Ways to improve DAC performance???

Hello fellow A'goners,

I recently changed my system by selling my tube CD player and storing all of my CDs onto iTunes on my Macbook Pro laptop. I also subscribe to premium Spotify and really enjoy the quality of the sound.

I'm using a fairly inexpensive Ross Martin DAC, and the noise floor and detail are really excellent.

I'm new to this "music server" approach and I was wondering if there is additional software that would improve the quality of this setup.
It has to be Apple, not PC.

I've read of various programs and downloads that help, but I'm not sure if they are a substitute for a good DAC or something that can enhance a DAC's performance?

Any suggestions or advice is much appreciated, as I am a newbie in this new digital realm.

Thanks! Lincoln
There are devices available that use very high quality clocks that can be inserted between digital source and DAC to help assure accurate timing and reduce jitter. Such a device with most gear can probably only help and not hurt. How much in each case would likely vary. Some digital source devices may already have extremely accurate clocks and timing and not benefit.

Its hard to know how much difference might be heard, but no harm in trying probably, especially if a satisfaction guarantee is offered by the seller.

Also some DACs are designed to reclock the signal more accurately out of the box, and are hence less likely to benefit from a solution like this. BEnchmark is one DAC brand like this that comes to mind.

Bottom line is more accurate timing of data into the D to A conversion process, however or wherever achieved, should always yield better sound

If doing something like this to help assure low jitter and digital timing quality does not make a difference, then a different DAC with different flavor of sound might be the next thing to try. All DACs should and likely will sound diffferent, so individual situations and preferences may be the main factor here.

It would be nice if these kind of jitter reduction devices provided some kind of reliable metric display to indicate how much difference in timing quality is actually measured case by case, but I do not know of anything that does this, so you kind of have to trust the theory and test it with your ears as best you can.

In practice, most decent quality digital sources made in the last ten years or so that I have tried all sound similarly quite good to me when used with the right sounding DAC. But I suppose there is always a way to do better. But it can be splitting hairs sometimes I fear and hard to determine for sure.

Another thing to try that can make a difference is changing the length of the digital cable to avoid reflections and such and enable more accurate signal transmission. Longer runs of digital wire are rumoured to sometimes be superior in th is way to shorter ones. Another easy thing to try if you buy used especially and do not overpay or buy from a wire company also with satisfaction guarantee of some sort..
Don't forget about the quality of the source. The type of music file (Apple Lossless, wav, flac, mp3) and compression rate will factor into the quality of the sound.
I assume you ripped your CDs to Apple Lossless? Many members are using XLD for more flexiblity. (free download)
You are far better saving for a High quality dac that has DSD
Which is the hot new ticket. Why not buy a program for ripping and converting files like DB power amp which is very accurate to a external 2T drive, then to a Auraliti player then you can sit on your IPhone or IPad
And direct and play Wav files or flac files right from your chair even upstairs,you download a Mpad app and you are golden.your whole library at your disposal.
I would also like to mention your Usb cable from a seperate hard drive, as well as USB cable is Very important , bits are not just bits the timing
And accuracy is very important.i use Wire World
Silverstarlight , and Platinum Starlight Digital cables with Excellent results.
Install Audirvana - it bypasses the apple processing and delivers the raw data from the file to the dac. - it can also play flac if you desire.

It pre-loads tracks - so there is less of an issue using wireless, which can lead to dropouts with itunes alone

It also integrates with iTunes, which I use with a droid app called Retune to control from my tablet

I was very surprised at the difference it made - better imaging and dynamics

Get a half decent cable - I use DH Labs for USB and optical- they've so far proved to be better than other brands I have tried - like Chord. They do affect the sound, because some cables drop data when streaming and the dac just fills in the missing data best it can.

Also, make sure you either backup your tunes frequently - or get a drive (NAS or usb) with dual drives that support RAID - I've now reloaded my cd's a couple of times due to hard disk failure

Hope this helps
If you are ripping CD's, then use XLD rather than iTunes.

Players like Audirvana, Amarra and Pure Music will improve the playback quality over iTunes.

The biggest improvement you can make is to use either a reclocker from your MacBook or even better, use a good USB converter with separate power supply. This locates the MASTER CLOCK outside of the computer and with a good clock and power supply. Buying a more expensive DAC and still driving it directly from a MacBook will not make a big difference. Fix the digital source jitter first. BTW, I use a 2009 Mac Mini with external Hynes supply as my reference at home and at shows.

Also, you will need good USB cable, such as Audioquest Coffee or even better Diamond and you will need a good digital coax, such as my $250 BNC-BNC with adapters. Unbeaten so far.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
You may want to consider foregoing a usb cable once you make the move to usb.

Discussed here:

I went that route with no usb cable and have experienced improvements in the sound I'm getting.
even better-dont use usb at all! get a soundcard. why change sound to usb than back when you can just get spdif from your puter with a good soundcard? I have done that, saved $2,000 on a usb converter-have better sound, and have NEVER looked back!
Cerrot - Okay, tell us which USB converters you have auditioned in your system.

Ive heard your soundcard.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Hi fellas!
Thanks for all of the replies. My apologies for not responding sooner. I didn't realize anyone even checked in- new Agon system doesn't notify of thread responses.
Steve N- aka Augioengr: Could you please recommend a good external USB converter with master clock/power supply? I would want to keep it under $300 if possible.

And I'll try the Audirvana.
Currently I have a 2 meter Belkin usb cable- nothing fancy- but I'm still a bit skeptical about high dollar options.

Thanks to all for your input- Foster 9: I read the article on no cable too, though I confess the concept went over my head a bit.

Any other ideas are welcome. Thanks! Lincoln
The M2Tech Hiface USB/SPDIF converter plugs directly into the USB port thus avoiding need for USB cable. They retail for around $200, often come up used on AG for about $110. Another option is the Music Fidelity V-Link.
Linc - There are a lot of USB converters in the $200-300 range that are all mediocre. The best of these is probably the iFi or the dragonfly.

If you want sound quality that challenges the best CD players and even vinyl, you need to spend a lot more. The upgrade power supply alone for my Off-Ramp 5 converter costs $700, and I have a long waiting list for those.

Remember, the master clock and USB interface is the most important piece of the system. It makes no sense to spend $2K on a DAC and $300 on a USB converter. This is like buying the $2K turntable and $100 cartridge. Not great. You are better off to buy the $500 turntable and put a $2K cartridge on it.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Been through it already, Steve. I have tried too many. Yours, the berkeley, the ayer and some of the cheap ones (and they sound cheap). USB sucks and its actually finally being found out. Talk on the hardcore computer blogs talk about how USB will be phased out in a few years; within these very forums, listeners are finally comparing the mac/pc/USB/DAC to the Bryston digital player and, guess what? they hear that the bryston blows away a PC set up? why? U S B.
You engineers only embraced it because it was like a belly button. Everybody has one.
...and look at the incredible expense to add a highend usb converter (oxymoron?)? at least $2,000! Just for the converter! A GREAT soundcard is $150. Why are we doing it bassackwards?
One issue with USB is that it sends regular bursts of info like the start of frame packet - "The SOF packet consisting of an 11-bit frame number is sent by the host every 1ms ± 500ns on a full speed bus or every 125 µs ± 0.0625 µs on a high speed bus". If the timing of this shifts or is variable, this could elicit a different & variable reaction from the USB receiver & translate into a different & varying jitter or noise spectrum.

We audiophiles who spend thousands to squeeze out every last bit of performance out of a component are trying to squeeze music out of an USB rock. The interface is grossly flawed for music.
Hello I did a lot of experimenting ,using DB Poweramp
To rip accurate Wav, and or flac files to a 2-T powered external hard drive
Is the cleanest way to go. From there a good player .i had Bryston
Glitches every week or so one file would lockup unit.that has been mostly fixedI am told.
I bought the Auralitti with Linear power supply , and by far the best fuse
That truly make a difference from Audio horizons ,for less then 1/2 the Bryston I bought Auralittipk-90, a Mpad app for IPad I play my whole library
From my chair sounds better then ever ,no noisy computer switching supplies,fans.one thing usb cable from HD to player,then to dac need to be good I use Wireworld a Platinum, or Silver starlight excellent detail.your dac will determine sonic signature ,then amp.
>>This is like buying the $2K turntable and $100 cartridge. Not great. You are better off to buy the $500 turntable and put a $2K cartridge on it.<<

Actually that's incorrect. A $2000 table with a better arm and $100 cartridge will smoke a $500 with inferior arm and expensive cartridge all day long.

Those of us with 50+ years of analog experience know this.
Cerrot - you still didn't answer my question. If you tried one of mine, which one? And what player software and platform did you use? All of this matters.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
""The SOF packet consisting of an 11-bit frame number is sent by the host every 1ms ± 500ns on a full speed bus or every 125 µs ± 0.0625 µs on a high speed bus". If the timing of this shifts or is variable, this could elicit a different & variable reaction from the USB receiver & translate into a different & varying jitter or noise spectrum."

Certainly possible, but this does not matter. The data is reclocked externally with a free-running clock, eliminating all of the jitter from the USB receiver.

USB and networked interfaces can be virtually identical in performance. They both have buffered packetized data that is slaved from the source computer. They both have a free-running clock that retimes the data. Either one is the optimum way to do audio interfaces.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Doesn't matter? Seriously? That's the whole issue.

Heard your rig at a show - didn't impress me. I find USB just poor. Even yours. Makes no matter. And soon the hoax is over. Like I said, all these guys spending thousands on USB converters when USB will be phased out within a few years.
Cerrot - you still don't get it. The data is reclocked, so it does not matter.

I don't know what show you heard my gear in but it must have been 5 years ago or more and not representative of my current products. The last 3 or 4 shows I have gotten best of shows:





There is no hoax. USB done right is simply better, as is networked audio. I would have never gotten the awards and best of shows if this was not the case. This is not a single recognition, it is a series of them from different reviewers over a long period of time.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
In a show environment, I see the advantages using USB. But in a home environment, I prefer the simplier approach, DLNA via ethernet with an audiophile grade ethernet cable. Last thing I want is a dedicated computer in my rack, noise, extra hardware, drivers ... No Thanks!
USB done right is simply better than what? A packeted signal via USB (which mother boards do a horrible job of implementing, by the way)which needs to go trough a usb to spdif converter (okay, reclocked!) that THEN goes into a DAC is simply better than a good sound card right into a dac?

What are you smoking???

-if you are actually serious about trying to get USB, why not recommend a USB PCI card, which is much, much better (and still not as good as a soundcard).

We will agree to disagree.
"A packeted signal via USB (which mother boards do a horrible job of implementing, by the way)which needs to go trough a usb to spdif converter (okay, reclocked!) that THEN goes into a DAC is simply better than a good sound card right into a dac?"

Yes. Better than all of the soundcards I have tried, even Lynx and RME. Even reclocked with my own reclocker.

Maybe one of these days you will actually try one of my converters. They have money-back, less shipping you know.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
I didn't realize I would start such a debate!
So selling my Eastern Electric Minimax CDP with killer Siemens 7308 tubes was a bad move?

Steve- I'd like to know how much one of your converters is? I only spent $250 on my Ross Martin DAC (very small business run by a great guy who did production for Sony). I sold the CDP for $450 plus $200 tubes- I really don't want to spend more than that total to get good sound with the DAC/Macbook combo- I'm one of those rare audiophiles that DOES NOT have unlimited cash.

Is budget digital audio simply not possible via a laptop?

My system has always been modest. I went from Snells to Vandys to Merlins, to DIY Northcreeks, and my latest speaker will be Gallo Strada monitors mated with an M&K subwoofer for low end. My amp is a very upgraded Fisher 500c receiver- love that tube sound.

Thanks again for the opinions shared and I will do my best to look at all viewpoints. But for me buying used gear for cheap and simply enjoying the music is what this crazy hobby is all about.

I've got a wife and 3 kids, so $1k plus "tweaks" are not possible, nor even rational in my opinion. Sorry for not being more clear about my criteria with my original post.

Other thoughts are welcome.
Linc - the most important thing in any digital playback system is the master clock, not the DAC. This resides in the CD Transport, USB converter, WiFi converter or reclocker. Spending a reasonable amount of money on this is critical.

You can still have your $200 DAC, but make sure to drive it with a low-jitter source, like your Macbook driving a Synchro-Mesh reclocker powered by a Dynamo power supply. The Synchro-Mesh is $599.


Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Thanks Steve. I really appreciate you taking the time to inform noobs like me about how to get things right for digital. That price isn't bad and hopefully in the near future I can demo one. Is there a trial period for your stuff?
Thanks for your help bro.
Hello like the a Bryston bdp,many awards ,very quiet,now there are so manyDSDtitles coming out finally from Sony,warner,Toshiba and many smaller labels ,these are sacs before editingand far superior to red book
Cd.especially DSD128. And machines like the New Luxman DA-06
Is Fantastic ,rich detailed and Vety Analog like ,with DSD
Has several advantages over vinyl.my brother has a $20k vinyl setup
Which is excellent ,cd finally has come of age and my library at
Your command.my 40 years ,in Audio and more then a good home spent
I know good products .digital is now fantastic if you do it Right.
Linc - 30-day money-back less shipping. Read the customer feedback reviews on Audiocircle:


Steve N.
Empirical Audio
I also use a Ross Martin dac, the Super Beast. I suspect at its level of sound quality that only flavor of sound is different than the best you can buy not the quality when driven well. Yes, mine does sound slightly better being driven through an Asus STX coaxial output at 192 kHz I also find that going directly to a power amp (I use XLR cables to my Crown XLS2500 to drive my slightly modified (new tweeters) NHT 3.3's.
I also use Foobar2000 with the native ASIO drivers for the STX audio card and rip all my cd's to a lossless format, usually FLAC Frankly the quality of the recordings is now my main concern and I have started to gather remasters and better originals. Ross Martin dacs, RMA, are excellent and they all use very good op-amps, and components imho. If you don't have a sound card try both the dac's USB and the computers optical audio output if it has one and let your ears decide.