tonionc wrote:Thanks a lot for your message and all the comments and great advise on the outboard DAC. I posted a reply with pics earlier but I don't see it so I will try again.
OK, now I've seen al those new pics, and all I have to say is WOW. I just LOVE the look of some of the oddball vintage speaker designs. Those DQ-10s just look super cool, and the KEF speakers always look like fine English cabinetry (and sound as solid, elegant, and subtle too!)
tonionc wrote:I am very interested in making my digital music collection, currently on my mac and an external drive, sounds like CD quality. I have so much music and I love the convenience of making playlists and searching quickly for tunes.Unfortunately most is burned as MP3s, but I have as a goal now to burn all of my CDs in lossless format and try to share with my friends who have FLAC files.
Well, the MP3 thing is a bit of a problem. And the REALLY unfortunate part about it is that the better your system is, the WORSE those MP3s will sound, compared to original CDs or vinyl. MP3 is a very "lossy" way of compressing files. "Lossy" means that is actually is throwing away bits (information) to make the file sizes smaller--bits which, although they make up subtle, quiet, or seemingly insubstantial sounds on a recording, are KEY to that "WOW" experience we get when a system is really top-notch, and perfectly "dialed in". These highly compressed files may sound perfectly good on an inexpensive set of ear-buds, or on your car stereo, or through a boombox, but when you run them through some high-end home gear, you're going to be in for a rude awakening...
You see, once those bits are gone, no amount of technical magic, sophisticated digital sound processing, or esoteric speakers can re-create the original sound of that recording. In fact, the hore high-end a system is, the WORSE those highly-compressed MP3s will sound, because a high-end system has more resolution, and is capable of reproducing the signal it's being given with greater clarity, truth, and precision. If that signal is sub-par, or distorted, or missing important musical information, your high-end system will play it for what it is--distorted, compressed, and molested.
So if you've got a LOT of downloaded music that you got from the internet (and if it's the sort of music you got from free download sites, then it is probably HIGHLY compressed to speed downloads)--you gotta remember, the VAST majority of people who are engaged in music piracy on the internet are NOT audiophiles, and they are NOT concerned with the quality of the music, just the quantity they can download. I'd suggest going out and BUYING the CDs you really love (don't your favorite artists deserve some sort of token of appreciation in the form of royalties?), and just deal with the majority of everything else for what it is--free crap that you would never pay money for in the first place...
Actually, not all MP3's are created equally. Some sound OK on a decent system, and some sound like absolute crap. It's very dependent on the skills, software, and attention to detail of the person creatng the RIP in the first place. If they are primarily concerned with keeping files sizes down at all costs, then they will sound like they were recorded on a cheap cassette Walkman from the dashboard speakers of a '76 Nova. If the person making the RIP was actually trying to make a decent-sounding file and willing to have a slightly larger file size to do it, then sometimes an MP3 can sound OK--not great, not even CLOSE to the original CD, but OK. There are a LOT of variables in ripping CDs to MP3's--bit rate, error correction, compression rate, the particular software and CODEC used to perform the rip, even the OS of the computer can make a difference.
You've got a Mac, and you say you are using iTunes--you've got a coog combination for ripping your own music. If you change the settings of iTunes to default to "Apple Lossless" for ripping new CDs into iTunes, you will have the best quality you can get in digital copies of music for use in a media player (OK, FLAC is pretty darn good too, but its a ROYAL pain to use on Macs, and the plug-ins to get FLAC files to play in iTunes are VERY dicey...). Your file sizes will be a lot bigger using Apple Lossless, which can be a problem if you're porting a lot of your music to an iPod, but if you're primarily listening to your music through iTunes from your computer, through your stereo, file size shouldn't be a big issue--you can always get a bigger HD.
Now, one thing you need to know is that going back and re-ripping those MP3's into Apple Lossless format will NOT make them sound better--it will just take the same crappy-sounding files and make them three times as large. Once those lossy compression CODECs perform their evil magic and mercilessly sacrifice those precious bits to the soul-less Gods of the Download, those bits are GONE FOREVER, and no amount of technical mumbo-jumbo can bring them back. The only way to get those bits back is to go back to the original recording and re-rip your music from the source...
tonionc wrote:Could you tell me more about these outboard DACS with TOSLINK capability? I noticed one on auidiogon (Cambridge Dacmagic) for a very reasonable price that appears to be able to enhance the computer stored music files as well as music coming from a cheaper DVD/CD player. What DACs would you recommend? Does getting a DAC take the place of having to buy a super nice CD player?
Almost all outboard DACs have TOSLINK inputs. This is the "plastic fiber optic" or "Digital/Optical" interface you see on a lot of new stereo gear. The port is a little square plastic port. If you are using a Mac or an Airport Express, the port that looks like a headphone jack (Apple calls it a "minijack") is actually a clever combination of a mini TOSLINK and a standard 1/8" stereo headphone jack. Some TOSLINK cables come with mini-TOSLink adapters, some don't. I picked up half a dozen of these adapters from a local computer parts store for less than $1 each...
My biggest complaint with TOSLINK is that it was never intended by Toshiba (they invented this interface) to be a high-bandwidth interface--it was originally designed to pass "control" information, like when you had a CD player and Cassette Deck hooked up to you rreceiver, and wanted to control all three components with one remote--or for providing the "synch" signals for dubbing from one format to another.
The electronics industry started using TOSLINK to carry PCM bitstreams sometime in the early 1990's, after Wadia came out with their digital seperates that used the AT&-ST glass fiber optic cable as an interconnect between transport and DAC. The AT&T-ST interface circuitry is expensive, the cables are difficult (and expensive) to make, and the licensing fees were considered prohibitive by most "consumer electronics" manufacturers, so even though the AT&T-ST interface was designed to be an EXTREMELY high bandwidth interface, capable of near-perfect precision, infinitesimal low loss (even over MILES of cable), and exceedingly low jitter and error rates, most of the comsumer-level manufacturers eschewed it for the cheaper (and far less precise) TOSLINK. Ultra-high-end manufacturers like Krell, Wadia, Proceed, AED, Esoteric, and Mark Levinson still offer the AT&T-ST interface on many of their digital components, and the difference is NOT subtle.
However, we must work with what we are given, and in the case of digital music from a computer, TOSLINK is pretty much the only game in town, at least if you are using an Airport Express. (it will sound WAY better, being fed through an external DAC than running the analogue outputs straight into your stereo!). If you can, I'd suggest using a glass-fiber TOSLINK cable though--even for short runs, it makes a BIG improvement.
As far as DACs go, well, I guess my first question is how much do you want to spend? The Benchmark DAC-1usb is what I own, for a number of reasons. First of all, I think it sounds great--as good (or even better than) "high end audio brands that cost twice as much. Secondly, the Benchmark has a plethora of inputs--TOSLINK, USB, Coax, XLR--and it offers RCA and Balanced XLR outputs too. Plus the Benchmark has an outstanding headphone amp on-board, and makes my AKG's really sing!
I'm sure there are other great DACs out there that other members prefer, andhopefully they will chime in on this thread.
The Entech is a pretty good DAC in the "bargain" price range--you can often get them for under $300 on EBAY. It sounds pretty good too--not as pristine and clear as the Benchmark, and perhaps not quite as warm and "musical" as the Musical Fidelity or PS Audio DACs, but for the price (1/3 these other brands) it's a real sleeper.
Speaking of Musical Fidelity, if you like that "Brit Kit" sound (and since you own KEFs, I assume you do), you need to listen to the Musical Fidelity DAC, and maybe if you can, listen to an older Meridian DAC too, like the Meridian 203. It can usually be had used for under $500, and it is a VERY sweet-sounding DAC. It has that subtle precision that good Brit gear has, but it also has a warm "real-ness" that is all to often missing in other high-end brands like Krell and Levinson.
tonionc wrote:My next buy will be interconnects and speaker wire, and then either a DAC or nicer CD player. Thanks for any thoughts on this. I never thought I would become obsessed but I can see how this could easily happen searching audio forums, sales, alwas wanting better sound. You are right, once you hear better sound it is hard to go back.
It is a never-ending spiral into the abyss of Audio Perfection. Abandon hope all ye who enter here...
tonionc wrote:Oh, I do use an aiport express and would love to still use this with much better sound quality It is so convenient! Thanks for the comments on the speakers. I thought the KEFs sounded good with my cheap old amp but now with the Carver system, they are incredibly powerful and the bass feels like I almost have a subwoofer with the tone function and sonic hologram features of the C-1. I may look for another pair just to have back up parts!
Well, it's good to know that there is another Mac guy on this forum--I think you are only the second person (after me) to have the Airport Express in their rig. It is a REALLY convenient way to get your music into your stereo--especially if you have a laptop. Once you get your music re-ripped into Apple Lossless from some original CDs, and feed that AirTunes bitstream into a decent outboard DAC, you will be ASTOUNDED that your digital music collection sounds so good!
tonionc wrote:I am not sure if it is worth the money to have the DQ10s refurbished (regnar service for about $1000) Maybe someday in the far future.
Can't you refurbish those speakers yourself--they seem to be pretty simple to work on. I've even seen a website where the owner changed the configuration of one of his speakers so the drivers would be in a "mirror image" configuration, and it seemed pretty simple. Swapping out or replacing drivers is a pretty straightforward operation--all you need is a screwdriver, wire cutters and a soldering iron...
Hopefully, all this info helps you in some way. I know it's a lot of info, but the subject of outboard DACs is a complicated subject. There are a LOT of variables--system synergy, budget, input versatility, cost-performance ratio, overall "sound", etc. Hopefully some of the other more knowledgeable folks will chime in with their opinions though.
Anyway, welcome to the forum. Now that we've got you hooked, you can pretty much give up any hope of ever having any money left in savings for the rest of your life though. Audio systems can be like crack--once you've had a taste of the REAL THING, you can't ever get enough...