Franco's point of view on DACs and ... more
There is a growing trend in the hi-end audio market to free music from the constraints of CD/vinyl-based sources. With the increasing amount of home automation and electronic integration, the demand for top hi-fi products, which can easily interact with computers and home automation systems, is rising every day. For example, in my own particular case, considering that 80% of music I normally listen to comes directly from the masters of my live recordings (stored on my huge hard disk drive), the use of a top-sounding USB audio DAC is a must.
Furthermore, I would advise that you use, as main CD player, the combination of the CD/DVD player inside your computer, as a transport, and one of these DACs, as converter. For the astute Audiophile, it could be great joy and satisfaction to realize that, after spending just a few hundreds of dollars for a good DAC, he has reached (and in many case, exceeded) the performances of hi-end CD players as costly as a two carats, blue light, diamond solitaire! I do it this way and I have no need or intention of going back to traditional CD players.
However, nowadays you have at your disposal an even cleverer way to listen to music and it's called TIDAL (www.tidal.com/nz). With TIDAL you can now stream over 25 million tracks at original CD-quality and 75.000 music-videos in high definition and immaculate sound, making it the ultimate online library of original quality music for very demanding Audiophiles. It costs NZ$25 a month and you just need a computer (any computer) for streaming and a superior DAC for sound perfection.
Another piece of advice is directed at nostalgic vinyl-lovers, who surely know (I hope) that, every time they play an LP, a deterioration occurs. I'm not, but if I were one of them, I would record all my LPs on a hard-disc, in order to keep intact their original sound forever. An additional benefit is that, instead of materially searching for the desired LP to play, using the computer's data-base you made, you need only a click to find and play the desired track. Furthermore, you will eventually get rid of the usual, long, "religious ritual" of placing, cleaning, kissing, blessing ... an LP on the turntable, before playing it! Regarding the sound quality, if you use a serious DAC, it will be exactly the same as the original played by the turntable. Actually, if you record them using headphones for monitoring (not the speakers), the sound is even better, because it won't be affected by any feedback effects, which, among the many issues of the turntable-world, surely belongs to the big ones. Feedback is related to the volume (the higher, the more), but, even at normal level, feedback exists.
NOTE: as usually happens in the hi-fi world, the price of an item is not related to its quality, so, here you find an empirical method to compare two different DACs in real time, in order to hear the real differences, if any; in fact, the differences are minimal (they mostly depend on the analogic part of the machine) and switching in real time is the only wise way to understand them!
Put a quite complex CD in the CD player of the computer, connect two different USB ports of the computer to the two DACs you want to compare and connect the output of the DACs to two LINE IN of the preamp. Now, switching between the two inputs of your preamp, you have, IN REAL TIME, the real sound of the two different DACs. Anyway, you must be sure that the two DACs play at the same volume! A very small volume difference is enough to mislead your judgment: the one slightly higher always seems better sounding!