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Newbie question: Best/least expensive way to get hi-res from Mac to Berkeley Alpha Dac?


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I am in the process of buying a new system (Sonus Faber Cremona M, Pass Labs INT150, Berkeley Alpha Dac), and want to begin playing Hi-res digital on my Mac ITunes through it. From what I've been reading at computeraudiophile.com it appears that a solution would be Amarra-->Firewire-->Weiss INT202-->Kubala Sosna Fascination XLR-->Alpha Dac-->Kubala Sosna Fascination XLR-->Pass Labs. Is there a less expensive way to get comparable sound quality from the Mac and iTunes? I should mention that my Mac is in another room from the audio equipment and I will need to run 11 meters of Firewire from the Mac to the Weiss. I am currently using the following means of using my Mac as a digital server: Mac-->2 meters Usb cable--> Hagerman usb converter--> 9 meters of S/PDIF cable-->Tri-Vista DAC-->Audio Research SP9MkIII. Going the new path would add the following costs to what I have already ordered: Amarra=$1000, Weiss=$1300, KS XLR=$950, Firewire=$??? (anyone know what this would cost, and is 11 meters of Firewire OK?). Can I do this for less? Thanks for your help.

 

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@wgscott - as far as I know, the Berkerley DAC doesn't have a TOSLink input so thats a bit of a daft suggestion!

 

To the OP ... you didn't say what type of Mac you have, but assuming a MacMini or MacBook Pro you have a few options. First (and ideally) you want to get your Mac a lot closer to your DAC to avoid long cables - but thats another issue. Your first option would be to use your existing Hagerman USB converter - IIRC this only supports 1fs (44.1 and 48k) so I am assuming you are looking for higher sample rate files. Your next step would be to look at alternative USB to SPDIF converters - as you said "least expensive" I would suggest you look at the M2Tech HiFace.

 

A third option would be to look at getting a second hand G5 PowerMac which you could add a Lynx (or RME) card to to provide a AES output.

 

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...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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Thanks Chris ... my mistake. I must have been thinking about something else!

 

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...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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My Mac is an iMac with 2.66 GHz Intel 2 Duo processor 4GB memory purchased last summer. It is running OSX 10.6.3. More reading has added questions, but little enlightenment. Eloise, you are right--the Hagerman usb converter is limited to 44.1 and 48k. So I know I'll have to use some other setup to get hi-res to the Berkeley. One question is whether the S/PDIF coax cable and USB cable will need to be replaced if I want to send 96/24 music to the Alpha Dac? What about 192/24? If I settle for 96/24 do I need the Amarra software, or will the iTunes (v 9.1.1 (12)) and Snow Leopard software send that without the need for Amarra? If so, do I need to change anything in the iTunes settings to make that possible? Can I still use the existing cables and just replace the Hagerman converter, and if so, what is a relatively inexpensive USB to S/PDIF converter that could handle 96/24?

If I want to move up to 192/24 what would I need for getting the signal out of the iMac and to the Alpha Dac? Lynx or some other way such as Firewire? (BTW, I'll have to use a RCA to BNC adapter to use the Alpha Dac without any other changes to the system). There is no easy way to get the computer closer to the Alpha Dac than the 11 meters. I could move the Dac closer to the computer, but then I'd have the long run of XLR cable from it to the Integrated Amp. One solution might be the new Micromega WM-10 airstream media player ($1600) that uses Wi-Fi 802.11 to wirelessly stream anything in the iTunes system up to 192/24 the 11 meters to the stereo system. Any opinions about that?

Thank you all for your able advice to this novice.

 

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Hopefully I can pull the relevant issues out of your post (sorry difficult as you have written one long post with few breaks) and can give you some guidance.

 

Starting at the end of your post - I don't thin the Micromega WM-10 Airstream is an answer to your issues. Although it does advertise 24/192 playback, I doubt weather this is actually "native" 24/192 as looking at the components inside the box it appears to be an ordinary Apple Airport Express with add on audio board. This would indicate it is actually limited to 16/44.1 and 48 as there is no additional software for iTunes to enable any additional capability.

 

The USB and SPDIF cable will both be capable of transmitting both 24/96 and 24/192 so long as they are are built to the relevant specifications. Weather different cables will give you higher quality is a separate issue.

 

You don't need Amarra (or any other software) to play back 24/192 files - iTunes will play them back fine. However using iTunes you have to manually select the correct sample rate for the file you wish to play, then quit and restart iTunes - otherwise re-sampling will take place. This isn't too much hastle if you tend to listen to full albums, but if you tend to jump around different tracks on different albums it is a bit tedious. For non-critical listening, leaving the sample rate set at 24/192 would (for most people) be fine. If you use Amarra (or Pure Music) software, the sample rate will be selected automatically.

 

A good value way to get upto 24/192 output from your iMac is to purchase the M2Tech HiFace adapter. I'm unsure of the US price but it's around £100 here in the UK.

 

You mentioned the Lynx card - but this is not a possibility with an iMac. The step up from the HiFace USB adaptor would be to look at the Weiss INT202 firewire converter, or you'll need to look at something like a MacPro or second hand Power Mac G5.

 

Eloise

 

 

 

Eloise

---

...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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The main point was that rather than spend hundreds of dollars on a long cable, converters, and so forth, it might be more cost-effective, simpler, and possibly better (in terms of sound quality) to spend say $600 on another dedicated mac mini, and put it as close as reasonable to the DAC, say within 0.5 meter, the assumption being that a short cable of any composition is better than a long one.

 

The post, after all, contains in the title "least expensive".

 

You are right, I simply assumed (perhaps correctly?) the Alpha DAC had an optical in, but that really wasn't the main point.

 

From the review of the Alpha on Computer Audiophile, we have

 

The usable inputs are limited to AES/EBU, S/PDIF, and Toslink.

 

I apologize if I somehow missed something. Many of the subtleties if this hobby, as you have noted, are lost on me.

 

 

 

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@wgscott...

 

No, you were right and I was wrong ... the Berkerley Alpha does have a TOSLink (optical) input so you could use a 33cent Mini-TOSLink to TOSLink cable.

 

I don't disagree with you that one of the cost effective ways might be to install a MacMini at the DAC's location rather than working on long cables, etc - which could easily start adding up to more than $600.

 

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...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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wgscott and Eloise,

Thank you both for your help. I think I'm starting to understand, but please bear with me for a few more questions.

 

It seems the solution with the least change would be the M2Tech HiFace adapter, which would allow me to continue to use my iMac and coax cable to the Alpha Dac. Any feel for how the sound quality of this setup would compare to going the Mac Mini route?

 

How do I change the settings for iTunes to output at 192/24 (or 96/24, etc), if I don't get Pure Music or Amarra software?

 

Many Thanks.

 

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I'm new to this, and I don't know the answer to your question, but my experience with sensitive scientific measurement devices suggests to me that the fewer connections, conversions, etc to go from point A to point B, and the smaller the distance, the less likely the data will be degraded.

 

In other words, why not just connect the alpha to a mini via optical toslink (the shorter the better)? I don't even know what the M2Tech HiFace adapter is, but wouldn't it be better to leave it out if you can? Converting USB to coax signal at the very least introduces one more potential problem. [edit: OK, I looked it up, and it probably isn't problematic, but $200 for that thing + whatever for the cable vs. $600 for a new mini that you can put 0.5 m from your alpha might not be worth it. I think the mini still imposes an upper bound of 96kHz on the sampling frequency, unless I am fundamentally mistaken.)

 

My (non-audio) mac mini that I purchased about 2 months ago won't output higher than 96kHz sampling. I don't have either of those pieces of software you mention, and I don't know anything about them apart from what I have read on their web sites, but I can't see how they could circumvent a hardware upper-bound. The new MacBook Pro I believe goes higher (and has a 32-bit depth, fwiw).

 

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wgscott:

I'm continuing to entertain the Mac Mini solution, but would also need to have some means of seeing the mini's iTunes screen. Would I be able to get it to show up on my iMac (wireless?),or would I need to buy an iTouch or iPhone? Plus, i would need to download all my current iTunes music onto it and be able to add new music to it via the iMac. Any ideas?

 

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iTunes output sample rate settings are controled using the Audio MIDI Setup "application" which can be found within Applications/Utilities (at least on Mac OS X 10.5.

 

I would agree with you that (at least as an initial option) the HiFace connected to your iMac and then the existing Co-ax cable would be a good solution for you.

 

@wgscott with respect, the TOSLink connection from a MacMini is not going to set the world alight with low jitter figures and while it is a good option for some situations it does have a couple of drawbacks: the maximum sample rate available is only 96k, where as the Berkerley and the HiFace will offer 192k; also there is an omission in the available sample rates in that the MacMini's TOSLink connection does not support 88.2k - meaning anything at this sample rate either has to be halved to 44.1 or converted to 96k - both of which defeat the object of high quality output at higher bitrates.

 

To the new question from Bruce: you could set up a MacMini and then control it via ScreenSharing from your iMac, but ideally I would add a wired connection between the two rather than relying on wireless. You can use the iTunes Home Sharing function to transfer new media from your iMac to the MacMini after ripping.

 

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...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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I have mine hooked up to my TV via min-DVI, but if you don't want to do that or have a monitor on it, I think all you need to do is "borrow" a monitor or TV or something so you can set it up, and then I think you can safely operate it "headless". (I at least can do that with the TV monitor turned off).

 

In any case, the Apple Remote Display, which is part of Finder, allows you to display any computer on your network on any other one, provided you first turn this option on in the System Preferences (i.e., during the initial setup). Any other VNC-based program (eg Chicken of the VNC) will also work.

 

You can share an iTunes library over a network but it would probably be best performance-wise to have it locally available for your audio system (I keep two copies of mine on two different computers, which gives me yet another backup).

 

Full disclosures:

 

I'm only about 6 weeks further along in the process, so take this all with a grain of salt...

 

I know more about the computer than I do about audio.

 

 

 

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@ Eloise:

 

So what are the intrinsic limitations?

 

I have a mac mini sitting next to me as I type this. It has never seen a toslink cable or audio system in its brief life.

 

Audio midi reports 44.1, 48, and 96 kHz as the only three available output options.

 

If I bought the USB to coax M2Tech HiFace dohickey, does that mean Audio Midi would permit me to output at additional sampling frequencies?

 

I've tried USB alone on my computers at home and that never seemed to change the available output frequencies, at least that I noticed. I may not have paid close enough attention.

 

The former Apple VP here suggested that in order for non-interpolated sampling to occur at any frequency, whether or not an integral multiple, you would have to have the sampling in phase with the signal, and he thought that this doesn't happen, and that all signal sampling was from interpolated values. He didn't work on audio, so he was just guessing, but he seems to have spent a lot of time developing OS X and is a very bright guy. Any ideas about that?

 

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wgscott asked a few things...

 

Audio midi reports 44.1, 48, and 96 kHz as the only three available output options.

Audio MIDI is currently reporting the sample rates that the internal "sound card" is capable of working at (with the drivers it is currently running). The Mac Mini has (IIRC) a Realtek chip and this can output (either via TOSLink or t it's internal DA converter and out as analogue) these three sample rates.

 

If I bought the USB to coax M2Tech HiFace dohickey, does that mean Audio Midi would permit me to output at additional sampling frequencies?

Audio MIDI always reports the sample rates that the sound "card" (internal, PCI or USB these are all sound cards in a certain respect) is compatible with. So yes - using the HiFace doohickey you can output at 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4 and 192k. One thing you have to remember is that, unless it is directly connected via USB or FireWire, Mac OS X has no idea to the capabilities of the DAC. If you connect a HiFace to a DAC with a 24/96 limit, you can't suddenly input 24/192 to it.

 

I've tried USB alone on my computers at home and that never seemed to change the available output frequencies, at least that I noticed. I may not have paid close enough attention.

IIRC you have a PearTree Nova DAC / Integrated amp. The USB input on this is limited to sample rates less than 96k (or maybe less than 48k I don't recall). Audio MIDI knows this is the limit of the USB connection so reports as relevant.

 

The former Apple VP here suggested that in order for non-interpolated sampling to occur at any frequency, whether or not an integral multiple, you would have to have the sampling in phase with the signal, and he thought that this doesn't happen, and that all signal sampling was from interpolated values. He didn't work on audio, so he was just guessing, but he seems to have spent a lot of time developing OS X and is a very bright guy. Any ideas about that?

The SRC in Mac OS X (as used by iTunes) is very good. However many people will contend that it's even better to avoid any sample rate conversion. I'll leave that upto your (and other people's) ears.

 

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...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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I think this seems to make the sense at this point:

Pure Music software in iTunes-->M2Tech HiFace (BNC connection)-->12m Audioquest VDM-5 cable (BNC to BNC)-->Alpha Dac BNC connection.

 

This will cost $1634 ($874 if I go with Audioquest VDM-3 cable), which is far below what I originally thought I'd need to spend. It should give me good sound up to 192/24 until other better solutions become available at a reasonable cost.

 

Eloise, thank you SO MUCH for all your knowledgeable and valuable advice. You saved me a lot of unnecessary expense.

 

Bruce

 

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Bruce - if you are spending that much (and I'm not exactly sure how much the cost of the cable is - I think 1m of the Audioquest is $225) then I would reall consider getting a MacMini and using a shorter cable - nothing wrong with your choice, but my preference for spending that money would be MacMini ($600), M2Tech HiFace with BNC($180), Pure Music ($130) - totalling $910 and add a cable of your choice - as I say I found 1m of Audioquest VDM-5 for $225 - try to get BNC-BNC cable if possible.

 

At the end of the day it's your own choice and you have to live with it, so thats all I have to say to you on the matter.

 

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...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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