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ARSCLIST  March 2015

ARSCLIST March 2015

Subject:

Re: Upgrading your old CD player - and more. was: another "coming demise of the compact disc" commentary

From:

Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 31 Mar 2015 16:27:57 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (206 lines)

Alex, also note that there are other options in the price range of the DAC2. Check out especially 
Mytek's DAC, which has similar features at a similar price. If you want to look at lower-cost 
option, Cambridge Audio's DAC has gotten good reviews. Also note that several disc players also 
allow external inputs to their built-in DACs, among them some Cambridge and Oppo models. For 
computer audio, it's also worth exploring the USB plug-in DAC/headphone amps. Audioquest was early 
in this space with their Dragonfly, which has been well-reviewed. I have a Cambridge DacMagicXS, 
which works very well with my Audio-Technica ATHM50 headphones but is a little to "reserved" for my 
liking with my Sennheiser HD650 headphones. LH Labs also makes the Geekout in this category.

So you have three different product types to consider:

-- standalone disc players that allow external inputs to their DACs, for instance to stream audio 
from a computer via a USB connection
-- robust self-powered standalone DACs that are acting as a "preamp" by providing system-wide volume 
control and switching between multiple inputs. The Benchmark and Mytek (and others) are in this 
category.
-- plug-in USB DAC/headphone or line amplifiers for computer audio. These are the simplest and 
cheapest option, and some are very well reviewed.

To my ears, every DAC sounds different, so if you can't get to a store to do comparative listening, 
then buy from places that allow you to return something if it doesn't sound good to you. There are 
sound (pun intended) reasons why DACs sound different -- different approaches to jitter, different 
choices and implementations of converters, different designs of analog stages, different approaches 
to USB interfaces, etc.

-- Tom Fine

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Alex McGehee" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Tuesday, March 31, 2015 4:10 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Upgrading your old CD player - and more. was: another "coming demise of the 
compact disc" commentary


> Thanks Tom.
>
> Alex
>
> On Mar 31, 2015, at 3:35 PM, Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>
>> Hi Alex:
>>
>> DAC2 does DSD and does 192/24 from the USB interface. I think it has a new and said to be 
>> improved circuit for jitter reduction and maybe a new and said to be improved analog section. 
>> There also may be more inputs on some versions of the DAC2. Study Benchmark's website for facts 
>> and details. They're nice folks, too, so don't be bashful about calling them up and asking 
>> questions.
>>
>> -- Tom Fine
>>
>> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Alex McGehee" <[log in to unmask]>
>> To: <[log in to unmask]>
>> Sent: Tuesday, March 31, 2015 3:13 PM
>> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Upgrading your old CD player - and more. was: another "coming demise of 
>> the compact disc" commentary
>>
>>
>>> Hi Tom:
>>>
>>> There are no dumb questions, right? What's the difference between the Benchmark DAC1 (which I 
>>> probably could afford) and the DAC2 which might make me wait if there was a lot more than just 
>>> the thousand dollar price tag separating the two? Thanks, as always, for your enlightening 
>>> prose.
>>>
>>> Cheers,
>>> Alex (McGehee)
>>>
>>> On Mar 30, 2015, at 5:37 PM, Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>>>
>>>> Hi Peter:
>>>>
>>>> An example of an external DAC that is designed to reject jitter is the Benchmark DAC1 and DAC2. 
>>>> Available direct from Benchmark. There are many other examples. The other thing about a 
>>>> high-quality external DAC like a Benchmark is that they build a super analog stage after 
>>>> conversion. Many CD players go the most cost-effective route, using either a minimal-parts 
>>>> design and/or cheap parts. Denon has a reputation being better than average, so you may already 
>>>> be working with a great design. Do you not like the sound of your player? I think you live in 
>>>> NYC, which means you can actually take your player to a hifi store (they still have them in the 
>>>> city, I envy you!) and try out external DACs as well as newer-vintage stand-alone players. 
>>>> Given the vagueries of room acoustics and speakers, I recommend you bring a pair of headphones 
>>>> you trust. One mark of a good DAC and for that matter a good stand-alone disc player these days 
>>>> is that it has a high-quality headphone amp.
>>>>
>>>> Keep in mind that no 2-channel stand-alone DACs that I know of can decode a digital signal from 
>>>> a DVD movie disc. Some can decode DVD-Audio discs, as long as the player is sending real-deal 
>>>> 2-channel PCM data. Some disc players have built-in facilities to trans-code movie-sound 
>>>> formats to PCM-over-SPDIF that DACs universally understand. Bottom line, in most case, 
>>>> movie-sound will need to come out of the player's analog outs and the SPDIF coax or optical 
>>>> cable will be for CD audio and perhaps 2-channel DVD-audio. I have not seen an external DAC 
>>>> that decodes SACD discs, even those that decode DSD files. But just because I haven't seen such 
>>>> things doesn't mean they don't exist!
>>>>
>>>> -- Tom Fine
>>>>
>>>> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Peter Hirsch" <[log in to unmask]>
>>>> To: <[log in to unmask]>
>>>> Sent: Monday, March 30, 2015 5:02 PM
>>>> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Upgrading your old CD player - and more. was: another "coming demise of 
>>>> the compact disc" commentary
>>>>
>>>>
>>>>> Tom,
>>>>>
>>>>> Regarding the last paragraph of your post, could you point us towards some
>>>>> online or print source that illustrates the process you describe? As I have
>>>>> most fully demonstrated time and again on this list, I am a technical
>>>>> ignoramus and need more explicit directions even when it comes to what I am
>>>>> sure is a most simple procedure. My current CD (actually a DVD) player is a
>>>>> fairly decent Denon unit but it must be over a decade old at this point and
>>>>> no doubt could use an upgrade. I had been considering asking the list for
>>>>> recommendations, assuming one can still purchase a decent CD player
>>>>> nowadays.
>>>>>
>>>>> As long as I have the floor and am asking semi-dumb, slightly off-topic,
>>>>> questions, I'd like to address this to the list in general:
>>>>>
>>>>> I am wondering if there is such a thing as a DVD player that does not
>>>>> require you to turn on the video that it is attached to tell what the hell
>>>>> you are listening to if you are using it simply as an audio player?
>>>>> Recently, I finally purchased a flat screen TV, with the idea that it would
>>>>> mostly be used to watch movies and classical music concert/opera on DVD and
>>>>> secondarily as a satellite music system in my TV area. I thought that
>>>>> purchasing a DVD player and sound bar each costing several times the
>>>>> minimum price would mean that I would have a fairly pleasant listening
>>>>> experience whether watching video or just enjoying music. Not up to my
>>>>> Mackie monitors that I adore listening to LP, CD, cassette, 78 (FM even
>>>>> radio) on in my audio lair, but at least decent.
>>>>>
>>>>> Wrong.
>>>>>
>>>>> Even though I thought I was dealing with someone at Crutchfield (which I
>>>>> have been pretty happy with in the past) who knew what he and I were
>>>>> talking about when I settled on a $500 sound bar (you can get one for way
>>>>> less than $100 at Tiger Direct and elsewhere) and DVD player maybe in the
>>>>> $200 range (ditto), I ended up with a player that shows a timing of the
>>>>> track playing, but does not identify what track that is, assuming that you
>>>>> will have the TV on and can check onscreen. I was not planning on running a
>>>>> 53" flatscreen just so I would know what tune or movement I am listening
>>>>> to. Aside from that, despite telling the salesman that I had high audio
>>>>> standards based more on the traditional audio than on home cinema concept
>>>>> because many of my DVDs are of classical music in concert or opera and I
>>>>> was not interested in how the nuclear phaser blasts shook the walls or how
>>>>> viscerally intense the fist crunching fights sounded, what came from the
>>>>> bar literally made me nauseous. Unless I am playing polyphonic choral music
>>>>> at such meditation-low levels that it is impossible to hear how bad the
>>>>> sound quality really is I am rolling my eyes in disbelief at what purports
>>>>> to be music the whole time. I am willing to junk everything other than the
>>>>> TV and start over if there are recommendations. I suppose I could just set
>>>>> up a traditional old fashioned setup with an amp and traditional speakers,
>>>>> but I did feel that the compactness of the amplified soundbar was appealing
>>>>> and wouldn't necessarily be such an impediment to decent sound. Maybe I was
>>>>> just wrong.
>>>>>
>>>>> Am I the only one out there that has wrestled with this?
>>>>>
>>>>> Peter H.
>>>>>
>>>>> On Mon, Mar 30, 2015 at 12:40 PM, Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]>
>>>>> wrote:
>>>>>
>>>>>> As long as it's new remastering done with care and precision, I prefer
>>>>>> high-resolution downloads. I miss the physical artifact, but most of the
>>>>>> time I'm replacing an atrocious-sounding CD and can keep the booklet if I
>>>>>> need liner notes. The problem with HD downloads is that some sound really
>>>>>> good (to my ears, the new Blue Notes done by Bernie Grundman sound _much_
>>>>>> better than the toothpaste-compressed "RVG Edition" CDs or the
>>>>>> whimpy-sounding early-era CDs, to cite one example), but others are just
>>>>>> the 96/24 versions of ill-conceived recent-era remasters. Another problem I
>>>>>> hear in some old favorites is that the master tapes are clearly
>>>>>> deteriorated, with audible dropouts, bad splices and high frequency loss in
>>>>>> spots. It's too bad that now when there's technology to make really
>>>>>> nice-sounding digital remasters, the old tapes are falling apart.
>>>>>>
>>>>>> After high-rez, I usually prefer CD. There have been a few really good LP
>>>>>> reissues in recent times. Depending on your hearing aesthetic, you might
>>>>>> prefer Chad Kassem's (Analogue Production) all-analog LP reissues of RCA
>>>>>> Living Stereo albums, or you may prefer the SACD or high-rez download
>>>>>> versions. Both are superior, to my ears, to the original LPs and the
>>>>>> earlier-era BMG CD reissues. I've been intrigued with the recent emergence
>>>>>> of some younger LP cutting aces. It's nice to see some guys a good bit
>>>>>> younger than me learning the difficult craft and turning out consistently
>>>>>> nice work.
>>>>>>
>>>>>> One other thing about CDs. People still using 1980s or 1990s consumer CD
>>>>>> players are missing a lot of quality contained on the shiny 5" spinners.
>>>>>> Get yourself a modern DAC and, assuming your old transport still works
>>>>>> properly (not always the case, belts wear out and lubricant gel becomes
>>>>>> pastey over time), hook it up via SPDIF coax or optical cable. If the DAC
>>>>>> has good jitter rejection. You might be amazed how much better your CDs
>>>>>> sound. Many early players simply could not deal with jitter, and many early
>>>>>> built-in DACs did not do a good job with the Nyquist rolloff/filtering.
>>>>>> Much progress has been made, and some modern DACs with excellent jitter
>>>>>> rejection and good sound quality retail well south of a grand.
>>>>>>
>>>>>> -- Tom Fine
>>>>>>
>>>>>>
>>>>>>>
>>>>>>>
>>>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>
>
> 

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