Hard Drive based system

I've read all of the threads I could find on a "server" type system. I plan on running a hard drive, to a Waveterminal, to a DAC. My question is, can a system like this sound as good, or better than, my cd player? Is it all up to the DAC?

I currently have a Marantz 8260 CD/SACD player.
I believe it CAN indeed sound as good, if not better. I have the kind of set-up you describe (harddrive, laptop, waveterminal, DAC). The DAC, of course, is critical, but the preamp, amp, and speakers still do matter as much as ever.

Read this white-paper that I wrote that just got published on positive-feedback.com:

As Pardales and Audioengr point out - there's much to be
said for a server based system.

What you want the digital components ahead of the DAC to do
is to deliver the digital data accurately, and with good
timing - i.e. minimal "jitter".

One of the problems with many, if not most CD players is that
the transport is the "master" as far as timing is concerned.
That is - the timing information is part of the signal
passed to the DAC.

What you really want is to have the DAC be the master, and
follow its own clock. The better CD players and CD/DAC
combos follow this strategy with the DAC as the timing

Disk based systems are naturally this way - in computers,
the CPU or the bus controller has always been the master.
Disk drives were never masters - so a disk based system
forces you into the DAC master model.

Dr. Gregory Greenman
I can't quite follow Dr. Greenman's reasoning.

Basically, if the DAC reclocks, the clock in the DAC takes over. If the DAC does not reclock, it takes the timing info from the digital input. This aspect has nothing to do with whether the input is hard drive based or not.

The issue here is that the bit-perfectness and the quality of timing/jitter can be of very high quality even from a relatively low cost hard drive based system, especially when high quality USB to SPDIF converters are used.
From what I've read the Waveterminal is hard to come by now, if not completely discontinued. So what are some other high quality USB to SPDIF converters for Mac/iTunes? I don't need anything fancy, just a USB in and a coax out.
Morbius is correct, if the master clock is local to the DAC chip itself, then the jitter will be minimized. This is not necessarily the case with external "bit clocks" that a few DAC's and CD players utilize. This is often more difficult than it seems at first blush. The master clock must generate several clocks or at least a very high-frequency clock from DAC to transport. Some of the transport chips may use the higher frequency clock, such as 16.9344 MHz. The analogy to the disk-based system doesn't hold water though, IMO.
Audioengr can probably tell you whether it is okay to go with Transit (optical out only) as a starter unit or that you have to use one of his mods to obtain acceptable quality.

Have you decided on the DAC? If you end up with a DAC with USB input (e.g. mini DAC, Grace 902), you may not need the converter at all. However, you do have more options with a converter.
Haven't decided on a DAC yet, but I was wondering if any had USB inputs.

Any recommendations (with or without USB in) for under $1000?
I mentioned two USB DACs in the previous post. Some people like the Apogee mini DAC better than the popular Benchmark DAC1 which I use and surely recommend.

I noticed that you mentioned Sony player in another thread. If you get it modded by TRL, it will be hard to find an affordable DAC to beat it, hard drive system or not.
I've been going back and forth about the TRL mod. I've read all of the glowing reviews, but haven't actually heard one. I guess I could have it modded and if I don't like it I could sell it.

But I need to decide which way I'm going to go first. Either the TRL modded Sony or the hard drive system. That's the reason I'm gathering the info on the hard drive stuff.

It sure would be nice to have 300-400 cd's at my fingertips. But if the TRL mod sounds that good, for that price, it's hard to pass up.
Interesting dilemma.

TRL's Sony mod is quite amazing for the price. My experience is with TRL/Sony 595. I assume your model will sound even better. On sonics alone, it will provide much bigger bang for the buck than a music server system for you, since you don't yet have a DAC.

I would recommend getting the TRL mod anyway and slowly building up a music server which is a lot of fun. When you find your favorite DAC, the music server will really sing for you.
The TRL mod is that good. I have a transport and DAC modified by TRL. I also had a USB interface device that I was using to play music from a HD via my TRL DAC. I won't mention vendor names but this is one of those modified M-Audio Transits and I have to say I was disappointed in the results. The full TRL set-up was better in my system.

Here is a thought. My transport is an Alesis ML9600 that can also serve as a CDP, digital recording and mastering tool, and HD storage/playback system. For about $1500 including the mods TRL will modify the Alesis and give you an excellent digital set-up. Paul Weitzel has done some more work on this unit since I puchased mine and I will be sending it back for the upgrade (free I might add which is TRL standard practice). Why not call and talk to Paul about this and see if the Alesis would work for you.
You guys are giving me plenty to think about. I guess I'll give the TRL mod a try and go from there.

I still want to eventually go with the "server" setup. So maybe I'll take your advice and build the server as I go.

Thanks for all the info.
Well, it's off to TRL for the Sony DVP-NS900V. I bought that player specifically on Paul's recommendation, because of how good he said it can be. If all of positive reviews and comments are correct, I should be very please with this upgrade. I can't wait to hear it.
have you look into the squeezebox? buy an external hard drive to save all your cd and use the squeezebox wireless and it have a digital out to go into any dac you like..hope this help..

You don't know what you're in for. I was just talking to Paul's brother Brian Weitzel about this player. They have some pretty big things in store for it. I think you will be very pleased. Remember, it is a long break in process - 500 hours, although after 300 you should get pretty much a good feel for the sound. I just got their new solid state amp and it's getting better every day. At the 175 hour mark right now so a bit more to go.

Welcome to the family.
I emailed Paul and asked him what they do compared to other modders. He would tell me nothing! Just that he's seen all of the other stuff and has no idea how they can justify their prices. Also, that he would absolutely guarantee my satisfaction. And that of all of the moderately priced players, this will by far sound the best. He said he'd mod my Marantz 8260, but it wouldn't come close to this Sony.

I can't wait to hear it!

Email me if you like to chat in more detail about TRL. I can't tell you any more about the mods because I don't know the details either. However, I can tell you more about what to expect and where I think you'll see the most improvements.
Surely you can't wait to hear it but the burning-in is for real. So wait one hundred hours anyway :)

Please post your impression after 300 hours. I can't wait.
My Sony got delivered to Paul at TRL today. He said 2-5 days for the mods and then back to me. Hopefully by this time next week it will be well on it's way to me.

I couldn't resist and I bought one as well. I'll probably send mine out after the New Year.
I'll let you know what I think once it gets back to me and burned in. If it's half as good as Paul says, I'll be very happy.
As soon as I finished my previous post the phone rang, it was Paul at TRL. I had asked if he could install a digital input on the player. He said it had never occured to him to put one in his mods, but they would look at it and if it was possible, they'd install one! I would love to be able to use this as a DAC too.

He said it would be on it's way back to me possibly Fri, Mon at the latest.

I have an Alesis Masterlink as well. If you were to
use it as "the hard drive", what would you have modified
on the box? Would it not be taking advantage of bypassing
the whole "laser reading" process as well as the DAC?

I use the balanced digital out to a Mark Levinson DAC
and it sounds very nice.

The track names and playlist features of the Masterlink
don't compare with that of a server/client package like
Squeezebox however.

Ecruz: Do you know if Paul added a digital input? Anytime I have inquired about adding digital input to a CD player it has always been met with a fairly high degree of skepticism. Thoug if anyone could do it i'm sure TRL could. I will be curious to hear what you make if this unit after you get it and break it in.
I just talked with him last night. He said he had never thought about it, but they would check it out and if they could put one in, they would. I may not know until I get it back.
All high-end CD players should include digital inputs these days. I know they don't, but they should, because many of us want to add hard drives as a source.

APL HI-Fi has a digital in for their mods. I am going to have Alex add one to my APL player. Then I can take the digital out from the Squeezebox instead of having to use its DACs and analog outputs.

You ask a good question. Since TRL does not provide any details of their mods it might be difficult for me to get any more information. However, when I got the original modified unit Paul Weitzel told me I'd be much happier with it as a transport.

Now, the latest mods for the Alesis focus on making it a much better CD dupplication/recording tool. TRL uses the Alesis for their 2-track masters on their recording labels. They are on a mission to make the Alesis the best CD duplicator and recording unit. I'll be sending mine in for the new upgrade. If you are using a stock Alesis you may want to consider the full TRL upgrade package at $550 which includes the new mods that I will be getting. It will take the Alesis to a new level and make it an excellent CDP as well (which like me, you may or may not need, since youÂ’re using a DAC, but the option is nice for me as my DAC is non-os and the Alesis CD will give me upsampling options).

I realize the Alesis does not have the flexibility of the Squeezebox, but I'm not yet convinced that the Squeezebox device is the answer to hard drive digital playback. I think we are at the tip of the iceberg right now with this type of technology and better options are on their way.
There has been alot of talk in the past on
"Gearslutz" about Masterlink Mods.

One link had this info about the mods being done:

Mine was the first ML Jim mod'd. It was a definite improvement over the stock unit. Specifically, here's what gets done:

- install National LM6172 dual opamps at 3000/us slew rate.

- install larger Rubycon Z series electrolytic caps to extend the low end (and did it ever!!)

- install .01 uf wima poly caps on the input, MIT's on the output.

- increased the power supply bypass caps and installed .1 uf mono ceramic bypasses.

- Bandwidth limiting caps were used on certain stages.

- The opamps used as followers were cut and changed to closed loop buffers.

The converters themselves don't get changed as they're apparently surface mounted to the board and Jim didn't want to risk lifted traces and such. However, the changes he did make do indeed improve the overall sound of the unit - low end is extended noticeably and there's just more overall detail that I can hear.

Joe T.
Just got off the phone with Brian at TRL. He wanted to know if it was okay to disconnect the headphone jack. He said it adds "considerable degredation". Rip it out, I say.

I asked again about adding a digital in. He knew nothing about it. Said he'd ask Paul. It's not looking good : (

Told me it should ship out Monday.
Just spoke to Paul at TRL, they had to wait for some parts, but the Sony will be on it's way back to me today. So I probably won't have it until Monday. I'll let it run for a week or so before I do any critical listening. I'm off of work the following week so I'll be able to play with it for 10 straight days. By the time I have to come back to work, it should have 350-400 hours on it.

I'll post my impressions after the first 100 hours or so and then again after the first of the year. It should be close to burned in by then.

As for the digital input, not going to happen. He said it's very hard to get a player to interface with the outside world, unless it was designed that way from the start.
TRL modded Sony was delivered this morning. I know it needs to burn in for a few hundred hours, but it already sounds a LOT better than it did.

Keep us posted. During the first 150 hours you'll hear things starting to change, then the next 300 hours you will get a another wave. After that the changes are much more subtle, but noticeable for 500+ hours.

I have mine on my rack now so I can get accustomed to looking at it before I send it off.
Okay, I've got a little over 200 hours on the TRL modded Sony. Supposedly it's not fully burned in until about 500 hours. So keep in mind, it's still got a ways to go. Also keep in mind, this is all in my room, with my equipment, in my opinion.

In it's stock form, the Sony sucked. It was harsh and lacked dynamics and detail, at either end of the frequency spectrum.

My last two cd players were the highly praised Rotel 1072 and the Marantz 8260. I was fairly happy with both. I thought the Marantz offered more detail and was more musical.

For close to the same price, the TRL modded Sony absolutely blows those two players away. This thing is AWSOME! I can honestly say, I have NEVER heard digital sound this good. And it keeps getting better. I don't just mean more detail, which it has, or lower lows and higher highs, which it has, or better dynamics, which it has, but it just sounds more like live music.

I've been listening to cd's as opposed to LP's for about the last 20 years. So I know that some of the recordings are crap. I know they can sometimes be harsh and digital. But I didn't know that a lot of this was coming from the player. I've listened to players up to about $3000 and every one had this "digital" sound. The TRL mod does not sound like any digital player I have ever heard. It's smooth, dynamic, lush, liquid, etc, etc, etc.

I know some people will never try this because it's a Sony and it only costs about $800. I almost didn't try it for the same reasons. I asked Paul at TRL twice, "I know you can mod my Marantz, are you sure the Sony will sound better?". His response was "I think the Sony, in some ways, sounds better than a modded SA-14". I haven't heard a modded SA-14, so I can't say. But I can say, I will be keeping this player for a LONG time. I would imagine I'd have to spend close to $5000 to better this thing in any significant way. Plus it plays dvd's and sacd's. What more could I ask for? Maybe a digital input.

Feel free to email me with questions.

A couple of things I forgot to mention.

It's very quiet. Dead silent background.

Tons of detail. At first I didn't think so, because there is NO harshness. Obviously something I've come to associate with detail.

Because it's not harsh, I can listen louder without ringing my ears. I can listen to this thing for hours and hours.

Very wide, deep soundstage. Not only outside of my speakers, but outside of my walls.

You're just about there. It will get somewhat better over the next few hundred hours, but in smaller steps. Most of the wide scale changes have occurred.

I have to send my Alesis in for updates that Paul made to his. Then I'll be sending in my Sony. Glad to hear from another satisfied TRL customer.
Here I am, jumping in like a "Johnny come lately", but I'm compelled to share my TRL 900 story. I've had my TRL/Sony DVP-NS900V for the past 3 weeks and it is amazing. Mine is fully broken in and I have found the same results as Ecruz.

This player has mind blowing dynamics and the resolution is unlike anything I've ever heard. I have found myself listening to my discs again as if for the first time.

For example, I have listened to Ben Harper's "Will to Live" cd for years, yet have never heard his guitar amp hum in the right speaker on a few songs. It has always been there, but it has been masked, buried and obscured in the noise level ...

Minute percussion that I'd never noticed on the Ben Harper/Blind Boys of Alabama "There will be a light" is now there, plain as day, as if saying, "Do you here me now?" , which is cool, because I love what Leon Mobley adds as Ben's percussionist ... I love his feel.

This thing has the best microdynamics I've ever experienced, without calling attention to it. The music sounds extremely natural and musical. Most digital players sound etched, hard and mechanical. Not the TRL900. If there were an award for the most musical player, I know where my vote would go.

I'm not sure you could get digital this good at multiple times $5K, myself.

Just my 2 cents ...


Congratulations! It is a waste not to TRL a Sony player.

Any comments on video and audio quality for DVD playback?
One quick last word on the TRL mod. Over the last few days the bass has really solidified. I don't know if it's actually deeper, but it's tighter & quicker. I'm done! I won't buy another cd player until this thing dies. Then, whatever I buy, will go to TRL for a mod. Honestly, I've never heard digital sound this good. If you're on the fence about trying this, just do it. You won't be sorry.

Kenn39-Haven't used it for DVD yet. I usually listen with the video portion turned off, but I have tried it with the video portion turned on and I don't hear a difference. Still I leave it off, because maybe it's degrading the sound and I just don't know it. ; ) Kidding of course.

Have you tried the Sony with SACD yet? If so, what are your thoughts with this machine with this format? Bob
I have not listened to sacd's on it. Redbook sounds so good I have no interest in looking at the other formats.
I have sent my Sony DVP NS900V unit to TRL for modification. I am very much looking forward to getting the unit. I am keeping my Marantz SA-1 for comparison. If the TRL Sony sounds as good as did when I auditioned it last month, then I will be a very happy person! I will report my findings. Bob