Difference in sound

EN

Standard Member
Hello,
I want to have an audio streamer, to play some files from NAS, or external HDD. My options are laptop with digital output, Marantz 7004, Cambridge Audio Magic 6 or Logitech ST.
I’m wondering, if I use a separate DAC connected to one of above devices, will be any difference in sound quality? Is it possible for the laptop to sound worse the others?
Please, someone with experience share some opinion.
Best regards,
Encho
 

larkone

Member
On board sound from a laptop will be subject to all off the electrical noise inside the machine and is likely to be of a fairly low quality sound card/dac in the first place. Almost any external soundcard/dac will be an improvement especially as most USB DACs are now asynchronous which also helps maintain sound quality.

The streaming devices you have listed all have good quality DACs from the outset so I would try them before adding an external DAC to them. So much depends on everything else in the chain starting from the quality of the original sound file. Is it a lossy compression or lossless?
 

EN

Standard Member
Thank you Larkone.
I will use both lossy and lossless compression files.
In all cases I will use separate DAC, because I have it. And I have a spare laptop SONY F series, with optical digital output.
So, my question is will I get better sound, if I buy one of above devices, connected to my DAC?
 

larkone

Member
Possibly yes and possibly not. Streaming is a subject that has a lot of variables, there is no simple black or white answer. If you set the laptop up correctly for music it will sound great, if you do not set it up correctly then it could sound awful. When I first set up a laptop to stream using the optical out of a PCMCIA card into the DAC of my AVR it was OK but not great. I then changed to a MF V-link (async USB to SPDIF/COAX) and the sound took a huge leap in quality. I then bought an external DAC and the put this between the V-Link and the amp again big improvement. Later a clean power supply for the V-link and DAC improved things again. I now think that the sound is better than my Arcam DV27 and would not go back to playing CDs.

What I am trying to say is yes you can get good sound from a laptop/PC but you have to look at the route the sound file is taking from the disk, through the software and on to your DAC. It will cost you nothing to download something like Squeezebox server (LMS) and Squeezeplay onto your laptop and try streaming out to your DAC. I would use the lossless files as a test against a CD. You do not say what your DAC is, does it have a async USB input? If not then if you are getting sound that is approaching what you would like then consider something like a MF v-link between the DAC and the laptop.

All of the devices you have listed do exactly what you can do with a PC/Laptop and have internal DACs. Their limitation is that they have small/poor user interfaces that would not be a match for a laptop screen. They can be improved however by using a tablet or laptop to control them. The difference in sound quality between each of these devices is really going to be about the quality of their USB inputs and DACs. Their ability for display and controlling the music is not going to differ from a laptop. Personally I would not spend the money on a dedicated streaming device because I now know that I can match this with a PC and with greater overall functionality.

Take a look at this as it has some good info on setting up computer based streaming. You do not say what OS you are using as MAC and PC vary considerably in what you can do and how you set them up to sound good.

http://www.linkwitzlab.com/dCS_Guide_to_Computer_Audio(2).pdf
 

EN

Standard Member
Thank you for the very helpful advice, I will start reading the link now.
No, my DAC has no USB input.
Unfortunately, MF has no representative in my country, can you recommend un alternative for the USB to SPDIF converter?
Or I can always buy it from the net.
In general your suggestion is that dedicated USB to digital out converter will sound better than my onboard optical out on my SONY laptop (Windows 7, 64 bits, pretty fast machine)?
 

larkone

Member
Try this list - The Well-Tempered Computer though I think the v-link is one of the cheapest. Async USB should always give a better sound than using the internal sound card of your laptop - even the SPDIF output. Nothing to do with the speed as streaming music takes very little processing power. Most of the devices you listed are basically PCs with a cut down OS (usually some linux variant) and DACs.
 

EN

Standard Member
Thank you Larkone,
I can order V-link, I checked.
Because I can get Pioneer N-50-s at really good price, I'm wondering if the sound of the Pioneer via USB will be equal to the V-lin (I'm not sure if Pioneer is async) or not.
I'm considering the Pioneer, because the laptop can't always (at all the time) be part of my sound system and I can use it as a backup option.
 

larkone

Member
The Pioneer has async usb for attaching computers, you might want to check if it can do gapless if that is a requirement. I seem to remember that it didn't when it came out but you should check
 

EN

Standard Member
Larkone, finally I got my MF V-link II USB to SPDIF convertor.
It sounds fine. I haven't yet compared it to the previous set up - laptop connected via optical link to the SONY JA555ES Minidisk, used as a convertor.
Because my Minidisk can't accept 96 kHz sampling rate, only 48 kHz, I think to keep output of the V-link to 44.1 kHz (almost every lossless track I have is at this rate), not 48KHz. Will it be fine?
 

larkone

Member
The output rate is set by the PC not the v-link, it just passes through the same bitrate and sampling frequency. I understood that the JA555ES sampling frequency is 44.1kHz and it has a sampling rate converter to change 48kHz to 44.1kHz so you can record Sat broadcasts etc. If your music is all 16/44.1 then this should not be an issue. I would save up for a better DAC as the Sony is quite old now. The V-Link gives you the advantage of looking for a S/Hand DAC that only has SPDIF input (rather than USB) and there are now a lot of high quality DACs on the s/hand market that have dropped a lot in price partly because of their lack of USB inputs.
 

EN

Standard Member
Thank you Larkone,
I am looking at these DACs:
audiolab M-DAC
CA DACMAGIC PLUS
MF M1-DAC
TEAC UD-HD1
In your opinion which on will sound better than my USB v-link/Minidisk DAC combo?
Best Regards
 

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