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HDCD -- playback options for hardware decoding & digital output


emmodad

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so there have been several threads on Hoffman, Head-Fi and other audio fora that in one way or another touch on options for HDCD decoding. Many of us unfortunately couldn't afford the USD 15,000.00 typical price for a used Pacific Microsonics Model 2 -- even if we could find one for sale (hint: rather rare). A Berkeley Alpha DAC would be a great option too, many thou$and$ less than a Model 2; however I am specifically interested in a system architecture which permits feeding decoded HDCD to whatever DAC (or DACs) I choose. And less expensive is indeed not to be dismissed... more money for music...

 

I've been exploring various options to send a hardware-decoded HDCD data stream to my DAC of choice. Currently the most cost-effective appears to be use of an Oppo HDMI output plus hardware providing legal means to access the HDCD-decoded 20/44.1 audio datastream.

 

One boundary condition for this investigation: although there are perhaps some older out-of-production items of consumer electronics which had HDCD decoding, I'm more interested in looking for solutions which use currently-available products.

 

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After having ripped/decoded HDCD for some storage/server experiments, the desired use scenario is twofold:

 

1/ decode HDCD from spinning discs, output decoded datastream to DAC

 

2/ decode HDCD from an input 16/44.1 datastream (ie from a music server), output decoded datastream to DAC

 

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Scenario 1 is supported by a CD / universal player which provides decoded HDCD on a digital output. To my knowledge, this is currently only available from:

 

Oppo 980 / 983 via HDMI (from which the 20/44.1 audio stream can be accessed)

 

Cary 306 SACD Pro (decoded HDCD appears as 2x/44.1 on digital outs; not sure if "2x" is 20- or 24-bit)

 

Oppo (and perhaps other such as Denon, Rotel, ...?) CD & Universal disc players which incorporate HDCD decoding and which are modded with aftermarket digital output boards that branch off audio (incl decoded HDCD at 20/44.1, and perhaps some at 24/44.1 or 24/88.2) at input to the player's DAC IC. This means the player must have an architecture where HDCD decoding takes place in a processor before (and outside of) the DAC IC which follows; architectures which use chips where the HDCD decode function is integrated into the DAC IC can't use digital output mods (unless of course that HDCD+DAC chip has output pins providing signal tapped just before input to the DAC section)

 

Question: are you aware of any other unmodded commercial players which are confirmed to natively output decoded HDCD on either HDMI, SPDIF (TOS or preferably coax) or AES/EBU XLR?

 

 

Scenario 1 could also be supported by a reasonably-priced receiver or pre/pro which accepts 16/44.1 digital input from a disc player, incorporates HDCD decoding AND will output the decoded HDCD signal to a digital output.

 

Question: are you aware of any receivers or pre/pro units which natively output decoded HDCD on either HDMI, SPDIF (TOS or preferably coax) or AES/EBU XLR?

 

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Scenario 2 requires a unit which has digital input, incorporates HDCD decoding and will output the decoded HDCD signal to a digital output (ie, like the receiver or pre/pro possibility described above).

 

As some disc players are now incorporating extra digital inputs (allowing the product to act also as a digital source selector and "standalone DAC" for those digital inputs), this is becoming an option.

 

For example, Cambridge 840c has these I/O capabilities but no HDCD decoding.

 

Cary 306 SACD Pro is confirmed to decode 16/44.1 HDCD from digital inputs and provide that decoded HDCD on digital outputs when no upsampling is selected (ie user selects 44.1 output fs). As an aside, no confirmation yet from Cary whether this output would be 20/44.1 or 24/44.1 (not really an issue); also do not yet know if the Cary will accept and decode 24-bit HDCD signals (ie the new Reference Recordings HRx 24/176.4 files).

 

Question: are you aware of any other disc players with additional digital inputs which will decode HDCD streams on the digital inputs and output that decoded HDCD on either HDMI, SPDIF (TOS or preferably coax) or AES/EBU XLR? Do you know if the units will handle 24-bit HDCD?

 

Question: are you aware of any receivers or pre/pro units which natively output decoded HDCD on either HDMI, SPDIF (TOS or preferably coax) or AES/EBU XLR? Do you know if the units will handle 24-bit HDCD?

 

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Overall, I'm looking at the moment for three functions as I evolve my 2-channel system:

 

i/ digital source selection of 1 disc player plus minimum 3 other digital inputs, all capable of 24/192.

 

ii/ HDCD decoding as described in scenarios above

 

iii/ excellent 2-channel SACD playback

 

To do /i/ correctly (ie 24/192 bit-perfect, reliable and durable) as a standalone function means spending somewhat more than an inexpensive selector -- generally USD 3-500 for a broadcast-quality digital source selector. And more cables.

 

As for /ii/, a modded player that will output decoded HDCD from spinning discs can be had for under USD 500. I haven't performed an exhaustive search wrt units that will decode and output HDCD streams, but the only obvious solution seen thus far is the Cary (retail price USD 8000).

 

(aside: I've checked with Oppo, but unfortunately the 98x series USB input does not support uncompressed or lossless audio formats -- only compressed files like mp3, aac, ogg. A shame, as that would have been a very low-cost solution.)

 

And of course /iii/ costs whatever one is willing to spend to meet your personal expectation wrt SACD playback.

 

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Would very much appreciate the contribution of any information concerning other hardware which addresses the questions and scenarios above.

 

thanx!

emmodad

 

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