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iPod connection vs iTunes streaming with air express

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I'm new to high end stereo music and trying to understand if an iPod connection to my new integrated amplifier would produce a better sound than streaming through an Apple air express using an optical input. I currently stream to a high end headphone amplifier and it has been very convenient, but with my new speaker-based system I want the best sound from my iTunes and I have just about all the music that i care about in lossless on both the computer and my classic iPod. Is this something I just have to audition, or is one approach clearly superior? Thanks.


PS. How much of a difference does an external DAC make, whether streaming or using an iPod? Thanks.



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Hi Daniel-


I've been playing around with this myself. It all depends on how much you are looking to spend - I usually am shopping in the sub $500 market for DACs. If you have more to spend, please check out Chris's reviews on the home page of this site.


3 possible scenarios:


1. iPod directly into Stereo (Downside - cant use the Apple Remote App - which is very cool!)


1a. External iPod Doc using iPod's internal DAC into Integrated Amp I've tried a few of these, and the Cambridge Audio iPOD doc iD50 is the best, but it is still $200.


1b. External iPod Doc bypassing iPod DAC into an external DAC then into the Amp. Wadia i170/1 ($400) into a Cambridge Audio DAC Magic ($430) or MF vDAC ($300) via coax/toslink seems the best value here.


2. Computer into DAC into Int Amp with computer next to DAC&Amp using USB. This option is probably going to yield the best Sound Quality, but you will trade off convenience since you will need your PC next to the stereo. The Arcam rDAC ($480) seems to be the clear value winner in this segment with the best jitter correction. Many people also like the HRT Music Steamer II+ and the Centrance USB DAc too.


3. Computer into DAC into Int Amp with computer not next to the DAC+ Amp. In this scenario, there are 2 elements to solve for - transport across the network and the DAC. Jitter over the transport is going to be an important issue.

Transport options include Apple Airport Express ($100) which has Optical out and the Logitech Squeeze Box Touch ($300) which has USB, Coax & Optical out. In the Sub-$500 DAC price range, the DAC Magic or the vDAC seem to be the best value for Coax or Optical inputs, while the Arcam rDAC seems to be the best value for the USB DAC with Jitter correction.


Also, the new Apple OS for iPhone & iPod touch now has the ablitity to stream directly to the Airport Express from the iPhone/Touch via Wifi - very cool!


Hope this helps. Enjoy the music, and email me if you want more ideas....






Best Stereo System: Wired Sonos Connect -> AQ Cinammon Digital Coax -> Marantz SA-8005 -> AA Black Momba 2 interconnects -> Marantz PM-15S2 -> Kimber 8TC speaker Cables -> Zu Soul Superfly speakers.


Ingest> NAS> Distribution: Sony Vaio Laptop ripping via ITunes to Apple Lossless, manually synced to WD Mycloud NAS, Linksys 1900AC Router, Netgear Gig E switch, generic Ethernet cables, TPLinc ethernet power line extenders.

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For scenario 1, you might want to look at Peachtree audio, http://www.signalpathint.com/, as it has a number of products with a digital out from the ipod that might mesh well with your existing system. Miguel


Macmini (as server)-> AE Express/SB Touch-> Dacmagic plus -> Outlaw RR2150 -> PSB Image T6 (dedicated 2 channel audio system)

Macmini (via toslink)-> NAD T747 -> PSB Imagine B/SVS SB2000 subwoofer (home theater)

Macbook Pro-> Peachtree idecco->PSB Imagine Minis, Energy ESW-M8 subwoofer, Beyerdynamic DT880 (home office)

IMac->audioengine D1 dac->airmotiv 4 (work system)

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Very helpful. Sounds like I should just do both using a DAC in between each source and bypassing the iPod DAC. The Peachtree iDAC will both bypass the iPod and do the DAC for $1,000 in one box, but I don't know much about the quality of the manta DACs on the market. Thanks for your DAC ideas, though. Appreciate it.



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Daniel, to answer your ps "How much of a difference does an external DAC make" the answer imo is night and day. Even in a very low resolution system you will hear the difference.


I am in temporary accommodation and the only thing I have to play music on right now is a b&w zeppelin (the one with an analog ipod dock). Frankly with an ipod in the built in dock it sounds horrible. I grabbed an onkyo nsd1 and connected it to the zeppelin toslink input and the difference (with the same ipod) is shocking - really. TV is rarely on :-). I would not even think of connecting your ipod analog out to a real hi-fi.



- John.


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