Music from hard drive better than CD?

Hi folks, I'm considering to buy a MacIntosh G5 for using it as a source in a high quality audio system. Will the Mac outperform the best CD-transport/DAC combo's simply by getting rid of jitter? It surely will be a far less costlier investment than a top transport/DAC combo from let's say Wadia or DCS, hehe. What is your opinion?
Gordon Rankin's Cosecant USB Computer DAC with a small iMac laptop appeals more to me. We will see what Gordon has up his sleeve this year, but the sound he was getting through this system (combined with his very nice amps) at CES2004 was enthralling. Perhaps you can pick up some useful information from

Thx Metralla.
I tried to plug my PC (with the NVidia media built in to my laptop) on my BAT30SE pre with B&W N802's using a Cary 306 player). It's still a long way shot. It's not as musical as when playin a CD.
PC HD's store music in wavefiles(MP3)- a shortcut/condensed version of the CD. It would not pick up the whole package from a musical medium during the transfer although when replayed, the ears can still hear a complete version. Using a decent player is still the way to go for now or better yet an SACD.
I'm not sure if there's any tweaky part of it to match the CD version. Gentlemen? Ladies?
Using a USB to S/PDIF coaxial converter or an AirPort Express with coaxial out will definitely outperform any transport on the market, including modded ones. I have compared these. Also, using Foobar2K to upsample to 24/96 is even better. This is the best digital audio I have ever heard. If you go this route, you can pair either of these with your favorite DAC, SS or tube.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
I have a MAC G4 that I've used for audio. There are several issues. If you have a high end system and you compress your music, you will notice and it will not sound good. If you take your signal from the computer's headphone jack, it will not sound good. Worse, when you increase volume, you'll hear a hum that is coming from the computer. However, if you use the computer as TRANSPORT and take the signal out of the computer through the USB or Firewire port, bypassing the computer's internal DAC, and play it through a high quality outboard DAC, you can get sound that will compete with CD players costing thousands of dollars AND you will get the convenience of having hundreds of CD's available at the click of a mouse. At first, I tried USB soundcards that cost a few hundred dollars, but it only offered a slight increase in quality over the headphone jack. But, when I invested $1,000 in an Apogee USB Mini-Dac, it was a home run. Amazing sound. Natural, musical, detailed, deep, wide soundstage -- everything. Will it compete with the BEST digital players? That will be a matter of opinion, but in my opinion, players like Wadia offer impressive sound and may give you a tiny bit more detail, but to my ears, the sound is a little digital for my taste. I don't want this to turn into a flame war and I am not trying to diss anyone's gear. But, to my ears, the hard drive plus Apogee sounds more natural and involving. I admire it a little less, but enjoy it more -- if you know what I mean.

Finally, to my ears, based on my taste, my Emm Labs gear is the best digital gear. My computer plus Apogee isn't in that league -- and the Emm Labs also offers SACD playback -- but, what the Apogee has in common with Emm Labs is a natural sound. The Apogee USB Mini-DAC costs $1,000 and the Emm Labs DAC costs $10,000, so I don't want to oversell the Apogee Mini-Dac -- it isn't in the same league with the Emm Labs. But, after listening to Emm Labs, I have become spoiled and find it hard to listen to other gear. But, I enjoy the Apogee Mini-Dac. If you have the budget for Emm Labs gear, IMO, nothing is going to touch it. That's my opinion, based on my taste. But, if you are looking for a system that can compete with players costing 3,000 to 5,000 while offering convenience, put this on your list of things to consider.

The Cosecant tubed USB DAC is also intriguing. Given my eye and ear opening experience with the Hard Drive plus Apogee, I am prepared to believe that it is possible to get amazing sound from a computer Hard Drive given the proper outbord DAC.

I have not heard the Cosecant, so I cannot offer any opinion on its sound versus Apogee.
Off topic, sorry

I have been playing around with these FLAC and SHN lossless music downloads for a while...some are better than most cd's.

In the last week I have downloaded 4 complete live shows of top quality music.


FLAC and SHN files can be converted to WAV...very nice!

Good thread. This is also what I wanted to achieve. Thanks.
have you evaluated the G4 with a spdif output into the EMM?

i am curious to know if better results can be obtained using a PC HD based transport as a source for a good audio DAC like my Wadia.

curious to know which transports you aare comparing the PC to (not everyone's idea of high end is the same). would a HD and USB to SPDIF converter outperform or compete with something like a dCS Verdi?
I'm about to delve into this stuff as well so am very interested in this thread. From what I understand you can run your lossless digital file (WAV or AIFF) from your hard drive via a USB to SPDIF convertor into virtually any DAC with an S/PDIF input. Assuming it was recorded as a lossless file at the appropriate sample rate (or greater), it would seem to me that the quality of the output signal will then be solely dependent upon the DAC and not at all on the hard drive. Am I incorrect in assuming this? By the way, You could further convert the signal from S/PDIF to Toslink with yet another simple converter if your DAC only has a Toslink input. All these converters are available through RAM Electronics, or some other favorite electronics retailer or etailer. I would like to put the most listened-to part of my CD collection on an external drive that I can bring from home to work. Anyone figure out how big a drive you'd need to hold, say, 200 CD's as WAV files? Are those files indeed "lossless"?

Using WAV, you'd need about 80 gigs for 200 CD's. I've been told that some of these lossless codecs take about half as much space. If that's true, then you'd need 40 Gigs for 200 CD's.
I have not tried the Hard Drive with SPDiF into the Emm Labs Dac. I'm not sure the Emm Labs DAC will take an SPDiF input. I use the Emm Labs in a different room from the Hard Drive/Apogee.
Thanks Rsbeck. RAM Electronicssells all kinds of convertors to go either direction. If you are just buying a single-purpose digital convertor they're pretty inexpensive should you want to try your EMM labs. Multi-use converters like M-Audio's CO2 and CO3 are more expensive but can convert to almost any cable. Check them out.

How about "the ultimate one box system".

1. CD/DVD/SACD transport.
2. Hard disc to store the music, with playback immediately (no jitter), or later.
3. Video screen for index of library, and control.
4. Digital Power amp.
and maybe AM/FM/XM radio tuner.

Add speakers of your choice.
Look for Bose to do it.
Doesn't Revox and/or Goldmund make something like that already. Linn also comes close.
Here is something I found --

From 6 Moons' review of a Hard Drive based system ---

One of the great advantages of playing music from a hard drive is that the playback is all byte-by-byte. You are not hearing music through a device that is trying to read a spinning disc in real time. The major source of jitter and distortion is simply eliminated in this hard drive-based process. As I heard it, the net effect is a terrific sense of natural musical flow.

I don't know if it will outperform all CD transport/DAC combos, but a hard disk computer system is capable of very high quality. The Apple G5 is an excellent starting platform. In combination with iTunes and an iPod (optional) you'll have unparalleled access to your music collection.

As an example, the other night I was listening to Lucinda Williams' "2 Cool To Be 4-Gotten" and the first verse is about Robert Johnson. I mention this to my girlfriend and she asks, "Do you have any Robert Johnson?" Two or three mouse clicks later we're listening to RJ singing "Stop Breakin' Down" which we then followed with the Rolling Stones version of the same. This led to a comparison of their versions of "Love In Vain", followed by the Clash doing "Train In Vain" and finally Dwight Yoakam's cover of the Clash tune. Instant access to your music collection will transform how you listen.
Rsbeck...Until I heard what people say on this site I just assumed that the data from reading the disc went into a buffer register, and was gated out one (16 bit) word at a time. Coming from my experience with military digital equipment it's obvious that this is how it should be done. This implementation would be a trivial cost. The hard disc transfer would accomplish the same jitter reduction (and some other features) but at significant cost.
Best thread yet! I am planning to build my own Hard drive system. Does any body have a suggestion on which HD brand, speed (7200 or 10,000 rpm), and what size disk space to buy. Would a relative small size hard disk be better that a large one (i.e. using two 80 gig drives, as opposed to a single 160 gb)?

On a side note, all my current music collection (500 CDs) fitts on a 110 GB hard drive as full wave files. Why? because I only record the best songs, and as we all know most CDs have no more than 4 good songs on them.

I've been intrigued by Mr. Rankins Cosecant, since originally hearing about the concept, but can't seem to find reviews, or comments on how a PC Hardrive, CD Drive, to Cosecant sounds in comparison with high-end CDP's. At $3,500 + PC are we talking about a comparison to $3,500 CDP's or $5K+ rigs?

Very soon, I plan to replace my aging PII Dell with a new PC. However, like "Planckscale" most all my 500+ CD's (keeper tracks) have been ripped to a 120G H.D. (a 200G drive is used for back-ups). It would be a blast to use this soon to be obsolete PC as a "music machine", but wonder how the PC/Cosecant combo would compare to my Wadia 861...
I'm still trying to figure out what to do here--I'm about 70% through ripping the 1000+ CDs in the Rock/Blues genre... I seriously encourage folks to think about standalone storage, since ultimately you will want to access your music from other places in your house besides the one PC they are resident on. Right now, I'm running three audiotrons and one CD30, as well as a USB audio device off my PC.

My latest thinking is something like this for storage:

I was originally going to go with a bunch of LaCie external USB 2.0 drives and a Linksys $90 NAS box, but I discovered, much to my chagrin, that the NAS box they have requires you to format the disks in a proprietary format. Doesn't work for me. I'm ripping the CDs to the LaCie drives, but I worry about their long term viability--these puppies run hot. Just don't think they are really designed for 24/7 operation.

The selling points of the Niveus server seem to be quiet (no fans), component-like aesthetics, and $ (Dell quoted me about $14K for 1.5TB of RAID5 storage. Unlike everyone else, I'm ripping the whole CD--I don't wanna go back and do this again.

I'm also intrigued by the Niveus PCs like the Denali HDTV; I've been leery of putting a computer in my rig until seeing their fanless ultraquiet numbers... But then, I also found this:

Trying to decide now whether I want to embark on the fullblown HTPC/Windows Media Center Edition or something to just serve up WAV files...
Interesting stuff!
I knew there was a reason to wait on the server 'til after CES announcements... This puppy is due out in Feb. May not be as quiet as the Niveus, but at this price ($1K) it can live in the garage...
Hmmmm. Something is not right here.

$50 portable CD players incorporate electronic antiskip mechanisms by reading ahead 5-10 seconds and storing the data in a buffer--and they are far from audiophile grade transports or players. The challenge of high fidelity playback is not limited to problems with spinning a disk, and it is absolutely no surprise the today's PC hard drive configs don't compete with EMM Labs gear.

CD audio encoding is surprisingly complex (e.g., see And one result of this is very high bit-for-bit fidelity. It is true that the CD Audio redbook spec has less error correction that CD-ROM--i.e., it "allows" a certain level of interpolation of data--but in general it seems that this is not the problem (see a classic at; good transports or bad, you can be pretty sure that your DAC is getting a bit-perfect feed.

The next area to look at is jitter. This is any variance between the actual data clock and an ideal clock. Transports, hard drive controllers, DMAs--they are all going to have jitter, so replacing a transport with a hard drive will not remove this problem. It may allow it to be mitigated--or may be not: PCs are hostile environments and jitter is measured in *billionths* of a second.

There is no doubt that mitigating jitter can improve audio reproduction, but in Harley's article at the above URL he looks at CD tweaks and found audible differences yet no difference in jitter; i.e., something other than jitter--at least as he was measuing it--was causing an effect on his "perfect sound forever."

I think the problem is in the CD format when it leaves the factory or the website, and you are doomed before you ever bring it into your house. Here's why: The CD spec does not store the time information along with the amplitude. It just stores the amplitude, and the clock is recovered from the signal. If they had spec-ed it in packets like TCP/IP embedding clock and amplitude, then you could recover ALL the data, amplitude and time, bit-perfect, from a CD, a website, even a carrier pigeon--the transport mechanism wouldn't matter. But the clock is implied in the signal, and that means that it has to be re-created at playback. Ever wonder why transports make a difference on playback? It's because the servo is jerking the DC waveform and introducing trash in other parts of the CDP; same with digital cables: because the clock is not "data" per se, the way your DAC gets the data through your cables from the transport can affect the time reconstruction.

I think computers have a lot to offer audio, and, like digital amps, may drop the price floor on very good reproduction. But for *really* good reproduction, it'll be years before anything beats a CDP or TT.

>>it is absolutely no surprise the today's PC hard drive configs don't compete
with EMM Labs gear.<<

Surprise? Who said this was a surprise?

>>good transports or bad, you can be pretty sure that your DAC is getting a
bit-perfect feed.<<


>>jitter...replacing a transport with a hard drive will not remove this

You're not just replacing the transport with a hard drive; If you use
something like the Apogee Mini-Dac, you're also introducing a high quality
clock and DAC.

>>something other than jitter--at least as he was measuing it--was causing
an effect on his "perfect sound forever."<<

There are many things that go into making a great sounding DAC.

>>But for *really* good reproduction, it'll be years before anything beats a
CDP or TT.<<

That's vague. Depends on what you call a *really* good CDP. It has already
been established that a computer plus $1,000 DAC will not compete with
$10,000 Emm Labs gear, but neither will any other digital gear.

A computer plus $1,000 DAC absolutely sounds better to my ears than many
CD players.
For those who can build their own, here are some great links:

1. At the botom of this page you will find nice Multimedia cases:

2. Then you can install a quiet/fanless power supply from here:
There is a nice doc by Jon Risch at :

I think one can partition what I shall call 'convenience' and 'sound reproduction' roughly to the transport (or source medium) and DAC respectively. Here's what I mean: I really liked Onhwy61's post where he was able to move from song to song, quickly and easily. For me, that would be a wonderful part of at least some of my listening experiences. There is an analogy to DVDs here: in terms of sales, the DVD has been the greatest home electronic success in history. And it is no wonder--DVDs offer a clear value proposition over VHS that virtually any video consumer can appreciate. Similarly, computer-based home entertainment systems (and variants thereof) offer great promise, to the degree that they offer not just more "convenience," but that this can operationally change the way we listen to music.

DACs with on-board clocks can re-clock the data stream, making them virtually immune to the transport, be it CD, hard drive, RAM, whatever. So there is no reason why convenience needs to be at the expense of high quality sound reproduction. But DACs are still not completely immune, as Jon hints towards in this article above. Cable reflections, ground bounce, chip load, etc. these will affect DACs even with on-board clocks, and highly resolving systems will invariably uncover a source medium dependency. Source mediums specifically made to minimize jitter, such as high-end transports, will make it easier on the DAC. There is nothing that I know of in the computer industry that gives computer-based storage systems any translational benefit over to *DAC technology* that the traditional digital audio community is not already aware. So when it comes to sound reproduction, the traditional digital audio community is likely to still command the lead. If this is achieved reasonably inexpensively via pro-audio, or esoterically in boutique audio, is really an issue that is applicable re one's own system, resources, and goals.
One thing missing from all above posts thus far is a discussion on error free music free rippig. Not every CD-ROM or DVD-ROM is created equal. It's not as simple as which format to choose but which ripping SW/CD-ROM.

One of the better SW is EAC (Exact Audio Copy). It's capable of creating an exact copy of you CD. Bit for bit. It does this by slow down the drive and read it at least twice. (with the correct configuration of course).

I ripped my library of 400+ CDs using Windows Media Player 9 and came to discover some of them contain excessive errors. (sound skiping and etc) I am in the progress of redoing all of them. Very painful.

I have been using the combination of iTunes/AirportExp/benchmark DAC1 as the front-end.

Can Foobar be taught to stream audio into the AirportExpress as the iTunes does.
Wow! To all of the above: Wow! I just want to say that I am also duly impressed with everything Rabelais has to say. It is somewhat like reading Aquinas in that you know there is genius there even if you don't 100% comprehend it. Just for the record, even though there is a literary connection of sorts between Catullus and Rabelais (the originals, not us personally), I am not prejudiced because of this. For now, I will stick with a tranport and a DAC. I would rather have my CDs spinning than my head.
Thanks for the great read!!
Part of me thinks that some kind of hard-disc based music server is definitely the way of the future. So, it is not a matter of "if" so much as a matter of "when". Here is a paragraph I cut from the Apple website in reference to their new 17 inch powerbook:

"Audiophiles Rejoice"
"The new 17-inch PowerBook also includes built-in optical digital audio input and output for connecting to devices such as decks, receivers, digital instruments and 5.1 surround sound systems. Because optical digital audio transmits data as impulses of light rather than electrical signals, it enables true, noise-free, pristine sound — eliminating troublesome ground loops and ensuring higher audio and signal quality."

I'm just curious what you all think of this? How would this be implemented given what we are talking about on this thread?
"Can Foobar be taught to stream audio into the AirportExpress as the iTunes does."

I've read that iTunes streams to AX using Apple Lossless and only Apple, no.
I stream AIFF files over Airport Express, so it's not just limited to Apple Lossless.
While any Quicktime compatible file may be played over AirPort Express, all audio is streamed as Apple Lossless because of WiFi bandwidth limitiations.
Dylans4bass, thanks for the info. I dug through the Apple website and found confirmation about the conversion to Apple Lossless with Airport Express. It was buried midway within a 31 page tech document. What confuses me is where the conversion actually takes place. Is it in the computer running iTunes/AirTunes or is it in the Airport Express. I would assume it's in the computer, but when I run the Activity Monitor I do not see any additional CPU or disk activity when playing music through Airport Express vs. the internal computer speaker.

BTW, what does your webname signify?
Fom the Tact hackers group:

--- In, "kana4813" wrote:

Not cheap, but for those who don't want to use their PC, here's another approach:
I realize that the topic is pointing towards a Single PC serving to a Single Dac on a Main System...
But Can a Single PC Serve Music over a Network, to Other DACs and Amplifiers, Simultaneously to Create Multi-Room listening...
Or to state it differently... The Same Music is being Played on Different Systems Throughout the House, over the Network, Being Sourced from a Single PC/Harddrive.

Also Does Anyone Have any OtherLinks to CHAT on this subject trough Audio Asylum or ???

You may want to look at the Roku Soundbridge products, the Slimp3, and the CD30. They are network audio devices, and I think they are all "server-push" so they will allow you to run multiple remotes off a single computer. Don't know whether they will permit multiple remotes to play the same exact music, however, since the network is running a point-to-point protocol. You might look into using the computer to create a stream like the netradio stations and using the remotes to access that if playing the same thing from multiple places is important. I think most of these things have digital outputs as well as analog. I suspect the analog outs are pretty suspect for audiophiles, but if you are just looking for ambient background music, probably works...

Dig around in the digital forums here. There is a bunch of info on folk's server based systems.
Dazzdax - a properly configured computer makes an excellent transport. But I would always use an external DAC. There is just no way to properly shield/isolate/power condition the DAC on a PC soundcard.
”Best thread yet! I am planning to build my own Hard drive system. Does any body have a suggestion on which HD brand, speed (7200 or 10,000 rpm), and what size disk space to buy. Would a relative small size hard disk be better that a large one (i.e. using two 80 gig drives, as opposed to a single 160 gb)? “

A 7200 rpm drive would suffice for music playback. In my opinion a 7200 rpm drive will be good for most applications with the exception of those who demand a high level of performance from their computer (gaming, graphics, server, etc). As for the brand, that depends. A major concern would be the amount of noise the drive makes while reading the disk. I owned a Western Digital drive once and it was the loudest drive on earth. I’ve found Maxtor drives to be fairly quiet, but it would be good to do some research in this area. Also, if you buy the drive from Best Buy or a place that allows returns, you could take it home, install it, and listen to how loud it is; just take it back if it’s no good. A large drive will effectively work the same as a smaller one, as long as the disk doesn’t become too fragmented. The NTFS and FAT partition types (those used in Windows operating systems) suffer from high levels of fragmentation. Other partition types such as those used in UNIX (Mac OS X) or Linux suffer less from file fragmentation. Either way, you’ll end up with a bit-for-bit read of the music, but the level of file fragmentation can affect how active the drive must be while reading the disk. Basically what happens when files become fragmented is parts of the file are spread out among the entire disk, causing the disk to have to access several different parts to read the entire file. This again can affect the noise level of the drive and the read time of files, but for reading music files there would be no serious effect. As long as you perform regular defragments on the drive, this should not be an issue. So basically I would go for the larger drive; there’s a certain drive size where you can get the most for your money. I haven’t looked at prices lately, but I’m guessing it may be around the 160 GB size these days. Retail stores sometimes offer great deals (with mail in rebates). Otherwise you can look online to get a great deal (

I find it amusing that I can see a "split" forming within the digital community as once happened between the digital and analog people.

Compact discs will not be the digital storage media forever. Eventually music will be stored on ROM chips, once the cost of production drops enough to allow such an alternative to be feasible. This will not only reduce the size of albums to the size of a fingernail, but will also help in the recording industry's fight against piracy (unless they come out with ROM "burners"). I can see the majority of people more willing to switch to a more “convenient” storage form than one that sounds better (SACD) and maintains the same size as the conventional CD.

Either way, the computer transport/DAC model seems very interesting, and I am considering taking this route myself instead of upgrading my cd player. I have a laptop available that can be used, but I am concerned about noise from the fans. Some effective cooling method would be needed so that the fans don't kick into high gear while listening. Any ideas there?

Also, what about SACD? Are there any "SACD-ROM" drives for PCs that could read SACDs? And would the Apogee DAC be able to interpret this digital signal? Would a USB connection be able to offer the bandwidth necessary to transfer the SACD stream in real time? Perhaps a USB 2.0 connection, but USB 1 seems unlikely.
Jwglista - slower drives run cooler and quieter and will probably last longer also. There is no point in putting a drive that spins faster than 5400rpm in a DigAudPC.

Fragmentation is not an issue since you only write the files once when you rip them. Players only read the files. Just run one defrag after you are done ripping everything.
Hey, is anyone currently using either of the Wavelength USB DACs? Either the Cosecant or The Brick? I'd be interested to hear some comments and comparisons if so. How about the Apogee Mini with USB?

I am using the Apogee USB Mini-Dac. Highly recommend it.
Thanks Rsbeck - I checked out your comments on your system page. I appreciate the input!

There seems to be a fundamental distinction here between digital music servers (hard drive based systems that store CD music in various forms in a single audio style component) and Media Hubs (which organize music that is on a computer hard drive and potentially network digital music throughout one's home).

Excuse my basic terminology but I am trying to sort all this out. I think I am interested in a music server that can hold all of my CD's (400 or so) in a lossless state where I can access songlists and album art on a video display. Anyone know of a product that does this?
Pardales, any Apple computer and an external hard drive can do what you're looking for. The G5 models have built-in digital (optical) I/O, but require an external monitor. The laptops and iMacs would require an external digital connector such as those offered by M-Audio or Apogee. All the Apples include iTunes software as part of the purchase package. Such a system will also perfectly integrate with an iPod to add portability to the listening. Apple.

Yes, I own stock in Apple.
Onhwy61: I have an apple laptop but it is my work computer and I do not want to load all of my discs to it. Also, I figure I would need about a 280 GB hard drive to store all of my discs in a lossless format. So I don't think a regular CPU will work for me.
My recommendation is to get an Apple and use it solely as a music server. I don't see the connection between your disc storage space requirements and the CPU. Playing back stereo tracks is a trivial tasks for even a 100Mhz computer.
You can rip 400 CD's uncompressed into 200 GB. If you chose a lossless
codec like Apple Lossless, I'm told you can get twice that, or 400 CD's into
100 GB. Get an external hard drive and keep all of your CD's on it.

There is another way to go, too.

The Mac Mini:

Integrate that into your audio system; use your video display as your monitor,
take the audio signal out in digital through one of the USB ports and use a
high quality USB DAC like the Apogee Mini-Dac, and connect an external hard
drive from the FireWire port.

That would make a hell of a dedicated music storage and transport system.

Get a mouse and you could scroll through your songs and albums on your
video screen using i-tunes.
Thanks for these suggestions. A picture is beginning to form.
To those who have recommended an Apple computer for this setup: an Apple computer is not necessary for music playback. They cost more money, and PCs can read digital music exactly the same; not to mention that iTunes has been available for Windows for some time now. So if you're looking to build this type of system on a budget, stick with a PC...and use the money saved towards a better DAC.

P.S. I own an Apple--I'm not downing Macintosh computers in any way, I'm just making a suggestion for those who are on a budget.