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Music PC and CA DACMagic

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Vue2AStill

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Hello friends,
I have gone through several threads on this forum about the CD playback, jittter, role of DACs and upsampling DACs from members like Venkat, Ajinkya, Nishanth, MoserW etc. They were extremely informative and enlightening. In fact I have gone through this thread several times:
http://www.hifivision.com/cd-players/2745-cd-player-ext-da-converter-8.html
and found it extremely informative, though it also covers wireless streaming.
This thread also compares Beresford and DACMagic.

But I still chose to post this thread, as I have a specific requirement. I want to build a low-power-consuming "Music PC", not an HTPC. I have lost a few CDs because of some spots formation on my audio CDs. So I have started ripping to FLAC (level 6) using Exact Audio Copy. I finished about 25 CDs so far. So I want to firstly back up the Audio CDs and also get the convenience of playing from a PC.

I have a CA 540D V2 to play back my CDs.

Could somebody please advise me on the 3 items below:
[1] If I build a low-power-consumption Intel Atom PC (hardly 60W) and connect it to a Cambridge Audio DACMagic using USB to playback FLAC files, would I get the same or better sound quality than the analog stereo output of the 540D V2? To complete the rest of the audio chain, I have a Denon 1909 AVR and a pair of Monitor Audio RS6s. I am asking this question because, I could not audition a CA DACMagic so far.

[2] Would the stereo imaging and realism improve with PC+DacMagic, compared to 540D V2? i.e. would the Denon 1909 + MA RS6 pair actually reveal any difference between 540D V2 and DAC Magic?

[3] Could you refer me to a genuine Cambridge Audio dealer in Chennai. The one from whom I bought my 540D V2 has stopped selling CA stuff, due to lack of cooperation from the CA distributor. I would like to audition DACMagic.

As always, thank you very much for your help.
 

reignofchaos

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Not sure about the DACmagic but I got an Asus Xonar Essence STX for my bedroom desktop recently and its an absolutely stunning sound card. Paper specs are better than the DACmagic too and the price is a really low 8000 rupees

ASUS Xonar Essence STX soundcard review

It obliterates the analog outs of my EMU 1212M in transparency, imaging, naturalness and comes ridiculously close to my Audiozone DAC-1 which costs nearly five times as much and is packed to the gills with exotics. The mid range is almost tube like and the top end is delicate, detailed and non fatiguing. At 8000 odd rupees, its an absolute steal. I'm pretty much sure it will beat every single CD player out there under 30 grand.
 

venkatcr

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[1] If I build a low-power-consumption Intel Atom PC (hardly 60W) and connect it to a Cambridge Audio DACMagic using USB to playback FLAC files, would I get the same or better sound quality than the analog stereo output of the 540D V2? To complete the rest of the audio chain, I have a Denon 1909 AVR and a pair of Monitor Audio RS6s. I am asking this question because, I could not audition a CA DACMagic so far.

You have to have a decent sound card. If you have that, the PC with DACMagic, should be better than the 540D. The DAC of the DACMAgic is equivalent to the 640 if not the 740, so it will certainly beat the sound of 540D. I am assuming the 540D is equivalent to the 540C.

Without a good sound card, you will be dependent upon the audio capabilities of the Mobo and that may prove a hindrance.

[2] Would the stereo imaging and realism improve with PC+DacMagic, compared to 540D V2? i.e. would the Denon 1909 + MA RS6 pair actually reveal any difference between 540D V2 and DAC Magic?

You are currently using the amp and speakers you have specified. So if you change just the DAC in terms of a better one, the whole system should be better than what you have now. The speakers and amp are constants and will not affect the chain.

[3] Could you refer me to a genuine Cambridge Audio dealer in Chennai. The one from whom I bought my 540D V2 has stopped selling CA stuff, due to lack of cooperation from the CA distributor. I would like to audition DACMagic.

This is tough call. Though people like Cressida and Grand Cinema talk about it, they do not have a demo piece. The best for you would be to call the national distributor of CA, and check with him.

Cheers
 
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moserw

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Depends...
Not sure about the DACmagic but I got an Asus Xonar Essence STX for my bedroom desktop recently and its an absolutely stunning sound card. Paper specs are better than the DACmagic too and the price is a really low 8000 rupees

At 8000 odd rupees, its an absolute steal. I'm pretty much sure it will beat every single CD player out there under 30 grand.

Totally agree here.

I have not gotten a DAC yet so cannot comment on that. In fact I have not yet gone high-end with regards to the PC, instead have gone the powered speakers route with Audioengine A5. I am planning semi high-end with Genelec monitors very soon so will keep you posted on that. If that does not work out then planning on going with a DAC. If you do audition the DacMagic or get it for yourself then do post some reviews about its performance. I have yet to audition it myself, but that's a no go here in Hyderabad as of now.
 

thevortex

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Not sure about the DACmagic but I got an Asus Xonar Essence STX for my bedroom desktop recently and its an absolutely stunning sound card. Paper specs are better than the DACmagic too and the price is a really low 8000 rupees

ASUS Xonar Essence STX soundcard review

It obliterates the analog outs of my EMU 1212M in transparency, imaging, naturalness and comes ridiculously close to my Audiozone DAC-1 which costs nearly five times as much and is packed to the gills with exotics. The mid range is almost tube like and the top end is delicate, detailed and non fatiguing. At 8000 odd rupees, its an absolute steal. I'm pretty much sure it will beat every single CD player out there under 30 grand.

The Essence for 8K?? ROC - you have got yourself an unbelievable deal there. Did you get it locally or import it? I got the Xonar D2X at around that price a few months back...

I am not too much into headphones so did not think about getting Essence myself.
 

thevortex

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Vue2, I would recommend going through the following links for building the perfect music PC:

cMP (cics Memory Player)

Computer Audio Asylum - cMP - the open source high-end Memory Player - cics - December 30, 2007 at 05:42:01

The Art of building Computer Transports

I like the concept very much and am excited to see what the cMP player would do. While it played on my laptop, I could not get it to work on my HTPC. For some reason its strategy of loading the song onto RAM did not work there - although I have 2 GB of RAM.

Am also interested to see what the rest of the members here think about it. The concept expressed about the inherent jitter introduced by a disk spinning is very interesting. The author (in the given link) claims that a WAV file with cue sheets being read off a PC hard drive is far less prone to such jitters. A very interesting - if an offbeat - point.
 

reignofchaos

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The Essence for 8K?? ROC - you have got yourself an unbelievable deal there. Did you get it locally or import it? I got the Xonar D2X at around that price a few months back...

I am not too much into headphones so did not think about getting Essence myself.

Bought it locally with a full 3 year warranty. Yup the pricing is unbelievable. I'm really curious to compare this sound card to the usual suspects - DACMagic, Zero DAC, Beresford DAC. Anyone in bangalore game?
 

smedhavi

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Hi Vue2AStill,

Venkat has already provided the best answers that I could think of.
Just wanted to add one point:

[2] Would the stereo imaging and realism improve with PC+DacMagic, compared to 540D V2? i.e. would the Denon 1909 + MA RS6 pair actually reveal any difference between 540D V2 and DAC Magic?

The Denon 1909 seems to be the weakest link in the chain. It is a pretty good AVR, but when it comes to music, an integrated analog amp would make a big difference. I have personally compared Denon 2809 with NAD C372 amp working with MA RS6 speakers. The difference was pretty obvious.

Regards,
Sharad
 

gopi

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moserw and other hyd folks, your lucky day.
I have the DACmagic and the Beresford with me now and you can drop by and audition.
I know folks will ask a lot of question. Will comment on the performance of both shortly.
 

moserw

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Depends...
moserw and other hyd folks, your lucky day.
I have the DACmagic and the Beresford with me now and you can drop by and audition.
I know folks will ask a lot of question. Will comment on the performance of both shortly.

That's great Gopiji. Let us know when and where and I will surely drop in. This should hopefully settle it for me personally on which to order. Awaiting your reviews!
 

moserw

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Depends...
Vue2, I would recommend going through the following links for building the perfect music PC:

cMP (cics Memory Player)

Computer Audio Asylum - cMP - the open source high-end Memory Player - cics - December 30, 2007 at 05:42:01

The Art of building Computer Transports

I like the concept very much and am excited to see what the cMP player would do. While it played on my laptop, I could not get it to work on my HTPC. For some reason its strategy of loading the song onto RAM did not work there - although I have 2 GB of RAM.

Am also interested to see what the rest of the members here think about it. The concept expressed about the inherent jitter introduced by a disk spinning is very interesting. The author (in the given link) claims that a WAV file with cue sheets being read off a PC hard drive is far less prone to such jitters. A very interesting - if an offbeat - point.

thevortex,

Cannot seem to get the cMP player to work. Tried on Vista and XP. Does not give any error as such, just that the player loads and then exits. Diagnostics too don't reveal anything. Interesting concept but frustrating in not being able to get it to work. Thanks for sharing anyways. Guess its back to XMPlay and Foobar for the time being.
 

gobble

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moserw and other hyd folks, your lucky day.
I have the DACmagic and the Beresford with me now and you can drop by and audition.
I know folks will ask a lot of question. Will comment on the performance of both shortly.

You should be jailed and agree to be released only when you publish the reviews :D

Starting the countdown ... 99... 98 ... 97 ...

Regards
 

thevortex

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thevortex,

Cannot seem to get the cMP player to work. Tried on Vista and XP. Does not give any error as such, just that the player loads and then exits. Diagnostics too don't reveal anything. Interesting concept but frustrating in not being able to get it to work. Thanks for sharing anyways. Guess its back to XMPlay and Foobar for the time being.

Moserw - actually I got it working on my laptop which has only onboard audio and let me tell you it was superb! It was far far better than whatever I have been hearing on Foobar, XMPlay and the others.

But I have not had luck configuring this on my HTPC. I have not really had time to dedicate on this. Lately I have been playing around with the Xonar D2X drivers. I found a hack on Essence STX drivers and since I have loaded those its been fantastic to have output via ASIO instead of directsound.

Hmm.. I was actually looking forward to more responses from the forum regulars on this type of audio system setup and also about the 'jitter' claim. Somewhat surprised that this did not get too much attention.

Would this be worth a separate thread, I wonder.

Also Moserw - the guide (given in the link) specifies a lot of dos and donts regarding setup. Maybe if we follow that we can achieve a different result as far as cMP is concerned. If and when I get this working on my HTPC I will come back and share results.
 

Vue2AStill

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Hi Vue2AStill,

Venkat has already provided the best answers that I could think of.
Just wanted to add one point:



The Denon 1909 seems to be the weakest link in the chain. It is a pretty good AVR, but when it comes to music, an integrated analog amp would make a big difference. I have personally compared Denon 2809 with NAD C372 amp working with MA RS6 speakers. The difference was pretty obvious.

Regards,
Sharad

Thank you Sharad. Where did you notice the difference? i am curious to know. Is it the bass transients, mid range, the high frequency detail or the sound staging?

I read about Class A and Clas AB amplifiers that are normally used for power amplifiers. Class AB introduces some distortion at low amplitude of the music signal. Class A is inefficient in the use of power. Would somebody know which design Denon 1909 uses? This is purely for academic interest!

Would the Denon 1909 actually have 7 identical discrete amplifiers, as claimed? Or are there compromises here too?
 

Vue2AStill

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You have to have a decent sound card. If you have that, the PC with DACMagic, should be better than the 540D. The DAC of the DACMAgic is equivalent to the 640 if not the 740, so it will certainly beat the sound of 540D. I am assuming the 540D is equivalent to the 540C.

Without a good sound card, you will be dependent upon the audio capabilities of the Mobo and that may prove a hindrance.



You are currently using the amp and speakers you have specified. So if you change just the DAC in terms of a better one, the whole system should be better than what you have now. The speakers and amp are constants and will not affect the chain.



This is tough call. Though people like Cressida and Grand Cinema talk about it, they do not have a demo piece. The best for you would be to call the national distributor of CA, and check with him.

Cheers

Thank you Venkat, for your detiled reply.
1. I intend to use the USB port to connect to the DACMagic. Do you think i actually need a sound card with coax out? Sound cards with stereo coax out will be more expensive than regular sound cards.

2. ''So if you change just the DAC in terms of a better one, the whole system should be better than what you have now.'' I did not exactly follow this. Do you mean to say by changing the DAC alone there will be a perceivable improvement, with amp and speakers remaining the same? Or you mean to say the wole system should be upgraded / better to notice a perceivable difference?

3. In my auditions, I got the opportunity to listen to some very high end stereo systems with an SACD source (I think it was a ''blm''). In a few minutes, I was able to notice the stunning realism, like a live band in front of me. Obviously, the SACD resolution is able to pick up subtleties and the rest of the high end audio chain is reproducing them well. On the other hand an upsampling DAC cannot recreate what is not there on the CD in the first place. So would it be better to buy a decent SACD player and buy SACDs for at least a few of my favourite albums ? I could buy a good sound card for the PC to play CD Quality FLAc files?
 

smedhavi

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I have personally compared Denon 2809 with NAD C372 amp working with MA RS6 speakers. The difference was pretty obvious.
Thank you Sharad. Where did you notice the difference? i am curious to know. Is it the bass transients, mid range, the high frequency detail or the sound staging?

It is difficult to put it in words, but the biggest difference was in the mid-range. I tried various combinations (I am planning to post a detailed review sometime). The mid-range became more detailed, with a lot of emotion in the singers voice, when I removed the AVR completely out of the signal path. The high frequencies too are a bit more realistic and 'less digital sounding' through the NAD amp. Denon is not bad either, I would have been happy with it if I did not have another amp to compare with. But for a finicky person like me, its pre-processor makes the high frequencies sound a little bit like a PC playing with a "Wow filter" on. This happens even if you use the pure direct mode, or use their high-end new AL24 processing on a digital input. I listen to a lot of vocal and acoustic/Jazz music. Someone who likes Pop or Rock might actually prefer the Denon processing over NAD. The NAD pre-amp works better for intimate, upfront and close miked recordings.

The NAD C372 is not really an integrated amp, it has pre and power amp in the same box, connected only externally. So I could try out more combinations. I am sure that it was not the more powerful power-amp in the NAD that was making the biggest difference. Surprisingly, it was the preamp creating most of the magic.

Thanks,
Sharad

My Setup:
* Panasonic BD30 Blu-ray, NAD C542 CD player, Project Debut III TT with NAD PP2,Denon DRW-585 Cassette Deck
* Denon AVR 2809, NAD C372 Amp
* Monitor Audio RS6 with Definitive Technology Super Cube II subwoofer
* Projector: Plus U5-111 (Next on the line for upgrade)
 
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venkatcr

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1. I intend to use the USB port to connect to the DACMagic. Do you think i actually need a sound card with coax out? Sound cards with stereo coax out will be more expensive than regular sound cards.

Motherboards by themselves do not have good sound processing. People like TheVortex, ROC, Moser have personal experience and they have explained the need for a sound card in detail in this and other threads. ROC feels a Asus card will beat the DACMagic. With a good sound card that does DAC itself, you may not even need a external DAC such as the DACMagic. And at around 8 thousand, it seems to be excellent value for money.

2. ''So if you change just the DAC in terms of a better one, the whole system should be better than what you have now.'' I did not exactly follow this. Do you mean to say by changing the DAC alone there will be a perceivable improvement, with amp and speakers remaining the same? Or you mean to say the wole system should be upgraded / better to notice a perceivable difference?

If you change a weak link in a chain. the whole system will sound better, will it not? After all the DAC is only a part of the chain. The sound is delivered by the combination of source (CD Player), amplifier and speakers.

3. In my auditions, I got the opportunity to listen to some very high end stereo systems with an SACD source (I think it was a ''blm''). In a few minutes, I was able to notice the stunning realism, like a live band in front of me. Obviously, the SACD resolution is able to pick up subtleties and the rest of the high end audio chain is reproducing them well. On the other hand an upsampling DAC cannot recreate what is not there on the CD in the first place. So would it be better to buy a decent SACD player and buy SACDs for at least a few of my favourite albums ? I could buy a good sound card for the PC to play CD Quality FLAc files?

You are comparing two different technologies and confusing yourself. A SACD has 16 times the sampling rate of a Redbook CD. In addition, a SACD has upto 5.1 channel coding. You cannot compare the two.

You need a universal DVD Player such as those from Oppo, Pioneer or others to play a SACD. Though you can use a SACD on a two channel amplifier, the beauty of listening to Western Classical or Jazz on a SACD will be best served by a high end multi channel AVR. In addition, SACD are selling around 1000-2000 each in India. So it is an expensive proposition to say the least.

Unless you are buying an expensive SACD player, a regular CD player will beat an Universal DVD Player any day for Redbook CD playing.

To play regular CDs, the best options are either a decent CD Player, or, a PC based system using uncompressed codecs or compressed codecs such as FLAC and using a decent sound card such as the Asus.

Cheers
 

moserw

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Moserw - actually I got it working on my laptop which has only onboard audio and let me tell you it was superb! It was far far better than whatever I have been hearing on Foobar, XMPlay and the others.

But I have not had luck configuring this on my HTPC. I have not really had time to dedicate on this. Lately I have been playing around with the Xonar D2X drivers. I found a hack on Essence STX drivers and since I have loaded those its been fantastic to have output via ASIO instead of directsound.

Hmm.. I was actually looking forward to more responses from the forum regulars on this type of audio system setup and also about the 'jitter' claim. Somewhat surprised that this did not get too much attention.

Would this be worth a separate thread, I wonder.

Also Moserw - the guide (given in the link) specifies a lot of dos and donts regarding setup. Maybe if we follow that we can achieve a different result as far as cMP is concerned. If and when I get this working on my HTPC I will come back and share results.

thevortex,

I am setting up a new system and doing a fresh installation of XP for a friend. The mobo has onboard audio, but only the default Realtek. I am going to play around with the cMP player on this system and also follow the instructions/guides to a T to see if I can get it to work. Planning to do this with the onboard audio before putting in an external soundcard. Will keep you posted about the results.
 

thevortex

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thevortex,

I am setting up a new system and doing a fresh installation of XP for a friend. The mobo has onboard audio, but only the default Realtek. I am going to play around with the cMP player on this system and also follow the instructions/guides to a T to see if I can get it to work. Planning to do this with the onboard audio before putting in an external soundcard. Will keep you posted about the results.

Looking forward to your feedback. Good luck.
 

Vue2AStill

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Motherboards by themselves do not have good sound processing. People like TheVortex, ROC, Moser have personal experience and they have explained the need for a sound card in detail in this and other threads. ROC feels a Asus card will beat the DACMagic. With a good sound card that does DAC itself, you may not even need a external DAC such as the DACMagic. And at around 8 thousand, it seems to be excellent value for money.
.....

To play regular CDs, the best options are either a decent CD Player, or, a PC based system using uncompressed codecs or compressed codecs such as FLAC and using a decent sound card such as the Asus.

Cheers

Venkat and friends,
I finally bought a DACMagic 10 days ago for Rs.21,500 at Cressida. In the audition I had in their listening room before I bought it, I could not notice any improvement between
1. the stereo analog output of my 540DV2 and
2. the analog output of the DACMagic, with the 540DV2 acting as just a CD transport.
Of course this is for the music I listen to. After about 2 weeks of running in, I notice some improvement in the DACMagic's output. But I am not sure, I need to do a thorough comparison test and will report the results.

I went ahead and bought it because I liked the flexibility of having 3 digital inputs i.e. two coaxial/optical inputs and one USB input. When I play FLAC files from a low power consumption PC such as an Intel Atom and connect through USB, I liked the sound quality. I am using Winamp and Foobar 2000. I noticed that Foobar 2000 is quick to load.

Does anybody have any suggestions to do a comparison test?
 
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