Apple TV & Musical Fidelity VDAC = Happiness! [Archive] - Audio & Video Forums


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01-12-2010, 11:19 AM
Hi everyone... newbie here to I've been posting on and off on Audio Asylum, and finding them down, stumbled upon this nice looking community here. I thought I'd post this experience with an Apple TV setup in case there are others who might be interested.

Forgive the length of this post... it's a testament to my happiness with this new setup!

I recently purchased an Apple TV to serve as a digital music server for our stereo system. We had previously been using an iPod with a dock/remote with display but the RF noise from the remote was just awful and my 14 month old got the remote into some sort of diagnostic mode from which it has never recovered. This prompted the search for an mp3 server with wife-friendly qualities (small, easy to use, remote with display of songs). The Apple TV has fit the bill, since the Apple Remote application (free) allows us to view our entire music library from the comfort of our iPhones.

I set up the Apple TV system last week. I have a large library of music, the majority as 320 kbit/s mp3s. Trying to sync a fairly large library wirelessly was just a major PITA. After a solid day and a half I had made barely a dent and I just couldn't wait. I ended up using the NETGEAR XAVB101 Powerline AV Ethernet Adapter Kit and a hub to provide internet access as the wireless router just wasn't cutting it in terms of sync speeds, not to mention ROKU Netflix and Amazon video on demand. Results: works like a charm.

Next came the big day. Listening to it! My previous $99 iPod adapter, while never providing an audiophile quality listening experience, did provide a surprisingly acceptable soundstage which, even after a few decades being a stereo junkie, always thrills me.

Apple iPhone as remote: Fantastic. The free Apple Remote application allows me to access all the music, see what I'm playing, etc. I certainly wouldn't mind seeing the actual track time counting by, but that's really just nit picking. It works, it's free, and I'm a happy happy camper.

Apple TV: The Apple TV when connected to my Krell KAV-400xi integrated amp via RCA did a fair job. Sound quality was good, nothing special, but a noticeable improvement over the iPod and iPod cradle setup. The soundstage in my particular setup however was virtually nonexistent. Everything was so bunched together in the dead center (or just to the left) as to be almost comical. Everything from Jazz bands and entire orchestras were crammed into such a small space that I started to imagine clowns piling into a car. It was acceptable... definitely good enough for casual listening and for my kids, but not super enjoyable for lengthy or critical listening.

Musical Fidelity VDAC: I neither had the budget nor inclination to get a hugely expensive DAC just for the Apple TV. I have 3 kids and a fourth on the way, so while I may dream of $100,000 audio systems and interconnects so expensive they should come with a supermodel to hold them, it just isn't in the cards for me right now. Probably not ever, but that's ok. By chance I stumbled on a couple reviews of inexpensive DACs... namely the Musical Fidelity VDAC and the Cambridge DacMagic. Both had really great reviews and it just came down to this for me: the VDAC was cheaper, smaller, and more plain looking. It looked like a homebrew box that the wife wouldn't grumble at, whereas the Musical Fidelity had more of a "Now how much did that cost?" factor to it. I pulled the trigger on the VDAC.

Over the weekend I had major buyer's remorse... I shouldn't have bought such a cheap DAC, I shouldn't have spent the money at all on a stupid mp3 setup, etc. In fact I was completely ready just to send it back without opening it. Though I've never owned an external DAC, I started thinking perhaps it was just a waste of money, especially for a non-audiophile setup. I don't even have any Apple lossless files on this, for goodness sakes!

OK, so the VDAC came in pretty minimal plastic packaging... it was just so easy to open and touch and look at... so I did. Then I figured, ok, what the heck, let's just plug it in and see how it sounds. I was really prepared not to hear a bit of difference and to either return it or eat the $300 mistake. Wow, was I wrong.

I haven't done real serious A/B comparisons to 256kbits/s and 320kbits/s mp3s vs Apple lossless, so I can't really comment. I just realized early on that music encoded at 256kbits/s became listenable to me 320kbits/s enjoyable, and below was really not. I also noticed that while perhaps sound quality wasn't noticeable, there was a fatigue factor in listening to mp3s, even those encoded at 256kbits/s.

One TOSLINK cable later and I was done. The VDAC had a velvety sound right out of the box. I immediately noticed details in the music across the spectrum I had not heard previoulsy. The music came alive and was both more focused and smoother, far more 3 dimensional. The soundstage went from a pinprick to a being a real soundstage. It was phenomenal. All thoughts of the money spent on this disappeared. I don't know how I lived without it for a week!

There may well be better DACs out there... I'm sure there are. The Cambridge box may have been a better buy for the money and more flexible, but the VDAC definitely has a certain quality to it. I just recently sold my beloved Meridian 508.20 CD player ,a player that to me had a great soundstage and presence to it, and very listenable. This Musical Fidelity VDAC to me exhibits the same qualities. It is an extremely enjoyable upgrade, and to me a complete bargain at under $300.00

To me, the Apple TV/Musical Fidelity VDAC combo at around $500 makes for an enormously enjoyable combination. Throw in an Apple iPhone or iPod touch that you might have handy to use as a remote, and you're in musical couch-potato bliss!


01-12-2010, 08:22 PM
Welcome to AR and Congratulations on your new purchase!

AppleTV is quite a popular music server option among audiophiles and should serve you well.... Best of all you have the option to upgrade DACs later on (if you so desire)....