CD or stream?

November 6, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

10 comments on “CD or stream?”

  1. I would have to agree re: the Bluesound's sound quality. My introduction to streaming and playing of my own files over the network was through a Node 2i, and while I had an initial period of supreme kid-in-the-candy-store happiness with it, I was frankly astonished at the improvement in sound I got when I 1) bypassed the Node's DAC for the one in my Stellar Gain Cell, 2) swapped out the Node for an Aurender N100H, and finally 3) bought a gently used DSD Jr to use in place of the Gain Cell's DAC. I've been happy as a clam since.

    By the way, that change from the Gain Cell's DAC to the DSDJr accounted for the smallest of those improvements, much less of a change than I had anticipated. That speaks very well for the Gain Cell DAC, a device I think gets short shrift among the PSA crowd.

  2. Hi, what I learned from my setup experience is NOT to use WLAN to a NAS storage and not a NAS at all. All my music files are now stored on a USB SSD direct connected to the Laptop where the music player software resides. It does not make any difference playing flac or wav since the computer is fast enough to deal with the decoding. Further there are software programs to convert from different formats to other ones. My CD player has nothing to work anymore. Whether a CD player may have a better sound than an external good DAC I am not sure on this. CD drive mechanics have own problems when aged and the laser can derate.

  3. I have a CD player that consists of two devices, one CD transport (this is the CD drive) and a separate device with the associated DAC. This CD player can only play normal audio CDs.
    I've tried all sorts of devices and audio formats (PCM, Streaming...) and I've come to the conclusion that the sound of this aging CD player in combination with its tube DAC is unbeatable. But I also have to admit that this CD player was also outrageously expensive.
    Depending on the music material there is only one better source for me and that is vinyl.

  4. This brings up my "observation" which I have been thinking of posting as a question To my ears, the PS Audio SACD Transport with DSD DAC playing a Red Book CD sounds more involving, "better" if you will, than playing Hi-Res files from Quobuz or Tidal using the Bridge II. Call it "gestalt" or whatever, I just gravitate toward CD's

    Conversely, I find that Red Book CD on my PS Audio chain feeding an ARC Ref 6 with Rogue Apollo monoblocks is becoming my "go-to" over vinyl on a VPI SSM with 3D 10.5" tonearm and various cartridges. (using PS Audio Stellar Phono which IS a marvelous device) The sound is so good that I marvel every time I fire it up, to the point that it's hard to imagine it being better.

    The DAC with card is connected to a WAP as my ATT U-Verse Router is about sixty feet away. I've been thinking that the upcoming AirLens might just improve things.......

    ps. I liked your "Cable" musings, Paul. I think that cables can make a hell of a difference, but frankly I am sick of the "flat-earth society" and they seeming infinite number of posts on any available audio forum, trying to save the deluded few from themselves. Full disclosure, I use mostly Kimber Select and Carbon and have spent some time listening at Kimber Kable Hq. While I may be jealous of the profit margins, I do not think that cable manufacturers are charlatans. PS audio, alone among audio manufacturers, has shared some pricing philosophy which I don't think the cable guys share!

  5. Not all rippers remove the CD Pre-emphasis and this can sound lees full.
    My Lumin removes this if found.

    The ripper has a lot to do with quality also.
    I stream .dsf whenever possible.

  6. If you're looking for high quality streaming DAC's, I have two of them that I can suggest to you, right off the top of my head.
    The first one, is made by Mcintosh.
    I hear that, that music streamer, gets out of the way, and just lets the music flow right threw it, and in to your speakers and in to your ears.
    I will also suggest the music streamer that's made by Carry Audio.
    Both of them, have user friendly interfaces.
    And just like the Mcintosh, it also gets out of the way and just lets the music flow right threw it.
    One or both of them, I don't remember which one of them, perhaps they both do.
    The turm I will use here, is Roon ready.
    You all can look both of these high end music streamer DAC's up.
    My only wish for either of them, is that they used vacuum tubes on the analog output stages of them.
    I say this because, take a gander at the price tags on both of these music streamers.
    They both will run you about 6000USD.
    Go figure this one!

  7. The Laufer Teknik Memory Player, and Memory Player Mini, present digital sound quite musically. The 432EVO Aeon Music Server has a built in ripper and it sounds very nice as well (I just reviewed it). Write back and tell Paul what other components you listen with.

  8. CD hands down, if you want to see it, play a stream of a movie HD or even UHD, then watch the same movie on DVD not even close in audio and visual quality. Streaming is convenient and easy, it ends there. Promoted by magazines of course and people follow their lead. CD like Vinyl depends on the quality of the production of the music. It's not the format it is the recording quality and care is taken in mastering.

  9. The often quoted three most important factors in choosing real estate are 'location, location, location'. Similarly for playing recorded audio they are, IMHO, 'isolation, isolation, isolation'. 🙂

    The way I currently view the issue is that, in theory you would expect that playing a FLAC (or any other format) file should sound better than playing the same content from an optical disc because you're eliminating the process that reads the data from the disc, assembles them into a PCM (or DSD) bit stream and passes it onto the DAC.

    That's 'in theory' but, as Robert in the Netherlands observed, that's often not the case! However, I don't think it's fair to automatically conclude that in general playing music from a CD sounds better than playing the digitally equivalent data sourced from a NAS or other streaming service. There are a number of other components in the set up that can markedly influence what you ultimately hear through your speakers. For example, as Paul mentioned, the sreaming device connected to your DAC that funnels the data from your NAS or streaming service can play a big role in determining the final sound, not to mention the DAC itself.

    I think that the best digital chain in a system is the one that achieves the best level of isolation of the actual musical data from electromagnetic interference. So that at the point of conversion from the digital realm into the analogue realm (the 'DAC') you are converting the most accurate bit stream in terms of the bit pattern ('bit-perfect') and bit clocking (timing).

    At this point in the evolution of digital computers and networking, the technology has at least 'guaranteed' bit-perfect delivery of digital information over vast distances and traversing many intermediate systems and routing points. However, this leaves one last vulnerability in the process of delivering music to us and that's where the concept of 'isolation' becomes all important. The process of transferring the bit-perfect bit stream to a DAC still involves the use of digital processes that are capable of 'distorting' the timely delivery of the bit stream to the DAC. So the better we can protect this 'timely delivery' from interference, the better sounding is the final result.

    'Isolation' schemes feature in many recent products. PS Audio's upcoming 'AirLens' is one example, isolating interference from upstream computer networking devices from the final (I2S) connection to a DAC. The Ted Smith designed DirectStream DAC Mark II is another example where great effort has gone into isolating upstream interference from the actual digital conversion to an analogue output. Reclocking and protocol converting devices such as Matrix Audio's X-SPDIF which endeavours to isolate the upstream interference of a noisiy USB input from the input to a DAC is another example.

    Suffice to say, there's much more to the story than simply accepting that playing a CD will sound better than playing its 'ripped' file equivalent.

  10. Hi, MikeK.
    You are absolutely right. There are many factors which can introduce errors in the digital and analog processing. In the digital world the error can (if done right) be reduced to zero. This with error correction, buffers, reclocking. What always is a challenge when it comes to the analog world. There all kind of signal interactions can happen. For me the designers of the analog part must be the heroes to inhibit or reduce all problems as far as possible when the commercial aspect allows it.

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