Reproduction of the CD format has come a long way and can rival vinyl for musical enjoyment – with a good player. OK, it's not the same and it does need additional care but results can be awesome.
The big problem with all digital reproduction is vicious mains pollution and airborne Radio Frequency Interference. Whether you are in a city or the Outer Hebrides you are swathed in transmissions from mobile phones, TV and radio broadcasts, police radio, airline traffic etc. – from kHz to GHz.
Why does RF matter?
The D to A converter (DAC) in the player (or separate) is processing very high speed music data right into the radio frequency spectrum and "sees" RF pollution that leaks in as part of the music signal. The rubbish gets mixed in with the music and the result is the glassy, hard-edged high frequency nastiness that's wrongly dubbed "digital sound". It's not the fault of the digital process but of the pollution around us.
At the very least we recommend some mains filtration, that will benefit the whole system, using a Vertex AQ Jaya but a better solution is a Taga distribution block that incorporates filtration for every socket plus their trademark acoustic energy absorption – see Essentials – Vertex AQ.
We love it when we talk to vinyl enthusiasts and in the course of the conversation they mention how they dislike CD. Then it emerges that they have a £3000+ turntable and a £500 CD player! Of course, because they don't like CD they don't have a decent player – self-fulfilling.
Higher quality formats, such as SACD and DVD, have not achieved the market success the quality deserves, partly because of buyer uncertainty while the formats battled it out but also because of the tantalising promise of both convenience and quality from computer-based sources.
There are some good all-in-one dedicated servers that aim to remove the complexity, giving the user a simple interface. However we think the breakthrough for the broad hifi market will come when people can use their existing computers without complications.
Whether "ripping" or copying from one's own CDs or, better still, downloading high resolution 24-bit/96kHz or 192kHz files from the internet the process is not as user-friendly as just inserting a CD disc or playing an LP, in our opinion. There are several file formats, not all of which are compatible with both Mac and PC platforms. Conversion software can help but we are still some way from just pushing one or two buttons.
Bel Canto, dCS and Wadia have made significant entry into the market with players and components that accept high resolution input and successfully "clock" the computer's jitter-laden output for startlingly good results. At this stage however the user is still required to do more than just drop in a disc. We can help.
This dCS guide on computer-based audio is excellent: dcs_guide_to_computer_audio.pdf
The audio circuitry built into computers is not designed for true high-fidelity. Some of it can be by-passed successfully using Pure Music or Amarra software and is highly recommended.
A superb offer
dCS has teamed up with Amarra so that owners using Mac OSX can now obtain a free license of Amarra HiFi by following the instructions on the Amarra site.
Also read this helpful guide "Digital Audio Overview" – dCS guide that explains well some of the confusing terminology, eg kHz or kS/s?
Here's a useful article, although written for Mac computers and covering setting up the computer, it also suggests sources for material: Hi-res audio
Under the News tab above read reports from shows where we have used high-resolution computer music with great success, receiving "best sound in the show" comments from visitors.