Audio Quality: AirPort Express and DAC - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 58 Old 04-29-2008, 08:48 PM - Thread Starter
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I have a SILVERSTONE ENSEMBLE EB01 USB DAC connected to my MacPro, i then stream my music via AirPort Express to my Cambridge Audio Azur 540v2 via Toslink.

My Question is: Does having my USB DAC connected to my computer before I stream the music to my receiver via AE a good thing? I wasnt sure if having the DAC connected to my computer before streaming the music defeated the purpose of having a DAC. Does using AE bypass my USB DAC? I have noticed that everyone else has their AE connected to a DAC via Toslink then then receiver.

Let me know if this question make sense? Thanks for any insight.
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post #2 of 58 Old 04-30-2008, 09:54 AM
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iTunes is streaming to the airport express without outputting through the external DAC.

To use the external DAC, you need to have it hooked up to the AE via toslink and then have the DAC connected to your receiver.
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post #3 of 58 Old 04-30-2008, 08:39 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for the clarification. I thought that was the case, but im glad it is cleared up. Since I have a USB DAC im out of luck using AE. I guess i could run a long RCA wire to my receiver (from the DAC) since that would be easier than buying another optical based DAC to hook up to my receiver.

Another question is: Isnt the DAC built into my Cambridge Audio Receiver good enough for listening purposes? I dont know/understand why i would have to buy another DAC if there is a pretty good one already included in my receiver.

Thanks,
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post #4 of 58 Old 04-30-2008, 09:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ctaudio15 View Post

Thanks for the clarification. I thought that was the case, but im glad it is cleared up. Since I have a USB DAC im out of luck using AE. I guess i could run a long RCA wire to my receiver (from the DAC) since that would be easier than buying another optical based DAC to hook up to my receiver.

Another question is: Isnt the DAC built into my Cambridge Audio Receiver good enough for listening purposes? I dont know/understand why i would have to buy another DAC if there is a pretty good one already included in my receiver.

Thanks,

I stream my music to the AE and let the dacs in the integra receiver do the
job since macs are bit perfect and it sounds great. Yes the Cambridge has
good dacs. The optical out from the Mac to the Cambridge would have done
the job unless the cambridge lacks optical in .
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post #5 of 58 Old 04-30-2008, 09:59 PM - Thread Starter
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Thank you. My cambridge has optical in, so everything is running smoothly. Just set up my new B&W 685's with my HSU sub in a 2.1 set up for audio and it sounds amazing.

Otherwise I have a 6.1 set up for movies, but for music 2.1 is great, the Airport Express might be the best unknown audio device in recent years.

Thanks again for the DAC clarification.
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post #6 of 58 Old 05-01-2008, 05:28 AM
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Quote:


Isn't the DAC built into my Cambridge Audio Receiver good enough for listening purposes? I don't know/understand why i would have to buy another DAC if there is a pretty good one already included in my receiver

When it comes to something as subjective as audio, it's difficult to answer most "is it good enough" questions meaningfully. Talk of DACs can seem a little like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. The keys for you, I think, are 1) where that D to A conversion takes place and 2) how much of a difference can you reliably perceive?

Quote:


I guess i could run a long RCA wire to my receiver (from the DAC)

If you have a curious nature, you should probably try it both ways--digital out of the Airport Express versus analog out of the USB DAC--to find out how much of a difference there is, if any, and which sound you prefer.

There can be a few quirks streaming to the Airport Express--drops, delays, interruptions--and in that case you might try wiring up the Express instead of going wireless. But I bet the sound you're getting going digital out of the Express into that Cambridge amp is quite nice.

As to why some folks insert a DAC after the Express, that's usually for two reasons: 1) because they have an amp that's analog in only--and admittedly the analog out of the Express is poor, or 2) because they read somewhere about "jitter" and "re-clocking," got all worried, and in the pursuit of perfection decided to throw some more money at a perceived problem.
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post #7 of 58 Old 05-01-2008, 10:25 PM
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I disagree with the notion that using an external DAC between the AE and audio system is just throwing money at a perceived problem. I have found through listening over long periods that using an external DAC (either built into the audio device or standalone) improves bass response and overall sound quality quite noticeably. Friends who are not big audiophiles even heard the difference.

By the time the signal goes through wi-fi and the AEs DACs (which by definition have to be at the low end of the price range) bits are lost/errored through jitter and dynamic range suffers. A cursory glance at engineering documents on PCM encoding/decoding will reveal why this is a fact and not audiophile snobbery.
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post #8 of 58 Old 05-02-2008, 06:38 AM
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The analog out of the AE is not very good but i have not found the optical to a pre-pro
or flagship rec which usually have some top notch DAC's in them not to have any problems
provided their wireless was working correctly and not dropping.
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post #9 of 58 Old 05-02-2008, 06:50 AM
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Quote:


I disagree with the notion that using an external DAC between the AE and audio system is just throwing money at a perceived problem.

Others have reached that conclusion, as well. It's a contentious issue--mostly because there's a whole segment (media, advertisers, manufacturers, installers etc) reinforcing the sense that there are serious problems which have to be addressed--and that as a user it can be difficult to figure out how to do true double-blind ABXs, and to assess what it is that you think you're hearing.

Quote:


I have found through listening over long periods that using an external DAC (either built into the audio device or standalone) improves bass response and overall sound quality quite noticeably.

Which Mac, what kind of audio files (genre, kind, bit rate) and which Airport Express model do you currently stream to--the "g" or the "n?" And which standalone and built-in DACs have you fed the Airport Express digital out? Real world user reports with specific Mac experience, rather than recommendations to peruse engineering documents, tend to be the most helpful...
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post #10 of 58 Old 05-02-2008, 06:52 AM
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I can also attest to the fact that a DAC between the AE and an analog receiver is indeed a great help.

The optical output of the AE is perfect, so no concerns there if you are connecting to a DAC.

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post #11 of 58 Old 05-02-2008, 07:09 AM
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Quote:


I can also attest to the fact that a DAC between the AE and an analog receiver is indeed a great help.

I don't think there's any disagreement on this issue--if you have to go analog in to an amp or AVR, the analog out of the Express is extremely poor. The more contentious issue, the "perceived" problem, and the issue facing the OP, pertains to going digital out of the Express connected directly to the digital in of an AVR or integrated amp. I suspect most of us here who use or have used the optical out of the Express this way are quite taken with the sound and the experience.

The more difficult case to make--in the real world--is that the resulting "jitter" is so noticeable, so problematic, that additional hundreds or thousands of dollars have to spent inserting something in between the optical out of the Express and whatever amp or AVR device you're feeding digitally--something to deal with jitter and to re-clock before handing off that Apple lossless stream to the built-in DAC of your integrated Amp/AVR.

There's a lot of this out there to digest, and I'm sure there are no easy or definitive answers--hence the opportunity for there to be genuine disagreement. Best to keep an open mind and challenge yourself. But it can be difficult--I just read the other day of an otherwise very smart and very knowledgeable USB DAC manufacturer who feels it's better to rip all your cds to WAV or AIFF because to play back Apple lossless actually takes up much more processing power--so much so that the effect of this extra-processing can easily be heard...
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post #12 of 58 Old 05-03-2008, 12:34 PM
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let's not get carried away. the AE delivers optical just like every other device. light is either transmitted or not. it is simply impossible to improve this delivery.

the real question is: do you prefer the DAC in your digital receiver or an outboard DAC. I would stick with whatever's in your receiver unless it is quite old.

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post #13 of 58 Old 05-06-2008, 10:42 AM
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Just connected the AE via analog to my Trends TA-10.1 amp yesterday, so I appreciate the discussion here. The TA-10.1, in case you are not familiar with it, has a single analog input and no onboard DAC, so when using the AE I either have to settle for the analog connection or add an external DAC with a Toslink in.

Two questions:

The AE has a USB port. Can this be used to supply a USB DAC or is it (as the Apple website seems to suggest) only for connecting a printer?

Any DAC recommendations? 17 inch wide components are out. I've got limited space available for this system, so ideally I want to find something no bigger than the roughly 10"x11"2" Citypulse DAC DA7.2X II over at audio-magus.com. Being able to plug in headphones and add a CD/DVD player down the road would be a big plus.
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post #14 of 58 Old 05-07-2008, 05:50 AM
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RMcR:

I actually own a Trends. It is an excellent little amp. I thought Trends was coming out with a DAC as well, no?

You are completely correct about the USB feature on the AE. Good only for printers. So, you've got to get a DAC with an optical toslink input. There is a lot of debate about USB versus optical, but don't bother reading it. Plug, play and enjoy the music, both sources are excellent. You will be using optical.

The next debate is about optical/toslink cables. Some claim glass optics deliver a better sound...as I say, optical delivers only light...on or off. There's no way to improve that delivery so don't buy expensive cables. I will say that the cheapest cables are flimsy and will fail if stressed (i.e. bending at acute angles, etc.) so get a well made cable, just not one that boasts better quality sound for outrageous prices. Check out the "pro" toslink cables on ebay.

As for DACs. Once again, plenty of hot air out there, but the bottom line is that if you get a DAC with the latest 24bit/192khz chip technology and really low distortion, you should have a transparent device, meaning data is exchanged without corruption or coloration.

The best long-term solution for you is the new Benchmark Media Pre. http://www.benchmarkmedia.com/dac1pre/
It will serve as your DAC and pre-amp to the Trends (which you can disable its pre-amp control). It also has multiple inputs and an excellent headphone amp. You would never have to buy another DAC or preamp. If you want to spend half its price, buy a used Benchmark DAC-1 on Audiogon, it's still around $700, but a great investment.

You already have a very transparent amp in the Trends, so the information will arrive at your speakers unmolested. The speakers are the most subjective aspect of your system and will alter the sound dramatically depending on which you use. Therefore, choose wisely! My suggestion? Barring exotic formats like open-baffle (which I prefer) a really nice used pair of ADS speakers from the 80's can't be beat (and for not much money). These speakers reward me every single day.

Good luck out there! Don't let the whack-o audiophiles drag you into the murky waters.

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post #15 of 58 Old 05-07-2008, 02:49 PM
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acd483

Thanks very much for taking time to respond to my query.

Given that I am using the Airport Express as the primary source for the Trends, I need a DAC if I want to bypass the AE's analog out. Additionally, if I want to avoid constantly switching cables when I go from AE to iPod to CD, I need something to serve as a switchbox. Some of the DACs I'm looking at can do this as well, in addition to serving as a preamp for my iPod and its underpowered headphone output.

I'm sure the Benchmark you recommend is a wonderful amp. The web abounds with positive reviews. But $1500 for the DAC would blow the budget I've set for this set up, which aims to provide better sound for my smallish living room than the higher-end table radios and all-in-one iPods speaker docks at more or less the same price.

And size matters, which is why this project has been so challenging and why I was so thrilled to discover the diminutive Trends T-amp. I've got a single shelf to work with, due to the wife acceptance factor, so I'm digging the smaller footprint of the Citypulse amp and the fact that it would pre-amp the iPod, allow me to use the AE's digital out, accommodate a CD player (if and when I find a small one with a digital out) all while allowing me to feed multiple sources to the Trends amp and connect my Grados without pulling plugs.

As for speakers, I've got a surplus pair of Boston Acoustics VR-50Ms that sound quite nice to my ears and look good doing it. If I didn't already have speakers, I'd probably buy a pair of PSB Alphas and be done with it.

Anybody have any experience inserting a budget DAC like the Citypulse into a similar set up?
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post #16 of 58 Old 05-08-2008, 04:58 AM
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RMcR,

You and I have very similar taste. I also own a pair of Grados and a slew of Boston Acoustics speakers. They are indeed quite nice.

After reviewing the Citypulse, I got excited as clearly they are creating a much less expensive version of the Benchmark but with a remote control! Just don't get the upgraded version, that's hype.

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post #17 of 58 Old 06-28-2008, 08:40 AM
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As airport express users could you tell me what other options I might have available to me that would work well with the express?

Please see this for a more detailed question that I'm trying to resolve

Link: http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=1043926

Thanks!

Dave
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post #18 of 58 Old 06-29-2008, 12:17 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RMcR View Post

acd483


And size matters, which is why this project has been so challenging and why I was so thrilled to discover the diminutive Trends T-amp. I've got a single shelf to work with, due to the wife acceptance factor, so I'm digging the smaller footprint of the Citypulse amp and the fact that it would pre-amp the iPod, allow me to use the AE's digital out, accommodate a CD player (if and when I find a small one with a digital out) all while allowing me to feed multiple sources to the Trends amp and connect my Grados without pulling plugs.
...
Anybody have any experience inserting a budget DAC like the Citypulse into a similar set up?


As you say size matters, you might want to look at the DAC707 Super Pro and use the DAC with amplified speakers or your speakers and the T-Amp. I got a DAC 707 Super Pro from www.audio-magus.com where is it 80 bucks right now because a new model is out with USB. I am using it with a Mac Mini and I can hear the difference over the mini's analog output. The AE optical output should give the same results.
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post #19 of 58 Old 07-28-2008, 02:13 PM
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I don't know if anyone is still following this thread, but here it goes.

I ended up exchanging the Zhaolu 2.5 for the Citypulse 7.2 DAC only to discover that I couldn't get the optical input to work. I now have a second 7.2 at home and the optical in works just fine connected to a DVD player, but still does not work with the Airport Express. Could it be the cord and adapter or the AE itself? Well, the AE worked with the Zhaolu and it works with my ancient Denon AVR.

I also tried connecting the toslink directly to my MacBook via the adapter, and still no luck. Is it possible that something inside the Citypulse DAC does not like the stream its getting from my Mac or AE?
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post #20 of 58 Old 07-28-2008, 05:45 PM
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Quote:


I also tried connecting the toslink directly to my MacBook via the adapter, and still no luck

It's hard to decipher what it is that you've actually gotten to work, but...take the DAC out of the equation...if you have a Macbook and Airport Express, and that Denon AVR which presumably has optical in, you should be able to determine that optical from both is working properly with your cables...once you've done that, then that means it's a settings issue between AudioMIDI and that DAC, or the DAC itself.

Open AudioMIDI, then with the Macbook, optical to your Denon AVR, play back a dvd with AC-3 or DTS--does your Denon switch to DD 5.1 or DTS and can you hear it? That means your optical cable and adaptor tip are fine...

Then try some music in iTunes, the Macbook built-in digital out should still pass whatever format you rip typical redbook cds to, as PCM to your Denon...

Then test the AE using the same optical cable and tip--set it up as a remote speaker and use Airtunes to stream something to your Denon...

Once you've verified all that, you know all your hardware and cables are good...then back to the DAC...what other inputs are there? Maybe it's defaulting to some other input, and if you want to use optical, you have to select it when you turn it on...I'm sure there are some threads on your particular DACs on the head-fi, diyAudio and slimdevices forums...
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post #21 of 58 Old 09-14-2008, 05:19 AM
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An update for any 'searchers' who might have stumbled upon this thread, as I just did looking for a solution to my still unresolved problem...

The Citypulse 7.2 does not work with the Airport Express' optical out. The dealer has verified this on their end, as has a Mac specialist they consulted.

We also tried converting the AE's toslink to coax and running it into the 7.2. No luck.

I am still searching for a DAC to put between my AE, CD player and my Little Dot MK IV headphone amp/pre amp.

My experience with the Citypulse and Zhaolu tells me that these cheaper DACs do not provide much discernible improvement over the DAC inside my entry-level Pioneer universal DVD player. The Zhaolu, however, did improve the SQ of the Airport Express.

So I'm at a cross roads: buy an entry-level DAC for the AE and put the savings toward a higher quality CD player, or spend more on the DAC and buy a less expensive CD player and use it as a transport only.

Specific DAC/CDP recommendations appreciated.
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post #22 of 58 Old 09-15-2008, 02:58 PM
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Sorry for the newbie question. The audio output on the AE looks like a standard miniplug. Yet I know it can output a digital "Toslink" signal as this thread has discussed. What kind of cable do you insert into the AE to get digital? A normal Toslink cable obviously wouldn't fit there. And I checked the Apple store and found nothing.

Thank you.

Ben R.
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post #23 of 58 Old 09-15-2008, 05:44 PM
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Ben, you use a mini-jack optical adapter tip--it costs a couple of bucks--you buy the tip separately, it snaps onto a regular optical cable end or it can be built into a cable as one end, with the other end a full optical to plug into your AVR. The AE, Mac mini, Macbook, all use the same tip. Most get them from Radio Shack or Monoprice. Works great with the Express.

This includes the tip:

http://store.apple.com/us/product/TL955LL/A
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post #24 of 58 Old 10-30-2008, 01:44 PM
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Configuration:

Apple Airport Express connected Optical to Musical Fidelity X-Dac. Music streamed wirelessly to Airport. When using analog output from the airport to the amp = no problems at all. When using the X-Dac the music plays fine but occasionally stutters. Digital lock is maintained all the time and the stuttering doesn't sound like a "drop-out", it sounds like a bad DJ trying to do a stutter trick. Using the same cable and same X-Dac hooked up optical out from Macbook Pro = no problem. Any suggestions?
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post #25 of 58 Old 10-30-2008, 03:30 PM
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Found this older thread, where someone with an X-DAC was having a problem with his Sonos:

http://forums.sonos.com/showthread.php?t=4189&page=3

One of the comments about the X-DAC was:

Quote:


I am familiar with its design and the PLL used to lock the internal clock to the incoming S/PDIF stream has a small range. It is possible that there's enough skew between the XO in the ZP and the VCXO in the DAC to make the DAC slip or skip frames

I don't have time to read the whole thread but there seemed to be a couple of interesting links...might be worth pursuing...

Are you streaming the same file type, i.e. Apple lossless? Is it just the Express, or do you have another router or basestation as well?
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post #26 of 58 Old 02-06-2009, 05:55 PM
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I have a Citypulse DA7.2x, and my Airport Express works with it flawlessly, as does my Mac Mini. I am using the optical cable that was sold in the Apple Store last year.

Quote:
Originally Posted by RMcR View Post

An update for any 'searchers' who might have stumbled upon this thread, as I just did looking for a solution to my still unresolved problem...

The Citypulse 7.2 does not work with the Airport Express' optical out. The dealer has verified this on their end, as has a Mac specialist they consulted.

We also tried converting the AE's toslink to coax and running it into the 7.2. No luck.

I am still searching for a DAC to put between my AE, CD player and my Little Dot MK IV headphone amp/pre amp.

My experience with the Citypulse and Zhaolu tells me that these cheaper DACs do not provide much discernible improvement over the DAC inside my entry-level Pioneer universal DVD player. The Zhaolu, however, did improve the SQ of the Airport Express.

So I'm at a cross roads: buy an entry-level DAC for the AE and put the savings toward a higher quality CD player, or spend more on the DAC and buy a less expensive CD player and use it as a transport only.

Specific DAC/CDP recommendations appreciated.

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post #27 of 58 Old 02-08-2009, 05:22 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ctaudio15 View Post

I have a SILVERSTONE ENSEMBLE EB01 USB DAC connected to my MacPro...

How do you like the EB01?

We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.
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post #28 of 58 Old 02-10-2009, 10:42 AM
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I guess the EB01 is fine for the money but many audiophile types do not like the BB PCM2702 chipset. Also most do not like using the AE because of the high amount of jitter it introduces. Use of a reclocker can reduce this but at significant expense.

If you want the "best" "no compromise" USB front end go with a dedicated mac or pc with external storage and no monitor with a quality audiophile USB cable (synergistic research, ridge street, cryoparts or kimble/belkin pro if you doing it on the cheap) to a quality dac (there are many but Wavelength and red wine are a couple I'm excited to see what the peachtree nova has to offer as well).

You can certainly get a good sounding setup for less and the above described assumes you have pre/amp/speakers of equal quality already.

Check this out for a good read
http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue41/ca_intro.htm
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post #29 of 58 Old 02-19-2009, 05:33 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chefklc View Post

I don't think there's any disagreement on this issue--if you have to go analog in to an amp or AVR, the analog out of the Express is extremely poor.

To each his own, but the analog output sounds pretty darn good to me.

We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.
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post #30 of 58 Old 04-02-2009, 12:25 AM
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I have a related question:

Is there any difference in the quality of the DAC in an airport express vs. the one in the Apple TV? If the Apple TV has a better DAC I would get a used 40gb version just to stream iTunes to my receiver.

If not, does anyone have a suggestion for a stereo receiver or integrated amp that has optical in and a good DAC for less than $1000? Most AVRs have optical in, but I want to set up a music-only 2 channel system and it seems like a waste to get a full HT AVR for that. I'm having trouble finding a stereo-oriented receiver with optical in and would rather not have to add another component (external DAC) if I don't need to.

Any opinions?
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