To S. Andrea Sundaram,

After much research, many auditions, and generous help from SoundStage! Hi-Fi, I finally purchased amplifiers and speakers in a major audio upgrade. Now I have to figure out what to do at the front end. I have collected CDs, nearly all standard Red Book format, over the last 25 years, yet all indications suggest that the format is on the way out in favor of downloadable high-resolution files. I hope to engage the newer formats as opportunity arises, yet I will continue to enjoy my hundreds of CDs. So with regard to sound quality, am I better off simply purchasing a good standalone DAC (e.g., Weiss DAC202, Berkeley Alpha DAC, Ayre, etc.) and using a computer or other music server, which would necessitate first ripping my CDs, or is real-time playback quality to the point that I will at least enjoy my current collection better with a high-end CD player? In other words, at what point does ripping of Red Book CDs and playback through a DAC produce sound quality that exceeds that of the better players now available, or vice versa?

Many thanks,
Michael Mathieu

You perfectly articulated the question that is on a lot of people's minds. I do not believe that computers have any inherent sound-quality advantage over systems that spin discs when the DAC is good at rejecting jitter -- which all of the top-of-the-line DACs are. That said, I think I would find a standalone CD player to be rather limiting at this time. I've also recently had problems with disc transports that stopped working after a few years of service. If I were in the market for new digital playback right now, I would buy a standalone DAC that accepts both USB and S/PDIF inputs. You can then use your current CD player -- or some other transport -- for playing back the CDs you already own without having to rip them, and you would be all set for getting into computer-based audio as well. . . . S. Andrea Sundaram