CD Transport vs Music Server

longinc

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Hello Everyone,

I am in the process of upgrading my digital front end. I am trying to decide whether to invest my $'s in a nice CD transport (e.g Jay's Audio, CEC TL2N) or a music server (e.g. Innuos Zenith Mk3, Mojo Audio Deja Vu etc). In an ideal world, one might invest in both, but for now, financially I can only do one. Putting considerations like convenience aside (e.g not having to physically place a CD into a transport, experiencing a ton of music off streaming services), from sonic performance standpoint, if one were to spend say $6K or so on a CD transport OR a music server, which one would yield a higher sonic performance? My assumption for the music server is that one is playing the music of a local file stored on the server (I've been told and read that streaming real-time off the internet performs worst than playing a local file). In either situation (CD transport vs music server playing a local file), I will be connecting directly to the same external DAC.

If this question has been addressed somewhere else, please point me to it. But I was hoping for folks who have done such a comparison and have decided to go one way or the other or did both, I would love to hear about your experiences and any insights you can share is much appreciated. Thank you!
 

Andrew S.

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Hmmm tricky one.

I don’t think there is an absolute answer here. So many variables.

Can you audition before buying?

I like streaming. So many good services. 16 /44 readily available. 24/48 also. Hi Rez if you think it matters.

I’ll be interested what you get!
 
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docvale

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I know there's long threads regarding ultra hi-end servers here. Personally, I don't have experience with them, so I cannot comment on their details.

The point is that, in a server/streamer, there's several factors that can affect the price:
- do you want internal drives?
- are you eyeing a device that requires a NAS?
- can you work with a device that can connect with any HDD that is connected to your home network?

With any of the solutions above, there's several options that would set you way below the $6k mark. You could get both... or, you could start experimenting with lower price point streamers and then see whether you fell in love with that approach.
 

ariescerat-espana

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Hello Everyone,

I am in the process of upgrading my digital front end. I am trying to decide whether to invest my $'s in a nice CD transport (e.g Jay's Audio, CEC TL2N) or a music server (e.g. Innuos Zenith Mk3, Mojo Audio Deja Vu etc). In an ideal world, one might invest in both, but for now, financially I can only do one. Putting considerations like convenience aside (e.g not having to physically place a CD into a transport, experiencing a ton of music off streaming services), from sonic performance standpoint, if one were to spend say $6K or so on a CD transport OR a music server, which one would yield a higher sonic performance? My assumption for the music server is that one is playing the music of a local file stored on the server (I've been told and read that streaming real-time off the internet performs worst than playing a local file). In either situation (CD transport vs music server playing a local file), I will be connecting directly to the same external DAC.

If this question has been addressed somewhere else, please point me to it. But I was hoping for folks who have done such a comparison and have decided to go one way or the other or did both, I would love to hear about your experiences and any insights you can share is much appreciated. Thank you!
Hello longinc
A good topic indeed. I would refer back to my earlier forays into DIY music servers. I built 3, the last being a semi DIY Mac Mini with the Uptone 12v DC board and other mods, SSD, system optimisations, linear power supplies etc. Running Audirvana 3 & Roon Core.

My earlier efforts were PC boxes with upgraded ethernet boards and other mods, including a Rednet DAW Ethernet > S/PDIF interface.. To cut a long story short, I got an ok sound out of these, but finally realised a music server build commercially was going to exceed those efforts.

Some are better than others, and many are north of 6K as you state. I use the 432 EVO AEON music server. I became a dealer after discovering 432 EVO in fact, I love the sound of them. The AEON gets you a true Roon Core music server, plus Logitec Media Server on the fly, so you can use either. They do sound different, so you get the best of both worlds. The 432 EVOs also have the 432hz tuning option that works wonders with Delta-Sigma and Multibit DACs. The servers sound very natural. What you get with a good music server is more of everything good, more detail in particular with a smoother treble presentation, both of which is hard to bring off, and IMO a key marker to a good music servers sound level. The grain and flatter soundstage I had with DIY servers was the irritating aspect in the end for me.

On CD replay, I had a Teac CDP, but sold it a few year ago. You can absolutely get above CDP level IMO, rip all your CDs. PLUS in many cases, I find having done that with my collection, I can get above that sound even further on Qobuz streaming. Possibly as those files on Qobuz are 24 bit not 16 bit? Not sure, but I can A/B those albums and hear the upgrade in sound, so it is there to be had, is not my imagination.

I have a check list for a music server at the 6K price level:
1. Fast board
2. Fully linear powered. Noise is the enemy of any music server, so outboard LPS is a MUST
3. Roon Core
4. LMS as optional music player
5. SSD
6. Silent operation
7. CD ripping built in

shared_front_black_angled_ripdrive_1920.jpg sBooster-photo2.jpg
 

Lampie519

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In my experience the file resolution does not matter (16bit should be fine). When you hear differences it is not the file size but the DAC and the used filtering (FIR).
I prefer CD's but would like to be able to connect a streamer or other digital source. I know it does not help you much as this is 1 guy's personal opinion...

I think a good dac is the main thing here (Holo May dac could be a good start).
 
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ariescerat-espana

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In my experience the file resolution does not matter (16bit should be fine). When you hear differences it is not the file size but the DAC and the used filtering (FIR).
I prefer CD's but would like to be able to connect a streamer or other digital source. I know it does not help you much as this is 1 guy's personal opinion...

I think a good dac is the main thing here (Holo May dac could be a good start).
I hear clearly a difference with 16bit v 24bit. This is on an R2R no upsampling or filtering DAC. Check it out.
 
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wil

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I wouldn't get hung up on hi res vs rebook in your decision making. The quality of the original recording/mastering is infinitely more important to sound quality regardless of anything else. I'm 100% streaming at this point. There are so many choices on Qobuz that I can find good recordings and ignore the rest.
 

ariescerat-espana

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Point is a music server gives you massive access to music. It is a revelation.
 

Lampie519

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I hear clearly a difference with 16bit v 24bit.
If you hear that then it is the hardware not the amount of bits (my strong personal opinion). Even 14bit is fine (you will not notice any degradation if done correctly !)

Best wishes,

Frank
 
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longinc

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Thanks Everyone for your quick responses and insights. Super interesting and lots to consider. Perhaps i should have framed my question slightly differently - between a CD transport and music server, which one will get me to the most natural and analog sounding for the least amount of $'s. My impression (could be totally wrong) is that with the music server, you need to spend a fair more $'s getting USB conditioning/re-clocking and the music server right (and with the music server the more independently regulated/higher quality power supply dedicated to each of the key components of the server yields meaningful SQ improvements), and if you are streaming you have to get ethernet right too (and I believe some folks go into great lengths to getting audiophile grade switches, ethernet cards and even optical isolation etc. That's alot of $'s to spend to get good sound VS compared to spending on a good dedicated CD transport (and one is pretty much done). For context: I will be using a R2R NOS DAC. And as for the wealth of music that streaming provides, totally get that - I tend to explore music using streaming (off my macbook/headphones) and for the music I like, I will either download or buy a high quality CD for it. So to optimize my digital front end for streaming convenience is not a top priority for me. I am happy listening to a few very high quality recordings (on CD or a local file) - I am rather simple that way.

Thanks again.
 
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Lampie519

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My personal choice would be a Chord M Scaler as input of all digital sources. Then the best possible NOS dac (that is how i enjoy digital music).
Then i do not care too much about the digital medium (file format etc.)
 
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Kingrex

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I would not mess with a CD player. My Mojo Audio server is great. It needs nothing additional to what a CD player needs. Either needs a good shelf and feet. Either need a good cable beteeen it and the DAC. Either need a good power cable and proper power from behind the wall.

The server is way more flexible. I don't see why anyone would say disregard this feature.

I have never seen a debate settled on which plays better. A server or CD. I have seen a lot of upstaging one another as you escalate into the stratosphere of pricing.

A server will also stream darn close to as good as on the drive files if you invest another $2500 into the digital backbone. You could easily spend $6k here for additional small gains.

With a server you also need DB Poweramp to rip your CD to WAV. It matters. And you need a lot of time to do this, or you need a robot like a Nimbi so you can drop 20 CD into the transport and walk away for a hour. But once they are ripped. The ease, convenience, playlist and sound quality is superb.
 
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Ultrafast69

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If it had to be one or the other, I would now strongly consider a transport within what you mentioned for budget in relation to sound quality. IME experience, both have their merits, but its audio so come the variables and expense of it all, including what you have for other components in the digital chain, and what your plans are forward.
 

Andrew S.

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It is fairly easy to put together your own server (really just a glorified computer) that sounds good if you are comfortable building computers.

But it is a real hassle if you aren't, or don't have the inclination (I edited my original post as no one really needed to know about what I have built over the years - it isn't relevant here).

USB reclockers etc? Meh. Its the handshake with the dac that matters - and what it is feed. It is abit of a never ending journey in some ways...

Depends what you are trying to do, and how far down the rabbit hole you go.

Frankly - if you aren't into computer audio - I'd stay away from it and unless you have ripped your CD's already or want to stream. It can be abit of a cruel mistress, and there is always the next thing that comes along.

Streaming is very cool though. I love it.

As far as natural sounding transports go one of my favourites is a Pi Tracer. One of the best of I have experienced and relatively inexpensive. But there are plenty of others. Some great suggestions here.

For inexpensive servers I also like the Naim servers. They are good, esp with a separate psu. Excellent via BNC, which your dac should take. Great app as well that you can control via your phone/tablet - it hooks up to most streaming services. One of the reasons (actually the main reason) I like my wee Atom is the app & streaming.

I think you can even get one that rips CD's and catalogues them as well, if you wanted that.

Madfloyd is very experienced in this. I'd have a look at his system, see what he has done - getting some tips off his journey wouldn't be a bad idea. And AL. M - they will have jumped through most of the hoops already.

These days - for me - simple is good.


Hope this helps. :)
 
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Andrew S.

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I wouldn't get hung up on hi res vs rebook in your decision making. The quality of the original recording/mastering is infinitely more important to sound quality regardless of anything else. I'm 100% streaming at this point. There are so many choices on Qobuz that I can find good recordings and ignore the rest.
100% agree, outside of DSD, which is a whole other discussion and rabbit hole. The lack of music on DSD is the major reason I like streaming now. And convenience. 16/44 is plenty good enough for me. I've come the full circle.
 

Lampie519

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16/44 is plenty good enough for me
I have not yet heard any DSD that could convince me (repeating myself, must be the age).
The DAC is very important if not the most important device together with the FIR (upsampler or interface) or lacking of it in case of NOS and then the file format (last). I am not yet sure about USB in general as there are too many factors involved.
 

CKKeung

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Thanks Everyone for your quick responses and insights. Super interesting and lots to consider. Perhaps i should have framed my question slightly differently - between a CD transport and music server, which one will get me to the most natural and analog sounding for the least amount of $'s. My impression (could be totally wrong) is that with the music server, you need to spend a fair more $'s getting USB conditioning/re-clocking and the music server right (and with the music server the more independently regulated/higher quality power supply dedicated to each of the key components of the server yields meaningful SQ improvements), and if you are streaming you have to get ethernet right too (and I believe some folks go into great lengths to getting audiophile grade switches, ethernet cards and even optical isolation etc. That's alot of $'s to spend to get good sound VS compared to spending on a good dedicated CD transport (and one is pretty much done). For context: I will be using a R2R NOS DAC. And as for the wealth of music that streaming provides, totally get that - I tend to explore music using streaming (off my macbook/headphones) and for the music I like, I will either download or buy a high quality CD for it. So to optimize my digital front end for streaming convenience is not a top priority for me. I am happy listening to a few very high quality recordings (on CD or a local file) - I am rather simple that way.

Thanks again.
Hi Ionginc,
If your budget is US$6k, you may be able to get both!

The Denafrips Avatar cd transport is very musical. A best-buy in the transport category for sure.
It's only US$1600!
https://6moons.com/audioreview_articles/denafrips6/

I think the remaining US$4400 is sufficient for you to get a decent streamer/server.

;)
 

Andrew S.

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Mar 20, 2021
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Hobart, Tasmania
I have not yet heard any DSD that could convince me (repeating myself, must be the age).
The DAC is very important if not the most important device together with the FIR (upsampler or interface) or lacking of it in case of NOS and then the file format (last). I am not yet sure about USB in general as there are too many factors involved.

Oh nice system Lampie. Really nice. Love OTL's, Source looks fantastic.... and direct drive ESL. Wow.
 
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rando

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Sep 22, 2019
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between a CD transport and music server, which one will get me to the most natural and analog sounding for the least amount of $'s

Neither, if you want analog, trade in your digital. :p
I tend to explore music using streaming (off my macbook/headphones) and for the music I like, I will either download or buy a high quality CD for it. So to optimize my digital front end for streaming convenience is not a top priority for me.

There is a chain of progression that makes me of two minds on this. LP's never sounded better and certainly never sounded as good on vintage TT in their day. CD is headed in this direction as well with local files and then streaming quite some way off from having their long term viability determined. You are making a split here that doesn't entirely make sense to me though. So I'm basing my answer off the above.

Fully agree with statement on DIY music servers above. Honestly this is an awful time to contemplate buying anything comprised of parts in such high demand and short supply as a server. Common sense dictates if you are happy with your streaming feeding purchases. Focus on buying and listening to physical media and physical media only. Expend your budget on hardware only as much as required initially and from there much time and effort tuning your system. System matching is bound to reveal shortcomings in equipment pairings you'll be glad to have a bit of left over budget to resolve.

If your budget is US$6k, you may be able to get both!

There is wisdom in this that was placed last for a reason. All things are possible.
 
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