Which way to go with my PC Audio setup?

My current setup is an OLD Audio Research SP-4 pre-amp, Classe CA-200 amp, Arcam CD72. I was planning on purchasing an Audiolab mdac to run PC audio and my CD player through. I plan on running lossless iTunes and Spotify. What are your opinions on streaming through and Airport Express and what is my best wiring option from the CD player and the Airport Express to the DAC. Does anybody have experience running a modern DAC through such a vintage pre-amp. Sorry, I'm brand new to this, thought I would always just buy CD's, but since Spotify started steaming CD quality bit rates, I can't quite resist the thought of a 15,000,000 song juke box for $120 per year... Am I barking up the wrong tree all together. Looking for a combination of great sound and convenience.
AirPort Express and Sonos both offer high levels of jitter, so don't expect them to be as good as a CD player without adding a reclocker or doing major mods to them, ala power and clocks. Low-jitter reclockers are available.

As for the preamp, it will ultimately hold-back your system. I would sell it and move on. The best pre to get is no pre. If you MUST have one, then get a transformer-based linestage from a good transformer company like Music First in the UK. I know the importer of this one. One scenerio that is interesting in modern DACs is a high-quality built-in volume control. Some of these are not like classical preamps or even passive linestages, they are even better. The level of clarity you get when you eliminate the pre is simply astounding.

If you want great digital sound, whether from CD player, computer or WiFi device, it all depends on the master clock. Get a source device with a really low jitter master clock first, and then deal with the preamp. This is the ONLY way to quality audio. If you start with a high-jitter source and dont deal with the jitter, you will never get there. These can beat your CD player by a long shot if you make the right choices.

Here are some useful tips (no advertising):

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Steve, Thank you for your response. So you are saying hook the Audiolab mDAC directly to the Classe CA-200 and ditch the pre-amp? I do play vinyl occasionally, maybe just hook my pre-amp up when I want to play vinyl?
Patrick - no, dont connect line-out from any DAC to a preamp. You may accidently damage your speakers.

If you must use your current DAC, then get a transformer-based linestage to replace your preamp. Here are some choices at different pricepoints:


Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Also Steve, do you have a specific source device in mind with a low jitter master clock?
Depends on your budget. you get what you pay for in this area. The more expensive, the more likely to beat your best CD transport, or even your vinyl.

Halide Bridge-$395
Off-Ramp 5-$1299-1549
Diverter HR-$2880

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
To Steve N.-You say set Mac to 64 bit. How is this done? Thanx.
If it is a new one, I believe they boot that way. If it is 2010 vintage, then hold-down the 6 and 4 keys on the keyboard during boot.

you can check to see if it is in 64 bit mode by looking at Utilities - System Profiler - Software - 64-bit kernel and extensions:

Should say "yes"

If it is an older one, then you must run a more complicated script.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Patrickrealtor76, you could just get a combined streamer/DAC/preamp like the Squeezebox Transporter, which has a plugin for Spotify
Patrickrealtor76, you asked Audioengr:
So you are saying hook the Audiolab mDAC directly to the Classe CA-200 and ditch the pre-amp?

Audioengr said:
Patrick - no, dont connect line-out from any DAC to a preamp. You may accidently damage your speakers.

Audioengr misunderstood your question. Since the Classe CA-200 is an amplifier and not a preamp, it is perfectly fine for you to connect the MDAC directly to the Classe CA-200.
If the DAC has a preamp in it, I would compare this to your pre using line-out from the DAC. It is doubtful that the built-in pre is better. Like I said, use line-out and a transformer linestage. Until you do this, everything will be homogenized sound.

And dont forget to give the DAC a low-jitter source. Spend at least as much as you did for the DAC. Its that important.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio