Ya, listening to digital makes my head hurt as well.
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1) what do you have now, 2) what mediums do you prefer (SACD, DVD-A, Redbook), and 3) why are you thinking you need something different?
The last one is really the key point. If you are unhappy with what you have or are just plain bored, then a change might be in order. The medium of digital is like computers; something new is always around the corner - always. Think through what is important to you as a listener and what you want out of anything you would buy.
Knowing yourself is very important in this crazy world of hi-fi. If you are a buy and hold kind of person, don't read about the latest thing if you are happy with what you have, it will only make you miserable. If you are a gadget person who loves the latest and greatest, be prepared to swap out what you have every year or so and budget accordingly. If you are somewhere in between, wait out the latest fads to see what sticks, and buy solid, reputable brands. And if you aren't sure of something, buy used and be prepared to turn around and sell it right away if it isn't what you want. That last part is what makes Audiogon a godsend for many.
I said to a friend once, "My head is hurting!"
he said, "With a head like that, it's no wonder!"
Digital still hasn't reached it's maturity. it's far better today than in the past however.
it moves quite fast as well. PCs even faster in terms of changes - updates - speed - and performance. With PC audio or even just plain old PC/MAC you just have to jump in. If you are waiting for the best, it'll be no better than this now to come along... you'll never get in, as changes continue. The changes now are lessened and come in more subtle ways... more incrementally.
Similarly, the digital audio front is ongoing, yet not done. Also newest isn't always best here.
I wanted a PC back in 95 or so. got one too. a 486 laptop. it sucked. I didn't know what to do with it and it was rather quirky. I sold it and made myself $300. ...and waited. in 2000 I got on board 100%. Got a new PC... and shortly thereafter a brand new CD player.
That was 4 pcs and 3 cd players ago... and eight years.
Don't wait.... or you won't ever do it...not with that I'll wait till they figure it out first, notion.
You don't think that way with cars, refridgerators, TVs, or fishing rods, right? Well, all of those things are being improved upon too. Routinely.
The "I'll wait tilll..." is just a cop out for the fear factor. Never allow fear to paralyze... Fear comes with all new experiences. The only truly wrong move is to not make one.
Good luck which ever way you choose.
The future is in digital servers.
Keep the CD player and take a look at the Roku Soundbridge to broaden your variety of music available. If you have a high speed Internet connection, you can use it to play countless very decent sounding Internet radio stations right out of the can.
If you have a PC and a wireless or wired network at home, you can rip your disks to a loss less file format on disk and start to experiment with a music server.
You can feed a DAC or other digital processors from the Roku to upgrade the sound quality as well if desired.
If you get another CD, make sure it has digital outputs and inputs so you might use it as a transport or DAC alone down the road as well if desired.
If you like your present player, there's no need to upgrade because of unhappiness with the present sound. It seems that your motivation is to explore. Waiting and seeing what will happen is not a good alternative because things always change and you will waiting forever. In my view, the great new frontier is computer based audio. That's where I would suggest you start educating yourself and exploring.
Definitely try computer audio. If you want cheap and quick - try Slim Devices SqueezeBox Duet. If you want higher fidelity, try the Slim Devices Transporter. If you want better convenience (and no need for computer) try Sonos. If you want some of everything, investigate Apple TV and a DAC of your choice. If you want best fidelity get a computer and an asynchronous USB DAC such as Wavelength or Red Wine Audio or the ModWright Transporter.
Yes, these all get progressively more expensive and yes more, different and "better" are always right around the corner. Which is why the Duet is a good, inexpensive place to start.
Glad to hear your head feels better.
I realize folks are going to servers for convenience. I'm certain sonics will improve in the long run.
Besides the excellent sound of the analog wave (natural, dynamic, bloom) changing a record after one side, deciding where to take the next step, i.e. Jazz, Rock, Bluegrass, vocal, Soul, Country Swing, Classical, gets one to focus on the music, the passion, the sound. This very aspect of focused listening is what makes a listening session so much fun among my audiophile group here in Portland, OR. Us audiofoos realize we need to limit how many records each of us bring to a session, otherwise we'd be up for days and nights. We're a bunch of vinyl snobs.
Servers are great for background music, nothing wrong with that. One of the foos is setting up a server system in his home.
Thanks for taking my point as it was meant- friendly and just having some fun.
Hope you have beautiful music, all day and everyday, in your home!
Musicfile... the USB DAC is an UltraFi iRoc, the wireless computer a MacMini, the USB cable a Ridge Street Audio. I have two of these... one into a ss setup, the other into a tube setup... and both are just amazing. The RSA USB cable is just stunning once it is fully broken in (maybe 60+ hours) but not at all intolerable before. I've also found a stunning thing... each of the USB ports on the MacMini (four of them) sound a little different... one or two are much, much better than the others... go figure. Larry Moore of Ultra Fi tipped me to that nugget.
Hope this helps,
I'm very happy with my Playback Designs player (see my review thread),
but I was also really happy with my EMM 2-box setup before.
Now that the EMM 1-box CDSA is selling used in the $5K range, I would go with that. These players leave my older
Accuphase 75V and Meridian 508.24 in the dust.
I hope the Ridgestreet Sasons are doing well, too.
MAC or PC?
Well, what's on hand right now? Really? then try that first.
As has been posted there are many levels, and flavors along the way in ANY realm of audio.
Begin with what you have now. it might suprise you what can be done with it. It sure did me. Just picking out a different media player made the sound better! I'd never have believed that to be the case. But then, I'm eternally skeptical.
This ain't rocket science. We just think we're NASA engineers... no offense to those who really are of course. Much of what can or should be done with pc audio or digital audio is at this stage, simple plug and play. usually. now and then there's the needed download too.
I keep seeing rhetoric about noisey personal confusers so one should use an outboard sound card, or DAC. that aforementioned noise can be amelierated with little trouble. Just open up the case, for staters! A nice PCI card might be the way to go right off.
Just try something and see if that floats your boat. If not, then try something else. For under $150.00, you can get a M Audio Audiophile 24/192 PCI card that has several inputs and outputs for recording OR playing back music. For free you can get J River Jukebox. J River, BTW is well regarded as a favored media player by several of the top USB DAC makers.
Just getting in where ya fit in is always a good place to begin. Then.... think about what or where to go from there, and most importantly, how you want to utilize this new playback system. Whole house? Wireless? Remotely? USB?
Good luck... don't let it overwhelm you. it's not that much trouble... and remember, "best or better" is up to you to decide anyways.
Stand alone DACs are becoming the standard for digital music replay including computer and internet radio.
I'd keep your universal player and get a DAC. You can try other transports, computer, etc.
I was thinking of getting a better source or modding my Oppo and after research felt that a DAC was the most flexable option. I can upgrade to BluRay later and still have great music reproduction. I don't have to look for the best source in my price range. The DAC gives me almost state of the art no matter which way I go.
I just started a music server by enabling media sharing in Windows Media Player in Vista on a laptop. IT works very nicely. The Windows Media Player interface for ripping CDs to disk is very fast . I ripped the 5 CD Ken Burns JAzz CD set yesterday in about 30 minutes.
Once the song is ripped it is categorized by artist, album, and genre. I can then select to play a specific song, album, or set of songs by an artist or in a genre using the Roku Soundbridge on my system.
Last night I had several dozen classic jazz tunes playing randomly on my system via Wifi conenction to my Vista PC for several hours. Sound quality is very good out of the can.
I do have a new outboard DAC coming though in order to try something different and maybe even better. But the sound as is is quite competitive already.
An alternative to a stand-alone DAC is a one-box CD/SACD player like the Playback Designs MPS-5, with upsampling to DSD and digital inputs. Most importantly, the PD is a player that competes heads up with the best analog while providing support for other digital inputs, such as a server-based system.
I believe that you should select a player or DAC for their musicality first, then next look at versatility. Ideally you'll find excellent musicality combined with flexible digital I/O, hopefully with several sources possible.
I had the pleasure of working with the Stahltek DAC at the RMAF. It accepts 16/24 bits from MP-3 all the way up to 192KHz. So we were running a lot of 24 bit 192KHz files off of a server, which worked quite well. I'm a big analog freak, but I had to actually look and see if the turntable was playing, more than once...
The nice thing about this approach is that the transport can be executed on most any laptop (we use a Linux based server); the DAC accepts USB. So for those worried about obsolescence its a good way to go.
Add a Benchmark DAC which can absorb 24/192 at a decent price, then you can play with internet based extremely high quality music as well as route any other players you have through it. It looks like PCM 24/192 via BR or FLAC files might be the replacement for SACD, but of course, who knows. But with the Benchmark, you are well protected.
Now my head hurts too. I also have been looking for a new player. I have until 5PM today to choose between a two used players and one new. The two used are a Meridian G08, a BAT VKD-5 and a new Unision Unico CD. All about the same price (except the Unico is maybe $100 cheaper).
Given how often CD players break and/or need repairs, is it wise to buy used when there's new?
BTW even though your time frame has elapsed, CDPs do fail. Lasers and alignment mostly.
the major nod here is the typical one.... with the same dollar figure, one can step well up in performance buying used over buying new.
Another consideration is that changes for the better in the digital world are occurring rapidly. Keeping eyes wide open here however, their build quality isn't, generally speaking.
I must state once again to really consider an outboard dac with a computer or cheap DVD player as your transport. This is the future.
You can get state of the art digital playback for cheaper than a high end cd player. More and more companys are offering them...Benchmark, PS Audio, Bryston, Cambridge Audio, Maonarchy, Consonace, Musical Fidelity, Bel Canto to name a few. This doesn't even include the high end companies DACs.
I use a DAC w/ a tube power amp for a sound with few compromises, whether it is music or movies. It would cost a lot more to have this level of performance if I had to by a seperate CD player, DVD player, preamp, power amp, and cabling.
I must state once again to really consider an outboard dac with a computer or cheap DVD player as your transport. This is the future."
I concur with Mjcmt. Some of us may not want a computer in the listening space, but wired and wireless interfaces are making remote connections not only practical but also audiophile standard.
Musicfile has a decent CDP that can be used as a transport with the best DAC that he can afford. With a good DAC, he'll almost certainly hear a major improvement. Hopefully he'll be able to audition a few candidates in his system. In my case, using a baseline Oppo as a universal transport or even an iPod/Wadia interface and feeding it to my Playback Designs' MPS-5 yields an end signal with the Oppo that almost equals playback throught he PD's Esoteric transport. The iPod/Wadia actually equals the CD playback through the PD. The improvement of the Oppo is substantial and easily heard.
So, the DAC is critical and can (should) upgrade all the digital inputs of your system. Look for a DAC that includes digital inputs in several formats and reclocks the source. Listen to DACs with upsampling schemes and decide if you want that or not. (I love that in mine, but it's ends up being a very expensive machine).