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Will a good external DAC make an Average Transport sound fantastic?

Discussion in 'AV Receivers' started by Brett DiMichele, Apr 30, 2003.

  1. Brett DiMichele

    Brett DiMichele Well-Known Member

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    Hey All,

    I know this is sort of bordering on the sources section of
    the HTF but since I am talking about external DAC's I feel
    it's better suited in this section.

    If you take an average CD or DVD player and use it solely
    as a transport and mate it with a very good DAC will it
    make a tremendous improvement. Or is just purchasing a very
    high quality Player a better option?

    I am not looking to buy anything! I was just curious..
     
  2. glenn.arsenault

    glenn.arsenault Well-Known Member

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    That depends on costs vs perceived value. I had a mediocre Sony ES CD player that sounded "bright" and cd's played on it had a very 2 dimensional soundstage. So, I picked up a used Audio Alchemy DTI (clocking), a Audio Alchemy DDE (DAC)and the necessary cables (1 toslink from CD player to DTI, 1 digital from DTI to DDE, and 1 set analog from DDE to preamp). I think, I speant about $400 for the components and cables. The sound was transformed - no longer bright and a wide and deep 3 dimensional soundstage.

    I probably could have bought a new cd player, but the cost to achieve the same quality of sound would have been more than it cost me to use the external dac. Eventually, I did buy a higher quality CD player.
     
  3. Jonathan M

    Jonathan M Well-Known Member

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    In my opinion, there are 2 main things that make a CD player sound good:

    1. The DAC and it's implementation.
    2. The analog amplification stage after the DAC.

    Most transports sound the same in my experience, as long as they have reasonable jitter ratings etc. (And all do).

    Some external DACs may be better, some may not be. I have seen commercial DACs that are nothing more than the straight design from the DACs data sheet, using vanilla parts (NE5532 op-amps etc.) Others are better.

    The IDEAL solution is an all in one unit - ie a good DAC in the player. This eliminates the SPDIF connection which is fraught with design faults (Clock must be extracted from the signal, thus increasing jitter problems, the connectors used (RCA) are not 75 ohm, thus there are impedance discontinuities in the transmission line etc etc.).

    Ofcourse, if you are using the CD-player with a receiver and wish to apply bass-management, then using the receivers DACs would be the way to go (No extra ADC/DAC conversion).
     
  4. Michael R Price

    Michael R Price Well-Known Member

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    Brett,

    Give me 2 months and I'll tell you. [​IMG]

    I'm building Scott Nixon's simple/cheap yet very well designed DacKit (which is available for $250 as a finished product). The disadvantage of that DAC is its limited output capability since it has passive I/V conversion and no output stage, but you should be fine since you now have a good preamp. My CD player is a 14 year old (at one time, expensive) Denon, and I have a feeling it should be a big improvement over the complicated opamp-based circuit in there.

    I think a DAC, especially one that can reduce jitter or is less sensitive to it in the first place, should make more difference than the transport. Installing a new clock and playing with the damping and grounding in your transport could make a big difference for not much money, as well.
     
  5. Wynda

    Wynda Member

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    Hello to all,

    Just curious, Glenn, what kind of Sony ES CD player did you own? I have the CDP XA-20ES, which shares similar circuity with XA-7ES. The latter CD player was once a class A Stereophile product. The former has also been well rated in the past by Soundstage. In line with the current theme, I have moved onto an external DAC.

    Sony CDP XA-20ES -> Monarchy Audio DIP -> Perpetual Technology P3A DAC (modified by Dan Wright)

    Soundstage, solidity of bass, and overall clarity improved, with less overall harshness in the hi's. The trend in recent years has been to separate the transport from the DAC. In addition, the benefit of the latest DAC chip has also been touted. That's why there was such a sudden surge of manufacturers putting out standalone DACs.

    Now, I think the trend is gradually shifting towards to single unit players. If I were starting from scratch, I would go with a solid single unit player (CD or SACD). I would be interested in hearing other's opinions on this matter. Thanks.
    [​IMG]
     
  6. John Royster

    John Royster Well-Known Member

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    I agree with Johnathon...

    Good DAC and solid analog output stage are everyting. For simplicity's sake I'd like a "all in one" solution, but if you're on a budget find an excellent DAC and go for it. You can't over look the analog output stage.

    My 10 year old adcom CD player still sounds much more open and deep than my current sony 555es. It boasts a class A analog output (whether that matters or not I'll never know, but it does sound nice).

    Cheers!
    John

    -edit- To answer your original question Brett - YES!
     
  7. Brett DiMichele

    Brett DiMichele Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for the info All!!

    Mike,

    Let me know how the DIY DAC turns out.. I wasn't really
    considering an external DAC but I may.. It's either that
    or I am buying an expensive player.. But that's down the
    road anyway.. maybe 6 months or so [​IMG]
     
  8. Lynn Little

    Lynn Little Well-Known Member

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    "If you take an average CD or DVD player and use it solely
    as a transport and mate it with a very good DAC will it
    make a tremendous improvement."

    IMHO, yes! Here's my setup:

    AMC CD8b CD player, which uses Sony transport (
     
  9. Brett DiMichele

    Brett DiMichele Well-Known Member

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    Lynn,

    You could have just told me the hardware [​IMG] The cables..
    Well, I am not getting into that discussion I just make my
    own [​IMG]

    Sincerely though, thanks for sharing your equipment and
    opinion.

    I just don't know what route I will eventualy go. From the
    start I wanted to just go with a very good all in one and
    budget about a grand for it.
     
  10. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Well-Known Member

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    Getting a CD player, or for that matter a DVD player, with inaudible levels of jitter for under $500, maybe even substantially less, is not a big thing Brett. Keep in mind that a top shelf BB DAC is only about $5....Wow! However if you're interested, I'll send you a link where you can buy a product that'll test the performance capabilities of a CD player. Under $25 I think.
     
  11. Brett DiMichele

    Brett DiMichele Well-Known Member

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    Chu,

    I am sure the components themselves are fairly cheap. They
    usually are, right? [​IMG]

    Right now I am using my DVD Player and I used to just use
    my Receivers internal DAC but since I am not using a Pre
    I have to use my DVD's internal DAC which wasn't as good as
    the Receiver has in it.

    I have wanted a single disk standalone CD Player for a while
    now so the cost isn't an issue I want something built like
    a tank that looks like a piece of art and has good internals.


    Even if I went the DIY route and built my own external DAC
    I am still up a river without oars. My DVD Player doesn't
    have SPDIF output just TosLink. I would still wind looking
    for a good transport to use it with. I would much rather an
    all in one solution that's built right and you know it doesn't
    need an external DAC.

    Ohh hey did you get my last PM?
     
  12. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Well-Known Member

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    then that is another matter entirely Brett, you desire for something that's visually attractive and possibly not mainstream. I take it then that the Marantz 600 series, certain Sony's, Meridian's, Arcam's would not have the necessary visual appeal?
    things that are built like tanks don't necessarily last any longer and often get pushed out of the way by smaller, lighter tanks with newer technology...ask the Iraqui's [​IMG]
     
  13. Brett DiMichele

    Brett DiMichele Well-Known Member

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    Chu,

    LOL!! As usual a thought provoking reply [​IMG]

    Sure technology makes everything better,smaller and faster.
    I guess this is why when you rip into any CDP you find
    practicaly nothing! Lots of air space in there.. Just
    enough space to place a good brick (Heavy=Good!)[​IMG]

    Nah Meridian doesn't do much for me.. Same goes for the
    others mentioned...

    I really like the Sonic Frontiers Reference something or
    other.. You know, the one with the space ship-esque star
    orifice on the top... It opens and you drop the disk in and
    if you don't get your fingers outta there it probably whacks
    em off! That's cool to me [​IMG] ( Who needs 12 fingers anyway?)

    I wish Parasound would come out with a Halo CD-P to match
    my Preamp that would be nice... So okay I guess I should
    come up with a lists of what I want..


    Color... Silver....

    Blue lights if possible [​IMG]

    Must play CD's (well duh..)

    HDCD Decoding would be nice...

    24/96 at least

    Balanced output [​IMG]

    Very HQ internal DAC no external DAC wanted if I can avoid it..

    $1000.00 price cap (well that may be somewhat flexible)

    Did I mention blue lights? haha
     
  14. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Well-Known Member

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    If I come across something that's quality and not fluff I'll pass it along.
     
  15. Brett DiMichele

    Brett DiMichele Well-Known Member

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    Chu,

    No fluff? Good luck man! [​IMG]

    Remember though.. It HAS to have blue lights! heh

    Is there seriously anything "wrong" with liking "pretty"
    equipment?
     
  16. Scott Oliver

    Scott Oliver Well-Known Member

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    Splurge for the Shanling CD-100 - you know you want the blue light power of the Shanling!
    [​IMG]
     
  17. Brett DiMichele

    Brett DiMichele Well-Known Member

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    Damnit Scott,

    That's the one I've been thinkin about!

    Retail is what $1700.00 ? Found them on ebay for just over
    a grand.. but........... The sellers are shady.. Bank wire
    transfers to Malasia? Uhhhh nah!

    That is one beautiful piece of art though!
     
  18. ChrisHeflen

    ChrisHeflen Well-Known Member

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  19. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Well-Known Member

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    no doubt it's a work of art Chris. looks very cool!
     
  20. Michael R Price

    Michael R Price Well-Known Member

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    Well, there's lots of debate about where jitter comes from, how to reduce it and how much it really matters. There's one DIY audio guy (Peter Daniel) who *really* knows his stuff and tweaks his equipment a lot, listening for the differences. He built a truly high-end DAC using paralleled B-B PCM1704K (which, by the way, cost $30 each not to mention the support circuitry)... and reported that a large difference in sound quality came from using completely separate power supplies (transformer, rectifiers, etc) for each part of the circuit, even having separate supplies for the digital and analog sections of the DAC chips. Presumably this means that power supply noise is a significant contributor to jitter, and that jitter even on levels well below what we are used to in hi-fi equipment are audible. (He also built a CD player using the best transport available, and noted that damping was very important... that's something not paid attention to by many commercial players.)

    There is nothing wrong with onboard DACs, it's just that from what I've heard they just aren't as good as the best separate ones. In fact an onboard DAC could be theoretically better because it would not have to use the SPDIF translation.
     

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