Originally Posted by spickerish
Currently my rig is: Computer--> Corda Cantate DAC/Amp --> Headphones
My music is ripped to 320 kbps, I found that when I listen to to a cd via my computer, it sounds a lot better than the compressed files (which is logical). This got me thinking about using a cd-player as a source.
The Cantate is a transparent amp. I listened to mine with the Cayin CDT23/CD100i, CD17, CD50T, Shanling SCD-T200 and Cocktail Audio X10, and it was easy to hear the difference in each one. So a better CDPlayer or DAC can make a lot of difference. I could not however spot any difference between the integrated USB DAC vs the IBasso D-Zero, so it depends really on what DAC or CDP, too.
Aside from source hardware, the source material is also important. Thing is though, why use the computer as a CD transport, instead of just ripping the music to a lossless format like FLAC or ALAC?
1. Considering this rig: Denon dcd-520 --> Amp --> headphones. How much would it benefit from a DAC?
It depends on the gear used as some may color the sound too much at any point in the audio chain, but as I wrote above, the Cantate (and I suppose Meier amps in general) are transparent enough to allow you to appreciate the variance between source equipment/formats.
2. What would sound better: Denon dcd-520 --> Amp --> headphones ---or--- Computer as cd source ---> dac/amp ---> headphones (considering the amp is the same, and the dac is the Cantate's integrated dac.)
Again, depends on the hardware. If you look at the sources I compared, two things stand out:
1) the ones that immediately stand out are tube CDPs - it might be because tubes color the sound, but not true for all since they don't all sound like the stereotypical "tube sound." The CD50T and SCD-T200 fall into that category - warm and spacious, deep bass tonally; CDT23/100i don't - very spacious, powerful upper midrange presentation perfect for "live" sound, but not warm; Cocktail Audio X10 somewhat analytical but not necessarily "cold" nor exceptionally detailed.
2) DAC chips and implementation (USB vs monolithic CDP, output stage, etc) - aside from tube coloration, those CDPs are not using USB or SPDIF to transmit the data to another device - just from the transport to the circuit board, so its possible the USB receivers in both the Cantate and the D-Zero aren't reclocking the signal well enough to make much of a difference in overall performance despite one using the WM8740 DAC chip, which is also powered by a battery. Also, with the full-size CDPs used, at those prices you can expect more than just expensive and high-res DAC chips, but also better output stage. It doesn't necessarily have to be tubes, it's just that the showroom I spent an afternoon listening in specialized in tubes; but fact is when you are paying for a CDP like that a well-dampened transport and analog output stage design have much more to do with the sound than the DAC chip itself. Nearly anyone can afford the bare chips and assemble a DAC built around them and sell them on eBay, for example; but more design goes into the CDPs I tried out, and assume the same for similar CDPs as well as DACs. It's not so much a question between CDP vs DAC, broadly, but at say a given price point / comparable performance, which CDP or DAC? ; if anything there could be DACs even at higher price points that are well designed and then have a typical USB input that can't reclock the signal (personally it's this and not the cables making a difference) so make sure to read up on reviews and preferably listen to them yourself.
Originally Posted by spickerish
3. Is the Denon dcd-520 (€199) good enough or are the Cambridge Audio Topaz CD10 (€299) or the Marantz CD5004 (€299) or the Yamaha CD-S300 (€239) noticeably better?
I can't really tell without listening, but check out comparos so you can get an idea how the sound on each varies from the rest; WhatHiFi usually has these per price point, concisely shortened for the website and provides value for money assessment. Reality with entry-level gear isn't that they are all inadequate, but with too many compromises manufacturers tend to favor one color over another. That's more true with headphones and speakers than CDPs, I suppose, but I'd say it's still a factor; plus Meier amps are also considerably transparent.
Personally, you could just get a nice DAC (especially one with better USB signal reclocking) another HDD if necessary, then just rip your music into lossless. Or if you want to just keep the computer, amp's USB input and 320kbps files for casual listening, then a CDP for more serious/critical listening, I'd say save up a bit more and go up to the next price level. The Cantate DAC isn't that bad, in fact despite all those CDPs I listened to I didn't think an upgrade was that important (at least not if I have to skimp on lunch and dinner, or cut from savings, to make the payments). Plus I sold all my audio furniture when I went into headphones, and a heavy CDP will need one considering what antique table I've just repurposed for my Cantate.2 and the current source - an iPad2 :
I'm actually much more likely to just get a Seagate GoFlex Satellite WiFi HDD to add more storage to the iPad (as well as directly transfer photos from my laptop and keep it clutter-free after I install my new SSD) than a CDP these days, given how neat it is to have a large touchscreen for navigating through the library. However, if a great deal on a used unit came along I might not be able to resist; there's a Cayin CD-50T in a local forum right now going for around US$450 (at the current exchange rate) that's just tempting me everyday, although I'm hopefully, a Shanling SCD-T series or the MC series, so the chassis would be similar to the Cantate's (these amps were outsourced to Shanling and got to use that cool chassis). To be more realistic though I'm just waiting for a CDT-23 with stock tubes, given how much cheaper Cayin is over here brand new; they used to retail at just over US$1000 here. Dealer support is good too - they won't turn you away or charge you more for being the nth owner of a Cayin unit and given how much transports tended to die on me, this is important (that's how I ended up with computer audio btw).