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My current digital source is an ipod shuffle. I know it is not audiophile quality, but it suffices for my current limited digital needs. I typically download music from youtube (MP3).
I am considering moving into an audiophile grade digital front end and would like to know your opinion on how hi-rez downloads (FLAC, AIFF, etc.) played thru a decent digital front end would compare to the the youtube MP3 files. Any input would be appreciated.
Having looked in your profile and your system and musical interests I am sure that a move away from MP3 will be a pretty obvious improvement. However trying to achieve a decent classical music collection by relying upon hi-rez downloads will be of limited success due to the comparative paucity of titles on offer. There is good stuff out there but restricting yourself to them would be like building a collection based only on 200g, 45 rpm vinyl. Most downloads of classical music on offer are redbook not hi-rez.
Please do not overlook basic 16/44.1 files as they too will outshine MP3s even if ripped from your own CDs. The quality of your DAC is of primary importance here. In fact IMO the better DACs offer a result for 16/44.1 replay reasonably comparable to, if not quite as good as, hi-rez which despite its merits is in general currently overpriced IMO ( yes, I do buy the odd one).
Thanks for the advice on redbook, PAR. I certainly don't want to corner myself into a small library. I listen primarily to 20th and 21st century chamber music.
Regarding a good DAC, do you have any ideas. Ideally, I want to be able to download music files via my iMAC. Then, access the music files that reside on my iMAC via some device that has a good DAC. I am unsure where to begin and any input would be appreciated. I don't want to break the bank, say $2k or so. FYI: I used to playback redbook via downloaded files onto my iPod Classic which sounded very nice, in my opinion. But, the iPod Classic does not play the hi-rez files.
I am unsure if you want to have a single digital replay system in an "all-in-one-box" style like Sonos or if you mean to play the hi-rez files through your main audio system. I will assume the latter.
You will need two things:
1. A media player installed on your iMAC. There are a number of these at various price points but whatever you choose it must be able to play the PCM hi-rez formats and possibly, if you want, DSD. Some of the media players are Windows only so these will not be of interest to you , others only Apple and some offer versions for either. I use JRiver MC22 which comes in a Mac version. I use the Windows version which I am very happy with. It is pretty advanced in the features it offers and is inexpensive compared with some others. It is a one off cost and not an annual subscription. It also offers remore control apps for you to use on your phone or tablet. Great to control it from your listening seat. I also recommend it as it will display most of the information that you need for classical music ( especially when using the display at track level) whereas some of the players seem to be stuck in a pop/rock: album title/artist/song framework. These require a lot of working around in regard to the metadata ( tagging) to be usable for classical. You will probably need to adjust the tagging for albums of mutiple composers' works. You will quickly find out why.
2. A good DAC and interconnect. I don't have a lot of experience with $2K items so you may want to have a look at what is going on in the PC music forum here. I do understand that the Mytek Brooklyn may be the kind of tning that will suit. Others like Schiit Audio have a good reputation but I think that they are limited to PCM formats ( happy to be corrected on this if necessary).
Of course you also need to become familiar with on-line vendors of classical music. Given your taste for 20th and 21st century chamber music I would not recommend the standard hi-rez /audiophile websites as you will find little. You need to look at e.g. Presto Classical or The Classical Shop. Some of the classical labels do offer hi-rez options ( Hyperion, Linn) but a lot of the labels themselves offer only MP3 as yet and imagine that they are technically at the forefront by offering 320kBs. I also recommend subscribing to a good streaming service that offers CD quality streams which I have found a great blessing for exploring music.
Finally don't overlook CD itself. It looks from your profile that you are currently vinyl only for "hard" formats. If you want to build a serious computer music collection you may find that certain titles are only available as CDs. You can rip these to your computer using either the ripper built into the media player or, preferably, install dbpoweramp on your iMac. So you would buy CDs , not to play directly, but as a carrier of the digital files that you want. You may need a small external optical drive to do this if you are currently not equipped with one (circa $25). Get it right and this will be better than most CD players that you have ever heard.
Please also visit the link attached to the Well Tempered Computer which is the best beginner's guide that I can think of.
Great info, PAR. THANKS!!!
It looks like the iFi iDSD may work for SACD. I have been using a little SMSL DAC and tinkering around with different opamps to change the sound to suit, but I recently bought a Schiit Modi 2 uber Multi DAC which is really nice too. I need to get some RCA Y connectors so I can A-B between those, and my Parasound P5's internal DAC. I think that the Schiit DAC may be tough to beat! That said, you may want to tinker with the SMSL for a whopping $66 on Amazon until you settle on something better, it's an inexpensive backup if your primary DAC dies too.
...but maybe not as noticeable in a portable earbud system, or in the car - depending on the car and the car stereo (due to road noise and quality of the car stereo).
You don't have to buy hi-rez downloads to notice the improvement vs YouTube MP3. You can 'rip' your own CDs (16-bit / 44.1-KHz) to FLAC or other lossless formats and hear the improvement. Hi-rez downloads (24-bit/96-KHz and beyond) may sound even better but simply getting away from those lossy MP3s should yield significant gains.
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