Monday, January 11, 2010

Music playback with Computer hard disk

Happy New Year 2010!

It has been a long while since I last posted an article to my blog. I have just realised there are some questions posed which I have yet to respond to. My humble apology and I shall revert shortly! My hectic work commitment has been rather unkind to my blogging activities but perhaps the main reason could be that I am running short of topics to cover until I ventured into digital music playback with computer hard disk couple of days ago. As for the platform, I settled for the user-friendly iTunes from Apple Inc.

I first experienced iTunes at a wedding reception in Concorde Hotel, KL that I attended recently. I found the love ballads by Nat King Cole played through a notebook computer and some professional audio gears during the function admirable enough in the sense they sound extremely clear, detailed and spacious. So, after further online reading, I decided to give it a trial myself since I already owned most of the gears needed (save for some additional storage space in an external hard disk) including an USB-equipped DAC. iTunes ver 9.0.2, a freeware from Apple Inc., could be downloaded from:
The audio format of the latest iTunes is actually Apple lossless M4A and not the lossy compression of AAC which I had initially mistaken for. This error of my part has prompted Justblair to point out that other lossless compression files actually sound way ahead of AAC as per his comment below.

My USB-equipped Musical Fidelity V-DAC is part of my bedroom/study system comprising of a Sansui CDX-310 cdp, a TA2024 T-amp and a pair of Pioneer pure-malt loudspeakers. Cables used are anything fancy but freebies. I would rate my V-DAC only as decent, just-a-touch better than the internal DAC of my Sansui cdp but quite inferior to that of my Roksan Caspian m-series 1 cdp. This could perhaps be caused by the inadequate wall-wart PSU powering the V-DAC or the less-than-desired optical link I have been using all these while. At its price point, I seriously doubt the award-winning Cambridge audio DAC-Magic is any better than the V-DAC, though. I have not carried out a comprehensive comparison to confirm my hunch. It is not my duty to do so as I am merely a music lover, not a reviewer!

Listening to my computer hard disk in my bedroom/study system, I found that I am hearing more details, air and stereo separations than the CDs played through my Sansui cdp plus V-DAC though optical link. The soundscape of music is much bigger and the presentation more forward. I even found the bass definitions of the former to be better defined and more powerful. My verdict is I love it that I picked up a made-in-Japan 500 GB Buffalo external hard disk to explore further (it could be relegated for data backup duties if I were to dislike iTunes after extensive trials). The irony is that it is even dearer than a 1.0 TB Buffalo external hard disk which comes equipped with an external power supply. Huh!

I did not plug my computer plus V-DAC into my main system, hence no comparison nor comment is possible. My take is that for iTunes to sound better than CDs playback in my main system, I would be required to procure an external DAC capable of at least the same sonic quality as the internal DAC of my Caspian cdp. This, I am not prepared to. I am also not willing to give up all my CDs picked up throughout the 19 years' period, as yet. Perhaps later but then there would be back-up requirement so that I do not lose all my music! I would instead prefer to explore new music with my computer hard disk instead of buying new CDs every now and then. A 60-minutes CD would take up approximately 1.0 GB of storage space plus the picture of the album, hence my new external hardisk should be able to accommodate give-and-take 450 CDs, allowing for 10% empty space. Wow, I would be getting so much more music with so few possessions!

Addendum on 20.01.2010:More hours of listening to music with the computer hard disk further reinforced my initial impression as reported above. The most apparent improvement over playback of original CDs music were ripped from are improved clarity and larger scale of soundscape. The organic feel and liquidity to midrange is non-existent, though. I opine that music played through computer hard disk sound more digital than through a CD player proper. Dare I believe that playing music from the computer hard disk through my V-DAC is better than a competent enough CD player? I honestly do not think so for I would require a better (read more expensive) DAC. See a review of Weiss Minerva DAC here:

I also observed that the playback of music from computer hard disk connected to an external DAC with the USB connection zapped the resources of my computer (a Dell Vostro 1520 Notebook with Intel Duo Core T6670 chip @ 2.2 GHz processing speed, 4.0 GB RAM, 320GB HDD and using Windows 7 in 32 bit environment) substantially.


Justblair said...

Welcome to the world of computer playback...

Couple things that you should try...

First of all, go for a lossless codec for your music storage. On anything other than the cheapest of equipment, the difference is notable.

Might I suggest Flac, Ape or WMA. Personally I am using Flac or WMA. If you are transferring CD's to the new format, you can use a package called Exact Audio Copy (EAC) if you want to get really serious about making copies. I cant hear a difference between ripping done on EAC and say Windows Media Player, but either is good.

Next up aim to use a media player that allows you to use either ASIO4All output drivers or if you are using Windows Vista or Win7 WASAPI. Foobar does both and is very stable (though doesn't have the easiest interface) or MediaMonkey does Asio (with a plugin) and is easier to use (though less stable in my system).

Compare either of these two against itunes... I think you will quickly leave it behind!

Best to do this just now before you waste too much time ripping music to AAC.

Using lossless files, direct playback ((ie ASIO) and a decent DAC I believe that computer sources can easily surpass CD sound quality wise. The good news is that performance per pound, HQ computer playback is way way better. IMHO


Y.C. said...


Thank you for your comment and detailed explanation. I will check out the other platforms before I start ripping all the music CDs into AAC and post my findings in due course, if situation permits.


jazzy939 said...

Good to know that you're back, blogging! ;)
Anyway, welcome to the world of computer playback! I tried this a while back as my lappy has a SPDIF playback and after getting the right optical cable, was able to connect to an external DAC. The audio was simply amazing and dare I say as good or better than my Sony CDP(use as a transport only)!
As far as lossless are concerned, I tried APE a longwhile back, then FLAC.. now I found a format that I liked very much: wavepack. These are compacted wav files, they are still lossless!
As Justblair recommended, I use Foobar to play back them files.. and yes, I use EAC to rip the CDs.. ;)

Happy ripping! LOL!