digital front end to rival best vinyl?

i am interested in adding a 2 channel digital front end but no cd's. looking for storage/source, clock,dac and what ever else required, that can compete or better vinyl. is this possible? am i to early? i am a novice when it comes to digital front ends and am trying to learn as much as possible. all knowledgeable info will be greatly apriciated. i did hear a system at goodwins highend that sounded great but seemed to have very limited softwear. thanks
digital front end to rival best vinyl?
Koegz (System | Answers)

Based on your background with vinyl, I'm going to say the answer as it relates specifically to you is no.

However, if you alter your expectations, you may find a hard drive based digital front end very enjoyable for other reasons.
I do not know about Analog v.s Digital or endless variations in obtaining desired levels of performance ....... it is all very subjective.
On the other hand there are those reporting great results with Squeezebox Transporter (Modwright modified) and other computer based systems.
I can only comment on what works for me:

MacBook Air to Empirical Audio Offramp Turbo and feeding RWA Isabellina HPA DAC. DAC is used as a digital preamp as it features variable analog out and it has remote volume control. RWA also offers the option to power components like EA, Wadia iTransporter, various chip amps via optional power out (will share its battery power supply with one other component) on Isabellina DAC. This will ( has potential) have entire system of the grid. ITunes are controlled with help of iPod iTouch and free remote application from Apple.

I wouldn't go as far as comparing two formats or vote in either favor (although I have my favorites) but it is somewhat possible to enjoy computer setup without regrets.
Both gentlemen posting before me make excellent points. I would have answered in the same vein. It is a pity that Empirical Audio does not market the "Spoiler with Pacecar" any more. That would have been an excellent choice for your quest. However I feel it is worth while to follow though along Mrjstark's suggestions and do some research on the Empirical Audio website or get in touch with Steve Nugent directly. He is very helpful.
Happy hunting,
I am currently using a hard drive based Digital Front End. I use a Universal Player that Downmixes Multi-channel SACD/DVD-Audio to 2-Channels. It is the closest that I have heard any Silver Disk come to compete with Vinyl, and that includes the 2-Channel High Res. SACD/DVD-Audio Disks, no matter what the Sampling Rate. If it is Downloading, or Ripping of CD's to put in Memory, I would make Damn sure that any System was Multi-Channel capable. This is not to reproduce four distinct Channels (which is something you could do), but to provide the means for a Digital 2-Channel Downmix. IMO-Digital 2-Channel Downmixes are the closest thing to Vinyl, regardless if Disk or Memory are used. It is the first time that I have heard any real harmonic content from any Digital Source.
I have also heard of some that utilize a Record Analog Feed to a Digitizing Computer Memory. Some have claimed that they get the best Sound from this process. I would presume that one would need the best Analog/Digital and Digital/Analog Converters for this System. I have also heard that some use a device to reduce pops and ticks in the Analog Feed of such a System.
Personnal preferences will determine which System sounds best to you.
Doesn't exist. What you are comparing is analogue to digital. Stop chasing the 'analogue' sound, just live with digital. Remember it is the source that should be compared. I've listened to some blu-ray audio mastered from the analogue tapes on some titles I have in analogue, reel tapes, and while close, still can tell there is a difference. Analogue still has the edge. As more and more analogue is remastered to blu-ray, that may change. Since there is a lot of new vinyl that can be compared to the cd equal, you must decide. Part of the problem is that the vinyl is being cut from a digital source, often with all the EQ and other 'enhancements' added, so you never really hear the analogue sound as source. There are some titles that do go directly from the analogue tape masters to vinyl with little 'processing'. I think the Beatles project missed an opportunity to not issue a few blu-rays.

What works for me? Analogue, vinyl and tape, with tubes.
To specifically address your issue, I suggest you pay close attention to what Tvad and Buconero117 said in their posts.
Vinyl and digital will, probably, never sound the same.
And one person's silk purse is, always, going to be another person's sow's ear.
As far as getting the best sound you can from digital sources, I can only suggest what has worked for me.
First, optical drives seem to all suck. Always play music right off your hard drive--even if that means loading the CD's content, first, off of it on to your hard drive before playing it.
Secondly, to know if you have the right computer set-up, it will be one where the volume controls of your computer don't work--but the player's (like Foobar) does.
Thirdly, I suggest using a sepearte component solely for converting the USB signal to S/pdif before sending it to your DAC.
And this component should have a huge power supply. Don't use what comes with the converter, supplant it with a big computer power supply (I use an HP 6203B) set to match the AC voltage needs of your converter--effectively matching its "wall wart".
Fourthly, the output impedance of the converter and input impedance of the DAC seem to effect things. So, you'll need to try different digital cables to get a good match.
Fifthly, there seems to be a "sweet spot" in your music player's output level. Find it (by ear). Set it. Forget it. And just use your preamp's volume pot.
And, in conclusion, as far as what DAC to use, IF you're looking to get that "vinyl sound" out of it, use one with a tubed output.
Disclaimer: I have no idea why any of the above matters. I discovered it through lots of trial and lots of error.
I could go on. But, I just finished my second martini and can no longer type.
You will have to do a lot of research to find a hard drive based system that works for you.

Here is a company offering hard drive front ends:

I have not heard these products so I'm not recommending them, but it may be a place to start your search.

a few months ago i did add a server, with 176/24 and 192/24 hirez files. they sound wonderful. much better than redbook.

but i likley prefer the best SACD's to the hirez PCM i've yet heard, let alone 'the best vinyl'.....which i have in my system. then there is 'the best reel to reel master tape, which beats the best vinyl.

i will qualify this by saying that my musical and sonic sensibilities highly value those aspects of music reproduction which are preserved by analog recording. i think live music sounds more like analog than digital (especially PCM). so if one values the added leading edge energy of PCM and don't have a problem with the reduced space and body with PCM.....then possibly digital could rival the best vinyl.

this is a subjective question; and i have friends i respect who prefer a digital hirez master to a RTR tape master. my ears tell me something different. and i know how the best of analog recordings make me feel compared to the best digital.

i do know what happens when i have friends over and we switch from listening to anything digital to Lps or RTR tape. we rarely if ever return to digital.

btw; i love digital and have top level digital gear.
The best digital front end I have heard is the new Naim HDX. I felt it even outperformed the dCs Scarlatti by a significant margin. It is still not as good as a good vinyl front end (what is?) but it is awfully close. I plan to get one once the 2nd generation units come out.
The best I've heard is our PC driving a Playback Designs MPS-5. To top it off, it will accept a direct DSD signal via ST-optical. Hi-rez PCM and DSD.. can't get much better than that!
I think digital is certainly getting closer than it used to.

To be honest, with the current state of digital in my system (Weiss DAC2+Mac Mini), I would never get into analog from scratch at this point. I would even prefer the Weiss to all all my previous $3-5k tables (Michell, VPI, Rega). However with a record collection of 1300LPs collected over the last 18 years there is little chance I would give up analog anytime. And comparing my $10k+ setup there is still a slight edge to analog, even when running high-rez 24/176.4 files.

What did you listen to at Goodwin's. Was it the DCS or computer to the Berkeley DAC or something else? Both come very close to analog.

I think the largest issue is the SW, there is not alot of high res around yet. Most of what is available is classical with some jazz. This is a new format and it takes time to get going.
You will have to sample most of your own music. Upsampled red book CD's do sound better with the computer & Berkeley combo than from a CDP by itself. There is no jitter from HD systems I think and I also think and that helps alot with people who are sensitive to digital error. You could also spend $30,000 or more on something like the DCS or Esoteric systems. The issue I have there is there are huge advances all the time and CDP's seem to change too often. I myself do not want to throw down that kind of money on an item that wiil change shortly as I did with DVDA.
I have the Berkeley waiting for me to pick up and I have already built the computer. The setup cost alot less than $30,000. The computer also has more uses than just a music server so it has a good WAF.
It will take me time to build the library but I have all winter to do it. I am interested in sampling my CD collection to the computer and downloading HRes from the web. I will try some of my vinyl but I think I will prefer my analog to stay analog as I have since I got into this hobby.
I am glad that something digital has finaly come along that sounds very good and should have a good shelf life. I put alot of time and effort into my analog-HT rig. With the Berleley/computer setup I can also do 2 channel digital correctly without going broke. Upgrades should be much easier on the pocket also. BTW IMHO.
Hevac1; i do not know which i heard, but i agree it sounded great. you are building your own computer or having it built? i also agree with the advances which has kept me on the sidline up until now. also you are correct on the limitted software. i do not listen to jazz or classical. meridian bought out that soo???? i was going to look into that. what computer system are you building/having built?
Hello Crna39:

"...Playback Designs MPS-5... it will accept a direct DSD signal via ST-optical. Hi-rez PCM and DSD..."

Are you sure - I looked at their agent web site:
and it does not say a word abou it.

Thank you
I purchased my own parts and built my own computer awhile ago. It is a XP with 4 gigs (only 3gigs seen by XP system),quadcord at 2.40Ghz, raid 10 with 3 Tbs X2 of hd space for movies, DVD/CD burner, M audio 24/192 soundcard, NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB display and a MyHDTuner 130 card.
I am adding another raid controler so I can add more HD space for music. I figure another raid 10 with 2 X 6TB. I have to remove the MYHDcard to do this but I never use the turner anyway. That will free up 2 slots so who knows I may add another raid controler. Hard drive are cheap now. I am also changing the M audio to a LynxStudio audio card.

The best part is my wife is letting me move my computer from the sound room to the sitting room next to the closset where my stereo equipment is. I purchased a very quiet computer case but all those HD's may get louder than I can stand. I have to punch a hole into the closet and change out some cables to the eqipment. My mouse & keyboard are Blue tooth. I do have to run a video and usb cable back to where the monitor pantry door is and I am all set.
BTW a raid 10 configered controller will setup 6 2TBs Hard Drives into 2 mirrored 6TBs of hd space and write to both at the same time so back is done at the same time.
What about the Linn DS range?

Concept is to have no moving parts in the player itself - no hard disks, no CD transport. It has a network port and a DAC (or two, as you go up the range). Someone mentioned the Slim Devices Transporter, or the Modright fettled version, which works on the same principle.

Key thing with this design is the elimination of jitter-prone connections. Using ethernet (wired or wireless, though wireless can be unreliable), data is pulled down to the player well ahead of when the DAC needs it, and conversion to PCM stream happens right next to the DAC. No need to worry about any clock discrepancies between computer and DAC. Also no interference from computers or hard drives, which can be kept elsewhere.

Never heard one myself, but very highly thought of. Received wisdom is that each of these Linn sources better the CD player in the range above. Very probably going to get one soon.
4musica4410 Naim HDX is a music organizer, what dac was it using when you heard it? any new thoughts out there? still considering dcs heard from many owners who love them. my concern is that something less costly will come out and beat it up, any views or knowledge of future better options? i mean they are practiclly giving away older dcs's. thanks
Koegz et al:
The Naim HDX has an internal DAC that works just fine, but you also have the option to use an external Naim or other DAC. I heard the HDX most recently at "Naim Night" at Don Better's home and that time he was using a Naim external DAC. Absolutely stunningly musical. Again, the best digital source I have ever heard - by far. Add an iTouch for complete remote control and you are all set! Can't wait to get one!
I began my transition to computer based audio by choosing which interface I wanted to use. I decided on Sonos, and I am very happy with it. The problem with Sonos, however, is that it has very high jitter on the S/PDIF output. I addressed this by using an Empirical Audio reclocker between the Sonos and my dac. The improvements from reclocking were huge.

From my experience putting together a computer based setup, I can recommend: (1) Carefully select your interface, as it is a large part of the joy of a computer based setup; and (2) Find a way of getting the lowest possible jitter signal to your dac.

Another advantage to this approach is that you are free to choose from the widest possible selection of dacs to help you achieve the state of the art performance you're looking for.

Good luck!
I agree, digital and vinyl are two different animals. However having said that you can get pretty decent digital for little money these days. Vinyl will be more expensive at all comperable quality levels.

But the best digital is only comparable to mid level vinyl. Good vinyl transcends any comparison, and the more you put into vinyl the more it changes. Not so with digital - the changes become subtle and very costly.