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Always wondered this...and hope it's not a dumb question....with a computer-based music setup (running something like JRiver), which component makes the ultimate greatest difference to sound quality, and so where in the chain should the big bucks be spent?

 

  • on the DAC
  • on the amp for speakers / pre-amp for studio monitors
  • on the speakers / studio monitors

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Speakers (and room correction).

 

To a first approximation, DACs sound quite similar. (Some people maintain they all sound the same). Unless it is built intentionally to add coloration, a good amp should be neutral gain.


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Do facts matter?

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Just like in the analogue world there are many people who believe in source first (garbage in, garbage out) and many who believe in taking care of the speakers first and foremost. I'm with Mr. Scott .. spend the big bucks on loudspeakers.

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In decreasing order of importance:

- speakers / speakers-room interaction

- amp (but amp-speakers matching can sometimes be quite important)

- DAC

- cables (sorry 'all cables sound the same' fraction..I couldn't resist)

 

As for 'sounding the same' - two (old, cheap DVD players from Pioneer and Yamaha playing CDs) of hundreds of devices I compared sonically did sound the same to me.

Other two devices being identical inside (Marantz vs Philips) didn't. The Marantz sounded superior. :)


The man that hath no music in himself, nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils. The motions of his spirit are dull as night, and his affections dark as Erebus. Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.

                                                                          ―  William Shakespeare.

 

 

 

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None of all the above (including the responses).

 

Spend time on these instead as they are fundamental and necessary for you to actually be able to hear the gear:

 

1. Clean Power and Ground isolation (removing ground loops, also leakage currents

 

2. Room Diagnosis and acoustic, organic room treatment (use REW and DIY solutions there). Don't rush straight away into using a DSP or EQ is what 'acoustic, organic' means here.

 

3. Vibration isolation, especially of the seismic type (ball-and-cup arrangements), and also, remember to couple it with your AC cleanup solution

 

And the Zeroth Law: Hone your listening skills - some of it must also be learned.

 

Only then can you bother with the rest (i.e. you can start with very modest means or gear for an initial set of gear)

 

When using a pre-amp or Class A/SET Tube Amp, pay particular attention to the power supplies of those.

 

Additionally, you'd be surprised what clean power can do for DACs (not all, but I'd say most budget ones).


Dedicated Line DSD/DXD | Audirvana+ | iFi iDSD Nano | SET Tube Amp | Totem Mites

Surround: VLC | M-Audio FastTrack Pro | Mac Opt | Panasonic SA-HE100 | Logitech Z623

DIY: SET Tube Amp | Low-Noise Linear Regulated Power Supply | USB, Power, Speaker Cables | Speaker Stands | Acoustic Panels

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And the Zeroth Law: Hone your listening skills - some of it must also be learned.

.

Agreed in 100%.

The man that hath no music in himself, nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils. The motions of his spirit are dull as night, and his affections dark as Erebus. Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.

                                                                          ―  William Shakespeare.

 

 

 

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Agree with speakers and room treatment first.

 

Disagree about neutrality of amps, each adds its own flavor, not many are neutral. They do make a huge contribution to the sound. My Pass amp is a good example, certainly has its own sound. My Nord monoblocks are very neutral. Night and day difference. But I'll take the Pass over the others.

 

These will have far more discernable effects than tweaky things like power and isolation. Get the components right first, then fine tune with these other things.

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Always wondered this...and hope it's not a dumb question....with a computer-based music setup (running something like JRiver), which component makes the ultimate greatest difference to sound quality, and so where in the chain should the big bucks be spent?

 

  • on the DAC
  • on the amp for speakers / pre-amp for studio monitors
  • on the speakers / studio monitors

 

This is a trick question. IMO the answer is none of the above. You are building a "system" and I think there are plenty of excellent choices so you don't waste money doing it by trial and error. Let the engineer put all of the pieces together, plug in your PC and done. (You should still do everything in post 7:))

 

For example:

 

https://www.amazon.com/Klipsch-R-15PM-Powered-Monitor-Black/dp/B01A7J534G/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1483057554&sr=8-1&keywords=klipsch+powered+speakers

 

https://www.amazon.com/Vanatoo-Transparent-One-Powered-Speakers/dp/B0080K2KUK/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1483057689&sr=8-3&keywords=vanatoo+powered+speakers

 

https://www.amazon.com/KEF-LS50-Wireless-Speaker-Copper/dp/B01M65KZ5Q/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1483057748&sr=8-2&keywords=kef+ls+50+speakers

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In decreasing order of importance:

- speakers / speakers-room interaction

- amp (but amp-speakers matching can sometimes be quite important)

- DAC

- cables (sorry 'all cables sound the same' fraction..I couldn't resist)

 

As for 'sounding the same' - two (old, cheap DVD players from Pioneer and Yamaha playing CDs) of hundreds of devices I compared sonically did sound the same to me.

Other two devices being identical inside (Marantz vs Philips) didn't. The Marantz sounded superior. :)

 

Agree except one thing is left out - better source material (from a better recording or re-mastering) and it would go in 2nd place.

 

re amps - they need to be able to drive the speakers without going into clipping - at moderate levels that won't be a problem with the possible exception of electrostatic speakers

 

money should go into speakers first, no matter the system aspects of things (there are tons of very good amps, preamps, recievers floating around used - see the Marantz thread)


"The overwhelming majority [of audiophiles] have very little knowledge, if any, about the most basic principles and operating characteristics of audio equipment. They often base their purchasing decisions on hearsay, and the preaching of media sages. Unfortunately, because of commercial considerations, much information is rooted in increasing revenue, not in assisting the audiophile. It seems as if the only requirements for becoming an "authority" in the world of audio is a keyboard."

-- Bruce Rozenblit of Transcendent Sound

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I'd research speakers and try to narrow it down to fits your listening taste and build from there. I rebuilt some DQ-10s and they will be the final speakers I'll ever buy. Some would probably say they are dated junk, but when you have the speakers you'll at least know their sensitivity and watts requirements for amp (s).

 

Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-G935A using Computer Audiophile mobile app


Dahlquist DQ-10 Speakers DQ-LP1 crossover 2 DW-1 Subs

Dynaco Mk III Mains - Rotel 991 Subs

Wyred W4S Pre Gustard X10 DAC

SOtM dx-USB-HD reclocked SOtMmBPS-d2s

Intel Thin-mini ITX

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Here is another vote for speakers first.

 

Though after that my remaining priority list changes from some of the others listed:

 

1. Speaker

2. Amps

3. PreAmp

4. Speaker Wire

5. DAC Last

 

IME, items 1 & 2 above should be pretty close together in terms of quality/cost followed quickly by the PreAmp which should not be very far behind the Amp.

 

Item #4 shouldnt be too far behind either since it is after all the medium that connects item 1&2 together.

 

I'll have to disagree with those who said that the amps don't play much of a roll in the resulting SQ. In my case, it wasn't until the gap in quality between the Amps/Speaker/Speaker Wires closed significantly that all the magic started to happen or make itself known.

 

In terms of the DAC, its plays a huge role as well but in this contest I find its contributions to be the least significant of the bunch. That's not to say you can go slumming for DAC's but in this day and age it would be the last place I would look for major improvements assuming we are at least talking about a component that is competently made :)

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I'd have to agree with others that speakers are pretty much the core of a system. They're very much a matter of personal taste, your room size and your listening habits. I fell in love with ProAcs decades ago and haven't had the urge to upgrade. They've faithfully tracked the other upgrades in my system. Sample some trusted brands if you can.

 

Amplifiers can match your budget. There are very good, musical ones across all price ranges.

 

As for DACs, I recently had to send my beloved Arcam irDAC away for repairs. I bought a little iFi Nano iDSD from Amazon to fill the gap while it's gone, and I have to say that, while it's not as rich and full as the Arcam, it's extremely musical and I haven't any complaints about it. It's playing some lovely music right now. I had to remind myself that it only cost $130. ;-)

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Where in the chain should the big bucks be spent?

 

You could go for a traditional rule of thumb: spend roughly the same for each unit but twice as much on the speakers. But it does depend on your goals (Is this for the living room or the computer desk? Are you planning continuous upgrades or will this system be your dream system? Etc.). For near-field listening, I think you can get away with spending a smaller proportion on the amp and speakers. I think the matching of the speakers with the amp is more important than the specific proportion of dollars spent on each.

As for how much to spend on the DAC - it can and should very according to your tastes -- if a $200 DAC makes you happy, why spend more? OTH, you could get a $1,000-$2,000 and still go cheap with the speakers and amp for near-field (could even use relatively inexpensive active speakers). Of course, certain extremes will make no sense, like spending tens of thousands on amp and DAC and getting really cheap speakers. or vice versa. To start, you may look at others' setup, within your planned budget range. Always audition the equipment before buying, if possible.

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I bought a little iFi Nano iDSD from Amazon to fill the gap while it's gone, and I have to say that, while it's not as rich and full as the Arcam, it's extremely musical and I haven't any complaints about it. It's playing some lovely music right now. I had to remind myself that it only cost $130. ;-)

 

Is it the LE version? Not sure how the Pocket Rocket is constructed but if it's anything like its elder brother the iDSD Nano, you should really hear it with clean power (linear PSU) and a ground isolation.


Dedicated Line DSD/DXD | Audirvana+ | iFi iDSD Nano | SET Tube Amp | Totem Mites

Surround: VLC | M-Audio FastTrack Pro | Mac Opt | Panasonic SA-HE100 | Logitech Z623

DIY: SET Tube Amp | Low-Noise Linear Regulated Power Supply | USB, Power, Speaker Cables | Speaker Stands | Acoustic Panels

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Always wondered this...and hope it's not a dumb question....with a computer-based music setup (running something like JRiver), which component makes the ultimate greatest difference to sound quality, and so where in the chain should the big bucks be spent?

 

  • on the DAC
  • on the amp for speakers / pre-amp for studio monitors
  • on the speakers / studio monitors

Recently we had a topic about this: http://www.computeraudiophile.com/f8-general-forum/budget-allocation-best-sq-30129/

 

In my opinion you should consider investing roughly half of your budget on the speakers if they're passive and perhaps two-thirds to three-fourths if they're active but the overall proportions depend on how much you are spending.

Cables shouldn't cost more than a lunch for two.

 

R


"Science draws the wave, poetry fills it with water" Teixeira de Pascoaes

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Is it the LE version? Not sure how the Pocket Rocket is constructed but if it's anything like its elder brother the iDSD Nano, you should really hear it with clean power (linear PSU) and a ground isolation.

 

Don't want to get too off topic, but it's the "le Portable" version without the coax output. I *can* disconnect the ground, and have thought about adding an LPS. It's not quite clear to me when it's operating on battery and when it's not. If I disconnect the ground will it still power from the USB port? That's how I'm using it now. I'm so impressed I'm thinking of buying a Micro, which a digital guru I know thinks is one of the best DACs out there.

May you could PM me and I could pick your brain more about it. I was actually encouraged to but it by reading your recent post about it. :-)

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I *can* disconnect the ground, and have thought about adding an LPS. It's not quite clear to me when it's operating on battery and when it's not. If I disconnect the ground will it still power from the USB port? That's how I'm using it now. I'm so impressed I'm thinking of buying a Micro, which a digital guru I know thinks is one of the best DACs out there.

May you could PM me and I could pick your brain more about it. I was actually encouraged to but it by reading your recent post about it. :-)

LPS is a must (or full battery). iFi recommended the iDefender for clean power injection with the Nano (I've built my own low-noise USB connection, together with my own Low-Noise Linear Power Supply).

 

The Nano runs on battery if you disconnect it from the cable, then turn it on, then re-connect the cable. The autonomy for powering the USB receiver and the analog portion isn't very high with high-res and high volume though.

 

There's an enhanced version of the Micro - it's the Black Label or something like that.


Dedicated Line DSD/DXD | Audirvana+ | iFi iDSD Nano | SET Tube Amp | Totem Mites

Surround: VLC | M-Audio FastTrack Pro | Mac Opt | Panasonic SA-HE100 | Logitech Z623

DIY: SET Tube Amp | Low-Noise Linear Regulated Power Supply | USB, Power, Speaker Cables | Speaker Stands | Acoustic Panels

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Always wondered this...and hope it's not a dumb question....with a music setup, which component makes the ultimate greatest difference to sound quality, and so where in the chain should the big bucks be spent?

 

  • on the DAC
  • on the amp for speakers / pre-amp for studio monitors
  • on the speakers / studio monitors

 

 

  • Speakers for two reasons, 1. only you can chose which presentation type [speaker] best suits your listening preferences and best compliments your accompanying components. 2. regardless of the quality of your front end it will always be limited by the quality of your transducers.

 

 

 

  • System-matching your components to best suit your listener preferences is critical to long term satisfaction. Nothing beats having a good ear and knowing yourself.
     
     
     
     
     
    I'm partial to tube amplification, especially SET, so that would be the next area *I* would focus. A great amp with carefully chosen tubes. An area that is overlooked I found critical is power supply noise reduction. Digital has come a long way from "perfect sound forever" and its possible to get a really nice DAC without allocating a large chunk of your budget.
     
     
     
    Here's the breakdown of my 9k system budget...
     
     
     
    Speakers 40%
     
    Amp 18% *
     
    Power Supply 18%
     
    Umbilicals 7%
     
    Vacuum Tubes 6%
     
    Digital 5%
     
    Room Correction 4%
     
    Accessories 2%

 

 

 

 

* Amp was purchased direct from manufacturer.


 

Silverline Sonatina < Moth Audio s45 SET < Shunyata Hydra < PS Audio UO < i-Fi SPDIF iPurifier < Schiit Modi Multibit < Chromecast Audio

 

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Every room is different. Saying speakers should come at the greatest expense is technically right, but chance favors the prepared mind.

 

Should you find that time equals money I'd say that intelligent decision making is where the biggest effect on SQ will shine through. Education in a very data heavy market, coming to grasps with acoustics in your chosen space, rudimentary understanding of the electrical limitations in your house, and the all important cohesion of your equipment as a working unit. All of which are facts proven at multiple shows every year when a handpicked selection of high end equipment doesn't sound right in the room they are using.

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This is interesting but sometime great components are priced LOWER than the competition which throws any type of budgeting formula out the window. My Paraound Zdac costs like $400 and has been compared favorably to Dacs costing $5K.

 

"Based on its overachieving performance, especially in its tonal richness/timbres and 3D imaging, the Zdac competes with DACs that are really priced around $3,000 to $5,000."

http://hometheaterreview.com/parasound-zdac-192khz-digital-to-analog-converter/

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This is interesting but sometime great components are priced LOWER than the competition which throws any type of budgeting formula out the window. My Paraound Zdac costs like $400 and has been compared favorably to Dacs costing $5K.

 

"Based on its overachieving performance, especially in its tonal richness/timbres and 3D imaging, the Zdac competes with DACs that are really priced around $3,000 to $5,000."

Parasound Zdac 192kHz Digital-to-Analog Converter

This is especially true of DACS and streamers, since they have not reached a level of maturity (i.e. they are continually evolving) like other components.

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