Here you go!
I can understand where you are coming from. Computer audio is indeed overwhelming when you first approach it, and even the "simple" guides are tough to crack if one is not computer savvy.
Here's an attempt to try and help out with the simplest solution I can think of with what I would expect as good sound. You already know these are all balancing acts, so maybe what I think is the balance between complexity and sound that you expect is off mark and your feedback will help us adjust to your needs.
Start with a dedicated computer, meaning it will only be used for audio. Go with Mac or PC, whichever you are most comfortable with. You mentioned a MacBook, so I will assume you are more comfortable with Apple. A Mini would also be fine. We could go on and on about optimization, but I think not now.
Software: iTunes isn't good on it's own, but users report outstanding results using Audionirvana+ running on top of iTunes. With that you should be all set software-wise.
Getting the info out of the computer is a critical link. You mentioned your Hegel has built-in DAC. Is it an asynch USB DAC? If not I suggest you get: a) a USB to S/PDIF converter, or b) an asynch USB DAC.
I would probably get an Audiophilleo 2. I have one (mine has the PurePower option, a significant upgrade, but you don't necessarily need it at this stage). Of course there are other good units too. The point of this device is that by having asynch USB the computer clock is slaved to the Audiophilleo clock, of much higher precision, reducing jitter (hence improving sound). The Audiophilleo connects straight into the coax digital in in the Hegel DAC section, so you don't even need a digital cable.
Music storage is important too in the sense of how it will connect to the computer. If using USB to get the music out of your computer you don't want to use a USB hard drive to store the music. Hopefully your mac has firewire. USB means universal serial bus, and being serial means that data transfer in and out are in series, apparently increasing jitter. A USB hard drive will still work, mind you, just not sounding as good. I used this for a while when I was getting my toes wet in computer audio and was happy then.
And I think you are set to start. Generally the wifi built into the computer is electrically noisy, so turn it off when you don't need it.
Needless to say there are endless improvements you can look into later, but learning first if computer audio is something you like enough is a sensible way to move forward, in my opinion.
Enjoy the journey!
Thank you so much for the info, especially to Lewinskih01 for taking the time to type all that up. It steers me in the right direction to at least get started. I had recently been considering a mac mini, so that will likely be my next purchase. So, let me see if I have this correct as far as what I will need (in addition to the computer):
1. A DAC (at this point, I plan to use the DAC from either the Hegel or the Oppo, so there won't be a need to purchase a new one right away.) However, I'm not sure if it's an asynchronous DAC - I'll have to check.
2. Audirvana (or some other) software for the Mac
3. An external hard drive (and a back up) to store the music. Ok, now here I have a question - does the hard drive need to be connected to the Mac when I'm playing music (because it will work better than storing the music on the computer)?
4. A USB cable to connect the computer to the DAC
5. A firewire cable to connect the music storage hard drive to the computer.
Thanks so much!
Please see the LaCie 3T drive. It connects to your Mac when playing your cd's (always connected). It uses a Thunderbolt cable from the hard drive to your Mac. Does your computer support Thunderbolt? You use a USB cable from the Mac to the Oppo 105. It will work perfectly. I suggest you rip your cd's using the AIFF uncompressed format.
The DAC in the Oppo 105 should be fine.
I think you've got it. I'm not familiar with the DAC inside the Oppo and the inputs to it you have available. Regardless of which of the two you use, you will likely get an improvement with a good (no need to be the best) USB to SPDIF converter.
Neither am I familiar with the LaCie drive mentioned.
But they sound good conceptually.
BTW, the USB cable from computer to DAC or converter matters much more than the firewire to the music storage. A generic USB will work, though, to get you started.
Welcome to the world of computer audio. Heres something to chew on: Not all HiRez downloads are created equal. Most of the 400+ titles I have acquired through HD Tracks and Linn Records. Neither provides information on recording quality (Dynamic Range). The quality of HiRez recordings is dependent on many things including the quality of the original recording. That said, I have compared Redbook CD recordings I have with the same version in HiRez and the results were in some cases disappointing. Here is a link to a sight that provides information on the quality of the recording you may wish to purchase.
Thanks for all your responses - I really appreciate the help. I've read through many of the sites you all mentioned, and I think I'm going to buy a good turntable :) Actually, with the pace at which the digital world changes, I have to imagine that it won't be too long before there are simple high end plug-and-play solutions that take a lot of the guesswork out of it. The new Sony HAP-Z1ES looks like an example of that.
I'll keep exploring, and thanks again for all your help. Happy Fathers' Day!
True, computer audio is changing super-fast. But...so what? No need to be on the latest and greatest, and generally most complicated implementation. Try it out in a simple configuration and see if it's something appealing to you. As an example, the configuration I suggested sounds more complicated than what it really is to get it to work or to operate.
Maybe it's the ability to use hi-rez that hooks you (not my case), or the availability of so much music, or the flexibility/convenience, or who knows what. Or maybe it's not something you like. I encourage you to try, spending little in the experiment.
Smrex13: I agree with Lewinskih01 above that you should give computer audio a try. Of course, it is changing but so is everything else. The vehicle you buy today will change with next years model.
Computer audio is easy to setup and the many references listed above explain everything you need to setup your system. If you have questions, you can post them on Audiogon for assistance. Managing your CD's on the computer makes the listening process much easier since you just click on the music you want to listen to. in addition, it offers you the option to stream music from many sites, if you are interested.
Since you already have the MAC Book Air and the Oppo 105, you are ready to go "now". You just need to buy a USB cable going from the MAC to the Oppo 105 (or Hegel H80 integrated with DAC, try both units). You already own the perfect combination of hardware to start with (plus the USB Cable).
I started computer audio with my MAC Book Pro and also the Oppo 105. I was so impressed with computer audio, that I recently upgraded my Oppo 105 DAC to the Ayre QB-9 DSD DAC. If you have any more questions, please ask.
What do you think?
Thanks for the words of encouragement. I played a few songs (iTunes) throughout the Hegel H80 tonight using the stock USB cable that came with an old hard drive. While it certainly wasn't up to the CD quality of the Oppo, it did sound reasonably good. I'm going to buy a better USB cable to see how much it improves. I actually prefer the Oppo DAC to the Hegel, but here's another really stupid question
Do I need to hook up the Oppo to a monitor to be able to choose the USB input? I hooked my computer up directly to the Oppo and chose the correct sound output on my Mac, but I didn't get any output.
And another dumb question - if I decide to purchase a Mac mini as a dedicated audio source, do I need a monitor for that?
Thanks again for your help, and sorry for the ridiculously simple questions
I had the same questions and problems when I hooked up my Mac to the Oppo 105 for the first time. As you requested:
1) I agree that a higher quality USB cable will great improve the sound when connecting the MAC to the Oppo or Hegel. I am using the Synergistic Research Active SE USB Cable but you should be able to find something less expensive.
2) When you plug the USB cable into the Oppo 105, you need to tell the Oppo to use the USB as the input. There is an input button on the remote and you need to scroll through the list until you find USB. You should be able to see your input selections on the front panel of the Oppo. I believe that once you elect USB as the input, the Oppo will remember it the next time you turn the Oppo on. If you are switching back and forth between the MAC and the Oppo, you have to change the input to the correct source (CD, Video, etc). Since I played everything using my MAC, the Oppo kept the USB as the source input and I did not have to change it every time.
3) Yes, you need to use an external monitor when using the Mac Mini to see what you are doing. If you decide to use the MAC Mini, I suggest you purchase a small 12" monitor. I was considering the MAC Mini but since it requires an external monitor, I decided to purchase the 13" MAC Book Pro.
4) If you decide to use your MAC Book Air, I suggest you purchase an external hard drive to store your music on. As I noted above, I am using the LaCie 3TB d2 USB 3.0 Thunderbolt Series Hard Drive. It uses the Thunderbolt connect so it does NOT interfere with the USB cable going to the DAC (Oppo or Hegel).
5) You can always call Oppo Customer Service if you need help with the Oppo. Their customer service is terrific. I have called them several times and they get an A+.
Thanks for the help once again. I downloaded a couple of higher resolution albums last nigh into Audirvana and played them through the Oppo. The sound quality was about the caliber of a mediocre redbook CD. However, I'm using an old, cheap USB cable and my Oppo doesn't play DSD, which was the format of one of the albums. So, I'll be interested to try those upgrades to see if the computer audio rivals the quality of SACD or well recorded rebook.
Yes, you need a monitor, which can be your TV. I am presuming if you have an Oppo you use it for movies. I am suggesting this as a trial, but I do know people who use this configuration for regular listening. You can start with a little thumb drive.
Also, if I remember correctly you can do DSD from a usb drive and cannot do DSD from a computer. I do not have a 105, but seem to remember that from somewhere. Could be wrong
Without a monitor, are you sure all the audio settings, like crossover frequency and speaker size, are set correctly?
There is an app for both iPhone and Android phones which allows controlling the Oppo. But, you need to connect the Oppo to a wireless network to use it, which requires using the setup menus.
Any way to hook up a monitor/TV, at least temporarily.
Scott: Assuming you are ONLY using the Oppo 105 as a DAC and your MAC Book Air is the source for all music, I do not believe you need a monitor for the Oppo 105. When my MAC Book Pro was connected to the Oppo 105, used as a DAC ONLY, I did not use a monitor for my Oppo 105. As I stated above, once you set the Oppo 105 input to USB, you are ready to start playing music from your MAC Book Pro. As someone stated above, there might be some audio setting needed for fine tuning, but, most likely, these settings are not required for your application. When I used the DAC only in my Oppo 105, I used the standard Oppo settings and made no changes. Once the MAC is connected to the Oppo 105 via the USB cable, all audio controls are done on the MAC using iTunes and the volume control on your amplifier.
If you want to review the settings in the Oppo 105, you can temporarily connect it to your TV (or any monitor) and make the required changes and return the Oppo 105 to your audio system.
If you plan on using the Oppo 105 for video or for playing CD's from the Oppo (and not the MAC Book Air), an external monitor is definitely required. You need to verify this but I believe Oppo Digital changed the operation on the Oppo 105 so that an external monitor is not required for playing CD's.
Since you are sending a digital signal into the Oppo, it may try to apply its room correction and speaker adjustments. If the main speakers are set to small, the low frequencies may be sent to a sub output. I only use my Oppo to output digital, not analog, so you want to check with someone who uses the analog out. Just something to check.
OK, I'm starting to get the attraction :). I got a cheap monitor to be able to navigate the Oppo and downloaded the firmware update that allows it to play DSD files. I downloaded a few albums onto a thumb drive and plugged it in. I'm sitting here listening to the Miles Davis ("Kind of Blue") and it is SO much better than my redbook CD copy. Wow! I also have Muddy Waters's "Folk Singer" and the clarity is startling. Just what I needed - another place to spend my audio money :)
Thanks everyone for getting me off on the right foot. I think this is going to be fun!
The user interface on the Oppo is not as flexible as iTunes or one of the other players, but it does take all the computer issues out of the picture. It seems like you are on the right track. To do DSD over usb you need the 105 Darbee edition
You can use a multi terabyte drive and have access a large amount of high rez music. Not all high rez downloads are that much better than Redbook, but a lot are. The trick is to find the ones that were re-mastered, which is not all that easy to determine.
You may have done so already, but you should try a high rez LPCM download from you MAC and from the thumb drive. Eventually, you should be able to get them to sound the same, but it may take some work.
Enjoy the music. That is what it is all about.
I thought that the download for the new version of the firmware allowed for DSD over USB. I'm not entirely sure how to tell that I'm playing DSD, but the display says that I am (before downloading the firmware it did not).
Ultimately, will I get better sound quality playing through a dedicated computer with a good USB cable or by using a thumb drive to eliminate the additional interface?
Thanks again (oh, and what is LPCM?). Sorry for all the questions.
Well, back to frustration :( After listening to songs off of a flash drive, I can no longer play anything from my computer through the Oppo using Audirvana or iTunes. They both work fine when plugged in via the USB input on the Hegel, but as soon as I plug it in to the USB input on the Oppo, it all goes silent. I've had a couple of tech savvy friends look at it, and they're stumped. I'd been playing it just this morning, and all was working. I've restarted everything, checked connections, checked mute settings, etc. No luck.
And this is why I don't like computer audio
Any help would be greatly appreciated.
LPCM is the typical format and includes 16 bit/44.1 KHz for Redbook and high rez formats like 24 bit/192KHz (24/192).
Pretty sure you need the Darbee version of the 105 to do DSD over usb. On the original 105, I am pretty sure the upgrade only allows DSD from a usb drive.
To get MAC working do you need to select the usb input from the remote again?
Correct. DSD does not work via usb cable on the 105, only using the thumb drive. You can do PCM over usb from a computer, but not DSD. I believe that is just a limitation of the asych usb implementation for computers on the 105. The newer 105 Darbee does allow DSD over the usb from a computer. But the 105 does not. You should be able to play PCM files.
Glad to see you are moving along. Just for the record, you are not taking the easiest route to learn computer audio! Playing with DSD, when hardware and software are still coming to grips with it is not exactly starting easy :-)
I don't mean to discourage you at all. Just to note this so next time you get frustrated with something not working (believe me, it WILL happen again!) you remember you are trying at the forefront. To some, the mix of frustration and musical payback is worth it. To others, just the convenience of playing good old 16/44.1 files off a computer is enough.
Enjoy the ride!