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Suggest an individualised upgrade path for me.

SachinChavan

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This could be OT, sorry for that. I have all my CDs ripped to WAV and play it through the CD player USB port (Marantz CD6004). Since the ripping is done using a laptop transport which must be of poor quality, will it impact the WAV file if done using programs like EAC?
I never noticed any audible difference between the 2 though.
Sandeep, as you sensed yourself, the possible discussion on this could take the thread on a tangent that doesn’t help me. So a request to carry it out in a separate thread so that the thread visitors stay with my queries and provide me inputs that I am seeking. Thanks for the understanding.
 
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Nikhili

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Okay friends, firstly, thanks for all the inputs you’ve provided. I’ve been processing them as well as discussing in one on one conversations with some of you. And I see some light emerging.

I started this thread with the intention of exploring upgrades to my amplifier and speaker assuming those were the bottlenecks. And as it has become clearer, I couldn’t be farther from truth! A number of you (@ONEMANARMY, @jls001, @prem, @Hari Iyer, @arj) with your experience, insights and solutioning approach have helped me realise that I was looking at the wrong end. That my amp-speaker combination (Lyrita DHT-Audiolab 8200A-Castle Knight 2) is pretty well-regarded and capable of even better sound, while it’s my source (CXC-CXN V2) that could be the end to focus upon. Initially it was kind of saddening as the sources were latter additions to my system. (I shall henceforth refer to the CXN V2 as CXN in this post).

But then with learning as a core value, I decided to be objective about it and explore that possibility further. Currently I use the CXC transport for CD and CXN streamer as inputs that both get processed by the DAC in the CXN. So I had to establish which one of them (the CXC transport or the CXN DAC) was the limitation. Or both.

So I decided to try by elimination. And I needed assuredly better source to do that. So I requested a nearby audiophile friend to bring his vintage Sony CDP 222 ESD along. Now this one has the highly regarded KSS lens and sound which I’ve liked in his system that has higher end amp and speakers than mine. Here’re the results and conclusions from the experiment:

First we played few tracks (Allan Taylor with orchestra, Mark Knopfler, Sur, Stairway) on the current CXC (transport) - CXN (DAC) combination. Most people will like this sound and I too don’t find any obvious flaws in it. It’s clear, enjoyable, balanced and rhythmic. But I know I can get better sound with slight upgrade - the objective of this experiment was to find out which.

Then I changed over the transport to the Sony so it was Sony (transport) - CXN (DAC). And right from the first song to the last in that test list the change was palpable and consistent. This sound was perceivably better than the former in terms of - musicality and focus. The extensions were superior leading to the musicality. So there was that distinctly more emotion (urging his beloved whom he metaphorises as dawn to come to him) in Lucky Ali’s ‘Aa bhi jaa’. Sunidhi’s voice was clearly different - it sounded more layered and not merely high-pitched. One could also hear the added sweetness in both the violin and the flute. And similar observations in the other tracks.

And though all of this was caused by the Sony’s superior CD transport (lens), it was equally true that my CXN’s DAC supported it too. There was this first confirmation that the CXN’s DAC, as has been widely reviewed (and was one of the reasons for my selecting CXN over its competitors) was competent. And that an upgrade in the transport could fetch me high dividend.

Now we had to look at the next experiment. Can the Sony’s DAC do better justice to it’s own superior transport than the CXN’s did? So now we played both the transport and DAC parts of the Sony CD player. And to our surprise, the sound deteriorated. Not just that most of the previous improvements were lost in a fuzzier sound, but the sound was poorer even to my CXC-CXN combination. We just couldn’t listen to it for long. This was the second bit of confirmation that the CXN’s DAC was competent and not the bottleneck in my system, and that paired with a better transport, it shines well.

Then I decided to bring the Schiit Bifrost DAC from my desktop system and couple with the Sony’s transport. Though the sound was good enough, it was overall of the level of satisfaction of my CXC-CXN combination. The added melodiousness, sweetness and airiness of the Sony-CXN was not to be found. This further reconfirmed that my CXN’s DAC wasn’t just ok, it was good. Paired with a better transport, it can produce better sound than a well-regarded dedicated DAC (the Schiit) priced at 40k.

I repeated the same experiments as above separately with my wife (good aesthetic judge) and my nephew (keen young ears and music lover) and their assessments were exactly as above.

So, in summary, now I know where I need to upgrade. It’s the transport - the first point in the whole chain of sound. I need a transport that is more musical, has better focus and airiness, and is more organic than the CXC while (at least) retaining its detail, balance and rhythm. And distinctly and substantially so, not just marginally better. That the rest of my system is capable of supporting that improvement.

So this is where I need help. Firstly, what do you think of the experiments above. Do you agree with the conclusion based on those observations? And then, I need your help and inputs on what/where to look for a CD transports with above mentioned advantages . Of course I have to have a budget limit. Something between 50k-1 lakh. Unfortunately I don’t see any transports apart from CXC in the budget audiophile segment. Almost everything out there is north of two lacs. Anything you know? If not, then I’d have to look at the preowned stuff here. Please do give suggestions on models/makes that I can look out for. Yeah, there’s Cyrus CD t at $750 (don’t know the Indian availability/price) but not sure it’s known for musicality as much as for dynamics, detail and rhythm (which the CXC is decent at).

The other alternative is to go for a CD player with all those properties. The first that comes to mind (based on reviews, I haven’t heard it) is the Naim CD 5SI. This has been around for a long time and known for its musicality and transparency. Any experience or views on it? What are the other decidedly musical audiophile CD players below/around a lakh out there?

(I am definitely not going to rip my CDs and put them on a drive to access from the CXN as I love the CD using experience and also feel the CD sound is more organic than the corresponding FLAC. So a transport/CD player is essential in my system)

Thanks for reading through.
If possible, try a more capable DAC in your system. Borrow from a friend or look for home demo from the dealers that might oblige. Metrum does so against a refundable deposit.

A few of the CDPs in that range would probably have better DAC than the CXN but might not have any inputs.

Rega Apollo R CDP should be below a lac and is quite decent for the monies.
 

sandeepss

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Sandeep, as you sensed yourself, the possible discussion on this could take the thread on a tangent that doesn’t help me. So a request to carry it out in a separate thread so that the thread visitors stay with my queries and provide me inputs that I am seeking. Thanks for the understanding.
Noted. Thanks :)
 

SachinChavan

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If possible, try a more capable DAC in your system. Borrow from a friend or look for home demo from the dealers that might oblige. Metrum does so against a refundable deposit.

A few of the CDPs in that range would probably have better DAC than the CXN but might not have any inputs.

Rega Apollo R CDP should be below a lac and is quite decent for the monies.
Nikhili, thanks for the Rega CDP suggestion. I shall study it further. However, I don’t understand the reason behind your suggestion of exploring DAC upgrade when, from the extensively described experimentation above, I am concluding that a transport upgrade (from CXN) will serve me better than a DAC upgrade (from CXN). Of course everything can be upgraded in absolute terms. But one has to put money where the best return will accrue and that’s situational. Can you please help me understand why your conclusion is different from mine based on the observations from the experiment that I have posted?

P.S. on re-reading your post I do understand that you aren’t suggesting an upgrade, but another experiment (to see what improvement I can get with a better DAC). But then even if I go for a better DAC, I’d can’t use the CXC transport with it. Between the transport and the DAC, I’d have to prioritise upgrading the transport. And if I can get a CD player that has a DAC that ends up performing better than the CXN’s, I’d use that DAC for the CDs. I can continue using the CXN DAC for streaming as I am not that SQ conscious while streaming (used mainly for exploring new music or background listening) than while playing CDs from my collection (attentive, sometimes critical listening). I don’t necessarily need to connect my CXN streamer to the DAC of the CDP (which most CDPs won’t have a provision for).
 
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prem

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SachinChavan, look at a transport with a Philips CDM 2 Pro transport mechanism like the one in Acoustic Portrait transport. This should come in your budget. If you have a higher budget, look at an Esoteric transport.

If you are open to importing, look at a CEC CD player and use only their transport mechanism. They use a belt drive. Very analogue sending.
 

audiopro

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Dear friends,

My current (main) system is in my signature below. Having upgraded my source and preamp from what I started with two years ago to the CXC/CXN combination and Lyrita DHT, I now have started to feel like I should look at possible upgrades to the downstream components that have served me so capably from day one - the capable Audiolab 8200A (I use only the poweramp) and the lovely Castle Knight 2 speakers. No way am I feeling compelled to upgrade but if I am truly convinced that an option (poweramp plus speakers) that’s within my budget would serve my objectives well, I would consider the upgrade. Otherwise I can continue enjoying my system for years.

So here are my objectives:

1. Should maintain or improve upon the natural tone, sweetness and slightly warm signature of my existing setup. The current system is very versatile (as my music taste is) but excels at the vocal/mid-centric genres. Sparkle is needed, but should have a sweetness to it. Non-fatiguing naturalness is a must. Bass should not overpower, but provide body to the voice and instruments.

2. Provide a bigger sound than the current combo, ideal for a 330 sq ft living room (rectangular with the system along the breadth, which is kind of ideal). But I’d be playing mostly at low and medium sound levels. Idea is that even at low volumes the sound should be clear, with no loss in fidelity.

3. Musical (and emoting) system that does well with the microtones... something that sings well. I feel my current system delivers this (within the limitations imposed by its price range) and I’d not want to lose it for punchier sound. Most mass market products miss this part. The more musical options seem to be niche.

4. Should have better bass extension (not volume or thump) and lesser roll off on HF than my existing combo. This is so that I should be listening to more of the music on the track, something I know my existing system has understandable limits in serving.

5. Open to FS as long as they have musical bass. Not open to adding subwoofer. But happiest with BS (small/large) options.

6. Speakers that are less sensitive to placement, and produce excellent imaging and soundstage. The current combo has great soundstage, but compels me to sit in the centre to experience its beauty. Of course it’s enjoyable (with all details) from anywhere in the room, but the spatial separation is experienced only from the center.

Budget: About 2 lacs for the poweramp and speakers. Extendable to 2.5. (Don’t feel comfortable buying pre-owned unless they come in the combo and I can listen to them before buying)

In fact, if there are some speakers which can use the poweramp of the 8200A well enough and don’t seek more power, but can get me my objectives as above, I don’t mind putting a large part of that budget just on the speakers. On the other hand, if there are any tube power amp and full range speakers that can serve my purpose but available in this price range, do also suggest.

I’ve been doing some of my own research on this. And though I haven’t demoed, but by reviews and user impressions I think my ideal could be more like Harbeth speakers (my kind of sound preference) and Naim amps (musical). But they’d not be in my budget unless I get good deals in pre-owned (with above mentioned limitation). Something like Rega is lower cost alternative to Naim and Linton Heritage to Harbeth, but then I have to feel sure that they are sufficiently significant upgrades. I’d be wary of sideways or incremental upgrades. I’d hate if I buy something and it doesn’t deliver, just not a ‘try, if don’t like, resell’ person.

Kindly read through above to understand my objectives, preferences and needs and then suggest. Looking for quality of suggestions than quantity. If you need any more info to help me, please ask. If you think my objectives will not be served within my budget, do say so, and suggest alternatives you feel sure of which I could then save for. If there’re some sound principles/abstractions that can help me rephrase/verbalise my objectives better, do state.

Thanks.
Have you tried changing the DHT tubes?

New production tubes are really not upto it and infact may be hampering delivering what you are looking for.

Your pre runs the 4P1L tube which I don't have any experience with but if you study various options you may find something that suits what you are looing for. Also how old is this tube? As tubes age you do loose some part of the sound. Maybe you can try a new set and see what happens after running it in.

You also have a VDH cable which tends to have a strong flavour of its own. See if you can borrow another cable, preferably 16 awg (Thanks Prem for this tip) and see what happens. The local 16awg Belden speaker cable (tinned copper) is pretty decent sounding as well.
 

SachinChavan

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SachinChavan, look at a transport with a Philips CDM 2 Pro transport mechanism like the one in Acoustic Portrait transport. This should come in your budget. If you have a higher budget, look at an Esoteric transport.

If you are open to importing, look at a CEC CD player and use only their transport mechanism. They use a belt drive. Very analogue sending.
Prem, thanks for the suggestions. But I couldn’t find a transport listed on Acoustic Portrait site (they have only amps and DACs in electronics section). Have they stopped making transports? Or, do they make them only on order? Folks, does anyone of you have it?I shall look at which other transports have that mechanism.

The Esoterics also have esoteric prices :D upwards of $7000 - way outside my affordability.
 

Nikhili

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Nikhili, thanks for the Rega CDP suggestion. I shall study it further. However, I don’t understand the reason behind your suggestion of exploring DAC upgrade when, from the extensively described experimentation above, I am concluding that a transport upgrade (from CXN) will serve me better than a DAC upgrade (from CXN). Of course everything can be upgraded in absolute terms. But one has to put money where the best return will accrue and that’s situational. Can you please help me understand why your conclusion is different from mine based on the observations from the experiment that I have posted?

P.S. on re-reading your post I do understand that you aren’t suggesting an upgrade, but another experiment (to see what improvement I can get with a better DAC). But then even if I go for a better DAC, I’d can’t use the CXC transport with it. Between the transport and the DAC, I’d have to prioritise upgrading the transport. And if I can get a CD player that has a DAC that ends up performing better than the CXN’s, I’d use that DAC for the CDs. I can continue using the CXN DAC for streaming as I am not that SQ conscious while streaming (used mainly for exploring new music or background listening) than while playing CDs from my collection (attentive, sometimes critical listening). I don’t necessarily need to connect my CXN streamer to the DAC of the CDP (which most CDPs won’t have a provision for).
That's right. It also depends on priorities. Suppose one is equally or more into streaming than CDP the DAC becomes more important.
Trying out a better DAC will probably be an indicator. Might help you figure out if you like what you hear from this combination which can also be an upgrade to streaming music.
I thought i could live with less of streaming and more of CDs but it doesn't seem so :(
 

SachinChavan

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Have you tried changing the DHT tubes?

New production tubes are really not upto it and infact may be hampering delivering what you are looking for.

Your pre runs the 4P1L tube which I don't have any experience with but if you study various options you may find something that suits what you are looing for. Also how old is this tube? As tubes age you do loose some part of the sound. Maybe you can try a new set and see what happens after running it in.

You also have a VDH cable which tends to have a strong flavour of its own. See if you can borrow another cable, preferably 16 awg (Thanks Prem for this tip) and see what happens. The local 16awg Belden speaker cable (tinned copper) is pretty decent sounding as well.
Audiopro, thanks. I shall reply to your specific questions. But beside that, let me restate that based on the last experimentation I have elaborately documented with results and conclusions in this thread, I am more convinced that a more musical sounding CD transport/player can bring the most dividends than an upgrade on the amp-speaker side. You’d find that post at the end of page 2 of this thread. After all, the same pre has supported the significant sound improvement from a better transport in that experiment.

Now, coming to the specific questions/suggestions:

1. Even @jls001 has suggested the me the Belden cable. And I am likely to try it in coming days as it doesn’t cost much. But then I have tried some other cables before and have liked the VDH Clearwater. It is silver coated copper stranded cable and it’s possible that tinnned copper may be better sounding. But even if it does, what about the musicality that’s lost tidy’s due to the transport? What’s lost at the source cannot be regained at the cables. So, while it might yield me possible benefit, the Belden is not the solution.

2. The Lyrita DHT preamp is less than a year old. I can try a new set of tubes (am going to get a couple for backup), but I don’t think the current use warrants it. And the 4P1L doesn’t have substitutes that Mr Bakshi knows of. The existing ones are NOS (Russian) and not new production. As for the bigger tube at the center (don’t recollect what it’s called), it came with the 5C4S, which I upgraded to RCA 5V4G few months ago and there was significant improvement in muscularity and dynamics. The change was okayed by Mr Bakshi before it was done. In fact he made me the DHT with 5C4S so that I could roll to 5V4G later.
 

sandeepss

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Prem, thanks for the suggestions. But I couldn’t find a transport listed on Acoustic Portrait site (they have only amps and DACs in electronics section). Have they stopped making transports? Or, do they make them only on order? Folks, does anyone of you have it?I shall look at which other transports have that mechanism.

The Esoterics also have esoteric prices :D upwards of $7000 - way outside my affordability.
AP's Thiyaga CD transport has been discontinued. They are very well regarded though
 
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SachinChavan

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Guys, please also give some CDP suggestions that are known for their musicality and transparency. Also, your views on/ experience with the Naim CD5SI.
 

arj

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Hi Sachin, great experiment and very well written !
As an experiment what you have proved is that the Sony transport is superior to the cambridge and the cambridge dac is superior to the Sony. What we do not know is if the upgrade could both still be bottlenecks as the bitfrost is not really a fair comparison

I personally either try to upgrade to a big improvement or prefer not upgrading depending on the economics.

I feel the acoustic portrait dac maybe worth a look.. especially of you can get a demo piece etc..
I am a bit circumspect buying CD transports used as the lens life is unpredictable.
The higher end Schiit, metrum are also good options and available in India .
 

SachinChavan

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I am a bit circumspect buying CD transports used as the lens life is unpredictable.
But then how’d on play the CDs? I don’t want to rip and listen FLAC. I enjoy the experience or sitting down for a session with a CD.

Thanks for the appreciation. I agree we won’t know if the improvement is substantial enough. I shall explore if I can get demo of AP. I am assuming you mean the Thiyaga and not the Swara DAC.

And yes, I see your logic ‘big improvement or don’t upgrade’ has merit.
 

Hari Iyer

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Sachin, I have an unused extra DIY isolation table which you can pick from me if that benefits you. They are spring loaded and can absorb some of the micro vibration your CXN is subjected to.
 

Kannan

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@SachinChavan the multiple sweets spot is a big misnomer unless you employ extensive DSP algorithms or use multiple speakers (not multi channel). When you are not equidistant from speakers, there should be shift as you have explained you experience. If that happens and you have a rock solid center image, with the stage widening to the ends of your room, you have your setup placed well and isolated from your room.

Since you have a very acute listening capability with respect to image, staging etc and want a bigger sweet spot, do try and listen to a larger full range driver setup.

Regarding transport, my suggestion would be the Allo digione signature. Let its size and pricing not distract or bely you.

It addresses some critical noise and jitter issues critical to digital transports at the core level and is a well thought out device.
You can also connect a USB CD drive to it for playback of all your CD collection, play all your digital files off a hard disk or flash drive and also stream music from the web.
Though I have not heard it, but I own it's sibling USBridge, so can vouch for its clean and noise free output.
Just feed it a regulated power supply for the best output.

Happy listening.
 

SachinChavan

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This might help.

Thanks. I can see why you must have linked that thread - though the OP has far more advanced rig than mine, we seem to seek similar sound. But then all those options thrown in in that thread only increased those on my mind by 10x! :) It’s difficult to study so many of them.

Hence I need to help you all help me by stating my objective in the CDT/CDP upgrade more narrowly. I am pasting below what I wrote to @audiopro this morning after a longish one on one conversation with him yesterday (a highly stimulating and educating conversation that did dwell on concrete options, but more importantly on the sound philosophies of various brands and abstract understanding of CD sound production intricacies itself. That discussion was a reward in itself - but let me not deviate more). So here it goes:

“I am concluding that to me, musicality is the number one criteria. Sound should be sweet and musical. I have to be able to hear all the singing and emotion in the track. Usually this is in the mids, the vocals and instruments like guitar and violin. Am I right? And I am imagining that harmonics and microtones play an important role in it sounding musical. The modulations of tone and pitch by the singer and these instruments needs to get conveyed as clearly as possible.

The rest requirements come in later. As for warmth, my tube and my speakers induce it. Detail is important, but as long as it is above average in detail I am ok. I don’t need the audience’s hushed tones in the Jazz club. Rhythm and timing again, is not the most important criteria, I don’t mind a little laid back presentation. Of course unless it is too boring. Same with soundstage and focus - I need it only upto a point. Also transparency and openness should be decent, I don’t need sound floating into all my rooms. But shouldn’t sound muffled/veiled either.

All of these above need not be the stand out points of my system. They only need to be satisfactory. What has to be the most distinguishing feature od my system is the musicality - the singing of the voice and mids instruments. I need to hear the nuances when a Bhimsen or a Lata sing or when L Subramanian plays his violin - don’t want to miss on any of them. And the sound should generate the same emotion in me as they intended. It should move me.”
 

SachinChavan

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@SachinChavan the multiple sweets spot is a big misnomer unless you employ extensive DSP algorithms or use multiple speakers (not multi channel). When you are not equidistant from speakers, there should be shift as you have explained you experience. If that happens and you have a rock solid center image, with the stage widening to the ends of your room, you have your setup placed well and isolated from your room.

Since you have a very acute listening capability with respect to image, staging etc and want a bigger sweet spot, do try and listen to a larger full range driver setup.

Regarding transport, my suggestion would be the Allo digione signature. Let its size and pricing not distract or bely you.

It addresses some critical noise and jitter issues critical to digital transports at the core level and is a well thought out device.
You can also connect a USB CD drive to it for playback of all your CD collection, play all your digital files off a hard disk or flash drive and also stream music from the web.
Though I have not heard it, but I own it's sibling USBridge, so can vouch for its clean and noise free output.
Just feed it a regulated power supply for the best output.

Happy listening.
Dear Kannan, Thanks for assuring me on the soundstage of my rig. Even Audiopro helped me see the same in an offline conversation yesterday. So I am now fine with it. I realise it’s not a flaw, but normal service. I have heard a couple of full range driver systems but felt they lacked bass. But understand why they can stage better with larger sweet spot. Thanks again for noticing and addressing this part of my stated problem.

I shall try and understand the Allo option you mention. Have seen rave reviews by other FMs too. I never thought of connecting a USB CD drive and assumed they are mainly for computer audio. I have an Apple CD drive, which now I am going to connect to my MacBookPro (13”) and then connect it to the CXN DAC and rest of the system. And then see where it stands with respect to the the previous performances stated earlier in this thread. I do not want my main system to be run on FLAC files. I WANT to be handling physical media (CDs).

Incidentally, my desktop system is run through the MacBook Pro via Schiit Bifrost, Valhalla 2 and Beyerdynamic T1. That sound is altogether in a different league in terms of clarity and detail. It’s my analytic system. I don’t use CD there, but primarily stream through Tidal etc. Why I am stating this is that I am seeing that computer based processing is not necessarily worse than CD transports - in fact somewhere I read that engineers find certain things easier to implement in the PCs.

I shall try and keep an open mind to explore Allo like options. But I would prefer to not have my main system look/feel techie to use. There’s a charm about having standard sized components that blend in with a classic living room decor that I value.
 

SachinChavan

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R2R dac is more likely to deliver what you want, more than a transport.
But can that happen with the limitations of the existing transport too, Prem? Won’t the first link in the chain limit what the subsequent links (including the DAC) can reproduce?

@soundbuff I’d like to draw your attention to this thread of mine. I can see that you too have a CXC transport combined with an audiophile DAC. Can you please go through my original post and more importantly the last post on page 2 in this thread where I have documented the observations and conclusions of the experiment I conducted? Perhaps you can help me understand the CXC better - what it can and cannot do - with a better DAC like yours. What to expect and not expect from it. Also, how come you selected the CXC to pair with a DAC that’s many times costlier? Thanks in advance.
 
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