Is computer audio a bust?


In recent months, I have had several audio acquaintances return to CDPs claiming improved SQ versus their highly optimized computer transports (SS drives, external power supplies, etc, etc).

I wanted to poll people on their experiences with computer "transports." What variables have had the most impact on sonics? If you bailed on computers, why?

I personally have always believed that the transport, whether its a plastic disc spinner or computer, is as or more important than the dac itself and thus considerable thought and energy is required.

agear
I've had consistently good results using spdif for several years now and with various devices.

Not much with USB to-date but I do expect to investigate this more thoroughly very soon.

A network connection from computer server to sound making device/streamer is usually a good idea to help isolate sound making components from noisy computers.

Those are the main caveats I know of to get good results using good quality gear. Keeping noise and jitter to a minimum and using a good sounding DAC are keys in all cases regardless of the actual source device used.

Definitely NOT a bust if done right. Need not cost a fortune to do it well either.
Computer-driven audio is convenient, nothing more, nothing less. I really enjoy streaming Spotify but I'm not fooled into believing that it will ever replace a record played on a decent TT. And, yes, I also like physical CDs better than ripping.
I'm beyond happy with my computer transport but I couldn't listen to it before I got JPLAY. Could you go more in depth about what your/your friends' computers give up to the transports? If it's that digital glare or grain I'd recommend trying the demo of the aforementioned program.
I've bailed on it for now...the promise of DSD or DXD downloads might change my mind soon...
Not a bust for me. After starting out skeptical and not hearing the benefit, I've
recently been very pleased with excellent sound quality and great listening
sessions with CDs imported to iTunes and played back via Seagate External HD
>>USB 3>>MacBook Air running BitPerfect>>Kimber USB 2>>V-Link 192>>DH
Labs Coax>>Schiit Gungnir DAC>>Stager Silver Solid IC>>Amp). I attribute the
recent improvement mainly to the Gungnir DAC (+ coax & power cable) finally
burning in. CDPs are Upgrade Company mod'd. Denon 2910 and TEAC CD3000.
Don't know your frame of reference. They might not be "high end"
enough for credibility with you but computer audio is working for me.
I finished my career at a specialty audio/video retailer. I witnessed the introduction and success of HD video, with larger and less costly flat panel displays and the attempt of sacd to be the best quality audio. CD playback improved along with better mastering and vinyl was resurrected to some degree. Now computer based playback of audio is the trend and people watch video on small screens - phones and computers. The computer industry is the only industry where failure is accepted and tolerated - the infamous crash. We all know the poor quality of mp-3 audio. In other words, size and convenience have taken over to a significant degree. Some of this reminds me of the poor quality of AM radio sound of my youth. Being retired, I am going to listen to the recordings in my collection rather than use the time to rip them to a computer based system. That being said, I am exploring hi-res downloads. I also use my I-pod as the main source of music for my car. I use apple lossless to get my cds into the I-tunes library and provide good quality sound. My younger customers grew to appreciate improved quality audio as they grew older. I believe this trend will continue with computer based playback. Many realize what they are not hearing when they are exposed to even modestly priced 2-channel and multi-channel audio systems. Overall, I just won't trust computers to take over my audio system. But, that's just my opinion.
No promise. Running two server systems, both with full, multichannel DSD/DXD capabilities and files. The convenience is a given but the sound quality amazes.
Most....If not all the music you listen to was mixed and mastered on a computer. I'd rather listen to my master sessions directly from my 2 track mixes via computer than burned to a disc. As a matter of fact....With hd so cheap I no longer save anything to disc and barely listen to disc.

However, for recreational listening I prefer vinyl. I wish I was engineer on a level that afford this option but I will have to stick with high rez masters for now.
A network connection from computer server to sound making device/streamer is usually a good idea to help isolate sound making components from noisy computers.

My approach to since 07. Quarantining the electromagnetic radiation and other nasties from the computer is the "theoretical" advantage although people make arguments about similar issues with wireless.

07-14-14: Lindisfarne
Computer-driven audio is convenient, nothing more, nothing less. I really enjoy streaming Spotify but I'm not fooled into believing that it will ever replace a record played on a decent TT. And, yes, I also like physical CDs better than ripping.
Lindisfarne (Threads | Answers | This Thread)

I am in the same camp. Call me lazy but I listen to a lot more music than the laborious CD or LP spinning days.


07-14-14: Jfrech
I've bailed on it for now...the promise of DSD or DXD downloads might change my mind soon...

Why did you bail? I am about to take the DSD plunge myself. Am looking into the Auralic Aries for wireless transport duties.

07-14-14: Ghosthouse
Don't know your frame of reference. They might not be "high end"
enough for credibility with you but computer audio is working for me.

I have heard a lot of cheese whiz systems sound better than more blinged out systems simply due to proper implementation and setup....

07-14-14: Kr4
No promise. Running two server systems, both with full, multichannel DSD/DXD capabilities and files. The convenience is a given but the sound quality amazes.

What servers platforms are you using and what is your source materials for multi-channel tunes?
Wired Ethernet network has had the most impact on sonics by far of any other computer-based configurations.
Haven't tried it, spend a lot of time doing other tasks on computers at work and at home. So, I put in a CD, sit down, listen, look around--and grab the laptop this is what it has come to.
I believe computer audio is a passing fad, computers do not have quality capacitors, transformers, power supplies,not balanced, no real analog section,then there is the endless Rabit hole of having this and that software etc.., I know many that have returned to Dacs and cd-players., computer audio will go in the way of sacd!
I'm with ghost house - sound is excellent once you get the kinks worked
out - which is no different from any other source.
- It took me much longer to get my turntable to a point I was happy.

iMac - dh labs USB - schiit Bifrost DAC - Essence gZero6 IC - Naim amp

I use iTunes for library control with Audirvana to bypass crappy apple
software and Retune to control iTunes from my Droid tablet

Plays every sample rate up to and including 24/192

I've found that the superior sound engineering on many high sample rate
tracks provides for a much better quality recording without the premium
price that some "quality" CD's cost $$$- you gotta like that :-)

Go back to a CD player ? - Not for this puppy :-)

Regards
Nice thread Agear. For several years, teased by both the convenience and promise of high resolution, I planned to put together a computer based system. I didn't ever get around to it because of the rather high rate of bail out, apparently due to people not realizing the expected level of performance. For me, the Sony HAPZ1 came along at the right time. While there is still a learning curve associated with the HAPZ1, it is not all that daunting, and one is assured of a pretty good sounding piece of gear from the word go.

For me, the superiority of this piece both sonically and also from the standpoint of handling my extensive music collection has almost rendered my CD player irrelevant.

With a ModWright modification of the HAPZ1, one has about 4.5K invested. It may well be possible to achieve a similar level of performance for less with a traditional computer based system, but it would seem that for the average person, there is going to be some time invested in the trial and error associated with getting the most out of such a system.

I suspect that for most people, an approach like the HAPZ1 may be a better approach.
DSD and DXD alone make Comp Audio worthwhile. Disk are nice when you want the flexibility of just playing a specific album, but hirez/DSD audio files rule.

DSD128 well mastered, played back natively, is unbeatable for me.
I got rid of fans completely so my music serving computer is just as quiet as CD-player.
The only down side with computer audio is the large data volumes with lossless audio files and the time that can be involved maintaining a library with good tagging, etc.

Be sure to have automated backup of files in place and to get tags as best possible when ripping CDs initially. Classical music files in particular can be a challenge to auto tag easily.

There is trial and error involved with learning how to tag properly using any particular software for that so be prepared to start over again with fresh copies of files when needed until you get the hang.

Getting excellent sound quality from computer audio is the relatively easy part, which should be good news for audiophiles.

COmputer literacy is needed for this as with many things these days. WIthout that there are a lot of dead ends possible.

Recently, I have added PLEX music server to enable high quality streaming of my files via internet for remote listening. THat alone opens up many possibilities for audiophile music lovers on the go in particular.
07-15-14: Clio09
Wired Ethernet network has had the most impact on sonics by far of any other computer-based configurations.

Tony, I presume you are talking NAS here. What other configs have you tried and what was added by Ethernet?
Heretic!
The world needs more like you.
:-)
I use it but feel kind of negative about it as though it were a bust, because it's so difficult to understand all the jargon/ information required. You want to be sure you're optimizing your setup to get the best sound quality, but there's always someone more knowledgeable coming along making you feel like you don't know enough. Or there is too much techno babble going on, or someone is posting like every person working with computer audio all know the technical language, meaning, and definitions and we don't. So for me it's sort of a bust, but it works to an extent.
Interesting question and a good sample of perspectives supplied so far.

My take is: it's still too far away from easy adoption when considering cost, technical complexity (either to set up or in terms of ease of use), and performance.

It's more like pick any 2 of the 3 above.

I'm not technically expert nor technically dumb, but it is vexing to me how many barriers there are to getting a turnkey system topology that performs well and is integrated well, that does not cost like Linn or Meridian prices.

From ripping, encoding, format conversion, format support and playback, remote control, library integration, metadata organization, storage, effectiveness of digital transport, power supply noise, cabling, platform diversion - it can all be overwhelming and bewildering!

Seems to me the critical space is the hardware side of things upstream of the DAC, effectively what Squeezebox tried to solve, and needing lower cost turnkey solutions to addressing that. I'm hopeful that the Auralic Aries streamer will usher in a new wave of more affordable devices that address these tasks without overly compromized engineering.
Computer audio is no different than CD players. There is a large range of performance depending on price and manufacturer.

Because USB and networked streaming is new to most manufacturers, the majority of them use off-the-shelf USB modules from one or two third-parties rather than designing their own. The performance is therefore limited to how good these OEM Modules are. I have evaluated some of these and IME, they are fairly poor as a rule.

The experience you have with computer audio is therefore completely a function of the manufacturer/designer that you choose. Choose the right one and you will dump the CDP.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Being an audio dinosaur, I am happily feeding redbooks from the SPDIF coax of my Esoteric X-01 into a Rowland Aeris DAC/pre, which upsamples the signal to 192K.

Eventually, if the techno-dust settles, I might become persuaded to migrate to a dedicated music server, such as the Bryston BDP-2, or hypothetical follow-on device that supports data rates higher than 192K... and a large internal solid-state storage option.

"eventually" means that I am not experiencing any kind of obsessive compulsion to do so in the short term.

G.
Andrew, it was what was subtracted by adding Ethernet that made the difference in my opinion.

No more reliance on Mac Mini and all the tweaks/upgrades.
No more reliance on JRiver or other music software packages to play music.
No more reliance on USB converters or USB in general (which I never really embraced).
No more computer next to my system.

In exchange I have a NAS now loaded with about 500GB of music. I run MinimServer on the NAS. The NAS is connected to my router (which I have always had). I run a 35 ft. Ethernet cable to my Resolution Audio Cantata. Music streamed from NAS to Cantata using iPad and PlugPlayer control point.

I am still interested in trying the Lampizator transport with my Lessloss DAC for comparative purposes because I am told the wifi is superior to wired Ethernet. Not sure I buy that statement completely though as Resolution Audio states the opposite with their Cantata.
Agear asked: What servers platforms are you using and what is your source materials for multi-channel tunes?
1. Files are stored on a NAS in remote room.
2. Network is hard-wired.
3. Fanless, PC-based servers runs JRiver MC on SSD.
4. USB-connected DACs
5. Multichannel analog preamp/control

Can play PCM/FLAC/DSF/DFF/ISO/DXD. Files are rips and downloads.
Eventually, if the techno-dust settles, I might become persuaded to migrate to a dedicated music server, such as the Bryston BDP-2, or hypothetical follow-on device that supports data rates higher than 192K... and a large internal solid-state storage option.
Bryston BDP-2 buffers data in memory (I believe at least 1 track) before play so SQ should not be dependent on data storage device.

Wired ethernet network has had the most impact on sonics ...
Try replacing your generic with AQ ethernet cable.

I am still interested in trying the Lampizator transport with my Lessloss DAC for comparative purposes because I am told the wifi is superior to wired Ethernet. Not sure I buy that statement completely though as Resolution Audio states the opposite with their Cantata.
IMO, that's BS!
07-15-14: Audiolabyrinth
I believe computer audio is a passing fad, computers do not have quality capacitors, transformers, power supplies,not balanced, no real analog section,then there is the endless Rabit hole of having this and that software etc.., I know many that have returned to Dacs and cd-players., computer audio will go in the way of sacd!

Lord have mercy. That will start the ball rolling....lol.
Thank you JoeCasey, interesting about BDP-2 buffering capability. Are you talking about Ethernet from server to DAC? BDP-2 does not have RJ45 out, and Aeris does not have RJ-45 in.

G.
I saw but did not get to listen to a new SOny HAP integrated music streaming device at a local dealer recently.

One of the nicer looking and seemingly simple and affordable digital home audio gadgets I have seen recently.
Computer audio is a passing fad, just like sex and marijuana (not necessarily together, but not necessarily not together). You wait - in 5 years, nobody will want any of the three. You heard it here first.
Because USB and networked streaming is new to most manufacturers, the majority of them use off-the-shelf USB modules from one or two third-parties rather than designing their own. The performance is therefore limited to how good these OEM Modules are. I have evaluated some of these and IME, they are fairly poor as a rule.

Steve, but I thought you are using one of those third-party off-the-shelf modules in your current products too, thought with improved clocking and power supplies?

The experience you have with computer audio is therefore completely a function of the manufacturer/designer that you choose. Choose the right one and you will dump the CDP.

As I've wrote many times on these forums, I have done very extensive work when it comes to computer audio, including an external linear power supply for it. Not only 12V like for MacMini, but everything is linear, even the standby power supply. I am running Server 2012 R2 with Audio Optimizer, JRiver, JPLAY and Foobar. My MacBook Pro runs Audirvana that I feel is the best audio playback for Mac, after trying everything else available for iOS.

Still my digital transport is better - it is richer, more extended top to bottom, more refined and silky smooth. This is, to my ears, much closer to my reference vinyl setup that is amongst the best money can buy.

The computer audio is very convenient, but it takes lots of knowledge to make it sound even close to a well designed disc spinner.

Jut my two cents as usual.

Best wishes,
Alex Peychev
APL Hi-Fi
I was on who went through the cassette era recording much of my vinyl to cassettes. Then I found reel to reel trounced the cassette, so the cassettes went away and I recorded the lp's again. Then the cd era came and I was happy I didn't have to record the lp's again.. Now another change comes, computer audio. So much to learn, so many manufactures, so many different ways to make mistakes until I get it right. Not me. I'll pass. Getting to old to go through all of the trouble of starting a new format collection. I'll just play the lp's and cd's.
Andrew, it was what was subtracted by adding Ethernet that made the difference in my opinion.

No more reliance on Mac Mini and all the tweaks/upgrades.
No more reliance on JRiver or other music software packages to play music.
No more reliance on USB converters or USB in general (which I never really embraced).
No more computer next to my system.

That's where my head is at. I went with the Zardoz French WIFi front end in 2007 for similar reasons (extrication from computer) and preferred it to my Granite Audio 657 CDP at the time. I just moved on for the sake of newer format streaming. I am considering the Auralic Aries but time will tell.

I am still interested in trying the Lampizator transport with my Lessloss DAC for comparative purposes because I am told the wifi is superior to wired Ethernet. Not sure I buy that statement completely though as Resolution Audio states the opposite.

I have heard contradictory info as well. Dan at dbsystems (maker of Zardoz/LaRosita and a computer engineer) said wireless was better than the Ethernet port on his units. I had a friend who tested this and could not hear much of a difference. According to Steve Nugent, wireless/ethernet is supposedly a superior interface in terns of jitter:

http://www.enjoythemusic.com/magazine/manufacture/0509/

I have always suspicions about cheesewhiz Ehternet cables and jitter but I don't honestly know. The Lampi transport into the Lessloss would be intriguing. I would go that route if the Lampi piece could handle more formats.

As you know, Mr. Lessloss has his contrarian angle on all this, and I very much respect his thoughts. This is his new gizmo:
http://www.lessloss.com/laminar-streamer-ultimate-sd-card-player-development-a-65.html

It looks stunning, but again, there are logistical issues with the size of SD cards and the burgeoning world of DSD/DXD, etc.
07-15-14: Brownsfan
I suspect that for most people, an approach like the HAPZ1 may be a better approach.

I agree and I have eyeballed that unit. From reading yours and other reviews, I know there is a little bugginess. However, if you let outfits like Modwright or Redwine audio hack them, it could be a destination source sans computer.
07-15-14: Bcgator
Computer audio is a passing fad, just like sex and marijuana (not necessarily together, but not necessarily not together). You wait - in 5 years, nobody will want any of the three. You heard it here first.

Nice. One would suspect that thc consumption would blunt our OCD audio impulses. Less hand wringing (and blogging) and more listening perchance?
With one exception I have not heard a transport that bests my Off-Ramp. That one exception however is totally wild. A highly modified (packed with uber expensive high end stuff like Duelund Capacitors and heavily modified Adcom clocks) Wadia.

It was better - but not enough better to entice me away from the convenience of computer audio. Some people who heard that comparison still preferred the Off-Ramp.

Thanks
Bill
To summarize the two primary objections to hard drive based audio, 1) it's too hard to insert a CD into a computer drive and click on the import icon and 2) I'm old and don't see the point of learning anything new.

If #2 is your go to reason, then at least it offers the possibility that you're happy with your existing setup. Why fix what's not broken. But if #1 is the reason, then how did you manage to get on the internet and post a response in this forum?
Computer audio is the best architecture, allowing the greatest control, media options, innovation, and integration--especially feeding USB DAC's. It's the future, here now, IMO.
I'm with you Abucktoweighty, I have come close to chucking my computer audio setup since my files don't sound as I would like.

As far as Audioengr's statement that "Computer Audio is no different than CD players." Yes, there is a wide range of quality in both, but the implementation in no way compares and that's where computer audio loses fans.
07-14-14: Redfuneral
I'm beyond happy with my computer transport but I couldn't listen to it before I got JPLAY. Could you go more in depth about what your/your friends' computers give up to the transports? If it's that digital glare or grain I'd recommend trying the demo of the aforementioned program.

Analog density, ease, and diminished glare. Their computer setups (which included all the usual tricks and aftermarket mods within a Mac platform) was thinner and more "digital" sounding. JPLAY was not the software used. It was either Puremusic or Audinirvana.
Does having a asynchronous USB help with jitter and obviate the need for reclocking or SPDIF converters, as claimed here : http://usbdacs.com/Concept/Concept.html

Just wondering. I have the Wavelength Cosecant and love it so far.
Hi steve, I stand behind my last post, in addition, Cds are simple to use, so are records, just tring to keep a computer running great to make these post is enough, I cannot imagine the heart ache of computer audio for me!, I will take simplicity over computer audio that may or may not sound better than whats possible with dacs and cd-players, also usb is a very poor connection for audio to me, this was never intended for audio use to the begin with.
My puter audio is a jukebox and I pick the genre(s) and it plays awesome music while I read or just listen for fun. BUT, for critical listening, vinyl, cd or sacd.
Kr4 same set up as you at least with fan-less, closet, USB and hard wired. The rest of you for the most part most have found it very difficult to go from incandescent bulb to CFLs to LEDs. "So confusing which to chose? Each works differently. It depends on the implementation". Hog wash. I am a 58yr old. Not in any type of hight tech or tech at all industry. 1.5yrs of college. No issues. Minor hiccups. But I have a brain. I am able to think and process thought and ask questions. Stop crying about change and embrace it you will be the better for it. Nothing wrong with the old ways darth vaders, but the technologies can exist together. My turntable has no issues. Live long and prosper.
Thank you JoeCasey, interesting about BDP-2 buffering capability. Are you talking about Ethernet from server to DAC? BDP-2 does not have RJ45 out, and Aeris does not have RJ-45 in.
Ethernet reply was not for BDP-2. BTW, you don't need a network or computer to play music if stored in attached USB drive to BDP-2.

You do need network for installing updates and controlling BPD-2 with PDA APPS and computer to manage the unit.
Agear, many of the posts in this thread clearly demonstrate
the convoluted nature of computer audio, the lack of consensus
on best practices, and some of the reasons computer
audiophiles will remain a niche group within this audiophile
niche group.
Right on foster_9.
07-16-14: Foster_9
Agear, many of the posts in this thread clearly demonstrate
the convoluted nature of computer audio, the lack of consensus
on best practices, and some of the reasons computer
audiophiles will remain a niche group within this audiophile
niche group.

I agree 100%. In my optimism, I wanted to see if people had nailed down variables that had the biggest impact on SQ in hopes of understanding better why my audio friends (with good ears and systems) bailed. It was not due to the inherent complexity of computer audio. The SQ of their CDPs was just clearly better. It would be interesting to do a blinded shootout with a unit like the Aesthetix Pandora using either its digital input or the CD section.
Anyone who thinks USB can't be done right has never spent time with Peachtree's XMOS-chip based asynch implementation in their X-1 Grand Integrated. My system could not be much simpler...an off-the-shelf HP computer from Costco, playing songs ripped in AIFF format through JRiver, over a $12 Belkin USB cord directly into the Peachtree Grand X-1, then out to a pair of Wilson Benesch Arcs. That's it - 3 components, computer to Peachtree to speakers. As far as difficulty making it work - trust me, I may be the least technically-inclined person in this entire thread. I'm one step ahead of being mechanically clueless - some of you have hamsters who can explain what a DAC does better than I can. And my system sounds absolutely fantastic. If I can make it work, anyone can.

Now, would it sound better if I substituted an ARC Reference 9 CD player in for my computer? Maybe it would. But if you could hear what I'm hearing already, you wouldn't be rushing me out the door to go drop $13K on a high-end CDP. But that's missing the bigger point - I don't need my system to sound as good as an ARC CD9 or a Meridian CDP, I just need it to sound superb. I've listened to some of those high-end vinyl & CDP systems, I know the sound that we're chasing. Even if I'm not quite there, I may be a lot closer than some naysayers can appreciate. Except that I have an entire music library at my fingertips - I can go from Journey to Isobel Campbell to Charlie Haden instantly, no stacks of discs, no getting up to change CDs. Superb sound with so few components, and that level of convenience, how could that be a bust?
Agree with Electroslacker.

The principles are not hard, but the products and technical choices are many and not always easy to sort through.

Computer audio is hardest for audiophiles who will sweat every detail in order to get the "best sound".

I am an old time music and audio lover plus I make my professional living getting computers to do what is needed. So computer audio comes as a natural thing to me.

Like most things computer, it will only continue to grow. Not the only kid on the block today, but I would love to take up a bet with anyone who thinks the future of computer audio is anything but grand.