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Starting 2010 with a Clean Slate


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I have a good quality amp and speakers (top line Accuphase integrated and Harbeths) but am looking to take a step forward with my source. Current setup is very modest with ITunes on my PC through a cheap USB cable to Cambridge Dacmagic.


I am actually quite surprised at how good the sound is - competes quite nicely with $5,000 worth of cd player. So even though I have been reading lots for 6 months or so not sure what my next step is. Is it:


1. software based - amarra match for itunes, or something like JRiver to lossless and higher resolution

2. a sound card - just have the native sound card that came with my 3 year old PC (runs XP)

3. is it a new dac or hardware - lots of choices here

4. I have ripped some lossless music so maybe it is my library I need to focus on. Use an unmodded Squeezebox 3 to play this but can't say I see a huge difference


What I have already done three things - maxxed out my RAM, installed a new hard drive for music only, and ditched McAffee which seemed to cause compatibility issues with nearly everything.


Where to next - budget for 2010 is about $3,000?




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I think the two major changes will be a new dac and some software (not necessarily Amarra). If it were me, I would go $2500-$2900 on a nice USB or Firewire dac (Ayre, Weiss, Wavelength, Empirical Audio) and $100-$400 on XXHE/Amarra Mini/Purevinyl/Foobar or whatever sounds best to you.


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Is the new Antelope dac going to be a game changer? Seems like the hardware side of things is moving fast with new standards set in 2009 and new products coming fast and furious for early 2010.


With a PC - what software is recommended. Does anything work on top of Itunes like Amarra? I assume Amarra will work on a PC?




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Hi David,


Amarra is Mac only. On the PC, there is a bunch. In particular for good sound that I know of are memory players like XXHighEnd and CPlay. The latest incarnation of J River Media Center sounds very good also. Foobar 2000 is popular also, but I can't get it to sound as good as the others I've mentioned.


I don't think the new Antelope will be necessarily a game changer, although it does look interesting and it hopefully should fit into a very high tier of performance.


I agree with the poster above, in that you should put most of your money into a DAC rather than software. Listen to a few in your own system if you can swing it. There is lots of good stuff at many price ranges these days.




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I would buy a $3,000.00 power cable. A $3,000.00 power cable is always your best choice, unless you have a $5,000.00 power cable. A $5,000.00 power cable is a better choice unless you have a $10,000.00 power cable. This is common knowledge.


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wow Wot - nice threadstopper. If your info was common knowledge guess you didn't need to tell us.


I really like the Itunes interface - I like to keep things simple. Sounds like Amarra takes it's sound and capability to another level. For software it sounds like I need to upgrade my operating system from xp to windows 7 to take advantage of the more advanced PC based players.


Lots of dacs to check out - will have to do my homework and things seem to be moving fast. And with prices of anything decent starting at $1500+ doesn't sound like much budget left for even one of Wot's cables.




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"Wot" is probably trying to hint (with a wink) at what I am about to suggest to you - that, as you already enjoy the "sound" of your current set-up, and that it works, why not use your budget to either buy some music or make your listening area more conducive to a relaxed listening environment (comfy chair, reduced ambient noise levels etc.)? Either of these is going to make a more significant positive difference to your listening pleasure than a new DAC etc.


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My money would be on room acoustics. For 3k you can almost get a very high end setup. If you haven't read Jim Smith's Get Better Sound go and buy it now and read it. I think its $45. That leaves you 2,955 to spend on a memorabl, once in a lifetime holiday.


Nyal Mellor, Acoustic Frontiers LLC.

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Good advice for sure - in fact same advice my wife gives me all the time - just kick back and enjoy what you have. How much more enjoyment can I get out of $3000 dac than a $400 one. And Itunes is pretty darned easy to use - which is why my kids listen to downloaded music on mp3 players and really aren't much interested in spending their money on hardware or evening paying for cd quality tunes. I like simplicity too - in fact last thing I want is foam glued to my walls or funky resonators carefully placed on the fireplace mantel.


Current system chain


Dell PC with XP (Itunes) to Cambridge Audio Dac to Accuphase E-530 to Harbeth P3esrs with Adept Response power conditioner. Cd player is Accustic Arts Transport to Audio Note 2.1 Dac (no usb). Room is real small - my home office - 11X12.


Will keep reading - thanks for discussion and advice.




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I think you already have a great choice of DAC. Every review has been positive. What the reviewers won't say is how close the Dacmagic gets sonically to some very expensive, high-end units.


It's priced so low because Cambridge Audio sells about 10,000 units/year, so they have amazing economies of scale in addition to low cost automated manufacturing, which they pass on in low prices. If you can live without audiophile bragging rights you have no need to change because a $3k DAC is well into diminishing returns territory.




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You've got a VERY nice system that you're happy with. Along the "non-equipment" lines...go test drive a Stressless recliner by Ekornes. I nearly fell asleep in one at the showroom and promptly ordered one...should be arriving from Norway by April. Dump the rest into new music.


Stop worrying about your system and enjoy it and the music that brought you to this hobby while also discovering new music.




Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

Mac Mini->Roon + Tidal->KEF LS50W

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go test drive a Stressless recliner by Ekornes


This is very, very bad advice. I bought an Ekornes Stressless recliner for my listening room a while back. It led to sitting my butt in front of the system so much that I went out and bought a new DAC. Now the combination is causing weight gain. Don't let this happen to you! Put an exercise bike in your listening room instead.


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