Source Equipment Reviews

by Kevin OBrien on 12/25/2023


Apparently, we put our heads down for what seems like two years, and next thing you know, compact discs are making a comeback! Seriously, we had no idea that there was even a legitimate demand for spinning shiny, little, silver discs anymore. This further reinforces the notion that when something goes 'out of style', just wait a while, and it will come back 'in style' eventually. The compact disc, first sold in 1982, is no exception.

What initially led us on this CD-journey, was the fact that Schiit Audio came out with a USB-enabled CD transport this summer. That really caught our attention, as Mike Moffat of Theta Digital fame, is one of the owners of Schiit. Our last and final CD transport at YFS was the Theta Carmen II, before it finally died in 2012. We have been waiting for Mr. Moffat to release something along the lines of the Urd for a while now, but had no idea it would be the final product it turned out to be. USB-enabled CD playback!?!? What?


Well, this review is for the Shanling ET3 CD Transport, NOT the Schiit Urd. So what gives? It turns out, the Shanling ET3 is also USB-enabled and shares that similar concept. What differentiates the ET3 from the Urd is the extra digital outputs, namely the I2S, and the ability to use the ET3 as a streamer / endpoint for digital file playback. The ET3 allows the end user to connect a USB stick to the rear of the player (or to your network via WiFi), navigate to said files via the Eddict Player app (available for download in the Google Play Store) on your phone or tablet, and play them back via the USB output in hi-res. The ET3 also has the ability (theoretically) to upscale playback from Redbook to DSD. We will get into the weeds on that later...

The ET3 also has a more robust spinning mechanism / laser pick-up compared to Schiit's offering. We would rather not see a tray popping in and out of the unit if possible. The Schiit CD transport did not check that box. The ET3 has a much preferred solution for the spinning portion of the player, along with the ability to significantly reduce vibrations from reaching the laser / disc spinning assembly. Specifically, the Shanling unit implements the Philips SAA7824 solution mated with the Sanyo HD850 laser. Schiit is using the StreamUnlimited tray solution, which seems like a good way to go, but the top-loader option is always better at the end of the day for longevity and vibration mitigation reasons.

As far as this review is concerned, we will only be focusing on the CD playback of the ET3 and the options associated with Redbook 0s and 1s. We did not hook up the ET3 to WiFi, nor did we insert a file-loaded USB stick, nor did we use the I2S output. We want to be perfectly clear, as we are not interested in playing digital files (hi-res or otherwise) with our CD transport. We have several computer transports laying around to send Qobuz streams and MQA / DSD files to. Not to mention, we do not have a DAC in-house that accepts an I2S input (such as PS Audio's DAC offerings). We are only interested in what the Shanling has to offer in regards to sending Redbook (16 bit, 44.1 kHz) digital streams to our DAC, whether it be via the AES / EBU or the USB output, the latter being the optimized digital output per Shanling. We did not test the Optical digital output nor the Coaxial digital output but we did notice the USB output could wring out slightly more detail than the AES / EBU output. It appears Shanling was spot-on in their assessment. However, the AES / EBU has the least amount of jitter associated with it, so we stuck with that, when not using the USB output.

The ET3 has the ability to upsample the AES / EBU, Coaxial, and Optical digital outputs to DSD along with several other hi-res sample rates. The USB output is independent of the other traditional digital outputs (we are assuming the I2S is independent as well). The user should disconnect all digital outputs except for the one he or she is currently using for the best possible results. This is per the manufacturer.

Functionality of the ET3 was what we expected, and did not leave us wanting (except when it came to upsampling, explained later on in the review). It did take us a while to figure out how to turn the player on after we placed it in our rack. The knob located on the front panel must be pressed in for 2 to 3 seconds to take the transport out of standby mode. Push in for another 2 to 3 seconds and the unit will go back into standby mode. (One must place the rocker switch on the rear panel in the "on" position first, obviously). Press in the knob on the front panel quickly and the 'Settings Menu' is at your fingertips. Rotate the knob back and forth to select the menu items that are desired, push in the knob to select the menu item, and then use the 'Track Backwards' button on top of the unit to exit out of the menu (the remote will not work for this). Simple enough.

That brings us to another quick point: the display on the front panel is sufficiently bright and has enough resolution to make out what's happening, but it is not large enough for viewing from long distances. This is OK with us, but may not work for some listeners. The menu items are large enough to read up-close, so this is just a small nitpick. Overall, the display was a nice change from the standard 'giant numbers' we are used to seeing on most players. This will be a personal preference thing though...

The remote control is a little lacking, but was good enough to get the job done. We only used it for tracking backwards, forwards, and pausing / stopping the player. Corners have to be cut somewhere when offering a product like the ET3 at such an affordable price point (~$750 USD). We feel it was the right area to skimp on.

As far as sound quality and overall presentation, this is where things got really interesting. To be perfectly honest, the ET3 blew us away on first listen! We didn't even give the unit enough time to come up to room temperature. It was cold, right off the UPS truck, and still sounded incredible. Keep in mind, we are talking about CD playback. Sound quality is all relative to what you are comparing it to. If you want the best sounding CD playback for the least amount of cash, we feel the Shanling ET3 delivers. We cannot recall hearing a better presentation of Redbook material than with the ET3, with only one exception, a long-discontinued Proceed PDMT unit. Unfortunately, trying to find old CD transports is essentially pointless, as they all need unavailable repairs at this point. Regardless, this is extremely high praise for the ET3 for sure.

When we look at the specs of the ET3, we get excited. Unfortunately, we were not able to get any of the upsampling features of the ET3 to work with our Meitner MA3 DAC. With the exception of the 24/192 from the AES / EBU output, none of the other formats would come through on the MA3 screen. Frustrated, we contacted Shanling customer support, and they informed us that it should indeed work. Well, theory and reality are two entirely different things. No matter what we tried, we could not get the AES / EBU output to upsample to DSD or any other format above 24/192.

When comparing the 24/192 upsampled presentation versus the standard Redbook presentation, we could not distinguish much, if any, of a difference. This lead us to leaving the player in 'Bypass Mode' under the 'SRC Menu' for the rest of our review. Your mileage may vary, but we stopped worrying about upsampling and just enjoyed the Redbook bliss we were hearing. 

When we talk about a piece of gear's 'sonic signature', what are we really talking about? This is the sound quality and tonal character of the gear, showing the listener 'how it sounds' when playing back various source material. We like to use words like, "Liquid, Smooth, & Analog" to describe what we prefer to hear at YFS. The Shanling ET3 lends itself to a slightly 'warm' presentation compared to completely neutral gear and hit on all those descriptors listed above. We love detailed, yet relaxed listening events. The ET3 gave us exactly what we were hoping for, but at stupid-cheap pricing!

When you spend a lot of time listening to high-end gear, you begin to realize what jitter sounds like in your system. One way to quickly sum up the ET3 would be in terms of jitter: it's almost non-existent. We could listen to the ET3 for hours on end with zero listening fatigue or straining. We also fell asleep a few times during long listening sessions, the ultimate test of our YFS review system. The ET3 sounds as 'analog' as you are going to get from a CD in our experience (when combined with a capable DAC).


A particular Proceed PDMT comes to mind, as mentioned earlier, when we reminisce about the pinnacle of CD transports that we have experienced over the years. Proceed was manufactured by Madrigal Audio Labs, manufacturers of Mark Levinson, Revel, etc. The Proceed PDMT was the most amazing sounding CD transport that we have had the pleasure of listening to. Somehow, it only retailed for $5,995 USD, but punched way above its class. It could compete with the Mark Levinson units, costing 3 to 5 times more. Unfortunately, it is no longer supported over 20 years later.

The ET3 gets us as close to the Proceed as possible, most likely on par with it, and possibly besting it, without searching far and wide for an uber-expensive, mega-buck CD transport. We are confident these reference-grade CD transports must be made somewhere in the world, but we just don't want to spend the time and money to figure it out... And with the ET3, we don't need to. There's no need to spend big bucks to play back your CD collection in total audiophile style these days.

The Shanling ET3 passed our YFS listening test with flying colors.

And yes, we will be keeping the ET3 in-house for our next YFS CD Redbook listening event.

Thank you for spending your time with us...

 - KOB


by Kevin OBrien on 05/14/2017


I want to thank Marcin from JPLAY for sending out his latest updated PCI-e USB 3.0 card, the 'FEMTO', to YFS for a test drive. He assured me this card would outperform all other 'Audiophile USB Cards' currently on the market. Let's take a look at the latest JCAT computer audio accessory and see how it stacks up to the rest of the field.

The first thing I noticed when I received the USB card was that there was a set of instructions inside the box for reference and set-up. Letting the user know how to set up the USB card is of the utmost importance and it seems this very crucial first step gets missed all too often. A simple search for the manual can be found online but it's nice to have a physical sheet of paper in your hands so you don't need to stop your install to check the manual online. See the instructions I received in the box below for reference.


Setting up the card was straight forward. I moved the factory positioned jumpers to the appropriate updated settings to match my system. I arranged the jumpers to use the internal Molex power connector utilizing the included filtration on the card. My 5.0 Volt 1 Amp YFS linear power supply was used to power the card. Marcin recommends using a high quality linear power supply to get the best performance out of the FEMTO. After seating the card into an open PCI-e slot inside my YFS Ref-3 music server, I was off to the races. Drivers were not needed as my Windows 10 operating system automatically detected the NEC USB controller. This is the first time I have had a computer peripheral just work without any hiccups. My hat goes off to JCAT for a making a high quality product that works the first time minimizing the need to pull my hair out during set up.

The FEMTO was played for 3 weeks continuously to make sure the new card had time to "settle in" before any impressions were made. I have used every single 'Audiophile USB Card' on the computer audio scene and the FEMTO is the only solution that did not develop some sort of issue after initial set up. Other cards I have tried would not seat themselves properly within the PCI slot and would suddenly be unrecognized by my OS. Trying yet another set of cards from an alternate manufacturer would yield more function-less hardware based on software configuration changes / Windows updates, etc. Maybe this is just plain and simple bad luck on my part? Speaking to our customers and other users, it seems I am not alone with my experiences though. I experienced none of these issues with the FEMTO and that was the greatest challenge to overcome for me personally: how do I find a USB audio output card that will be a reliable performer and sound great to recommend to my customers.

I am confident the FEMTO will work, stay reliable, and sound great for any customer I recommend it to. That's hard to come by these days it seems when dealing with the small niche of computer audiophile manufacturers. This is the main hurdle users cite when reasoning their way out of getting into computer audio.

As far as sound quality is concerned, the FEMTO can hang with any USB output card available. It can also surpass the sound quality of any USB card currently on the market if implemented with a quality linear power supply. We are excited that we now have a legitimate USB 3.0 output card solution for our Ref-3 Windows-based servers. If you want a high quality USB card and you're willing to pay slightly more than the competition, the FEMTO will deliver.

A big thank you goes out to Marcin at JPLAY for turning YFS onto the JCAT line of products for PC audio applications.

If you are interested in finding out what a FEMTO USB card can do for your system, feel free to contact us. We would love nothing more than to get a FEMTO into your hands. YFS is now an authorized JPLAY and JCAT dealer so your purchase through YFS is supported and backed by the manufacturer.

Thanks for reading...

 - YFS Review Team

 Associated Equipment for this Review:

  • YFS Computer Music Server - HD-Ref-3
  • EMM Labs DA2 DSD DAC
  • McIntosh C2300 Preamp with Siemens NOS Tubes
  • McIntosh MC202 Monoblocks (1 Pair)
  • Von Schweikert Unifield II Mk3 Speakers
  • YFS Custom Room Treatment
  • YFS Custom Interconnects and Cables


by Kevin OBrien on May 15th, 2014


We somehow got our hands on the Kora linear power supply manufactured by Core Audio Technology. We wanted to take one of their modified Mac Mini's mated with their Kora power supply and compare it to our latest YFS Mac Mini and PS-12m linear power supply combination. That's exactly what we did and you can read about it in the article below. We want to thank one of our great YFS customers for his kindness and his huge heart. Thanks for letting us borrow your personal digital front end for this review. Thanks again Joe!

First of all, let's talk about what a lot of folks have been telling us for the past few years. Most folks see our YFS modified Mac Mini and they say, "All computers sound the same, why would I pay for that?" That's a great statement and a great question. Let us explain our thoughts and give you a thoughtful answer.

We've noticed each and every computer sounds different when hooked up to the same DAC. The same goes for CD transports. If you're not a believer in transports sounding different from one another then this is where you'll most likely stop reading. That's fine with us. If you feel digital is digital and all digital sources sound the same, we cannot convince you of anything we'll be touching on in this review. That's okay. If you've done the listening and comparisons as we have, you know each digital source is not created equal. 0's and 1's do depend on how they are 'extracted' from each source and streamed to your DAC. The USB cable, the digital coax cable, SPDIF converter (if you choose to go that route), as well as the transport, all come into play and contribute to how your DAC, and ultimately, your entire system will sound.

We like to ask the question, "If all digital transports sound the same, why are there so many CD / computer transport manufacturers?" If they're all the same, each transport should sound identical and there would be no reason to shell out big bucks on a transport. The user would just buy the cheapest unit and be done with it. We know folks have been spending big bucks on transports and DAC's for years and it's obvious to us and our customers that digital isn't that simple and straight forward. All 0's and 1's are not created equal.

We decided to prove this concept to a few folks local to us in the Boulder area. We set up a comparison of the Core Audio Mini / Kora PS and the YFS Mini / PS-12m and let them decide which source sounded better. We placed both units on our rack and attached two identical V-Link 192 SPDIF converters to each Mini using our YFS 'Split' Reference USB cable. We then used our Reference 75 Ohm coax cable to go from the V-Link 192's to our EMM Labs DAC2X. This was the only way we could level the playing field and actually compare transports and not some other piece of gear in the chain.

Once both units were set up and allowed to play for 8 hours, we began to switch back and forth between the two. We told the few folks that were in attendance to listen to both inputs on the DAC2X and tell us which input they liked better. We didn't tell the listeners which input was which. This way we could truly find out which source sounded better without letting any personal bias come into the equation. The blind A-B listening test is the only fair comparison in our eyes. Otherwise, you know which source you're switching to and you already have a predetermined bias in your head.

The Core Audio setup consisted of a 2010 Mach2Music Mac Mini with Ryan's internal filter replacing Apple's internal switching PS. The Kora linear power supply hooked up directly to the rear of the Mini via an umbilical. The digital playback suite consisted of Audirvana Plus (latest version) and FLAC / WAV files were streamed to the V-Link 192 via USB and from there streamed via coax cable to the DAC2X.

The YFS setup consisted of our 2012 Mac Mini with our YFS version of the internal filter which replaced the stock Apple switcher. Both Mini's were armed with SSD's for their respective OS X. Our YFS PS-12m linear power supply hooked to the rear of the Mini using our YFS umbilical. The YFS unit was also implementing the Audirvana Plus digital suite (latest version) and all the settings were matched on both units to make things fair. iTunes was disabled in both cases and FLAC and WAV files were auditioned. No DSD was played as we do not have two DAC2X's.


The first thing we'd like to note is that after testing each source, we realized they both sounded REALLY good! They should for the money. But, there was a clear winner every time and it was universal which unit was better. Please contact us for the results of our testing. We don't want to make enemies or hurt anyone's feelings and that's not our intention here. This test was done due to popular demand from our customers.

We strive to create the best components we can, by hand, here in the USA. We also aim to make all YFS products as robust and well thought-out as possible. It seems to be working. We have received plenty of feedback from YFS Mini customers and we can get you in touch with actual clients if you'd like to hear their opinions.

There's never any reason to over-hype things as the proof is in the pudding. Once you get your YFS source component home and you hear it for yourself, we don't want to deal with having to explain why things aren't sounding the way we hyped them up to sound. If we just tell the truth, there are no stories to remember and no lies to live up to. We're not businessmen, we're engineers and that shows in everything we do.

Feel free to contact us and we will privately lay out the major differences between our YFS PS-12m, the Core Audio Kora, the Mojo Audio Joule III, and any other PS we've got our hands on. We are engineers during the day and we are YFS creators at night. We are more than happy to show you where that extra coin is going when you purchase our YFS linear PS over the competition's power supply. Drop us a line and we can talk.

THANKS for reading and let us know if we can answer any questions you may have about our YFS Mini / PS-12m combo. We're here to help, serve, and spread great sounding digital gear to those who appreciate paying a little more and waiting a little bit longer for 'state of the art' performance.

Until next time...

-YFS Design Team


by Kevin OBrien on August 28, 2013


We were able to test our YFS HD.Ref-3 computer transport with the latest SOtM USB 3.0 compliant PCIe output card back in May of 2012. Unfortunately, we quickly returned the card due to its incompatibility with the M2Tech v1 OEM USB input receiver. These USB input receivers are used in a variety of DAC's ranging from Wyred4Sound, Eastern Electric, Chord, Empirical Audio, Metrum Acoustics, Playback Designs, as well as MSB. Obviously, some current and older M2Tech products are included as well, except for the HiFace MKII which uses the XMOS USB input chip.

Can we implement a product within our YFS Reference 3 Transport that isn't compatible with several USB devices currently on the market? The very easy answer to that question is, "No". So, we sadly soldiered on using the original SOtM tx-USB card.

Fast-Forward to August of 2013. We got our hands on a SOtM tx-USBexp PCIe output card and we gave it another shot. We were hoping to see new drivers packaged along with the card. We were a little bummed out to see the card came with the same drivers we received previously.

So, I contacted the man himself, Jesus of Sonore. I described to him how the SOtM exp card works with Windows 8, however, it just won't work with Windows 7. The next day I received an email from Jesus containing a link to the latest tx-USBexp Windows 7 drivers. After uninstalling the current TI USB 3.0 drivers, and then replacing them with these latest ones, everything worked great. AWESOME! This opens up an entire new world for M2Tech, W4S, Eastern Electric, Empirical Audio, MSB, etc. owners! For instance, now we can use our tricked out M2Tech EVO with our YFS HD.Ref-3 transport and live happily once again.

Oh and by the way, the latest SOtM USB PCIe card allows us to not only drop our latency buffers to non-existent values but, it also sounds better than the original!




We updated our Windows 7 based HD.Ref-3 via the Windows Update website after RMAF 2013 and the SOtM USB 3.0 card is not recognizing ANY of our USB-based devices now. Something tells me this has to do with drivers. As this is usually the case when a fully functioning component stops working after Windows Update. So, we're right back where we started. We know it's due to Windows Update as we only updated one of our Ref-3's on demo in our showroom. The units we did not update are still working fine. It's a bummer but that is the way it goes in the computer world sometimes. We will give further updates as they become available. We recommend using Windows 8.1 in conjunction with the SOtM USB 3.0 card. USB 3.0 is natively supported in Windows 8 and functionality is guaranteed with no need for drivers.

Thanks for reading.

Until next time...

-YFS Design Team


by Kevin OBrien, Brad Easton, and Mike OBrien on February 2012


UPDATED 03/11/2012!!!

So, in our last review of the computer vs CD transport, we let readers in on our opinions of both sources. We said the computer was essentially more user-friendly and had a slight advantage in the sound department. We recently decided to compare computer transports since we have not covered that yet. Fortunately for us, we stumbled on to what we here at YFS believe to be one of the BEST music sources, period.

We have heard vinyl playback systems costing well over $120,000 (just the vinyl source equipment) as well as CD playback systems in the same league and I can tell you this is it. Unfortunately, we cannot give you all the details of our computer source because we are still currently in the design phase of our product. We feel it can go head to head with ANY other computer source and BEAT IT, hands down!

I know that's a bold statement but once you've heard what we have, we are convinced you'll feel the same way. Let us describe how we came up with our findings and we'll give you some more details on our listening tests and finally the sound.

We figured we'd keep everything the same from the previous 'computer vs CD transport' shootout so we are using the original Musical Fidelity V-DAC with USB input and the Acer 5735z laptop. As we mentioned in that review, we were not able to get bit-perfect output via USB based on the V-DAC's design. Apparently, many folks have reported the same issues so we ended up using the "direct sound" mode within Foobar 2000 for the Acer. We ripped our CD's to WAV files using EAC CD ripping software. We then set up our custom YFS music server prototype (still in it's design stage) to see what we could find out about this whole computer audio craze. We're glad we did!

We played an album on the Acer after letting our system warm up for a bit and then we switched sources. Our YFS prototype was outfitted with Windows 7 and Foobar 2000 in "direct sound" mode with all the exact same settings to make the comparison fair. We used the USB 2.0 output as well to try and even out the playing field. We immediately noticed everything sounded better! We're talking a night and day difference here. In fact, we didn't need to switch back to the Acer it was that good. We then realized we were hearing things we haven't heard in our favorite recordings EVER.

You are probably asking, "What about your vinyl set-up?" This was definitely on par with our vinyl set-up and even surpassing it after listening for a couple hours. We are very familiar with our vinyl rig's sound and we were immediately impressed with this server!

Here's where it gets interesting. We decided we should try JRiver Media Center and see what effect that had on the overall sound in our YFS prototype. Let's just say this was an eye-opener as well. (Unfortunately, the trial version lasts for 30 days and then you must pay the $50 to unlock it) Using the WASAPI playback setting within JRiver, we were able to get a bit-perfect digital signal out of the YFS prototype via our USB 3.0 output and we were literally floored!  WOW!  I know we wanted to keep things fair at first but now that we knew it wasn't even close, we decided to go all in. Most folks have not had luck getting the MF V-DAC to play nicely with any bit-perfect playback scenario. After hours of tinkering, I guess we just got lucky. We then cued up the Talking Heads' Speaking In Tongues 24/96 digital files and we almost blew the roof off the joint! INCREDIBLE! Talk about P.R.A.T.! I haven't heard a source with more slam, attack, detail, and good high's, lows, and mids like this ever before.

If the end-user was to use one of the many Asynchronous USB DAC's on the market right now, none of this would be an issue. The user would download their DAC's proprietary drivers, install them, and then select that driver under the "Options" menu under "Audio". Then the user would select either ASIO or WASAPI from the same menu and he or she would be on their way to bit-perfect digital music via USB!

We then switched back to "direct sound" mode which actually sounded really good but with more emphasis on the high end of the frequency response. It reminded me of switching between a tubed CD player and a solid state CD player. VERY COOL. So, we've decided that JRiver is definitely worth your time experimenting with. The user can actually fine-tune the sound he or she is looking for with the various output options available WITHIN the JRiver suite. No need to download and install plug-ins. Again, VERY COOL. 

Stay tuned for more details about our YFS music server prototype. If we're this excited about something, we figure you will be too. It's just a matter of time!



We have been very busy testing our HD-Ref-1 computer music server. We feel it's almost ready to release to the general public. We have a few more odds and ends to clean up and we'll be all set. Contact us for pricing and availability of our very first few units!!! Click here for more information on the YFS HD-Ref-1.


Associated Equipment for this Review:

  • YFS/ SCH Custom Speakers
  • YFS Custom Room Treatment
  • VPI Scoutmaster with VPI Zephyr Cartridge
  • YFS Custom Phono Preamplifier
  • Musical Fidelity V-DAC
  • YFS Custom Direct Preamp and Custom 6L6 Tube Power Amp
  • YFS Custom Interconnects and Cables


by Kevin OBrien on 6/13/2011


I am comparing my IBM Thinkpad T43 laptop to my Theta Digital Carmen II CD transport. I am wondering which is a better digital source component. I will be describing my findings after setting up the IBM T43 for use with my M2Tech Evo USB to SPDIF converter. This allows my laptop to become another digital source component with a digital output just like a CD transport. I will NOT be using the USB input on my DAC. This allows me to switch between older and newer DACs that do not possess a USB input.

It has come to my attention that the best way to hook up a CD transport to a DAC is through the AES/ EBU digital output or the BNC digital output if possible. The RCA digital output inherently introduces too much jitter. I will be implementing the Theta Carmen II's AES/ EBU digital output hooked up to an EE Minimax DAC via a Better Cables Silver Serpent balanced digital cable. I will be implementing the IBM T43/ M2Tech EVO hooked up to an EE Minimax DAC via a Black Cat Cable Veloce BNC digital cable. The USB cable linking the EVO and the IBM will be the 1 meter Silnote Audio Poseidon Silver Reference USB. I will be toggling back and forth between the two components by selecting the corresponding input on the Minimax DAC.

First, let me describe my IBM T43 laptop. It is not in the stock form. I have installed 2GB of RAM and added a more recent 350GB HDD to accommodate my digital files library. The computer comes with a 1.83 GHz Pentium M 750 processor which has NOT been overclocked. I am running XP Service Pack 3 for an operating system with all Windows sounds and standby modes turned off. I also unplug the laptop from the internet so Windows will not check for updates (The computer is allowed to update itself before and after listening sessions). I am implementing the Foobar 2000 digital media player with the Kernel Streaming Plug-In installed. This allows me to output a bit-perfect digital stream via USB to the M2Tech EVO. From the EVO the Veloce 75 ohm BNC digital cable sends the data to the DAC. Simple enough.

Let me describe my Foobar 2000 set-up as well to let you know the basic settings I am using as there are a lot of options within the program. I have the output files set to play at 24 bits and my buffer is set to somewhere near the middle of the supplied range. I turn off all the Replay Gain settings and do not fade in or out of tracks. I want the most dumbed down settings I can get so I alter the original sound of the digital files as little as possible. There is an ongoing debate on whether Foobar or JRiver sounds better. I have heard from both sides that each is better for several reasons. I am sticking with Foobar since it costs me nothing to use. Feel free to experiment but be aware that JRiver will set you back $50 for the non-trial version. Now that we've covered the laptop set-up let's talk about the files I'm playing within Foobar 2000.

I use the EAC CD ripping software mainly because it's free and I am not familiar with the Foobar ripping software yet. I have heard Foobar is the way to go in terms of sound quality but I'm pretty sure EAC is very close. I choose to rip CDs directly to WAV files so I know I am playing the exact same quality file as on the CD. Some folks choose to use FLAC files but I am hesitant to go that route. I do not want to compromise performance in any way and WAVs seem like a safe bet to me. If you are interested in hi-res digital files you can buy them from They sell a variety of digital FLAC files in a variety of formats such as: 16/44.1, 24/44.1, 24/48, 24/88, 24/96, 24/176, and 24/192. Make sure your DAC can play all these formats BEFORE you purchase. The EVO can handle every available format right now so I do not have to worry. Unfortunately, not all DACs can handle 24/192 digital input streams from a digital cable other than USB. A lot of DACs and SPDIF converters are only compatible with files that are 24/96 or less. Do your homework! I want to mention Media Monkey here as well since that is the software I use to convert my FLAC files from to WAVs. It's a nice program in that it keeps the sampling rates of the source FLAC files intact when converting to WAV files. A 24/96 FLAC file turns into a 24/96 WAV file. Very cool.

So, about the sound already. I let things warm up for a while before doing any serious listening. It turns out that comparing the two sources wasn't as easy as I thought. Switching back and forth between the sources was easy but I could not tell a night and day difference between them. I did notice right away that the laptop had more mid-range detail. I kept listening and flip-flopping between the two sources and I realized the computer was giving me a better mid-range response to my ears but that was the main difference. Keep in mind I am comparing 16/44.1 WAV files to the same CD. If we are talking about 24/96 files, the computer beats the same CD every time. To me, it makes sense to go with the laptop for ease of use. CDs are not difficult to load but they can become a pain when they get dirty or scratched. A CD transport laser can become stuck, not track correctly, or fail, etc. When my laptop breaks, I will just buy another one. If my CD transport breaks, I cannot afford to go out and spend just under $4000 on a new one and Theta no longer supports any legacy products. The decision was easy for me. I'm moving in the direction of the future, not the past. I still love vinyl but I don't think vinyl can beat a great music server.


Associated Equipment for this Review:

  • Von Schweikert VR-5 HSE (Hovland Special Edition) Speakers
  • Quicksilver 12AX7 Tubed Linestage and Silver 60 Monoblocks
  • EE Minimax DAC
  • EE Minimax Phono Stage
  • VPI Scoutmaster Turntable with VPI Zephyr Cartridge
  • PS Audio PPP/ Equitech 1.5Q COMBO
  • YFS Custom Cables & Interconnects
  • YFS Custom Room Treatment
  • Herbies Audio Lab Dampening Devices and Tube Dampers


by Kevin OBrien on May 15, 2011


We are comparing the McCormack Audio SST-1 Digital Drive CD Transport to an average Acer Aspire 5735z laptop from 4 years ago running XP which could be had at your local box store. I figured this was a good comparison point as both of these source components can be had for around a $400 street price. Obviously the SST-1 is no longer in production but on the used market can be bought for much less than its retail price of $1495 back in the mid-90's. We did not want to use a current model computer either as that would stack the review up unfairly to one side. I feel the two components are comparable based on their current price points.

We decided to use the Musical Fidelity V-DAC MkI for a DAC keeping in tune with the whole "affordability" theme. The V-DAC goes for around $350 with the Pyramid external power supply option. All in all I feel this source configuration is attainable by most audiophiles on a budget. Hopefully this appeals to more folks out there in the real world. Especially since the economy isn't exactly picking up steam as fast as we would all like!

We let the units warm up for an hour before we did any critical testing. We used a budget USB cable to try and level the playing field as well. There are USB cables currently costing over $2000 but that would not make sense in this review setting. We set up the Foobar 2000 Digital Media Player on the Acer in "Direct Sound" mode. This is important as we did not get a bit-perfect digital signal coming out of the Acer but we did turn off all sounds under the "Sounds" menu in the "Control Panel" and changed the power scheme to always on. (No screen savers or standby modes for hard drives and monitor outputs) We also disabled the internet connection and removed the current audio driver suite for better performance.

I have been able to get the Kernel Streaming module in Foobar 2K to work in the past but we tried and could not get it working with the original MF V-DAC. I have heard other folks having the exact same problem so we moved on. The MF V-DAC does not require drivers and is not "asynchronous". This makes it truly "plug and play". We will follow up in the near future with a computer transport comparison with at least one computer running Windows 7 with bit-perfect digital output but for now we are concentrating on the Acer XP machine from several years ago.

Lets talk a little about the files we were using as well. We downloaded the free EAC CD ripping software online and ripped the CDs were going to use as test material into 16/44.1 WAV files. I know FLAC files are lossless but we wanted to make sure our comparison was as fair as possible so we used WAV files.

Enough about the set-up already and let's get to the real substance of the article, the sound! Well, we were able to do an A-B comparison by toggling back and forth between the CD Transport and the Acer 5735z with the input switch on the V-DAC. We cued up a CD on the SST-1 and matched the timing of the digital player to the timing of the CD track and then matched the output levels. This made it very easy to get a feel for what we were hearing. I must say that at first we could not tell a difference right away. After switching back and forth for a couple minutes we noticed the laptop set-up was more "in-your-face" and the CD Transport was a hair more laid back with its presentation. After we listened for a couple hours we decided the laptop set-up did indeed sound better but not by a huge margin. We did prefer it though to the CD Transport after our extended listening session with both sources.

After considering the ease of use with the digital files and the fact that we can now download 24/96 digital files that sound even better than a CD, why would we keep using the CD Transport? It just doesn't make sense any more. When you factor in that it is getting harder and harder to find CD Transports it makes the decision even easier. Again, CDs sound fine (and vinyl is even better) but the computer gets my nod for the source component of the foreseeable future among my various systems.


Equipment Associated for this Review:

  • YFS/ SCH Custom Speakers
  • YFS Custom Room Treatment
  • Musical Fidelity V-DAC
  • YFS Custom CA-60a Preamp and Custom 6L6 Tube Power Amp
  • YFS Custom Interconnects and Cables


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