To Doug Schneider,

Re: “If You’re Not Getting Into Computer-Based Audio Now, You’re Crazy

I read your article in the hope of finding a solution to the lack of soundstage depth caused by using computer-based audio. [There are a number of] problems you forgot to mention:

  • Unless you have a dedicated network server such as the Olive Music Server, the only plug-and-play program that works with a remote, without the use of multiple pieces of software/hardware, is iTunes.
  • Unless you want to put your computer next to your audio system or have long cable runs or extra hardware, for the average person wireless transmittal is limited to iTunes and an Apple TV. I, for one, do not want to have to open multiple programs to get my remote and wireless to work.
  • The only really viable way to improve the resolution on a CD is through the use of vinyl, SACD, or HD downloads, which are very expensive.
  • You mention the usage of a DAC but do not mention ever trying to plug your CD player into the DAC and use the CD player as a transport. This is what you are doing with the computer, so why not the CD player?
  • You mention having your CDs on a shelf. Ever try buying a CD carousel that holds 300 or 400 CDs? You can plug that into a DAC as well.

This being said, I have nearly 17,000 songs on my Mac feeding wirelessly into Apple TV. [I have] a Behringer digital signal processor [going] into an upgraded Benchmark DAC [going] into a highly upgraded Cary SLP-50B tube preamp then [going into] a highly upgraded Audio Research VS110 amp before it hits my Def Tech Mythos STS speakers. I say all this to show you the quality of the chain. The weak spot in the chain is the source and my desire to do this wirelessly with a remote. The DSP does help offset the failings of the source by digitally boosting and cutting the signal at the right frequencies to create the illusion of natural sound and soundstage depth.

On the other hand, the CD chain is as follows: Sony 300 CD carousel into an upgraded Benchmark DAC into a highly upgraded Cary SLP-50B tube preamp then [into] a highly upgraded Audio Research VS110 amp before it hits my Def Tech Mythos STS speakers. Oh, and I forgot, my wiring is Nordost Blue Heaven. Using a chain of this quality, the difference is huge. CD has more detail, better clarity, less bloat, less harshness and better soundstage depth. Hmm! Sounds like all the things that a good DAC brings to the picture. Perhaps the problem was your CD player! Or better yet, why don’t you listen to SACDs through a good $1000-plus SACD player? Then you will really hear the difference. I would suggest a good turntable, but that would be too complicated and expensive for your or your audience’s taste.

I am not a neophyte who is saying that computer-based audio is not the way of the future. What I am saying is that you need to paint a bigger picture for your readers and talk about the things that I just mentioned. You should also have stuck to the convenience aspect. For those of us with an audiophile-grade system, the quality difference between sources and quality of the components in the chain becomes clear. This is why many writers in the audio field talk about their going back to vinyl. They have also been discussing that the timing of the dying CD market has corresponded with some really good DACs that bring so much to the table that was unattainable in the past. This is also why I mention having a modified Benchmark DAC. With a few changes this DAC’s performance goes from being a $1000 DAC to a $2000 DAC, which, in turn, brings out so much more of the music than ever before.

As for myself, for now digitized music is good for parties and background music. Serious listening is either live at a small venue or done with serious sources and serious equipment where I can take advantage of my full range of hearing.

Tony Crocker

With so many questions and comments, it’s hard to know where to start. First, I should probably clear up some mistaken assumptions. I do own a turntable and have long known what vinyl sounds like; I’ve used a CD transport plugged into a DAC for decades, and still have one set up that way; I have no interest in using a CD carousel because I’d need multiple ones for the number of discs I have, plus the complexity of the carousels makes them prone to break down easily; remote-control setup isn’t all that hard to do and there are numerous ways to go about it; and there are other ways to wirelessly transmit digital music effectively other than Apple’s products, such as the Logitech Squeezebox products that have been out for years and work flawlessly.

As for SACD, it’s not a wise move to recommend it anymore. The format never gained any traction in the marketplace and it’s not really even a viable format anymore -- hardly any music was ever released on SACD in the first place, and there’s barely anything being released today. These days, we are seeing more and more DSD releases (i.e., the SACD format) being converted to high-resolution PCM and made available for download. On the other hand, I agree with you on one thing: that HD downloads are expensive. In my opinion, too expensive in general, but I believe the price will decrease over time.

The problem you’re having with a lack of soundstage depth isn’t one I have. In fact, soundstage width and depth have both improved since I moved away from CD-transport playback to a computer-based source. In your case, I believe it’s wise to think that the problem has to do with the components in your playback chain, which may be of decent quality but not set up for optimal playback quality. If you look at your CD setup, you’re running the CD carousel as a transport straight into your DAC. When you’re playing back files from a computer, you’re presumably wirelessly transmitting the signal from your computer via Apple TV and then running it through a signal processor, which is altering the signal, and finally sending that along to your DAC. I suspect that signal is getting severely messed up, and I think in your own quest for convenience you’re degrading the sound quality. My suggestion would be to do some troubleshooting as follows: Ditch the wireless setup and digital processor and plug your computer straight into your DAC and hear what that sounds like compared to your CDs playing on the carousel. . . . Doug Schneider