Believe your ears. That's all that matters.
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If there is a big difference between the two then I would think maybe something is amiss with your computer setup. It doesn't seem impossible that the CD player could sound marginally better. Does the Opus 21 have an optical input? If so maybe try running right out of the optical out on the Mac Mini and see what that sounds like.
I too have a Mac Mini and a Wavelength Brick. The sound is superb enough for me to sell off my Accustic Arts transport and soon I'll be listing my Audiomeca Enkianthus DAC. I'm looking to upgrade to the Wavelength Cosecant next (the Crimson is big money).
I must admit that I'm still keeping my Audio Aero Capitole for awhile and I do have an old Rega P3 that sounds even better than the Mac Mini and the Capitole, but then I'm bias since I come from the vinyl era.
Very interesting. The comment that I have introduced three links in the chain is true and may be a contributing factor to degrading the sound (M-Audio unit, Digital SPDIF cable - Canare Digiflex Gold, and the 'out of the box' Firewire cable). Three out of six comments so far seem to indicate that the problem is not the computer storage itself, but what is downstream in the chain. Thank you for your contributions.
Bwyoung, hi. I'm not aware of any premium FireWire cables but they are sure to be around somewhere. S/PDIF cables abound of course, and I've tried several, from Canare Digiflex (your current cable and a terrific value) up in order of price through Apogee Wyde Eye to VH Audio cryo Pulsar, Zu Ash, Wireworld Gold Starlight and the Atlas Opus I own now.
I've found that the S/PDIF cable's quality makes a big difference but even more important is cable length. In my setup a 1.5m length of Apogee Wyde Rye beat a 1m length of it for coherence and clarity. Others have found the same, including UHF Magazine and its Audiophile Store.
The M-Audio FireWire-to-S/PDIF converter is another key element. I don't know yours but I use a M-Audio Audiophile USB from time to time, to change USB to S/PDIF. It is dated now and a 60-dollar Valab converter box from eBay does the job better, especially in the highs.
Just as a rule of thumb, I would have thought a fair budget for the outboard gear, when you compared, would be the price of the CD player minus the price of its DAC (which you are of course using in the comparison). Hard to put a dollar value on just part of the unit, of course.
OMO, either upgrade your firewire to spdif converter, or look into a good usb to spdif converter (Empirical Audio Offramp 3). Make sure you have a good spdif cable (and usb cable if you decide to go that route). Cables do make a difference. I use a mac mini and send firewire out to my firewire dac (Weiss Dac2) and it sounds excellent.
My friend got the MSB mod done to his ipod (his ipod mind you), and ran the digital directly into his MSB DAC and it was probably the best digital audio I've ever heard. Sure, a $14,000 DAC helped but still. It smoked any stand-alone CDP I've ever heard. Who wants to change cds anymore anyway? As soon as my Minerva comes in, I will run my Mac Mini (AIFF) into the Minerva via firewire. Mmmmm.
Bwyoung, over at Computer Audiophile they recommend this inexpensive cable:
There is also this, at the other end of the spectrum:
Audioquest also makes firewire cables, but no 6 pin to 6 pin, you would need a 4 pin to 6 pin adapter to use them.
I am currently using the first one, the inexpensive GoldX firewire cable.
Just another thing to consider...the Opus21 is an excellent stand alone CD player, particularly with the GSNC reference mods. However, it may be that because of the high performance/value ratio, Jeff Kalt did not put alot of money or thought into the digital input? He may have just added a cheap off-the-shelf receiver for convenience.
A friend of mine, who owns a GNSC ref Opus 21, tried running my Wadia Ipod transport into the Opus and it sounded horrible...thin, brittle, just horrible. The same Ipod transport into my PS Audio DAC3 with Cullen mods was quite good, though just a bit shy of the Opus on its own. My Dell desktop with Lynx PCI card into the PS Audio was another matter, though. Into my Berkely Alpha DAC...pure heaven!! ;-) I am a computer convert now!
Good luck...it's worth the experimentation, but I wouldn't spend much money on cables or converters until you can test your current with a dedicated (even inexpensive) dac.
Just got a Mini running into a MHDT Havana up and going and, to be perfectly honest, so far IÂve simply been afraid to critically compare it to the Meridian CDP it sits next to. Just not sure that I want to know, one way or the other. Even without the critical comparison, I'll say that the Mini-MHDT (with a Bendix tube) is pretty great. That said, it's really a whole different animal from the Meridian. Not sure whether it's the tube, or the fact that it's a NOS DAC, but at lower volumes the comparative lack of detail is really noticeable, and I prefer the Meridian. But with some volume behind it, that sucker really opens up and becomes rather magical. Lush, open, great rhythm and soundstaging Â really wonderfully engaging. Must admit, somewhat of an apples to oranges comparison, but sure am intrigued by the possibilities. Interesting stuff.