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Music Server/streamer vs the best cd players

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Hi all,

Newb here, I have been reading various forums and this forum is great; similar path to where I am thinking of going to (a computer based system). I have been trying to find an answer to this question, whether music server/streamer (with DAC; like bryston or alpha) is better than the best cd player? I have read a few forums (including here) and people still have a cd player in their system which begs the question, can an expensive cd player beat a music server/stream system with DAC (bryston/alpha)?

I am thinking that since a transport purpose is to output bit perfect data, then the only thing that can improve sound from a bit perfect output is the DAC, right?


Thank you


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Yes and no. It's one of those things where it depends on the implementation rather than a straight superiority. A more appropriate question might be can you get more bang for your buck with music servers. The answer to that, IMO, is yes. So while there may be a cd player that sounds better than the Alpha DAC/ Server, it will likely cost more.


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Might be comparing the Spectral SDR-4000 against a computer based music server with the Berkely Alpha DAC. The Spectral is CD ONLY, and is considered by many to be one of the top players- of course, in it's price class, above $10K, you have a right to expect nothing but the best.


One of the reasons the Berkeley Alpha DAC has something of a following is because it holds up well in direct comparisons to units like the SDR-4000 or the newest Meridian 808.2i. The incremental cost to add a Mac or PC based music server to the Alpha is relatively low compared with the total purchase price of these players- but then you have access to your music collection in a very convenient manner, plus the ability to play high resolution PCM files, if you have them and if you've chosen the right interfaces and setup.


There is a value proposition there, I'd say. Let's assume the sound of the Alpha DAC is no better, but overall comparable (maybe some strengths to the Alpha, such as imaging and bass visceral impact compared with the Meridian, for example)- It's not like you can't connect both a disk transport and a music server to the Alpha DAC and switch between them as desired (that's what I do). But these days it's rare to fire up the optical transport unless a friend is bringing over something they want to hear, especially as I have so much high resolution material now transcoded from SACD to 24/176.4.


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The question is a bit open. Is the question whether a less expensive DAC and a computer xport is better than the best cd player? Or is the question whether a computer source is better than spinning the disc. i.e. are we comparing equivalent or different price points?


My experience is that the DAC is most important and a $2k dac is never going to sound as good as the best, price no object models.


Then, any dac at any price will improve as the source improves. I have a ~$8k cd player with a digi input. The cd player sounds considerably better than the Mac using iTunes and the Toslink connection. However iTunes with Amarra, usb through a diverter sounds about equivalent or slightly better than spinning a disc.


If you are really serious about sound quality, meaning the audiophile stuff like air, ambience, spatial cues, reverb etc. then just adding a basic computer is not a solution. It takes some work and money to make the computer source better than spinning a disc.


I suspect this result might be different however if you are using dac/cd player at a much lower price point.


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SACD disks record encrypted DSD. This presents two problems; the encryption, and the DSD format, which is not readily usable by most equipment.


But there are players which use chipsets which have unencrypted DSD signals "exposed" on external pins. With special hardware and software, it's possible to capture/convert the DSD to high resolution LPCM and record in real time onto a computer. However, even doing this just for your own use and archival is technically a DMCA violation, so it's not something I'd care to discuss on a public forum.


But think about it- with over 6,000 SACD releases over the last 11 years since it's introduction in 1999, it's clearly the largest potential source of high resolution to the consumer. Fortunately I bought many SACD's in the early days, many potentially popular titles that are long out of print and it seems not likely to be re-released.


The biggest problem is getting satisfactory SACD playback- while few will argue that for any given player that using hybrid disks, the SACD layer will always sound better than the CD layer, the overall performance of players might well be gauged by how well CD playback compares with other top flight CD players; on that basis, one might argue that for the money, we ought to be able to do better. As a past purchaser of two $3500 SACD players, I have to say that I'm most happy with my current setup converting to high bit rate/depth PCM and playing on a "conventional" DAC.


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Jonmarsh, its nice that you managed to be able to extract them because its a shame that high resolution stuff is not popular (relatively speaking; with the rest of the world crazy on mp3).. I have just recently gotten to know these high resolution stuff.. (I was basically out of the loop on audio gear for a while)


Harrypt, you are right, cannot just put any computer. I was thinking along the line of a quiet/fanless computer with Lynx AES16, Asus Xonar, or other cards that could output bit perfect data. Then use a DAC like Bryston or Alpha.


Thank you all, these comments were the stuff I was looking for. It gives me ideas of where I want to go with my audio gear.


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On a similar note, there is an interesting thread on the Naim Audio discussion forum about if the CD555 player is no longer relevant now that Naim have produced their DAC.






...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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