Why is streaming sounding better than my DAC??

I have a VERY odd problem that just got onto my radar screen in a random way.

First, here's my equipment:
Coda CSib integrated amp
Auraliti PK-90 USB server
Buffalo USB 3 external hard drive
Dynaudio Focus 380 speakers
Audience Au-24 SE speaker cables
Cardas Clear XLR interconnects
Cardas Clear & Grover Huffman power cords
Wireworld Platinum Starlight USB
Apple Airport Express
Radio Shack stereo mini to RCA cable (for Airport)

The issue: Due to a random happening, I ended up listening to music streaming from my office computer (2009 iMac) onto the system above. The music on my iMac is either encoded AIFF or ALAC directly ripped from CDs.

The way my system is set up, I can switch from playing streaming music from my iMac to the system above with the push of a button on a remote. Out of curiosity (mostly to see how bad the streaming version was compared to the DAC), I listened to several of the same songs in 44.1 via both options. I was STUNNED to hear that depending on the song, there was either a negligible difference between the two methods, OR, the streaming version was better in almost every way: bigger (deeper) soundstage, deeper bass, same or better level of realism, etc.

I ended up installing Audirvana on my iMac and listened again....this made the differences between streaming and direct DAC even bigger. Thinking something was wrong, I plugged my Ayre DAC into my (old - 2007) Macbook laptop via USB in order to bypass the Auraliti server, which I thought might be the weak link in the system.

Comparing the iMac streaming vs the Macbook>Ayre DAC the differences were smaller, with an incredibly slight edge going to the streaming version. I even installed Audirvana on my Macbook, and I would say that while there are very subtle differences between the two methods, in terms of quality, the differences are negligible.

I have now tried many different file types, and the only way that the Macbook>DAC beats the iMac streaming is if I compare an HD file (e.g. 96) on my Macbook with the 44.1 encoded version streaming via my iMac.

I have had several audiophile friends over here that have loved the sound of my system, and know that Airport can only stream ALAC 44.1 versions of music.

So, finally, to my question: what is going on here? Why am I getting this result? What am I missing?

Thanks in advance for reading....and pondering.

did you try a different dac? maybe the Ayre is malfunctioning
Don't have access to another DAC. The DAC is relatively new (less than a year) and is current model. It seems to be functioning properly from what I can tell (e.g., switches sample rates, plays all music thrown at it, etc). What type of malfunction might be causing this without any other symptoms?
Ayre makes very detailed equipment. Are you sure its not just being unforgiving on poor recordings? Also, if you are using an after market PC, try the original one. Another thing you can try is to unplug any components that are not in use when using the Ayre.
I wouldn't use the airport express unless you want to listen to background music. You know the restrictions using this device.

I would look at how you setup the parameters in audirvana because they can make a difference.

I would try to swap out the dac with one of your friends to see if there is a noticeable difference. I would also do the same with the USB cable.

Not sure how you rip your CDs but I don't use iTunes, I use either xld or max with a high bit rate setting, uses more disk space and I think there is an improvement.
Both situations are called streaming. What exactly are you comparing?

USB from iMac to Ayre DAC versus output from Airport express to another DAC?

As pointed out, the ripping S/W is critical. Use XLD on Mac and go to .wav if you want the best quality.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Hi Steve -

I'm comparing my Airport Express plugged directly into my Coda integrated with the following two signal paths:

1) HD>Auraliti>Ayre>Coda
2) Macbook>Ayre>Coda

I did use iTunes to encode my CD's, but then used Max to encode the music I had in my iTunes library (on the iMac) into FLAC files which I used on the HD (signal path 1).

Neither signal path is better than the iMac wireless>AE>Coda. Signal path 2 is better than signal path 1, i.e., it sounds closer to the quality of iMac >AE>Coda. This is why I'm confused.

Quick update. After doing some experimentation, seems like the issue is related to either my XLR cables or the XLR inputs on my Coda. Playing anything through RCA inputs is way better than the XLR. Waiting to borrow a friend's XLR cable to figure out whether it's a cable or amp problem.