Spending as much on digital playback equipment as analogue?

compact disc, dacs, mp3 players and streaming audio
ttechnics
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Spending as much on digital playback equipment as analogue?

Post by ttechnics » 31 Aug 2018 09:15

Most people who graduate beyond a Crosley (shudder) or an old turntable they were given by a friend/parent/uncle, soon find themselves spending more and more money on vinyl playback equipment.

People posting here may not be a wholly representative sample, but I feel that enthusiasts who have both analogue and digital equipment tend to spend much more on the analogue side (turntables, tonearms, cartridges, styluses and so on).

Some people say that digital is cold and hard, but are they making an unfair comparison? When we look at the money spent by the enthusiast who has both analogue and digital playback systems, we often find that spending on digital playback equipment (CDs, DACs, Soundcards) is but a fraction of that spent on analogue. What percentage of your total spending has been on analogue equipment and what on digital?

Has anyone here spent a similar amount of money on digital playback equipment as analogue? I admit to buying a relatively expensive RME soundcard, which has improved the sound quality from my computer no end, but I have never bought a standalone CD player, let alone an SACD player. I just use the CD drive in my PC and as it is wholly digital and the RME takes care of DAC duties, presume that is good enough.

Am I giving digital short shrift?

Is there anyone here who has spent a lot of money on digital equipment and been convinced that the expenditure was as worthwhile as the same money spent on analogue reproduction? Are all CD players alike or are the sound quality differences as significant as those between different turntables and cartridges? Has the selling of digital as "perfect sound, forever" made the enthusiast loathe to spend the same money on digital reproduction as they would on analogue, because they believe the benefits are just not of the same magnitude?

ChrisfromRI
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Re: Spending as much on digital playback equipment as analog

Post by ChrisfromRI » 31 Aug 2018 19:23

IMO an investment made in analog reproduction systems will never be lost, because the technology is not changing. There are turntables/tonearms that are decades old that are still pretty much the state of the art today. Same thing with reel-to-reel tape decks. These technologies were mature decades ago, and to me represent a safe investment for the future.

However, this cannot be said about digital reproduction systems where the DAC improvements every year seem to make digital sound better and better. I am not terribly interested in making a huge investment(s) to attain the absolute state of the art in digital equipment that I know will become basically obsolete in just a few years. Instead I would rather purchase at more reasonable price points towards the middle of the performance envelope, and set the cost savings aside for its ultimate replacement with more advanced technology in a few years.

I do understand that a good CD transport can be re-used with future DACs so maybe that's one link in the digital chain that's a bit more mature, but the use model can change and make even that obsolete. For example, I just ripped all of my CDs to a Brennan B2 and I play them back lossless over the same DAC as my excellent CD transport and cannot tell the difference between the two on a transparent system. However, the big difference in the use model of both is that I don't have to sort through say a thousand physical CDs to find the right physical one and take it out of its case to load it, and instead with the Brennan B2 (or other music server arrangement) I can simply type what I'm looking for into the search line on any laptop/tablet/smartphone device with any Internet browser and select what I want from the choices that come up on the screen. I can even type in a song name and pick between the various artists that recorded it, etc.

Digital is still rapidly evolving and is already amazing compared to what it was ten years ago let alone in the mid-1980s. The way we access it is even changing. I stay tuned and enjoy the ride with digital knowing there is more to come!

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Re: Spending as much on digital playback equipment as analog

Post by jdjohn » 31 Aug 2018 23:28

ttechnics wrote:People posting here may not be a wholly representative sample, but I feel that enthusiasts who have both analogue and digital equipment tend to spend much more on the analogue side (turntables, tonearms, cartridges, styluses and so on).
You're right that this forum is not going to be wholly representative. It is quite easy to spend more on a digital system. Standalone DACs can get very expensive. I know folks who have VERY high-end digital systems, with a turntable thrown-in as an afterthought that just gathers dust.
ttechnics wrote:Am I giving digital short shrift?
I'm afraid so. In your current configuration, you'd be better off ripping your CDs to FLAC files, storing on your hard-drive, and then play back from there. But even then, PCs have cooling fans, which inherently introduce noise into the playback. And then you have a cable run from PC to receiver/amp which opens the door for interference. Each hop by itself is small, but it starts to add up. A standalone CD player would almost certainly be better. Now, some folks have created very sophisticated music servers that are very 'quiet', so I'm not discounting PC playback altogether! No flaming!
ttechnics wrote:Are all CD players alike or are the sound quality differences as significant as those between different turntables and cartridges?
Most certainly different. Actually, some of the best ones are multi-use disc players for DVD/Blu-Ray/CD.

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Re: Spending as much on digital playback equipment as analog

Post by ttechnics » 02 Sep 2018 11:53

There are turntables/tonearms that are decades old that are still pretty much the state of the art today. Same thing with reel-to-reel tape decks. These technologies were mature decades ago, and to me represent a safe investment for the future.

That may well be true, but there are certainly significant sound differences between different cartridges and styluses. It may well be a mature technology, but it does seem it is mostly about what suits the individual, as playback equipment will come down to personal preference.

I know this is the same with digital, but digital claims to be accurate; claims for vinyl are not of its accuracy, but of its warmth and other such hard to define characteristics. Which is why I suppose there is an almost never-ending array of turntables, cartridges and stylus shapes to suit whatever pleases the individual best, mature technology or not.
In your current configuration, you'd be better off ripping your CDs to FLAC files, storing on your hard-drive, and then play back from there.
I have to say, I have listened to CDs played by the DVD drive and also when ripped as WAV files and I have never really noticed any difference. I haven't been looking out for such things, but all the same, I think i'd notice if it was present in any real sense.

I have a relatively decent RME soundcard and some powered speakers, so the setup for playback is the same in both instances.

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Re: Spending as much on digital playback equipment as analog

Post by Shadowman82 » 03 Sep 2018 00:48

I think with digital being the way it is you quickly hit a limit . For example take CD . If you have a good quality CD player what you hear will likely be almost as good as what you get with one that costs thousands . Same goes for high res sources .

Analog sources wether they be tape or Vinyl however are mechanical in nature so when you spend more you're likely to encounter better playback mechanisms ( such as tone arms , cartridges etc) .

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Re: Spending as much on digital playback equipment as analog

Post by Sterling1 » 10 Sep 2018 13:50

I'm impressed by multi-channel SACD. I have a $1300 player to enjoy it. It sounds better to me than vinyl, in most manner that better can be discerned, when compared to the sound I get from my record player of same music. My turntable/cartridge cost about $2000. So, in my experience so far it appears that I would indeed need to spend more money on vinyl playback equipment to have as pleasurable experience with it as I do digital. Thing is, even with great expenditure I speculate vinyl will still not deliver as satisfying a result as I am now getting with digital. It's why my vinyl pleasure mostly comes from records I had on hand before I abandoned LP's for CD's back in the mid 1980's.

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Re: Spending as much on digital playback equipment as analog

Post by Shadowman82 » 10 Sep 2018 21:22

I'm impressed by multi-channel SACD. I have a $1300 player to enjoy it. It sounds better to me than vinyl, in most manner that better can be discerned, when compared to the sound I get from my record player of same music.
Of coarse that's because SA-CD does sound better than Vinyl . It has none of Vinyl's weaknesses , a greater resolution than standard CD and in most cases SA-CD releases are very well mastered , unlike CDs . That's why I always say had SA-CD caught on I never would have bothered with Vinyl .

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Re: Spending as much on digital playback equipment as analog

Post by Sterling1 » 10 Sep 2018 21:46

Shadowman82 wrote:
I'm impressed by multi-channel SACD. I have a $1300 player to enjoy it. It sounds better to me than vinyl, in most manner that better can be discerned, when compared to the sound I get from my record player of same music.
Of coarse that's because SA-CD does sound better than Vinyl . It has none of Vinyl's weaknesses , a greater resolution than standard CD and in most cases SA-CD releases are very well mastered , unlike CDs . That's why I always say had SA-CD caught on I never would have bothered with Vinyl .
Yeah, I think multi-channel SACD is awesome; and, while it certainly did not catch fire with a mass audience that did not stop me from buying a new multi-channel player in February of this year to supplement my 18 year old stereo SACD player. Since February I have purchased about two dozen multi-channel SACD's in Rock, Jazz, and Classical genres from Amazon. I hope to get the entire Living Stereo Classical Music series, which are for the most part 3 channel recordings originally mixed to stereo for releases in the late 1950's.

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Re: Spending as much on digital playback equipment as analog

Post by Shadowman82 » 10 Sep 2018 23:16

It's not even just the fact that SA-CD can do multichannel , even 2 channel discs sound awesome . But alas most music I like was never released on SA-CD .

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Re: Spending as much on digital playback equipment as analog

Post by ChrisfromRI » 11 Sep 2018 03:22

I think this depends more on the specific Master that was used to make the media than anything else. SACD and DVD-A discs were typically made from different Masters than the original LP was, so we're rarely comparing apples to apples when we play them back to back. There was at least some remastering that took place and contributed to the nice sound of the "High Rez" discs that have unfortunately turned out to start becoming a relative failure in the marketplace.

For reference I have a $3500 Universal Player to play SACD and DVD-A, as well as CD, and a much more expensive turntable/arm/cartridge/phono stage to play records. I state this to point out my frame of reference.

I have heard quite a few audiophile pressing LP records (180 gram) that actually sounded better to me on my 2 channel system than the corresponding SACD or DVD-A did, again though not really apples to apples in many comparisons as the Masters were no doubt different. A better comparison is to take the SACD and audiophile LP from an Acoustics Sounds release when both were issued at the same time, as they are almost certainly from the same leased Master. In these cases the SACD is superb but the record is usually even a little better. Note that I have made a larger investment in my record playback system which is not becoming obsolete anytime soon, and that may skew things as well to favor the record over the SACD.

The disappointing thing to me is that SACD will not output digital data to my external DAC like a CD will, due to copyright protection. I believe this has contributed to the format now starting to fail as external DAC technology has continued to evolve and improve. This issue won't allow me to take advantage of my better sounding external DAC than the internal DAC in my $3500 Universal Player. I know my external DAC is better sounding because it sounds better playing a regular CD through it via my Universal Player as the transport than playing it right out of the analog outputs of my Universal Player - which indicates to me that as good as SACD is it ultimately falls short because you still can't upgrade via an external DAC (as there is no digital output from the SACD player when playing an SACD). Over the past few years that difference has IMO become more important due to DAC advances. Today for convenience I rip the Hybrid CD layer from a Hybrid SACD into my Brennan B2 (server/drive) and play it back over my external DAC (16 bit/44 KHz) and closely compare that CD layer playback through a better external DAC, to the SACD layer played back just through my $3500 Universal Player's internal DAC. Yes, the SACD is still a little better sounding than the CD, but that difference is nowhere as large as it was a few years ago. Unfortunately not having access to the digital output from the SACD is what has closed this gap, and will not doubt close it further as time goes on. That to me is part of what is killing SACD as a format. Oh, and I have a very transparent 2 channel system and I'm only hearing a small superiority of the SACD layer - and that is apples to apples as the Hybrid SACD and the Hybrid CD layers on the very same disc are indeed from the very same Master. Other listeners with less transparent systems may hear a smaller difference or no difference at all. It's probably too late for SACD as a format (other than to playback what we already own) but PS Audio has recently figured out how to output the digital layer from it's SACD transport to it's own external DAC using a proprietary connection that skirts the copyright issue, but their linked pair costs some $10,000, and with the likelihood that SACD is a dying medium that makes it a hard upgrade to swallow...

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Re: Spending as much on digital playback equipment as analog

Post by Sterling1 » 11 Sep 2018 11:20

Shadowman82 wrote:It's not even just the fact that SA-CD can do multichannel , even 2 channel discs sound awesome . But alas most music I like was never released on SA-CD .
Well, cheer-up, you can have your cake and eat it too today. Buy an inexpensive Ultra BD Player from Sony. Their players will play virtually all disc media including multi-channel SACD to HDMI output. Then, with such a player in your rack, when you discover that there's music in the genre you're after on SACD you can indulge it.

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Re: Spending as much on digital playback equipment as analog

Post by Ottermel » 11 Sep 2018 18:03

My analogue set up cost about $2,000.00 more than the digital (4 components for LP playback and only 2 for digital, cables not counted)

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Re: Spending as much on digital playback equipment as analog

Post by Shadowman82 » 11 Sep 2018 23:15

I don't need a SA-CD player because none of the albums I bought in the last 5 years were ever released on SA-CD . Loads of Vinyl though .

As for how much I spent on analog components ... I think about $1500 , digital nowhere near as much . lol

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Re: Spending as much on digital playback equipment as analog

Post by IndigoRock2001 » 16 Sep 2018 03:24

I just got into a kind of comedy of errors trying to play SACD's. First i bought a high end stand alone SACD player. Then, thanks to people here discovered I needed an entirely different amp to process the SACD's. It turns out very few amps will handle SACD's and those tend to be the higher end ones and thus expensive. Any way I bit the bullet and bought an older amp which could do it. So I ditched my fairly good multichannel amp and replaced it with a much older but for it's time high end amp. Then having returned the SACD player thinking it didn't work bought a Sony blueray player that plays SACD's, only to find that the catalogue of SACD's is pretty short on anything I'd like to hear, and what I do want to hear is not only expensive but really quite old. Having spent alltogether about $800 I can finally play SACD's Was it worth it? I not only doubt but know the average person would not do this just to play a dead, expensive format which has virtually nothing new in music to offer. If I realized before that the hopefull contender for multichannel high rez audio is DVD audio I would have kept my good old amp and used my existing blueray player, and invested the money I spent in DVD-A disks. No wonder SACD is a dead format. Who can play it! Would I do the SACD roundabout again? No!
indi

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Re: Spending as much on digital playback equipment as analog

Post by Shadowman82 » 17 Sep 2018 01:07

Also when SA-CD was first released you could only pass it digitally via firewire interface . Other than that you had to use analog cables which if you wanted multichannel meant allot of cables . Now you can pass DSD via HDMI of coarse .

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