Transports and Technology

I assume that transports are a less volatile component than DACs. If I invest in a combo instead of CDP to allow for DAC upgrades, what kind of things should I be aware of in terms of transport technolgy? How does an old TEAC, Cal Tech, or Meridian stand up to the latest greatest? What are the milestones in the evolution of transports?
Transport is important almost as cartrige in turntable. Transports are all inexpencive by definition and may be "sleeping" in cheap CD-players. It is known that many CD-ROMs with price bellow $50 have excellent transports. It is also known that famous Phillips Transport is even less expencive.
DAC is just a computer so also cannot cost a fortune and so cannot cost more expencive than computer as well. What counts in DAC is after-chip proccessing and filtering and realy arround 90% depend on the analogue output of either outboard DAC or CD-player.
Many old DACs in that sence do stand-up against modern ones but many do not. Modern DACs mean modern computers that are easier to "recover" in general sence.
I think Marakanetz over simplifies things by saying "just a computer". Software can be as complex as any hardware circuit or implementation. And D to A conversion is no easy task either. But I suspect it is the filtering and analog stages that result in the dramatic differences between DACs.

I have used a Pioneer PD65 that I bought in the early 90s. This has been a transport to various DACs that I have owned along the way: Counterpoint DA10, ARC DAC3 II, Electrocompaniet ECD, Muse 296, VTL Ref and Manley Ref. In each case, the change from one DAC to the next was VERY dramatic! I won't go into all the details other than to say the Manley DAC is truly the special one of the bunch.

I then swapped in a Muse 8 transport that I use in my HT setup for DVD. After back and forth between the Pioneer and Muse, I honestly could not hear a difference. It might have been there but it was not obvious to my ears. What I thought the Muse was doing "better" ultimately was there when I switched back to the Pioneer. Perhaps a long term use of the Muse and then putting the Pioneer back in the system would show the Muse's superiority. So my experience here seems to be very different than that of others, i.e., DACs are far more the critical link than transports.

One other note, I tried a MIT digital cable in place of the cheapo stock cable and this did indeed make a sonic difference. There was more harmonic richness to the music so I can only assume the MIT resulted in more accurate timing of the digital signal and thus less smearing. So perhaps I need to play this game again with the Muse. And I have since put in a Genesis Time Lens so I need to remove this and hear if it truly brings on a benefit.

I think we just need to live with some things for awhile to determine their sonic worth. Other pieces in our system are immediately obvious.

And by the way, I tend to focus 3/4 of my time with LPs as I still have not heard CD playback come anywhere close to my Clearaudio Ref TT and the newly arrived Aesthetix Io phono stage. But the Manley DAC is quite the musical product.

I have tried a Denon DCD2560 CDP, A Revox B226, a Studer A727, and A Pioneer DV05 as transports for my EVS millenium dac 2. ALl of the CDPs (no matter how old) ended up sounding better than the DVD as transport. The most noticeable difference was in the bass. The Studer (and Revox, which are similar) were noticeabley better than the Denon even though they were five or so years older. I eventually got a Sony CDP that was modified by EVS for use as a transport and that was better than all of the above by far. I believe it all comes down to jitter. I never noticed that my Studer sounded "bad" while I was using it...probably because it didn't. It was only when I put the EVS transport in that I realized how much information was not being passed (or lost?) by the other players.

To answer your question...yes, transports may be less volatile. The DAC may account for more of the "signature" sound, but the transport is still very important. The DAC should make all transports sound better than they did as a standalone player. A good transport (or player with a good transport inside) brings things up another notch.
In my experience, I have to agree with the above comments from Marakanetz and Phild. I think that Marakanetz's example of a cartridge or cartidge AND table is spot on. IME, no matter how good the component may be, the DOWNSTREAM component can do nothing to improve what it is being fed; it can only process it transparently.
As I stated in one of your previous threads, when I purchased my CEC TL2, a quality but affordable transport, it was the first time that I had the opportunity to experience what a good transport can accomplish for the quality of the production. The only other transport on my short list was the Muse 8. I find Jafox's comments most interesting. I am sure it would be a pleasant dialog to compare notes.
I have gone thru the same search as yourself. I would gladly share with you what I saw and learned. If you are interested, email me offline.
A couple of thoughts. One is that Redbook DAC volatility has subsided considerably from the hectic rate of change of the nineties. The area where digital is likely to undergo the most turmoil in the next few years is high rez. And for high rez, the transport will be involved as well as the DAC.

With my limited transport experience I can nevertheless confirm that transports have made an important difference at each case in my audio career, even comparable to DACs. The only pure transport I own(ed) is the Audiolab 8000CDM; it is now clearly bettered by a Philips DVD 963 SA - as a transport -, feeding the Bel Canto DAC2. It offers much more detail and a more colorful sound, whereas the Audiolab sounds downright dark in comparison. I guess the Philips has a very good transport section.