- Jan 19, 2013
I'm not knocking your beliefs, some of us just have different ones.
For instance, you put more stock in the computer playback machine (the source as you call it) than I do.
I put more stock in: 1st, the recorded material (I call this the source). 2nd, the DAC.
Recorded Material: We all know the saying.. Garbage in / Garbage out. IMO that saying starts here and is why I call it the source. On a revealing / resolving setup a bad recording should sound bad, on the other hand on the same setup, a good recording should sound great.
The DAC: This is where the all important D to A conversion takes place. If this goes wrong or is not implemented correct all bets are off.
Computer playback machine: In today's world this is more times than not some kind of computer (PC) - Mac mini, to C.A.P.S, to these dedicated music servers (that's really just PCs). All these machines operated in the digital domain (not in the analog) and everything happens here before the DAC. Our goal here is: Try to eliminate noise, vibrations, Jitter and RFI/EMI as much as possible and produce a signal that has good timing. The biggest jump in improvement IMO is 3 things... 1. Going from a SMPS to a LPS, 2. Going from fans to fan-less, 3 getting galvanic isolation from the USB and DAC.
Some things are just not audible:
For the money that's being charged for these dedicated music servers - one can build his own for less than half the cost. Sure there are better LPSs than others. However, having a good solid LPS to start with is half the battle. There are some really good affordable ones out there HD-Plex, TeraDak, and many, many others. Having a Paul Hynes LPS is not absolutely necessary and is not audible at this level (I've heard many over the years). I decided to go with a really well built one, because clean power is clean power as long as the LPS is built solid.
Using a dedicated USB card like JCAT, SOtM, PPang and others that's made for audio is really all you need. They have clocks that will delivery a well timed signal. Put this in an enclosure that has no fans and you are good to go. Send the signal to a dedicated USB converter to do the conversion outside the DAC is one way to get the USB G-isolated from the DAC.
Audiophile CAT6 cables? These shielded twisted pair cables have to abide by a standard. If it doesn't abide by these standards they are not legitimate CAT6 or CAT6A cables. So what does an audiophile CAT6 or CAT56A cable do different?
Adding something like a Regen or an iPurifier2 at the end of the chain can do wonders to some setups. The $3K TotalDAC reclocker I had in my system did no better or worse than the $150 Regen. I said what is going on here. I sent the TotalDAC reclocker back with no regrets to this day - If I had to do it all over again - It would go back once again without any hesitation.
"I have my Mac attached now to the TotalDac monoblocs via the optical S/PDIF input and it sounds fine but not engaging. In fact, the impact of the monoblocs over the d1-dual are almost completely lost."
If I'm reading the above correctly: Lets say you have a MAC mini connected to the TotalDAC d1-dual on one setup, and a MAC mini connected to the TotalDAC mono blocks on another setup. If the Mono blocks don't out perform the d1-dual then the mono blocks are a rip off. On the same / like setup where nothing is replaced but the DAC the should be a jump upwards in performance regardless.
All good points, Darryl and I'm ok if we have philosophical differences. I've always valued your opinions.
Actually, I believe the foundation to any good digital audio system, headphones or speakers, is not the digital source but good power but since this was a review about music servers, I chose to not mention the importance of power. Good quality AC, proper grounding, etc. I am not a cable person at heart but the better your system gets, the more little things are noticeable. With the monoblocs, I have found them very sensitive to power cables for example. A voodoo topic for some but I am evaluating a variety of power cables now and I can tell you there is a difference. I also believe LPS over switching is not always better. It is the implementation that makes it work. HD Plex makes a fine LPS and in fact I have 2 of them. But the reality is the custom regulators Paul Hynes uses in his supplies is about 1,000 times quieter than the LT1083 regulator used in the HDPlex and with considerably faster transient current response. If you want to see comparative measurements, I can show you but the two really don't operate in the same league. Is this audible? I'll tell you when I get it in for evaluation because I trust my ears more than I trust lab measurements but ask someone like @dan.gheorghe and I think he'll tell you that better power supplies can definitely make an audible difference even to a well constructed DAC like his MSB Analog. In fact, I can show you several reviews where a Paul Hynes power supply can significantly impact how a Logitech Squeezebox sounds (http://hifipig.com/paul-hynes-sr3-power-supply/) and other reviews where the impact with even a router was significant. To really know, you have to be able to compare.
As for the importance of the recorded material, I agree with you here. And the importance of the DAC, absolutely. Why else does a $130,000 MSB Select DAC II exist if this wasn't important but if you feed a DAC a quality recording off of a Mac Mini, it won't do that DAC or the recording justice and no one would call that DAC a scam. If a good DAC could overcome a bad digital front end, then I should be able to get equal quality sound from the digital out of a portable Sony ZX2 player and I can tell you because I tried it, the quality is not the same.
As for building your own server that can compete with something like the N10 you'll be getting in, well I believe if anyone can do it, you can. I've haven't tried the Paul Pang but I have played with the JPlay and SOtM. I've tinkered as you have and the best I've built hasn't come close. When you get your N10 in and if you feel yours is as good, then I would be interested in having you build me one.
I knew your experience with the TotalDac reclocker was less than ideal and I also knew how you felt about your USB Regen. My own experience mirrors yours more than others who have raved about it. I thought the benefit with the TotalDac reclocker was subtle at best and I stated this in my review of it. Easily the biggest part of the reclocker is the Server. I wouldn't get one without the other unless I knew I already had another equivalent or better server on hand. In the same way, with the USB Regen, I look at it as a minor tweak, nothing more. I haven't had the jaw dropping experience that others have reported. With my lesser sources, it makes a small difference but with the the better sources, there was almost no difference, regardless of whether I had the reclocker in place or not. I use a TotalDac USB cable and whether that impacts it, I don't know.
As for audiophile Cat 6 cables, like you, I looked at this as snake oil. Absolute nonsense. Then I got one in for evaluation and compared it against a decent Belden (Blue Jeans brand) Cat 6 cable of identical length and with my skeptical mind, I listened and I heard a difference, even blinded. Again, this is a subtle tweak but since more and more of my listening these days is through Tidal streaming, I felt the improvement was worthwhile. How does it work? It abides by the Cat 6 protocol and so the transfer speeds I am getting are no different compared to the Belden Cat 6 but what it supposedly does is it filters the signal of high frequency noise. Sometimes these tweaks result in change that aren't for the better but in the case of the SOtM cable, I considered it an improvement. The TotalDac ethernet cable works under the same principle and while I have never tried the TotalDac version, I have been told by others that it makes a difference. I have heard from others who have used the AudioQuest ethernet cables that they couldn't tell a difference so YMMV. My experience with AQ has definitely been hit and miss and so I am leery of them in general. I bought a couple of AQ Jitterbugs which I regret. Regardless, these minor tweaks would be among the last things I would do. There are more important areas to channel resources first.
As to the TotalDac monoblocs not outperforming the d1-dual, at no point are they equivalent but the delta with a Mac Mini is smaller. If you want to know the truth, the delta with the monoblocs seem to grow almost exponentially more with every tweak. When I grounded with the Entreq boxes, when I switched to a certain power cord, when I introduced a better digital front end and queued up a better recorded file, the monoblocs distanced itself from the d1-dual all the more. In fact, when the monoblocs are allowed to have all cylinders running, they are simply stunning. It's like owning a Ferrari and being limited to driving it 25 mph. If that's the case, there's no point getting it. That's all I'm trying to say.
This brings up one final thing. If you're going to scale to a higher component, you will have to make sure everything else in your audio chain can keep up because you will always be limited to your weakest link and so the cost of ownership of something like the TotalDac monobloc is not just the DAC but unfortunately also the necessary infrastructure upgrades that come with it. This exercise has taught me that very well. This is why I say that if you're going to limit yourself to something like the Mac Mini with no intention of upgrading it at some point, then save your money.