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How To Connect! The Absolute Best Way!


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I have a very good sterio system and a home netwook with some Macs. I am planing to buy a high quality DAC but before doing so I wanted to try to get some questions answered having to do with the best way to get music from the hard drive into the DAC.

 

Yes, I think that I know the common ways to do this but I am really looking for the best way to get ripped CD's as well as higher quality wav files into the stereo system with a minimum of coloration from the computer and associated equipment.

 

I have seen some comments about the data from the USB port not being as good as other data sources, but my understanding is that the USB data bypasses the computer sound card so this would seem to be a good match for my intentions of using a system that has a minimum of coloration from the computer. I know that the toslink is optical but my understanding is that this data comes from the computer sound card and it doesn't make sense to me to have a $100 component in a chain of multi thousand dollar bits. The DAC I am considering has multiple inputs, RCA, BNC, XLR, TOSLINK and Glas ST (which I am not familiar with). In the absence of any other information I would probably use the little Bel Canto USB unit but I would very much appreciate any information you could offer regarding the best "Audiophile" method.

 

Thanks

 

RR

 

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Hi RR - There isn't one interface that is categorically better than all the rest. It really comes down to implementation. It's entirely possible to design a component that has a better TosLink interface than USB interface and it's entirely possible to design a component that has a better USB interface than TosLink interface.

 

I think all to often we get into a mindset that rules in or out certain interfaces because traditionally the interfaces have inferior measurements or the traditional magazines often refer to certain interfaces as less than desirable.

 

Since you're going to use a computer I suggest figuring out what the possible interfaces are for you're specific computer model. Is it even possible to use an Optical ST connection coming from a computer? The answer to this question may rule in or out one possibility.

 

I use an AES/EBU connection between most of my music servers and my DACs. A Lynx AES16 or AES16e card is my current standard. I also use USB, TosLink, BNC, and Coaxial S/PDIF (RCA).

 

 

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A PC fitted with a Sonoma card will output ST-optical.

 

As Chris says, each interface can be the best at any given moment and setup. It just all depends on what you want to spend. You can spend upwards of $40k for a MADI2 / DAD AX24 setup, or less than $2k for a very good AES/EBU / Lavry setup.

 

 

Regards,

 

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If you've selecte the DAC your using thaa the first part of the battle. With the otions you have, you'll (probably) get best results with AES3 (XLR) input.

 

Assuming you have the budget, the two main options that I have identified is either a MacPro (or PC) with a Lynx AES16e card (or a s/h G5 with the AES16) or to use a MacBook or MacMini with a Weiss interface. With the Lynx you have the interface that is considered the best, but in a potentially noisy tower MacPro (though there are ways round this); with the Weiss you have less renowned (though still very good) interface, but the computer is virtually noiseless and a lot smaller.

 

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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I appreciate all of these responses very much.

 

Could anyone comment on where, in the computer information path from hard drive to port, the USB and Optical ports obtain the signals? I have been told that in the case of USB, the information bypasses the computer sound card which, if true, seems to make more sense to use when a high quality DAC is being used because then there are less items in the information path that can affect the information being transferred.

 

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The short answer is that (if I understand your question correctly) none of your options send information via the sound card. Your playback software takes the data from the hard disk and transfers it to the port, whether that port is usb, optical or other. They are all digital ports. As stated above they're not all equal but the differences are more down to different manufacturer's implementations and what options are available on your computer, it's not easy to state that any one is superior to the others in every possible scenario.

 

What DAC do you have in mind, and what is the rest of your system? It might well be that someone on the forum has some experience of a similar setup and can give more specific advice or comments: There's a very wide range of systems / budgets in use amongst forum members, from well below four figures to well above five figures.

 

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OK, now Dumb Question:

 

If the data stream for sound goes from the hard drive directly to the exit port, the (USB or Optical) as someone said earlier in this thread, and if the system contemplates a high end DAC like the MBL, then what is the sound card for?

 

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I think roccoriley is asking what are benefits of using the Lynx card. I don't know much about them myself so can't comment.

 

(The terminology is a little confusing since the lynx card in question is often called a sound card but doesn't output analog sound)

 

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Hello Eloise,

I've just bought a S/H G5 (Summer 2006) and I'm a bit worried about the fan noise since the tower is going to be in my dedicated music room (25 sq.m; celing at 3m25).

You say: "in a potentially noisy tower MacPro (though there are ways round this)".

What's your advice?

Thanks,

Tube06

 

-----------------------------

G5 (replaces Jadis JD1 Mk2) possibly with Native Instruments DJ DAC (to replace Jadis JS1 Mk3 DAC!) --- Jadis Pre and Amps --- Genesis II.5's --- Kimber galore

 

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I think Chris uses a sound deadening case ... sorry don't recall details.

 

Or (if using AES3) you could use a long cable and put the computer external to the listening room.

 

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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"...then what is the sound card for?"

 

The Lynx card (or something similar) is required for use of 'legacy' DAC interfaces, i.e. AES/EBU, coax S/PDIF. 'Legacy' stems from the use of these interfaces despite the fact that no computers have native AES/EBU or Coax S/PDIF interfaces, these being a legacy of transport-to-DAC connectivity.

 

There's a fly in the ointment with respect to computer audiophilia, namely that computers typically have 3 (of the four major) interfaces for connecting to DACs, but audiophile DAC manufacturers have concentrated for years on the S/PDIF variants, the fourth type, and for this reason a significant number of audiophile-approved DACs cannot connect directly (i.e. without separate card) to computers other than via Toslink.

 

This is further complicated by the lack of all but a few USB DACs utilizing asynchronous USB, and by the fact that many of the USB inputs on audiophile DACs are add-ons/after-thoughts, and are often NOT the best sounding input on the DAC.

 

Toslink and non-async USB are not bad sounding per se, but are found by most to be lacking in ultimate sound quality as compared to high quality DACs that feature AES/EBU, Coax S/PDIF, Asynchronous USB and Firewire.

 

Back to your original question, the Lynx card ($700) is the 'de riguer' recommendation for connecting computers to DACs which sound best via AES/EBU, which is the theoretically best sounding interface on most 'legacy' DACs. Async USB and Firewire and the other theoretically best sounding interfaces.

 

Async USB and Firewire DACs connect directly to the USB or Firewire ports of the computer. As computers don't have S/PDIF 'ports' (except in the event os custom motherboards) a card such as Lynx is required for making the connection. The Lynx card also offers improved clock synchronization, which is necessary for S/PDIF variants as DACs with this interface all use the source (i.e. computer) clock as master. Firewire and Async USB do not require special clock handling on their outputs as they each use the clock in the DAC as master clock, which is theoretically a better approach, although as dCS has proven - and as Chris has stated - any approach can be implemented in a manner that will sound great. :)

 

So, there you have it, a condensed brain dump on 'how to connect - the absolute best way'. We all have our favorite 'ways'. Mine is via Firewire.

 

enjoy,

clay

 

 

 

 

 

 

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So Cris, a sound card is not necessary. But is it beneficial to the overall sound quality? Would you recommend having a good sound card?

 

Thanks in advance, Renerator

 

Oyen Digital Mini-Pro 1TB HDD->Wireworld Starlight USB cable->Auraliti PK90->W4Sound USB cable>SOtM dx-USB HD USB to SPDIF Conv.-> Black Cat SilverStar 75 digital cable->Wyred4Sound Dac2->Cardas Quadlink XLR balanced cables->Anthem 225 integrated amp->Straightwire Rhapsody S->PSB Imagine T speakers

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It depends what you are trying to connect to your computer Renerator.

 

If you are using a DAC with a USB or FireWire interface, then you don't need any additional sound card.

 

If the DAC you want to connect uses AES3 (XLR) connections, then you will need a card to provide this form of interface. Many people will refer to this as a sound (or audio) card, as it provides an audio interface (though digital not analogue as a typical "SoundBlaster" sound card provides).

 

If you wish to connect a DAC using TOSLink or Coax SPDIF, then you may or may not require a sound card. Some computer (motherboards) provide TOSLink and/or Coax SPDIF, where as others provide no digital interface. Also a good soundcard may give better results (lower jitter, etc) via SPDIF than an inbuilt connection provides.

 

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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It really depends on the DAC ...

 

If I had a Weiss DAC2 (for example) then I would use the Mac's firewire port.

If I had a Chord QBC76, then I'd be looking at using a Lynx (or similar) card.

 

There really is no absolute answer.

 

If you choose the MBL DAC, then your best bet is either Mac Pro and Lynx. The alternative (if you wish to avoid the MacPro because of size/noise) is a MacMini or MacBook Pro and a Weiss AFI1. In the second case the AFI1 is the equivalent of the Lynx card - but connected externally via FireWire rather than internally to PCI bus.

 

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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Vesta vs AFI1 is down to price (Vesta is more IIRC); functionality (8 channel in AFI1 vs 2 channel and appearence (AFI1 more industrial). Sound quality should be pretty identical.

 

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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