No more cds?

No more cds?

Prices listed are in USD

Has the whole world abandoned the spinning digital disc? It can sure feel like it! When we had to replace my wife’s laptop last year, finding one with the feature set we were looking for at a price that appealed to us didn’t include a CD drive. At my day job, none of the PCs or Macs we’ve recently updated include disc drives. It’s a technology the world — even the audio world — seems to have relegated to the past, so a couple of years ago when my Oppo universal player stopped reading any type of disc, I was left with a difficult decision. Oppo had ceased manufacturing the players, and there was very little out there in my comfort zone (under $1K) that would provide universal disc playback, including SACD and Blu-ray (BD). I generally don’t mind buying used equipment, but when it comes to disc players, I’m a little more hesitant to do so. I eventually ended up getting a mid-fi, universal player, which will play everything. The thing is, after two years of having it, I’m still not completely sold on its sound quality, specifically as it relates to SACD and BD playback (I have a huge collection of SACDs, and a growing assortment of music-only BD discs), which often, through my player, don’t sound particularly… thrilling.

Euphony Summus Music Server

My digital music playback setup currently includes a dual-box server/streamer combo from Euphony Audio, with outboard power supplies from PliXir, and the very good-sounding and capable PS Audio Gain Cell DAC. Everything is hard-wired to my home network, and I only need my tablet or android phone to get playback started. It’s the most elegant setup I’ve ever had the pleasure to use, providing a level of musicality and realism that just boggles my mind every time I take a listen. The level of quality of the hardware and technology far exceeds that of anything built into my universal player, and when I occasionally listen to a CD, I do so through the PS Audio Gain Cell DAC to get better sound. SACD and BD playback, on the other hand, can’t be done through the DAC — both formats are encrypted with unbreakable copy protection.

That is, until now. If you really dig into this sort of thing, there are adapters from China ($50-100) that purportedly will allow you to stream the SACD’s DSD content directly via an I2S connection to your DAC. Reports vary widely as to their effectiveness, and compatibility issues abound. Another option is the Geer Fab D.BOB ($1K), a stand-alone box that allows you to stream the content of SACD or BD discs directly to your DAC — but there are limitations. Certain content can only be streamed via HDMI, and depending on the configuration of your player and DAC, compatibility issues may exist. DSD streaming is only possible via S/PDIF (coax), and there are also compatibility issues there as well — my PS Audio unit won’t handle DSD via coax. So, maybe you can get this all to work, and, well, maybe not.

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PS Audio Gain Cell DAC

But there’s a third option that came to my attention a couple of years ago, one that I just recently made happen. And that is finding the correct equipment and learning how to rip the content of SACD and BD discs (and for that matter, DVD-A discs) to your music server for direct playback via your streamer/DAC setup. I’ve written about the process of DSD extraction from SACDs extensively; you can read the following links about the process and my rationale for even bothering. I’ll be writing about BD extraction in the near future, but the main emphasis here is that we now have the tools to play back files digitally — perhaps even natively — with absolutely thrilling results that don’t cost a lot of money to achieve.

The software exists online to make ripping virtually any digital disc possible, and it’s often open-source freeware that’s been upgraded and refined to the point of being relatively easy to use. And the equipment involved is also not too hard to find as well as being quite affordable; the used Sony BD player with the appropriate chipset for SACD ripping cost me $10 at a thrift store.

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GearFab D.BOB

I’ve read most of the threads on many of the audio boards about ripping, digital file conversion, WAV vs. FLAC, etc., and have done a lot of the A-to-B comparisons between digital formats myself. I’m at the point where I can’t honestly say that I can hear an actual difference between WAV files and uncompressed FLACs, but I can definitely hear a difference between a CD played on my universal player and a ripped, uncompressed FLAC of the same title played back over the Euphony/PS Audio system, which is capable of native playback of any known file format. Shockingly, one of the most worthwhile improvements to the system has been adding the outboard PliXiR power supplies, which provide a stable operating environment for the system that the stock PSUs in the Euphony player just weren’t capable of delivering.

Listening to native DSD files — which I consider to be the finest digital format that’s yet existed — over my system is a revelation when compared to hearing them via my universal player. It’s convinced me that my player is heading to the auction block. And I won’t be replacing it anytime soon; I’d much rather spend $100 here or there for an external BD drive that will allow me to rip any CD, BD, or DVD’s content to my server, then enjoy native playback on my digital audio system with a press of a finger on my tablet. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

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