I just don't get PC Audio

I have been doing a lot of reading on the pros and cons of hard drive systems versus traditional CD players. From what I gather a hard drive system can be configured with a great DAC to meet or beat (well, maybe) a high end CD player.

So I contemplated this and what would need to be purchased each way and wound up buying an Esoteric X03SE and couldn't be happier. The point of my post is, am I the only one here who thinks hard drive systems have serious drawbacks that should prohibit an educated buyer not to jump in yet??

Hard drive pros:
-Can meet or maybe exceed the sonics of a dedicated cd player or transport combo (when using tracks burned from a CD)
-The ultimate lazy man's solution....simply surf and hit play (no CDs to load)

Hard drive cons:
-Just as expensive, if not more so than a dedicated CD player by the time you get the hard drive, back up storage, cables, monitor, DAC.
-Many units have hard drive noise that necessitates placing the unit away from the listening area.
-Need back up storage: This means you need to continually back up your collection for the day it crashes.
-Noone knows how long drives will last.
-Need to spend the time to burn all your CDs
-If you use iTunes the quality of downloaded songs is not great, therefore this solution only really works if you burn CDs you have. I know there are some other higher res options, but they are not widely available yet.
-You need some type of monitor to view the collection adding the complexity and nuisance of mixing PCs and Audio
-It is rapidly changing and noone knows what the outcome will be
-If you download one song at a time you essentially throw out any experience the artist may have designed with listening to an entire album

I am just not getting it, other than the two (some may say only one) pros I listed above, why else would an audiopile get a computer audio front end??? It is certainly not cheaper, in fact it is most likely way more.
With the introduction of the Wadia iTransport, you can now load everything on your ipod. It is a back up. If your computer crashes, you still have all the songs on your ipod. If you rip in lossless, and use the itransport, I believe you can beat some very good cd players. An ipod, and the transport are cheap in comparison to some high end cd transports.

You are truly portable with your ipod. Not so, atleast as easily, with that many cd's. You don't have to download music from itunes. There are other sources available that offer hi res downloads.

I'm not so sure you are open to positive side of using a
Hi S7Horton

Thank you for partaking in my post. I totally agree about the portability factor. I guess I was thinking more along the lines of just sitting in my living room type of listenting. I am definitely open to PC audio, I almost went for it. I just could not justify it at this time based on my comments above. I originally thought PC audio was a way to save money by not needing a transport (either dedicated or in a player), but I quickly found those posters who were able to have true high end sound from PC had to spend upwards of $4-5k on a DAC in addition to all the other stuff.
I think the only way to get PC audio... is to try it. Where did you see a person needs to spend 4 or 5K to get audiophile quality? Most of us that are now in PC audio already know the outcome..it's the ones that are still clinging to CD players that haven't figured it out.
In my mind the advantages of PC audio are:

1) long custom playlists for your particular mood, great for parties etc.

2) the sound quality can exceed that of a transport for about the same price - there are various reasons for this

3) tailoring the music using upsampling, either on-the-fly or using various tools to rewrite the tracks

4) CD's will not last forever - they do degrade with time

5) convenience factor - easy to find tracks. Whole house audio is easier to set-up and quality does not suffer from distribution

6) shipping a PC audio system is usually safer than shipping a CD player. They get damaged easily IME.

7) you can play music 24/7 without worrying about wearing out the bearings in a CD player

I dont buy the album argument. Most CD's have 2-3 good tracks on them. It's marketing.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Opinions are kindof like....well, you know...but here is mine anyway.

I have gone the computer as transport route and it is indeed a pain to load them on the computer the 1st time. Once done however, it is totally cool to have all of your "music software" at the touch of a button. 2nd, I use an Apple iMac, my home is networked wirelessly so the computer can serve multiple roles as both a computer AND a music server. The backup of the data was no big deal and keeping the backup updated is also simple to perform. I take a digital signal out from the iMac, into my D/A converter and its done. Now, if any of this sounds like a real hassle, you are probably right; computer based audio may not be for you.

Now then, lets talk about the future. My ipod touch is wireless, my iPhone is both internet ready as well as a part of my wireless network. So I can control all of my music, from my iPhone while I am in the backyard, cooking out, having cocktails. Want tunes in another room? How good do you want it? One of these new Peachtree Decco amp/d-a , some nice speakers coupled with a Sonos ZP 80 and you have complete access simultaneously from the remote room, your main system, your backyard, and so on and so on.

If you are the only music listener in your home and you only listen in 1 room, then the 1-box cd path you have chosen is correct. However, if you have other rooms where you would enjoy the music, well......

Last but not least, your rationalization of the 1-box solution, no offense intended, sounds an awful lot like those who advocate integrated amps. I however like the idea that I can drop a new d/a converter in as technology or features are introduced and everything else remains the same. As new disk drive technology is introduced, I have a simple and easy upgrade path there as well.

Last, you mentioned the pain of a backup plan and I agree, it can be a pain. I have a friend however who had a minor fire at his home which, of all things, damaged a closet where he kept his cd collection neatly catalogued. Care to talk to him about a backup plan? His house is valued around $1,800,000 and he has a 1% deductible ($18,000!)......

Best wishes
I see PC audio as the future of digital audio but we are not there yet. It will take a few years for the technology to mature to the point that I want to participate.

To all the early adopters and PC types I say have at it! Without you the technology will not develop to the point where I become interested. I can happily listen to cds and sattelite radio until then.
The justification for a stand alone player (for the moment) is to own a combo unit like a Blu-Ray player, doing double duty as rental movie playback and CD player.

If I were a digital guy, I would absolutely own a computer and burn everything to hard drive. I've said it before, there are computer touch screens available for consumers for as little as a few hundred dollars (about the same as a regular screen), making selecting your favorite music easier than finding the CD case containing the artists work.

The longer we wait the more obvious it becomes that computers will rule this format. Chesky and others are already offering downloads at higher resolution than available on CD, how long will it be before super high res downloads are offered to counter Apple Computers grip on the download market?

Me, I think it's great. Who knows, maybe they will finally get the resolution high enough to challenge LP playback and I can finally join the digital revolution and have convenience and great sound.
Your perspective Arbuckle, seems to be coming from someone who does not use a computer on a regular basis in the home. It's cool that you are considering the PC option.
I would hazard a guess that most folks who use a PC as their "transport/front end/server" already had a computer in their home and expanded its use to include music playback. Obviously the cost would be $0 to start. An external DAC can be added depending on preference, but many do that with a stand alone CD player as well. Starting from scratch, a Mac mini is an option at $500 new or about $350 used. They are very quiet. Yes, a display is needed for setup and burning. Some automation can happen without screen and keyboard, by using a remote (ipod or other).

What are you missing? It's a different approach to collecting and listening to music. Sure it has it own set of challenges. To me, it is sort of like comparing a typewriter to a computer for writing letters. They both output the same page of text. but what you can do with the content, and pages is quite different from a macro perspective.

If one listens to 2 albums per day maybe a computer is not for them. A stand alone media player would make more sense.

Control and flexiblity.
The main benefits of PC audio are control over the music playback order.

If you like to listen to public radio from Boston (while you are in Colorado), create an infinite number of playback list of songs your choosing, archive music (thousands of CDs) in one location, PC audio will do that - plus some.

I don't include downloaded music (online music stores) as a variable in the comparison since there is no equivalent compatible for all standalone players. It could be looked at as an inexpensive trial of music from an artist/album, prior to purchasing the vinyl or disc media.

I went head first last year into digitizing 500 CDs and setting up my Mac based music server. It's been fun and provides great convenience and wonderful sound. I started with my existing home computer and added a DAC. Though, I have the advantage of having the computer in an adjacent room to the living room, and use a remote to control playback. All my CDs are in a back closet.

If one listens to 2 albums per day maybe a computer is not for them. A stand alone media player would make more sense.
That's what keeps me from going the hard drive route more than any other reason. Two of my daughters have converted to computer based music systems, one pc the other mac. They constantly tout the ease of finding the music they want. This holds no attraction for me as I listen to albums (cds) in their entirety and rarely use music as background noise. Also, the thought of burning all my cds will require way more time than I care to devote to it.
To all of those that have gone that route I say, great! Hopefully your work will lead to better, cheaper, and easier to use products for those of us sitting on the sidelines.
It doesn't have to be super-expensive to get world-class sound. Have a look at the Modwright Truth Transporter as an example. Even the base Logitech Transporter is a pretty good-sounding unit. It employs the AK4396 so-called "Miracle DAC" which is one of today's top chips. The stock digital and clock circuits are exceptional, featuring discrete Jung Super Voltage Regulators for both precision master clock and DAC. The digital input circuit is state of the art. The Modwright version adds a Class A, tube-rectified, zero-feedback tube analog stage, with either RCA or balanced XLR outputs. The unit has integral volume control so it can run directly into a power amp as your sole source, if desired.

If you already have computers/a network in your house it's a cinch to add a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device as your server. I bought the ModwrightTP (for $3600) and a windows home server box (for $529 at Amazon), loaded the software and was playing music in less time that it took to set up my last turntable. And all the computer hardware is in another part of the house, so there's no disturbing whirrs or beeps in my music room.

Sound quality is better than any of the other 3 players I have (McIntosh MCD7007, Audio Aero Capitole, and Musical Fidelity A5). In fact, I've rarely turned them on since going electronic digital. Prolly time to sell 'em.

Yes, ripping all the CD's is a pain in the butt. And LP's are even more problematic. But the sound quality shouldn't be a deterrent, even in top systems. And the post-rip convenience factor can't be denied. I love being able to compare alternate versions of the same symphony without hunting through my CD collection. And the future looks bright for this format as well: I'm looking forward to future high-res download capabilities.

Sounds like you have a great system. Can't argue with your choice of front end. But this one is pretty good too. Something to consider as this stuff rapidly evolves.

Thank you all for your responses. I actually am somewhat savvy with computers....set up my own home network which is both wired and wireless...am fluent in ipod technology....so please don't view me as petrified of computers. I honestly just weighed out the two options and figured it would be far more complex and cost about the same to get the same sound from a PC.

I honestly think the turning point will be when high res downloads are ubiquitous....otherwise I am stuck buying CDs anyway so I can rip them. Please keep the thread going though....there are very intriguing comments here. Thanks

I honestly think the turning point will be when high res downloads are ubiquitous....otherwise I am stuck buying CDs anyway so I can rip them.
Exactly. Until then it makes no sense to me.
Some enjoy the ability to quickly punch in what they want to listen to or create play lists. My kids don't understand that I enjoy standing in front of the cd shelves looking for ideas. It beats scrolling through a list IMO.
I would add as positives to PC Audio that a music server acts as a basic database for your collection, provides links to as much info about bands / albums / songs / etc. as you desire, and lets you "view" your collection from just about any perspective you want.

It would be hard to argue that ripping a collection initially is a lot of time and effort.

The backup is a non-issue any more - you can buy huge hard drives with extremely fast transfer rates - a 1TB drive primary and backup holds a very large music collection and very little administrative overhead. As drives continue to get bigger in capactiy, smaller in size, and have memory that is not a physical platter, the management of the storage, the noise, the heat, will all become tiny issues.

One more positive - not only is it easier to retrieve the song / album you want easily, you don't have to store a couple thousand CDs in a physical manner. I gained a whole wall in my house back.
Computers have their place in the digital world. And the cost of entry is reasonable.

RME Fireface 400 192khz 8 channels AD/DA
PureVinyl software package
your favorite analog front end
your favorite headphones
your favorite system

Quite a bit of flexibility along with good playback systems of your choice.

Digital will evolve, analog is done. So the only media worth owning is records. For those audiophile moments. The rest is digital audio/video capture/playback/editing.
I’m going to go with the notion that some tongue in cheek thoughts were jotted down here to generate a lengthy controversy.

Cabling cost? Now that’s funny. Been pricing CAT 5 & USB cables lately? For less than a tank full of gas, you could wire up your whole house and maybe your neighbor’s too.

$4K for a decent DAC? I suppose that depends on one’s idea of decent.

A preference to pick out and choose a CD or album does have it’s fanciful, and intriguing moments for some though. Loitering aobut the wall unit thumbing through one after another, trying to decide which one to enjoy… yes… yes… I can see how much fun that could be!

Then of course there’s that incumbent return trip to re-file it away, safe and sound once again.

Yes sir! Those were the days! Man oh, man, how glad I am they are gone now! Perhaps if I were into filing, or clerical work while at home during one of my fav past times… well, then, maybe.

Somehow I perceive a “purist” tennat here, a traditionalist approach to the enjoyment and appreciatation of music for the sake of music… sort of like the way a traditional oriental tea is done.

Wow. It’s near a spiritual experience!

The charm of distance is lost to us these days as well. So hang in there and keep the faith!

…or… move along with the times.

Ease of access does not detract from my appreciation of an artists efforts, nor does it conflict with my enjoyment of the end product.

For isn’t that truly the ticket here? The end result? What does it really matter how the music comes to me… from vinyl? … from one’s and zeros? Tape?

The end product is the key for me… not it’s form, fashion, or tradition…. And in fact one can have both their cake and eat it too if one chooses to do so, now, can’t they?

Speaking of costs… what does one of those Esoteric CDPs go for new these days??

…and it’s power cable?

…and it’s interconnects?

…and it’s cost apportionment for the shelf space on the rack?

… what about those isolation footers too?

…and it’s going to be replaced with better technology when? Next fall or sooner?

I think we might be able to discount your ideas on startup costs. Dependingh upon what your time is worth, for that is the “Traditional woe” of the magnetic media club.

Most if not all of the software you will need is free and there are lots to choose from so the OS platform being used isn’t to much of an issue.

Adding a USB 500 Gig HD costs about 150.00. Throwing in the “back up” notion isn’t fair either as I doubt you will back up the discs you have on hand already, but lets say that is valid… To be fair here,

So, you will need to copy and burn ALL of your cd library to be on the same page as the bennies of the PC now crowd.

Being the duplication process usually isn’t done of course, were you into a PC based musical affair of sorts, you would have been even better off! As all the music would then be on a HD and a dupe would also be available in the event of one of those pesky closet fires breaking out when you least expect it.

Another plus is the drives are getting less expensive, and that’s good because I’ve gone through a few over the last five or six years. So get a couple nice CDR – RW burners from Plextor, Sony, NEC, etc, and add another $100.00.

Now we’ve got a ripping and burning, software laden PC with one TB of space.. hope you’ve a very large collection as I’ve under 800 CD’s in my music closet, and still have room on my 500 Gig USB HD, for lots more. BTW all of the musical files are done in a lossless codec in my house.

Wait a mo… Did I hear someone say,No one knows just how long will those hard drives keep spinning?

I’ve one machine which I got in August of 2001…. And it’s still spinning! Lately, it’s spinning around the clock! 24/7. Out of a dozen or better, I’ve lost one hard drive in seven years due to some physical interior failure of the drive itself, and I lost one to lightening.

So far the tab is about $400.00 for the CD burners, and USB hard drives which are no brainers to use, and another $0.15 per duped CD… for say 1000 CD’s that’s another $150, and we’re at $550.00.

No DAC on hand? Well that’s not needed either really, you can go with just a sound card. You can also make it USB to keep some of the nastiness from the PC out of the process altogether. Now add $300 for it and it’ll be about as good as they come. Less for less, of course… more for more and sure… less for less.

… that’s $850.00, and not all at once, so far.

$850.00 won’t pay for very good cabling on many CDPs around here.

Want to go with a DAC instead? Don’t want to come out of a sound card either… then it’s USB for you. USB DAC’s do have a widely priced entry fee. I’ve seen some from $300! Again, here, more does usually provide more this, that, and the other thing (s), but let’s not skimp here too much, and pick a popular one with lot’s of POSITIVE press, say the Benchmark DAC1 w/USB, or perhaps the Apogee. New? $1K +/-. Save some with a preowned model? Then about $750 +/- or so.

Go all in on a Wavelength or Bel Canto, or other top flight unit… remember, musical confuser or stereo analog system…. Get in where you fit in and spend as much or as little as you wish!

There is only one caveat…. If you are waiting for the level of performance to stop evolving… you’ll be waiting a very, very, long time…. For it won’t stop. It will continue to morph into one form or another, and technology will as well. So waiting for the just right spot to enter the fray will prevent you from ever being a entrant.

But I digress….

We’re almost ready and we are up to $1600.00 +/-, and all is brand new stuff.

Some folks stop right about here, personally, I did too.

For a while. That’s another plus about the musical confuser path… it’s not an all at once sort of affair. Add this or that, stop for a while… then later on, go get some more… etc. As you wish. It’s not an all in at one time event like in a CDP purchase.

In fact as was said, there are sufficient peripherals available today that allow whole house audio without anything more than a single database/server and wireless network.

Moving on… We just gotta have remote control, right? I’ve seen some CD player makers, and some other’s who charge $500 for a remote control!!

Ask BAT what they are getting for a remote now.

It just so happens that I’ve also seen laptops go for the same amount, brand new!

Try making phone calls, checking emails, carrying your work home, taking notes, scheduling, buying tickets for the next concert you want to attend, make a person to person call where you can actually see your family or friends, and of course there’s the awfully popular viewing of DVDs during those long trips,

So let’s not skimp once again, and go off for a 17 inch wide screen laptop with DVD burner, 200 Gig HD, wireless connectiomn, dual monitor support, 3 gigs of RAM, a dual core processor, and built in camera, and the in flight movie will be one we actually want to see!

That price tag is $750.00, for a Toshiba L350, brand new.

Oops… forgot the USB cable to the DAC from the laptop, and a wireless router too! Routers are not much and $150.00 will surely work there… The USB cable? I spent $6 for a fifteen footer at Wally Mart. It works fine.

There’s the Squeeze box sector too, which takes the notebook out of the equation.

Lastly, still pursuing the pc path to organized musical bliss, for $70 US dollars or so, you can avoid any issues with Windows sound mixer and buy a driver which is very very, good. If you get a Vista loaded notebook, the driver is not an absolute.

As I understand it Mac’s don’t have that issue but are usually more costly laptops than their PC cousins.
So looking back I’m seeing around $2650.00 for a simple one off PC system, and along the way we’ve made dupes of the entire CD library which we will keep in a separate place from the originals, right?

Now we’ve attained remarkably greater ease of use, an immense variety of music in an “on demand” setting, and we’ve likely included video file playback, and we top it off by now possessing a remote control that simply out runs any CD player’s remote ever made.

Later on, IF the upgrade bug drops down the back of your shirt (which we’ve not had to give away yet), another DAC, or a server can be added on or in. We’re keeping up with technology too via usually free firmware & software updates too.

The backing up process is also done automatically once setup, and we don’t have to worry about a friend or relative not returning a borrowed album, or scratching one up, and the hidden big bonus here is we can now sell on Audiogone the ‘once’ played CD collection we have exact copies of for the remarkably generous price of $5 a pop!

So the overall costs of “one’s and zeero’s” tunes? Might even add to your bank account as 1000 CDs at $5 per is uh, more than the costs of a musical confuser system.

The profits even allow for a treadmill to keep off those excess pounds from all the sitting you’ll be doing as you won’t be getting up and down every 40 min or so to swap out another disc or album!

Gee… getting fit too? What’s the price tag on that?

…and what’ is it worth to have every track of your collection at your fingertips?

Now that’s priceless for me!

Either way, though, it’s about having fun. I do think HDD one way or another, is the deal, and cheaper too in the end.

Personally, I’m waiting for hologram TV & movies in house, with the audio info being played in my head, negating the need for loudspeakers altogether! Marble sized media which contain significantly higher resolution info than one’s imagination can conceive…. And they won’t wear out , scratch, or dissolve… but in the mean time, I’m going to go with what’s available as it’s extremely good right now.

I do wish you the best, which ever way you proceed.
As others have commented, the fact that you "don't get it" is just that. I have all three major sources (fine vinyl, a very good RB/SACD player, and a great USB DAC fed by a 500GB HD with 15,000 cuts in lossless format, and love each one for different reasons. The advantages of a computer server are fabulous- it allows you enjoy the depths and corners of your library in ways we never were able to do so before or would be likely otherwise. If you truly love music, have an extensive library and eclectic tastes, it is a whole new experience. Plus, it allows you to take a lot of music anywhere, including anywhere an iPod can go, but not limited to that device. I take my laptop, external HD and mini system (including high end earphones, amp and small speakers) traveling wherever I go. It truly has expanded my ability to enjoy music in ways I never imagined would be possible 47 years ago when I first considered myself an audiophile. In short, don't short yourself. It is indeed the way of the future. High rez downloads are now starting to be available, and will only increase. Nonetheless, vinyl is still the best, but I love my PC audio!
Thanks again all. I am still at the only benefit is convenience (albeit there is a lot to be said for that). I disagree with the poster that says a Benchmark will give me great performance.....I have heard/owned that DAC...it is good for the money but in nowhere the league of the Esoteric X03....and yes, I have heard it driven by a PC....it plain stunk in comparison to the X03. So that is why I said costs would be high...you would have to invest in an expensive DAC to make it work....

I am thinking I would have my answer if the Esoteric had a digital input, then I could buy the Wadia itransport and run that into the digital ins of the X03 and be done (for now).
Arbuckle, for the cost of an x03 ($7k), less a good server ($2k), that leaves you $4-5K for a DAC. Why would you expect a $1K Benchmark to best that? I've not heard the x03 unfortunately, but for that price they should have given you an input IMHO. The server is just a glorified transport, the meat is in the DAC, and that is where the advancements will be made in the future. Furthermore, after reading the other posts and their stated positive benefits, I have to wonder what the Wadia would do for you that you don't already have?

"Convenience" understates the quality being described in these
posts. A good interface will likely change the way you listen to music - it
certainly did in my case. The process becomes more "stream of
conciousness" as you can instantly access any track on the drive. If
you're listening to Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo" from say a
"Greatest Hits"collection, you can quickly find other artist's
versions of the same song (or other performances of the song by Duke. You
can find similar songs by Duke or other artists via "keyword
searches". Anyone who owns a broad range of music will discover a
new process with a well designed server. I believe that most of these
listeners will embrace that process - though it certainly won't be 100% of that
population. Those listeners who prefer a single selection per session
(classicl music afficianados come to mind) may find this quality less
appealling, but for everyone else....

My main point is that the benefit is harder to describe than to enjoy. If you
can find a QSonix dealer who'll let you sit with a unit for an hour, you'll have a
much better idea of what I'm talking about. You may still "not get
it", but I suspect you'll be more receptive to the idea afterwards.


BTW, I use a QSonix and Benchmark DAC. The DAC has a very specific sonic
signature that is not everyone's cup of tea (evidently you can be included in
that group). Other DACs are available and I suspect that a server with the
DAC of your choice would provide more satisfying sonic performance.
If you can try the Apple Airport Express. I have one and it's really pretty amazing for being so cheap. About $130 it recieves WiFi signal sent from your computer. I have a Mac and it connects automatically but you can use it with a PC. I went from a $2000 CEC belt drive CD player to this with very little change in sonics. If anything this is MORE revealing! Even better is the EQ in Itunes to cater to your system strengths and weakness'. My computer is on the other side of the room but you could even be in an another room sending wireless for this. Or use multiple for various rooms and systems. I still wish i had a dedicated player sometimes but i'd need to spend a couple grand in my opinion to better this.
I recently sold my GNSC Wadia 861se because I preferred the sonic presentation from my NAS Music Vault & Modwright Transporter.

I am all about the sound, and if it didn't cut the mustard sonically, I wouldn't care how convenient it is, I wouldn't use it. It is a snap to rip CD's losslessly, and my local used record store offers 75% of your money back on used cd returns within a week of purchase. I buy, I burn, I return...and buy more. Backing up of files is not a big deal.

I was like the OP....I was not a believer. I am now.

When Ric Shultz brings out his AKM 32 bit DAC mod to the Transporter, I'll be in hog heaven.
I disagree with the poster that says a Benchmark will give me great performance.....

I've tried the Benchmark in its pre-USB form, and in its current USB form. I really wanted to like it, but I hated it both times hooked up in several different systems each time. If found the highs to be etched and grating. So I'm not surprised at all it doesn't compare to your X03.

I do believe you could get performance on par to what you are accustomed to expecting from that player via PC Audio and remain under the $7k retail tag of your player. Solutions like the Modwright Transporter, Empirical's offerings...as someone pointed out the heart of it is a damn good DAC, but I'd add that you need a reliable and accurate delivery system to that DAC. Unlike another poster I have not had much pleasure in listening through an Airport Express via the optical output (mini-toslink) to a DAC. I found that interface very poor sounding. If you like your Esoteric, APL HiFi uses an Esoteric player for the base of its NWO 2.5 and can give you an optional S/PDIF digital input so you can use the NWO DAC for output. See reviews and user comments on that modification by doing a search.

There's already plenty of good input as to the positive aspects of PC audio technology. I'd like to respond to some of your cons.

Hard drive cons:
-Just as expensive, if not more so than a dedicated CD player by the time you get the hard drive, back up storage, cables, monitor, DAC.

Um, you just bought a $7600 CD player. Hard drives are dirt cheap. Back up hard drives are dirt cheap. Digital cables to a DAC are not that expensive, even the more esoteric varieties should your tastes go there. I assume you already have a monitor if you are contributing to this forum, but I'm confident that you could get a laptop and a great DAC and everything you needed for damn fine PC playback for less than the price of your new Esoteric player. But, yes, if your expectations are on that level you will likely spend as much. You could go the NWO route and combine your player and DAC in one (as well as other players that offer digital input).

-Many units have hard drive noise that necessitates placing the unit away from the listening area.

My Mac iBook laptop is practically silent. MacMini's are also very quiet. Neither are terribly expensive. Granted, some hard drives are noisier than others. Choose a quiet one. Seems pretty simple to me.

-Need back up storage: This means you need to continually back up your collection for the day it crashes.

I said it before. Hard drives are dirt cheap. You can buy a very good, quiet, reliable 500gb drive for around $150-200 (I'd get the excellent G-Drive units), and a second or third cheap one for backups at under $100 each. With your Esoteric budget you could even get a decent RAID solution and drop in drives as you need them. Since you are computer savvy you could set it all up to backup automatically. The RAID solutions I'm aware of allow you to replace a failed drive and will automatically back up to the new drive upon inserting it into the RAID box. You can also use Mac's Time Machine to back up your library. It comes free with the Leopard OSX package. It works in the background if you keep the drives connected. No effort other than setting it up.

-Noone knows how long drives will last.

Which is one of the reasons you back-up. It really doesn't take that much effort if you have a system down.

-Need to spend the time to burn all your CDs

Yes, but once you've invested the time it is done. Adding music a CD at a time takes very little effort and time. As for the initial task; You can parcel out the time while you're doing something mindless, or hire a local teen to do it for you if you have more money than time. There are also services that will do it for you at a cost. It is a matter of putting a disc in the computer, waiting a few minutes, taking it out and putting in another. iTunes even has a setting that will automatically eject the disc once its done ripping it.

-If you use iTunes the quality of downloaded songs is not great, therefore this solution only really works if you burn CDs you have. I know there are some other higher res options, but they are not widely available yet.

Don't use iTunes downloads. If you like specific music, buy the CD and rip it yourself. This is not an argument against PC Audio - it is an argument against downloading low-rez music files.

-You need some type of monitor to view the collection adding the complexity and nuisance of mixing PCs and Audio

Afraid so. I'm not really sure how a monitor adds to the complexity and nuisance of it. I sure like having my entire library of music at my fingertips where I can actually flip through the images of the covers as if all 800+ CD's were there in my lap. I suppose it is just one more thing you have to deal with. Oh well, life just isn't fair.

-It is rapidly changing and noone knows what the outcome will be

Sounds like pretty much all technology, and life itself for that matter. Zeros and ones are zeros and ones. Resolution is going up, yes. I guess I see this is besides the point for me. The kick for me is having a convenient way to enjoy the music I love. Emphasis on enjoying the music. If the delivery method evolves I'll make a call when that happens. I'm not sure why the expectation that such things would stay the same for ever and ever. I don't think the ability to play CD's you rip now will likely be eliminated in the near future. Are you going to throw out your CD collection when the technology changes?

-If you download one song at a time you essentially throw out any experience the artist may have designed with listening to an entire album

Again, don't download. Buy the CD and rip it yourself. It takes about three minutes.

I rip/listen to new CD's while reading the morning paper online. If I like what I hear, I sync it to the muisc server. If not, I delete it and post it on Ebay. I purchase about 20 CD's a month and currently have about 2300 ripped in lossless. It took about two months to rip the first 2000.

I use a Vulcan Flipstart UMPC with a couple of 500GB 2.5" drives hanging off of it as a music server. Source is a Squeezebox2 with complete analog/digital mods and ultimate Nirvana power supply. I use the Duet remote to control it. It sounds so good that I dumped my reference SACD/CD player and haven't looked back.
It's the future, not only in how music is stored and played at home, but it's part of how music will be sold and delivered to your home. The same thing will happen with movies when bandwidth capacity increases. It's a paradigm shift. It won't be stopped any more than analog dudes with LPs stopped CDs from dominating the market (at least until now with the new downloadable services). If the audiophile doesn't want to make the plunge just yet, that's fine, but you should at least keep yourself informed of the developments so you will be knowledgeable for the time when you inevitably will make the change.

RE "The point of my post is, am I the only one here who thinks hard drive systems have serious drawbacks that should prohibit an educated buyer not to jump in yet??"

One aspect of the truly intelligent or well educated is to consider alternatives in life. For me to discount or dismiss another plan or concept that is apparently alien to my own, which may yeild as good if not better results, is sheer ignorance.... and I've been quite ignorant in my life now and then, trust me on that one. I called it "being conservative" back then.... it seemed to help.

Often my plans for a system improvement just don't go according to plan. The end product is usually as good if not better than the predetermined one... so far.

Obviously here, given the entry fee to Esoteric players, and their upscale counterparts, cost isn’t really the prime consideration is it?

I don't think it is really.

RE Benchmark
I mentioned that DAC purely as a thoughtful USB option. There are numerous others so I also added the Apogee whose price point and build is commensurate with the Bench unit. The list grows readily... and routinely. Both serve as examples only to prove out one entrance fee ideal.

One has to admit at least this notion... CD players are all constantly on the move to more analog like - natural sound. CDPs however have built in constraints. The very nature of their designs possess built in obsolescence. Many are as well proprietary in their repairs or maintenance, and thus are expensive to keep running. However, if one can afford a Rolls, these last points are immaterial to them I should think. If ya can afford a $500K car... $2500 for scheduled visit to the dealership won't be a bother at all.

On the other side of the coin, computers, servers, software, and so forth are near plug and play these days but in the event of a failure have an abundant set of local and very affordable resources to remedy such occasions…. And local is always better!

Analog playback itself, unless done pretty well via system matching and so forth may not equal digital quality playback as it stands today. Analog has simply run it's course and provides merely variations on an older theme. I won’t discount it as outdated or worthless, not at all, merely it’s fast losing it’s hold as the pinnacle of audio reproduction.

Were I able to employ vinyl here I likely would... and I'd keep it around too... though that wouldn't prevent me from entering another realm of audio recreation.

I know what might, however... My Contempt prior to investigation, or perhaps, my unwillingness to change, and quite possibly my pride… or my own fears. All of these principles will perpetuate my own imprisonment to the old, rather than the new.

The keys to lock or unlock those doors are in my possession though.

If I had just laid out a ton for a CD player I might well be quite dissmissive of some alternative path to musical enjoyment, and might also need to support that ideal, by some rationalization or justification of my present path to make my previous judgement valid... and save some face in the meanwhile.

In the light of the overwhelming positive experiences being posted here and elsewhere online, for someone to not entertain the idea that another way can yield likewise results is pure folly. it's akin to the idea set that wires/cabling don't make a difference! Ever think of that? Or that power conditioners are a waste of money? Isolation is pure snake oil?

I held onto all the aforementioned ideas for some time, and it’s price was costly in both time, and money.

There are numerous paths to audio bliss... solid state, hollow state... flea powered amps... all separtes… integrated units… LCD… Plasma… projectors…. analog... digital... and now there is server oriented pure digital domain.

You are in a superior position just now, IMO. AS you can take your time entering & investigating this new lesser expensive, and non time sensitive aspect... and personally, I know of a few major makers of digital converters which have some remarkable devices due to be released in the near future at attractive price points which will further escalate the current level of performance in the DAC end of things. I'm certainly looking forward to these releases myself though the knowledge of them did not prevent me from opting for the DAC I own now. Nor does it make me want to sell my CD player egven though the reproduction level equals and surpasses it in a few ways.

At some point…regardless the concept or fashion we choose to undertake a systems construct, we have to take the plunge somewhere… sometime… with some thing. The only wrong of it at all is to NOT involve ourselves. That is the only true loss we might endure… for in that state we gain no experience, or knowledge, and we will perpetually remain locked in our own little world. This too, has been one of my own flaws, for I do not usually embrace ‘different’ very well. Stay the course… keep to what is proven, or that which I ‘think’ to be the best… and wait… and wait… and wait.

Gee whiz… it took me a few years to consent to the idea not all CD players sounded the same! Or that more money needed to be spent to gain greater results!

The analog products of just one decade ago have now been made far superior by many accounts. Amplifier technology improves if by no other means than the sum of the parts being used within it. Arguably even cable are improving.

Should I now await for still greater accomplishments to arrive before I make a choice?

Why? For at that moment… still more advances are yet to come… so let’s wait some more… and so on. Waiting is not a good idea in the end. IMO

Looking back now at my own experiences, I sure wish I had been more open to other ideas, sooner. It would have saved me much time, money, and frustration.

But the steadfast reasoning that this is too costly an event is ludicrous. The learning curve can be daunting, and initially there is an expense of time, but the rewards thereafter are great indeed.
Arbuckle, I understand and agree with you.
99 out of 100,at least, of our Audiogon associates simply have no exposure to the level of sound you may obtain from your Esoteric.
There are different worlds right here on earth.
Guys with Corvettes will not appreciate Ferraris.
That doesn't mean the differences are not enormous, obvious & offering entirely "breathtaking" differences.
Meanwhile commentators may comment that the Zero to 100 tomes are not that different. Right.
Well, I jumped in head over heels. Started with a Wavelength Audio Crimson DAC run from Itunes, and now have a Blue-Smoke server run to a Berkely Audio Alpha DAC. For me, the sound is the thing. My current setup is far more enjoyable than the esoteric X-01 Limited that I had before. Better dynamics and a sense of "prsesence" well as all the imaging , soundstaging , etc. I agree that if my esoteric had a digital in I would have kept it. I'm also waiting for hi-res (196) downloads. I plan to try the few at Musicgiants to get a taste of what's possible.

I am just not getting it, other than the two (some may say only one) pros I listed above, why else would an audiopile get a computer audio front end??? It is certainly not cheaper, in fact it is most likely way more.

I agree with you - however prices are getting close to the point where a hard drive solution is competitive versus software controlled stacked mega changers and an outboard DAC or DSP Preamp DAC...
Vincent Sanders from VRS will be over today with his rig. I'll be able to compare computer audio to my CEC/Lessloss combo. I believe computer audio is the future, but also fear the technology that is going to be used to provide this to the masses hasn't quite shaken out yet. There are a number of good solutions on the market, all with a few different twists. That's my only reason for holding out to this point but it could all change today.
Hi Clio09,
I'm very interested in your impressions. Vincent certainly seems to know what he is doing. What exactly is he bringing over? VRS seems to be heading towards a software rather than hardware solution.

Clio09 - to make it apples to apples, I would use the Lessloss DAC with both your source and his source. Otherwise, you are just comparing DAC's, which tells you nothing.

You're partially correct, software is part of the equation. Think of Vincent in the vein of a network communications firm. These outfits offer software, hardware, and professional services. They have channel partners and can usually offer packages for every budget, configuring everything in the process so that it is user friendly.

I was very impressed with the set-up. It was better than my CEC/Lessloss combo. More information, more relaxed, more texture, and better sound staging. For once I think I understood what is involved in not only digital playback, but studio engineering and recording as well, which ultimately is the process that gives us the music we listen to.

Steve - using my DAC with the rig was not an option.

Bottom line - I'm a believer in computer audio. I'll be listening to the Wavelength stuff shortly so that I can hear a USB solution. I will eventually get around to Empirical Audio as well.

Last note - we listened to the same recordings on iTunes and the VRS software. iTunes sounded broken. Unless I'm missing something I can't see how iTunes is a viable playback solution for high quality audio reproduction. A bedroom system maybe, but not a listening room.
Thank you all for posting, there is a significant amount of valuable advise and information in this thread. It truly does seem like PC audio will be the future, but for now I will wait for all the details to get ironed out and especially high rez. I really wish Esoteric just put a digital in on their players....all the major competitors have them.
On way to test the waters is to get a Linn Sneaky DS. £1000, but sound quality wise it punches way above it's weight.

I recently sold my GNSC Wadia 861se because I preferred the sonic presentation from my NAS Music Vault & Modwright Transporter.

Were you running direct? My guess is yes and SS amps.
Arbuckle, you forgot to add another two cons about PC audio:

1. tagging, especially classical music, is still more hard work on top of ripping.

2. Not being able to read anything about the music you're playing, once the CDs are locked up in the attic.

I'm about to begin building my fourth silent computer, this time as a home media center with DirecTV HDTV video recording for the entire house, for less than $800.

And I still love the music from my Bolder-modded Squeezebox2 and Monarchy Audio M24 DAC.
Deshapiro, please excuse my lack of knowledge but I'm sure I am not alone and others will be interested as well.
I am interested to know what you are playing on your system-what sources are you playing?
Where does the music come from and at what resolution?
How much music is available that way?
Are 'downloads' all you play?
Can you play cds through your Berkeley unit? If so how do they sound?
Your experience/comments with this new system will be edifying for many of us.
Bar81 asked..."Were you running direct? My guess is yes and SS amps."

My Wadia was running into an ARC Ref3, and that into an Atma-sphere M60 mk3. Modwright is now doing the same. I have never heard a Solid State amp that I could ever live with long term....lord knows I have looked.
Wow. Now you've got me curious. Could you tell me what you felt were the improvements in the Modwright versus the Wadia?
I don't either. But then again I have not heard and compared SOA digital Transport/DAC (Say Zanden or Metronome an the like) combo with any music server based set up.

My main point why I don't get it: It is well know fact that the better drive mechanism of SOA transport assures correct reading and keep data stream timing in as good tact as possible. Wouldn't regular basic harddisk based server would have a drive mechanism ( sed while rippin a CD off) much inferior to the SOA Transport? Am I missing something?
Nilthepill - you have it exactly backwards. Spinning optical disks have both timing and data information being read from them. This affects both the data integrity (error rate) and the timing (jitter) during playback.

The hard-disk only copies the data from the CD, no timing, and it does multiple reads to make sure there are no errors. Then, the computer on playback retrieves the data from disk, caches it in memory and spools it out either over USB, Firewire or networked.

In the networked case, ala Squezebox, the data is simply data, there is no timing information added until the data is stored in a buffer and reassembled inside the squeezebox. This makes a perfect playback source. The local clock reads the data out of the buffer with very low jitter clock(assuming a low-jitter clock is used.

This is far superior to reading a spinning optical disk on-the-fly.

Steve N.
Principal Engineer
Empirical Audio
This is a fascinating thread, since I understand so little about the technology and options. I will sit on the fence for a while. I do agree with the earlier post that when hi-res downloads become the norm (better than RB[?]), that will be the tipping point for folks like me; till then I'll stick to my transport and dac; now if I did not already own them...
Steve, Thanks for the clarification.
Clio, how were you listening to iTunes? Mac or PC.

Everybody agrees that Itunes on a PC sounds like crap.