by Kevin OBrien on 2/18/2012


Is a computer the better way to go or should you stick with your CD transport for a music source when partnering up with a DAC? If you have a USB capable DAC then it really is a no-brainer. Go with the computer! It may require some patience getting everything set up and running smoothly but once you have the setup behind you, it is the way to go. If you do have a USB capable DAC then you may be missing out if you are still using a CD transport!!!

Fairly new DACs even just 5 years old may not be using the most current technology. Unfortunately, DAC technology drastically changes with the advent of newer high-tech chip solutions so it's best to keep up with them if possible. Many newer USB capable DACs are in the $2,000 to $6,000 range but many can be had for under $2,000! If you do not want to take my word for it, just look at the various offerings from Ayre Acoustics, Wyred4Sound, Eastern Electric, Benchmark Media, and NuForce to name a few.

I have personal experience with the W4S DAC2 and the Eastern Electric Minimax DAC MkI and MkII. These are all VERY nice DACs and are under the $2,000 mark. It is convenient to have the option to just run a USB cable to your DAC from your laptop or server but if you find that you cannot go out and buy a new DAC then a USB to SPDIF converter may be up your alley as well. This is especially true if you already own a VERY expensive DAC that you love and do not want to part with it. This allows the user to use a computer for their music source and still keep their favorite DAC. This holds very true in the case of the dCS crowd out there who have spent over $10,000 on their DACs.

M2Tech makes a few USB to SPDIF converters that are all under $500 and many companies are offering converters for less than that. I have personal experience with the M2Tech EVO which I find works very well once partnered with an external power supply. I have also heard of several manufacturers such as Halide Design, CryoParts, Musical Fidelity, April Music, Bel Canto, and Audiophilleo who produce converters as well. All of these offerings except the CryoParts Sonicweld Diverter and the Audiophilleo are under the $500 mark.

I highly recommend transitioning over to your laptop or computer server for your music source based on the fact that these solutions alleviate the need for an actual optical spinning disc and therefore reduce jitter. This is the only theory I have come up with to explain what I have experienced in my system. I have ripped CDs to WAV files and saved them on an internal hard drive and the playback results were better than any compact disc playback system I have heard to date in my system.

Say what you like but the longer you put off the move to digital audio files as a source, the more you are missing out. If we take into account the fact that more and more hi-res files (24/96 and 24/192 FLAC files) are becoming available for purchase, then you really start to see what you are missing out on. CDs sound great, even though I prefer vinyl to CD, but if you have not heard digital files via USB into your DAC then you have to give it a try!