MacMini+AirportExpress+Toslink+BenchmarkDAC1+Rowland102+HyperionHPS938 = Very Happy.
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Good deal. I wanted to hear from someone with a nice reference system that might be doing something similier, in terms of source digital. It reinforces what I suspected, that digitally, with a glass cable - it's not a shortcut. I had nagging suspicions that for some reason I was cutting a corner. It sounds wonderful to me coming out of my 805S's and Rel sub.
I kinda like playing with amps and speakers, at this point, revisiting blue ray, or high end carts and tone arms - seems like not my thing, I think I can make the biggest tweaks with speaker placement, speakers, swapping out amps maybe. But I thought that I reached a pretty good place - digitally, I guess I am looking for affirmation, lol.
Well, I can't dispute the convenience of the user interface of the IPad, and not having to deal with music servers, and hard drives is nice. I seriously recommend that Airport Express, tethered to a DAC via an optical cable. Moving parts, from a CD arm, or even old school reel to reel, seem like something I need not revisit at this point.
Amps and speakers, what mates up with what, and placement, is where I would rather spend money and time fine tuning.
This setup has advantage. Because data on Hard Disk has no timing and is sent to AE in packets, timing is created in AE, that has respectable 250ps jitter further reduced by Dac's processing. It means that computer noise, type of program etc have no bearing on the sound as long as data is "bit perfect". Toslink should be worse than coaxial but it should be looked at as a system. It depends on transport slew rate, system noise, ambient electrical noise etc. Toslink also breaks ground loops.
It all comes to jitter that manifests itself as noise proportional to signal. This noise, since proportional to signal level, cannot be detected without signal and shows only as a lack of clarity. If you hear clear transparent sound then there is nothing else to it IMHO. According to what I've read BDA-1 is even better than Benchmark.
One more thing - data is sent to AE in ALAC format. I store data in ALAC format avoiding additional processing (compresion). Also using Firewire HD takes load of main processor since Firewire does transfers with it's own processor.