I wrote the Sonos article for Dagogo.com, and I tested for those very things. Bottom line, a good high end cdp is still better than Sonos, even when Sonos is fed via digital coax to an outboard DAC.
Both the cdp's on board DAC and signal fed to the same outboard DAC as the Sonos used were superior.
For my casual listening I use the Sonos, but for critical listening I return to the cdp. The difference is not night and day, but enough to merit continued use of a good cdp.
Now, a $500 cdp as transport? Well, that might be a wash in terms of performance. If you get a very good older cdp it still has a chance to outperform Sonos.
I am not a fan of the "cheap transport and expensive DAC" club. The lack of quality comes through in the end result if the cheapo cdp is used as transport. So, if you're going to do it, put as much as you can into the transport; you'll get the return on it in sound quality.
It depends on the DAC being used. If the DAC reclocks the signal, it is my understanding that there will not be huge, if any, difference in the source (transport). I certainly do not have a lot of experience in this, but I do not agree with Douglas in "put as much as you can into the transport".
The issue I have with PC/hard drive based audio is simply the complexity of getting to the end result. I.e. I have to figure out storage, what format to use to copy the music, the copying of the music, how do I get the music from the hard drive to my system, etc. When I think of all of these issues, I find my the simplicity of a CDP remains awfully attractive. Plus, as Mr. Schroeder states, whether you can actually surpass the sound quality of a high quality CDP is debatable.
i use a squeezebox 3 connected to a 47 labs shigaraki dac. i could not tell the difference between the sb3 and the shigaraki transport i was previously using. the 47 labs transport and the sb3 were compared using a supratek dual cabernet preamp, yamamoto a-08s, and von schweikert dB99-SE speakers.
no matter how many times i tired, i could not tell the two apart. all my cd's are ripped to .wav using eac. the way i saw it, if the sound quality is identical, why keep the more expensive and less convenient piece of equipment? now, i'm considering upgrading to a transporter/emm dcc2 combo. i should be able to head to head my 47 labs dac and the emm dcc2's dac.
Plus, as Mr. Schroeder states, whether you can actually surpass the sound quality of a high quality CDP is debatable.
Everything in this hobby is debateable, and is.
The goal may not be to "surpass the sound quality", as you say, but rather for convenience. Can it be done with no loss of performnce? In my opinion I see no reason why not; and my limited experience bears this out.
Like you, I found the thought of creating a hard drive based system a bit daunting, though I believe this is (and will be) improving. This is why I found the Wadia i170 so intriguing when I first learned of it, as it was a way for me to do such a thing that seemed easy enough to me, and was. (That said, it lacks some great features of a PC based setup.)
I see no reason one has to rule out either option, although the future seems to be hard drive based.
Brian, I experimented with the cheap transport concept when I reviewed the Benchmark DAC1 (and wrote my findings in that regard in the article). You are correct that it does a lot to "even the playing field" in terms of usage of inexpensive transports. However, there was still a noticeable difference in them when feeding the DAC1. The transport had a direct influence on the outcome, and without fail the higher quality transport, the better the result.
For someone on a shoestring budget the differences may not be worthwhile. The cheap cdp and reclocking DAC will certainly give decent sound. My thought is that if one goes that route it is very possible that the end result will not be significantly improved over Sonos to DAC.
At the price point it's more difficult to set up Redbook to easily best the Sonos/DAC combo. One cdp I wrote about which does outshine the Sonos is the Cambridge Audio Azur 840C. They are appearing now on the used ads here, so that might be an option. It would definitely be worth saving up for a player of that caliber, and it has a unique "flavor", a more expanded sound that would be different from the Sonos.
Another thought: I haven't done the homework (that's for Mizuno to do!) but if the same laser assembly is used in the lower end Azur cdp line then one of them might be excellent as a transport for use with the DAC.
It depends on the DAC being used.
Exactly see this
Decide for yourself if you trust the published results from this manufacturer using Audio Precision test equipment or your ears.
If changing the transport makes a difference with a DAC1 then one (or both) of your transports is NOT reading the CD as "bit-perfect"
- either the transport is struggling to read a dirty scratched disc (clean or polish it) and it is making many interpolations and you can hear this (certainly audible when you have a disc with CD rot at which point interpolation becomes very obvious). In any case, a clean unscratched CD is the best starting point.
- or the transport is not applying Reed Solomon error correction properly (it has been known - transports error correction codes are not all properly designed so are not "bit perfect" neither are many computer audio playback algorithms, unfortunately)
Bear in mind that Solomon Reed error correction codes are used for satellites and other critical engineering applications where "bit-perfect" can be mission critical.
Douglas_schroeder and Shadorne,
Thank you both for an interesting and civil discussion. I continue to learn and your posts are interesting, informative and well-mannered. Please keep up the good work. Disagreement is healthy when presented properly.
My personal experience and bias suggests that it is not easy to achieve excellent sound with a CDP source especially on a budget... too many issues with the design and manufacture of the product, and especially SPDIF implementation.
But lets set that aside for the moment. I would argue that the hard drived based route has a lot of other advantages. I sum this up in the concept of "rip once, use many". Your digital library not only offers random access and does away with yards of ugly jewel cases; it is also portable. Want to use a USB DAC in one room, no problem. Want to download to an iPod, iPhone, AppleTV or iAnything - no problem.
Plus there is a whole host of innovative services emerging, internet radio etc - none of which require a CDP.
Because it is consumer, mass market technology ease of use gets easier daily.
The only big exception that I can see at this point in time is if you are interested in very high resolution formats - DVD-A, SACD, 384 etc.
Assuming all the bits are being read, stored, and delivered downstream correctly, its all in the DAC.
You need a decent, properly functioning CD read drive to get this, but these are not inherently expensive or uncommon these days IMHO.
The uncertainty comes into play knowing whether this is what you have or not...it can be hard to know for sure.
For a computer based server, buy more recent name brand gear with good overall reliability reports and you should be in very good shape. Then focus on the DAC to get the sound you like.
Wow. very interesting points of view. I hear consensus that a good quality DAC is critical, and mixed views on the transport.
Personally, I would assume that good error correction would indeed keep the stream bit-perfect unless the disk/ transport exhibited a large amount of errors beyond the Reed-Solomon threshold to do its correction job appropriately.
In that case, this leads me to the next question, i.e., how to best compare DACs?
One rarely see comparisons between CDPs and Pre-amps/ DACs. One compares within family not across. So how would I know if the the DAC of the CA 840C is better than the DAC of the integrated C372 NAD amp?
Similarly, am i better off buying a Rotel CDP and good amp, . or a cheap CDP or sonos for digital source and Rotel pre-amp and a good amp?
What technical informnation do I need to check to compare?
In that case, this leads me to the next question, i.e., how to best compare DACs?
Firstly features - do you need remote volume control - do you need USB input - do you want XLR - do you want a high quality finish and faceplate?
Since there are many good ones - I'd recommend to audition a few. You can start by reading reviews and see which DAC's have the most persuasive specs, preferrably with excellent jitter rejection/immunity and a highish number of positive reviews from respected reviewers. Narrow it down to a few (all will be good) and begin listening (several offer return policies) Frankly, I don't think you will find night and day differences - so your personal tastes will be the deciding factor.
Jitter immunity is probably the single most important technical factor in a DAC (given that othe rspecs will generally be excellent) ...it is well known that all audio interfaces carry at least some jitter....how much of this is audible is debatable.
Mizuno - you are getting some excellent advice.
I want to make sure that you are clear that using a hard drive as a transport instead of a CDP is somewhat of a game changer in terms of what it requires of a DAC.
Eliminating the problems associated with a 35-40 year old electro-optical-mechanical spec is not a trivial thing. When you are ripping to disc the drive is simply reading bits - something computers do everyday, all day long generally correctly.
When you are playing back from a hard drive once again all you are reading is bits. So many of the artifacts that are associated with real time playback - especially jitter - largely disappear.
While I am not an engineer, I am convinced that most of the money in top of the line CDPs and DACs has historically gone to dealing with problems associated with real time and also with SPDIF implementation.
While it is not perfect, this is a giant step forward.
I'll be buying many of new APO SACD's next year (blue note and impulse series) as well as new 24/96 FLAC's ... so I'm definitely not interested in going back to low resolution compact disc players
Where do you buy 24/96 FLACs from?
right now I'm buying SACD's but next year I'll definitely add some 24/96 FLAC's to my collection...I hope that there will be more titles available in 2009, at least 6000 as it is in SACD catalogue
when it comes to 24/96 downloads you can check for example www.hdtracks.com , linn records, naim records which just recently announced its first hi rez recordings in stereophile
Why still buy a turntable?
In my experience, the DAC is where the magic happens. I used to have a Goldmund Mimesis which was a big heavy "mechanically grounded" CD transport and the Squeezebox's digital output easily unseated it with the dCS Delius/Elgar combo.
I think there are a couple of reasons for this. First, most high-end CD transports are designed to mitigate internal and external vibration--hence the heavy chasis and clamps, ect. With a Squeezebox type device, there are no moving parts to cause problems.
Further, when you rip a CD on computer, especially if you use error correction like in EAC, it is possible that the computer will make as many as 8 passes over the same section to error correct and account for imperfections, dust, scratches, ect. So what you end up with is a lossless file that is about perfect as it can get.
The main reason why the very best CD transports probably sound better than a Squeezebox type device, however has to do with build quality. High-end CD players are built with audiophile grade outputs, connectors and material and often include audiophile grade power supplies. There is meticulous attention to detail with respect to parts and components, ect. One mod actually separates the digital circuitry from the analog and interface circuity. This is the type of thing that isn't going to be built into a $300 Logitech device but would make it into a $4000 audiophile branded device.
This is why many people modify the Squeezebox with internal power supply and component upgrades and external third party power supplies. I have not tested this yet myself, however.
So really the problem is that we don't have a music server device that is up to the specs of some of the better end-game transports. Linn has one but I haven't heard it.
But the idea that streaming directly from the disc to the DAC is inherently superior has pretty much been debunked. The Boulder 1021 CD Player ($24,000?) for example brags about a ram buffer that buffers about 60 seconds of music in advance--it seems they have discovered not reading and processing in real time has some advantages.
The ideal device would be based on the Squeezebox but have the same build quality of an audiophile transport.
Cd's aren't going anywhere in any bodies lifetime around here,i dumped vinyl years ago,and i wont be doing that again with cd.
?why buy a CD?player? Cheap pleasure. I have over 6000 classical & jazz LP's that i have "no" interest in selling- - - because i like them. I've been buying CDs for years-especially beautiful box sets at 'very' reasonable prices--and I will keep them, because they give me pleasure. Pleasure is what it's all about, and CDs are now a very economical way of building librarys of wonderful classical & jazz music at very reasonable cost.
Played through a very good system CDs provide "excellent" sound--that most Audiogon members would be truly "thrilled" with. Buy the ones you like and keep them. The sound they are capable of providing through one of todays great systems is truly stunning, and in the future you will be able to buy a great system for 25 cents on the dollar. The hardware-CDs- will be around as long as you want to listen to them. (Every download bribgs potential problems as well.)
He's not asking about not using cds guys...just cd players. Read the whole thread.
Agreed. A high-end cdp can easily beat out any music server.
A high-end cdp can easily beat out any music server.
That is a bold statement. What do you classify as a "high-end cdp"?
Wow, not this again.....well, here goes: It depends on what equipment you use. IMO, Sonos's primary objective is interface and usabiltiy, not sound quality. With some research, anyone can find computer gear and an accompanying DAC that will rival most CDP's or tranport/DAC combinations. Or at the very least, offer better value.
I have used/owned a few "hi-end" CDP's and none of them can touch the Macbook + DAC set-up that I have now. Plus, the added conveniance factor and ability to access all music instantaneously is such an improvement!
Tend to agree with Sammie.
I've been into CD's for 20 years and have no plans on changing. I don't need a zillion songs. But I acknowledge that hard-drive systems are the wave of the future--and that future is here and now. They offer even more convenience than CD's, and from what I've read, the sound is superior when done right, and it really doesn't take a whole lot of money to do it right.
OTOH, perhaps like turntables, cartridges, and phono amps, which became more and more awesome even after vinyl declined, CDP's will become more and more awesome even as people shift their loyalties to hard drives. I just wish that the people who produced and mastered CD's (not just the specialty labels), would utilize them to their full potential.
Just wanted to add: having an SACD player, I realize that the redbook format is a limiting factor of CD's. Eventually, I guess, all the high quality music will only be available to those with music servers. Is that correct?