by Kevin O'Brien on February 2012

We are comparing the McCormack Audio SST-1 Digital Drive CD Transport to an average Acer Aspire 5735z laptop from 4 years ago running XP which could be had at your local box store. I figured this was a good comparison point as both of these source components can be had for around a $400 street price. Obviously the SST-1 is no longer in production but on the used market can be bought for much less than its retail price of $1495 back in the mid-90's. We did not want to use a current model computer either as that would stack the review up unfairly to one side. I feel the two components are comparable based on their current price points.

We decided to use the Musical Fidelity V-DAC MkI for a DAC keeping in tune with the whole "affordability" theme. The V-DAC goes for around $350 with the Pyramid external power supply option. All in all I feel this source configuration is attainable by most audiophiles on a budget. Hopefully this appeals to more folks out there in the real world. Especially since the economy isn't exactly picking up steam as fast as we would all like!

We let the units warm up for an hour before we did any critical testing. We used a budget USB cable to try and level the playing field as well. There are USB cables currently costing over $2000 but that would not make sense in this review setting. We set up the Foobar 2000 Digital Media Player on the Acer in "Direct Sound" mode. This is important as we did not get a bit-perfect digital signal coming out of the Acer but we did turn off all sounds under the "Sounds" menu in the "Control Panel" and changed the power scheme to always on. (No screen savers or standby modes for hard drives and monitor outputs) We also disabled the internet connection and removed the current audio driver suite for better performance.

I have been able to get the Kernel Streaming module in Foobar 2K to work in the past but we tried and could not get it working with the original MF V-DAC. I have heard other folks having the exact same problem so we moved on. The MF V-DAC does not require drivers and is not "asynchronous". This makes it truly "plug and play". We will follow up in the near future with a computer transport comparison with at least one computer running Windows 7 with bit-perfect digital output but for now we are concentrating on the Acer XP machine from several years ago.

Lets talk a little about the files we were using as well. We downloaded the free EAC CD ripping software online and ripped the CDs were going to use as test material into 16/44.1 WAV files. I know FLAC files are lossless but we wanted to make sure our comparison was as fair as possible so we used WAV files.

Enough about the set-up already and let's get to the real substance of the article, the sound! Well, we were able to do an A-B comparison by toggling back and forth between the CD Transport and the Acer 5735z with the input switch on the V-DAC. We cued up a CD on the SST-1 and matched the timing of the digital player to the timing of the CD track and then matched the output levels. This made it very easy to get a feel for what we were hearing. I must say that at first we could not tell a difference right away. After switching back and forth for a couple minutes we noticed the laptop set-up was more "in-your-face" and the CD Transport was a hair more laid back with its presentation. After we listened for a couple hours we decided the laptop set-up did indeed sound better but not by a huge margin. We did prefer it though to the CD Transport after our extended listening session with both sources.

After considering the ease of use with the digital files and the fact that we can now download 24/96 digital files that sound even better than a CD, why would we keep using the CD Transport? It just doesn't make sense any more. When you factor in that it is getting harder and harder to find CD Transports it makes the decision even easier. Again, CDs sound fine (and vinyl is even better) but the computer gets my nod for the source component of the foreseeable future among my various systems.

Equipment Associated for this Review:

  • YFS/ SCH Custom Speakers
  • YFS Custom Room Treatment
  • Musical Fidelity V-DAC
  • YFS Custom CA-60a Preamp and Custom 6L6 Tube Power Amp
  • YFS Custom Interconnects and Cables
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