Where we set our system-level can make a tremendous amount of difference.
One of the problems I often see in digital audio is people hell-bent on setting the volume level in the app they are streaming from. In almost every case, this is exactly the wrong thing to do. Changing the playback level at the source is a really bad way to reproduce high-performance audio. For example, if you’re using Audirvana, iTunes, or Bit Perfect, the last place you want to adjust the playback level is in those programs. The moment you do that any chance of bit-perfect performance flies right out the window.
The exceptions to this are when you’re using a program like Roon, or our upcoming program Octave. There, the levels can be adjusted right in the music management program because the source remains bit perfect. What you’re actually doing, in that case, is controlling the DAC itself through the interface. Thus, it looks like it’s happening right in the app when actually you’re doing it just right.
It’s a common mistake to make and one we see all the time. Your preamp or DAC is where you should be adjusting the level.
Keeping digital audio at its bit-perfect best is always going to sound best.