DAC / CD Player With USB Input / Streamer

Discussion in 'Hi-Fi Stereo Systems & Separates' started by anuvid, Jan 9, 2012.

  1. anuvid

    anuvid
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    I have a PC with a USB soundcard that provides DAC and USB to RCA (or optical) conversion into my Musical Fidelity amp. I also have a Marantz CD6003 with a Cirrus Logic DAC in it (CS4398). I have B&W 685s as speakers.

    I've used Slave To The Rhythm - Grace Jones - as a sample track. When played from original CD. Sounds punchy and clear with good separation.

    When played from USB stick via the CD6003 it's good but not as punchy as from original CD. (only plays MP3 not FLAC that way). When played from PC via USB soundcard it sounds good but not as punchy as from original CD. FLAC from the PC sounds better but still not as good as original CD.

    As an experiment (to test the DACs in the soundcard and CD player against each other) I took the FLAC version and burned it to CD and popped that into the Marantz. Sounded like the original CD.

    Now I'm confused. I wonder whether to buy a DAC like the m-DAC at £ 500. The Marantz CD6004 at £ 250 now has a USB PC input on the back allowing one to use the internal Cirrus Logic DAC - though I've not found any info on how well this works, and the manual doesn't mention it. Or now that the Marantz NA7004 is down to £ 380 and has all the connectivity required - USB and RCA - as well as the Cirrus Logic DAC that impressed me in the Marantz CD player.

    Equally I could spend more on USB and RCA cables from PC to USB soundcard to Musical Fidelity amp etc etc etc. This isn't a setup I can test in a store. So I just need best advice as to whether the Cd 6004, dedicated DAC, or NA7004 options are most likely to lift my computer based music, or whether I ditch the 685s and get Monitor Audio RX6s or whether there's something else here I've missed ?

    Anyone aware of any shops in Kent that would let me audition at home ?
     
  2. clockworks

    clockworks
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    It's been a few years since I was in the same position - trying to get a file-based player to sound as good as a fairly high-end CD player. Something that made a big difference to the sound from a laptop was using ASIO drivers for the soundcard. Doing that got me something that sounded about as good as an iPod, as long as I used lossless files (wav in my case).

    I then took the laptop to a local dealer, on a quiet day. He was keen to try a few things out.

    First, we tried the laptop's analogue output into a decent pre-power combo.

    Next step up was an external DAC connected to the optical output, which finally gave something vaguely musical. We tried 2 DACs - and M-Audio Transit, and what he described as a very nice £500 DAC (I can't remember the make). The more expensive DAC was slightly better, but not worth spending 10 times as much.

    The penultimate demo was a standalone player (Pixel Magic HD-MB200). Now we were getting somewhere. As good as a £200 CDP.

    Finally, he had an idea, and nipped across to their musical instrument/recording department and borrowed an M-Audio Flying Cow DAC. The musical experience was now complete. A file-based player that could hold it's own against £600 CDPs, and it wasn't much more than half that price.


    My advice is to forget using a PC-based player, and get a standalone or network player that's designed to play music.
     
  3. anuvid

    anuvid
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    Thanks. Out of interest why a network player and not the dac you mentioned ? And will only flac bring me close to cd quality ?
     
  4. clockworks

    clockworks
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    I mentioned network players because I think they have taken over from standalone players at the higher quality end of the market. The Pixel Magic HD-MB200 that I use can play files from a local source - in-built HDD or USB storage device - or files from a network source. It can be used as either a standalone player or a network player. Best of both worlds. It also has a pretty good on-board DAC, but an external one can improve sound quality.
    It's a shame they stopped making them. If you can find one secondhand, I'd recommend it. Not the most user-friendly device, but it sounds very nice.

    When I bought my player, the only readily-available alternatives (at a reasonable price) were the Squeezebox and Sonos, plus some PVR-type devices. Plenty more choice these days, but I've not kept up with what's on the market. Maybe a Dune player (possibly with an external DAC) would be suitable?

    You'd think that, being digital, a computer would do a perfect job of playing back a file to an external DAC. In my experience, this isn't the case. Using a decent soundcard might help, though. I'm not sure if computers are let down because of excessive jitter, digital noise, or multi-tasking, but they just don't seem to be capable of presenting the digital stream as well as a purpose-designed media player or CDP.

    You need to use a lossless format, for sure, and a player that can get the best from that format - reassembling/expanding it back to a CD-quality bitstream. I made the decision to go with wav, as there is no compression, and hence no expansion required in the player. It's the CD data, with no trickery to reduce file size.
    Flac is supposed to be a very good lossless format, as long as your chosen player has the codec and electronics to play it back properly.
     
  5. anuvid

    anuvid
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    I am wondering about the marantz sa7004 network player at 380, mdac at 500, or even a marantz nr1602 which has a network connection and streams.
     
  6. clockworks

    clockworks
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    Is it necessary to spend more on the DAC than the player? I don't know, but it'd be best to have a decent demo before spending the money. You might find that the player's on-board DAC is good enough for your needs, or that a cheaper external DAC will suffice.

    When I had my demo, I was surprised at how good the cheap M-Audio Flying Cow DAC sounded, compared to a "proper hifi" DAC that retailed at 3 times the price. Of course, the M-Audio DAC is hardly a thing of beauty, being designed for studio use.

    If you can live with the looks, I'd recommend finding a secondhand M-Audio FC DAC on eBay, and trying it with your chosen player. Take it with you when you subsequently demo the M-DAC. You can always sell it again if you prefer the M-DAC. You could save £400+.
     
  7. anuvid

    anuvid
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    Thanks, looking for a Flying Cow but none on the auction site at present
     

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