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Best ~$200 DAC for Apple Lossless >>Airport Express - Page 2

post #16 of 30
Originally Posted by Downrange View Post
Congrats! There are a few of us using this combo (AX and ECD-1). Just got mine last week. Isn't that a great DAC?

And, yes, AX is bit-perfect with low jitter.

Yeah, I was focused on this DAC a year or two ago but didn't want to spend that kind of money even at it's used prices. I then thought about the Benchmark or the Bel Canto but started reading reviews of NOS dacs and ended up with the Audio Mirror. It's a very dynamic and enjoyable DAC but now that I have the Grado PS-1 and heard them on highend cd players a while ago at a meet, I wanted to see what I highend DAC could do. I was pleasantly surprised. Whenever you think things can't sound better, they somehow do. That's why you should avoid any meets.

But anyway, yes AE works as great transport giving you the wireless convenience to have access to your complete music library or any other library on your network.
post #17 of 30
Originally Posted by iamoneagain View Post
Well the internal DAC and analog output in the AE is horrible
They use a different one than the Wolfson DAC that Apple usually uses? That's a very good DAC.

See ya
post #18 of 30
Originally Posted by bigshot View Post
They use a different one than the Wolfson DAC that Apple usually uses? That's a very good DAC.

See ya
Actually, I don't know. I probably misspoke and should have only said the analog output is bad (at least compared to an inexpensive DAC). All I know is the PS-1 sound pretty good with anything but when I plugged my amp directly into the AE, it just sounded ok. Not very good separation or dynamics, and the bass wasn't too good. The Audio Mirror is a big improvement and the ECD-1 is another level beyond that.

I'm sure you RedWine could probably mod the thing but since most are using it for home use, it's probably easier to use a separate DAC. I know Empirical Audio mods it but not to use a stand alone but as transport with super low jitter that adds a superclock, coaxial output and other features, but it's very expensive at $1200.
post #19 of 30
I quite like the MicroDAC with my APX's. Haven't heard the other one that's been mentioned here...
post #20 of 30
Originally Posted by nickofall View Post
Is there anything in the $175-$200 price range that will make a noticable improvement?
yes, most headroom DAC gear and similar (pre-owned to match your price-range) will yield a certain improvement. having obsessed over this for more than two years, I tried a number of portable and larger DACs from about $100 to just under $2,000. I ended up not liking many of the portable ones in comparing them to "fancier" gear - but I won't post my negative impressions here. you should definitely decide whether you want this to be a portable solution (sacrifice a bit of SQ) or not. then the best way to go is a used DAC from here or audiogon. they're snapped up pretty quickly! - personally I am converted to USB DACs and own 3 after having tried another 4. but I'm always looking for a better one...
post #21 of 30

Why Does my Airport Express -> DAC Stink?

I need help!!

I have a similar setup to what you are looking for. I've read that the Airport Express is bit perfect but there is a volume drop and a certain flatness-2D thing going on with the sound. It should be CD quality right?

Here is my setup. I have an iMac in another room with about 700 jazz CDs ripped into Apple iTunes encoded as Apple Lossless.

My Airport Express is in my living room next to my hifi and headphone amp. I hooked up the Airport to my DAC with a Toslink cable and it sounded okay. Then I went to compare it with my CD player hooked up to my DAC. I had Airtunes and CD rolling side by side with the same Wes Anderson album.

With the CD it sounded great better than the line out on the play but close to the same volume (I had it cranked to 9 o'clock, preamp volume starts at 7 o'clock) Then I tried the Airport Express/Airtunes. The volume was way low. I had to turn it up to 12 o'clock to get a comparable volume level and even with the volumes comparable the Airport Express just sounded flat and lifeless.

I then changed from the CD's coax output to it's Toslink figuring that maybe the sound output is lower on the DAC from the optical input. Well it sounded the exact same quality and volume as when I had it hooked up to the coax input.

Why is Airtunes cutting down the volume and making the music lifeless? When I listen to iTunes through my external USB DAC and headphone amp it sounds phenomenal. It's like the Airport is killing my music.

I mean if Airtunes and Apple Lossless is a bit perfect setup, then should it not really matter whether the album is being piped into the Toslink cable by the CD Player or the Airport Express. The bits should be the same. But the volume drop is very severe meaning that obviously it is not the same. I checked the volume level on iTunes, disabled the EQ and check for any volume matching functions in iTunes to make sure that the sound was unadulterated.

Help me get this sound to be great. What do I need to do? This would be a convenient setup rather than having to fumble through a quagmire of CDs which is what I am still doing as it sounds fantastic compared to the Airport.

post #22 of 30
The volume in iTunes should either be all the way up or have the boxed checked "disable volume control for external speakers" in the settings. All the other options; crossfade, sound enhancer, and sound check, should be unchecked. I am also using a highend optical cable; Van Den Hul OPTOCOUPLER Mk II.

post #23 of 30
Have you gone into iTunes preferences and disabled sound check and other dsp like that?

And what quality of toslink cable are you using?

Van den Hul Optocoupler (has option for mini termination on one end) is a nice glass optical cable, but it is almost $100.

To start, try an originally mini terminated toslink cable like this one at Monoprice.com:

It's not ideal, but it isn't too bad either.

post #24 of 30
To verify that all the sound garbling junk in iTunes is disabled, grab a DTS test file off the web and play it to the receiver in your living room (I'm making a big assumption here that you've got one in there). Then play the file. If the receiver decodes it, great. If not, find out what's still toggled that's modifying the bitstream.

Were the files ripped with any volume normalizing enabled?

Some folks claim jitter can make a difference. Never heard it myself, but I'll throw it out there.

Is there any sound enhancing junk on the CD player that could account for the difference? (If there is, then I guess it's not junk for you.)
post #25 of 30

My Airport -> DAC now does not Stink, It's Great! Thanks!

Thanks everybody for helping me get my system straight.

After reading your responses, I went back to iTunes and checked. The new version of iTunes downloaded a few days ago and my frustrating experience was a few weeks ago so I don't know if it changed any of the settings but when I looked into the playback prefs, Crossfade, Sound Enhancer and Sound Check were all on. I know that I turned off the Sound Check a few weeks ago maybe I didn't apply the changes or something. I also turned up the volume all the way.

Anyway, today I made sure to turn off all of the BS and turned off the volume control to remote speakers then tried it out. Wow! I am flipping between the dac inputs and it is hard to tell whether it is coming from the CD tranport or the Airport Express. The Lossless through the Airport Express sounds fantastic.

FWIW, I already was using the Monoprice miniToslink to Toslink cable.

This really is awesome. I was so disheartened a few weeks ago that I just gave up on it. I didn't really try to hard but still...

I didn't try the DTS test because my DAC is only a 2 Channel Stereo unit, not a Dolby Digital or DTS home theater DAC. I've tried plugging in my DVD player and HDTV receivers optical out to the DAC and the DAC couldn't find a signal. It would be cool if it decode the L/R channels as I only have my HiFi as my Home Theater soundsystem and don't plan on going with anymore speakers. I've got a pair of Magnepan III-A's and I don't really have room for surrounds or a subwoofer.

Thanks to everyone who helped me out,
post #26 of 30
Originally Posted by Marsalone View Post
my DAC is only a 2 Channel Stereo unit, not a Dolby Digital or DTS home theater DAC. I've tried plugging in my DVD player and HDTV receivers optical out to the DAC and the DAC couldn't find a signal. It would be cool if it decode the L/R channels as I only have my HiFi as my Home Theater soundsystem and don't plan on going with anymore speakers. I've got a pair of Magnepan III-A's and I don't really have room for surrounds or a subwoofer.
No, it likely won't understand DD or DTS, as they're both different formats than PCM stereo. But, many DVD players can be configured to output only stereo and they'll make some attempt to merge the channels and LFE.

You can also get standalone DD/DTS converters that will convert surround to stereo, though those typically cost much more than a low-end HT receiver, would could also be used for just decode duty as well.

A computer can also do the decode and retransmit in stereo, but the experience won't be terribly user friendly or integrated without media streaming software and hardware.

Short form: Look for the stereo only option on your DVD player.

Oh wait, this is head-fi, not avsforum. I'll stop now.
post #27 of 30
Thanks Doug,

I've tried my best to get my HDTV receiver and DVD player to pump out a normal Stereo digital signal through the toslink but no dice. That's fine for now as I'll look into getting a decoder for $100 or so on ebay. I know that with a receiver I'd also be getting an FM tuner as well even though I wouldn't be using the amp portion but I need something thin as I have just about run out of room.

My main reason for setting up the Airport Express was to have the convenience of easily putting an album or two into a playlist so that I could go listen and maybe read at night in my comfortable living room with my SOHA and Sennheiser HD600s instead of sitting at the computer. Flipping through CD binders was getting old and I already had the AE for a few yearsthat Iwas using as an wifi extender and sometimes with the line out to my HiFi during the holidays to play some Christmas music for parties.

I used it for real last night and it worked nice without a hiccup when controlled by my iMac in the computer room where the Hard Drive is hooked up. When I tried to control it with the new MacBook I bought for my wife, there were some glitches and skips. I guess it pipes the music from the iMac to the MacBook to the AE and with all of that throughput and the flakey wifi on the MacBook, I guess it was too much.

As a side note, I wish that Apple would fix the wifi problems on the new intel based MacBooks. My old G4 iBook was great, but the upgrade to the new machine and frustrating experience with the wifi drops and poor reception is very disappointing.

post #28 of 30
If the files live on your iMac and you're running iTunes on your laptop, then yes, it's pulling the files from the iMac in whatever format they're in and then streaming them to the AE in apple lossless (AirTunes is always apple lossless; itunes will upconvert if necessary.)

That's a double hit on your wifi link. Assuming you have lossless files, that's a peak of around 2Mbit, on a nominal 11M line that usually gets half that on a good day. Add in some environmental noise and/or a weak transmitter or antenna in your mac, and I'm not too surprised. If your roommate/spouse/neighbor pops some popcorn in the microwave, that can even do it, depending on where your wifi node is.

I'm not sure what Macs have in the "remote desktop" arena (my first mac is on order even as we speak; bye-bye XP), but if you were to use something like that to display an iTunes running on your iMac, then you'd save a lot of wifi bandwidth and get rid of the skipping and such. If OS X doesn't have built-in remote desktop support, then VNC would do the trick.

There's also a remote from keyspan that has basic forward/pause/back controls, that plugs into the USB on the apx, for like $40 or so. That's another option to take the laptop out of the mix.

And there's the soon to be AppleTV, which will do APX music duty, have a remote, and might take care of your hdtv/dvd issues as well. (So if you add in the cost of an apx remote, selling your apx, and the decoder, it might net about even.) Sorry, I hate recommendations that involve spending money, but I thought I'd mention it.
post #29 of 30
I have all my files on my iMac in the living room and use a pc in the bedroom to share the files and stream to the AE. For the most part it works great. Occasionally the AE is not recognized and unplugging and plugging back in fixes it. The other problem that happens very rarely is the pc has a bad connection and the music plays for a few seconds, pauses, and then repeats. I might switch the iMac to the bedroom though, since it has FrontRow, instead of using a keyspan remote with the pc.
post #30 of 30
Thread Starter 
Thanks everybody!

I finally decided on the following gear to link the AXP to my Harman Kardon 3480 stereo receiver and Ascend Acoustics CMT 340SE speakers:

Dayton GOC-3 glass TOSlink optical cable ($30 parts-express)
Entech Number Cruncher 205.2 DAC ($100 ebay)
Zebra Cables 4' INTC-F RCA interconnect with locking connectors ($60 direct)

I'll let you know how I like the DAC once it gets here.

You headphone folk probably don't care, but I have two more purchases planned to complete my setup: a HSU STF-1 subwoofer and a Harmony 550 remote control.

If anyone is interested in trading apple lossless music, PM me or reply. Thanks again.
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