I have been on a similar quest, and use the digital feed out of a Squeezebox, which is not too bad. Feeding it directly into a Northstar DAC, one can still hear the effects of poor jitter performance, such that a decent transport is definitely better. However when I put a Meridian 518 between the Squeezebox and the Northstar, the performance was better than using a good transport directly into the DAC.
So I don't have the answer to what DAC to use, but caution you that you may need to use some form of jitter reducing box.
Clearly if you want to just use a DAC one of the key issues is its ability to eliminate jitter as much as possible, otherwise the rest of the DAC and your system will be severely compromised. The Levinson FIFO system appears to be very good at that, and some of the pro DACs appear to be better than most consumer DACs at eliminating jitter. You might therefore look at a Lavry Gold. The Lavry's have excellent jitter removal and top class clocks.
I expect the DCS Elgar, or Delius could a good choice, but am concerned that they do seem to jump up a lot in quality when teamed with the Purcell upsampler or some other device, suggesting to me that the jitter rejection on their own may not be as good as you need.
Unfortunately for me I have not heard a Meitner.
USB 2 out to a dac like the Wavelength, Apogee, or TwinDac Plus. I'm sure there will be others soon. I can only comment on the TwinDac. It's good...how good I don't know. Better than my SCD777es for sure. I've read remarks from someone who unloaded their DCS stack for one. Look for remarks from RMAF, where the TwinDac was shown.
Try the Benchmark Dac-1. One of the best for low jitter.
Excellent DAC's include:
1) Perpetual P-3A
2) MSB gold
3) Electrocompaniet ECD-1
4) Benchmark DAC-1
None of these will deliver the magic stock, but modified, they are all world-class. The ECD-1 is probably the best stock. You could have a USB interface installed in any of them as well.
the DACs you mention all use a USB connection so I would obtain low jitter from my PC based transport but would any of these combo's live up to the CD12 in terms of absolute quality?
Is the USB interface the sole reason for these units performance or would adding USB interfaces to other DACs inprove their level of performance too?
Stupid question, but could I add a USB connection to the meitner DAC or my existing 8800p???
Steve, do you do the USB mods to those units you mentioned?
"Steve, do you do the USB mods to those units you mentioned?"
Yes, I can put a USB interface in any DAC, including the Meitner.
I would recommend using your favorite DAC and just install the USB interface in it or use an audiophile-quality external converter.
Cary 303/200 is a CD player which can act as a DAC. This is what I bought when I went looking for a DAC for my home theater PC. It has HDCD and I use the digital pass through to my A/V receiver to play DVDs and DTS music. I hear the Cary 306/200 is even better!
I use an RME card as well. I'm using coax out. If you want to lower jitter, you should probably upgrade your card with a little daughter-card that RME sells that has a word clock out, and then get a DAC with a word clock in. (You can then run 2 cables between your RME card and your DAC -- one for normal SPDIF data as you have now, and the other for the clock signal) Then you can configure the RME card to be the master clock and the RME card will send a very high-quality clock to the DAC for it to use, so that the DAC doesn't have to get the clock signal the normal (jitter-prone) way, by decorrelating it from the digital data coming over the SPDIF link. The clock signal itself, when transmitted on its own cable, is very low bandwidth and does not incur any jitter of its own, so you basically eliminate transport jitter by using this approach.
Off the top of my head, I think the top-of-the-line Esoteric DAC has a word clock in, and I'd assume that most pro-oriented DACs as well as pro/home crossover DACs like some of the dCS and EmmLabs (ie. Meitner) models have them. You may want to check with RME for more details. I'm not a professional audio engineer so I'm just starting to figure it out myself, and looking forward to trying it here. :)
My 2 cents,
I like what Drobbins had to say. I haven't tried that approach. I do think however that the whole "jitter" discussion is a bit overblown. Jitter might have been an issue years ago, but I don't believe it's still as relevant today. Most DAC's over a grand can handle jitter with aplomb. I would assume that jitter would become very recognizable with vocals, since we all know how human voice is suppose to sound. Even the un-trained ear can pick up anomalies. I get none of it with my setup.
I have a RME digi pad connected to (via coax) a Bel Canto Dac 2 connected to a tube integrated amp. I'll take the convienence of having thousands of songs and albums at my fingertips, while sacrificing some fidelity (how much is debatable) to the CD changing ways anyday.
Having said that and after reading countless technical discussions on jitter, usb, coax, dac's and computer as source in general, in my opinion it comes down to this: computer as source can sound very good, but it's not there yet. Meaning, if you compare it to the world's best cd players (ie. Linn), computer as transport won't sound as good. To use an analogy here, the Linn cd player is a Formula 1 car. Is it better than a Mercedes S500? If speed and cornering is what you're after, you bet it's better. It won't have the nice climate controlled seats like the Mercedes S500 nor the smooth ride for that matter. The Mercedes is no slouch in cornering, but it can't beat the F1 Ferrari. So there... that really is the gist in my humble opinion. To take the analogy further, I think you're looking for climate controlled seats (Mercedes) and speed and cornering of an F1 Ferrari. That's going to be tough to find. Here are a few things that improved my sound.
Media: Mp3's won't do. FLAC, AIFF, APE and Wav is what you should be listening to.
Hardware: The computer needs to be assembled as an audio device from the start. Store bought systems, (especially if they're more then 3 years old) won't cut it. The RME is a good card because it's drivers bypass the windows own kmixer which mucks (a technical term ;) up the sound. Try reading up on "Lynx" which is another manufacturer of high-end sound cards
Software: The front end software is important as well. Foobar2000 is the most audiophile friendly player (but not easiest of most user friendly to set-up)
Last point. The lastest fad of hyping USB as the "solution" is debatable at best. Maybe it's cleaner than coax (SPDIF), then again maybe it's not. I've seen highly regarded DAC manufacturers ripped to shreads in forums. Their USB claims were simply ignorant or plain incorrect. Check out diy audio forums or headfi for those discussions.
Last but not least, you can throw money at your quandary, but I'd be carefull there. It might just leave you a little lighter in the wallet without any meaningful improvement.
Juzi68 - once you have the clarity and speed of PC driven playback, you will notice the jitter even more. The clock in the PC, the S/PDIF interface, the S/PDIF cable all add to the jitter. I hear it mostly as a bit of echo or sibilance at the high-frequencies. Once it was gone, I really appreciated this. Better than the best transport on the market now.
I also have a Cary 303/200 and use digital pass through for DVDs and DTS. I have considered upgrading to the 306/200, but I have never been able to hear one.