Noobie streaming on a budget - Questions

I have most of my CDs, and a fair amount of downloaded digital files on an iMac in my studio / listening room.
I hooked up an Airport Express to my Rotel receiver and successfully stream via Airplay. Using the Remote app, am quite pleased with the ease of streaming and controlling with the app.
However, I'm wondering if I need to insert a DAC in the signal chain to improve the sound, as some of the files sound a bit thin / brittle.
With 3 college tuitions, I'm looking for "good enough" for now. It seems the Cambridge Audio DAC Magic 100 or Arcam irDAC could accomodate the AE via USB and also my Marantz 5004 CD player via Toslink or Coax.
Does this seem a worthwhile upgrade and/or should I be considering another route (with my budget constraints)?
All advise welcome (and appreciated).
Living Room (HT):Denon AVR X-3000 ; Ascend Acoustics Sierra 2s ; Ascend Acoustics Duo Center ; LSiFX Surrounds ; Sub – Rhythmik F12SE

2 Channel Studio: Marantz PM8004 Integrated ; Marantz SA8004 ; Music Hall MMF 7.3TT w/Ortofon Bronze; Schiit Bifrost DAC ; Monitor 7 Series 2 with RDO 198s; Rythmik F12SE

Don't cry
Don't raise your eye
It's only teenage wasteland

Comments

  • tonybtonyb Posts: 32,479
    Go the separate dac route. Keep in mind you'll need a pair of good quality RCA cables too. People seem to like the RDAC a lot, though I've not had an ear on their newer stuff. Nothing short of a hundred budget dacs out there to look at but for your needs and budget the Rdac or Peachtree dacs should work well for you.

    Hopefully all your downloaded cd's are in a lossless format and not MP3 as that will have something to do with the poor sound quality also.
    HT SYSTEM-
    Sony 850c 4k
    Pioneer elite vhx 21
    Sony 4k BRP
    SVS SB-2000
    Polk Sig. 20's
    Polk FX500 surrounds

    Cables-
    Acoustic zen Satori speaker cables
    Acoustic zen Matrix 2 IC's
    Wireworld eclipse 7 ic's
    Audio metallurgy ga-o digital cable

    Kitchen

    Sonos zp90
    Grant Fidelity tube dac
    B&k 1420
    lsi 9's
  • rooftop59rooftop59 Posts: 6,695
    Love my rDAC, the new one is supposed to be considerably better. It will yield a significant improvement, especially if your files are CD quality (as Tony points out).
    Living Room 2.1: Dynaudio Contour 1.3mkii; Martin Logan Grotto sub; Musical Fidelity A308; Cambridge Azur 851N
    Game Room HT: Denon AVR-X4200w; Definitive Technology SM450; Definitive Technology LCR2000; Definitive Technology Procinema 800; Mirage Nanasats; Sub - HSU VTF-2 MK5
    Master Bedroom
    Cambridge Azur 551r; Definitive Technology StudioMonitor350; ACI Titan Subwoofer; Squeezebox Touch
  • I have been enjoying my Musical Fidelity V90 for the last month or so. I strongly considered the Dacmagic 100, but opted for the V90 for its 32bit dac, build quality, and positive reviews. So far so good.
    Oh, Listen here mister. We got no way of understandin' this world. But we got as much sense of this bird flyin in the sky. Now there is a lot that bird don't know, but it don't change the fact that the world is happening to him all the same. What I am tryin to say is, is that the course of your life, well its changing, and you don't even see it- Forest Bondurant
  • JaybeezJaybeez Posts: 746
    Thanks for all the feedback and advice.
    I checked the import settings and changed them from .mp3 to Apple Lossless. Curiously, when I checked a few files from CDs I had imported they were not .mp3, so hopefully I won't have to re-rip too many.
    I have a ton of music bought via iTunes directly, which I have been using since (literally) the day it came out, and those are Lossless.
    I upgraded all my standard RCA cables to Audioquest Golden Gate. Not sure if that is "upgrade enough" but they seem to make a difference.
    Jeremy, the V90 looks like a solid choice, but it looks like my CD player hookup would have to be via optical cable (vs. RCA). Not sure if that is a big deal, but something I need to consider.
    I came to this forum looking for info on my Monitor 7's and seem to be going down a rabbit hole that has no end ... and I'm loving it!
    Again thanks for your help all.
    Living Room (HT):Denon AVR X-3000 ; Ascend Acoustics Sierra 2s ; Ascend Acoustics Duo Center ; LSiFX Surrounds ; Sub – Rhythmik F12SE

    2 Channel Studio: Marantz PM8004 Integrated ; Marantz SA8004 ; Music Hall MMF 7.3TT w/Ortofon Bronze; Schiit Bifrost DAC ; Monitor 7 Series 2 with RDO 198s; Rythmik F12SE

    Don't cry
    Don't raise your eye
    It's only teenage wasteland
  • NightfallNightfall Posts: 9,193
    Of course you'd hook up a DAC with a digital cable. (TOSLINK, optical, HDMI, USB, etc)

    Digital to Analog Converter

    RCA's are already analog.
    afterburnt wrote: »
    They didn't speak a word of English, they were from South Carolina.

    Village Idiot of Club Polk
  • JaybeezJaybeez Posts: 746
    Good to know. The DAC Magic had ports that looked RCA, but are labeled S/PDIF.
    Appreciate the clarification.
    The Marantz has Toslink, as does the V90. So Toslink from my CD player, USB from the Airport Express, then quality RCA from the DAC to the Rotel.
    I think I'm catching on ....
    Living Room (HT):Denon AVR X-3000 ; Ascend Acoustics Sierra 2s ; Ascend Acoustics Duo Center ; LSiFX Surrounds ; Sub – Rhythmik F12SE

    2 Channel Studio: Marantz PM8004 Integrated ; Marantz SA8004 ; Music Hall MMF 7.3TT w/Ortofon Bronze; Schiit Bifrost DAC ; Monitor 7 Series 2 with RDO 198s; Rythmik F12SE

    Don't cry
    Don't raise your eye
    It's only teenage wasteland
  • You got it.
    Oh, Listen here mister. We got no way of understandin' this world. But we got as much sense of this bird flyin in the sky. Now there is a lot that bird don't know, but it don't change the fact that the world is happening to him all the same. What I am tryin to say is, is that the course of your life, well its changing, and you don't even see it- Forest Bondurant
  • A stand alone dac has tremendously improved my system in ways that I didn't know it could. My Rti12's always sounded fantastic, but as I set here and listen to Chris Stapleton I'm not only hearing his breath, I can now hear him swallow. My wife says that is disgusting...I say no that's awesome. :)
    Oh, Listen here mister. We got no way of understandin' this world. But we got as much sense of this bird flyin in the sky. Now there is a lot that bird don't know, but it don't change the fact that the world is happening to him all the same. What I am tryin to say is, is that the course of your life, well its changing, and you don't even see it- Forest Bondurant
  • rooftop59rooftop59 Posts: 6,695
    And sorry to break it to u, but anything you by from iTunes is MP3 quality (just in AAC format) not cd quality (which we would call lossless). If you want to really take advantage of th setup, you need to buy CDs and rip them into flac files or AAC lossless, or purchase from a place like hdtracks.
    Living Room 2.1: Dynaudio Contour 1.3mkii; Martin Logan Grotto sub; Musical Fidelity A308; Cambridge Azur 851N
    Game Room HT: Denon AVR-X4200w; Definitive Technology SM450; Definitive Technology LCR2000; Definitive Technology Procinema 800; Mirage Nanasats; Sub - HSU VTF-2 MK5
    Master Bedroom
    Cambridge Azur 551r; Definitive Technology StudioMonitor350; ACI Titan Subwoofer; Squeezebox Touch
  • JaybeezJaybeez Posts: 746
    rooftop59 wrote: »
    And sorry to break it to u, but anything you by from iTunes is MP3 quality (just in AAC format) not cd quality (which we would call lossless). If you want to really take advantage of th setup, you need to buy CDs and rip them into flac files or AAC lossless, or purchase from a place like hdtracks.


    Well then, probably no point in following this path. I'm not spending thousands on CDs to replace my iTunes files.

    Thanks for saving me several hundred dollars on gear.
    Living Room (HT):Denon AVR X-3000 ; Ascend Acoustics Sierra 2s ; Ascend Acoustics Duo Center ; LSiFX Surrounds ; Sub – Rhythmik F12SE

    2 Channel Studio: Marantz PM8004 Integrated ; Marantz SA8004 ; Music Hall MMF 7.3TT w/Ortofon Bronze; Schiit Bifrost DAC ; Monitor 7 Series 2 with RDO 198s; Rythmik F12SE

    Don't cry
    Don't raise your eye
    It's only teenage wasteland
  • tonybtonyb Posts: 32,479
    Jaybeez wrote: »
    rooftop59 wrote: »
    And sorry to break it to u, but anything you by from iTunes is MP3 quality (just in AAC format) not cd quality (which we would call lossless). If you want to really take advantage of th setup, you need to buy CDs and rip them into flac files or AAC lossless, or purchase from a place like hdtracks.


    Well then, probably no point in following this path. I'm not spending thousands on CDs to replace my iTunes files.

    Thanks for saving me several hundred dollars on gear.

    Well, lets stop for a minute before you poo-poo the idea. First off, a seperate dac will make those MP3's sound better....but, MP3'S have missing information and you simply can't get that back. You should really think about where you buy your music going forward.

    Second, you can still use ITUNES for the cd's you already may have and download them into apple lossless files.

    If you want to continue buying MP3'S though, and your satisfied with that, then I probably wouldn't waste my coin on more audio gear.

    HT SYSTEM-
    Sony 850c 4k
    Pioneer elite vhx 21
    Sony 4k BRP
    SVS SB-2000
    Polk Sig. 20's
    Polk FX500 surrounds

    Cables-
    Acoustic zen Satori speaker cables
    Acoustic zen Matrix 2 IC's
    Wireworld eclipse 7 ic's
    Audio metallurgy ga-o digital cable

    Kitchen

    Sonos zp90
    Grant Fidelity tube dac
    B&k 1420
    lsi 9's
  • JaybeezJaybeez Posts: 746
    Well, I am seriously planning to upgrade my music source(s) moving forward, but I just have so much stuff on iTunes that I've accumulated (literally) from day 1, that my "good" files will always be dwarfed by the existing iTunes stuff. I don't have much .mp3, but my research tells me the iTunes files aren't much better. I have re-set my CD import settings to Apple Lossless. So I have that going for me ....
    Living Room (HT):Denon AVR X-3000 ; Ascend Acoustics Sierra 2s ; Ascend Acoustics Duo Center ; LSiFX Surrounds ; Sub – Rhythmik F12SE

    2 Channel Studio: Marantz PM8004 Integrated ; Marantz SA8004 ; Music Hall MMF 7.3TT w/Ortofon Bronze; Schiit Bifrost DAC ; Monitor 7 Series 2 with RDO 198s; Rythmik F12SE

    Don't cry
    Don't raise your eye
    It's only teenage wasteland
  • tonybtonyb Posts: 32,479
    Jaybeez wrote: »
    Well, I am seriously planning to upgrade my music source(s) moving forward, but I just have so much stuff on iTunes that I've accumulated (literally) from day 1, that my "good" files will always be dwarfed by the existing iTunes stuff. I don't have much .mp3, but my research tells me the iTunes files aren't much better. I have re-set my CD import settings to Apple Lossless. So I have that going for me ....

    That's a good start....I would definitely start looking for a warmer sounding dac to throw into the mix, it will make everything sound a bit better and help with that thin brittle sound. Also some warmer sounding cables may help a bit too in taking off some of that digital edge.
    HT SYSTEM-
    Sony 850c 4k
    Pioneer elite vhx 21
    Sony 4k BRP
    SVS SB-2000
    Polk Sig. 20's
    Polk FX500 surrounds

    Cables-
    Acoustic zen Satori speaker cables
    Acoustic zen Matrix 2 IC's
    Wireworld eclipse 7 ic's
    Audio metallurgy ga-o digital cable

    Kitchen

    Sonos zp90
    Grant Fidelity tube dac
    B&k 1420
    lsi 9's
  • rooftop59rooftop59 Posts: 6,695
    Jaybeez wrote: »
    Well, I am seriously planning to upgrade my music source(s) moving forward, but I just have so much stuff on iTunes that I've accumulated (literally) from day 1, that my "good" files will always be dwarfed by the existing iTunes stuff. I don't have much .mp3, but my research tells me the iTunes files aren't much better. I have re-set my CD import settings to Apple Lossless. So I have that going for me ....

    Well so that means you have at least some CDs right? I know its a pain, but re-rip your CDs into apple lossless. Then from now on, don't purchase downloads unless they are lossless (so no itunes for now). If you do those two things I think that a nice warm DAC would be worth the money.

    FYI, with my Arcam rDAC spotify (which streams in 320 kbps mp3) definitely sounds markedly better than without the DAC. So its just not true that its not worth purchasing a DAC to use with mp3s, I just wouldn't put more than a couple hundred bucks into it, and only buy lossless going forward...
    Living Room 2.1: Dynaudio Contour 1.3mkii; Martin Logan Grotto sub; Musical Fidelity A308; Cambridge Azur 851N
    Game Room HT: Denon AVR-X4200w; Definitive Technology SM450; Definitive Technology LCR2000; Definitive Technology Procinema 800; Mirage Nanasats; Sub - HSU VTF-2 MK5
    Master Bedroom
    Cambridge Azur 551r; Definitive Technology StudioMonitor350; ACI Titan Subwoofer; Squeezebox Touch
  • JaybeezJaybeez Posts: 746
    Thanks for the additional info. Will line up my CDs and re-rip whilst listening to other sources.
    I downloaded a sampler from HD Tracks last night. It didn't let me choose, but files came as .AIFF. I listened via iTunes through my Beyerdynamic DT770s, and could hear a fair amount of detail.
    I believe for HD Tracks I purchase, I can choose Apple Lossless, but would assume I'll need to hard wire my iMac to the rig? From what I've read it seems that Airplay and/or Bluetooth would reduce the quality.
    Living Room (HT):Denon AVR X-3000 ; Ascend Acoustics Sierra 2s ; Ascend Acoustics Duo Center ; LSiFX Surrounds ; Sub – Rhythmik F12SE

    2 Channel Studio: Marantz PM8004 Integrated ; Marantz SA8004 ; Music Hall MMF 7.3TT w/Ortofon Bronze; Schiit Bifrost DAC ; Monitor 7 Series 2 with RDO 198s; Rythmik F12SE

    Don't cry
    Don't raise your eye
    It's only teenage wasteland
  • rooftop59rooftop59 Posts: 6,695
    More than one way to skin a cat hehe. Remind me what you are trying to do? A chromecast music might be a nice cheap option to try starting out if you are trying to get music from a computer in another room to the main rig. Amazon fire tx or stick also works nicely, but you need to install one of a number of software problems to stream in over the fire device...
    Living Room 2.1: Dynaudio Contour 1.3mkii; Martin Logan Grotto sub; Musical Fidelity A308; Cambridge Azur 851N
    Game Room HT: Denon AVR-X4200w; Definitive Technology SM450; Definitive Technology LCR2000; Definitive Technology Procinema 800; Mirage Nanasats; Sub - HSU VTF-2 MK5
    Master Bedroom
    Cambridge Azur 551r; Definitive Technology StudioMonitor350; ACI Titan Subwoofer; Squeezebox Touch
  • JaybeezJaybeez Posts: 746
    Actually, what I'm trying to do is tap into all the music on my iMac and run it through my amp.
    I have read that using a mini toslink to toslink cable from the Airport Express to my amp will let me stream lossless.
    I originally had the Airport hooked up to my Rotel receiver via RCA cable, which I believe limits the files to AAC.
    However, my Yamaha amp has an optical port, so while most of my music is Apple AAC, Apple Lossless and HD Tracks files should play at full "resolution" through the toslink cable.
    At least that's what some of my research is telling me.
    Living Room (HT):Denon AVR X-3000 ; Ascend Acoustics Sierra 2s ; Ascend Acoustics Duo Center ; LSiFX Surrounds ; Sub – Rhythmik F12SE

    2 Channel Studio: Marantz PM8004 Integrated ; Marantz SA8004 ; Music Hall MMF 7.3TT w/Ortofon Bronze; Schiit Bifrost DAC ; Monitor 7 Series 2 with RDO 198s; Rythmik F12SE

    Don't cry
    Don't raise your eye
    It's only teenage wasteland
  • tonybtonyb Posts: 32,479
    That would work, still not the best though. Might be better than what you were doing however.

    Of all the digital connections, Toslink, spdif, usb, toslink is probably the worst of the 3. Most use the digital coax or USB. A decent separate dac too will sound better than the one in your Yamaha receiver. Doesn't hurt to try though and isn't going to cost much either.
    HT SYSTEM-
    Sony 850c 4k
    Pioneer elite vhx 21
    Sony 4k BRP
    SVS SB-2000
    Polk Sig. 20's
    Polk FX500 surrounds

    Cables-
    Acoustic zen Satori speaker cables
    Acoustic zen Matrix 2 IC's
    Wireworld eclipse 7 ic's
    Audio metallurgy ga-o digital cable

    Kitchen

    Sonos zp90
    Grant Fidelity tube dac
    B&k 1420
    lsi 9's
  • JaybeezJaybeez Posts: 746
    Thanks for the additional education.
    I did hook up the Toslink and the difference is striking.
    Listened to "St. Thomas" by Sonny Rollins, a track downloaded in the free HDTracks sampler.
    With the standard cable, the track sounded very nice. With the Toslink it was amazing.
    And this is through Monitor 7s (series 2) that have yet to be upgraded.
    For me "good enough" for now, though as I work my way through various upgrades, it's good to know the better alternatives.
    Living Room (HT):Denon AVR X-3000 ; Ascend Acoustics Sierra 2s ; Ascend Acoustics Duo Center ; LSiFX Surrounds ; Sub – Rhythmik F12SE

    2 Channel Studio: Marantz PM8004 Integrated ; Marantz SA8004 ; Music Hall MMF 7.3TT w/Ortofon Bronze; Schiit Bifrost DAC ; Monitor 7 Series 2 with RDO 198s; Rythmik F12SE

    Don't cry
    Don't raise your eye
    It's only teenage wasteland
  • RamZetRamZet Posts: 776
    Well the airport has optical out, use that instead of the headphone output ( hint, its the same hole).
    B&W
    B&K
  • JaybeezJaybeez Posts: 746
    I've done a bit more work and research on this, and discovered that the HDTracks I had purchased were only streaming out of iTunes at 44.1/16 bit but could be easily changed to 96 / 24 bit via:

    http://www.mcelhearn.com/how-to-listen-to-high-resolution-audio-files-on-a-mac/

    Interestingly the writer believes HD music to be marketing hype, but I could tell the difference, as could my son and his classically trained musician's ears.

    I'm sure the addition of an external DAC will further improve what I'm hearing.

    Next upgrade I suppose.
    Living Room (HT):Denon AVR X-3000 ; Ascend Acoustics Sierra 2s ; Ascend Acoustics Duo Center ; LSiFX Surrounds ; Sub – Rhythmik F12SE

    2 Channel Studio: Marantz PM8004 Integrated ; Marantz SA8004 ; Music Hall MMF 7.3TT w/Ortofon Bronze; Schiit Bifrost DAC ; Monitor 7 Series 2 with RDO 198s; Rythmik F12SE

    Don't cry
    Don't raise your eye
    It's only teenage wasteland
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