Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: 2TB iMac 27" quad-core w. 16GB RAM running OWS 10.8.2, PureMusic 2.04, Audirvana 1.5.10, COS Engineering D1, Metrum Hex, AURALiC Vega, Aqua Hifi La Scala MkII, SOtM dX-USB HD w. super-clock upgrade & mBPS-d2s, Apple iPod Classic 160GB (AIFF), Astell& Kern AK100 modified by Red Wine Audio, Cambridge Audio iD100, Pro-Ject Dock Box S Digital, Pure i20
Preamplifier: Nagra Jazz, Esoteric C-03, Bent Audio Tap-X, COS Engineering D1, AbysSound ASP-1000 [on review]
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA30.8; FirstWatt SIT1, F6; Crayon Audio CFA-1.2; Goldmund Job 225; Gato Audio DIA-250; Aura Note Premier; Wyred4Sound mINT; AURALiC Merak [on loan]
Loudspeakers: Albedo Audio Aptica; soundkaos Wave 40; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Submission; German Physiks HRS-120, Gallo Strada II w. TR-3D subwoofer
Cables: Complete loom of Zu Event; KingRex uArt, Zu and LightHarmonic LightSpeed double-header USB cables; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink; Arkana Research XLR/RCA and speaker cables [on loan]; Sablon Audio Petit Corona power cords [on loan]
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all components
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Rajasthani hardwood rack for amps
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators
Room: Irregularly shaped 9.5 x 10m open floor plan with additional 2nd-floor loft; wood-paneled sloping ceiling; parquet flooring; lots of non-parallel surfaces (pictorial tour here)
Review component retail in Europe: €7'560 for La Diva

My conversion to computerfi
—using a PureMusic-served iMac as transport—took place years ago. Obviously I'd not spun physical CDs in just as long. To safeguard that my transportation standards hadn't slipped, I wanted to step back in time and compare a legacy top-quality CD transport. My friend Dan had an Aqua Hifi La Diva which uses a Philips CD-PRO2 top loader. It also offers a parallel not serial-port option with its RJ45-carried I²S output. I owned the matching Aqua Hifi La Scala MkII DAC with equivalent I²S input. This seemed like a best-case opportunity to investigate the matter. Dan was graciously game to let me borrow his deck. My time capsule was ready to board. Would I book a costly speeding ticket?

Obviously this assignment wasn't solicited by either Aqua or Apple. It was a purely personal curiosity. It's shared here with those who might be equally curious or perhaps still debate whether to finally kiss off CDs in favour of rips, downloads and 16/44 streaming à la Qobuz, Tidal and WiMP. Hence we'll forgo all the usual tech intro and dive straight into the results. To make my test more multi-layered, I did a number of things. 1/ I compared standard CDs and CDs burnt from ripped or downloaded files to their AIFF/ALAC files; 2/ I tried AES/EBU, BNC and I²S digital cables; 3/ I used Aqua Hifi's La Scala and COS Engineering's D1 converters. PureMusic was the latest 2.04 version with all settings optimized but no upsampling. My iMac was a 27" quad-core version with 2TB hard drive (music), 256GB SSD (OS/PureMusic) and 16GB RAM (memory play) still with the DVD/ROM drive built in. My USB cable was a 2-meter KingRex red dual-header. The AES/EB digital cable was a Van den Hul Pro, the BNC leash a Tombo Trøn, the I²S link a generic Ethernet.

I started with my COS Engineering D1's coaxial input. Its analog true-balanced XLR output ran directly into my Pass Labs XA30.8 stereo amp. Volume was via the D1's 0.25dB-step analog attenuator. Whilst with many tracks I couldn't hear a difference between commercial release and burnt equivalent, other tracks sounded better burnt to disc directly off the iMac. Hence I created a 15-track playlist for USB purposes and burnt the same lot to a TDK blank for the La Diva transport. That covered my software comparators.