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.