DAC or CD Player. Help!

Dumb question but I am new to the Hi Fi Field. When you hook up an DAC to your CD player which unit is dictating the sound that you hear. Does the CD Player really matter or is the CD player running the sound? Thanks!
The result is a function of the CD transport, the cable used, the DAC and the synergy between the aforementioned.

DAC sends an output analogue signal to your amp/preamp/receiver.

The result is a function of the CD transport, the cable used, the DAC and the synergy between the aforementioned.
+1  It all matters.
Synergy is about the most useless audio platitude I can imagine. I'm not trying to be rude, seriously, but it's so absolutely objective as to be absurd. It's like saying "get the best white base you can" when buying paint.
Forgot the question :) .. if the transport isn't shite (most middling+ CD players) then I'd say the DAC. Rarely, if ever, the cables. On both the desktop and main system I use Cambridge players, and both run the signal to a DAC. A NAD 1050 and Arcam irDAC. I run them that way because I'm convinced through trial and error that they sound better dumping their 1 and 0s to the aftermarket DACs. Having said that, when I was using a 1st generation DAC Magic (Cambridge) I couldn't hear enough difference to matter. In fact, that DAC sounded brighter in comparison to the CD player alone.
All matters including cable.  Synergy is important.  In case of digital connection it will be output impedance of CDP, input impedance of the DAC and characteristic impedance of the cable.  It will also be length of the cable, slew rate of the CDP etc.  It is a system thing.

it all matters!
This isn't very complicated. CD players are just three components built into one box, the transport that picks up the bits from the disc, the built-in DAC (digital to analog converter) and the analog output stage that sends a signal to the preamp or integrated amp. 

They're all important, as others have mentioned, so the question about using a separate DAC really comes down, sonically, to whether the DAC and the analog output stage in your CD player are better than an external DAC and its analog output stage. 

But, one of the big advantages of using an external DAC and relying only on the player for sending the bits to the DAC is that the transport in a CD player will always eventually fail.

They are mechanical devices, like the tires on your car, and they have a limited lifespan. Replacing the transport in a quality CD player can cost more than what you paid for it originally.

DACs are being improved upon daily. Good ones are not that expensive and you're much better set up for the future of music reproduction if you make the move now.

I think some of these responses are more complicated for the OP than they need to be.  In general, the DAC will determine the sound.
I agree that if a disc players transport and digital output is functioning as it should, the DAC used would likely make the greatest contribution to the sonics provided.

I believe that the concept of synergy in the development of a audio system is important. Optimizing electrical (objective) and personal preference (subjective) synergies provides for the greatest enjoyment of any system.

Do I, or will I, ever understand all that this implies? Never. Do enjoy the journey however. Thanks to all those on this forum that have helped me on the way!  
Thanks to everyone for helping me out!
I get the point of what people are saying with "synergy," but unless you live in an audio shop, who has the money to throw a grand or two here and there to determine which component of the many they read about is 'the one' to mate with components they already own? I have to conclude that a lot of what 'synergy' means is whatever the poster thinks sounds good at that moment. Until he buys something else, of course, at which point the synergy changes to that. 
PS: expensive cables do. not. matter.
Price of cable might not matter, but one cable can deliver better sound than another.  Cheaper CDP can sound better than expensive transport when feeding DAC.  That is synergy.
OP, if this is a way of asking if you should buy a dac or a cd player, I would personally recommend a dac in this day and age.  I can stream most of the music in the world through online streaming services and my own library through a dac that I can control using an app on my phone.

Everything in the audio chain can have an effect starting with the mastering of the original recording.  This is getting complicated, but even the phase noise of the clock generator in your cd transport/player and the clock used in your dac has an audible effect. 
Regarding synergy, there has to be some intelligent decisions made when selecting audio components.  For example if you don't like bright / harsh sound, you wouldn't pair a bright sounding dac with bright sounding speakers and use silver plated cables - ear fatigue nightmare!
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Worse than the AC cable snake oil is without doubt the cable risers. Spend major bucks on foo-foo cable jackets and 'flex' mesh pixie powder that they slip over the three-layer cable jacket only to determine that if the cable lays on the floor the sound is diminished. That's not synergy, it's idiocy.
Audioman2015, OP was merely asking what plays major role in CDP - DAC connection.  I believe that everything is important.  Jittery CDP will never sound good with the best DAC.  Poorly matched digital cable might affect sound of otherwise great CDP/DAC pair, etc..
DAC..... I had the same thought,  it's just that a good DAC can handle several inputs and serve more as the hub of a good digital system.  I bought a DAC , and then a year or so later I bought a good universal player.   I play everything through the DAC,  TV, Netflix, streaming audio, BluRay, and it provides great sound for all media.
Rsa, as with oddiofyl, and something I should have mentioned prior, I also use my DAC for both a disc player and computer audio (via USB/SPDIF converter).  I enjoy the synergy my DAC brings together with my Pre, amp, and speakers. This synergy s maintained regardless of digital source primarily due to their output being run through the same DAC.  


I agree with audioman2015. If you haven't purchased a CD player or transport, you may want to consider using a computer or music server device and DAC instead.. With so many subscription streaming options available such as TIDAL HiFi (Lossless), there's no reason to use CDs any longer.

Since I've had my TIDAL Lossless music subscription, I don't think I've purchased a CD as I can access over 35 million tracks at Redbook CD quality level at home, in my car or on the road. When TIDAL or other subscription services offers MQA as an option, CDs will be the low man on the totem pole when it comes to sound quality.  

You can rip your existing CDs to your computer or music server. Although not as easy, there are options to rip SACDs in the event you have a large collection of SACDs, 

Hope this helps.
Like others have said, everything matters.

For a beginner I recommend a cd player that also serves as a dac - you eliminate the synergy variables, for the most part, & it allows a foray into decent computer audio. An upside is that you can always add a better dac in the future too.

Three that come to mind based on increasing cost are:
Music Hall c-dac15.3 - $550 street
Audiolab 8200cdq - $1,200 or so street
Rega Suturn-R - $2,600 or so street

If you are looking for direction on specific purchase(s) it would be helpful if you define for us your current system and what you wish to accomplish.

My system is pretty well set and I am happy with it (theres always room for improvement). I just  bought a new DAC and CDP and was wondering which unit was producing the most of the music. Thanks everybody for your help!
Congrats on your purchases. Are you using the player as a transport via the DAC?

I still and will always contend that expensive boutique cables are 100% snake oil. Some of the priciest manufacturers of this stuff hedge their claims 10 ways to Tuesday while struggling to make a case for their HUGE markups.

Take Zu Audio. I'll drop in the link at the bottom to their take on cable burn-in, but first you have to know why cable burn-in is even an issue. You pay 10-20x per foot what a decent piece of Belden or Monoprice cable costs and even though you want to hear that astounding difference your mind is telling you something else. So if the industry floats long burn-in times for cable, guess what's likely to happen after you've listened to these cables for many hours? That's right, you keep them. Or the return policy has expired. Either way you own them now. 

Take a look at Zu's take on burn-in. Count the weasel-words like "seems to", "potential to," and the endless prevarication and unsubstantiated claims, even when it involves their own "heavy investments in exploiting the phenomenon" did they actually write that? Yes, they did! They also write copious words signifying nothing to end with this:

"If they don’t sound awesome right out of the box, please give them time to loosen and warm up."

Read it for yourselves, and remember, snake oil comes off pretty easily. Buy yourself a spool of Monoprice 12AWG speaker wire, make two cables and then run a blind listening test whereby someone else switches them for your big buck foo-foo cable and guess which cable is hooked up. Run this test 5-10 times over the course of a couple days. Give it time. Track the guesses.

There's power in truth; save all that money and buy music with it. That is why you've invested 1000s in gear, right?


Hi all. First post ever. Just dived into this fascinating rabbit hole a few weeks ago and trying to learn as fast as I can. Audiogon seems to be one of the best places to do this.
Sorry to take a perfectly intelligent question from the OP and make it unbelievably obtuse, but here's my confusion: a standard CD player (as opposed, I gather, to a pure "transport") must have a DAC, or something similar, built in, right? Otherwise how do the ones and zeros turn into an analog signal that feeds directly into the pre-amp/integrated/receiver? So if there's an analog signal coming out of the CD player...how does it make sense to run that signal into a standalone DAC? So there must be a separate output from the CD player that transmits an unconverted digital signal, bypassing the DAC (or whatever it is) inside the CD player, and this unconverted signal is what you would cable to the standalone DAC, thus making your CD player into a pure transport? I never noticed such an output on my 20-yr-old old Sony CD player, but I guess I never thought to look. Thanks for the education!
jamcl63, Welcome.  I'm in this rabbit hole since 2005 for the same reason - to learn.  You pretty much answered your own questions.  Yes CDP has its own D/A converter and analog electronics but it also has digital output providing serial stream of data called S/Pdif (Sony/Philips Digital Interface Format).  As you noticed, CDP becomes a transport when this output is used instead of analog out.  Not every CDP has digital output.
Stream of zeros and ones on this output is being read by the DAC.  It is important to keep this stream of data steady since any time variation - a time jitter will convert into noise on analog side.
Thank you for clearing this up...I'd seen it written "SPDIF" and wondered. Lots to learn....