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  1. #1

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    Default DAC's , Software , Macbook Pro , Itunes Library.

    Hello all,
    I have posted about this quest and It really took a turn yesterday. A co Worker of mine has a Mac Mini and a Pc music server that he built and has tons of music on it in Flac , .Wav , Apple Lossless , HD Tracks stuff in 24/96 , and some 192 stuff. Yesterday we played with the Mac Mini which is a brand new Driveless model with a Internal 500g hard drive not being used for iTunes instead he has a External 2Tb.
    For practical testing , we used the Integra DTR70.3 receiver and a sweet pair of Magepan 1.7's. On a side note , if they where not so damn ugly and my wife would allow me to put them in our living room , I'd own a pair , they are fantastic in many ways and share many of the qualities of their bigger brothers. Cardos was the Speaker wire and Audioquest supplied the rest. Wattbox power center managed the power.
    So We had 2 of our external DAC's for testing and also vs the internal DAC's over HDMI. First up was the Internal DAC's in the Integra over HDMI. We played some sweet sounding 24/96 Paul Mccartney Cuts that blew my mind on the sheer detail clarity and dynamics. Over HDMI was amazing. The Integra 70.3 and the 1.7's really go together well. I actually like this combo better then the Peachtree setup in our other room which also sounds amazing. For some reason the Integra's sonic signature and the ability to drive these speakers are like a match made in heaven. It's an art to match gear together.
    Once we both got a very good idea how the internal DAC's performed , it was time to go External. Mind you we where using Channel D Software with Itunes to be able to play all the high rez files. We have a Audioengine D1 Dac that gets it's power from the USB. This is sweet as you don't need a external power supply. We sat and listened to the same cut and as good as it still sounded , I preferred the Interga doing the converting. , Unplugged this DAC and wired up a PeachTree Idac. Same cut sounded about the same as with the Audioengine D1 and again we both preferred the HDMI out to the Integra.
    As we thought about the signal chain and both thought the external DAC should have outperformed the Integra , my co workers believes that Integra like Onkyo takes the analog in , converts it to digital and then converts it back to analog for output. This is for Processing , digital volume control and Audyssey he believes but isn't exactly sure. Anyone want to shed some light on this topic? So with this hypothetical theory , this might be why the external DAC's didn't sound as good. No way to really be sure except a phone call into Onkyo / Integra to find out what goes on with the analog stage and can all processing be bypassed for a clean pure path. Something to think about when owning a Onkyo / Integra model receiver or even the preamp. But honestly the interal DAC sounds so damn good , an external DAC's might not even be a necessary thing. Maybe take that money and spend it on other things to better your audio experience.

    So after learning about Channel D software , I decided to take home the 2 DAC's to try in my house on my system.
    I started some listening last night as I downloaded Channel D and already have Bit Perfect on my Laptop. I didn't configure my Mac Mini yet as I want to upgrade the internal Hard Drive and memory before I copy over my iTunes library to it. I might even just go the external Drive way , I'm not sure as a brand new Mac mini is only $599 so I might not even use my older Mini. We shall see. But right now I just used my MacBook Pro for the demo and shootout .

    I connected the Audioengine to my USB port , configured the mac and got all computer sounds except iTunes. This is before downloading Channel D which has to be configured for what output you want to use as well as the mac. I didn't realize that Bit Perfect was the same way. So after some time , I help post later , I figured that out and got itunes to play.
    To hear my internal DAC's on my Pioneer ELite vs the External DAC"s , I'm gonna have to pick up a Apple Optical cable , the one that connects to the headphone jack and converts internally to light. This way I can do a fair DAC vs. For the fun of it I played with the 2 DAC's first to see or hear which one sounds better running 44.1 Lossless files.

    I don't really have a winner right now as they both sound damn good. Compared to the Apple TV160g running the same song , the macbook Pro with either DAC sounds much better.
    I plan on spending today doing all kinds of tests and I'm also going to when finished using the Pioneer Elite receiver, I'm gonna switch over to my Rotel and do some heavy pure analog vs with all my sources. The goal will be to see if the Macbook pro running Channel D software or Bit Perfect (plan to shoot them out 2) sounds as good as a analog run from my Cambridge spinning the same song on a cd. If I can match or better which I'm told I should be able to do , I will then put together a dedicated Mac mini setup with the DAC that I like or use the Pioneer in Digital. Right now the best sound I get is analog out of my Cambridge spinning a CD. I want to go all digital and move completely away from spinning CD's.

    Side note I think the Pioneer has a better analog section then the Integra. You can go pure direct and shut off all circuits including MCACC and Phase correction of any kind . No processing. I'll be shocked if the Integra can't do this. I know it isn't built for 2 channel first as theater is it's main goal. Using double duty systems is always tuff to do right and is way I'm leaning towards breaking out my 2 channel listening from the theater gear and building a 2 channel rig.

    This **** is fun by the way.
    Dan
    My personal quest is to save to world of bad audio, one thread at a time.

  2. #2

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    So I tested the living hell out of the External DAC's and here's what I came up with.

    The Audioengine - this is a very nice 24/96 DAC and what I love about it is no external power supply. It powers itself right off the USB of your computer. It's almost as cool as the Audioquest Dragonfly but it doesn't attach directly like a USB stick. The sound quality is pure and natural. It's a real pleasure listening to your music through it. For the price of this unit , I believe it's well worth it. I can't see anyone even a high end Audiophile not liking the sound quality especially when you look at it's price point. For a external DAC , it's really a bargain. It's under $200.00. I did compare it to the PeachTree and the Cambridge internal DAC's with the same song playing (Al Di Meola Winter nights) and to my surprise it hung right in there with all 3. It wasn't exactly as detailed as the Peachtree nor as smooth as the Cambridge but ti took awhile to hear those difference with many switching back and forth. I had to level match everything with my SPL to get an average listening level with each source in the computer and CD player. Once I got everything dialed in , it became easier to tell the subtle differences.
    Overall even though I would pick this last , For the money it's a first rate product.Don't let the entry level price fool you. It's wonderful DAC for one who is going to use it as a computer external.
    Only downside I found with it is it doesn't play 192 and up K files but for the price who cares and no external power supply so you need a USB to power it. It does have a optical in but you still need USB power to use it. I tried all that and I found it clumsy. It's really a stand alone computer only USB DAC unless you want to run Optical out of your computer as well as USB and try all that.

    Peachtree Dac It. This is a very smooth warm clean and very dynamic DAC. It was very clean and very nice to listen to. I was actually shocked on how damn close it came to the Cambridge running Analog out in Pure direct( all DAC's where also in Pure analog for a completely fair compare when using the Pioneer Elite SC-07). This time it was harder to even tell the difference between the Cambridge spinning the actual CD and doing the DAC vs it. I had to really listen to hear anything that could be different. many times going back and forth , I wasn't sure which one I was listening to as they where that close. I would go on record to say it's an equal or maybe even slightly different then whats used in the Cambridge. It was really just the low end where the Cambridge seemed to have an advantage and it wasn't much. I had to rewind both songs many times to find it. It was that close.
    This DAC I believe is in the $400 -$500 range and well worth it. I don't know the exact price but I know it was around there somewhere. Compared to the Audioengine D1 , it was noticeably smoother and clearer by lowering the noise floor. It seemed to have slightly more air around the instruments as I could hear the chimes and guitar more forward. But again it wasn't like night and day. IT was subtle. What also makes it a better DAC is 1) it has it's own power supply so you don't have to rely on just a computer , you can run 3 sources to it all at the same time. One Digital Coax , One Optical and one USB. Another benefit to it is the fact it has IR and a remote. You can program it into a universal and control it IF you plan on using multiple sources. So that is something to think about when selecting a DAC. As close as these 2 sound , I'm willing to say it would really come down to use more so then sound quality. For the money the Peachtree didn't blow away the Audioengine especially at more then twice the price. What was I felt better on the Peachtree could be lived with for the money. You could buy a notch better IC's with the extra cash.

    I did however compare all 3 DAC's to the internal of the SC-07 which has very good sounding Wolfsons. I always felt they where very close to the Cambridge but just shy. Running Pure PCM really made the Internal DAC's shine and was just as good as the Audioengine and really close to the Peachtree and Cambridge. What I used here was the Cambridge Optcial , Digital coax and analog outs to hear each way. The Audioengine only has Optical and I had to power it from the laptop for the shootout. That kinda sucked but whatever I just wanted to know how that bad ass little guy would do vs all others.
    In this shootout the Cambridge and the Peachtree where so close I'd say it was a tie. What I found on one I found something else on the other so they where basically a wash. It does say something about Cambridge Audio being able to keep up with a external DAC and beating a entry level model. It also beat the Pioneer's buy a little. What it did better was it sounded more analog then the Pioneer. You would have to do the vs yourself to know what I'm talking about. It was a warmth in the sound like it was more real then a replay. It wasn't huge as I can see someone thinking it's to close to spend money on an external DAC and again using that money for something else.

    I also liked the Peachtree running the Apple TV's. Runing out in optical I felt was a much better sound quality with Both DACs.I'm thinking they do a better job then what the Pioneer does internally. Even with Streaming Airplay , I noticed a sweeter tone with both over. So If you own a Apple Tv 1 2 or 3 , I suggest trying a external DAC , it makes a noticeable difference even without going with a computer and Channel D software. It's a very nice medium way to experience your music collection and get closer to a high end Cd quality sound. Mind you I don't have any low rez files with the exception of a few in 256k I purchased from Itunes and even those I felt the converters did a wonderful job pulling every last detail out of a lower end file.

    If anyone wants to get into this cool world of digital and wants to get away from spinning cd's , changers and all that , a good start is a Apple Tv , Sonos player or any good quality streamer that can send Optical or Digital coax out. Then look into a External DAC and see it it sounds better then your preamp or receivers. It's well worth the time and effort that I put into this project. I know now I don't have to give up hardly anything to go full Digital with the ultimate in convenience . So get out there and find your solution. There is something for everyone on every level. Even the extreme Audiophile.

    I plan on going further with DAC's and see how deep the Rabbit hole goes. This is really fun. I'll post some pic's.
    Dan
    My personal quest is to save to world of bad audio, one thread at a time.

  3. #3

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    Dan
    My personal quest is to save to world of bad audio, one thread at a time.

  4. #4

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    I thought there was an issue running optical from Apple TV.I know i read where some had problems with this.
    Maybe not in this type of setup.

  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by brgman View Post
    I thought there was an issue running optical from Apple TV.I know i read where some had problems with this.
    Maybe not in this type of setup.
    Which Apple TV ?
    Dan
    My personal quest is to save to world of bad audio, one thread at a time.

  6. #6

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    I brought home the Cambridge Audio Azur Dac Magic in Silver. Connected it up both Optical and USB out of the the Macbook Pro as I wanted to know if one connection sounds better then the other.
    Not expecting any huge or much different experience I had with the Peach Tree and the Audioengine , I went into my usual cable connection shootout and found something completely different.

    THE DAC MAGIC IS RETARDED!!!!!!! This thing sounds CRAZY!!!! REALLY??????
    Ok I freaked out for a minute and replayed "Sunrise" by Norah Jones 4 times over. I could not believe the huge sound stage I got. The effin piano was behind me and wraped all around my room with the Dac Magic. None of the other DAC's did any of that. This song is well recorded and designed to give you a large front end but the Magic gave it even more then anything else I own. My ST's never sounded this good. WOW , it's like SACD quality in 5.1 running pure analog direct out of the Magic. WOW guys this DAC is blowing me away. I'm still listening to it as I write this. I'm on my knees guys , I'm so pleased with the performance of this DAC. It's earned it's "MAGIC" name tonight. WOW.
    I threw the cable shootout the window , who the hell cares , honestly they sound exactly the same. So optical and USB are sending the music correctly with no difference in dynamics , tone , timing or anything. WOW.
    I found my DAC. This is the one. I'll take some pic's and post later , I'm gonna rock this entire Album along with anything else I can think of. Side note I ran Dantes Prayer by Loreena Mckennitt , Ghoastly freaky good , I love this song as I have been listening to it for years. It always makes my Demo list and I can really judge a system with this song playing. If it moves me , it's a good system , if I study the music looking for things , system sucks. Tonight my system is badass. Damn I love this hobby.
    Dan
    My personal quest is to save to world of bad audio, one thread at a time.

  7. #7

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    My DacMagic Plus plays as good,if not better than cd's through my oppo! Glad yer diggin it! Dynamic range,soundstage,and punch is the best words I can think of to describe it!
    Its just awesome! Plain and simple! Keep rollin Dan!
    "Everything I ever did in my life worthwhile I caught hell for"

  8. #8

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    What is the price point?
    I like speakers that are bigger than a small refrigerator but smaller than a big refrigerator:D

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by bobsauto49 View Post
    My DacMagic Plus plays as good,if not better than cd's through my oppo! Glad yer diggin it! Dynamic range,soundstage,and punch is the best words I can think of to describe it!
    Its just awesome! Plain and simple! Keep rollin Dan!
    I found the Dac Magic to do a better job then the Internal DAC's on my Cambridge Audio Azur 650BD. Before I took home the Magic , I thought they where the best in my system. They where.
    Dan
    My personal quest is to save to world of bad audio, one thread at a time.

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by MillerLiteScott View Post
    What is the price point?
    http://home-audio.audioadvisor.com/search?w=dacmagic
    Dan
    My personal quest is to save to world of bad audio, one thread at a time.

  11. #11

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    I ask the price point question because you say "I brought home the Cambridge Audio Azur Dac Magic in Silver." Is this a different unit than the Dac Magic Plus for $ 599
    ?
    I like speakers that are bigger than a small refrigerator but smaller than a big refrigerator:D

  12. #12

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    Told you bro, you needed to step up to a real dac. Now if you want to take it even further, drop some coin on a W4S dac1 or dac2. Glad your diggin the tunes anyway and welcome to the world of seperates and digital music.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mantis View Post
    Which Apple TV ?
    Apple TV 3 as well as others.They had a mess of issues after updates where the optical wouldn't work.
    I have one and need to see if that works on it.I hardly use it but i bought it prior to the Oppo 95
    I do like teh Apple air feature from my phone too.that's slick

  14. #14

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    Mantis, Apple also sells the latest Mini refurb, saves $100. Thats what I did. Itap VNC on most devices will let you control it headlessly.

    I think you laptop has a better power source than the mini but has not been a problem for me.

    I ran my mini through my Denon before my DAC arrived with good results as well.
    Speakers: SDA-1C (most all the goodies)
    Preamp: Joule Electra LA-150 MKII SE
    Amp: Wright WPA 50-50 EAT KT88s
    Analog: Marantz TT-15S1 MBS Glider SL| Wright WPP100C Amperex BB 6er5 and 7316 & WPM-100 SUT
    Digital: Mac mini 2.3GHz dual-core i5 8g RAM 1.5 TB HDD Music Server Amarra (memory play) - USB - W4S DAC 2
    Cables: Mits S3 IC and Spk cables| PS Audio PCs

    Ofc: Wright WLA12 preamp: Anthem Amp 1: Pio Elite DV-79AVI: Airport Express: CAL Sigma II DAC: PA LS90 sonicaps and mills

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    I really like the DAC-IT and prefer it over the Cambridge by a good bit, funny how we all hear differently.
    Main HT
    Magnepan 1.6QR fronts, POlk R15 surrounds, Pioneer SC-25, Parasound Halo A23, Oppo BDP-105, Panasonic TC-P60ZT60, Sony PS3, Apple TV

    Bedroom System
    Polk Blackstone TL3, Polk PSWi225 Wireless Sub, HK 3490 Integrated, Oppo BDP-103, Sharp Aquos 32" TV, Apple TV

    Office Rig
    27" iMac w/Amarra, AudioQuest Dragonfly 1.2, Focal XS Book, Schiit Valhalla, Cypher Labs Theorem 720, Philips Fidelio X1, Sennheiser HD600, HiFiMan HE-500, B&W P7, LG 47LM7600, Sony PS3, Apple TV

  16. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by AsSiMiLaTeD View Post
    I really like the DAC-IT and prefer it over the Cambridge by a good bit, funny how we all hear differently.
    I like the Dac-it myself as I find it to be a wonderful sounding DAC. So was the Audioengine D1 which before I started comparing I thought I could easily own this one. But the Cambridge overall had the best depth and soundstage. I'm not exactly sure why it played such a huge roll in soundstage but it did. The other 2 kinda shrunk in comparison.
    I can't see anyone not being happy with any of the 3. I guess it comes down to personal Preference here. My next round I want to give the Bryston a run vs the cambridge. Totally different price classes but would be fun to hear the difference money can buy.
    Dan
    My personal quest is to save to world of bad audio, one thread at a time.

  17. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by thsmith View Post
    Mantis, Apple also sells the latest Mini refurb, saves $100. Thats what I did. Itap VNC on most devices will let you control it headlessly.

    I think you laptop has a better power source than the mini but has not been a problem for me.

    I ran my mini through my Denon before my DAC arrived with good results as well.
    A referb Mini might be a better solution then putting a new hard drive in mine. I was thinking of adding memory as well but if you add up the cost , time of Install , buying a new referb mini probably is a much better route.
    Thanks for the heads up.
    Dan
    My personal quest is to save to world of bad audio, one thread at a time.

  18. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by MillerLiteScott View Post
    I ask the price point question because you say "I brought home the Cambridge Audio Azur Dac Magic in Silver." Is this a different unit than the Dac Magic Plus for $ 599
    ?
    It doesn't have the headphone pre and doesn't take 192k input. There are a few differences between the 2.
    Dan
    My personal quest is to save to world of bad audio, one thread at a time.

  19. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by tonyb View Post
    Told you bro, you needed to step up to a real dac. Now if you want to take it even further, drop some coin on a W4S dac1 or dac2. Glad your diggin the tunes anyway and welcome to the world of seperates and digital music.
    Thanks man , This is extremely fun. It's been awhile since I did some vs battles and I'm enjoying this one a lot. The W4S stuff looks very interesting and I'd like to check them all out even their amps. I'm going Bryston next which might be where the bus stops. Everything I do with them is incredible and I can't see needing anything more then what they offer.
    Dan
    My personal quest is to save to world of bad audio, one thread at a time.

  20. #20

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    Brystons new dac has been getting some rave reviews for sure. Just like receivers Dan, dacs come in all price points and flavors to suit anyones ears. Cambridge has been one of those dacs that perform well above their price point but lately the competition has heated up in the sub 1000 buck catagory. Musical fidelity, Burson, Bryston, and a few others are really pushing what your coin gets you in that price catagory. Even the Benchmark and W4S dac 1 are now under a g note.

    Have fun man experimenting....it's pretty cool when your eyes get opened to new stuff and what it can do.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tonyb View Post
    Brystons new dac has been getting some rave reviews for sure. Just like receivers Dan, dacs come in all price points and flavors to suit anyones ears. Cambridge has been one of those dacs that perform well above their price point but lately the competition has heated up in the sub 1000 buck catagory. Musical fidelity, Burson, Bryston, and a few others are really pushing what your coin gets you in that price catagory. Even the Benchmark and W4S dac 1 are now under a g note.

    Have fun man experimenting....it's pretty cool when your eyes get opened to new stuff and what it can do.
    it's funny man, I've been Installing DAC's for years and years but never had the chance to sit down and really compare them to each other. I've been Installing 2 channel audio for over 13 years now and I've done some sic systems shy of a million dollars. In all that time I never played with the DAC's. They where a part of many systems as we would sell CD transports with no internal DAC's so they had to be with the system. About a year ago or so , we started getting heavy into Sonos with a 2 channel system. Wadia Ipod docks and Apple Tv's as a source on a 2 channel system using a Dac magic. I set up these systems over the years and thought , Man the Magic really makes computer music come alive and sound as good and it some cases better then the CD. Our Audiophile salesman built his first computer music server years ago and has been constantly changing DAC's to find the one he likes. The Bryston is one he does like but the current or older model.
    One day it just hit me , it's time to find out where this can take me. I'm so into it dude. I read about DAC's all the time , which software works best on a mac , how other Audiphiles are bringing the computer into their once all analog systems etc.
    Yeah man it's really fun. I like that you can do this as cheap or as much as you want to spend and still get good to incredible results. Anyone can get into the game and go from there. It's really hard to want to go back to spinning Disks.
    Dan
    My personal quest is to save to world of bad audio, one thread at a time.

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    Dan
    My personal quest is to save to world of bad audio, one thread at a time.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tonyb View Post
    Brystons new dac has been getting some rave reviews for sure.
    The only DAC they have listed is the BDA-1, which has been out for a couple of years, or more. I have had mine for at least two years, and love it. I replaced the Benchmark DAC1 with it. Bryston does have a relatively new digital file player, the BDP-1, which is a top notch music server. I replaced my iPod/Wadia with the BDP-1, and am amazed at how much detail it gets out of the same Apple Lossless file, and the iPod/Wadia is no slouch in the music department.

    I also added an XLR Shunyata Python digital cable to connect the BDP-1 to the BDA-1, and I'm sure that helps. Of course, I also added a Shunyata Python Ztron power cable to the BDP-1, while the BDA-1 already has a Shunyata power cable. No sense in using crap cables with good gear, at least if you want to get the maximum potential out of it.

    I was reading in either the absolute sound or stereophile just recently that a number of vendors are now using the BDP-1 to demo their gear versus a CD player at trade shows. In fact, Bryston says they developed the BDP-1 to be able to demo their other gear.

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    I've played with the BDP-1 and wasn't all that impressed with it. It was a bit quirky. We had some high rez files on e memory stick and it to a few times to get it to play with a reboot. It was a early model and probably just needed a firmware update or something. But it did sound good.

    I always go over my cables and make sure I have the best quality I can afford. No reason to have something in the chain that can hurt all the work you did.
    Dan
    My personal quest is to save to world of bad audio, one thread at a time.

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    You should try the Audioengine D2. It's quite a bit better than the D1.

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    Great stuff mantis! I'm extremely happy with my Channel Islands VDA-2 DAC.

    Would love to know how the Bryston stacks up, keep us posted :)

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    as soon as I get my hands on it , I'll do a full review.
    Dan
    My personal quest is to save to world of bad audio, one thread at a time.

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