noob DAC question

Hello all. Building a system gradually and would like to know about CD players with built-in DAC's. My first purchase in many years (Anthem Integrated 225 - to replace a Yamaha A-1020) is strictly an analog amp. If I purchase a CD player w/ built-in DAC but use the standard (non-digital) outputs, is the DAC function effectively bypassed...or does the signal still travel though the built-in DAC en route to the analog output?

In other words, by having an analog amp is a built-in DAC inconsequential because an external DAC is required by definition - or does a built-in DAC save me a step?

thanks much
All cd players have a built in dac to generate an analog output. Some cd players allow you to bypass the dac and use the cd player as a transport to feed an outboard dac. If there is no dac involved you will not get any sound
By definition a CD Player always incorporates a DAC. If there is no DAC, then such a component would not be a CD Player, rather, it would be a CD Transport. In other words, CD Player = CD Transport + DAC. Given CD source material, one needs a DAC somewhere between the CD transport and the amplifier. The DAC you use could be the DAC in a CD player, or a standalone DAC, or a DAC incorporated in a preamplfier. So if you have a CD Player then you do not need a standalone DAC; however, it is not uncommon to use a standalone DAC even when a CD Player is available if one feels the DAC in the CD Player isn't good enough.
Only when you use the CD players digital output are you BYPASSING the internal DAC. If you connect via the analog outs you are listening to the internal DAC of the CD player.
A CD player has a built in DAC. Otherwise it wouldn't be a CD player. A good way to look at it is digital is optional, but analog is not. We can't hear in digital, so in order for you to be able to listen to music when using a digital source, is to convert it to analog first. (DAC - Digital to Analog Converter).

In your case, the CD player converts the signal to analog before it goes to the amp. Since the Anthem doesn't have a DAC, you have no choice but to use the built in DAC on your CD player if you want to listen to music.
Thanks to you both. Makes perfect sense, but leads to questions that further cement noobness.

Why mention built-in DAC at all? Seems implied. In fact, some descriptions lead one to believe that built-in DAC is an attractive feature. Deduction causes me to think that perhaps the answer is when built-in DAC is referenced what it means is the player also is equipped with a digital output?
You are probably looking at CD players with digital inputs. In this case their
DAC is used to play audio files from a computer source.
If you have a choice allways buy a seperate amplifier,I donot care for dac included in amp for it is limited ,buy the best Dac you can afford.the dac is what will dictate in part tonal balance, detail,it is First before going to a preamplifier ,receiver you Cannot make up for detail later,once it is lost it is gone. That is why I try to buy the best dac I can afford if building a digital
Library ,buy a Big external drive 2 terabyte is so great value.seperate power supply is better - plug in less noise.
Wav files are best totally uncompressed,flac is second. My uncle is a recording engineer with over 30 years in the field. The new DSD downloads
Are tops, if you are buying a new dac you are better off waiting to buy a new dac with DSD capabilities for it is becoming more popular by the week.
And sacd is a DSD recording.Apple format can be converted to wav or flac files,the most accurate program around $40is DB Poweramp which accurately rips cds to digital files, and will convert any file format
Essential for any quality playback.
As Zd542 said, a CD player is understood to have a built-in DAC, as opposed to a CD transport which provides digital output but not analog output and necessitates having an external device to do the digital to analog conversion.

I can understand your confusion, though, because sometimes when people describe their CD player as having a built-in DAC what they're really trying to describe is that it has digital input in addition to the digital and analog outputs. That allows the player to be used with input from a different digital source, such as a cable TV box, do the digital to analog conversion and output the analog signal to the rest of the system.
You didn't mention which CD player you're referring to but I suspect that, in this case, they may be referring to the player's ability to act as a standalone DAC. Meaning that it also has digital inputs and can accept digital signals from things like computers (usually USB), ipods/ipads, SqueezeBox, etc. In this case you would be using the CD player's DAC to convert the digital signal to analog. The premise being that the DAC in the player is superior to the one in the source device (may or may not be the case).
Got it. Thanks for opening my eyes. Hadn't even really thought about the possibility of replicating CD's on my HD in a way other than ripping at a max of 192Kbps through Media Player. But of course you can. Hell, that's really the ticket - a 1000 CD changer equivalent at your fingertips.

thanks again - now i have lots to think about lol.
"that's really the ticket - a 1000 CD changer equivalent at your fingertips."

I agree!!! Takes some time to get CDs ripped at first, but worth it. I rip all CDs straight to music server in loss-less format to play them when I get new ones. I may be coming up on 2000 overall by now.

In addition to excellent sound quality possible, you typically also get a lot of flexibility and usability features, like remote wireless network control via laptops, tablets or smartphones (no more device specific remotes), display of album art and other music related information, and one of my personal favorite features, the ability to let the server play tracks randomly, essentially making your own personalized "radio station" that only plays your music but not in an order that is anticipated, which helps provide another unique way to discover the gems in your library.
Alright - and again, thanks to all who have taken the time to contribute - let's say I finally decide to join the century and create a digital database on my PC in a format where minimal or no bits are lost when ripping the CD.

I figure there are 2 primary options: upgrade the hell out of my soundcard or bypass it. Let's say I want to bypass it and instead purchase a CD player with co-ax digital inputs like the Azur 840c. (I've looked over quite a few CD players in my price range - $1000 or less used - and have yet to see a USB input).

How do I get the PC (or specifically the HD) to interface with the CD player in order to exploit the DAC?
Forgive me if I am redundant to aforementioned statements. You can purchase a disk player that allows access to its internal DAC, thus having digital inputs and outputs, or you can purchase a separate DAC and a cd player with digital outputs only. Using a player with digital inputs for computer audio likely would require purchase of a USB/SPDIF converter as few players I know have a USB input, at least not one that is sonically equivalent to a good USB DAC. Going with a separate DAC has an advantage when considering system changes.

I am hesitant to make specific recommendations. However, a Marantz 5004 CD ($350) player makes for a good budget transport. This could be coupled to any number on quality USB DACs depending on budget for a nice digital front end.

I use my computer as a server and have a disk player which I also use. I run both through a separate DAC and use a USB/SPDIF converter from the computer.

Please let us know how you proceed.
The best way to interface a PC with a DAC is using USB converter. These are available from $150 to $4K depending on the sound quality you want. They have USB input and digital coax output, as well as AES/EBU and I2S output on some units. The best are powered from good external power supplies. Sounds cards are not in the same league.

This USB converter is where the MASTER CLOCK resides, so it is the most important part of the digital system, more important than the DAC even.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
If you are interested in getting into digital audio file playback, the Computer Audiophile website is an excellent educational resource for getting started.

Given your interest in digital audio file playback, the 840c is NOT what you want. In your price range (whether new or used), the Oppo 103 or 105 are highly recommended.

Regarding how to accomplish the PC/CD Player interface, there are a variety of possibilities both wired and wireless.
I am a fan of just having the music server on the electronically noisy general purpose computer and using a wireless connection from a physically remote player client device (which can also output to a standalone DAC if desired). This provides a lot of isolation and is excellent for keeping pesky and hard to predict PC noise artifacts out of teh story.

Sonos is one of the more popular solutions of this type out there at present, but there are many other devices out there that play music from a server via a network connection (wireless or wired)but are designed as a component to connect to a good hifi, like a traditional CD player.

THe main limitation with a wireless connection will be bandwidth. A strong connection will generally be needed. CUrrent common Wifi technology can easily handle CD resolution digital files I find with a decent to strong connection and no major competition from others on the network. The latest and greatest wifi devices, where availble are even better and better suited probably for hi resolution files/streams available today that might exceed resolution of Redbook CDs.
I'm not sure wireless will speak well to my pocketbook, though it's a compelling way to configure a system. As I visualize in my mind's eye how the setup will work, what I foresee is using a Blu-ray rather than a standard CD player because of the variety of inputs available. I'd thought initially to steer clear of Blu-ray because more features means more things over time that could break - but variety of inputs seems to trump.

So first question is if bypassing the soundcard is imperative? If I use any of the soundcard outputs will the soundcard attempt by definition to interpret the data or can it be a straight pass-through? If the latter, what about using the video card's HDMI? Can the digital data pass straight through to the Blu-ray?

Does motherboard quality enter the picture - that is, does anything that touches the motherboard become subject to its quality as well? If I use an internal hard drive (2TB already sitting there ready to go), would I need to consider upgrading the SATA cable?
I use a Sonos myself for general background listening, but I reclock it with a Synchro-Mesh. It is very easy to use and the software works well, as long as you keep it up to date. The main limitation is that it only plays 44.1 files. It is one of the cheaper ways to get good audio, about $1K total.

I use USB for all of my 88.1-192 files, which are about half of them.

Sart- I don't understand why you are bringing the blu-ray player into the conversation. This is for playing disks and movies, nothing to do with computer audio.

The computer quality and particularly the power supply and the USB ports and topology all affect sound quality, but not as much as the interface that contains the MASTER CLOCK. This is the most important thing to get right. Here are some tips to get the optimum sound from a computer:

The problem with soundcards is they usually have cheap jittery master clocks and they are powered from a very poor computer power supply. I have had the very best ones here, (over $1K) and they need reclocking to sound decent. It is best to not use them and instead use a USB DAC or better yet a USB converter.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Every Bluray player I've seen can also play CDs and DVDs, so a Bluray player is a nice way to consolidate all of your shiny disc playback into one machine.

And if you can afford to get something like the Oppo BDP-103 ($499 new, $375+ used) you can then use the DACs in the Oppo to convert digital signals from your cable box or any other device which outputs a digital signal.

The Oppo also lets you stream music and videos from the web, making it a very cost-effective centerpiece for your system....

lol - I'm too old school not to want a CD player. That's my starting point with the system. With this discussion, you've all been so kind as to open my eyes - I see what the future holds ultimately and I'll work gradually toward that goal. But I'm too obstinate not to start with the CD player and spread my wings from there.
As some others have mentioned, DSD downloads are becoming more popular. So it would be nice if the unit you gat can handle those. I believe that the Oppo BDP-103 will do this also...

Oh yeah, one more thing, and I hope I'm not sounding like and Oppo shill (I'm just a *very* satisfied customer), but the BDP-103 will also accept input from a USB device - you can directly connect any of the USB drives that are now so affordable. I saw a 3TB drive on TigerDirect recently for about $90 - that's a whole lotta storage for not much money!

I have an Oppo BDP-93, the predecessor of the BDP-103, and it does a very good job playing back music and videos from any of my USB drives (I have 6 of them!! ). If your budget is up around $1,000 you could even step up to the BDP-105 which is supposed to have a better analog output section...

This thread has so much great discussion - I'm a bit overwhelmed by the contribution. Wasn't sure what to expect after reading some of the threads on cables lol (another issue i'll have to figure out as I go). For sure I'll need to copy and paste to winword so all this good info isn't sacrificed due to dementia. Feel free to keep sharing. Every nugget helps to build how i'll move forward.
Sart - once you play a track on a decent computer-based system, you will never spin a CD again. Sounds better and much more convenient. It's a no-brainer IMO. I gave away all of my disk spinners.

What most people don't understand is that computer audio is an opportunity to improve your playback sound quality significantly. It's not just about convenience. Look at the rooms that won the best of shows at RMAF last month. The vast majority use servers or computers.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
"So first question is if bypassing the soundcard is imperative? If I use any of the soundcard outputs will the soundcard attempt by definition to interpret the data or can it be a straight pass-through? If the latter, what about using the video card's HDMI? Can the digital data pass straight through to the Blu-ray?"

If you have HDMI, you can just use it for video. If you have an HDMI computer monitor, you probably have it set up that way already. Anyway, I think that's what you are asking.
I understand your desire to use a CD player. I use my disk player often. To answer your original post, buying a CD player with a coaxial digital input will save you from having to buy a separate DAC. If I was going to buy a CD player this would be important to me.

If you own one and decide to get into computer audio, then as Audioengr states, use a USB/SPDIF converter to feed the CD player's internal DAC.

I believe it would be hard to fine fault with taking this approach, given your desires.
At the show and otherwise get rid of noisy computer.
GetDb poweramp rip accurate copies to a 2-T external hard drive Wav files
Then to a good player best value by far is the Auraliti pk-90 with linear
Power supply , by $3.00 app Mpad then control whole library from IPad
Make sure you use very good usb cables I use Wireworld Silver starlight
For both cables less then half the price then Bryston and less headaches from my experience. This is the way to go and can play any DsD files.
dB Poweramp can also convert all Apple files to Wav which Apple can read if you ever wanted to play in. Computer has way too much internal noises
SWitching power supplies, fans, p.s buy external drive with separate power -wall wart supply. For Better even better sonics.