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Both setups probably sound the same because the jitter is so high from the digital output as well as the internal master clock. If you reclock the digital output before going to the DAC, it will probably sound a lot better, but this depends on the DAC. Jitter is the #1 problem with digital.
Here is the jitter of a good transport and how much a reclocker can reduce it:
Thanks for all the responses. It could well be the jitter. Set up was Rega Apollo with Berkeley Alpha DAC. My old CD player in pass-through mode with the Alpha DAC sounds much better. I am looking to replace the old CD player with a a more reliable one, ideally a transport only, but wanted to see if the Rega could be an option.
@stereonista - have you considered storing your CD data on a server with a solid state drive?
Letting the clock of the server, and software, deal expressly with the timing delivery of the bit stream, all with no moving parts. Many have CD ripping software built in.
You may be surprised at the sound quality available now, playing through music servers these days, that also offer online streaming capability. It may not be for you, however, the convenience and possibly better performance of your entire collection in one small package might be a consideration?
This jitter issue (which is a very real one) can be more highly resolved by the engineering efforts of well respected brands available for reasonable investment.