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Ripping and Computer Audio

The two subjects of CD Ripping and Computer Audio seem to be the most contentious around in the world of audio now. Theory one, is that it’s possible to get good sound from a computer feeding a DAC. The debate tends to be as much around whether a Mac is better than a PC as a source as which DAC is ideal. The general feeling seems to be that a Mac Book with a DAC costing around a £1k is cable of delivering better sound that a serious or very serious CD Player. I agree a Mac and a DAC is cable of delivering a very good sound – but not a great one.

These two subjects seem to be the most contentious around in the world of audio now. Both centre around sound quality and both somehow seem to bring out the most passionate views, often different to mine.

Theory one, is that it’s possible to get good sound from a computer feeding a DAC.  The debate tends to be as much around whether a Mac is better than a PC as a source as which DAC is ideal.  The general feeling seems to be that a Mac Book with a DAC costing around a £1k is cable of delivering better sound that a serious or very serious CD Player.  I agree a Mac and a DAC is cable of delivering a very good sound – but not a great one.  The Mac/DAC to my ears delivers a polished performance with poor dynamics downwards and little soul.  A great CD player adds back the soul, and reaches down into the quiet to somehow increase the space between the notes.  I’m sure it is possible to get a great sound from a ‘puter but it am sure it’s going to take a bit more effort than just plugging a DAC on to the output of a Mac.

Theory two, is that if a rip is perfect it should sound the same as another perfect rip of the same CD.  Seems pretty logical to me but somehow it doesn’t seem to be the case.  Listening blind and sighted to different rips which are identical, according to CRC and EAC’s file compare, they seem to sound different.  Consistency of results leads me to believe I’m not fooling myself.  Now, don’t expect these differences to be huge and obvious.  And don’t expect these to hear differences unless you have a revealing system and time.  If you have both and are willing to try a few rips then relax and let the tracks play through and observe your reaction to each track from an emotional level.  You need to be relaxed and not trying too hard – tension and stress are great ways of hearing less. When last trying this blind Malcolm Steward and I found differences in the rhythm of the track.

My conclusions are the same as usual with serious hi-fi.  The more I understand the more I realise I don’t know.