Audiophile - CD vs Laptop

I'm not really an audiophile but a good few years ago I put some research hours in and put together a half decent hifi system from second hand kit I picked up from hifi forums. Pioneer A400 (modded) amp, a Rotel 965BX SE Discrete CD player and EPOS ES11 speakers on decent stands. I just dusted off my CD player with a view to selling it as I rarely play CDs anymore and don't buy new ones. I have my laptop plugged into my hifi system and use the Spotify app on the laptop to play music these days. I decided to do a quick comparison while I checked the CD player was still working ok and now can't bring myself to sell it! Spotify via my laptop is very noticeably poorer sound quality compared to the CD player. I have the streaming quality turned up to maximum but it's still very poor in comparison. I'm not surprised but I was hoping the difference wouldn't be quite so obvious!

I'm not about to start buying CDs again so have I just got to accept poorer sound quality or is there anything I can do to improve the situation? (the headphone cable is decent quality).
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Comments

  • kingstongraham
    kingstongraham Posts: 26,231
    edited March 2021
    This might be of interest.

    https://newsroom.spotify.com/2021-02-22/five-things-to-know-about-spotify-hifi/

    Spotify does 320kbps compression as a maximum quality, but lossless CD quality is coming for a premium later this year. If you want it now, Amazon or Tidal do proper high quality.
  • singleton
    singleton Posts: 2,495
    edited March 2021
    That is interesting, but still some outstanding questions such as:

    "Select markets" - hopefully that includes the UK.
  • super_davo
    super_davo Posts: 1,134
    You might actually get better results running the app through your phone, depending on what that is. Many phones have fancy DACs and a considerable amount of effort put in to make them sound right. Of course many phones also don't have a 3.5mm jack but it is nothing a cable can't fix.

    Still unlikely to sound as good as a proper hifi from back in the day but that's the price for convenience...
  • pblakeney
    pblakeney Posts: 25,750
    I got a Roksan Kandy setup a few years ago and did a lot of A-B comparisons between the CD player and various laptop configurations.
    Summary is anything from my laptop digital out at 320kbps and above through a DAC were on a par with the CD player. Remastered Hi-Res files were the best but that is more to do with the remastering than the kbps.
    Just my opinion, but I sold the CD player.
    The above may be fact, or fiction, I may be serious, I may be jesting.
    I am not sure. You have no chance.
    Veronese68 wrote:
    PB is the most sensible person on here.
  • rick_chasey
    rick_chasey Posts: 72,615
    edited March 2021

    This might be of interest.

    https://newsroom.spotify.com/2021-02-22/five-things-to-know-about-spotify-hifi/

    Spotify does 320kbps compression as a maximum quality, but lossless CD quality is coming for a premium later this year. If you want it now, Amazon or Tidal do proper high quality.

    I defy anyone to spot the difference between 320kph and CD quality by listening to it.
  • kingstongraham
    kingstongraham Posts: 26,231

    This might be of interest.

    https://newsroom.spotify.com/2021-02-22/five-things-to-know-about-spotify-hifi/

    Spotify does 320kbps compression as a maximum quality, but lossless CD quality is coming for a premium later this year. If you want it now, Amazon or Tidal do proper high quality.

    I defy anyone to spot the difference between 320kph and CD quality by listening to it.
    There must be some other improvement the OP might make that you can suggest then.
  • heavymental
    heavymental Posts: 2,076
    I'll be sticking with Spotify as I find it a very good app. I'm thinking that the issue is playing it through my laptop. Is a DAC the way to go?
  • rick_chasey
    rick_chasey Posts: 72,615
    edited March 2021
    Turn it up to 320kps and if you still notice it then you're a real hardcore audiophile and I can't help you haha.

    FWIW I was in some professional recording studio a number of years ago and I was convinced I could tell the difference between 320kps and lossless so they did a test on the fairly fancy monitor speakers they had and I couldn't spot it.
  • kingstongraham
    kingstongraham Posts: 26,231
    edited March 2021
    I use a Yamaha MusicCast AD for convenience, and it seems to have a decent DAC in it. Happy with the music quality, but I'm no audiophile - won't be paying extra myself for higher quality fwiw.
  • heavymental
    heavymental Posts: 2,076

    Turn it up to 320kps and if you still notice it then you're a real hardcore audiophile and I can't help you haha.

    FWIW I was in some professional recording studio a number of years ago and I was convinced I could tell the difference between 320kps and lossless so they did a test on the fairly fancy monitor speakers they had and I couldn't spot it.

    Yes I suspect the difference between bit rates will be fairly small and quite possibly undetectable to my ears. I'm guessing the issue is with equipment... a high quality CD player vs a bog standard laptop.
  • pblakeney
    pblakeney Posts: 25,750

    I'll be sticking with Spotify as I find it a very good app. I'm thinking that the issue is playing it through my laptop. Is a DAC the way to go?

    Assuming you are getting 320 kbps it would probably depend on how good a sound card you have in your laptop v how much you are prepared to pay for a DAC. I can hear the difference.
    PS - My comparisons have been saved files and hard wired. I use streaming for convenience when I'm not fussy. It might be up to par, it may not for all I know.
    The above may be fact, or fiction, I may be serious, I may be jesting.
    I am not sure. You have no chance.
    Veronese68 wrote:
    PB is the most sensible person on here.
  • heavymental
    heavymental Posts: 2,076
    pblakeney said:

    I'll be sticking with Spotify as I find it a very good app. I'm thinking that the issue is playing it through my laptop. Is a DAC the way to go?

    Assuming you are getting 320 kbps it would probably depend on how good a sound card you have in your laptop v how much you are prepared to pay for a DAC. I can hear the difference.
    PS - My comparisons have been saved files and hard wired. I use streaming for convenience when I'm not fussy. It might be up to par, it may not for all I know.
    Can I just buy a DAC, plug it into the USB port and it'll solve my problems?
  • pblakeney
    pblakeney Posts: 25,750

    pblakeney said:

    I'll be sticking with Spotify as I find it a very good app. I'm thinking that the issue is playing it through my laptop. Is a DAC the way to go?

    Assuming you are getting 320 kbps it would probably depend on how good a sound card you have in your laptop v how much you are prepared to pay for a DAC. I can hear the difference.
    PS - My comparisons have been saved files and hard wired. I use streaming for convenience when I'm not fussy. It might be up to par, it may not for all I know.
    Can I just buy a DAC, plug it into the USB port and it'll solve my problems?
    Worked for me.
    Buy from eBay. If it doesn't work you won't lose much selling it on.
    The above may be fact, or fiction, I may be serious, I may be jesting.
    I am not sure. You have no chance.
    Veronese68 wrote:
    PB is the most sensible person on here.
  • kingstongraham
    kingstongraham Posts: 26,231
    I think you're right. The 3.5mm output from the laptop is where the reduction in quality is happening. A DAC or some kind of dedicated streaming box should improve things a lot.
  • rick_chasey
    rick_chasey Posts: 72,615
    Yes hadn't thought about the connection there.
  • TheBigBean
    TheBigBean Posts: 20,596

    pblakeney said:

    I'll be sticking with Spotify as I find it a very good app. I'm thinking that the issue is playing it through my laptop. Is a DAC the way to go?

    Assuming you are getting 320 kbps it would probably depend on how good a sound card you have in your laptop v how much you are prepared to pay for a DAC. I can hear the difference.
    PS - My comparisons have been saved files and hard wired. I use streaming for convenience when I'm not fussy. It might be up to par, it may not for all I know.
    Can I just buy a DAC, plug it into the USB port and it'll solve my problems?
    Yes. In general, most people don't buy laptops for their sound quality, so as a result a laptop's DAC is one of the cheaper components. Furthermore, there is no worse place to put a DAC than in the middle of a bunch of electrical components, such as your laptop, which cause interference. Therefore, almost any DAC placed outside of your laptop will result in a significant sound improvement.

    You will hear no difference between high bitrate and lossless. There is a school of thought that the human ear isn't capable much like seeing x-rays or billions of shades of colour.

    Finally, speakers are the next area where sound quality is often lost, so the best possible sound quality will be a decent pair of headphones attached to an external DAC. That set-up doesn't even need to cost much.

    I have a Dragonfly DAC which is at the cheap end, but is good enough for me.
  • heavymental
    heavymental Posts: 2,076
    edited March 2021
    Something like this then would do it without spending too much. https://www.whathifi.com/reviews/ifi-zen-dac or for really cheap and small https://www.whathifi.com/cyrus/soundkey/review
  • pblakeney
    pblakeney Posts: 25,750
    edited March 2021

    Something like this then would do it without spending too much. https://www.whathifi.com/reviews/ifi-zen-dac or for really cheap and small https://www.whathifi.com/cyrus/soundkey/review

    They would, and the Cyrus appears to be a bargain if you've got a headphone to phono cable although again, it would appear to be 3.5mm.
    See also a PM.
    The above may be fact, or fiction, I may be serious, I may be jesting.
    I am not sure. You have no chance.
    Veronese68 wrote:
    PB is the most sensible person on here.
  • heavymental
    heavymental Posts: 2,076
    Thanks all, I will have a look at a DAC then and see how I go.
  • kingstongraham
    kingstongraham Posts: 26,231
    pblakeney said:

    Something like this then would do it without spending too much. https://www.whathifi.com/reviews/ifi-zen-dac or for really cheap and small https://www.whathifi.com/cyrus/soundkey/review

    They would, and the Cyrus appears to be a bargain if you've got a headphone to phono cable although again, it would appear to be 3.5mm.
    See also a PM.
    Not aware that there is anything wrong with a 3.5mm output per se, just that the one coming out of the laptop won't produce the best quality sound because it's not made for that. Be full of noise when you put it through a system where you can tell the difference.
  • heavymental
    heavymental Posts: 2,076
    3.5mm is fine for me. It's the device not the connection I imagine.
  • elbowloh
    elbowloh Posts: 7,078
    When I buy laptops/build laptops, I usually get equipment aimed at gamers, so they include soundcards (which also include a DAC).
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  • Harry182
    Harry182 Posts: 1,169
    This shows an interesting experiment on the differences between MP3s, WAV, FLAC (lossless), AAC sound file types and whether one can tell the difference:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YgEjI5PZa78
  • pblakeney
    pblakeney Posts: 25,750
    Well this was a worthwhile thread for me as I have now installed my DAC into my office which was my hifi room.
    The sound is a bit fuller, rounder with more depth. But you really have to be paying attention. Won't make any difference for background music
    The above may be fact, or fiction, I may be serious, I may be jesting.
    I am not sure. You have no chance.
    Veronese68 wrote:
    PB is the most sensible person on here.
  • sungod
    sungod Posts: 16,535
    edited March 2021
    unless the pc/laptop/whatever has a dac (and everything else in the reproduction chain) that meets/exceeds the quality of both encoded streams the 'test' is worthless as the material will be degraded

    same applies to the source chain of course, high bit rate mush is still mush
    my bike - faster than god's and twice as shiny
  • sungod
    sungod Posts: 16,535
    edited March 2021
    ...
    my bike - faster than god's and twice as shiny
  • pblakeney
    pblakeney Posts: 25,750
    sungod said:


    same applies to the source chain of course, high bit rate mush is still mush

    Paradoxically higher end equipment tends to show up the deficiencies anywhere in the chain from recording through to speakers that poor equipment will mask.
    The above may be fact, or fiction, I may be serious, I may be jesting.
    I am not sure. You have no chance.
    Veronese68 wrote:
    PB is the most sensible person on here.
  • kingstongraham
    kingstongraham Posts: 26,231
    I couldn't listen to that James Blake song anymore. No difference with the main test or with the Spotify test, but against 96kbps I got the Killers one right 100% of the time (10 out of 10) on my laptop with decent sound.

    Would like to do it through a DAC, but my Yamaha thing doesn't let me just use it as speakers.