Which matters more, DAC or transport?

In my search to better the digital playback of my system I've been lead to look at several DACs to couple with my arcam cd36, and have also considered buying a whole new player like a McIntosh mcd 201 or maybe even a lower end esoteric. My question is: will I get better results using a good DAC (for $2000 to $3000) with my mid-fi transport or with a new player that has a better transport mechanism built in, coupled with what's probably a slightly less sophisticated onboard DAC? Also, what do people think of the Bel Canto DAC3? It's one I've considered. Thanks.
You'll find a few words on the DAC vs transport question in the archives if you look about. I'm not much help I'm afraid. IMHE they both matter, and I've chosen the source-first approach most often. If you go for Esoteric--not a bad idea--go for the VRDS mechanism if at all possible.
My vote is DAC if you have to choose. But I do agree with Tobias you need both.
What about Ayres new DAC:

Ayre QB-9 USB Digital-to-Analog Converter
the DAC by far MSB Platium is one top in the world but for the money this is 80% as good http://www.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/cls.pl?dgtlconv&1255906092&/Msb-Power-Dac-usb-coax-xlr-inp
Also look at their ilink then you don't need to spend a lot of money on a transport and the sound is twice as good
From experience, the Rotel transport I had with a Adcom 700 DA converter.. When I bought a Sony SCD777ES player, the "Sony as transport" via the Adcom DA blew away the Rotel via the Adcom. I was actually feeling embarassed to sell the Rotel.. as it sounded so crappy compared to the Sony as transport, both via the Adcom 700 dac.
So I will never say the transport does not matter!!
(Also, I tried a 200 disc player via coax out to the Adcom and it sounded poor. I have to again say it was the transport, being cheap, was unlistenable, and I returned the thing for my money back.)
So, IMO, you need a good DA converter, but you also need a good transport!! The idea of splurging on a DA then buying a cheap transport, is foolish.
Thanks alot for the input. I wish I had all the equipment I'm interested in to do an actual listening test. It's really the only way.
The idea of splurging on a DA then buying a cheap transport, is foolish.
well said/written!
Indeed the Transport is more important than the DAC. The DAC is "nothing" without a good signal feed into it AND the axiom garbage in, garbage out holds in spades here.
Think about it: what happens if you have a cost-no-bar DAC, say the dCS DAC or the Esoteric DAC, and you feed it with a BestBuy $40 DVD player used as a transport. What sort of sound can you expect to get??
Will the DAC fill-in for the crappy transport?? If it's lost at the output of the transport, will the DAC bring it back??
No and no!
It's the transport/source.
Based on my own experience both obviously matter but I would say transport 70% and the DAC 30%. There is nothing a DAC can do to compensate a poor performing transport. It all depends on a superior signal.
Yes, you need a good jitter free signal but getting one from a transport or other source and cable or via reclocking right at the DAC is not rocket science these days and no longer must cost a fortune either IMHO.

Assuming a good signal can be had relatively easily, then the choice of DAC will always have a huge impact on resulting sound from there and matters a lot.
The only difference between good and cheap transport is amount of jitter it produces. Jitter rejecting upsampling DACs like Benchmark have so low jitter bandwidth (few Hz) that at frequency of interest (kHz) jitter rejection is in order of 100dB. In addition jitter induced artifacts (jitter=noise in time domain) are, even with poor transport at the level of -80dB. Bel Canto DAC3 is also upsampling and jitter rejecting AFAIK. If you decide to get different type of DAC (like NOS DAC) then get very good transport and good digital cable with good shielding and impedance maching (signal reflects on impedance boundaries).
Digital playback is a delicate and very complex issue. Many would be experts or full time audiophiles may hold tightly to the multi box/seperates appproach for best results. My experience has been better with well designed single box designs. The newer software and DAC's afford a more harmonicaly complete portrayel of the performance on CD and SACD.
The idea of splurging on a DA then buying a cheap transport, is foolish.

Foolish if the DAC is unable to handle incoming jitter (most DAC's unfortunately). Not foolish provided the DAC is specifically designed to be able to reject incoming jitter. Once you eliminate jitter issues from the transport then the rest is just "bits" and pretty much any old transport can generally read the bits correctly with minimal errors. This has been proved countless times through comparisons of copies of copies of CD's that match the orginal.
Oh please.... This is an easy answer. Jamiek, you have at least a decent transport to begin with so all you have to do is get a good DAC. I own the DAC 3 and it is very smooth sounding and is great for picking up ambient cues and fine details like that but I must admit that the sound is not the most exciting, though it is one of the most accurate.
Unless you have a bad transport like say a playstation or a cheap DVD player then a better transport really won't make a world of difference.
"Unless you have a bad transport like say a playstation or a cheap DVD player"

There is nothing wrong with cheap DVD player as a transport (I use $70 Sony) as long as it is bit transparent (no digital volume control or processing). DVD players have very good tracking and usually very bad analog audio section that wont be used. Additional benefit of DVD player is inherent MP3 playback.
It might matter more if you posted your question in the correct forum.....

....just saying.....

Having incrementally modded all sections of a Sony SCD-1 CDP, I assign around one-third of the total gain in performance to each of transport, clock, and analog sections. Considering that in stock fitment the SCD-1 transport is pretty decent, I conclude that the transport matters. Problem is there are few really good standalone transports available anymore.
Look, this is silly! You can have product X and Y that on their own are terrific products. You can proceed to hook X and Y together and have bad results. X with Z may sound great or even Y with Z may be a good combo...it's hit or miss folks. Buy a well made one box solution and skip the potential mismatch and subsequent cable and PC anziety. Of course some people love the technical side more than the music itself...for them there is no hope:O)
I second the comments by Kijanki, Shadorne, and Dave_b.

The two-box approach adds a great deal of complexity, criticality, and opportunity for error and compromise in the design of each component, in the component matchup which is selected by the user, as well as in the cabling and the power distribution.

There is no one right answer to the question of which component is more important because, as some of the others indicated, how important the jitter and noise performance of the transport is depends on the approach to jitter rejection (if any) which is provided in the design of the dac, and on how well that approach is implemented.

Seconding Dave's comments, my feeling is that a one-box solution should be seriously considered unless there is a specific reason to do otherwise (such as needing usb connectivity).

FWIW, I'll add that I've been very pleased with my Bryston BCD-1.

-- Al
FYI, as an aside note, I have recently had the opportunity to evaluate a pair of Morrow Audio MA4 balanced IC's between my Sony XA5400ES and Krell 400xi. These cables demand to be heard by any music lover...they are musical conduits of the highest order. I am jaded as far as cales go, having owned and demo'd a good portion of what's available on the market. What they do is offer the most natural tonality within the most complete harmonic envelope I have ever experienced. You may think your system has no distortion or grunge or stridency, but when you put the Morrows in you will remove every last bit of artifice and what's left is sheer beauty:O)
having owned and demo'd a good portion of what's available on the market. What they do is offer the most natural tonality within the most complete harmonic envelope I have ever experienced. You may think your system has no stridency, but when you put the Morrows in you will remove every last bit of...

Oh Groovy Baby
Do I make you horny...well do I? GRRRRRRRRRR!
The answer isn't one or the other. It's too dependent on how the connection between the two is implemented. A cheap transport and a cheap DAC with a well implemented I²S connection may sound better than their expensive counterparts with a optical TOSLINK connector.

In direct answer to the poster's equipment choices -- I think you're more likely to get better sound with a new CD player.
The easy way is to just buy an integrated player.

If the Arcam is an older device, it is probably possible to improve on it in all regards with newer models at modest cost, like a Rega or Cambridge Audio player, say.

If it is newer, then it might be worth trying the DAC first and then changing transport later but only if needed.

GOing the DAC route will also open up the option of using a music server if interested, which is really something worth considering for the future.

PErsonally, I'd think twice before dumping a lot of money into a high end integrated CD player these days.
>>09-22-09: Dave_b
having owned and demo'd a good portion of what's available on the market<<

And still clueless.
I've had just about enough of your worthless commentary Audiofeil. Someone who makes a point of critisizing Audiogon members for sharing their experiences and opinions, without offering anything helpful themselves, needs to see a psychologist.