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At the Crossroads: Which DAC to replay music CDs?

Discussion in 'Hi-Fi Stereo Systems & Separates' started by ditton15, Mar 30, 2003.

  1. ditton15

    ditton15
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    In the past four months I have been trying to settle on kit that would play music well, having first begun an AV upgrade path two months earlier (getting from ProLogic to 5.1, and to widecreen TV). At present, I have the following three methods of playing (music) CDs into a dedicated stereo amp (AudioLab 8000S) and speakers (Celestion Ditton 15s):

    1) Toshiba SD510 -> dac in Denon AVR2802 (pre-outs, and hence pre-amp) -> AudioLab 8000S as power amp
    2) Arcam CD72T -> AudioLab 8000S as int. pre/power
    3) Meridian 200 transport + Meridian 203 dac -> AudioLab 8000S as int. pre/power

    For the record, presently, the interconnects are: (1) Mark's digial coax + Ixos phono; (2) Supra AV6 as stereo phono; (3) Chord phono.

    In theory I could also create additional options. most obviously
    4) Toshiba SD510 + Meridian 203 dac ->

    Set-up (1) is where I started (following upgrade from SD220 to SD510 & AVR1602 to AVR2802), with advisors from these Forums urging me to consider something like (4) but with a better DAC. There was also interesting argument amongst advisors whether a dedicated CD transport should be acquired, or whether modern DVD transports could cut the mustard.

    I muddied the waters when I saw a chance to buy a s/h Arcam CD72 (set-up 2) being an integrated transport and dac, the latter a 24 bit Burr Brown DAC. This I thought was an improvement on (1), and I do enjoy it. However, I did an A/B in a shop of the CD72 & the CD82 (played via the Arcam 85 amp) and I found that I much preferred the CD82, which has a different dac (well actually it has two 24-bit 192kHz Wolfson DACs in dual-mode), as this, the CD82, was more engaging and less laid back than my CD72. (That said, I have the impression that the CD72 is aloud to be more engaging with my AudioLab 8000S.) So I was considering the upgrade path that Arcam offers, but without compelling reason to do so now (and spending £200 more), I decided to wander down the separate DAC path.

    I have now bought a s/h Meridian 200 transport as part of a 200/203 combo, the idea being to replace the Meridian 203 (which is 20 bit) with an exceptional DAC that will satify my cravings/upgraditis and allow me to just enjoy the music - actually I'm playing/listening/enjoying lots!!

    [Now I know that I dont need all of this kit, and some of it must therefore go. Fortunately, I know that having had good advice (GaryG, Vikki/Steff take a bow) I made two good s/h buys and could re-sell either the Arcam or the Meridian without loss. It also strikes me that someone with an entry DVD player wanting to play CDs might be a taker for the Meridian 203 DAC.]

    I'm now doing a bit of extended home auditioning, seeing whether I prefer one particular sound to another. I've several favorite pieces, and I chose those with 'sound-stage' contrast possibilities, amongst which are:

    (i) Miles Davis on KInd of Blue, Columbia (the 20-bit re-mix)
    (ii) "Hungarian Skectches" (especially Bear Dance and Slightly Tipsy) by Bartok/Reiner/Chicago SO
    (iii) several by Bert Jansch
    (iv) Live by Request, by KD Lang

    I've toe'd in the speakers to help sound stage, and having played and listened, I can report that its all very difficult. Each does well in separation, but none yet stands out as a clear winner.

    Comments welcome. Sorry to be so inconclusive. For my part, I've a lot more listening to do, and will try to summarise when I've reached some more (no doubt tentative) conclusions.

    ditton
     
  2. nathan_silly

    nathan_silly
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    As a Audiolab 8000S owner, I will recommend using the Audiolab as the main controller (as in 2) and not go down the pre-out from AV amp to Audiolab.

    Why also not consider a Audiolab 8000SX to biamp? This has a MASSIVE improvement, moreso than a CD player changeover.

    btw, I have a 8000SX as well, I have used the 8000S for a while, then upgraded to biamping, and it's well worth it.
     
  3. ditton15

    ditton15
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    Nathan,

    I dont intend using set-up 1 for stereo, its just there to complete the picture.

    And although biamping, and even bi-wiring, may be a good idea, except that then I would be in the market for a new pair of speakers - which so far has been my only constant (friends).

    ditton

    ps and then I'd have to change my name, Silly (if may call you that :D)
     
  4. GaryG

    GaryG
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    Ditton

    Can you do some experiments for me?

    1. Connect your Gallo balls in place of your Ditton 15's and then listen to the 203 DAC using all three units as a transport. Do the test with some completely different music to your previous test CD's (this is important!), something borrowed from a friend perhaps. After you've done the test make a note of which combination gave you the widest soundstage.

    2. Power up the Tosh, Arcam and Meridian combo (they don't have to be connected to an amp) and put a CD in each of them and leave them all on constant replay for 24 hours and then repeat test 1 and note any difference if any.

    3. Repeat test 1 but with the Ditton's re-connected in place of the Gallo balls and note your findings.
     
  5. ditton15

    ditton15
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    OK. I'll give it a whirl. Have to wait on getting the sitting room back - daughters making fuss of mum on Mothering Sunday. Have to let that one have priority - even if they are watching East Enders!

    ditton
     

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