Will computer to DAC replace transports and cdp's?

From my limited reading it seems that a cd burned to a hard drive will be a bit for bit copy because of the software programs used to rip music files. A transport has to get it right the first time and feed the info to a dac. Wavelength audio has some interesting articles about computer based systems and have made a strong statement that a transport will never be able to compete with a hard drive>dac combo.

Anybody care to share their thoughts?
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The CD itself will be a relic soon, as well. As available bandwith increases, delivery of the original music will all be computer to computer and there won't be any need for the little plastic disc. That trend is already well underway for computer software delivery.
No doubt about it. I very rarely use my transport anymore. Absolutely cannot tell the difference between my transport and the same music through the same DAC as a WAV or Apple Lossless, through my HD. Nothing like having your entire music library at your fingertips with only the push of a few buttons. I have the same concerns as Grant about downloading, not just with regards to the death of the "album", but also if compression and mediocrity in recording and digitizing the music becomes the norm rather than the exception.

so tvad, what do you think needs to be overcome before a computer hard drive to a dac will surpass state of the art transports and cdps? i'm thinking it might already be time to switch. I was thinking of buying an Emm Labs setup but the more i think about it, the less sense it makes. currently i'm researching a stand-alone silent computer with separate high speed hard drives (two, stripped) and a high end usb or firewire tube dac. I'd like to burn all my cds in wav format and use a palm pilot as my remote control. if i could find a tube dac with a good volume pot. then i'd think about doing without a preamp and havin a different setup for my vinyl.
I switch to a hard drive system back in early 2000 and have never looked back. Having your music easily accessible, but more importantly having it organized in multiple ways via playlists is a tremendous boon to listening to your entire collection. And to Tvad's concern, you can organize playlisst via albums so that you can play the entire CD as originally recorded.

My primary concern has been software upgrades. I use Apple's iTunes on a Mac hardware platform. Since 2000 Apple went from OS9 to Jaguar and now Tiger as major system software upgrades and now they are switching to Intel chips for another system software change. I should also mention that within each system software version there were numerous upgrades such as 10.2.4 to 10.2.6 to contend with. Additionally, every few months there is a new revised version of iTunes. The problem is that every software upgrade has the potential of really screwing up your system. I've never been seriously burned, but you have to be very careful and do a good deal of research before implementing what seems like even minor software upgrade. And if you don't upgrade, eventually Apple will stop supporting your software version, which while not terminal, has it's own set of serious problems.

My solution to all this is to keep two separate computer systems. One system is the master version and the other is slaved. The slave system is always one software revision behind the master. For instance, right now the master is using Jaguar 10.3.4 and iTunes 4.7.1 while the slave is using 10.2.8 and 4.01. You just have to deal with the fact that computers suck!

Enough about the bad stuff. It's a phenomenal way to listen to music. I would strongly recommend you utilize all the features of iTunes, or its equivalent, database. Give a star rating to each song. That way you can sort by how much you like each song and eliminate ever listening to the "dogs" of you collection. Tag each song by genre, release date, purchase date, composer and label. The more info you add, the greater your ability to organize playlist.

QUESTION: I still keep the original CD after I've ripped it. Do you keep your CDs?
As I have stated many time elsewhere, I changed over to a hard-drive based system last Spring and too have never looked back (I have iterated the reasons before and they have been stated in this thread already, so I am not going to repeat the now obvious reasons why the change makes sense). As to the question of whether to keep the CD's or not, here is what I have decided. I will keep all remastered and audiophile grade CD's and will sell everything else.

At first I thought I would not sell them because, what if my hard-drive crashed? Well, I solved that issue by always having my music backed up on a second drive. I have become so convinced that server-based music systems are the future, I want to be able to get something for my CD's before they become virtually worthless (which I think will happen within about 5 years for older issue and non-remastered discs).
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I've been on a Mac platform since '97. The only problems I've ever had were in various versions of the largely extinct OS9. OSX has run flawlessly and effortlessly an rarely requires any serious attention. On the other hand, I do have friends whose experience in upgrading various versions of OSX have been rather frustrating, like Onhwy61. I protect my music library in several ways. First, and most important for me is to store me entire music library on a dedicated, external hard drive. None of my music library is on my main computer. I have a copy on a second hard drive...or rather on a friend's second hard drive, and I've also strated to back up the entire library to DVD's in case of a double failure. I've just recently sold off a group of CD's that I listened to less often, or had duplicates of. For some reason I have a hard time selling off the ones I like most. I think it 's the pack rat in me though. Regarding organizing play lists like albums - I think Grant's concern was around the trend of downloading music a few songs at a time via the Internet. When you buy an 'album' on the Internet (via iTunes for instance), you have the option of purchasing the entire album, or as many songs as you like, or even just one single song. If you look at Apple's current home page there is a counter running currently with the number of song's sold that is increasing as almost as fast as our National debt it seems. For the moment (perhaps not for very much longer), you can see their countdown to the billionth song sold here. Sadly, all this music being purchased is compressed.

I moved to computer audio 3 years ago and it is FUN. I sit in my listening chair and with my wireless mouse, can pull up any cd in 5 seconds! My kids are starting to enjoy the old rock/ blues cd's, so when I find a cd case, it rarely has the right cd(or any cd) in the case). Not the end of the world anymore, because I never use them.
Next big plus is I have a friend who gets music bootlegs that never made it to the recording studio. I import these on my hard drive and am blown away by the raw live recordings we would never hear otherwise.
Last, I have some recordings made from vinyl recorded at 24/96 that are really stunning. Some were made by me, but some were made with a friends analog system with a Colibri cartridge based system , with pristine albums. The sound of those special recordings is like nothing I have ever heard in my system.
I use Adobe Audition, only burn in wave files, sent out thru the USB port by the amazing Empirical Audio Off Ramp Turbo to a TRL modified Audiomeca Enkianthus X dac.
Hope this helps anyone sitting on the fence. Digital has finally found it's true potential in my system.
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I've setup my dad with an Escient music server (only has a 120 gig hard drive) but the access to the music is incredible. I'm listening to music i haven't heard in years because it's easier than searching through my nearly 1000 cdsl. I don't have cds all over the place anymore, either. I keep all the cds after i burn them but in boxes stored away for an emergency that no doubt will someday come.

Does anyone know about the faster Glyph drives used for music mastering? They're much more expensive than a typical commercial computer-user hard drive but they are more quiet, more reliable and have other advantages.

What external dacs are you guys using? Do any have a volume pot?
Two things (well. maybe three) are stalling my move to HD:

First, I will miss having easy access to the composer and musician information that's on the CD liner.

Second, I think to make it really work, I'd need a computer display at my listening seat, which is in the living room. That would be decor-unfriendly. Also, I'd need to run a USB cable across the room. Dennis, you mentioned controlling the whole thing with a Palm. How would that work? (I have a Squeezebox, but it's not an ideal browsing interface.)

The third thing is having to go back to separates, or find a CDP I like with digital in. I'd be very reluctant not to have regular CD playback capability, so would still need a transport of some kind.

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I've been thinking about this. I have a headphone system that is iTunes based (headphone amp has a USB input) and it is so damn convenient, but my main system is CD only. I was wondering just yesterday why the newer CD players don't seem to have a USB digital input like many have a S/PDIF digital input. There are a very few DACs that do, but I've not seen a player that does. I think that would be an appealing feature, to be able to run iTunes through your favorite CD players DAC (I'm not interested in the USB to S/PDIF adapters).
I agree. CDP manufacturers should be adding these capabilities to their players, unless there is some compelling reason not to that I don't know about. As I've said before, I'd be a serious buyer for the Ayre universal player if it could accomodate digital in. Without it, it's hardly "universal" anymore.
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I know. I have the APL Marantz player. But I thought Alex's option was for coax in, not USB. Which would lead me to Steve Nugent...

Reading the Empirical site...I take it there is more to the Offramp than just USB to S/PDIF coax conversion. Because if I have a DAC with USB input, such as the forthcoming Bel Canto DAC3, I wouldn't need the offramp, right?
I agree that digital inputs on new CD players should be standard (if not USB inputs).
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you're description of storing your music on a separate HD, and then yet another copy on another HD is exactly what keeps me away. That's too much damn work for someone who simply wants to listen to music.

The big hurdle is ripping your exisiting collection one at a time. If you can do that while doing another task, or watching a movie...listening to music, etc. it is really not that much effort, but indeed it takes time. Once you've done that everything else is a piece of cake. Each time you acquire a CD you take the three minutes it takes to rip it to the collecition. Copying a hard drive is a no-brainer. Drag-and-drop old hard drive onto the new hard drive and walk away. I copied a 250gb drive and it took about 2.5 hours from my laptop. I spent all of two minutes actually making the copy.

Now burning the library to DVD's is probably a bit overboard, and certainly does take time, you're quite right there if that's what you were referring to. It's probably not necessary, but I guess I like the piece of mind it gives me. The likelihood of two hard drives failing simultaneously has to be infinitesimally small.

I'm not sure what the Palm Pilot software interface is like...I believe it is freeware that is downloadable, or else it is very cheap from when I recall looking into it. There is a link on the Wavelength website. It requires that you have a PalmPilot that is Bluetooth enabled (not all are), as well as a laptop with Bluetooth. Your laptop, short USB cord, interface device, and cable (toslink or S/PDIF) all can stay with your system (on the other side of the room). You have your PalmPilot on the other side of the room which would control your music program. So it goes back to the question as to just how complete is the Palm software to control the computer...what do you have access to? With the AE or the MUCH more expensive Offramp you would have your laptop on the other side of the room and the wireless device plugged in near your system and wired to the DAC. This way you would have complete control of your library from your laptop. I would not run a USB cord across the room. USB has a limit of 6 feet I believe. If you need to go further you'll need some kind of repeater device every 6 feet (not very attractive or convenient for sure - no idea how that may effect the audio feed).

I hope companies like Krell start making computers before the computers take over.
Drubin: Regarding remote control for a hard drive system. Check out this link:


- This is found on the wavelengthaudio.com site and briefly describes how to use a blue tooth equipped palm pilot as a remote control for your computer based system.

Anyone interested in this thread in general should visit the wavelength audio site - TONS of how to's with links, reviews, dacs, best gear, etc.

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Will you describe the hardware and wire chain of your system starting from your computer (PC or MAC).

Computer via USB (?) > ? > ? > ?

Computer via USB > Waveterminal U24 (this converts the USB feed to S/PDIF or to Toslink if you prefer)>DAC>Preamp>Amp>Speakers>Ears>Brain>Happy Button

The possibly confusing interface Grant, may be coming off the computer. You can have one of three different solutions basically:

1. A USB DAC like the Apogee that takes the feed directly from your computer's USB outlet, converts the signal to something the DAC can understand, and spits out an analogue signal.

2. A USB interface device like my Waveterminal U24 which simply converts the USB signal to either Toslink (optical) or S/PDIF, and which still requires you output that signal to a separate DAC or digital-in on a select few one-box players.

3. A wireless device like the Airport Express, which can act either as a rather poor DAC and feed directly into an amp, or as a convertor device providing, in the case of the AE, an optical digital feed for a separate DAC.

It looks like the Offramp you suggested falls under category one, since it is a USB DAC essentially.

Drubin - thanks for the correction on the maximum USB length. Sorry for the misinformation.

I use a Dell Axim 30 wi-fi PDA to control my Bolder Cable modded squeezebox2. It makes it very easy to browse through my 1200+ CD's (in lossless of course). If you want, there is also a better interface from a company called Telcanto for controlling the SB2.

I got rid of my reference tube SACD/CD player about 6 months ago and I'm not looking back.

BTW - I keep all my CD's. I don't want to run afoul of any copyright laws.
It's a pc with two Seagate hard drives, Windows XP pro,I use Adobe Audition to list the music and show the wave files. The Empirical Audio off ramp turbo uses an M audio Transit out the USB port (5 meters is the limit) to a black box containing the guts of the off ramp turbo (mine is powered by an ac plug (or a battery for critical listening). That is pig tailed to a 3 inch wire to rca plug to my Dac that recognized anything up to 24/96. I am not very computer savy, so I hope this is what your are asking. I also have a lynx 2 soundcard in it I am not really using anymore, but I had a digital breakout box that connected to a Rca digital cable into my dac before the Off Ramp
Is the Offramp also a DAC? Looks to me like just a converter, since its output is a coax cable.
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Is the Offramp also a DAC? Looks to me like just a converter, since its output is a coax cable.

I was just going by what Grant wrote earlier in categorizing it that way:

02-12-06: Tvad
That's correct. The OffRamp is a DAC.

...but on looking at their site, it appears that the $950 device is just a converter as you said. My god, what could it have in it that makes it cost that much? The U24 I use also has an excellent clocking device in it from all reports. It can also be used as a DAC, but I have not tried that out. I use it simply as a converter. I've been delighted with the results using it, and the $200 price tag (I guess it was $300 when first released) was a bit easier to take a risk on. I'm told they're no longer making them, but they seem to be widely available on websites still...perhaps leftovers or just not updated sites(?).

After transferring my semi-large disk collection to media binders ("case logic") for security reasons, I realize that I used to rely on visual cues to find favorite music.
Now, without the CD case, I believe I'm not listening to a lot of stuff anymore.
Even when I'm in the mood for something particular, it is a chore to locate it.
It would help to enter every disk title (several thousand) into a data-base.
A better solution would be to use something like the Sony media server platform. You load this thing with up to 200 disks then it goes out to some web-site and down loads albumn art and song lists and rips music to your hard drive.
Now if I just had $2000...
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One other point about archiving, or backup: Creating a WAV or lossless file of a CD can act as a backup in case the CD is ever lost or damaged. You can easily burn a new CD from the WAV or Lossless file. In addition I've read a few reports that some CD media is more prone to eventual 'failure' than others. I'm not sure if these reports were limited to CD-R(W)'s or if they included manufactured CD's. Anyone have more info on that subject?

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I bought my off ramp turbo used for $750. and sold two digital cables for $700. So it wasn't too bad. It did make over 500 cd's sound MUCH better and I needed to play all the vinyl I ripped at 24/96 (my linx won't pass 24/96 out digitally).
We Audiogoner's know we are on the lunatic fringe( $1000.00 for a power cable or $500.00 in chemicals to make a 16/44 cd sound better???)
I have no affiliation with Empirical Audio, just trying to save some people from not getting the most out of there computer audio. Hey Tvad, Corvette convertible( All tricked out) can't use the word "spendy". Just having some fun.
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Dweller: When you rip a disc to iTunes it accesses the Gracenote database and assigns album and song titles to all the music you rip--for free. Also, the Waveterminal U24 can be used as a D/A converter or just a USB to S/PDIF converter.
Answer to original question, YEP.. But you will need a decent transport still to do a quick friend comes over with a new disc scenario to play it right away,,, get a DAC with a couple inputs and your set... Prices are going to drop considerably on CDP's even more than they have I predict in the next 2 years, for example a WADIA holding nicely in the 3000.00 range will be dumped for about half that and a CD rom or decent DVD player will be found the solution to work with a High quality DAC that can be flexable enough to stay with the growing MAss storage Redbook drive solutions. Maybe its just an opinion but I already see signs on this board at audiogon alone swinging that direction and even see many sales on excellent red book machines, and its not cause SACD is taking over its because MASS storage redbook is, even in the high end.
Matrix: It only take about 2-3 minutes to rip a CD to hard drive. To me, that time does not necessitate needing a separate transport -- though there may be other good reasons people want a seperate player/transport anyway(SACD/DVD-A).

I agree that CD's and CD players are not going to hold their value like they used to. In fact, I think spending big money on any digital source these days is a risky propsition.
i agree with you guys: I was on the verge of splurging for a wadia or the emm labs unit but there's no chance, no how, no way i'm going that direction now...

Even if i DID have the money! (which i don't, damnit)

still, there is something much more sexy about a wadia than a computer...call me a traditionalist.
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Pardales, I agree, however it is still nice to be able to grab a disc and play straight out with decent transport and the point is that you can still hook up one rather cheap, with SACD or whatever and still have a dac with computer hooked all in one as long as you have the multiple inputs on the DAC, but yeah costly machines are going to get hurt very soon, not that they have not already, but 15000.00 Reimyo''s and Meitners owners are going to take a bath at some point.
Are we talking about music from the hard drive or playing a CD in a computer cd player?? Either way, how can the engineering and materials of a computer match a high quality transport?????? I don't believe it.
Sound Quality Question :

Example, $950.00 and I get an Off-Ramp Turbo, get everything set up correctly to my Dac, will it sound "as good or better" than my belt-drive CEC ?
Better is what people are saying, though people are always saying one damn thing or another. The Empricial Audio website has some pretty explicit comparisons.
I compared my hard drive based system as transport with my CEC TL-51X as transport. I was using a Dodson 218 DAC and the Waveterminal U24. I found it difficult to relibaly tell them apart.