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Money down the drain?

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I joined this forum enthralled by the idea of being able to play my music in any room and at least matching if not surpassing the quality of my CD transport. Without going in to too much detail, I have over the last couple of months managed to setup a Mac based media network. Everything is working fine just one problem and to me it’s a big problem:


On my main system the Mac setup is not matching the quality of my CD transport.


CD source is Shanling CDT 100 connected to Musical fidelity TriVista DAC via quality Coax.


Mac Source is MacBook iTunes AIFF files connected to same DAC via quality Toslink.


I think the best way I can describe the problem with the Mac source is it is far less dynamic than the CD source. No problem with the level of detail or anything else it just has no wallop. In comparison the Mac setup always sounds like the same band with but less enthusiasm.


At the moment I am rather fed up of the whole project, it feels like I have spent a lot of time and money only to take a step backward. I must admit I should have been more methodical in my approach, instead of setting up a gigabit network, a signal remote and Airport express’s, I should have concentrated on ensuring that my main system was at least as good as it had been with the CD source. Unfortunately it is only now that I have everything in and working that I have found time to do some serious comparison tests.


I appreciate that the optical link is possibly the culprit of the lack luster performance, but what do I do about it, I could end up just throwing good money after bad.


If I examine the cost so far it brakes down as follows


MacBook £650

Trends UD10.1 audio converter (USB to COAX conversion that failed to impress when connected between Mac and DAC but does make my PC sound better) £100

Van Den Hul Toslink £45


Total £800 that would have been the minimum spend just to test everything out.


Other stuff that I should have waited to buy until main system had proved it’s worth:

2x Airport Expess £90 (ebay

1x Router Wireless £12 (ebay)

1x 8 port Gigabit switch £46

Signal software £13

SD wireless card for PDA £22

Upgrades to old PC to turn it into Media store £200


Total £370


So what do I do now?










Are all audiophiles obsessive compulsives or is this just a Stereo Type? Yorkshire UK

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Hi thunktank - This is a tough one. I can assure you that some of the most respected people in the high-end industry all agree that Mac and PC playback is better than all but the best state of the art transport/DAC solutions. I am working with a few of them now and our sonic results are amazing. However, that really doesn't help your situation. Is there any way you can test some additional components in the mix? It would be interesting to use another CD based transport and another DAC just to get some different perspective and possibly pin down what is causing the sound you don't like. There are several variables here and I really do think that introducing more will lead to some resolution. I know that sounds funny, but I've experienced similar issues around here. Even if you can use a cheap DVD player as a transport and try using the physical CD in the Mac etc... it will give you a better continuum in which to place the Shanling and the Mac solutions. To be very straight forward I think the Shanling may be adding to the music and you are listening for something through the Mac solution that is not really there. This is definitely not a a bad thing about you I am just trying to help. I wouldn't have taken the time to write this out if I wasn't interested in helping you find the solution. If it turns out that I am 100% wrong then I am cool with that, I just don't want to leave a single stone unturned.


It is possible the Mac - Toslink - Trivista combination just does not work well. The sum of the parts is grater than the whole in this case. Thus there is no synergy.



I'd love to continue this discussion until we get a resolution. This could help a ton of people as well as yourself in the long run.


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As always thanks for the prompt response.

You may be correct with the statement “Mac - Toslink - Trivista combination just does not work well", though perhaps this could be reduced down to "Toslink - Trivista combination just does not work well"

I have previously used the toslink- Trivista combination and was very unimpressed, at the time I put this down to the cheap toslink I was using. I can not test the Shanling with the van Den Hul cable as it is coax out only. I have surfed high and low looking for listening tests performed with this DAC and toslink v coax, but to no avail.

I appreciate where you are coming from with the swapping out of the DAC and transport, I have a Yamaha AV amp to hand I could use to replace the DAC, it has Coax and Toslink in as well as line out so I can use the existing amp. I have a DVD player, I will have to have a look and see what it has in the way of digital outputs.

Regarding "To be very straight forward I think the Shanling may be adding to the music and you are listening for something through the Mac solution that is not really there" I would not question this statement if I where using either of the analogue outs from the Shanling (tubed & solid state), however I am a little skeptical as it is being used as a transport only. The use of the DVD player as a transport should help clear this one up.

Luckily for me my neighbors are away on holiday so I can experiment into the night. I will post as soon as I have something to report, thanks again for the assistance.



Are all audiophiles obsessive compulsives or is this just a Stereo Type? Yorkshire UK

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I agree with you that I wish you had been more methodical in your approach. I generally like components that provide flexibility in different digital inputs/outputs since I believe the quality of implementation may vary with each component. The Shanling seems to be one of the few CD players that does not offer toslink and coaxial outputs so there seems to be no good options without spending more money.


If your Shanling CDT 100 connected to Musical fidelity TriVista DAC via quality Coax sounds better than playback on the standalone player you have some comfort that you're on the right track. If you have another player with toslink and coaxial outputs (or if you care to invest in an low cost but well respected Oppo universal player for CD/SACD/DVD-A capability) you should be able to determine if the sonic qualities between toslink and coax into the Musical fidelity TriVista DAC account for the shortcomings you are hearing and which one you find to be sonically superior. If the coax sounds better then you have the wrong mix of equipment for the Mac.


For instance I have a Benchmark USB DAC1 that gives me the flexible paths for methodical comparisions with toslink, coax, and USB. I also use to have an Apogee FW MiniDAC that gave me flexible paths for methodical testing with firewire, toslink, and coax.


Unless you find some hope in any of the suggested testing my advice would be to sell your Musical fidelity TriVista DAC and get a modern DAC with superior toslink (or FW or USB) implementation. You could also try one of the good quality audio interfaces from Lynx or RME, but those may cost half the price or more than a good quality DAC.


I also noticed that one of the Musical fidelity TriVista DAC reviews state "things are not all plain sailing however, and I find this DAC very sensitive to power conditioning. Also, thought needs to be given to isolation". Also the Stereophile review from 2004 of the replacement DAC for the TriVista seems to extoll the superior sonics of the newer model. In any case my experience with the superior sonics from a 2007 Benchmark USB DAC1 compared to the 2006 Benchmark DAC1 leads me to believe that DAC technology and better sonics continues to improve and thus I tend to be skeptical about just how well older equipment sounds without current mods for improvements.


Good luck and I hope you get some feedback from others that have the same CD player or DAC that you have.





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If you're sending the same Data to the DAC (and it sounds as though you are) then the it is to blame, PROVIDED AND THIS IS VITAL: the volume levels are the same for both. 1dB difference is enough to make you prefer one over the other.


Optical digital cables are better for EMC but may suffer more from Jitter and Coaxial suffers from EMC issues. I think you should try another DAC and make sure it sounds the same from both sources.


There's probably more expertise in the Pro Audio Sector, so for performance and value for money I'd look at an RME ADI-2 for about £500 because it's got excellent A to Ds as well, which are useful for digitising anything analogue you may still have.


Just the thoughts of a DAC designer's Lacky



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Billy - I've not used either but I do have a friend who has used both and Apogee and he swears the RME is the best. They are certainly a very highly regarded company and quite large.


The most important thing to remember about DACs is that they all cost about $4 unless you're a huge company with buying power. The DACs in the ADM9.1s are amongst the best too. The differences you hear between them are a result of how well they've been implemented. No one can improve on the Manufacturers recommendations but some do worse. The other problem is how well the rest of the system copes with RF and out of band hash that DACs radiate. This could be why different people claim different results from the same DAC.


The Pro audio side of the business is huge, bigger than specialist hi fi I suspect and one of its most influential Magazines is Sound On Sound. I know Paul White the Editor and Hugh Robjohns the Technical Editor, both are high calibre and knowledgeable people and both say that they are often criticised for giving most equipment good reviews. Their response is that stuff has improved so much that it's hard to find anything bad these days. I think they are right and I think Pro Audio gear not only performs better but is much more complex and far better value for money than much of hi fi. Therefore it's always worth looking to see if there is an alternative that will do the job. This is a general comment and not directed at any specific company.


If i can contact the RME user, I'll ask him to comment.




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Hi Ash,


How does the RME interface with my computer for a/d conversion? Do you have any information about the requirements at my PC end, and how efficient (and neophyte-friendly) the set up is? I looked up the RME forums and they are mostly populated by pro audio folks who speak a language i don't understand!






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The Input Jack on the Macbook is also an optical digital socket, however I spoke to the Pro and IT chap with the RME and he suggests that you contact John at www.fwhifi.co.uk for guidance. This is an amazing place, John is in his sixties and his father ran the business before him, so the expertise stretches from making special Turntable for collectors through to digitising rare old recordings and selling current computer based hi fi. As you're in England, he's a good person to speak to because he'll give an enormous amount of help willingly without expecting a sale. He makes live recordings of Acoustic music too.


I find him extraordinary when younger retailers are so against Computer based hi end music systems that there is an old gent with cobwebs in his hair who's at the cutting edge. It's his friend also called John who has the RME, had a Benchmark, an Apogee and still has an Edirol UA25, which he also rates highly.




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And the answer is........


I'm an Ahole.........Possibly (read on and decide)


First off thanks to everyone for all the comments and advice, it is greatly appreciated.

I did as Chris suggested and connected up my DVD player as a source, for the first test I used Toslink from the Mac and the DVD, with an optical switch so I could quickly switch from one to the other. I would not normally employ such a device, but it suited for the purpose of this test. I immediately heard a difference in sound similar to the one I had noted between the Shanling on COAX and the Mac on Toslink. I was finding it difficult to pin down, a little more punch in the bass, maybe slightly more forward in the Mid. While the overall effect was easy to hear, to try to pin it down was proving difficult. I think the problem is partly down to the fact that I do not get to listen to a lot of different gear. I work and I listen to music to relax and once in a while I get an itch or feel like I deserve a reward, audition some stuff and treat myself (no innuendo thanks). So I decided to make things easier by choosing some music with simpler mixes and fewer instruments. I popped on one of my current favorites Madeleine Peyroux; by this time I was getting a little fatigued and sat back in the chair just to be lulled. The optical switch was set to the DVD, it was not until halfway through the second track that I realized I had forgotten to switch to the Mac, as soon as I switched it hit me, the Mac was.........cleaner. I switched back quickly then back again, the CD source was ever so slightly dirty, not distorted just some how artificial in comparison to the Mac. I really am struggling to describe the sound, the best comparison I can think off is that with the DVD the sound had a very subtle underlying saw tooth, almost as if I could hear the zero's and ones. I was able to shift focus from instrument to instrument and this effect seemed to be all pervasive but most noticeable in the breath of the vocals, brass and woodwind. I was starting to think that Chris could be right, was I hearing something from the Shanling that simply was not in the original.


Now I had some idea what I was listening for I decided it was time for the next test, Mac on Toslink V DVD on coax

The Tri Vista DAC is not switchable from one input to another, it locks on to the first signal it detects (a very crap idea). I therefore had to turn the DAC off unplug the Toslink and connect Coax. On switch on the DAC refused to lock on to the coax even though the Mac was not playing so I unplugged the toslink but the DAC would still not lock on to the coax signal. So I decided to go straight to test three Shanling on Coax v Mac on Toslink (the original setup). Big problem the DAC would still not lock on to the coax, a setup which was previously working fine. Eventually I took the case of the DAC to see if I could see anything obvious like (fingers crossed) a fuse, no such luck, it was obvious, just not a fuse, clear heat marks on the PCB and two fried capacitors, F**k! That was the end of the tests, the DAC still works fine on optical but it will have to go back to Musical Fidelity for repair. I have no idea why this occurred it was turned off as was the DVD when the connection was made, despite this it looks like the DVD somehow screwed the DAC.


Just to add insult to injury I was going to post my findings yesterday evening but my PC blue screened on me then refused to boot. I came home from work this evening and had to do a full reinstall to a separate HDD then use this to repair the RAID array that had bombed. So I am sat here typing on a PC that looks like a robot that committed hara kiri. (I am contemplating joining a Hamish community).

I believe my recent technology woes are due to the wearing of brushed nylon 'Y' fronts and the resultant build up of static. I have therefore vowed to:

A) Stop wearing brushed nylon

B) Stop rubbing myself


I will be using the Mac connected via Toslink until the DAC goes off for repair, on its return I will do some more testing. At least I now have an idea what I am looking for, and I have learnt a lesson, hopefully my future post will show a little more humility.


So now is the time to decide, am I an Ahole, actually it does not matter, after the week I have had I really do not care , just being an Ahole on whom technology is not conspiring would be good enough.







Are all audiophiles obsessive compulsives or is this just a Stereo Type? Yorkshire UK

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  • 2 weeks later...

Due to the death of the Coax input on the DAC I have not been able to do any more comparison tests, I have however had some good long listening sessions with the Mac - Toslink - MF setup. I have noticed a couple of things that clearly point to the Mac being a superior source to my Shanling CD Player:


The first is how much I am noticing the difference in sound as my amp warms up, I have a Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista amp that takes at least 30 mins to warm up (I would argue this is nearer an hour). I never noticed much difference from cold to warm when using the Shanling as a source but now I am using the Mac I can hear the bass taking on more substance and the mids fleshing out before my ears.


The second is the realisation that some recordings are not as good as I previously considered them to be.


I am starting to think that my initial dissatisfaction with the Mac source has more to do with it highlighting weaknesses in the rest of my setup. As it stands the current setup sounds a little too laid back (polite is the word that springs to mind), the soundstage is a little more receded than it previously was and the bass is a little light. This may have a lot to do with having hybrid devices for both DAC and Amp, I have also heard others say that Anthony Gallo Reference 3's can be bass light when the second voice coil of the bass driver is not being utilised.


Taking in to account my comments would anyone care to suggest what they would consider to be my best next step (bang for buck). I am considering purchasing the Anthony Gallo reference 3 SA amp to drive the second voice coils and/or upgrading to a modern DAC



Are all audiophiles obsessive compulsives or is this just a Stereo Type? Yorkshire UK

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