Solid State drives versus regular spinning hard drives
This may be hard to believe but the type of drive also has an influence on the sound and it is not subtle.
As a total exception to my normal policy, this article is not based on my own experience but actually a reprint of an email that I received from a reader. It is a phenomenon that I have yet to experience myself, but given my experience with cd drives and computeraudio thus far, I'm inclined to agree to.
There is a LOT of talk from the boys at Computer Audiophile about the superiority of the SSD over HDD for sound quality.
Well, there is NO doubt that the (Macintosh) G5 tower I have sounds fuller, more relaxed and with much greater sound stage width and depth compared to my Intel Mac Mini which sounded forward and very fatiguing. Both using Tiger, both using VLC as the player and both using a HiFace into my Purcell etc. I don't know why, but the G5 sounds more correct, and that also matches up with your views on desktop vs laptop. BUT, with similar expectations (lower grain, etc) I carbon copied my G5's HDD onto SSD and ran the G5 from the SSD but now my sound is thin, lean, no warmth, no body, but I have to say at least the treble is a tiny little bit better in that it seems to have a slight layer of hash removed. Booting back up from the HDD my warm mids and vocals have returned, stage depth, body etc and in actual fact, the treble has rolled off ever so slightly in a most pleasant (van den hul carbon cable?!) type of way.
This is the total opposite to what everyone is saying about SSD. For me, the HDD is far more musical! I won't be going back to SSD. Ineteresting isn't it, and if the technical engineering types were to be believed, there should be NO difference between cables, computers and storage devices!
The SSD used was actually an Intel X25, not the Sandisk pictured here
Even though I have not experienced this myself yet, because I have no purpose for SSD drives until they get really large, this story matches up with my generic computer audio experience and my experience with CD transports in particular. It seems again and again that more precision does not neccesarily mean better sound, or more a musical delivery. On the contrary: it seems that the more precision you squeeze from an information carrier, the more analytical the sound becomes. Of course, thinking along the lines of analog tape and its inherent losses this is theoretically a good thing because you want to retain all the information. But I think that it is sometimes taken too far. Maybe you need a bit of softening/rounding off to make the electronically stored music sound like real music. Remember: electronical/digital audio is not the real thing. It is a representation of it, played back through a series of conversions and amplifications. Therefore, if the replay chain becomes too accurate, you may start to hear the electronic process at work. This is just a theory of course but the more experience I gain, the more it seems to be true.
I think I may even have a technical explanation. Normal hard drives make writing-errors every now and then. This is natural for the medium. They also have to work around bad sectors and such. To this end, inside every hard drive there is a stage of error correction*. It may well be that SSD, for its accuracy doesn't need (much) correction. Most likely, inside those drives there's also an entirely different system for accessing the info whereby some conversion-stages can be skipped. SSD's do have an onboard controller that evenly divides data over all chips but thus far I haven't read anything regarding correction. However, SSD's use an entirely different "dos" than spinning hard drives due to the way they allocate data to all available memory addresses. There may be less, or more data conversion going on than with spinning drives. I can't say. This is all speculation. It may be that CD sounds better than computer for the same reason: error correction and conversion. Inside the laserpickup is correction, lateron in the servo system there's correction and even later right before the dac there's correction so there's a lot of conversion going on. This of course is all assumption but it could very well be one of the reasons and Andrew's SSD story only fortifies my ideas about this.
SSD is silent, quicker, more accurate and probably more reliable than regular drives. But music played from it sounds different from music played from a regular spinning hard drive. Whether you regard it as better or worse may be a matter of taste. Just be aware that there is indeed a difference to be expected.
I have now received several more reports of people hearing differences. But some of them prefer SSD. So I guess this is totally a matter of how the sound fits in with the rest of your system as well as a matter of taste. I have no doubt that SSD potentially makes for a subjectively more "accurate" sound, but that doesn't mean that it is also perceived as more musical.
* I'm not entirely sure anymore about the error correction in hard disks. If you have definite info, or a better explanation for the audible differences, please let me know.