Why use CD Transport instead of computer source

I have been seeking a new digital front end setup and would like some advice on what solution will produce the highest quality digital playback.

My current plan is to add a Slim Devices Transporter possibly mated to an external DAC, after evaluating the Transporter on its own to determine the quality of the internal DAC (which I understand is quite high).

Why would I consider a CD Transport and DAC as an alternative to a computer based source such as this? If I am using EAC to get bit-perfect rips of my CDs and I encode them in a lossless format like FLAC, there doesnt seem like there could be any benefit to using a CD Transport, in fact, the computer based source should be better if the rips are done bit-perfect.

Any comments on why there is still a high end market for CD transports given the availability of top computer based sources like the Slim Transporter?
Interesting question that I've been pondering for a year... I have two Squeezeboxes and have tried a Transporter in my system. But, none have sounded quite as good as CD players/transports to me in my system and I've tried 3 of those (Wadia 830 w/GNSC mods, Cambridge Audio 840c, Oracle transport).

So, I use both. For critical listening, it's either my CD transport or my turntable... both satisfy quite nicely. But, my Squeezeboxes are in constant use otherwise and the level of convenience is wonderful. Many have said that modded SB3s or Transporters do exceed even the best CD players. That may be true but I have not gone done that path (yet).

I don't doubt that someday, hard-disk/memory based players will sound as good or better than even the best CD players/transports today. But, will I get rid of mine? At this point, I still use my turntable so I'm guessing I'll still be wanting to spin CDs in the future as well... just the dinosaur in me, I suspect.

yes there is but I don't fully understand why. Why does one transport sound better than another? Some say it is due to Jitter. Mod companies generally improve the clock to reduce Jitter and replace the power supply. Despite such changes there are still strong differences between transports. Why does changing the digital cable change the characteristics of the sound if all it needs to transfer is 1's and 2'?.
I use a pc transport into a USB/ Balanced Digital output. It goes into an Appoge Big Ben Reclocker to reduce the Jitter produced by an inferior PC transport clock. Finally it goes into my Accustic Arts tube DAC before entering my N32 pre Amp. Despite all this, my Cec TL0X belt driven transport blows it away. Why, I don't know but it sure does. Richard
I hate to pile on, but IME Mike and Hamburg are right. I have a didgital modified (by BOLDER) SB3 feeding my DAC, but also an old Proceed PDT-3. Back in its day the Proceed was one of the best transports out there, and it's still quite competitive, IMO. When I want to listen to my music at its best I use my transport. The SB3 is really good, but it is juuusssst not quite as good as a dedicated transport. I do use a linear supply with it, BTW.
Using a Squeezebox 3 connected to the digital input of my Cary 306 SACD player does not at any means sound as good as when I ust the Cary as a CD transport. I have not yet tried the Transporter.
Are you guys comparing a transport to files on your hard drive, OR to music sent to the Squeezebox from the internet, from Rhapsody or some other source?
Ncarv, I didn't see a smiley or any other emoticon so I'll assume this is a serious question. In my case, at least, my observations are based on comparing my CDs to the same tracks on my PC in FLAC lossless format. Sources level matched. SB3 connected via ethernet. All the usual SB tweaks.

I suspect you'll find a similar answer from Mike and Ham.
What about use of a SD Transporter coupled with a high end external DAC such as Esoteric D-05? One could use the clock from the DAC to feed the Transporter.

In addition, one advantage of a player such as Transporter is that it can play the new high resolution file formats that are being released (24/96+)

Its really unclear why there should be superior performance from a CD transport if using a high end DAC external to the network music player.
In theory computer source sounds right compared to Transport ( never mind the software sources-Hard drive vs CD, I would think not everything is understood s to how is signal quality in the source and reproduction thereof via conventional DAC. A lot more work needs to be done to get it right, just like from the current SOA Transport/DAC combo.
I have been wanting to move to a pc-based front-end for awhile and have had the Transporter in the house before (returned due to defect). I have an EMM SE stack which just far surpasses the stock Transporter (wav files only).

But, Alex of Alphifi is working with the Transporter now, doing mods and i am quite excited about trying his modded version against my EMM or with the EMM DCC2. Alex thinks the modded Transporter may approach the EMM level. Check out his forum (i am in no way associated with him and own none of his products, but people I know do and say they are great).

I think the network server is the future, rather than USB, or things like Opus, etc.
Yeah, I saw this on his web site forums. It looks like he really is going all out on the Transporter mods. I thought I saw one being sold here on the 'gon just a short while ago. It may have been Alex himself selling it.
Ncarv... I echo Tonyptony. Streaming lossy internet radio is good, FLAC lossless is far better, but still not quite the same as sourced from my CD transport. My comparisons were with FLAC lossless copies ripped from the same CD using EAC and volume matched.

I don't doubt that the highly modded units can match or exceed a good CDP or transport. But to be honest, there is something about selecting a CD and dropping it in the transport that I still enjoy almost as much as I do with vinyl. For that reason, I will likely always have a transport even though the vast majority of music playing in my house every day is via the Squeezebox.
I bought one of the original Transporters which I am using at this moment. I route it through the Audio Aero Capitole's DAC as I think it sounds much 'warmer' while the Transporter's DAC which is relly good, just a bit too 'bright', or as some would say, more 'analytic'.

To get back to your question, my original CDs do sound better using the AA's transport than the music ripped into my Apple G5 using lossless routed to my Transporter via CAT6 cable and using the AES EBU cable to the Capitole.

I suspect the reason might be that the AA is first a CD player and it was made to work its magic on a CD, with the other digital sources not being so harmonious.

Still, last night I doownloaded the Transporter's latest software upgrade and this morning it sounds, I believe, even better.
I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. I'm pretty firmly in the digital camp and am moving toward the server/client model like lots of others here, so my intent is to use my SD Transporter (which I don't own yet, but soon will!) for 99% of my listening, even the serious stuff. But I'll still keep a good CD transport around, if for no other reason than the fact that selecting a CD and dropping it in feels good, as another poster mentioned.

(BTW, I have lots of sources, analog and digital, and I intend to keep them all :-)
The high end transports sound better for two main reasons.
1. Higher end components than most hard drive computers.
2. We want them to because we spend so much money on them. If you get a high end DAC, hook both products up for processing and take a double blinded test I would nearly guarantee no ability to differentiate. MHO.
I had a Fully modded battery loaded SB and did a lot of tests against a Cd transport (Music Hall cd25) and the CD 25 was better eyes closed, eyes opened, sunglasses, etc... I then Changed the Music Hall for a CEC TL1 and Eventually for a Forsell transport...There is no comparison; Transports sound much better than SB.
Check this from a the www Lampizator dot eu site:

Digital cables conduct digital signal.
Not quite true. There is no digital signal in electricity. It is as analogue as it gets. zeros and ones come out of CD disk but after becoming electricity it is no longer a square wave 44 kHz but high frequency sine wave going out of transport to dac. It carries musical information mathematically embedded in this sine, but the cable conducts analog electrical wave form just like any other.
Knowing the physics of high frequency electricity, more like radio-wave propagation, we can have a good cable with matching electromagnetic impedance, low losses, low reflections, good screening, and minimal signal distortion. That makes this cable "good". But it is not "only digital" signal, and it is not that zeros and ones are zeros and ones, no matter what cable.

Lampizator site myths
Tonyptony, yes it was a serious question . . . thanks. I ask because I'm running my CEC TL-1X and my SB through an Audio Logic DAC and haven't done serious comparisons as yet. There's a good reason internet radio, like Pandora, or recordings, like from Rhapsody, don't sound as good as a transport . . . bit rate.
I'm curious, because of the recent discussion in one of the audio rags concluding that high-end servers sound better than transports.
Also, is the Transporter an advantage over the SB run through a high-end DAC?
Long ago I learned that cd servers sound quite different as do cd transports. I think most have had the experience I had in listening to redbook even lossless originating from my hard-drive. It was quite poor music reproduction. Early on I heard a cd server. It too was quite poor. I have owned many different players, mostly universal or sacd players. Computers, of course, cannot deal with dsd. Until recently, I had little interest in cd servers, but the CES recently caused me to change my mind.

Twice I heard a cd of mine first played on a quality transport through a dac. Then the cd was ripped to the drives and replayed from it. In both cases, the Blue Smoke and Exemplar servers, the reproduced sound was quite superior. I suspect it is the read until write capability of the rip avoiding read errors made as the transport cannot continue to read until right as the music is playing.

I do not, for one minute believe that bits or bits. Reproducing what lies on the disc correctly yields better music. I have ordered the Exemplar server.
TBG- what does the Exemplar server do differently? I had always felt that if one separated the computer into two components; one for power, disk drive, Chip/Fan and the other for CD reader, low power electrics ,Clocks and connections, Sound could improve. Even perhaps a belt drive CD such as with the Cec might help.

I am not sure that all it takes is avoiding read errors. If that is so, why does different digital cables sound so different?

I looked at you current setup and it appears that you have spent considerable time and money on your setup. Your Acoustic Arts DAC + Transport are great. So when you say that a server sounds better than that, I am quite curious to hear it for myself.

To date, I have not found high resolution 24/196 recordings via my computer sound as good red book CD via CEC transport bud AA tube Dac. I look forward to hearing your evaluation in your present system.

Hamburg, I have sold the Accustic Arts Dac and Drive One and presently use an Exemplar/Shanling SCD-3000. This was largely the result of wanting to play my many sacds.

All that I really know is that my FIM K2 sampler sounded far superior on both cd servers. I also spent a good deal of time listening to cds that I was familiar with on the Exemplar server in the FIM suite.

It is both John Tucker of Exemplar and the guys from Blue Smoke who suggest the read error explanation as well as the need to avoid normal sound cards and USB connections to the processor. They also both think that one needs to separate the dac from the processor, and in Blue Smoke's case the hard drive from the processor.

You rightly point out that digital cables sound different which to me would suggest that there might be multiple problems with optical based transports as a source.

I will be keeping my sacd player, so I will be able to detail what I think is better using a server.

My question right now is whether any of the tweaks I use on my cds would show up on a server.
If your not comparing the same CD to the same CD ripped lossless - high bit rate, with a low jitter server such as SB3 or Transporter, then your comments on this question will not be valid. You can still share your experience, though.
I've compared my Sony dvp7000es transport with my SB3, both feeding a Benchmark dac1 and the differences were very neglible. Slight differences but hard to nail down and I liked the streaming better - more open, bigger soundstage. Granted the Sony 7000 is a real world decent transport but not a real high dollar cd transport. With a better streaming transport like the 'Transporter' then the jitter levels would be even lower streaming than optical read with a cd transport.
I did compare the same cd with a ripped lossless version, but I know nothing about SB3 or Transporter. Neither used a Benchmark dac but the Exemplar uses the Benchmark board. Neither uses the USB connection nor any sound board. I don't know what the transport was for Blue Smoke but in the case of the Exemplar a stand alone cd player was used. It is the Exemplar modified Shanling CD-3000. I have much experience with the SCD-3000 with the same mods. A much better clock is used in both.

The differences were not at all subtle. Everyone in both rooms immediately heard the differences. I like the convenience of servers but never before heard one I would own.
My post wasn't directed at you Tbg, but rather to the posters above and to get us all on a level playing field!
I'm curious, because of the recent discussion in one of the audio rags concluding that high-end servers sound better than transports.
Also, is the Transporter an advantage over the SB run through a high-end DAC?

Ncarv, I read this too. I will not for a minute say that my modified SB3 is not musical, or that I am not happy listening to it. I am pleased with how it sounds, but in this world of "something has got to be better than something else" audio, it is still not quite as good as my PDT3.

As for the digital out of the Transporter vs. SB3, I'm not sure. I understand the Transporter has (I think) linear power supplies all the way around. The SB3 has one switching regulator. The Trans supplies are also very tightly regulated Jung types. That may be enough to make for some improvement (if possible) to the digital out.
Folks at slimdevices say that the digital out is the same.

I own both and I use the AES EBU digital output from the Transporter and this works well.

Still, who am I to second-guess the guys who made it all happen......?
I own an SB3 with a linear PS and use it via its digital out. I also have have had the opportunity to compare it to a stock Transporter also just using digital out in my system. While I felt the Transporter did sound better (more relaxed and refined, less edgy), IMHO it wasn't enough to warrant the the substantially higher price. Then again, for my critical listening I still use my turntable or Oracle transport.
I'm considering adding a SB3 or Sonos to my Bryston BP-25DA, which allows for two digital sources. I've been researching for a couple months on this topic and found several reasons why CD transports may sound different from streaming sources:

- Power supplies: Better power quality = better sound. The stock SB3 may have an inferior power supply to a high end transport. Even modified linear SB3 power supplies may not fully match the careful planning and routing of power in a top transport.

- Impedance matching: Poor matching = reduced performance. It's possible that the transports have an isolation transformer to better match to the recommended 75 ohm impedence. Impedance mismatches can cause jitter.

- WiFi - WiFi is great as a wireless convenience solution, but it is certainly not an optimum signal transfer mechanism. Almost always better to use a hard-wired Ethernet connection for streaming files.

- The computer. If the data source is not a dedicated music server, it's possible to get an audio performance hit if the CPU is nearing the multi-tasking limits. Network attached servers seem to be the best current solution.

What I have not seen as a plausible source of difference is the use of a hard drive vs. an optical drive. Optical sources are inherently less reliable than hard drives, that's why CD encoding contains so much inherent error correction. But, a hard-drive with an overworked CPU could be a problem.
A friend and I compared/blind tested a 12k CD player vs. a Mac/USB DAC combination and in most cases, we were unable to determine which was which. This was a blind test which was conducted within a cost no object system.

Like someone said above, the cost of a beloved transport perhaps can affect someone’s opinion.
Where did this blind tests occur at the Manufacturer-Ditributor instalations or in a neutral field.

I think most serious audiophiles dont cheat themselves, I wont mind having a cheaper player beat a very expensive transport, hell I will sell my Forsell in an instant and pocket 4k if the SB3 was better, then take a trip to Europe or pay off my credit card!!!

I have a fiend who always wants something to sound better when it really doesnt, "take a look this cheapy DVD player sound better than this multidollar Player", he uses a bunch of tricks, from different Interconnect cables, different power cords, he even has dedicated power lines in one contact and the house normal lines on the other, plus a mediocre system... this is in his house and the only benefit he gets is our non believing face and a laugh!!!
The test was done in a dedicated listening room that has been well treated for room acoustics. The system is a system we are both very familiar with, the listen levels where matched, and we choose the same listening material, started at the exact same time.

We switched back and forth between the two inputs via the Sim Audio preamp. The preamps display was blocked so that the person taking the test could not see which input was in use.

The end result was that we could not tell which source was playing even though we could recognize slight details between the two. Neither was better, neither was worse than the other. The deciding factor was the user interface of the Mac setup was better, plus the ability to access the entire music collection without leaving the listening position sealed the deal.

Like I said up above, cost is no issue. He can have any source player in the world and he has chosen a hard drive based source.
Jstovall389 - WiFi will not suffer sound quality hits over USB. In fact USB is more difficult to get right. WiFi is always bit-perfect. Only jitter has to be dealt with. The only disadvantage of WiFi is some times it gets interference from wireless phones or microwaves, and it is limited to 16/44.1 in most cases.

As for computers at their perfomance limits: This usually only happens with USB and it is a latency issue. Even the CPU at 10% utilization can cause pops and ticks if the system is poorly set-up. If the optimum drivers etc. are used, USB can be problem-free and has the advantage of supporting 24/96. The sound quality is never affected by this. It only causes momentary drop-outs when it happens. The bigger contributors to SQ with USB is the clock used in the converter, the USB cable, the chip doing the ISB to I2S conversion, and of course the circuit-board implementation.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
I have just concluded an interesting 4-day listening session using various sources.

The sources were:
1) my own Audio Research CD3MkII cd player
2) Slim Devices Transporter
3) Bel Canto DAC3

I run my entire system balanced.
Interconnects from source to preamp were Acoustic Zen Silver Reference MkII. From preamp into amp Acoustic Zen Matrix Reference MkII. Power cords used on source components were Shunyata Python VX and Audience powerChord.

My goal was to see how a computer based source really competes with a dedicated cd player and a dedicated external DAC, of course with the idea of possibly replacing my beloved CD3 with a computer based source.

Music was ripped onto HD using either Windows Media Player 11 or the iTunes. File format is WAV.
The results were pretty much what I expected but not what I hoped for.

1) Transporter on its own proved pretty good but far from the level of ARC player. Any aspect of the sound of Transporter is below the bar set by ARC CD3MkII. In comparison with a CD3, Transporter's bass lacks in definition, force and dynamic impact. Midrange is not as vibrant and rich. High frequencies are not as clearly defined, soundstage is more compressed. Overall sound was a bit artificial in comparison to the cd player. Also, one of the weak ponts of a Transporter is its noise floor. It isn't horrible at all, but when switched to CD3 the noise level of the Transporter becomes apparent. It was pretty easy to discern within seconds between the CD3MkII and the Transporter by switching inputs on my LS-25 pre. Transporter wins by convenience but not by performance when compared to an ARC player, although it is not at all bad and not offensive as far as long listening sessions. Convenience is unbeatable though. Thumbs up for that.

2) Transporter into Bel Canto DAC3 using Acoustic Zen MC2 digital cable. Now this was an improvement over the Transporter's internal DACs. With the Shunyata Python VX on the Transporter and Audience powerChord on DAC3 the sound became fuller, more natural and some of the issues, such as lower bass definition, went away to a degree. However, the upper bass still sounded thin and without proper attack. Drums, bass and lower notes on the piano were still lacking a bit. It did come a bit closer to the performance of a dedicated cd player, but still not in the same league. Overall this combination had more natural sound, better expanded soundstage and better overall definition and detail retrieval.

I just had to try the CD3MkII purely as a transport into the DAC3. The goal was to determine whether or not the Slim Devices Transporter is as capable of a transport as a CD3MkII.
It was immediately apparent that the CD3MkII is an excellent transport. When switching preamp inputs between the CD3MkII and DAC3(note that same XLR interconnects were used), aside from a bit lower output level of DAC3, the sound of the 2 units was exceptionally similar. On some material I had a difficult time picking the unit that was playing. It says a lot about DAC3's performance. The fact that the balanced output of 4.5v of DAC3 was slightly lower than the 5.4v output of CD3, it didn't seem to impact the performance of the DAC. On non-critical material such as rock music, it was tough to pick the CD3 out of the 2 units playing. However, on good classical recordings CD3 had just a bit better separation and definition than the DAC3, but I had to really strain to hear this difference.

Interestingly, the DAC3 is quiet capable as a preamp as well. No, it does not match the soundstage size, sweetness and natural sound of the ARC LS-25 tube preamp, but I didn't expect that it would. It is very listenable and if all I was listening to is rock music, it would be enough as a minimalist approach just to run a decent transport into DAC3 and balanced outs to the amp. 100-step volume control is really good on the DAC3 as well. It is smooth and provides for a very fine adjustment.

Overall it was pretty much a tie between the CD3MkII and DAC3 driven by a cd player.
I am impressed with the performance of Bel Canto DAC3 and can highly recommend it.
Sadly enough the Transporter fell short, which is something I expected, but was hoping it wouldn't be the case.

Based on what I heard in my system, with the source components mentioned, this proves to me that at least now, today, the Transporter is not at the level where it would be able to compete with dedicated CD players. Granted, ARC CD3MkII is almost 3 times the price of the Transporter. At this point I'm not ready to sacrifice sound for convenience so I am hanging on to my cd player.
Of course, these results could be system/room/components related and YMMV, but I decided to share my findings anyway.

I hope this may be of some help to someone researching the possibility of a computer based source as a replacement for a dedicated cd player.
Very nice test and description of results. Thanks for posting! I am 100% into server based system now and am looking to get a nice new DAC; the DAC3 seems pretty awesome across the board to nearly keep up with the vaunted ARC CD3MKII.