Today's Transport War: Significant Differences?

I have been reading much these days about computer/hard-drive based transports as being a whole order of magnitude superior to traditional CD transports. In my reading, the camp who believes hard-drive based transports can render major improvements has been most notably represented by Empirical Audio. The camp which suggests that traditional CD transport techonology (or atleast the best of its sort--VRDS-NEO) is still superior has been most notably represented by APL Hi-Fi.

Each of the camps mentioned above are genuine experts who have probably forgotten more about digital than many of us will ever understand. But my reading of each of their websites and comments they have made on various discussion threads (Audiogon, Audio Circle, and their own websites) suggests that they GENUINELY disagree about whether hard-drive based transportation of a digital signal really represents a categorical improvement in digital transport technology. And I am certain others on this site know a lot about this too.

I am NOT trying to set up a forum for a negative argument or an artificial either/or poll here. I want to understand the significant differences in the positions and better understand some of the technical reasons why there is such a significant difference of opinion on this. I am sincerely wondering what the crux of this difference is...the heart of the matter if you will.

I know experts in many fields and disciplines disagree with one another, and, I am not looking for resolution (well not philosophical resolution anyway) of these issues. I just want to better understand the arguments of whether hard-drive based digital transportation is a significant technical improvement over traditional CD transportation.


Price level affects the answer to this question. You'll see quite a few comments where people say that their hard-drive-based transport "nearly equals" or "equals" their $3000-$5000 conventional transport. I take this to mean that the best conventional transports are still as good or better than hard disk based audio.

For those of us that are in the more common $500-$2000 CD player range (Rega, Arcam, etc.) the balance seems to tip towards hard disk based audio. Sound quality of the hard disk solutions is at least as good, and the convenience is killer.

There are currently relatively few hard disk based options (compared to conventional CD players). I think we will continue to see many more of these units coming out, and units from Sony and other mass-market manufacturers before too long.

- Eric
Very good point Ehart -- clearly a conversation about this topic in the cost-no-object realm would be different than in the budget and mid-price levels.

A few of the organizing issues seem, to me, to be:

1. The "rip" or how data is read

2. The quality of bits: are all bits equal?

3. And the whole USB/SPDIF/I2S thing.

There are probably other organizing characteristics that are important, this just reflects where I am in my understanding.
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