I have always envied those audiophile writers who get hundreds of thousands of dollars of audio equipment sent to them so they can listen to the gear and write articles about the stuff. In my opinion this is one of many ultimate occupations. Although I consider myself an “infant audiophile” and it’s been years since I had enough spare cash to splurge on any new gear, I thought I would try some basic sound-quality A/B evaluation tests comparing my primary audio system/path (Path 1) with a recently built Computer Audio/Media Server (Path 2). Some of the gear is shared between Path 1 and Path 2. The Yamaha DSP-A1 (used as preamp only) out to an Adcom GFA555 Mk II Amp, Audioquest Speaker Cables (bi-wired) and Klipsch KLF-30’s. Where Path 1 and Path 2 differ is in the decoding of the FLAC’s.
- Path 1 Decoding: Logitech Transporter (24/96) –> Musical Fidelity Trivista DAC 21 (up-sampling to 24/192)
- Path 2 Decoding: Windows 7 64 bit –> J.River Media Player –> ASIO4ALL – Creative Labs SB X-Fi Extreme (24/96)
Although neither of these audio paths give me a bit-perfect 24 bit 192 khz audio chain (soon), it was worth seeing (hearing) how much of a difference the Transporter and Musical Fidelity DAC-21 made to the sound quality of high bit rate FLACs. Given the cost (around $5k difference between Path 1 and Path 2), and the extremely well regarded/reviewed sound of both the Transporter and the DAC-21, I certainly knew which audio path SHOULD sound better.
“Harmonic textures ebbed and flowed with startling dynamic nuances and the sort of liquidity and purity one only comes to associate with world-class audio products.” (unknown)
So after leveling audio between both Path 1 and Path 2, and setting things up so I could start a track on both paths simultaneously, I did some critical listening. Reviewers usual list all the tracks they play but I will leave that out for now. Suffice to say I stuck with 24 bit 48/96/176/192 khz FLACs. Also, since I was able to switch inputs (Path 1 vs Path 2) by enabling/disabling the (6 chan) External Analog Input on the DSP-A1 (Path 2), and I could not see the display on the amp, it was easy to lose track of which audio path was playing which (in theory) should reduce, if not eliminate my own bias to expect the more expensive route to sound better.
Below are the details for both complete audio paths. The gear in bold/italics, are shared between the two paths:
- Path 1: 24 bit 48/96/172/192 khz FLAC’s –> Logitech Transporter (sampling everything to 24/96 I think) –> Harmonic Technology Digital Copper COAX –> Musical Fidelity Trivista DAC 21 (upsampled to 24/192) –> Audioquest Interconnects –> Yamaha DSP-A1 (Pre-Out) –> Adcom GFA555 Mk. II –> Audioquest (Bi-wired) — Klipsch KLF-30s
- Path 2: 24 bit 48/96/172/192 khz FLAC’s –> J.River Media Player (Windows 7 64bit) –> ASIO4All Universal ASIO Driver –> Creative Labs SB X-Fi Extreme (sampling everything to 24/96 I think) –> Yamaha DSP-A1 (Pre-Out) –> Adcom GFA555 Mk. II –> Audioquest (Bi-wired) — Klipsch KLF-30s
I am pleased to say it was a simple/quick test. One audio path had a larger sound stage, clarity, far more detail, fuller bass and lower noise floor and just a “richer” sound on every track played from 24/96 to 24/192 – Path 1. Good thing! I think what made all the difference is that Musical Fidelity DAC 21, and the Transporter. What will be interesting is to repeat this test when I upgrade the living room Media Server with a better sound card and full 24/192 support.
To be continued….