012 R2 and Audiophile Optimizer 1.30, and got decent results driving my DAC, but my most recent discovery is Auralic Aries with its coaxial SPDIF output delivering sound quality that trumps all my PC efforts so far.

 

My current setup is Aries driving a Vega DAC, and this all-Auralic combo has exceeded my expectations. Redbook CDs (in FLAC format) have never sounded better, to the point of almost making hi-res content unnecessary (I hear very small differences between redbook and 24/96 or 192 or DSD content, even with HD 800 headphones). Aries and Vega each by itself is very good, but the combo is especially impressive. Aries supports music carried in an attached USB storage device (HDD/SSD/flash drive) so a NAS is not required. The convenience of controlling music playback using an iPad is also a big plus.

 

In my book, good things happen to a digital sound system when a PC is intentionally excluded from it. While a carefully optimized PC (or PCs) can sound very good as a digital music source, I'm still amazed at how easily and quickly the Aries managed to trump my silent PC despite all the tweaking and money I put into it.

 

Aries + Vega is about $5K, but I'm confident you can achieve comparable sound quality for less. The Exasound e12 DAC at $2K is more affordable than Vega and is worth looking into. Others can chime in for good sounding DACs in the $1K range. Aries + $1K DAC should meet your cost target.

 

Since you need to calculate the cost of an ipad or other tablet into the cost for the gui interface and also what you use for storage, or does it come with its own storage. Also just curious, what storage are you using? an external 1tb ssd? (I see frys has the 1tb samsung ssd on sale now for $400!)

 

Sounds like a sweet system with the E12, especially if paired with bdiaments 3.7i maggies! I wish i could budget that...hmmmm...

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Yes, I use a Samsung 850 EVO 1TB 2.5" SSD, with a NexStar G drive enclosure by Vantec. This SSD is highly recommended: great performance and low idle power. Amazon price is below $380 US now.

 

I like the way Aries allows you to add more music to attached USB storage from a PC/Mac, so no need to unplug the drive from Aries. The Lightning Server music database does need to be manually refreshed after adding music though.

 

Auralic just released a version of Lightning DS app for Android phone, so iPad is no longer the only controller option. I don't have an Android phone so no experience on how well LDS works there.

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You really need to decide if you want the versaitility of a PC, media server, or apple...they all have there pros and cons.

I elected PC because of costs and because i know windows a lot more than macs.

 

For me, Cost being biggest factor, i chose the asus vm40b and swapped out the 500gb hd with an ssd and installed windows 10 on it.

The thing i like about the vm40b besides the windows versaitility is that you can experiment with 3 different audio sources...it comes standard with HDMI audio, Optical audio, and also has usb of course. I flip flop between the different audio sources trying different things. I actually like the sound of HDMI but am afraid to say so because people will laugh saying hdmi is not an audiophile source input because of jitter...to me it sounds pretty impressive going into my marantz and letting the marantz do the conversion...plus there is no cost for a dac that way. I can also go out the optical port. For the usb port i am currently playing with KORGs and ifi's, but have tried a dozen different dacs.

 

Either way it is a VERY inexpensive way to get started. Even if you dont have an amp that supports hdmi, you can get going with a $300 teac ud301 and will have very satisfactory results for under $600 for both the dac and the computer...and you can always upgrade from there.

 

For software i recommend audiogate and foobar2000.

 

If you want to go apple, most people go audirvana+

 

Good luck!

 

asus_vivopc_vm40b.jpg

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@ scan80269,

The Aries interests me because it pretty much mimics the user friendliness of a standalone player. The Naim could be controlled via an app and music is stored on a NAS. So you get away with not having a display of a pc / mouse etc..which is a good thing in my books. I can keep things in my budget if I get a used dac at about 1k $. Let me do some research on this. I already own an ipad mini so that expense is already taken care of.

 

How’s your experience with the app on the ipad? User friendliness? stability? Intuitiveness?

 

Have you tried the usb out of the Aries ?

 

Also, what is the going street price on the Aries ?

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@ bdiament,

 

Thank you for such a detailed reply.

 

I have not explored pc playback myself but I have 2 friends who have explored it quite extensively. Both are people whose ears I trust well.

 

One guy was doing the JPlay dual pc system with usb out into a DAC. The other guy was using a super optimized PC with master clock etc..with spdif output into a DAC. They both sold their transports and swear by pc playback. Both of them use wave files for playback.

 

When you say, computer exceeds cd playback, what does it actually mean ? What kind of computer and implementation do you recommend for this happen? In my experience, I have come across all kinds of playback quality from PC ( average to stellar ) depending upon the PC, the DAC type ( good vs bad usb implementation etc.. I am curious to know the key criterion for success.

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So, in my view, good computer playback will not equal a CD transport feeding an identical DAC. It will surpass it, by a long, long, country mile.

 

Hi Barry. You do not mention which music player(s) you are using, I would be interested to know. Your profile only lists that you are using a Mac and Metric Halo DAC. The music player is obviously a critical element of the computer audio equation. This info would probably be helpful for the OP (apologies if I missed this somewhere).

Main System: Auralic Aries G2, Ayre QX-5 Twenty, Ayre KX-5 Twenty, Ayre VX-5 Twenty, Revel Ultima Studio2, Iconoclast speaker cables & interconnects, RealTraps acoustic treatments

Living Room: Sonore ultraRendu, Ayre QB-9DSD, SimAudio Moon 340iX, B&W 802 Diamond

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...When you say, computer exceeds cd playback, what does it actually mean ? What kind of computer and implementation do you recommend for this happen? In my experience, I have come across all kinds of playback quality from PC ( average to stellar ) depending upon the PC, the DAC type ( good vs bad usb implementation etc.. I am curious to know the key criterion for success.

 

Hi hertz,

 

I'm sorry if I wasn't clear in my initial reply.

 

I want the output of my player to sound like I'm listening to the master used to create the copy I have. (Other folks may have other goals in terms of what sort of sound they want. This may lead them to reach different conclusions.) To my ears, when I compare a CD with the master used to make that CD, it doesn't matter what player or transport or what it costs, the results have always been a loss of focus and fine detail. This varies with the replication facility that made the CD, the line within a given facility and the playback gear but to one degree or another, the results have *never* sounded --to my ears-- like the master.

 

It was only when I got into playback from the computer that I heard a system from which I could not distinguish the sound of the (properly) extracted CD and the master used to make that CD.

 

The results I describe have been achieved using various "ripper" applications. I have found that even the free iTunes application, with error correction set to "on," to do a fine job.

I always rip to a raw PCM format such as .aif or .wav (my own preference being .aif, which is the format in which I record, mix - when necessary, and master), avoiding the so-called "lossless" formats.

I leave the ripped file in its native state and do not apply any sort of sample rate conversion or any other processing.

 

Hope this helps.

 

Best regards,

Barry

Soundkeeper Recordings

http://www.soundkeeperrecordings.wordpress.com

Barry Diament Audio

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Hi Barry. You do not mention which music player(s) you are using, I would be interested to know. Your profile only lists that you are using a Mac and Metric Halo DAC. The music player is obviously a critical element of the computer audio equation. This info would probably be helpful for the OP (apologies if I missed this somewhere).

 

Hi Axiom05,

 

I have several player applications, including iTunes, Fidelia, Amarra, and a few others. I believe iTunes often gets short shrift and really like the application. That said, when I want the absolute most "get out of the way and let me hear the recording" sound, I listen via Amarra, in cache mode (with iTunes still managing the library).

 

To my ears, the DAC and interconnects make an appreciably greater difference than the player software. I'd say the same for the file format too. Not to say the player doesn't make a difference -- in my experience it certainly does, but I've not found any "night and day" differences, whereas I *have* found such among other components in the chain. Just my perspective of course.

 

Best regards,

Barry

Soundkeeper Recordings

http://www.soundkeeperrecordings.wordpress.com

Barry Diament Audio

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Hi Axiom05,

 

I have several player applications, including iTunes, Fidelia, Amarra, and a few others. I believe iTunes often gets short shrift and really like the application. That said, when I want the absolute most "get out of the way and let me hear the recording" sound, I listen via Amarra, in cache mode (with iTunes still managing the library).

 

To my ears, the DAC and interconnects make an appreciably greater difference than the player software. I'd say the same for the file format too. Not to say the player doesn't make a difference -- in my experience it certainly does, but I've not found any "night and day" differences, whereas I *have* found such among other components in the chain. Just my perspective of course.

 

Best regards,

Barry

Soundkeeper Recordings

www.soundkeeperrecordings.wordpress.com

Barry Diament Audio

 

Thanks for that, greatly appreciated.

Main System: Auralic Aries G2, Ayre QX-5 Twenty, Ayre KX-5 Twenty, Ayre VX-5 Twenty, Revel Ultima Studio2, Iconoclast speaker cables & interconnects, RealTraps acoustic treatments

Living Room: Sonore ultraRendu, Ayre QB-9DSD, SimAudio Moon 340iX, B&W 802 Diamond

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Hi Axiom05,

 

I have several player applications, including iTunes, Fidelia, Amarra, and a few others. I believe iTunes often gets short shrift and really like the application. That said, when I want the absolute most "get out of the way and let me hear the recording" sound, I listen via Amarra, in cache mode (with iTunes still managing the library).

 

To my ears, the DAC and interconnects make an appreciably greater difference than the player software. I'd say the same for the file format too. Not to say the player doesn't make a difference -- in my experience it certainly does, but I've not found any "night and day" differences, whereas I *have* found such among other components in the chain. Just my perspective of course.

 

Best regards,

Barry

Soundkeeper Recordings

www.soundkeeperrecordings.wordpress.com

Barry Diament Audio

 

Also many thanks from me Barry.

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Hi Axiom05,

 

I have several player applications, including iTunes, Fidelia, Amarra, and a few others. I believe iTunes often gets short shrift and really like the application. That said, when I want the absolute most "get out of the way and let me hear the recording" sound, I listen via Amarra, in cache mode (with iTunes still managing the library).

 

To my ears, the DAC and interconnects make an appreciably greater difference than the player software. I'd say the same for the file format too. Not to say the player doesn't make a difference -- in my experience it certainly does, but I've not found any "night and day" differences, whereas I *have* found such among other components in the chain. Just my perspective of course.

 

Best regards,

Barry

Soundkeeper Recordings

www.soundkeeperrecordings.wordpress.com

Barry Diament Audio

 

Hi Barry, I saw that you use a mac book pro and the halo dac. I am assuming that this is a stock mac book pro. Can you confirm the playback chain as I see it ? Amarra, in cache mode -> usb out from the mac book pro -> Halo dac.

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Hi Barry, I saw that you use a mac book pro and the halo dac. I am assuming that this is a stock mac book pro. Can you confirm the playback chain as I see it ? Amarra, in cache mode -> usb out from the mac book pro -> Halo dac.

 

Hi hertz,

 

The current computer is a MacBook Pro running the latest version of OS X.

The library is on an external hard drive connected via a Nordost Heimdall 2 USB cable to the MacBook.

I take a FireWire output from the MacBook to feed the Metric Halo ULN-8, which serves as my DAC for playback.

 

For non-critical listening, the library hard drive feeds my router and sends audio via WiFi to two smaller systems (kitchen and living room) each of which is received by an Apple Airport Express connected to a pair of self-powered speakers.

 

All the files on the libary hard drive are in .aif format, at whatever their native wordlength and sample rate (i.e., 16/44 for CD-sourced material, 24/176 or 24/192 for the high res in my collection).

 

Best regards,

Barry

Soundkeeper Recordings

http://www.soundkeeperrecordings.wordpress.com

Barry Diament Audio

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The current computer is a MacBook Pro running the latest version of OS X.

 

Hi Barry

 

Sounds like an ideal candidate for something like a John Swenson designed JS2 Linear PSU ? (evil grin)

 

Kind Regards

Alex

 

How a Digital Audio file sounds, or a Digital Video file looks, is governed to a large extent by the Power Supply area. All that Identical Checksums gives is the possibility of REGENERATING the file to close to that of the original file.

PROFILE UPDATED 13-11-2020

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Hey Barry,

 

Thanks for the reply. Very helpful. I had a few more questions:

 

When you say pc playback, I am assuming that this encompass all file playback systems including regular pc / laptops, playback systems like Aries, file server systems etc..

 

The problem as you see it is with disc spinners since they need to do jitter / error correction etc.

 

Correct me if I am wrong in my assumptions.

 

Have you ever tried any super tweaked pcs, music server systems or standalone players like Aries purely for comparisons against a stock mac book pro when playing ripped files or masters on your DAC?

 

Thanks..

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Hey Barry,

 

Thanks for the reply. Very helpful. I had a few more questions:

 

When you say pc playback, I am assuming that this encompass all file playback systems including regular pc / laptops, playback systems like Aries, file server systems etc..

 

The problem as you see it is with disc spinners since they need to do jitter / error correction etc.

 

Correct me if I am wrong in my assumptions.

 

Have you ever tried any super tweaked pcs, music server systems or standalone players like Aries purely for comparisons against a stock mac book pro when playing ripped files or masters on your DAC?

 

Thanks..

 

Hi hertz,

 

I'm glad if my posts provide any food for thought.

When I refer to computer playback, I'm referring to playback from a computer, or basically either a non-realtime read of a disc (like a "memory" player) or direct playback of a file.

 

Realtime playback of a molded disc involves many operations that must occur while the music is playing. I have found that separating these from the playback itself provides a more accurate "picture" of the source used to create the molded disc.

 

Since I use that "stock MacBook Pro" to create recordings and master them, and since I compare the recording with the direct feed from the microphones at the recording sessions, I have no complaints about the computer as is and have not sought to experiment with other devices since I can't use them to create recordings or master them (or mix them when that is called for). I have heard the Memory player and found that sonically, it displays similar benefits over disc player/transport playback.

 

I'm not sure exactly what a "super tweaked" computer is. I have read about some of the things folks do (like renicing) and if they find improvements, I think that is great. I can set the computer up to do nothing but audio and I can have an email app and the web open while recording or mixing, and to my ears, nothing about the sound changes. (Not that I leave other apps open when doing audio but I have experimented in this regard.)

I've also experimented with integer playback and my ears, listening with my gear, do not hear any benefit. (Note again, I'm not saying there isn't one but if there is, I don't hear it, so I'm not concerned with it.)

 

Straight playback of .aif files from the MacBook Pro to the Metric Halo ULN-8 has given me back the sound of the masters. I don't (yet) know how to improve on that. (As I've said, for me the goal is for the gear to get out of the way and let me hear the recording. Other folks, who might have different goals, such as hearing certain "detail" or "smoothness" in the sound for example, will prefer other approaches.)

 

Best regards,

Barry

Soundkeeper Recordings

http://www.soundkeeperrecordings.wordpress.com

Barry Diament Audio

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Hi hertz,

 

I'm glad if my posts provide any food for thought.

When I refer to computer playback, I'm referring to playback from a computer, or basically either a non-realtime read of a disc (like a "memory" player) or direct playback of a file.

 

Realtime playback of a molded disc involves many operations that must occur while the music is playing. I have found that separating these from the playback itself provides a more accurate "picture" of the source used to create the molded disc.

 

Since I use that "stock MacBook Pro" to create recordings and master them, and since I compare the recording with the direct feed from the microphones at the recording sessions, I have no complaints about the computer as is and have not sought to experiment with other devices since I can't use them to create recordings or master them (or mix them when that is called for). I have heard the Memory player and found that sonically, it displays similar benefits over disc player/transport playback.

 

I'm not sure exactly what a "super tweaked" computer is. I have read about some of the things folks do (like renicing) and if they find improvements, I think that is great. I can set the computer up to do nothing but audio and I can have an email app and the web open while recording or mixing, and to my ears, nothing about the sound changes. (Not that I leave other apps open when doing audio but I have experimented in this regard.)

I've also experimented with integer playback and my ears, listening with my gear, do not hear any benefit. (Note again, I'm not saying there isn't one but if there is, I don't hear it, so I'm not concerned with it.)

 

Straight playback of .aif files from the MacBook Pro to the Metric Halo ULN-8 has given me back the sound of the masters. I don't (yet) know how to improve on that. (As I've said, for me the goal is for the gear to get out of the way and let me hear the recording. Other folks, who might have different goals, such as hearing certain "detail" or "smoothness" in the sound for example, will prefer other approaches.)

 

Best regards,

Barry

Soundkeeper Recordings

www.soundkeeperrecordings.wordpress.com

Barry Diament Audio

 

Do you connect your CD player to the metric Halo or you are listening directly from the DAC of the CD player.

 


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