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Advice for a newbie migrating to digital


rhimbo

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Hello everyone,

 

I am a beginner in the world of digital audio. I thought I'd post this question here as the DAC forum seems to have a deeper level of detailed discussions. But please feel free to direct me to another forum if appropriate.

 

I would like to have some basic ability to do DAC in order to play music on my "legacy" Carver system. My goal is to move to audiophile digital, but I want to do my homework and not jump in to the world of digital uneducated or uninformed. Until that time, I'd like to be able to do the following:

 

- Play my CDs without having to buy a new CD player (my old Carver SD/A 360 CD player died recently).

- Play music from digital sources from the Internet

 

I have the following:

 

- An Apple SuperDrive (Blu-ray/DVD/CD external drive).

- Carver TFM-15CB amp and CT-23 pre-amp

- Acoustic Research AR-9 loudspeakers (yes, that's right, original owner, ORIGINAL model AR-9s from the '70s).

 

Many thanks for any discussion, advice, direction and so forth....

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Well, you will need a DAC. I would say one with a USB input. You will need a computer. Do you have one and do you prefer Linux, Mac or Windows?

 

Here is a for instance possibility. A Mac Mini, which could use your Apple Superdrive for CD's played to a DAC via USB. Then the output of the DAC goes into the pre-amp of the rest of your system. In time you may wish to rip your CD's to digital files on a hard drive. Your superdrive would be fine for doing that.

 

Another possibility is a streamer appliance, and using Tidal for streaming full CD quality audio. Don't use your own music, but have access to millions of songs. Others can provide better advice on streamers than I can. You might read the article on the main page about the Chrome Cast Audio which will let you get your feet wet for $35. Probably money well spent just to learn where you might wish to head for the next step into the digital world.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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Hi,

 

Sorry, I forgot to say that I use an older Mac Book Pro (early 2008), running El Capitan, OS X 10.11.2. (I do like Linux too and will probably get a second, Linux system). Currently, I have some CDs (mostly my classical stuff) imported into iTunes (not my favorite program but it works for now).

 

Also, for context, I should have said that I'm looking for the best quality sound I can get. I know some might say my Carver system is not in the top echelon of audio electronics. But it's quite good and not the limiting factor. I'd like a DAC that presents quality at a level at least as good as what the Carver can produce. Later, when I go full digital, I'll replace with audiophile grade system components. And the AR-9s, well, they speak for themselves....

 

Would I input the digitally encoded music file directly into the DAC? I guess that programs such as iTunes don't do this but output an analog signal only, correct? So I need a DAC appliance (hardware and software), right? Or, do I install DAC software on my computer which would read the digital music file from my CD or hard disk?

 

I am presuming that a lot of research is needed to pick compatible components in the digital world. I have read articles that talk about how DAC software or appliances use widely varying algorithms for decoding that produce very different sounding music (from the same source). Although theoretically not necessary, I'm surmising that matching the DAC with the pre-amp and amp might be a good idea. Thus, for now, I should go with something that simply gives me the quality I want until I can get a proper full system. Is my thinking on the right track...?

 

In that context, do you have any suggestions for specific DAC products that would be suitable? I'll look at Tidal as you suggested, esldude. I'll also look at Chrome Cast Audio. I did read a review recently that said they increased the sample rate that Chrome Cast is able to play.

 

Many thanks....

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Would I input the digitally encoded music file directly into the DAC? I guess that programs such as iTunes don't do this but output an analog signal only, correct? So I need a DAC appliance (hardware and software), right? Or, do I install DAC software on my computer which would read the digital music file from my CD or hard disk?

 

Keeping it really simple for now, the DAC (digital-to-analog converter) would hook up to your MacBook Pro via USB and then would hook up to your pre-amp via RCA cables. There is specialized "audiophile-grade" software available to play back your music — and it's very helpful if you want to play back "high-res" material (i.e., better than CD quality — but for now, it might be best to start with iTunes, since that's free and it's probably already on your MacBook Pro. iTunes would allow you to play back either CD's from your SuperDrive or music files that you've digitized ("ripped") from CD's or downloaded and that are stored on your hard drive. (You'd need additional software for Tidal, but it comes free with the Tidal subscription.) As long as you're playing CD (or lesser) quality material, iTunes will do the job pretty well. You can also use iTunes to rip your CD's. (There's also specialized ripping software, but you could save that for later.)

 

I am presuming that a lot of research is needed to pick compatible components in the digital world. I have read articles that talk about how DAC software or appliances use widely varying algorithms for decoding that produce very different sounding music (from the same source). Although theoretically not necessary, I'm surmising that matching the DAC with the pre-amp and amp might be a good idea. Thus, for now, I should go with something that simply gives me the quality I want until I can get a proper full system. Is my thinking on the right track...?

 

Yes, since you're just now sticking your toe in the water, it's probably best to get an inexpensive DAC and move on from there gradually, as you get more of an idea of how far you want to go. (The research can go on forever. If you enjoy it, great; if not, don't let it take over your spare time.)

 

In that context, do you have any suggestions for specific DAC products that would be suitable?

 

If you can provide an acceptable price range, I think you'll get a lot of good suggestions. As a starting point, there are DACs available for under $200 that would serve your current needs pretty well, I think. Here are two of them:

 

iFi Nano iDSD DAC at Music Direct

Audioquest DragonFly v1.2 USB DAC at Music Direct

 

For no money beyond the cost of the cable, you can use the MBP's built-in DAC. In this case, here's the kind of cable you'd need:

 

3ft Premium 3.5mm Stereo Male to 2RCA Male 22AWG Cable (Gold Plated) - Black - Monoprice.com

 

(You can spend as much as you want on any digital or audio cable, but it might be best to start out fairly cheap.)

 

--David

Listening Room: Mac mini (Roon Core) > iMac (HQP) > exaSound PlayPoint (as NAA) > exaSound e32 > W4S STP-SE > Benchmark AHB2 > Wilson Sophia Series 2 (Details)

Office: Mac Pro >  AudioQuest DragonFly Red > JBL LSR305

Mobile: iPhone 6S > AudioQuest DragonFly Black > JH Audio JH5

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You could rip your CDs with DBPowerAmp or similar software to your computer, a USB disk or a NAS and get an 'Auralic Aries mini'.

 

That would give you a great digital setup and you wouldn't need your CD player. Later you could add a DAC if you wanted more digital sources or upgrade the sound.

 

Aries Mini does most if not all of what you are asking for, it's very high quality for the price.

Source:

*Aurender N100 (no internal disk : LAN optically isolated via FMC with *LPS) > DIY 5cm USB link (5v rail removed / ground lift switch - split for *LPS) > Intona Industrial (injected *LPS / internally shielded with copper tape) > DIY 5cm USB link (5v rail removed / ground lift switch) > W4S Recovery (*LPS) > DIY 2cm USB adaptor (5v rail removed / ground lift switch) > *Auralic VEGA (EXACT : balanced)

 

Control:

*Jeff Rowland CAPRI S2 (balanced)

 

Playback:

2 x Revel B15a subs (balanced) > ATC SCM 50 ASL (balanced - 80Hz HPF from subs)

 

Misc:

*Via Power Inspired AG1500 AC Regenerator

LPS: 3 x Swagman Lab Audiophile Signature Edition (W4S, Intona & FMC)

Storage: QNAP TS-253Pro 2x 3Tb, 8Gb RAM

Cables: DIY heavy gauge solid silver (balanced)

Mains: dedicated distribution board with 5 x 2 socket ring mains, all mains cables: Mark Grant Black Series DSP 2.5 Dual Screen

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That is a pretty easy start my friend - at least, it can be. Here is my suggestion list. :)

 

Assuming you have less than 2500 CD's to RIP, purchase two 1TB external USB drives. (Suggestion: http://www.amazon.com/White-Passport-Ultra-Portable-External/dp/B00XREKJRK/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1452799468&sr=8-9&keywords=1TB+external+USB+Drive )

 

Hook one up to your Macbook, along with your Superdrive.

 

Use iTunes to RIP all the CD's to AIFF format files. (Alternative, download X Lossless Decoder: Lossless audio decoder for Mac OS X - XLD. This allows you a lot more options when ripping your CDs, and makes editing the MetaData pretty simple too.)

 

Attach the second USB drive and copy all your media files (the ripped CDs) to the second drive. Then eject and detach the second drive. Do this on a regular basis!

 

Purchase one of the low end DACs that still sound fantastic. AudioQuest DragonFly is a very good choice. Attach to your Macbook. (You can do this first, iTunes will also play your CDs without ripping them first, but RIP at least a few of them. :)

 

Attach analog output of DAC to your CT-23.

 

Play music. Be sure to set iTunes to be "bit perfect." (On your MacBook, set Audio-Midi to 16/44.1 Stereo playback, and in iTunes, set the software volume to MAX. Set the MacBook volume for the DAC to MAX as well.)

 

If you have an iPhone or iPad, load the Apple Remote.app on it, and enjoy "computer free" music playback.

 

From there, you can take it as far as you want, but that is a very good, cheap, and easy way to start. :)

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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Hi Rhimbo,

 

Good advice so far - IMO you learn best when you actually get started as it is really easy to get overwhelmed and confused. My thoughts on options put forward so far will depend how you will listen to your music and your IT skills.

 

Computer Playback

 

Simply follow the advise above and purchase an inexpensive US$200 USB type DAC plugged into your existing equipment that can be relegated to a second system when you learn more about how you want to play your music and what sound you like. This way you will be listening to music while you research and you can play around with things as you read the endless threads on how to tweak your computer for better sound.

 

The playback software you choose will obviously have a big bearing on ease of use and consequently your initial enjoyment. I play from a Macbook Air and have always used iTunes for database management for my music with a more sophisticated playback software actually playing the files, which is called Audirvana, as this automatically changes the sample rates if you want to download and play hi-res material (iTunes does not). It also provides better sound quality. US$75

 

Audirvana Plus | The Sound of your Dreams

 

Alternatively I would look at a brand new software package called Roon (refer to the 2 reviews on the home page of CA) as it provides a very user friendly user interface and integrates your local files (CDs that you have ripped onto an external hard drive) with Tidal (a subscription service with files located in the cloud and streamed to your computer). It has been very well received here at CA. US$119 annual subscription.

 

https://roonlabs.com

 

The various software packages give free trial periods of around 2 weeks.

 

Stand Alone Playback

 

If computing is not your bag then I would support r_w's advice above and purchase an Auralic Mini. I have just set one up and can vouch for its ease of use and sound quality.

 

The Auralic Mini is a stand alone player with a built in DAC and will play files from an external (or internal hard drive) as well as stream from the internet. The manufacture has just released an app for the iPhone (and iPad) called Lighting DS, which is free and controls the setup and playback process. Certainly worth a look. Check out the web site and the threads here at CA under networking. US$549 plus HD.

 

Note that you will still need to rip your CDs to a hard drive and iTunes (free) will do this for you - make sure you set up the correct lossless ripping format as follows - preferences > general > import settings > select AIFF from dropdown - automatic - with error correction checked

 

AURALiC

 

Good Luck

 

Ajax

LOUNGE: Mac Mini - Audirvana - Devialet 200 - ATOHM GT1 Speakers

OFFICE : Mac Mini - Audirvana - Benchmark DAC1HDR - ADAM A7 Active Monitors

TRAVEL : MacBook Air - Dragonfly V1.2 DAC - Sennheiser HD 650

BEACH : iPhone 6 - HRT iStreamer DAC - Akimate Micro + powered speakers

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