The best of the DACs

I've heard can not perform better than my CD player...most of them not nearly as well. Why would I want to open my wallet and patience to pursue digital downloads and have results not be better than what I already have. I don't mind storing the silver discs....and actually, LP's often sound better than CD's.
First of all, you have a TERRIFIC vinyl setup with the VPI so I have no doubt that your vinyl sounds the same or better than your digital setup, depending on the recording. Second, your digital setup is no slouch either with the Ayre player, a fine choice and a combo of digital/vinyl that you could never change and remain completely happy.

HOWEVER, a well set up computer streaming to an excellent DAC will kill your existing digital setup, no offense intended of course. Peace.
Just curious what DACs you've tried? I think it'd be tough to get a DAC to sound close to a good vinyl rig for under 7K. Even with the right component selection, a lot of things can go wrong, adversely affecting sound quality, like setting up the computer to have adequate available resources, the player software, etc.
The gauntlet has been thrown!

Can't wait to see the outcome:>)
I'd suggest something like a Mojo Mac Mini with SSD, filtered DC power input, linear external PSU loaded up with 16GB RAM and Audirvana Plus hooked to a DAC that supports direct and integer mode. I've had good results with a Playback MPS-5 with USB-X and Locus Cynosure USB.
Hi Stringreen,

Generalisation is always a bad thing and especially in audio. But the right DAC with a computer set up well (i.e computers power supply separated from audio system, correct software, playing from RAM etc) should out perform any of the finest CD players. Plus you have the ability to play Hi Rez files which will rival or better your TT.

Then on top of the audio performance you have the convienience of access to all your music immediately. Can't argue with that! Just remember the devil is in the detail. Effort, just as with your TT will pay you back.
"better than your vinyl rig", I love guys without a turntable.
I have a rim drive VPI HRX that I think sounds better then any digital I have tried or heard. I sold an Electrocompaniet EMC 1UP CD player last year because my laptop playback simply sounded better and is more convenient. My laptop has a solid state 520 GB drive with 16 GB ram and Pentium i7 chip. I use JRIVER as the gui and JPLAY for playback. My DAC is PS Audio MK2 Perfectwave dac. I tried & owned other dacs but for me that sounded best in my system.It is beyond me why a CD copied & played back through a computer sounds better then through a CD player but it does. I will never own another CD player.
Oh, geeze. At the risk of over-simplifying, you of course use a DAC already. It’s right there in your CD player. The issue really comes down to what kind of transport you want to read the digital bits off of whatever medium you’re reading, and how that digital bitstream then gets sent off to your DAC. Whether you have the transport and DAC stages in the same box (i.e., in a CD player) or in separate boxes, you’ve gotta get this stuff done.

Now, I guess the question then becomes – is there something inherently better about bouncing a laser off of a spinning CD verses reading the same digital information off of either a traditional (i.e., spinning) or solid state (i.e,. no moving parts) hard drive. No, there really isn’t. We can just stipulate that all manner of factors (isolation, inertness, power, etc) can effect this process – sure – and that execution matters, but one isn’t inherently better than the other. Put differently, both do just a fine job of disinterring digital data from a storage medium. (One could argue that SDD is in fact inherently more robust and inert, and thus better, but let’s not for now.)

Right, then you’ve gotta send your digital bit stream to the DAC. In a CD player, it doesn’t have that far to go, and it happens in the black box and that’s that. You can do the same thing in a computer, in the same box, on the sound card – they all have one. Or, because the on-board DAC in most computers is a crappy afterthought, you can bypass it and go direct digital to an off-board DAC. In stark contrast to whatever happens in your CD player – you have near infinite control over how this gets done (OK, exaggeration, but you get the point). This gives you a degree of control over optimizing your sound that you will never, ever get from a CD player. If you want that, it’s good to have. If you don’t want it, then who cares.

But, big-picture-wise, a computer-a-la-transport can very definitely sound as good or better than any given integrated CD player. Similarly, you can likely find a CD player that will sound as good or better than any given computer/DAC set-up. So – and I really mean this – sound quality should not be a factor in making this decision. Or, it doesn’t need to be, at any rate. Not any more.

There are a whole bunch of other factors, however. Computer audio is not plug and play. It requires that you learn quite a bit to maximize, that you be comfortable learning it, and that you WANT to learn about it. If you’re not interested, or frustrated, or just against playing with computers and solving issues as they come up – because they will – don’t waste your time. It will likely bring you little joy. A plug and play CD player is just that, simple, easy and bullet-proof (figuratively, that is). What a computer-based system does give you, on the other hand, is vastly increased flexibility, customizability, and convenience (once you’ve crossed the barrier to entry and gotten up to speed, definitely not before). Having all your music instantly available at your fingertips, having access to orders-of-magnitude higher resolution material than you get from Redbook CD, and further being able to stream any music on earth instantly off of the internet, these things can fundamentally change your relationship to music. And that’s a really big thing.

Don’t get me wrong, if you want to spin disks to make music, I get it. The ritual, the mechanics, they matter a lot. Being deliberate and physically involved in the process unquestionably can enhance the experience. It forces you to live more fully in the moment, pay more attention. It is way more simple. And if you’re into vinyl, there’s no substitute. Revel in it. But if you’re actually considering different digital transports, don’t let sound quality be your deciding factor. Sure, there are plenty of perfectly legitimate reasons not to bother with introducing computers into the process, but sound quality really isn’t one of them. For me, the benefits so dwarf the costs that I wouldn’t even consider going back to CDs (I still buy them, but they get ripped, backed up, and then never thought of again). But that’s personal, and I’m into that stuff. Anyway, I’ve rambled on for too long. I suspect your instincts regarding which you would prefer to live with are unquestionably right, but one can get the sound they want either way.
Check out the Totaldac D1. Not cheap but so far nothing has beat it (from what I have read). Check out the mini review on 6 moons. I have no doubt it would sound way, way better than your Ayre (assuming you have a great computer audio set-up including cabling). You can also run it straight into your amps for even more pure sound.
Well said Mezmo, well said.

All the best,
Good points Mezmo......I guess it may be too much for me to learn the whole computer thing. I suspect that someday, all of that will be more consumer friendly, but as of now....I get great sound from my CD player and turntable to invest my time and money into computer playback...just too much for not a great deal of reward for me.
Sounds to me like you've got it all dialed in just right. Nothing left but to kick
back and enjoy. Cheers.
When it comes to audio.....I don't let DACs, transports or computers enter my listening room.
I am a strictly analogue (vinyl) buffoon.
But I just need to say that Mezmo's post is one of the most erudite, educated and convincing has been my pleasure to read.
Memo, your post could be construed as a "bits are bits", source makes no difference. This is absolutely not the case. A cd player based system is usually synchronous, while pretty much all USB dacs are asynchronous. In practice, sometime fairly dramatic differences in sound quality are possible between the two, mainly because of differences between jitter levels of whatever device provides the master clock (which may be the cd player, a usb converter or the dac) in the architecture.
The other thing about CD players is you can get "bargins" on high end cd players, at least on the used market. So many people are moving to computer audio that it has becomes somewhat of a buyers market. So your dollar for performance may go a bit further with CD players over computer audio. Even so, I will never go back to cd players. I love the convenience of being able to choose whatever track I want from any album at anytime. Just use my ipad or iphone to select. No mess with disk, don't have to get up or anything.
Edorr -- quite the opposite, don't think we disagree at all. (Well,not to nit pick, but bits very much are bits -- that's the fundamental nature of digital bits -- but how you move them about, clock them, address jitter, etc very much matters when you try to convert all those tens of thousands of digital snapshots per second describing music back into actual music. Timing counts a lot.). My intended point is that, in a CDP, the tech, the wiring, the clocking -- all the traffic cop functions on this bit stream -- are fixed under the hood. In a computer setup, in contrast, you're in control of how this gets done. You can run synchronous or asynchronous. You can add a separate reclocker in the chain. You can run USB, optical, throw in a converter, or do all manner of other connections. You can run digital room correction suites in the digital domain before even offloading to the DAC. This is a fantastic amount of freedom and flexibility. Of course, this is also the freedom to do vastly more harm than good -- but I don't profess to tell folks what to do with it. That's a way bigger can of worms than I'm prepared to tackle. Put differently, these days a computer can be made to sound at least as good as a CDP. It can be done, full stop. Execution, agreed, counts for everything -- but "how" and "whether it's worth the effort" are further than I intended and/or an individual call.
Bettering a CD transport is easy. Just make the right choices.

Try bettering vinyl:


Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Mezmo, your "big picture" overvue of the source in my opinion is spot on. I enjoy vinyl, but have become lazy. I have spun CDs for years and have enjoyed the process. Now I run a Mac Mini and I can't imagine going back. With that said, Yes, it pisses me off sometimes, computers have problems. And putting a computer in your audio system for me puts work a little too close to play sometimes. I don't blame anyone for not wanting to take the jump. In someways It's easier to put in a CD or put on a record in that you pretty much know it is going to play, that is not always the case with a computer. But once you get hooked on listening to whatever you want from the confort of your listening chair, well, it's hard to go back. I think people need to decide for themselves what works for them, and I'm sure that someday soon a music server will be plug and play like the rest of the sources we use.