Originally Posted by Abel Calvo
Doug, great post, very explanatory. I would appreciate it if you would be so kind as to elaborate a little on the differences in audio quality.
Digital music playback has an inescapable analog element involved... time. Time is non-critical for digital video because you are reconstructing a series of still images to create the illusion of moving images. But music/audio doesn't progress frame-by-frame, it is a continuous process. ANYTHING that changes the timing of the bits ("gaps" between bits as well as "arrival time" will affect music. This has been both measured and mathematically proven so that it is now universally accepted as an issue in the design/engineering/technical community as well as in the high-end audio and home theater community. The one thing that distinguishes HDMI cables (aside from build-quality issues) from each other is how they sound when playing music. You get into the same sorts of sonic differences you hear when you change 75-ohm coax cables that used to be popular for sending music signals from a disc transport to an external DAC for high-end digital music playback. The cable's characteristics tend to "upset" bit timing to some degree and we already know that timing of the bits is critical for music playback. For movie sound, audio is sent "early", buffered and re-sync'd with the video. Movie sound is less susceptible to differences in HDMI cables because it is essentially reconstructed in the surround processor. I also find that differences like these are more obvious in stereo music playback than they are when you listen to 5 channels or more. I find that music sounds best through HDMI cables that are made by companies who have a long history of making analog and digital cables for high-end stereo use. I like the HDMI music playback sound quality I get from Wireworld Silver Starlight, DH Labs, and a couple of others, but the very best music playback quality I've encountered is AudioQuest's top-of-the-line Diamond DBS HDMI cable which is VERY expensive, but their Coffee cable is considerably less expensive and sounds nearly as good. The AudioQuest DBS system is unique (and pattented) and works incredibly well for digital and analog signals. I have a large number of HDMI cables from Monoprice.com that are just as good as any other HDMI cable for digital video... the 4-figure AQ Diamond's images are identical to the $6 Monoprice.com cables' images, but the AQ Diamond cable produces better stereo music sound quality... though whether it is enough better to justify the huge differential in cost is is endlessly (and uselessly) debatable.
All that said, I have not yet heard ANY disc playing system (including the '103) that sounds as good as my computer-based music playback system (Mac Mini, solid-state hard disk, external FireWire 800 hard disk with FLAC lossless music files, AQ Diamond FireWire 800 cable, outboard USB DAC (Wavelength Proton), AQ Diamond USB cable, AudioQuest Yosemite DBS analog cables from the DAC to stereo preamp, Decibel playback software, music files played back from memory so there's no disk activity most of the time unless more tracks are being loaded into memory). HDMI music playback has never quite equaled the quality I get from that dedicated music playback system. Even if I connect a duplicate hard disk with USB interface to the '103 or other disc players, even though the music file is the same, it doesn't sound quite as good as the dedicated music playback system (this refers to the disc playback component having a USB interface and compatibility with FLAC files and a connection to a high-end surround processor via HDMI, I've done this with Anthem D2v, AudioControl Maestro M3, Bryston SP3, and Cary audio processors(11A and 12)). It's not that music playback from hard disk and disc player sounds bad... it's decent. But the dedicated music playback system is a little better. Again, arguing whether the cost of the dedicated music playback system is justifiable for the small but desirable difference is endlessly (and also uselessly) debatable. Only you can decide if your budget and priorities make the expense justifiable.