Zune output vs. CD output

Hey everyone.

I have been putting together a small but nice little bookshelf system in my living room consisting of a pair of paradigm atom v5s, NAD 325bee integrated, MC Z2 speaker wire, M1000i rca interconnects, and I just picked up a 1m audioquest copperhead 1/8" to RCA interconnect.

I was about to invest in a NAD c542 CD player... then I was laying in bed and thought... wait, why? 99% of my music is on MP3, M4P, or lossless FLAC. I hardly have any CDs... and those that I do have were just burned from MP3s.

So I idealized buying a new Zune instead. With this, I can dock it next to my stereo system connected with the copperhead cable. Any new music I get I can just wi-fi it across the house and have it ready to play on the Zune. That sounds much more fitting for me than a CD player.

So, ok, here is the dillema... I want excellent audio. Lets say I had a 1st generation rip into a lossless FLAC or even a 320 constant bit rate MP3 and sent it over to my docked Zune for playback. How would this sound in comparison to actually playing the CD back on a dedicated CD player (most likely the NAD C542)?

BTW, with this test I am assuming a near-perfect CD rip from my Pioneer DVD-RW drive. It is a quality drive... so I am assuming that wouldn't be an issue. Oh ya, and the CD player would be hooked up via MC M1000i cable.

K, I appreciate any feedback. Thanks audiophiles.
Lossless encoding would sound nearly identical, and my guess would be that, on a second system of modest proportions, 320kb/sec encoding would sound great. And you'd have a lot of fun with it. Don't see how you could go wrong.
I don't see how the little Zune is going to have enough output current to really drive the integrated amp well enough. If you could compare the two you would find the CD output to sound better... if you are looking for convenience then go the Zune route. I would get both, but that's just me.
Cool, thanks for the input.

So does running sound out of a 1/8" mini into 2 RCAs yield any loss in comparison to running straight RCA to RCA? Let's assume I used identical RCA cables for each and a quality 1/8" mini plug.
I didn't read carefully enough - I read docked, and I assumed a docking mechanism similar to the plethora you see for iPods. The little 1/8" mini plug is far from ideal, I'm sure, as a connector. Still, with lossless recordings, my guess would be that the fun and convenience would outweight any perceived "performance" issues on a system of the type you describe.

Do you have a music server set up anywhere? You say that you have most of your music collection ripped - there are many ways to feed systems from a music server, either local or remotely. Lots of fun!

Oh ya, I forgot to mention that in my original post... I will have the Zune docked in their A/V pack. I was actually amazed at this thing... you can output a full 480p signal via component cables from the little zune when docked.

So... I couldn't seem to find anywhere exactly what type of outputs come out of the dock... Would it most likely be 2 separate RCAs? And, in that case, would have enough output current / be comparable with CDs?

I just found out that it can play WMA lossless audio as well as some WMA 'pro' codec at 384 kpbs. It can also output 48kHz sampled music... I'm not sure if CDs are generally 44.1 or 48... Anyways, sounds good to me so far...

Kthomas... Heh, I'm actually not even sure what a music server is. I have a PC and a large collection of music scattered about on DVDs and some on my HDDs... not sure if that is the same thing.

I thought of using my PC... This has been my means of listening to music for years now... but now a few things are holding me back. First, with the schematics of my house I would need a hefty amount of RCA cable to make the run to my amp... and I would want it to be quality cable, so that would be a bit outside my budget I think. Second, I do have a nice MB with 6 'hi-def' sound outputs... and they do sound good... but again they are all 1/8" mini plugs, which you guys say is not ideal. I am assuming I would need to buy a sound card that can output straight RCAs to avoid using a mini plug. And third on the list, I might not want my computer to be on sometimes when I am listening to music.

Oh, and fourth... the Zune looks sweet and I would like to have the option of taking it with me places as well.

Just out of curiosity, how much does a good sound card typically cost?

I just thought of another option... although this may be the most expensive of all... Could I buy a sound card with an optical or digital sound output, run the opt/digital cable to a converter that outputs 2 short RCA interconnects to my amp?

K, appreciate all the feedback. Thanks.
Hmm... Looks like the Zune dock only has a mini output as well...

The Archos dock is packed... S-Video, spdif, separate RCAs, component, composite... for the same price. And the Archos is WiFi as well. Maybe I will go with that instead...
USB DACs are strictly for computers, right? There would be no way to hook an MP3 player up to an amp via USB, right?

If there were, would this be much better than quality RCA interconnects?
no you cant use a DAC with the zune as simply storage (i wish you could though)

The stock headphone out is really good for a portable, but i highly doubt that it will compare in any way to a Cd Player.

Why dont you get a sqeezebox instead? it can do wi-fi streaming from your computer, and it sounds pretty good to boot
er, uh, sqeezebox? I'll look into it. Thanks for the suggestion.

So, between the archos which has seperate RCAs in it's dock and the Zune which only has a mini-out... do you think the archos would sound better?
Alright... I just looked into it... and I am intrigued, without a doubt.

A couple things I don't understand though. First, I am skeptical that you could get just as good or better sound out of the squeezebox than you could an MP3 player (docked, of course) because it is fed via a wifi connection. There really is no loss doing it this way?

Second, that Stereophile review made it sound like it was pretty essential to hook it up to a DAC... so there is a $300 dollar machine, but without second glance he throws in that you should invest another $1000+ in a DAC... not to mention he had it hooked up to a $10,000 pre-amp... Mismatch?? I guess the sake of the review was to test it on a reference system, even though it doesn't reflect real-world systems that these will probobly be used with. Anyways... I don't understand why there would be a need to hook up a DAC at all considering it had internal 24-bit Burr-Brown DACs. That is the same DAC that is in the NAD C542bee CD player that is so highly acclaimed... and I was thinking of buying. Wouldn't a 1st-gen rip into a FLAC sound the same through this as it would the NAD in that case?

Ok, and third... something I totally dont understand... is the stereophile review said it had a 'wall-mart' (notice the mis-spell, he must not frequent the walmart) power supply. He also noted that there are companies that will modify / swap the power supply. What for? Is this necessary?
Djembeplay, don't think that archos will do it for you.
I have own 604 wifi and now 605 wifi. I try it and it sucks when connected to my big system.
Don't know about ZUNE but my guess is that it is the same junk.
I use SONOS and it works or get squeezebox for less.

If you want portability new IPOD - with some modding from ROSE.
Oh... heh, well it appears I made an idiot of myself.

The stereophile reviewer said 'wall wart' referring to the type of power supply in the squeezebox... not 'wall-mart' as I wrote. Lol, I thought he was calling it a cheap power supply by associating it with walmart... I must have been tired.

Anywho... my threat seems to be dead. I think I am settling on a squeezebox... they sound really nice.

I have a couple questions... One, more theoretical one, is how much of a difference would I hear in the jump from a squeezebox (w/o DAC) to one with a DAC or even the 'transporter' on my given system: Nad c325Bee, Paradigm Atoms, all w/ quality interconnects & speaker cable. I mean, it sounds great to me but it considered low-end of hi-fi... so would such an upgrade be worth it?

Also, I saw that there is a USB 'Host' option on the new archos PVP and on the new cowon PVP (as well as a digital coaxial out for the cowon). Can these players be functionally hooked up to a USB DAC?
Cool, thanks for the input Mrjstark. That is extremely useful to know about the archos. I am assuming that any MP3 player would be the same story in that case.

This re-affirms my recent conclusion to go with the squeezebox.

Have you tried using the 605 host USB with a USB DAC? I'm not sure if this would work or not.

I dont think I am going to actually do this, but just out of curiosity... do you need a soundcard with USB outs to connect to a USB DAC or can you just run the signal out of one of the stock USB ports on a PC somehow? How much is a decent sound card with this capability?

You know... just making sure I am heartily comparing all my options here. It's tough... I'm trying to put together the best system possible given a really tight budget.

K, thanks again for the input.