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A seasoned CD player user switching to a computer source - seeking some opinions please.


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Hello,

 

this is my first posting so please excuse my ignorance on this subject. I really appreciate your advice. Thank you in advance.

 

I am a huge music fan and listen to my system virtually every day.

I am very happy with my system and it has taken a lot of time and effort to put together. It consists of a pair of Avantgarde Duo Omega speakers and custom made valve pre & power amps. The pre-amp is specifically designed for my speakers with a separate line out to the speaker's subwoofers so that the power amps only drive the mid & high freq horns. The power amps are single ended with parallel KT88 output valves similar to the Audiopax Model 88. Output power is 18W.

 

Recently, I sold my CD player with the intention of replacing it. In the meantime, I became aware of the rapidly developing practice of using a computer server system as a digital source and have become convinced that the CD player has a very limited life span.

 

I have assembled a music library of around 23,000 songs, most of them 1141kbps/44.1 kHz ripped off my CD collection.This is on my Apple laptop computer via itunes.

 

I really want to find a solution that matches the performance of a high quality CD player. I appreciate an organic, realistic sound and my system is particularly revealing of a poor source, especially a very 'digitised' sound. I also do not have a lot of spare time to 'tinker' and experiment.

 

I have a Benchmark DAC1 that I decided to use. It has had some modifications and was always a great value for money performer.

 

I connected the computer to the DAC1 via an apple wireless router & an optical cable. The sound was terrible. I then connected the computer directly to the DAC via an optical cable and the sound was much better. Despite this, it's no way near the quality that I have experienced with a good CD player.

 

From what I have read, the Berkeley Audio Alpha DAC sounds like a great DAC and I have found a dealer (in another city) that I can audition. Having said that, over the years I have learned not to totally trust what I read in audiophile publications.

 

My questions are as follows:

 

1. What are the reasons that I have been unable to get a good sound with what I have done so far?

 

2. If I purchase the Alpha DAC, can I use my Apple laptop & itunes? I know I can, but will it produce a great sound? Or do I need a different computer and different software?

 

3. What do I look for when evaluating music management software?

 

4. One of the Alpha DAC's apparent advantages are that it can play higher resolution files. Are higher resolution music files available to purchase these days or is it more relevant to the future?

 

Once again, I appreciate and value your opinion.

 

Warm regards, George Moraitis.

 

 

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Getting a computer to sound as good as a CD player requires a little bit of experimentation. Here are some suggestions of areas to look at:

 

Software. Assuming you are using an Apple there a three of four software players than most consider to be better than itunes. Pure Music, Amarra, Play and a new one called AyreWave. These vary in price and specs but can be downloaded for trial free.

 

Some of these players run alongside itunes so have that interface.

 

Mac to Dac. At some stage you have to get the sound out of the Mac to the DAC. In many peoples view Optical is not the best route, better solutions would be using either USB or Firewire

 

For USB there are a host of USB to SPIDF converters from the M2Tech Hiface ($100) to Wavelength Wavelink ($750 i think) these are all good pieces of kit and will provide your dac with SPIDF.

 

The Alpha Dac would work very well in this configuration. But there are others that have excellent reputations like the Weiss 202 that connects via Firewire to your Mac (see the review on this site).

 

There is some high resolution music about, have a look at HDTracks for example, but the chances are if you get a DAC that will be good with 44.1/16 Bit it will do the high res stuff as well.

 

Hope this helps...

 

Trying to make sense of all the bits...MacMini/Amarra -> WavIO USB to I2S -> DDDAC 1794 NOS DAC -> Active XO ->Bass Amp Avondale NCC200s, Mid/Treble Amp Sugden Masterclass -> My Own Speakers

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Audition patiently!

 

Start with the DAC, and only when you've nailed that should you think about the computer transport: optimising it for the favoured digital input of your converter. There's a slew of new computer products coming out, and interesting tablet controllers, in the next few months.

 

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I expect you’ll get lots of advice/opinion telling you what you need is this Dac or that cable etc, etc.

I would suggest that if you’re not getting the sound you like with your Benchmark then buying another Dac isn’t likely to give you a great enough margin of improvement in sound quality to warrant the expense.

The horrible fact is once you get past a certain price range/competent build point in a Dac the differences are marginal. I dare say lots will disagree but test it out for yourself before you part with your cash.

 

My opinion; forget about itunes as a player and if you ripped with it try using a proper ripping program such as EAC or dbpoweramp.

 

Make sure you are getting the same file bit rate and frequency rate to the dac that you have ripped at; not always obvious and straightforward.

 

How you connect the Dac to the computer can have a major influence on the sound you get, try USB, in fact, try every connection option.

 

If the Benchmark is getting fed what’s on the files then that’s probably about as good as your going to get.

If it’s still not giving the sound you like then buy another CD player and forget about computer based audio.

 

The Benchmark is a very competent Dac and I really cant see another Dac being the solution.

 

 

Dedicated Mains Cond dis block. Custom Linux Voyage MPD server. HRT Music Streamer Pro, Linear mains powered ADUM Belkin Gold USB cable. TP Buffalo 11, Custom XLR interconnects/Belkin Silver Series RCA. Exposure 21RC Pre, Super 18 Power (recap & modified). Modded World Audio HD83 HP amp.Van de Hull hybrid air lock speaker cables. Custom 3 way Monitors,Volt 250 bass&ABR, Scanspeak 13M8621Mid & D2905/9300Hi. HD595 cans.[br]2)Quantum Elec based active system self built.

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I use iTunes, Lossless files, on a Mac Mini.

 

iTunes is a very convenient way for many, for both cataloging & playback.

I have yet to hear a proof that iTunes degrades sound quality.

Properly connected (in my case, it goes to a DAC via HiFace, USB to SPDIF),

and provided that the rest of the system is good, the sound is good (I don't like superlatives). It is detailed, open and un-colored.

 

(The HiFace may be replaced with its "big brother" EVO, if I find an improvement when it gets here),

 

A good cable may allow a better result than optical connection.

 

Higher resolution –

Classical music downloads are quite available. Less Jazz.

 

In my last DAC upgrade, the candidates were only those that handle hi-rez. In fact, that was one of the main reasons for the upgrade.

 

But then, remember you've just read this on an 'audiophile publication'... :-)

 

Cheers

 

 

 

 

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EAC is considered to be a good ripping program.

 

Before ripping my whole collection, I ripped a CD with EAC (WAV), then with iTunes (Apple Lossless).

The Apple Lossless was converted to WAV.

A software was used to compare the iTunes WAV with the EAC WAV: The files were bit-identical.

 

This result made things easy, and the whole collection was ripped with iTunes, as Lossless files.

It takes 33% less space, and sounds exactly the same.

 

 

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Well, there you have it, G7 wants you spend some money, keep itunes and I’m saying sort out what you have already. Take your pick ;)

 

@G7. So you reckon a High Face is going to outperform a Benchmark Dac then?

Really mate, the guy isn’t interested in what you’ve got; he’s interested in getting the best out of what he’s got :-p

 

 

Dedicated Mains Cond dis block. Custom Linux Voyage MPD server. HRT Music Streamer Pro, Linear mains powered ADUM Belkin Gold USB cable. TP Buffalo 11, Custom XLR interconnects/Belkin Silver Series RCA. Exposure 21RC Pre, Super 18 Power (recap & modified). Modded World Audio HD83 HP amp.Van de Hull hybrid air lock speaker cables. Custom 3 way Monitors,Volt 250 bass&ABR, Scanspeak 13M8621Mid & D2905/9300Hi. HD595 cans.[br]2)Quantum Elec based active system self built.

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Hi George,

 

"...I have assembled a music library of around 23,000 songs, most of them 1141kbps/44.1 kHz ripped off my CD collection.This is on my Apple laptop computer via itunes..."

 

What format have you ripped the CDs into? 1141kbps suggests a non-data reduced format like .aif or .wav. Either of those is fine; just asking to be sure.

 

The other thing that comes to mind is: Are you using the Benchmark when you listen to your CD player? If not, I would try this to find out what you hear that way. Particularly with the same type of connection (optical) you are using from your Mac.

 

 

...I really want to find a solution that matches the performance of a high quality CD player..."

 

In my experience, a properly set up server will not "match the performance of a high quality CD player". It will surpass it.

 

Personally, I am not a fan of optical connections for digital audio, finding them beaten every time by a good copper connection.

 

I'm using a Firewire interface with my Mac and find the performance from iTunes, using raw .aif files (i.e. non-data-reduced files) to match the sound of the original master files (i.e., the files used to make the CD that was extracted into iTunes) in every case where I've made such a comparison.

 

Best regards,

Barry

www.soundkeeperrecordings.com

www.barrydiamentaudio.com

 

 

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Don't be in too big of a hurry to adopt one connection over another. I used to own a Benchmark DAC1 and used it with very good reults with my Mac. Toslink beat the Halide Bridge in my system so be sure to listen to a good glass toslink cable like Silflex or Wireworld.

 

I also tested several other dacs with USB and toslink in the $750 to $2400 range and toslink did a better job in all cases. But I can see how one may choose USB or a USB to spdif converter over toslink. It is a different sound and one could argue that either is better.

 

You be the judge. If you are using just a run of the mill toslink you will hear a big difference when switching to a really good one.

 

And ditto on the recs for upgrading your player.

 

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First, I would say that it's no surprise that you get terrible sound from a simple connection computer to DAC. The sad fact is that the quality of the digital source, i.e. the source of the bits fed to the DAC, plays a huge importance for the result, even with so-called jitter-immune DACs.

 

I have one of the supposedly most jitter-immune DACs, and I get terrible sound when I connect the optical out of my MacBookPro to my DAC. Moreover, both with my former Squeezebox Duet and my current Hiface EVO, the sound is strongly dependent on the quality of the power fed to the device. In other threads, you can see that even the power supply for the computer that feeds bits to e.g. a Hiface EVO plays an important role.

 

So I would concur with the advice that you should first work to get decent sound from your Benchmark before you spend money on a better DAC. However, I do not not agree that a better quality DAC won't give you better sound. But get the bit source optimized first- I agree that then you are likely to get better sound compared to your retired CD player :-)

 

All best,

Jens

 

i5 Macbook Pro running Roon -> Uptone Etherregen -> custom-built Win10 PC serving as endpoint, with separate LPUs for mobo and a filtering digiboard (DIY) -> Audio Note DAC 5ish (a heavily modded 3.1X Bal) -> AN Kit One, heavily modded with silver wiring and Black Gates -> AN E-SPx Alnico on Townshend speaker bars. Vicoustic and GIK treatment.

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Tipper on Fri, 11/05/2010 -

"@G7. So you reckon a High Face is going to outperform a Benchmark Dac then?

Really mate, the guy isn’t interested in what you’ve got; he’s interested in getting the best out of what he’s got :-p "

 

Well, Tipper, yes, I have some interest in what I've got.

As the components I use aren't the issue, I didn't mention which DAC I use. It's the principal. It meant to point out that a system can work nicely, from ripping to playing, while kept simple, and without resorting to any software beyond iTunes.

 

 

 

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I don't mean to be disrespectful but I ccompletely disagree with the statement about not being able to get better results with a different DAC than the Benchmark. I think it is respectable. I went through the same thing you are going through several years ago. If I was limited to what the Benchmark provided sonically, I would never have switched over to computer based material.

 

I have owned six different DAC's. In my estimation they are all superior to the Benchmark. I don't want to insult Benchmark owners, it's a decent value and all of that, but I am spoiled to a very high quality sound and I just couldn't get there. My current favorite bang for the buck model is the Wavelength Brick. The upgrade that was done to it to enable higher resolution made a very noticeable difference in sound quality. My favorite price no object is the Audio Research DAC8.

 

Keep in mind that I'm a dealer for the above products, but they were chosen because of my admiration for them. I was also a dealer at one time for the Benchmark. I don't mean to slam it but if you are not content with the sound, there is better, albeit at a higher price.

 

Good luck in your quest and happy listening. Try to borrow a piece or two so that you can decide for yourself if you think a DAC, or someone recommending one, is credible.

 

Rick

 

Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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I don’t think anyone has written one can’t get a better sound by replacing the Benchmark.

My point is that George already has a very capable Dac in the Benchmark which apparently falls way short of his CD player performance. In my experience file based audio, when correctly set up, should come very close if not surpass all but the very best CD player setups even with Dacs less capable than the Benchmark.

It would seem sensible to ensure that George is getting the best possible performance form the equipment he already has which would seem doubtful given he’s written “it's no way near the quality that I have experienced with a good CD player” which isn’t what I would suggest the majority of Benchmark users would write.

 

I would agree if it was a matter of “fine tuning” his system then the small improvements one can get by swapping Dacs at this price range and above may provide a solution. However, it may just be possible that George’s system is better suited to a good quality CD player and his ears have become accustom to that type of sound. While file based audio can sound extremely good, its not for everyone and a top class CD based system may well outperform the equivalent expenditure on a file based setup.

 

However, if George has unlimited funds and the time to swap components then sure, try another Dac, then perhaps swap the amps to suit that, maybe spend some more money on a different music player etc etc. A bit of a waste if at the end he still prefers CD isn’t it?

 

 

Dedicated Mains Cond dis block. Custom Linux Voyage MPD server. HRT Music Streamer Pro, Linear mains powered ADUM Belkin Gold USB cable. TP Buffalo 11, Custom XLR interconnects/Belkin Silver Series RCA. Exposure 21RC Pre, Super 18 Power (recap & modified). Modded World Audio HD83 HP amp.Van de Hull hybrid air lock speaker cables. Custom 3 way Monitors,Volt 250 bass&ABR, Scanspeak 13M8621Mid & D2905/9300Hi. HD595 cans.[br]2)Quantum Elec based active system self built.

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