Good CD player vs. Transport and DAC


Where am I going to get the best Digital playback? Going with a high end CD player or a transport and DAC? Also, what's the difference between a transport and a cd player if you are using an external dac with either one? I am thinking of an Oppo bdp 95 to use for cd play back since it seems to have a really nice dac (SABRE32 Reference ES9018 from ESS Technology). I am currently using a denon dvd 2900 and a musical fidelity v-dacII with pangea p100 power supply. Any feedback is greatly appreciated! Thanks!
b_limo
Transports wear out. DACs do not.
So I would buy a 'decent CD player. Then.. after time and whatever, a better DAC.
Once you have that 'for life' DAC. CD players/changers, whatever come and go. They break, So what.
You still have your DAC.
I have four CD players on my DAC, and two spare ones...
I have no plans on upgrading the DAC anytime soon.
Though if I won the lotto...
Have you considered a DAC, with some kind of computer transport?

John
I'm a fan of a high quality DAC, and then attaching whatever digital transports you like to it. Single-box players all require their own internal DAC circuitry, and that gets expensive if you want good stuff.

I absolutely adore my North Star m192 mkii DAC. I'm pushing bits through it with a Logitech Transporter, and an old Arcam Alpha Plus CD player.

IMO all digital sources sound equally good through a quality DAC. Claiming that one digital source sounds different from another is bogus. It's just a bitstream. No need for a Mark Levinson CD transport, just find a $100 cheapie with SPDIF output and only your pocketbook will know the difference. Cheers
Yeah, like I stated above, I am currently using a denon dvd 2900 connected to a musical fidelity v-dacII with an upgraded pangea p-100 power supply. I would like to get a better sounding digital set-up and am thinking about an oppo with a 32 bit sabre dac but am open to suggestions. Thanks again guys, and gals!
The MSB Universal Transport, Platinum power base, Platinum DAC IV, and Pro I2S could be the final destination for a long, long time - although the base model DAC/Power Base, this MSB setup smokes the Modwright Oppo BDP-95 and the Esoteric K-03 from what I've heard) - but o-u-c-h the price of admission.
Just to clarify, are you looking for a CD player or a multi format player? Your original post says CD player. If thats the case, I think you are better off looking at something that plays CD's only. There's no reason to buy something like an Oppo that is designed to do a whole bunch of things that you will never use it for. More importantly, CD's need all the help they can get to sound good.

As far as getting a CD player or separates, that's a personal choice. Unless you are looking at something like Wadia or DCS separates, I prefer a single box solution. Generally speaking, with high end audio, things tend to get broken down into more separate, specialized pieces. (For example, instead of a receiver, you can go with an amp, preamp, phono stage and tuner.) If you look back to when high end CD playback was first getting popular, the general trend was just the opposite. To deal with problems like jitter, keeping everything in one box fixed a lot of problems. Of course, today, manufactures have come a long way fixing those problems, but for me, I still like a single box solution.

Unlike a lot of people, I have had very good luck with reliability issues. I've had CD players that were set on repeat for years just to break equipment in and keep everything warmed up. Never had a transport break. (Honestly, though, had I been more aware of some of the reliability issues that others were having, I would have shut them off, just to be safe.)

Some brands I would recommend, new or used, are: Ayre, Arcam, Wadia and Cary. I've had many others, as well, but the ones I list are my favourites.
"IMO all digital sources sound equally good through a quality DAC. Claiming that one digital source sounds different from another is bogus. It's just a bitstream. No need for a Mark Levinson CD transport, just find a $100 cheapie with SPDIF output and only your pocketbook will know the difference."

And here we have it; pure genius.
So from what I'm hearing you say is that the transport doesn't matter in terms of sound, just get a good dac? Not to sound redundant, but I'm using my denon dvd 2900 as a transport and using a musical fidelity v-dacII with an upgraded pangea p-100 power supply for the dac. If I want better digital playback, I should just concentrate on getting a better dac (a dac with asynchronus usb for future expansion into computer audio, I'm thinking, or I suppose I could just use the v-dacII for computer audio if necessary). Also, in terms of upgrading my dac, I have balanced inputs on my pre-amp that I'm not using...
Go to Bel Canto and choose.Can't be beat for the money,cheers,Bob
B_limbo,

"So from what I'm hearing you say is that the transport doesn't matter in terms of sound, just get a good dac?"

Only you can make that decision. I'm willing to bet, though, that you would know the difference. It looks like you are responding to the post above that says nothing matters but the DAC. That person doesnÂ’t know what they're talking about. I don't mean that as an insult, but literally. It happens all the time. People end up in a high end audio store for the first time, or visit a web site like this and have a very typical reaction; they panic is some form. Weather it be the high prices of components or the claims that things like cables can sound different, its so far removed from what they know an audio system to be, their first reaction is to deny the legitimacy of the products in question.

Hears some examples.

"Single-box players all require their own internal DAC circuitry, and that gets expensive if you want good stuff." Ya think? Nothing like stating the obvious.

"Claiming that one digital source sounds different from another is bogus. It's just a bitstream." Really? If that's the case you can just use 128k mp3 files instead of SACD. After all, it is just a bit stream.

"No need for a Mark Levinson CD transport, just find a $100 cheapie with SPDIF output and only your pocketbook will know the difference." That's a guess. (You don't really think that person ever had a ML transport for comparison, do you?)

At this point, you may be asking why so many people are sceptical when it comes to high end audio? For the most part its how the consumer electronics industry markets digital products. They messed up big time with audio. Why do kids want a PS3 over a PS 1 or 2? Better processing power. Why do people want Blu Ray players over DVD players? Better picture quality. Why do people want MP3 players over CD players? More features - NOT better sound quality. An ipod is smaller than a CD player and holds 50,000 songs. Its the equivalent of buying a 10 year old computer and plugging a 2TB hard drive in it a calling it state of the art. Most people would laugh at you.

The reason I went on and on about this, is that it's very easy to get sucked into the features over quality mindset without realizing it.
B_limo, you will get a wide swath of responses to your inquiry. You have captured the essence of the viewpoint of some when you say, "So from what I'm hearing you say is that the transport doesn't matter in terms of sound, just get a good dac? Not to sound redundant, but I'm using my denon dvd 2900 as a transport and using a musical fidelity v-dacII with an upgraded pangea p-100 power supply for the dac. If I want better digital playback, I should just concentrate on getting a better dac..."

You couldn't get much worse advice when it comes to Redbook playback. The transport is of paramount importance, as is the digital cable, as is the power cord for each (transport/DAC). Every element of the signal, from reading to conversion, is profoundly important to achieve a digital playback which has some semblance of extreme beauty.

Put a crap transport in front of whatever DAC you wish, be it a $500 or $10K DAC, and the result will suffer. Put a beautiful player/transport feeding whatever DAC you wish, be it a $500 or $10K DAC, and the result will improve markedly.

It's a LoFi move to chintz on the transport. Take this advice from someone who has not only used the Denon 2900 with a variety of DACs, but has also used transports/players as transports from under $1K to $10K. One of the best ways to destroy digital sound is by using a low quality transport. Most people can only offer opinion in this matter. I offer experience, as I have compared directly low end players as transports to $10K players for the same function into DACs. It was a frustrating but unavoidable conclusion that the transport quality is absolutely essential to attain very high performance in Redbook playback.

Zd542 is absolutely correct; anyone who says the transport doesn't matter is wretchedly wrong in this matter.
zd542 & Doug Schroeder, Thanks for the knowledable responses. Okay, so to move forward, say you have $1,000 to spend on a digital source upgrade, where do I go from here? The reason why I was thinking about that oppo is because it seems to have a great dac (32 bit sabre...), it would serve as a transport, I could watch bluerays on it instead of my ps-3, and I could listen to pandora on it also. So, what do you guys recommend from here?
P.S. Doug, I've checked out your rig awhile back and it's really nice!
B_limo, I appreciate the complement; there are many years of budgeting and many, many components tried working up to the current rig, but all worth it.

The issue is that players do die, and if you put all your eggs in one basket you will sooner or later likely watch your entire digital source go kaput. I had the 2900 and used it very lightly; it was about as new as one can find on the market. Yet, it died on me about six months ago. (Same with my Xbox, which made me conclude that's about the last dime Microsoft gets from me for a game machine).
If the unit is at least three or four years old fixing it is diminishing returns, as the players continue to improve sonically.

Having a good DAC is worthwhile for a couple reasons, one of which Elizabeth alluded to; the DAC tends not to go kaput, but can last a while longer as it is not mechanical like a transport/laser assembly. As I said earlier, the quality of the transport is important. But you can also obtain some great advancement through upgrading the DAC. Trust me, there is a LOT of room for sonic improvement between the DAC internal to the 2900 and the newer 32 bit DACs. Using the 2900 as a transport to a $1K DAC will absolutely be an improvement.

Now, Oppo makes a good product, and their player is not bad. So, this is definitely a compellig option. I would not say it's a bad move, because all things considered it would yield a well-rounded experience in regards to several goals you have and not break the bank. Would the 2900 and a good DAC outperform the Oppo? Perhaps, perhaps not; too many variables to say easily, including the dig. cable, power cords, etc.

So... you're not going to get a nice tidy answer to the problem. Only a direct comparison would say which way would be superior. In terms of audio only, I assure you that you can get transport/DAC combos which would very likely stomp the Opppo, but it may take a fair bit of experimentation to find it.

Ask yourself if the Blueray improvement is a major goal, or is the ultimate sound quality long term the major goal. That may help you make your choice.
Doug, thanks again for the informative response! All out sound quality is really the goal. I can just watch blu-rays through the ps-3. No big deal. So next question, what DAC's should I start looking at if I am only wanting to spend $500-$1,000 (used is fine with me)? Remember, I am currently using a musical fidelity v-dacII with an upgraded power supply (pangea p-100), and I do like the sound this DAC provides, I just know that there is more to be had in terms of sound quality. My only source right now are c.d.'s, so a good dac is important to me. Also, I'm guessing that you just can't go by specs alone. I'm thinking there are dac's rated at 24/192 that sound better than 32/384; is this a correct assumption? If so, then, again, what dac's should I be looking at in the $500-$1,000 price range that are going to sound better than my current dac, or the oppo.
B_limo, my experience with 32 bit DACs is that they are holistically superior. There may be some extreme 24 bit players/DACS which compete well, but typically the 32 bit players/DACs have cleaned up in terms of superior performance.

I encourage you to read all my articles pertaining to Opamp rolling the EE DAC and DAC Plus, especially the article detailing discrete Opamp rolling the DAC Plus. But there are many favorites out there, and you'll find no shortage of enthusiasm for them.

At some point I would expect there will come along a DAC which is so profoundly superior to the EE Minimax Plus that I may find it worthy of giving up the discrete Opamp rolling. Just when you think you have the ideal system/methodology something else comes along and wows. But I'm having a lot of fun with this setup currently.
Blimo - One quick related piece of advice I have is to use shielded AC cables on your transport & DAC wherever possible. It makes a difference. Note that specialists like Chris VenHaus of VH Audio advocate use of shielded cables on digital equipment, so the experts agree.
The industry has gone back and forth on what is best. In the early 90s, the outboard DAC was "the best". The by the late 90s, sperate DACs kind of died off. The by the mid 00s, they made a comeback, but a much higher price.

This gets way too techinical and could fill up volumns, but if you or connecting a transport to a DAC using the lowley SPDIF standard, you will never really get anywhere, because this only allow for the signal to go on way and does not allow the DAC to talk back to the transport. This has somethng to do with timing and jitter errors and data clocking....needs to be explained a million times by someone else :)