Difference between a low and high quality CD player

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RhysAndrews

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Hey guys,
My brother was a rep @ a hi-fi store, and so he knows his stuff about TVs, Audio, Home Theatre, etc. I'm a massive computer geek, and I know my stuff about computers - and I know that computers and home theatre / tvs / audio are becoming one very quickly, what with HTPC's, etc.

However, we got in a little argument yesterday about CD players. He said he got a "Music Server" from work to play with yesterday.. retailing at $3,500. All it does is rip music to a hard-drive while it plays, so you don't need to put the CD in again. It sounded cool for someone who wanted it, but when he mentioned the price tag I lol'd. He thinks that the audio will play much higher quality out of such a device than a regular CD/DVD drive on a computer (not putting into consideration the sound card or speakers - he means the drive itself makes a huge difference). He points to the laser, saying that a higher quality laser picks up more sound.

Now, I don't understand this when CDs are digital. If a CD cannot pickup all the bits in a track, surely it corrups a track? When you rip a CD, doesn't it just copy all the tracks bit by bit, and then compress to MP3 or WMA or whatever? What is the point in spending $3,500 on a 'high quality' CD player that records to a hard-disk when you can get a computer which does the same thing for $500, and more?

I also don't see how say a higher-quality HDMI cable is going to make a difference, considering it's just sending the colour information for each pixel. If it was sending wavelengths it would be different, but its not. It's sending raw data.
 

CrossCech

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Does this "Music Server" have a brand name or a website to check the specs? $3500 for a Music Server? That's nuts.
 

berry120

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My brother was a rep @ a hi-fi store, and so he knows his stuff about TVs, Audio, Home Theatre, etc.
He points to the laser, saying that a higher quality laser picks up more sound.
What the heck?! Utter nonsense. Simple as that. If he's coming out with comments like that I'm afraid he doesn't know his stuff at all! You might want to tell him to be careful - I'm no lawyer but I'm sure it couldn't do him or the company he works for any good if someone who knows what they're on about catches him saying such rubbish to sell one of these things. If this really expensive CD player / recorder thing is worth it's money some other way then fair enough, but before selling it he should really find out the TRUE facts behind it, not something he's made up to try and sound impressive. Sorry for the rant - but this sort of thing does annoy me a bit, it's blatant mis-selling and is preying on people that aren't technologically minded.

More expensive CD players (and I'm talking about the professional style rack mounted sort, not an over-hyped CD drive that goes into a PC) are more expensive because they're designed to last day in day out in tough, touring environments where they'll be constantly put in and out of racks, wheeled around and suffer the odd knock. They'll be more reliable and probably less prone to skipping if something hits them, and they might also pick up audio from CD-RWs (which a lot of cheaper domestic CD players can't.) Such players have been known to go for well over a decade without an issue - and with that sort of a system that's what you pay for.

As for a CD drive that goes into your PC, you're right - it'll either work or not. In the past the better, more expensive ones were faster (48x as oppose to 16x for example) but for years and years there's been practically no difference. Better lasers picking up more bits and resulting in better sound quality? Sounds like something Jen off the IT crowd would say!

This wouldn't be the first nonsense thing I've heard from a hi-fi person either, I've seen everything from £2,000 POWER cables that claim to greatly enhance the sound by giving the unit cleaner power to £expensive blocks of wood to lift a cable off the floor for greater sonic performance. It's all nonsense, and I'm very sceptical of any hi-fi enthusiast that claims seemingly impossible things as a result.
 

RhysAndrews

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@berry120
My brother is usually quite intelligent and only tells people what he's noticed from experiences, and he's told me from listening to the differences he can tell it's a lot better. But in this case I don't think hearing is believeing, we need to look at the facts, I guess.

Yeah, I read an article where they put two stereos in a room, one with a monster speaker cable, and one with a coat hanger wired into the speakers. They blindfolded 20 people and none of them could pick which one they though sounded better.

PS: I don't think Jen would bother arguing anything computer-related :D
 

Kage

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Actually, some things in audio do make a difference, like cables and such, but not for most amplifiers, etc, but they do still convert to analog at some points, and this is where voltages, etc can cause interference, but not enough to go and buy a expensive power board...

I see the point for example in buying more expensive cabling for speakers however, as I know for sure these do make a difference as the signal is carried using analogue methods.
At least when using a good amplifier that carries a clean signal throughout, and of course, they'd be no point having a good amp with poor speakers to be powered by it.

But for something digital, no.
When I've been working for example, I've been asked about HDMI cables, and how they've been asked to buy superior cables for better sound/picture quality, and I've just gone 'No, it carries either a 0 or a 1. It's impossible, for any picture/sound differences to exist between brands"

Same for the laser pickup. Any laser pick up will carry exactly the same signal. Its where the conversion from digital to analogue signals happens within the amp where the quality can change.

It seems like that unit is expensive due to it being built for commercial use, yes.
It may also have better circuitary/DAC's that may make it sound better, since it probably has a built in amp.

Think of it in the sense of a built in sound chip on a motherboard sounding a lot worse than a dedicated board, due to interference/quality of the chips, etc.

However, it'd probably rip music in a lossy format, like MP3, or AAC anyway, meaning that the quality delivered through the speakers, will be of worse quality than the CD that was originally placed into the device...and I can tell the differences between formats, I assure you.
I only have to run ABX tests to know that.

But to answer the main question. A low priced CD player/to a high priced one in the same standard conditions will not make a difference to the sound quality/playability. It's where the digital signal goes after that, where it matters.
 

berry120

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My brother is usually quite intelligent and only tells people what he's noticed from experiences, and he's told me from listening to the differences he can tell it's a lot better. But in this case I don't think hearing is believeing, we need to look at the facts, I guess.
Fair enough, perhaps I went a bit OTT on that one - but a still stand by the fact that claim was nonsense though!

However, it'd probably rip music in a lossy format, like MP3, or AAC anyway, meaning that the quality delivered through the speakers, will be of worse quality than the CD that was originally placed into the device...and I can tell the differences between formats, I assure you.
I only have to run ABX tests to know that.
Kage makes a very good point here as well - in most cases the CD will sound better than any recordings that are being played on a PC, because chances are they've been ripped in some form of lossy format (they'd take up a HUGE amount of space if they weren't.) For what they are they're really not bad at all, but due to their nature they won't sound as good as the original at all.

I see the point for example in buying more expensive cabling for speakers however, as I know for sure these do make a difference as the signal is carried using analogue methods.
At least when using a good amplifier that carries a clean signal throughout, and of course, they'd be no point having a good amp with poor speakers to be powered by it.
I should clarify what I meant - cabling is an important "link" so to speak and decent quality cables as oppose to crappy ones not up to the job will most definitely make a difference. Same goes for microphone cables or pretty much anything. Where it gets ridiculous is the £1000 price jump up to something "really top end" - mostly these are just pure scams and never make it sound any better than a lower priced, decent cable.
 

Kage

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Yeah, I would never spend £1000+ on cables, but I have thought about changing the speaker wires on my Logitech Z-5500's to the 30 quid cable range for example, that have a lot more thickness (My dad has the same on his speaker system) and they do make a difference I found.

As for the lossy format, theres a chance they'd be an option to rip in something like FLAC, which would be lossless, and stil take up less space than a WAVE at CD quality, but yeah, unless it has a massive hard drive (probably could be updated), I don't think the shop would really care, since most shops don't exactly have power houses for speakers, or the need to care really.

Yeah, I would never spend £1000+ on cables, but I have thought about changing the speaker wires on my Logitech Z-5500's to the 30 quid cable range for example, that have a lot more thickness (My dad has the same on his speaker system) and they do make a difference I found.

As for the lossy format, theres a chance they'd be an option to rip in something like FLAC, which would be lossless, and stil take up less space than a WAVE at CD quality, but yeah, unless it has a massive hard drive (probably could be updated), I don't think the shop would really care, since most shops don't exactly have power houses for speakers, or the need to care really.
 

Remeniz

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However, we got in a little argument yesterday about CD players. He said he got a "Music Server" from work to play with yesterday.. retailing at $3,500. All it does is rip music to a hard-drive while it plays, so you don't need to put the CD in again.
Rip-off! Excuse the pun.

It sounded cool for someone who wanted it, but when he mentioned the price tag I lol'd.
So did I.

He thinks that the audio will play much higher quality out of such a device than a regular CD/DVD drive on a computer (not putting into consideration the sound card or speakers - he means the drive itself makes a huge difference). He points to the laser, saying that a higher quality laser picks up more sound.
LOLZ! @ high quality laser pick-ups! *wipes tear*

As far as I know the laser picks up all the 1's & 0's and if it can't then the CD is assumed corrupt! Like you confirm below. The "higher quality laser", lol, isn't going to collect any more information than a standard laser when there's no other information on the CD to retrieve.

Now, I don't understand this when CDs are digital. If a CD cannot pickup all the bits in a track, surely it corrups a track? When you rip a CD, doesn't it just copy all the tracks bit by bit, and then compress to MP3 or WMA or whatever? What is the point in spending $3,500 on a 'high quality' CD player that records to a hard-disk when you can get a computer which does the same thing for $500, and more?
Exactly. All the bits are copied to the hard drive and will be read from the hard drive in the same way. If you then convert to a lossy format then the audio will not be what is on the CD.

I also don't see how say a higher-quality HDMI cable is going to make a difference, considering it's just sending the colour information for each pixel. If it was sending wavelengths it would be different, but its not. It's sending raw data.
Higher quality Oxygen free or silver cable will make a difference only if you have the monitoring equipment that will let you hear this difference.
The difference between a low-Q and high-Q CD player is the DAC's and the line level audio circuitry. But it's ideal to have a stable 'quiet' PSU and logical controls. The DAC's are important. They convert the digital 1's & 0's picked up from the CD into analogue audio. Then they're passed on to the line level amplifiers. Then the outputs.
Turns out that you are not only a computer geek you also know when someone's having you on!
 
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