Dipping into Digital

Audiogon Forum stalwart, Bifwynne, has been wondering how he can dip his toes into the digital waters without drowning.  Normally, when someone says they’re thinking about starting down a new audio path, like vinyl for example, the joking response is “Run!” But the good news here is that with digital music’s high degree of saliency, it’s not terribly expensive or elusive.  For the analog audiophile, however, there are a few things to learn in order to get the best sound.

These are some of your suggestions:

 Mgattmch: The simplest system I can think of is iTunes (free) and an AirPort Express ($99) for streaming and D/A. I use iTunes, on an iMac, and an AirPort Express for streaming and Toslink cable from the AirPort Express into a Pioneer Elite receiver to perform the D/A conversion. The results are very good to my ears.

Tboooe: The other option is to pick up a cheap Dac and connect the laptop directly via USB. The Schiit Modi Dac is only $99 and comes with a 15 day money back guarantee.

Paulsax: I think the easiest way to dip a toe it to get a free player (jriver – free, itunes if a mac, or foobar) and get a audioquest dragonfly outboard dac. output this to a amp, receiver or what do you have? and try it out. I’d skip worrying about sacd or dsd or many other acronyms and see if you like it. I would take some care in ripping your cd’s to your laptop. a couple minutes ahead of time may pay dividends later if you continue. several free programs like Exact Audio Copy will work just fine for you. If your a MAC guy consider ALAC and if a windows guy maybe FLAC. both are compressed but also lossless. Avoid mp3. very lossy. you can always go there later if you dont care but you cant go from mp3 to lossless unless you like fooling yourself! total cost about $250. option that may (depending on your system) would be other dacs like the HRT or peachtree idac. too many others to list here. just have fun.

Mallen123: load iTunes on your pc and copy all your CD’s to your computer in ALAC format (apple lossless – close to full CD quality).

Also get Pandora (free) on your PC so you can hear new music in what ever style your existing favorite bands play.

Whenever I hear a new band I like on Pandora, I buy the CD used on EBAY and copy it to my computer on iTunes. Much cheaper than buying new off iTunes at crappy MP3 resolution.

You can now do couple things –
1. transfer your ALAC songs to an apple or android smart phone. I have over 250 cd quality albums on my 64G Droid Bionic and play it thru my car audio, at the gym and when traveling.

2. Run your computer thru a USB DAC into your 2 channel system. There start at sub $200. You could also take the headphone out and split into RCA stereo and run thru aux channel on your pre amp, although that may not sound as good as USB thru a DAC. This way you can have all your CDs playing thru iTunes and never have to actually spin another CD.

3. SACD is worth it in my opinion, as you can buy a lot of SACDs used for 15 – 20 and it sounds closer to analogue than redbook. If you go this route consider the Oppo 105 as it also get’s you a pretty good USB DAC. You can run your computer thru this and use the Oppo to play SACD. Unfortunately, SACDs are copy protected so no easy way to rip them to iTunes.

 Ejlif: If you are looking to see if digital can sound as good as vinyl I think you will be disappointed if you only Budget a few hundred for a DaC. You have a nice system and a nice vinyl playback rig that might be near impossible to better with digital unless you are spending a lot on it. I don’t think of digital as equal to analog just necessary since a lot of music is not available or very expensive on vinyl. I think you would be very impressed with a dac like the ps audio perfect wave II via USB from you laptop and running audirvana playback software. This would allow you to dip your toe into the world of high resolution audio and see what you think of that too. You could even add the transport if you want to play sacd. You have a great system and I think it deserves this level of digital otherwise you may just be disappointed and be one of the ones that thinks digital sucks.

Vicdamone: For the longest time affordable digital simply didn’t do it for me. I ripped my 850 CDs, argh, and bought the Logitech Touch, The convenience alone was enjoyable but the sound was still flat.

My next step was auditioning the affordable (under $1,000 DACs) a few years ago. YUK.

Thanks to this forum I purchased a Metrum Acoustics NOS Octave direct from the manufacture for just over $600. This DAC finally produced acceptable sonics and I’m still on the cheap.

Today the affordable DAC selection has grown a great deal sonically. Because of my limited experience I have no actual suggestions. I’m confident you’ll be able to put together a listenable digital source without going nuts.

Gz3827:It seems to me the more rational approach for someone using ARC would be to investigate getting your hands on a higher quality DAC than some of those already mentioned (think $1000+ for new). Just make sure that if you buy new, you can use it on a 15-30 day trial basis with a no questions asked ability to return. I suspect you could do this either through The Cable Company or perhaps directly with some of the manufacturers. Alternatively, you could pick up a used, well regarded DAC that can be resold for minimal financial loss. Whatever DAC you try, its specs should indicate input/processing support for at least 96 kHz/24 bit hi-rez audio files and preferably for 192 kHz/24 bit files.

Before settling on any DAC, confirm that it can be connected (and how) both to your laptop PC on the one end and to your ARC gear on the other end. Also, you want to be sure that whatever equipment and connections are used that you’ll be able to use software on your laptop to control the playback through your Paradigms.

Regarding playback software, my suggestion is to obtain JRiver software for your laptop (free during a 30 day trial period and $50 if you want to keep it after that), and do any listening tests using either the WAV or FLAC audio file format. JRiver is designed for Windows computers (which is what I assume you have based on your original post) whereas iTunes software and the ALAC file format are more appropriate for Apple computers and devices.

My last recommendation is to do your testing using hi-rez audio files (WAV or FLAC) obtained from HD Tracks. In theory, it is more likely that you would hear a difference in sound quality by listening to 96 kHz/24 bit (or higher) hi-rez audio files than any audio files that you would “rip” from one of your redbook CDs (which would be 44.1 kHz/16 bit files). Also, in order to compare intelligently, make sure to download something from HD Tracks that you can also play via physical media whether vinyl and/or CD.

Even if you conclude that digital audio isn’t for you, you’ll have some fun exploring the possibility.


At the Audiogon office, we usually have Spotify or Amarra HiFi running alongside iTunes so we can work in our own “bubbles.”  Spotify Premium allows high quality streaming, and paired with a USB DAC, it really makes the daily grind more enjoyable.  Another thing we really like about Spotify is the social sharing aspect, so we can subscribe to each others’ playlists and discover new music easily.  iTunes itself isn’t great, but the extra EQ filters on Amarra HiFi takes the harsh edge off.  What other suggestions do you have?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s