Digital Dilemma

I purchased an inexpensive Onkyo C-7030 CD Player more as just a transport, but also to use as a benchmark to compare to streaming music on-line. With intentions to get the streamed content to sound as good, if not better, than the CD player could muster.

After sitting my wife down for a listen (she has better ears than me) and playing Tidal, Quboz and then the same tracks on a CD, the CD was the clear winner every time. It also seems the CD playing without using the Gustard R26 DAC didn’t even sound all that much better than when played through the CD Player only, bypassing the R26. That doesn’t say too much for the R26 DAC or alternatively, it says a lot for the DAC in the CD Player!

I am using the R26 as the renderer via a LAN connection that is optically isolated. There are a few filters and adjustments on the DAC, but tweaking those still didn’t get the sound quality up to that of the CD Player.

A lot of you say you have achieved streaming that sounds as good as your analogue systems. What do you think, do I need a betted DAC?


What is your streamer?

Since you found the CD to sound better than the stream using your DAC that points to the streamer. I think also it seems your DAC is not much if at all better than the one in your CD player.


Ok, no insult intended here. But let’s review the pieces:

CDPlayer = spinner, streamer, and DAC

Streaming system = network, streamer, DAC


I find that streaming is roughly equally dependent on the streamer and DAC. If you have a good quality streamer then the network is taken out of the picture (as it will isolate the system from noise and cache the file in some way before streaming). So, the resultant sound requires both roughly equal in investment. Sounds like you need both.



@ghdprentice - the DAC has a streamer built into it. I am using it via LAN connection. The DAC/renderer comes highly recommended through many hi-fi reviews and forums, that why I purchase it. It's kind of disappointing.

Get a better streamer and it’ll make a huge difference.  My streaming now far surpasses the quality of spinning discs using an Oppo as a transport.  Also, get a good USB cable (DH Labs, etc.) to connect to the DAC as that matters too. 

@soix - thanks, any streamer suggestions, without breaking the bank?

DH Labs has a couple of USB cables, do you have a preference?

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thanks, any streamer suggestions, without breaking the bank? DH Labs has a couple of USB cables, do you have a preference?

Well, I got an iFi Zen Stream that retails for $399 along with their iPowerX power supply that’s around $100 I think, and it elevated my streaming performance to an entirely higher level. I actually ended up buying a USB cable from LavriCable that uses silver conductors and physically separates the power and data legs for better performance. These are features usually only found in much pricier cables, and as I was very impressed with their balanced interconnects and headphone cable I bought from them I just decided to stick with them for the USB cable. Others who’ve bought LavriCables here also feel they offer very high performance/$. Anyway, here’s the one I bought…

While the iFi Zen Stream also provides a lot of performance/$, I only recommend it with a few caveats:

- Either hardwire it to your router or use a Wi-Fi extender or mesh system and hardwire the Zen from that. I found its Wi-Fi performance to be spotty and very frustrating, and hardwiring to it via an Ethernet, CAT7, etc. cable sounds better as well.

- iFi as of yet doesn’t support Qobuz directly, but you can download the mConnect+ app for $6 and that works well at least until iFi gets their act together with Qobuz. This is what I did.

- iFi customer support is virtually non existent so don’t count on any help from them. Fortunately you can get questions answered here or by doing a Google search, but as long as you hardwire to the Zen Stream you’d probably have little need for support.

That said, I think the Zen Stream is excellent for the price, and you’d probably need to spend well over $1000 on an Innuos, Lumin, etc. streamer to get significantly better performance. Anyway, hope this helps.

@soix - great advice, thanks. Do you know if the ifi Zen support Tidal?

I've tried TIDAL and Quboz and it seems some tracks are better on one than the other, then vice a versa. I don’t really want to pay for two services so if the Zen works with Tidal I’d be happy.

Thanks, then the answer is easy. A get a good quality streamer and a good quality DAC. I recommend separates. Not sure your system / interest levels, but <~$2K or so per component is budget gear. You can expect a sizable improvement over $3.5K and again and again doubling. But the choice cannot be made just on cost… you need to seek components at the top of their category and with the sound quality you value.  So, in general, given what I just said, you get what you pay for.




@navyachts Go with the DH Labs Mirage. It has an isolated 5VDC line separate from the rest of the signal, and the whole cable uses silver-plated copper conductors. I’ve owned both the Mirage and cables that run into the thousands and I still advocate for the Mirage. 

Direct cd in many lesser streaming dacs sound better ,to get streaming to sound good there is a fair amount of $$ to spend ,minimum of $500+ Ethernet cables, 

and usb cable for dac. A Quality Ethernet hub Sonore ,or the New coming out in June Uptone Audio ,with a good linear power supply ,the Linear tube audio 

is by far  the best under $1300 and comes with a verygood DC cable for $750 a true bargain ,I use a decent $200 Pangea sig mk2  with it and Synergistic purple fuses 

a dramatic step up in streaming refinement $4-5k I spent just for cables and LPS 

I am saving fir the Excellent T+A 200 dac ,which at under $7k bests anything under $14k imo it’s excellent by most any standards .

Onkyo makes stellar products, no surprise. I use an Onkyo receiver in the man cave and an Onkyo DP-X1 DAP as the streamer in my main system via the USB out. It has been head and shoulders better than every other dedicated streame I have tried. The thing is some people feel that low priced gear means low quality. Whatever Onkyo does is over the top, there is nothing wrong with your more luxurious separates, Onkyo is just better, regardless of price.



I had a look at your system. Looks like you have about $10K in your preamp and amp or an average of $5K / base component. So, you should be looking at a Streamer and a DAC for that price range. Don’t worry about interconnects, those come after you have well matched components… maybe a year or two.


So, for a streamer, I recommend an Aurender N150… well, better yet an Aurender N200. Then a DAC for around $5K… hmm, I am having a problem in that price category. I like the Audio Research REF 9 and Berkeley Alpha. Too expensive. The Schiit Yggdrasil… to budget. I’ll have to do some research.


Re: DAC's, the Sony Signature TAZH1ES is a headphone amp, a DAC and a preamp. It has a feature called DSD Remastering (Sony knows DSD) that is key on streaming sources.

I can’t even keep up ,whst I think is expensive say $12 k in digital total  it’s nothing to many who spend like a nice turntable setup $40-50 k 

CD’s is a compressed digital info,High Res digital streamer or digital lossless files not plus CD’s 16/44.1 upconversion to high res DAC,lossless or streamers is vary bits and oversampling,the only thin i say if you listen digital streaming or digital lossless files when use a multibit dac that’s another story.

Do not get a better DAC. R26 is quite good with it's external clock input.

You need 10mhz Master Clock LHY OCK-2 with a good 50ohm Master clock cable (Messi & Paoloni, Times Microwave etc.) for that R26.

Use the R26 internal streamer as the master clock will clock the the streamed source as well.

That will align the planets. Trust me.

In terms of upsampling filters the R26 is better fed a pure NOS signal. If you had the A26, then I'd recommend using the upsampling filters as the delta sigma DACs take to those better in lowering the noise floor and creating overall smoothness.

Best of luck to you whatever you decide. New DACs are always fun.


I find the streamer vs CDP (or transport-DAC) argument to be non productive.  Rarely are people comparing apples to apples.  Usually it is a mid level component on end vs a pricier piece on the other.  And if everything is comparable price wise there can still be differences in design philosophies.  So it becomes which streamer vs which transport.  The differences between digital technologies is not as significant as the difference between digital and analog.

  What can be off putting is when beliefs are stated as dogma-usually in this case as “streaming always sounds better than CD”.  This dogma has become so prevalent that people think there is something wrong with them or their systems if they conclude other

This proves, streaming systems (modem, cables, pc card, dac, more cables, software whatever ...) add up to varying degrees of success.

CD/SACD players, using their own internal DACs can be: Great, good, bad, ugly. OP is telling us: his model sounds great!

Any CD player/changer: It’s a salad: physical steadiness, laser accuracy, clocking, over-sampling, propriety filters .....

Some here may know my quest, and finally finding my Sony xa5400ES SACD player. It’s awesome, there’s a reason it costs as much used today as it did when new in late 2008.

I’ve re-discovered my many CDs and few SACDs and been buying used CDs since choosing it. I just bought a spare remote, $15. just in case ...

Get an old Marantz CD-94 which is more of a reference player that the one you own.

Here in my office, I ’stream light’, primarily free YouTube and Pandora, nothing special or paid for: just Fios ethernet, pc intel motherboard with integral video/audio, usb 3.0 out to inexpensive DAC to my Little Luxman 10 wpc tube integrated and restored AR-2ax speakers which have the advantage of high and mid level controls to ’tune’ them to any space they find themselves.

I’m quite happy, thus I rarely play a CD here, just make copies for car or friend. Also LP and R2R here, sometimes I remember them, but ease of streaming and hopping around to new to me music is fun.

Main system: No Streaming: LP’s 1st, CDs 2nd, R2R 3rd (even though most involving sound), FM last.

Home Theater, 5.1: Fios ethernet, router, modem, Sony: Smart TV, AVR, Blu-Ray. DBX Soundfield FL/FR; Klipsch center and rear; Velodyne sub with 1,000 w amp.

Lot’s of Streaming: recorded Idol, Voice, Talent; hop about on YouTube for known and unknown artists, rarely Pandora here. DVD Movies and Music Videos, not CDs

I’m quite happy with the sound of this Sony system, no interest in going for ’real streaming’. I also find, changing some content to 2 channel sounds better. Not the system, good 5,1 sounds awesome, but some surround content ain’t done well.


IF I ever get the bug to 'stream high quality', before I plunk money down (adds up to a lot) I would want to take my Sony xa5400ES to a friend's system, compare it to their great sounding streaming.


So the conclusion was that the same CD played through the R26 sounded more or less the same as when you played it only through the Onkyo only? That implies that the R26 isn't the cause of any sonic differences you're hearing.


Make sure the volume is matched if you try to compare the streaming service against the CD player. Even a small difference in volume can make you prefer one over the other.


Finally, keep in mind that the streaming service can have a different version of the same recording in their library. If you want to test your streaming playback chain, I suggest ripping the CD to FLAC, streaming the files through the R26 and comparing that against the CD played through the Onkyo.

LOL at all the excuses.  Has anybody actually LISTENED at length to a C-7030 CD player?  It is a true hidden gem.

Bottom line is that the Onkyo C-7030 is a very good transport with an outstanding  built-in DAC.  It will be hard to beat that unit with other digital front-ends even using separate transports and DACs.   To equal the performance of the Onkyo built-in DAC, it's probably necessary to fork out $4K or more.  It's just that good.  And as a transport, the C-7030 does a quite nice job although some might find it a little slow on seek.  

FULL DISCLOSURE:  I have been using a C-7030 for years mostly as a transport.  I get somewhat better results on CD playback using an "Unobtanium Black DAC" that was a custom-built prototype by a now-retired manufacturer.  

A Lot of this apparent disparage of sound quality, Isn't coming from your streamer but from the source of the music that the particular site is using or even the engineers that originally recorded the album.
I get angry when some people accuse some device for bad sound quality when they are listening to a poorly engineered or mastered album. And I see a lot of this.
On the other other hand there is a matter of what the quality of the is when listening to streamed music. I know on Qobuz that you can see what their source quality is supposed to be, i.e. HD or CD. I seldom see HD even offered on may of the songs I want to listen to, so just because it is coming for streaming site doesn't mean it is a superior quality recording that you are reviewing.
Finally I often see certain albums offered on Lets say, Youtube that are from the exact same source as Spotify or Qobuz. So many people will talk trash about one over another yet they are the exact same source file being played. This can be seen and proven by noticing that on some cuts they tunicate a song or have a particular oddity like a skip in the middle of a song that is apparent on all sites. This shows that possibly much of our music is given to the sites from some 'OFFICIAL' source, to al sites. This would indicate that it isn't the source that is different, but "POSSIBLY" something  like a sites streaming algorithm or web connection is the fault.


What can be off putting is when beliefs are stated as dogma-usually in this case as “streaming always sounds better than CD”.  This dogma has become so prevalent that people think there is something wrong with them or their systems if they conclude other

Spot on comment. Multiple threads on these comparisons with the same replies. Of course if you increase the quality of the audio streamer your sound quality will escalate. The exact same case holds true as you increase the quality of a CD transport. It is possible to achieve superb sound quality with either type of digital source. It just depends on which direction one chooses to follow.

It you’re drawn to the “vast library at your fingertips “ then digital streaming is obviously alluring and desirable. If you really enjoy and into physical media then a high quality CD transport is the ticket.


IMHO - the technology is not there...Yet. I have always seen streaming being marketed and applied more as a tool of convenience used in phones, cars, refrigerators, lightbulbs, earpods etc... Very seldom is the emphasis on quality. 

There is alot of great advice given here to maximize what you are attempting to achieve. Perhaps, most probably, in time the technology will get there.

That said my direct experience has been... 

a  $4K investment - in a Mojo audio build out, which included top rated drivers, storage, a seprate power supply,  master clock, dac and cables.

And after all that - it still was not as good as playing redbook CDs. The Mojo is  very good as streamers go, But the closest it ever came to sounding almost as good as red book CD -  is when I connected a $9k power cable to it. 


Lot of great comments and advice, thanks.

@luisranger2bn - What?

@riie - suggestions?

@antialiased - I'd like to PM you on this.

@ggc - "is when I connected a $9k power cable to it" - Love it!




That looks like china fi level man you can do better. I suggest California fi - MSB Discrete with renderer.


very natural relaxed sound quite impressed with MSB.


as always try before you buy and make sure you sleep on it

what do you use for optical isolation?


A good all in one steamer/dac such as a Lumin T3 (used T2), the Aurender N200 or Hifi Rose RS150B all punch above…. (Alas, Aurenders do not play with Roon.)


I recommend Aurender N150 + Schiit Yggdrasil + Quboz  (I have an N100H). Very happy, play my records maybe once per year!

@wsrrsw @jallan - Thanks.

I've gotten a lots of advice here that goes from spending thousands of dollars on new equipment and cables to spending little on a new inexpensive streamer & a good USB cable to just beefing up my existing DAC with a new Master Clock. 

I'm confused...

I believe the 7030 uses a Wolfson DAC....considered one of the best bang for the buck DACs out there.  Been thinking about getting the 7030 to replace the dated JVC I've had for years.  I think you sold me OP!  Last time I looked it was $299 at Crutchfield.  Thanks for the write-up....

I've gotten a lots of advice here that goes from spending thousands of dollars on new equipment and cables to spending little on a new inexpensive streamer & a good USB cable to just beefing up my existing DAC with a new Master Clock. I'm confused...

I’d recommend not overcomplicating this upfront and just start with the streamer and decent USB cable and see how that works for you.  The upgraded power supply, clock, etc. can all be added later and give you something to look forward to for further meaningful improvements down the road. 

I have the R26 as one of my DACs that I swap in and out of a $60K system, I run it via I2S and/or AES inputs with an external clock and DDC and good quality cabling. Set up properly like this it sounds as good as any of my other more costly DACs - different, but as good. My experience with DACs in my system is every part of the digital source chain contributes to the DAC's performance. The chain is only as good as the weakest link.

@kairosman - DDC, what are you using and are you using the R26 as a renderer or do you have a separate streamer?

@navyachts +1001 what @soix said. KISS. That's why I was recommending the one box solution. 

Right now on Audiogone I see a Lumin T3 (new..discounted) an Aurender 200 (good price) and A HiFi Rose (also good price). Entering here may be all you will ever want. Plug, play and chill.

To Roon on not to Roon is the question and that done right will also add a few K.

I'm a very happy Qobuz user and use Roon for a whole house system but not for the big rig.


I purchased a new R26 DAC a few months back from the distributor, to replace my Benchmark DAC3. When it arrived, I ran a digital signal through it for about 150 hours to allow it to break-in, for it sounded quite boring, soft, and lacking in detail when it first arrived. After the 150 hour break-in period, it continued to sound the same, and never improved. I was quite shocked at just how terrible my R-26 sounded. I tried it as a streamer, as well as just a DAC using a good transport and excellent digital coax cable. The results were the same. I also tried it in a friend's system, with the same poor results. I ended up sending it back to the seller for a full refund. I then purchased a new $800 SMSL DAC (D400EX), which sounds fantastic, and quite a bit more enjoyable than the Benchmark DAC3 that it replaced. I really feel that the new R26 DAC that I received must have been a "lemon" from the factory, for all the reviews on it are very positive. The one I received sounded worse than any of the cheapest $100 CD players from the 1990's that I have ever heard. You may have received one of the "lemons' from Gustard as well. 

@bigshutterbug - interesting, but I think the R26 sounds good, I just need to refine my overall streaming set up.