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Computer audio vs high end traditional.


handyman
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Does anyone have personal ownership experience with a well matched audio system in say the 20k plus range that has been bested by a computer based system regardless of price?

Whilst I have heard good sounding computer based systems (although not many) I have not heard anything yet to compete with a more traditional system around this price range. I generally find the computer based systems I have heard to be lacking in musicality and (for want of a better way of putting it) an organic and analogue sounding quality. I want to believe that it is possible because it is the path I want take so lay it on me people!

 

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Hi Handyman,in my system a CD played from an optical transport, sounds identical to the same cd which has been ripped, through the same dac. ( mac dac itunes )

You would have to borrow an expensive cd player and compare it to a well implemented computer solution, compare them and form your own opinion.

Keith.

 

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Hi handyman,

 

You are talking about comparing a system but shouldn't the question be about the front-end only ??

To make music you need a very good amplifier and ditto speakers. For both systems this can be the same stuff. The front end however can be easier compared if you have a top-end cd player or transport with dac compared to a steaming audio player + dac. In this case the dac can be the same too.

This would be comparing apples to apples.

 

Just my 5c.

 

Oystein

 

 

Rigelian iOS app -> BeagleBone Black with Botic driver + Linux MPD + XPEnology NAS -> Soekris dam1121 DAC I2S direct from BBB -> DH Labs Revelation -> NAD C162 -> DH Labs Revelation -> Odyssey Khartago Plus -> DH Labs Q10 -> Boenicke Audio W5

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I assume you mean 20k for the front end alone? 20k doesn't go very far in high end.....

In that realm I imagine it would be the MacBook Pro /DAD/Emm Labs/ Lavry Gold/Playback designs/Berkeley/Metric Halo/SOnic Studios vs eg Spectral/Meridian/dCS Stack.

IMHO at that level it all comes down to preference - sorry I can't be of more help.

 

Best Wishes

Andrew

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I assume you mean 20k for the front end alone? 20k doesn't go very far in high end.....

In that realm I imagine it would be the MacBook Pro /DAD/Emm Labs/ Lavry Gold/Playback designs/Berkeley/Metric Halo/SOnic Studios vs eg Spectral/Meridian/dCS Stack.

IMHO at that level it all comes down to preference - sorry I can't be of more help.

 

Best Wishes

Andrew

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I think I may have performed the "exercise" you are asking about.

 

If I might sort of put words in you mouth, I think what you are asking (or at least what the question should be for an 'apples to apples' comparison as noted above) is this: whether - all else being equal - a hard drive betters a CD transport in a highly revealing system.

 

For all else to be equal, this of course means the same DAC...

 

I've had the opportunity to have both the Bryston BCD-1 CD player and the Bryston BDA-1 DAC in my system at the same time for many months in a very revealing high-end system, treated room, etc. (I can itemize associated electronics, cables, speakers, etc. if anyone's really interested.) Both of these units use the exact same DAC internally. For computer playback I've got a Drobo/Droboshare NAS, Mac mini with 2G RAM. (I now have Amarra, but my comparisons were done pre-Amarra...I sold the CDP just before I got Amarra.)

 

Connection from Mac Mini to DAC was via both Kimber USB cable and glass optical.

 

Even with these two "inferior" computer to DAC interfaces, I thought the hard drive/DAC combo sounded better than the CDP. Smoother and more body with no less detail. Not by a mile, but noticeable. Can I 'prove' this? Did I do blinded A/B testing? No. But having lived with the two for perhaps 6 months (i.e. not a quick A/B/A type listening exercise) this was my conclusion. Could I have been fooling myself by sort of wanting the computer-based system to be better? I suppose, but I don't think so. It certainly didn't sound worse.

 

This is the same conclusion Robert Harley came to when he performed the same type of exercise and wrote about it in the December 2007 issue of TAS. You may wish to reference this article, as he goes into a technical explanation of why this outcome makes sense to him. (Only he used an even more expensive rig, using an Esoteric P-03 transport and Esoteric D-03 DAC as opposed to my lowly Brystons.)

 

 

 

Rance

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Thanks to all for the help so far. I should have been clearer in my question; yes it is the front end I am talking about but I also should have said the rest of the system is highly revealing as well. Thank you Rance, that's exactly what I am after. I will check out the article you mentioned. I am also interested to hear what your system comprises of.

 

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Other components in my system:

-Electronics: Spread Spectrum Technologies 'Ambrosia' pre-amp and 'Ampzilla 2000' Second Edition monobloc amps. Also, Bryston BP-26 pre-amp/MPS-2 separate power supply and Bryston 4B-SST amp.

-DSP Room Correction: TacT 2.2 XP DSP stereo processor

-Cabling: Luminous Audio Synchestra Signature balanced/XLR interconnects, Luminous Audio Synchestra Signature speaker cables

-Speakers: pair of B&W 802D's, two JL Audio f113 subs

-Acoustical treatment: ASC tube traps and sound panels

 

Rance

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You say you use Drobo and Droboshare in your system. How are you connecting this to your MacMini? Any issues of speed as I've read some real concerns on this point elsewhere on this forum. Did you rip all yourmusic directly to the Drobo? Any other observations - It's a storage system I'm strongly considering.

Thanks.

 

MBP13-128gb ssd using VoiceOver to hear the screen, iTunes, Ayre QB-9, McIntosh mx119 & mc207, Thiel CS2.4

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Yes, I'm using a Drobo/Droboshare connected to my home network via ethernet.

 

There is sometimes - not always - a little latency period when accessing music files that varies from just a second or two up to maybe ten seconds. The latter is generally when the system has been idle for awhile. This doesn't happen when connected via USB, but I wanted the Drobo out of the listening room so I don't hear it and the trade off is worth it. (I mean c'mon..a few second delay to hear anything I want with just a click vs. getting up off my butt and taking time to actually look for a CD...)

 

I ripped (almost) all my CD's directly to the Drobo in AIFF format. I have two Seagate 1TB drives. Setup was simple.

 

I had one little 'glitch' so far: some of my CD's would have an audible 'pop' or 'tick' sound (like the pop of an LP) on a track or two, always at 10-12 seconds into the affected track. I couldn't figure it out for a while, having tried to re-rip these CD's and also unmount/remount the Drobo. Finally fixed it by just powering the thing down and then powering up again. (There's no 'on/off' switch--you just have to unmount the Droboshare, then unplug it and plug back in, then remount.) Duh!...it's a computer after all, so when in doubt reboot!

 

Rance

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thanks for your reply. I presume you're using ITunes and your running an ethernet cable from network to Mini - correct? Have you tried Amarra with DROBO on USB or FireWire rather than NAS - Sonic Studio seems to think NAS could degrade sound. Any views?

 

MBP13-128gb ssd using VoiceOver to hear the screen, iTunes, Ayre QB-9, McIntosh mx119 & mc207, Thiel CS2.4

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Your assumptions are correct.

 

I too have read the comment from Sonic Studio about a NAS possibly being inferior to a local hard drive. From the few comparisons I've done, I can't say that this is true for my setup -- i.e. I really haven't heard a difference.

 

I've read a lot more comments about how a solid state drive for the operating system makes an audible difference and am planning on upgrading to a MacBook Pro with a SSD. I'm also wanting to do this for more RAM, as my Mac mini is maxed out at 2G and several have opined that more memory improves the sound of Amarra. We'll see...

 

Rance

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You may also want to try a RAM Disk to run both iTunes and Amarra. Silverlight suggested this on another thread (and provided a link). I have tried it out, and it works really well. I found the sound to be a lot warmer and silkier compared to running the programs from the Mac HD (a traditional rotational drive in my case). I have not tested and listened to solid state drives yet, but hope to soon.

 

Sanjay Patel | Ciamara Corporation | New York, NY | www.ciamara.com

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Funny that you should reference that article (which I had not seen before), as I've got a Weiss DAC2 (the 'pro' version of the Minerva) on order from Vintage King Audio. It will be interesting to compare this DAC to the Bryston...

 

Rance

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More interesting comments for Sanjay.

 

The reviewer noticed a large improvement in sound between the two configurations he tested.

 

The best sounding configuration into the Minerva was via Firewire from a computer (Jriver/Windows) - versus the coax S/PDIF ( which is functionally equivalent to AES/EBU minus the 'balanced' aspect). The improvements were "immediate and unambiguous", says the author.

 

Due to inability of his CD Transport to link up with the Minerva via Firewire, the CD Transport was connected via Coax S/PDIF (as mentioned above) for the other configuration under test.

 

Interestingly, the author attributed the reason for the improvements to the difference in inputs on multiple occasions in the article.

 

I was initially thinking, well there are two variables here so maybe he's wrong to attribute the improvements (just) to Firewire. Then I checked his equipment list - the CD Player is an Esoteric, one of the absolute best.

 

BTW, Sanjay, I'm gonna guess that Daniel Weiss is the manufacturer who told you that performance would be identical, no matter the input. :) No disrespect to Daniel, but I've noticed a strong tendency of his to downplay 'audiophile' type emphasis on nuance and subtle differences. He stays away from comments that might even remotely be conferred as 'snake oil', and I commend him for that. He also says that his pro version of the Minerva should sound identical to the DAC2.

 

 

curiouser and curiouser,

 

clay

 

 

PS, it would also be typical for Sonic to emphasize their 'features'.

 

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I am going to install the firewire drivers for the Weiss DAC2 today and play around with it. I will be comparing:

 

1. Mac Pro/Amarra/iTunes > Lynx AES16e > AES/EBU > Weiss DAC2 > Analog Sound System (via XLR connectors).

2. Mac Pro/Amarra/iTunes > Firewire > Weiss DAC2 > Analog Sound System (via XLR connectors).

 

Clearly, there will be no rapid back and forth switching, but honestly, I don't care. I will spend an hour or two with each configuration, listening to material I know well (both redbook and high res). I am interested to see what comes of it. And since we do NOT currently carry Weiss (though if I like what I hear, I may ask to), at least at this stage, you should feel reasonably comfortable that I have no hidden agenda.

 

"curiouser and curiouser" ... ha ha ha! Let's just say I listen to a lot of people, including manufacturers AND users, and I am willing to tinker, test and listen to satisfy my own curiosity. Please bug me for my findings if I forget to post them.

 

Sanjay Patel | Ciamara Corporation | New York, NY | www.ciamara.com

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Great Sanjay ! Can't wait to read your review. :-)

 

If you have a chance, please compare the S/PDIF input as well. I wonder how DAC2's reclocking works on different inputs.

 

I've borrowed the Minerva a while ago. The Firewire input sounded fantastic, but pressing the Minerva's S/PDIF Selector crashed my Vista machine every time (either frozen or blue screen) ! My conclusion was Weiss products are not for Windows !!

 

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Sanjay,

if you get a chance can I sugest another test - try the DACII as alternative AES source for your Lavry DA11 (I assume this is your reference as it's in your .sig).

 

Mac Pro --FireWire--> Weiss DACII --AES/SPDIF--> Lavry DA11

 

The reasoning behind this test is to show if the Lynx AES16 in a MacPro could be replaced by a Weiss Vesta or AFI1 and MacMini via FireWire.

 

Thanking you in advance.

 

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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Sure, I'd be happy to give that a whirl. The Lavry DA11 is our "house" DAC, and it is our recommended component in the under $2500 range. We don't claim to have tested every DAC under this price, but compared to many, we like this one a lot -- so we carry it as a reseller. In the $5000+ range, we are still unsure which one we want to go with ... hence the testing we are doing! Thank you for your suggestion. I think it is a very good one.

 

Sanjay Patel | Ciamara Corporation | New York, NY | www.ciamara.com

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Hi Eloise, I own a Weiss AFI1, and can attest it works well (very good sound). It has two weaknesses IMO. 1) It is an 8-ch pro piece, thus for 2-ch audio leaves unused hardware operating in idle mode, presumably mucking up the power rails somewhat thereby. 2) Its stock power supply is a cheapo switcher. Though stock performance is quite good, I replaced the supply with a Paul Hynes supply for a very nice improvement. Sweet.

 

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I wouldn't expect to hear much of a difference.

 

Differences between AES/EBU and S/PDIF should mostly be related to cabling specs, and not to anything different happening within the Minerva. Actually, any differences in the formats themselves would likely be dwarfed by the differences in the sonic signatures of the cables themselves. Note: there is reported to be significant improvements in sound due to switching cables with both AES & S/PDIF

 

AES/EBU and S/PDIF are both variants of the AES3 specification.

 

For info clarifying the very slight differences in the spec please consult wikipedia.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S/PDIF

"S/PDIF is, for all intents and purposes, a consumer version of the AES/EBU format."

 

 

clay

 

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Thanks for the note, Clay.

 

Many audiophiles believe the AES/EBU link sounds better than S/PDIF, in the consumer environment. Those folks insist to use only AES/EBU in their systems.

 

I don't have a complete chain of AES in my system, no audio lab for testing. :-( I've had a chance to compare the AES and S/PDIF cables in some system and also heard sonic differences. The AES/EBU seemed to make music fuller.

 

I'm on your side, Clay. The AES/EBU and S/PDIF data stream is almost identical. Perhaps, AES/EBU has an additional buffer circuit that may affect the sonic, but the bit-stream going right into the AEB/EBU or S/PDIF receiver must be the same, i.e. the exact copy of the original record, isn't it ?

 

To my knowledge, the only thing that makes them sound different is the jitter level of the input signal. AES/EBU will show its benefit in a noisy environment or over a long distance because it is more noise-resistant than S/PDIF. If the listening room is "clean", then why shouldn't AES/EBU and S/PDIF (of the same cable type) sound the same ?

 

Most of my experience with DACs is non-reclocking ones. Reclocking DAC is one way to overcome jitter of digital audio transmission. So, the sound reproduction wouldn't be affected by the type of the signal connection and the cables. I believe the Weiss Minerva/DAC2 does reclocking for jitter-resistance.

 

If this is true, we may not need to spend $$$ on the cables. Listening tests may confirm this.

 

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