CD transport or DAC?

December 25, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

30 comments on “CD transport or DAC?”

  1. Paul says it right. The DAC makes the sound. But as I did would rip all CDs and get rid of mechanical transports forever. And with a PC you can play higher resolution music files too.

  2. If a digital cable is short then it is a digital cable, just a digital cable. And I am sure there is no difference in the sound quality Comparitve measurements from serious engineers has shown this.

    1. That is what I meant by disappointing some audiophiles.. I do not care about the engineers. Arguments from authority is dumb be intelligent enough to have your own opinion.Engineers have been known to be wrong sometimes.

      1. Good afternoon, and Mary Christmas Rolf!
        Perhaps maybe you can shed some light on this for me.
        I really want an SACD player.
        But the one I want, the money isn’t there for me to get it right now.
        But so I’m told, any blue ray player can play SACD’s.
        My question is, how true is that?
        And if I wanted to use the HDMI connection to get the I to S Squared digital connection to pass DSD to a DAC that has that exact same kind of a connection, would that work for me with a blue ray player that I can buy from a place like Walmart?
        Thanks in advance!

        1. Rolf,
          I agree & therefore the industry should stop using the term ‘Benchmark’
          & refer much more correctly to ‘Watermarks’ that have been achieved.

      2. Right, of course also engineers make errors. But all audio equipment you can buy was designed by engineers. And if a digital cable does create errors in the digital stream then either the cable is really scrap or the components to be connected have error in the design, either input or output circuit. If a digital cable would create errors then many computers won’t work. But all USB transfer for instance works absolutely perfect when putting GBytes of data to an external harddisk and back. But audio cable brands create a mind of superosity in the advertisements. In the pro world things have to work right from the start and these engineers know how to make this happen.

        1. First computers do not care about jitter. Second engineers pretended that the first solid state amplifier were superior because of inadequate measurements . third they claimed that the first CD player were perfect when they were awful.argument from authority really ?

          1. Yes, true in perhaps a generalized impression. But also there were quality differences between brands. There have also been good sounding silicon amplifiers and good and bad sounding vacuum tube amplifiers. Early CDs were not perfect because some complanies just tranfered the vinyl master on to the CD which created bad sound as I know by myself. The later CDs were much better. There are really good ones which I have and these sound also pretty good on a 30 years old portable SONY player when connected to my stereo system, not hi-end of course. Jitter, for modern DACs with reclocking jitter is no problem at all. If not reclocked then this might create sound influence. If there is jitter in the signal then the digital source is the reason because of timing errors or delays, not the cable. If there might be extremely strong electric and/or magnetic fields in direct vicinity of a cable then the signal may be distorted. But to my experience this is seldom the case.

    2. I was advised by an engineer from a highly respected digital audio company that if the cable between the transport and dac was too short unwanted reflections could occur and for that reason they recommended using a 1.5metre cable rather than a 1m one. The company didn’t make cables, so no vested interest, and recommended a ‘Transparent’ brand cable. To my surprise it wasn’t the most expensive one in the range either. I was fortunate to find a 2m one at a good price and preferred it over the 1m Audio Note cable I was using. I might get round to swapping back one day to check that preference but meanwhile I’m just enjoying the music. 🙂

      1. Good point. Yes, reflections can happen when a cable is not properly terminated by a specific resistance. Since USB has certainly a standard definition for this a hardware developer should implement this correctly. Also the cable should have the right wave resistance which I think is defined too. But there may be not all producers of USB cables do this right, but I don’t have any evidence on this.

    3. Fortunately, I have damaged hearing & old ears, therefore the alledged audio differences between speakers, amps, DACs, wires, etc, etc don’t mean anything to me. Therefore, I enjoy lossy Spotify Premium as background music thru inexpensive gear. Now, TV/movie dialog, that’s a different story.

      1. Right there with you DaddyO..

        I still enjoy reading and interacting with the “jewelry” of electronics , tech advances etc

        But knowing and accepting i cannot hear what others are hearing allows at time more enjoyment of the music..

        My anecdote:
        Best sound ive ever heard was driving my dads 72 Corvette, ft.laud strip, top down, cranking Stones’ Satisfaction thru crappy FM radio…
        Exhilarating driving adolescent hormones!

  3. As Paul said, I also believe the DAC contributes the greater improvement when comparing transports to DACs. Sven’s comment above alluded to a possibly even cheaper alternative, at least in the short to medium term, depending on what are your goals.

    If you plan to continue to store your music library in the form of optical discs then you could just follow Paul’s advice and leave it at that. However, if you’re open to a broader view, that is, to think about how you might store your music library into the future then you might consider using a ‘library’ of music files on some computer-based storage medium like (magnetic) hard disc drives (HDDs) or solid-state drives (SSDs).

    In this scheme, the ‘transport’ function of delivering music to your ears can be entirely eliminated. In some ways it simplifies the problem in that instead of requiring the ‘transport’ function each time you wish to listen to a CD, it becomes a ‘one-off’ task of extracting the music data bits from the CD and storing them in a computer file. From that point on you ‘only’ need to get the music bits from the file to the DAC, no longer requiring the transport each time you want to listen to the CD’s content.

    So, instead of buying an (inexpensive) CD player (and using its ‘digital out’ connection to a DAC), you can buy a general-purpose, optical disc drive designed to connect to a computer. (If you already have a computer with an optical disc drive then you’re already set!) The only other component you need is a computer program or app that can ‘read’ and decode the music bits on the CD and transfer them to a file. (These ‘apps’ are somewhat dramatically termed ‘ripping’ programs.)

    In some ways all you’ve done to this point is to ‘kick the can down the street’ because, depending on a number of factors, getting the bits from the computer file to the DAC can become expensive and complex but, in its simplest form, is quite straight-forward. One simple way to do this is to connect your computer to the DAC via a USB cable but, as Rolf comments above, a ‘simple’ cable connection presents another set of problems to the task of delivering the ‘pure’ (distortion-free, well-timed) bits to the DAC. (The computer is engulfed in a morass of electro-magnetic fields that often impact the music bit stream going to the DAC.)

    However, modern DACs coming onto the market are getting better at isolating the music bit stream from the deleterious effects of computer ‘noise’. The just-released PS Audio DirectStream DAC is one example that reportedly greatly reduces these effects on a USB connection.

    The point is, in the simplest terms, you can entirely eliminate your CD transport and still listen to your CDs’ contents long after they’ve been bannished to the back of a storage cupboard. 🙂

  4. A PC based music box is what I created for my stereo system. For ripping my CDs was EAC (Exact Audio Copy) which is almost freeware. There are also other commercial products of course. Another tool allowed me to download Amazon Music HD records and also stored this too on an external SSD storage using USB connection (cheap standard cable). Further cheap screened USB cable to my DAC. There are absolutely no problems feeding the DAC since it has an input buffer which is filled to some extent and the DAC uses the bits with its own clock. Music box software is Audirvana from France which works pretty sound on two of my computers. No mechanical transports. The only moving mechanics ist the fan of my computer. Superfast access to my music records. No careful feeding a CD transport anymore. I am glad with this setup.

  5. Yes it’s the DAC that makes the biggest difference and most older DAC’s suck as do their transports, but there are some vintage Philips or Philips based CD players with certain DAC’s like the 1541A with or without the Crown versions that sound great and are sought after. Typically described by those who love them….

    “It is very hard to put in words. The sound is very rich, full, mature, ripe, analogue, liquid, dynamic, and with huge macro dynamics” These 1541A DAC’s were expensive to produce because of the long time needed on the bench to manufacture and fine tune them which gave way to the cheap to produce DAC’s that followed.

    Philips/Magnavox and Philips based CD players also made some really good transports that can compete with today’s best transports if not exceed many, and the good ones have digital outputs if you choose to use today’s high quality DAC’s without spending a fortune on a new transport.

    1. True that!
      I had a Philips based Marantz – ‘CD80’ thirty years ago, built like the proverbial Sherman Tank…all metal drive unit.
      The DAC section was average, especially after I hooked up an Audio Alchemy DAC to it…there was no going back to the veiled sound of the internal DAC.
      I’m sure that if I had kept it that it would still be operating perfectly today as a transport.

      1. Yep those transports were great. Most vintage 16 bit DAC’s are average at best but certain ones are worth pursuing like those that have the 1541A Chip with single or double Crown or without, as well as a few 14 bit and 1 bit Philips DAC’s. I know the ones I’m after. Pretty much have what I want in vintage players. Love the modern 24 bit DAC’s too and the CD players that will play DSD like the OPPO 105D.

        1. My Marantz – ‘SA12 SE’ will accommodate-
          PCM: up to 384kHz/32bit.
          DSD: up to 256/11.2MHz.
          All signals are up-converted to DSD at 11.2MHz using Marantz’s proprietary MMM-stream converter within the player.

        1. Audio Alchemy – ‘DDE v1.0’ manufactured in Westlake Village, CA. (1992)

          Conversion: Bitstream, PDM-256x resampled.
          Data input sampling range: 40kHz – 50kHz.
          Digital filter: 4x.
          Analogue post filter: 3rd-order at 60kHz.
          Noise shaping: second-order.

          1. I have a vintage Conrad Johnson CD player with a 1 bitstream DAC like the Audio Alchemy. It’s basically a heavily modified Philips bitstream player. Many good reviews call it analog like in character and I can confirm that.

            Your My Marantz – ‘SA12 SE’ sounds like a killer CD player and it does 256 DSD. Nice.

            The OPPO 105D I was considering used has been discontinued. Only goes as high as 128 DSD but that would still sound great. They say due to everything going to online streaming they discontinued production but to me that’s a stupid reason since many people have lots of CD’s and DVD’s.

            Even by Oppo’s high standards the BDP-105 is an extraordinary Blu-ray player. Sure, it’s loaded with up-to-the-second features — 4K upscaling, 2D-to-3D conversion, and a high-quality USB 2.0 digital-to-analog converter — but what really makes the Oppo special is the sound.Jan 26, 2013

            Inputs: Digital, one USB-B, two USB-A, one HDMI, one coaxial, one optical
            Outputs: Digital, two HDMI; analog; 7.1-channel RCA, stereo RCA and XLR
            Formats: PCM up to 24-bit/192kHz, SACD, DSD64/128, DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital
            Dimensions: 16.8″ x 12.2″ x 4.8″
            Weight: 17.3 lbs.
            Price: $1299

            Can get a good used one for about half that price.

            1. Joe,
              You are aware that PS Audio used an OPPO laser pick-up/disc drive mechanism, I don’t know the model #, in their transport until OPPO stopped manufacturing them & now
              PS Audio use the Marantz – ‘SACDM-3’ laser pick-up/drive mechanism…the very same one in my SA12 SE.

              Sounds to me like you love ‘playing’ around with vintage home-audio gear, always looking for the next preloved bargain, & there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that
              …good for you, if that’s your thing.
              I’ve had too many years in Hi-Fi retail (1988-2010) to wonder about the good ol’ gear, that’s why I’ve settled on the Marantz – ‘SA12 SE’, a Musical Fidelity – ‘M6si500’ & a pair of DeVORE Fidelity – ‘Orangutan O/93’ floorstanders…my first pair of American made loudspeakers since my big,
              three-way, 15″ Cerwin-Vega party-bangers back in 1978 😉

              I’ve got friends who think that I’m nuts for spending that much on an SACD spinner when I could store everything
              on an SSD & put all of my CDs in storage in my garage…
              each to their own ✌

              1. I think sometimes we get carried away with the next best technology and sometimes we hear improvements that don’t exist. Once that is realized audiophiles get frustrated hitting a wall of hype and turn back to some of the better vintage stuff. If its not getting better going forward maybe it got worse so lets listen to the vintage stuff audiophiles have turned back to. Their reaction is usually wow this sounds pretty good because it sounds different from the new stuff. I do like playing around with the vintage stuff. A lot of times it hit bottom and starts rising in price while the newer stuff takes a dive and keeps diving. Someday you will be able to buy today’s expensive stuff really cheap as hype takes over the new stuff.

                1. Joe,
                  I don’t know about you, but I came to realise a while ago that my hearing has great days, good days, average days & bad days.
                  So, once I came to accept this fact about my own hearing then it became easier to rationalise not wasting more money by jumping down that Hi-Fi ‘rabbit hole’ onto the next best thing, unless it was absolutely, without a doubt, outstanding & affordable.

                  I’m very interested to see how well the MoFi – ‘Sourcepoint 10’ standmounters (Andrew Jones) & the PS Audio – ‘aspen FR20’ floorstanders (Chris Brunhaver) will be received by consumers & reviewers alike over the next twelve months.

  6. In Europe these early Philips transports are famous. They were made for professional usage like radio stations and are durable. But almost no chance here to get hold on one of these.

    1. Yep they were built great, people buy the CD players that have them for the transports and use the digital outputs if they choose to use a modern DAC. Some of those units have pretty good 16 bit DAC’s built in and some people are happy using them as is instead of adding a modern DAC. You can find them used on eBay but they are rare and expensive.

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