Now that my feet are wet....


I've taken my Centrance DACmini and ran it over to my main rig using my iMac as source, plain old iTunes, via a 16' Belkin USB cable.

The sound is glorious, to say the least. What was lean but tuneful bass now hits like a hammer with micro dynamics to die for. Better balance as well.

Case in point: there is slight pause early on in Elinor Frey's playing of Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major and I can hear the decay (or is it reverb) in the body of her cello! I know it is not a room echo as it's there already. There is just more info. Really clean info.

From what I've read I shouldn't be getting this level of improvement without add ons like Pure Music and expensive USB cables, so can anyone tell me why?
Is it the DACmini all on its own?
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Frst of all, I'd consider realigning your assumptions. Right, that sounded awful, put it this way: if you're hearing a wonderful difference, for god's sake man, don't fight it. Computer for digital transport plus an outboard DAC can sound fantastic. Full stop. If you think that is the case, it is. (And not knowing what you're comparing it to, that's about all one can say about that.)

As for the benefits of additional tweaking from there, that's -- like all things -- debatable and indeosyncratic. For example, I demoed either Decibel or PM on my system, and found it to be a tweaky PITA with no appreciable sonic improvement. So unimpressed that I deleted it and now don't even recall which one it was. Most folks, however, will tell you that there is varying levels of improvement to be heard with other players. Up to you and how things work on your system. I'm still agnostic, exploring more is definitely still on my list, but near the bottom.

Also, there is a correspondingly raging debate regarding whether upmarket USB cables make a difference. You're well familiar with "The Cable Debate" -- which is not worth getting into -- well, no suprise, no different with USB. Only trouble, there are some differences with USB that make the whole debate different enough that, well, there's a whole new debate. I for example, am 100% in on the fact that "regular" cables (IC/Speaker) make a huge difference on my system. They just do, deal with it. For USB, though, I have not found that to be the case (went from stock computer cable to a $300-ish all-silver-audiophile-approved iteration and heard zero difference). Again, YMMV. Personally, spending more on USB cables is no longer on my list at all.

I have heard speculated elsewhere, that the comparative lack of improvement I experienced with both players and USB cables may -- to some extent -- be a factor of the tech (asynchronus USB interface) used in my DAC. Just so you know, the tech used in different USB DACS for clocking and such is very different (I'm on the receiving end of the proprietary asynchronus tech developed by Wavelength and licensed to Ayre). It is not going to be an apples to apples to apples comparison. Some interfaces may benefit more from changes than others. Some negligibly so. If you're not using USB, then there's a whole different set of considerations. In short, I expect that this "debate" is -- more so than other realms in which we might argue about wires -- simply so much noise for the simple fact that folks are likely talking about materially different things. Take two: what might work or not work with your DAC is irrelevant to what might work or not work with my DAC becasue we are probably talking about significantly (in the pure scientific sense) different technology. They do the same thing, yes, but they do it in different ways and thus will react differently to ancillary changes. Or, that's my theory, at any rate.

In short, if it sounds great, it sounds great. Don't fight it. If you want to keep tweaking, keep tweaking. There's always something that can be "improved" upon. If you're looking for excuses to relax and enjoy, there are plenty. If you're looking for excuses to race about after the next great improvement, there are plenty of those, too. Takes your pick, and have fun either way.
Mezmo,

Thanks for the well thought out reply.

As you noted, I failed to point out a valid comparison. It was compared to my TEAC PDH-600 (its no slouch) as a stand alone or as a transport for the DACmini. As a transport, it acquitted itself quite nicely, allowing a bit more detail and separation. But it couldn't keep up with the CDs I imported into iTunes and played back through the DACmini. Totally different league.

From what you said, I now believe its the DACmini. I honestly feel that no more tweaking is needed; just 20' or so of good ICs so I can keep the DACmini alongside my iMac for the Audioengine A2s and headphone use.

All the best!

Nonoise
In audio everything is relative, but you also have to understand that a lot of people suffer from placebo effects and will believe in anything. In addition, a lot of audio tweeks that can work may require a system that's much better than what you have to really hear the difference. This doesn't mean that your system isn't good enough, it just means you don't have to spend your life chasing a unicorn.

Anything related to digital, including USB cables, is much less likely to make a significant improvement compared to analog components.

On Friday I visited my local hi fi store because they were showing off clear audio turntable. The system was clear audio, aesthetix amplification, Focal Stella ($90k) speaker with dual JL Audio Gothom ($12k ea) subwoofers. This is a very nice system. When they switched from the turntable to a laptop connected to the DAC via USB the sound was amazing. I didn't look super close, but I don't think it was a super fancy cable as that wasn't at all the point of the event. A system like this will have significant changes from things that a system like mine never will.

If you're happy, stay happy and don't look for reasons to be unhappy!
It's like learning Golf, everyone has to go through all of the stages of improvement. You are now at stage 2. Better than stage 1, but you have at least 8 more to go. This particular DAC uses older USB technology. There are newer technolgies, namely asychronous USB that enable lower jitter. There are also very low jitter clocks available now. The master clock in the USB interface is the most important aspect in the entire digital audio system. Always has been, but previously it was hidden inside the CD player. If this is not really good, then the rest does not matter much. You can't fix it downstream. This is why it is important to understand the latest technology and where to put your money to make the biggest improvment. USB interface and low-jitter clock.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
I dunno....

10ppm,<1ps jitter (immeasurable) on the receiving end, after their proprietary buffer and DAC....

Is this really old USB technology? Most of their stats are go over my head but this is one quiet unit with a noise floor that is subterranean which most likely accounts for the dead silent background, dynamics, and presence that I'm now getting. Depending on recording, some instruments are resolving 'out' from my speakers due to the wholeness of the presentation. Its all a bit weird but I'm liking it, old tech or not.

As of now, I really can't see it getting that much better, but thanks for the heads up as I've got a lot to learn.
I dunno....

10ppm,<1ps jitter (immeasurable) on the receiving end, after their proprietary buffer and DAC....

Is this really old USB technology? Most of their stats go over my head but this is one quiet unit with a noise floor that is subterranean which most likely accounts for the dead silent background, dynamics, and presence that I'm now getting. Depending on recording, some instruments are resolving 'out' from my speakers due to the wholeness of the presentation. Its all a bit weird but I'm liking it, old tech or not.

As of now, I really can't see it getting that much better, but thanks for the heads up as I've got a lot to learn.
Sorry about the double post as I tried to edit some bad grammar.