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Very basic advice needed

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First of all, I'd like to say that just by poking around on here, I have to say that this is one of the friendliest and constructive forums I've seen, so kudos for that!


I'm a relatively advanced audiophile who is, unfortunately, pretty computer illiterate. I have a burgeoning CD collection that I've finally admitted would be easier to manage digitally, and as an SACD fan I'm intruiged by hi-rez downloads. My basic, basic question is: what's the best (highest SQ) way to get music off my computer and out of my speakers? (I'm guessing that the headphone output is not ideal.) I've heard talk about needing an external sound card. I have a Dell laptop with a terrabyte of external storage that I've been loading up with Apple Lossless files. My laptop has USB connections and that's it - no digital output. So I'm assuming I need a sound card and a DAC? Also, is a typical DAC like the Benchmark capable of handling hi-rez audio? I've read many articles about hi-rez audio stored on a computer, but no talk of how it's fed to the stereo. Are hi-rez files capable of being handled by iTunes? I'm also curious about Reference Recordings' new HRx discs, though I remain completely clueless as to how one uses them. I apologize for being so naive about this whole new frontier, and embarrassed that despite being only 25 I'm pretty in the dark. Many thanks in advance for any and all feedback.


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Hey win200 - Welcome to Computer Audiophile. You are in the same situation as many of the CA readers. Don't worry about being somewhat computer illiterate, that's what this site is for. Plus, it doesn't take much computer savvy to get your music server up and running. I too am a big fan of SACD and was kind of disappointed that the format never took off. That was a couple years ago and I am over it now. High resolution downloads are better than any SACD I've ever heard. Not all high resolution downloads, but many of them.


There are many ways to get the "best" sound quality by using your computer as the transport. Number one is to use an external DAC via USB, FireWire, SPDIF, AES/EBU etc... Connect this to your computer then connect the DAC with RCA or XLR connections to the rest of your system and your good. Since you use Windows there is more software configuration to do and you'll need to fiddle a little with it for the best bit perfect output. Both Mac & Windows are capable of bit perfect output using any of the methods described above. If you want optical or AES then you'll need another card. If you want USB then you should be all set with your existing USB ports. The external DAC becomes your soundcard bypassing whatever soundcard is in your computer now.


The Benchmark is capable of playing high resolution downloads as are DACs from Wavelength, Empirical Audio, Weiss Engineering, and many others. iTunes is fully capable of playing high resolution. read my HRx review on the front page right now. I was using iTunes on a Mac to play 24 bit / 176.4 high resolution files.


Anyway, let me / us know where you want to take this conversation and we'll help you get there.


Once again welcome to the friendliest forum on the Internet.


Founder of Audiophile Style | My Audio Systems

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Chris, thanks for the welcome and the commentary. That really doesn't seem too hard - computer to DAC, DAC to stereo. Even I can handle that. Is there any sonic advantage to going to the DAC via coax rather than USB? Also, has anyone had any experience with the Squeezebox or Transporter? I've been thinking about the Transporter as an option, as my laptop spends 99% of the time in my office rather than my stereo room, and the wireless option is attractive. If there's a sacrifice of sound quality or an incompatability with hi-rez audio, then forget it.


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I'm also curious about Musical Fidelity's X-DACv8, and how that would compare to the Benchmark. Also, I've been thinking of upgrading my CD player from a Cambridge Audio 640c to an 840c... if I get a nice DAC, would just be superfluous?


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Hi win200 - The sonic differences between coax and USB vary between every DAC. You are a lot more likely to find USB ports on a computer than a coax output. Quality all depends on implementation.


I actually have a modified Squeezebox from Bolder Cable in for review right now. I haven't had much time with it yet, so I'll withhold my opinion. I have heard from reliable sources that the sonic difference between the Transporter & the Squeezebox is extremely minimal. The Transporter does support 24/96 though. You won't get 24/176.4 or 24/192 from a wireless device right now unfortunately.


So far wireless audio does not thrill me. Hopefully the Bolder Cable mod will improve the Squeezebox dramatically.


Founder of Audiophile Style | My Audio Systems

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I haven't heard the X-DACv8 so I can't comment on the sound. I do know that the Benchmark supports 24/96 via USB and the X-DACv8 does not.


I would not upgrade any CD player right now. In fact I will never buy another CD player. You have to spend incredible amounts of money to get the kind of performance that makes CD players worthy. Think Naim CD555 for around $30k or a nice dCS system for two or three times that!


Founder of Audiophile Style | My Audio Systems

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Well, seeing as though I don't have $30-90k sitting around right now to sink into a CD player, maybe I'll concentrate on a computer-based system. Given that wireless doesn't support 24/196, I'll forgo that for the moment. I'm willing to be inconvenienced in order to experience the best sound possible. I take it that the Benchmark DAC1 handles 24/196 via coax?


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