Best Sonos ZP-80 Mod?

Anyone with first hand experience with a modded Sonos?

I've seen a few ads, though would like to know whose leading the pack.

My ripping is Lossless and I am currently running my ZP-80 through a Meitner BIDAT

I am also interested, as long as it is under 1K (more like $700). Come on big brains of the industry sweat a little and give us something that we can afford.
I know that Joseph Chow (Audio Horizons) has developed a ZP80 power supply upgrade which I am beta testing. It delivers a significant improvement to the music. My reference for comparison was a Levinson 37 transport which had been upgraded. When Sonos performance matched it, I sold the Levinson.
I use FLAC files from a network storage device, and play through the ZP80 digital output to an Audio Horizons tube DAC.
In order to get the best signal, both the transmitting and receiving ZP80 power supplies should be upgraded.
I am very interested as well. I spent some time looking at the Cullen Circuits upgrade and it seems pretty solid though I wish it included a mod to the power supply as well.

Cedar, I wonder if the power supply from Mr. Chow can be used in conjunction with the Cullen Circuits mod? Do you mind if I ask how much the mod was?
I am very interested as well. I spent some time looking at the Cullen Circuits upgrade and it seems pretty solid though I wish it included a mod to the power supply as well.

Cedar, I wonder if the power supply from Mr. Chow can be used in conjunction with the Cullen Circuits mod? Do you mind if I ask how much the mod was?
Both of those questions should be posed to Joseph Chow. I don't know the answer to either one. As a beta tester, I comment to him about sound quality, reliability, and ease of use. When he is satisfied with the power supply, he will upgrade my units to the final version, except for cosmetics. At that point we will find a mutually agreeable price. I have tested his designs for a few years now.
I know that he is testing them in his system as well as in mine. I have not heard the results in his system. He did tell me his target is to stay below $300 per ZP80.
Very interesting. It is getting warmer.
Hi Folks. I had the Cullen Mod done to one of my ZP-80's. I am still conducting my evaluation and will report back in another week (or so.)

Cedar, I sent Joseph an email, quite a while back (before the Cullen mod was available) and did not hear back from him.

Does Joseph's PS mod improve the sound from both the analog and digital outputs?

Yes, the sound improvement is evident from both the analogue and digital outputs. Since I listen to the digital output through a superior DAC, that signal is better, of course. For casual listening (i.e., while I'm working busy the house), I use the analogue outputs. Before the power supply upgrade, I avoided the analogue outputs because the sound quality was unsatisfactory.
Have a look at the Pacecar mod via Empirical Audio. I've got one. Highly recommended.
How does the Cullen mod compare to the Empiracal?

Cullen mod - might be it for me, I am all ears.
Mrjstark, do you actually have the Cullen mod? If so, can you please elaborate? BTW, do any of these mods affect the Sonos' sw upgradability? Sonos typically comes out with a sw release once a quarter.
When will someone mod a Sonos (or other device) with an asynchronous capable USB out? Wouldn't that eliminate entirely the need for expensive clock mods on the transport box if you just turned it into a digital file 'pass through' and let the DAC clock do the heavy lifting? It just seems ridiculous to me that there isn't an easier way to transfer the file into the DAC cleanly without worries of transport jitter.

What am I missing here? Would love for one of the techies to enlighten me on this.
Shazam - A USB out does not help things unless you are forced to go to a USB input DAC. Even these are not jitter intolerant. Most use ASRC to reduce but not eliminate jitter.

I2S output to the DAC is superior because it puts the low-jitter clock closer to the D/A chip itself. Usually I2S input DAC's do not have upsamplers in the path either, just the D/A chip. The Pace-Car that Wappinghigh talks about does this. It uses a buffer memory that isolates the input stream from the output stream. There is no other more straightforward way than this technique to get low jitter digital to the D/A chip.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
The real problem with the ZP-80 is jitter on the digital outs. It is the worst of the WiFi servers I have modded. Replacing the power supply will not fix it. It needs a new clock and redesign of the S/PDIF output path. A reclocker after it will reduce jitter also, even better.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Steve - going from a Sonos box to a USB DAC is *exactly* what I want to do. If you were to use an asynchronous USB DAC (like a Wavelenght) that puts all the clock and stream management responsibilities on the DAC, then the Sonos box merely becomes a "digital file pass-through." In this scenario, I've eliminated all transport noise (because I'm not transforming the file in anyway) and laid the actual digital source file at the doorstep of the DAC. At this point, the limitations of the Sonos would no longer matter, correct?

Does this not seem optimal from a sonic and cost perspective or am I mis-understanding the fundamental nature of USB Audio?
No, no, I just said that the Cullen mod is or might be what I am looking for ($ wise). Performence wise - I am just like you - waiting for someone with real exp.

Sorry for misunderstanding
Hi Guys - I have two of the ZP-80 units from Cullen. I went through Underwood HiFi (Wally) and they are great! One unit was set to a 48k output (my Spectral DAC will only take a 48k) and another unit set to a 96k outputfor my Peachtree Decco. The Decco is a great piece gear itself.

These are the mods:
The upgrade consists of installing a new custom Cullen Circuits designed pc board that contains:
1) A high end sample rate converter made by TI
2) A low jitter clock with less than .5ps jitter
3) A low noise power supply for the clock
4) A new micro processor
5) Input & output digital buffers.
6) New upgraded RCA output jacks are added.

I have not tried the analog outputs but direct head to head w/an unmodified ZP-80 gives you a much bigger less compressed sounding soundstage. Bass is much better and fuller and there is more "air" around all the instruments/vocals. It's well worth the cash.
The current ZP-80 mod by Cullen Circuits will not improve performance from the analog outputs. The re-clocking benefits the digital outputs to your DAC.
janikan, does the Cullen mod still allow the ZP to update its software? Hopefully, the ZP will behave just like standard in terms of its sw upgradability.
Shazam - I understand what you are trying to do. There is just no solution out there for this. Also, there are no USB converter or DAC solutions that are completely jitter insensitive IME.

What you could do is use the S/PDIF or AES input on the USB DAC driven from a reclocker like the Pace-Car sourced from the Sonos. This will match or beat the quality that you get with straight USB. This would be driven by Superclock4 rather than an inexpensive oscillator.

Steve N.

What we need is a shoot-out between the Empiracle and Cullen mods...

They both know what they are doing, though one is double the price of the other ($550.00 vs 1100.00+).

But which one sounds better, and why?
Tboooe - I am not sure. I'll find out and let you know. I don't think it would negate the updates.

I have had the Sonos system for about a year and love it. However, this thread raises a basic question for me. Are the people seeking ZP-80 upgrades using multiple high end systems throughout their homes or is the Sonos functioning as a wireless connection between a "main" system and a remote server.

If people are doing the latter, there's got to be a better (and cheaper) way than modding the power supply, adding a pace car and adding an outboard DAC. If we're talking multiple high end systems, I get it.


PS - The Sonos was, to me, always about the user interface rather than performance. Therefore, I've largely punted on quality - generally preferring the "push a button-hear your entire library" convenience of the admittedly poor sounding ZP-100. I use ZP-80s in 3 rooms, 2 of which have pretty high quality systems (Bel Canto s300i/CD2/Silverline Sonatina and Pathos Classic One/Digit/SF Cremona). In both cases I'm reluctant to add even an outboard DAC since the functionality of the Sonos remote is further reduced (volume control). When I want quality on these systems, I pop in a CD and bypass the Sonos.

You can still use the Sonos volume when it is connected to an external DAC. I have mine connected to the digital input of a GNSC moded Opus 21 with good results and almost no loss of convenience (the only think you have to do is turn on the Opus 21, but I have to turn on the rest of the equipment anyway,… that is bearable, I do it while the Sonos control wakes up!). I also pop in a CD when I want quality,…. that is why I’m really interested on this Sonos mods,… I hope that eventually I could achieve the same sound quality from the Sonos (to a DAC) as I get from my CD player.

BTW, the ZP100 solution is not listenable to me, IMHO it is much better to connect the ZP80 direct to a cheap amplifier (let’s say a $500 one used). My ZP100 is used now only to drive my cheap patio speakers.
Marty, I think you may be right. I love the convenience and ease of use of Sonos and have it throughout my house, but it just may not be a viable part of what I want at this time. I'm wanting to use it in lieu of a music server - access to all my flac files without having the expense and clutter of a computer hooked up to my system.

I'll keep looking I guess. Good thread though, nice to learn about the different mods and what they will do.

As to the ZP100 - mine are in the gym, the patio, the courtyard, the den (in a cabinet) and in the dining room. The only place where improved amplification would be readily audible to me is the den, but ancillary electronics would not always be easily accessible in the cabinet. My 2 year old's stuff piles up!.

Dining Room listening is at very low levels. The gym tends to very high levels but fidelity ain't so importatant (to me, anyway) on the elliptical. and outside is outside. I use the Sonos when entertaining or reading and it is wonderful. I don't have a player in my listening room because my library is soon to reside on a QSonix server feeding lossless WMA to a Benchmark DAC1 and onto to my system. The Sonos gets 320kb compressed. Different horses for different courses.


BTW - According to Sonos, the digital out is fixed in level, so I'm not sure how the volume can be controlled. Am I misinformed?
Shazam -Good luck with your search. My gut feel is that tossing large sums at a Sonos for mods, etc, seems like a questionable call. It is what it is and IMHO that ain't bad.... it's just not particularly high end.

Tboooe - I have confirmation that the Cullen mod does NOT effect the software. I runs the same.

Thank you Janikian!

All: I too purchased my Sonos purely because of its convenience. I have zone players in every bedroom (4), the family room, the backyard, the balcony, and my listening room. For every room other than my listening room I agree with Marty that convenience outweighs quality. But for my listening room, I am willing to go through a little more hassle to have great sound, which in this case simply means having to keep my preamp remote close to me, which I dont find to be a problem at all. I do keep a stash of my favorite cds around so I can pop it into my Esoteric cdp when I want the listen critically. But I guess I just want it all...I want the rest of cd collection (5K cds) to sound good through the Sonos too!

The digital output is variable. The volume control affedts all the outputs. You can check this in the Sonos website forums. One tread claims that this does not degrades sound quality unless you reduce the volume more than, I think, 48dB.

It's great that you are happy with all your ZP100s. My only point is that you can significantly increase the quality without loosing convenience by using a ZP80 feeding an amplifier. In my experience, the quality jump going form ZP100 to ZP80+amplifier is significantly larger than going form ZP80+amplifier to ZP80+DAC+Pre+Amp. BTW, I also have different horses for different courses :-)
5 years or less from now, transports will be will be considered as impratical as turntables - but not as revered of course.

Computor audio will surpass the best transport before then, and what we are seeing in this thread I believe is the genesis of that.

That said I am desperately looking for something to replace my $5000 transport - but the technology is not quite there I fear.

Meanwhile who can guide me on choosing between the Cullen and Empiracle mods?

I guess I was misinformed! 2 years ago, when my house was being built, I put this question to the tech folks at Sonos for exactly this reason. I was putting Cat5 throughout and was considering the possibility of a wired Sonos system. The company assured me that the digital out was fixed level. Either that's changed or they screwed up.

On the one hand, that is a very significant fact. Slipping a modestly priced reclocking DAC between the ZP-80 and my Pathos/Cremona system might make some sense. However, I still can't see going the supply mod/pace car/DAC route. As to potential improvement - your point is taken. As to the cost/benefit, I'm still not so sure,

Saffy, I feel your pain. I'm frustrated that a better file based solution isn't out there, because it certainly isn't a technology limitation that I can see (or, at least, it shouldn't be). All I want is something that is easy to use and will lay a pristine digital file at the doorstep of a quality D/A chip. Why can nobody seem to do that without massive modifications, adding even more devices and clutter to the signal path, or adding a noisy and (possibly) expensive computer to the system?

Sonos got the usability part right IMO. I wonder if the network topology is proprietary or if anyone can make a device that works on it? Wouldn't that be an interesting partnership between, say, Benchmark and Sonos? One unit that pulls in the file, converts it, and outputs it to my amp. Minimal devices, shortest possible signal path.

I guess I'm asking - instead of moding a Sonos box to get a better output, why not mod a DAC with the necessary Sonos network chips/card to make it the source? The basic principle is no different than a good CD Player with an internal DAC. Any engineers willing to give this a shot?
Like Tboooe, I too am trying to get that last bit of audiophile quality out of sonos. I have a thread that just petered out asking about best jitter reducing scheme for wireless distribution (sonos). I have heard all sorts of options, and the latest are the mods to the sonos itself because jitter from the sonos is the biggest issue (supposedly), and apparently the modders believe you just can't get best sound by trying to solve jitter via reclockers in an outboard dac. Not to be a cynic, but I'm guessing that before they came up with the sonos mod, they might have argued that a superduperclock100 in the dac was all you needed. This is why we need the guinea pigs to ante up with their experiences so we can get some consensus.

So i'd love to see this thread get back to the original question: who has exp with these mods and are they any good? Are they better than simply dropping in a good dac with great jitter control and maybe upsampling to put it over the top?

BTW, I have three sonos zp80's in three different systems. I'm using an apogee minidac in my small bedroom system, and an apogee in my bigger living room setup: B&W 803 s2 with Acurus DIA100. I have also picked up a BelCanto dac2 to compare to the apogee. I started with a benchmark dac1 but the apogee squeeked out a win there. Its neck and neck with the BC. (as you can see, the apogee is a great bargain unit at $750 streetprice, and it's nice and small, but you have balanced analog out via xlr) In my HT setup, I'm going direct digital out (marty: volume works in dig out) to a pioneer vsx49tx, and letting the pioneer dacs do the rest. Sounds pretty darn good, each of them. So the question remains, what is the best and yet most reasonable solution to getting sonos to equal a good cdp. Just my two cents...Jeff (ps- I think I'm going to try the cullen modded ps lll or maybe the northstar dac next).
Like I have said oiginaly:
If someone can improve my SONOS for under $999 (pref.$750)
I am willing to sand there my hard earned money.

I am NOT expecting miracles - all I want is a SONOS interface, ease of use and sound quality that is on par with my CDP, listenable and without edginess usualy associated with DIGITAL DONE WRONG/POOR/JITTERyyYYyy.

Who ever comes up first with the mod in that price range
will become a major player in the DIGITAL WORLD.

It is only my prediction - of course, i---f DONE RIGHT.

WADIA is a threat to EVERYONE with iPOD dock for under $400.

Who is next???

From direct experience, sustained now over four+ months, I know that improving the Sonos ZP80 power supply does improve significantly the quality of both the analog and digital output signal. No doubt the Sonos clock and jitter can be improved, too. But, as evidenced every time I turn on my system, power supply is also a path to improvement

Played from the digital output through a high quality DAC, my Sonos system has attained the threshold you describe: "a SONOS interface, ease of use and sound quality that is on par with my CDP, listenable and without edginess usualy associated with DIGITAL DONE WRONG ..."

Life is good at my house. I hope Joseph Chow (Audio Horizons) gets around to offering this product for sale.
There is the Empiracle for $1100.00 +
The Cullen for $550.00

I wonder if the Empirical is worth the extra money?
Does anybody know if either of these mods upgrade the power supply?
I am currently running a Sonos zp80 into a PS Audio dl3 and it sounds more fleshed out than my Denon 2910. I too am interested in upgrading the sound so I emailed Cullen and inquired about the mod to the dl3 and the Sonos. He told me that the mod to the dl3 would yield a more significant difference in sound quality over the Sonos mod. I am planning to do one at a time. I did also note that the Sonos mod includes replacing one power supply, a "Low noise power supply for the clock and SR", I would think replacing the clock and circuits would yield a greater sonic difference than just modding the power supply.
Does anyone know what it would take to basically remove the psu from the ZP80 and use a outboard unit such as the musical fidelity x-psu? This would seem to me to be a pretty easy and cost-effective approach.

Stumpeyjoe, my sonos runs through either an apogee dac or a bel canto dac2 (also had benchmark for short tryout). Both sound great, but not as "full" or robust sounding as a cd through my old adcom gcd700, which has dual ladder type 20 bit burr brown stuff (whatever that means). Maybe what I'm really hearing is some "hash" and I like it better than a really clean signal from the newer dacs, but everybody in my family notices the difference and likes the adcom sound slightly better. That's why I started thinking that maybe there's something to this concept of a sonos mod. But I can't help thinking that the only thing the sonos mod cleans up is the jitter, and that can be largely done within the dac (especially with a mod superclock), so I think I'm going to go the same route and try the modded DL3. If and when you do it, PLEASE report back in with your results. Dying to know if it makes a significant improvement. Regards...Jeff
Stumpeyejoe, I just bought a PS Audio dl3 as well and would be interested to hear your opinion of the DAC mod. Wouldn't mind improving he sound of my universal player as well.
I have the cullen zp80 modded running into the cullen modded ps audio dac 3.
I had both pieces for a long time before sending them (dac first) to Cullen Circuits.

My modded dac took a long time to break in, ( close to a month) it certainly delivered full bodied sound but also revealed the limitations of some poor recordings. This improved enormously as time progressed but I suppose we all have this dream (well I do) of sweet enveloping sound from every recording. I was happy but knew (dreamt) that something better could be wrung from the flac files.
Well the modded zp80 returned just last week and I can tell you, straight out of the box, it was a marriage made in heaven, the ps audio dac III and zp80, work like a charm together. I am thrilled with the results, ( little dark at first but in a rich warm way)
and wonder what will develop as this unit breaks in.

Good recordings are spectatular, wall to wall soundstage, really tight bass ( in the chest stuff), instruments have a texture to them, what was previously faint or hinted at is there clearly.
However I think the combo is also sympathetic to lower rez files from the rhapsody service,very enjoyable. It cant make a silk purse out of a sow's ear but comes close.

Is my journey over? No( I think I'll spend all my life messing with this hobby) however this is certainly my best source ever and the most convenient.

When I hear just how good lossless files are, I want more of them. I have downloaded some of the 16bit files from Linn and they sound as good if not better than my oppo sacd or dvd audio sound. I do wonder what native 24 bit files would sound like if the zp80 could decode them.

Money very well spent and Rick Cullen and his staff are very easy to talk to.The phone is picked up, often by Rick. Emails are answered promptly.

Highly recommended
What to point your attention, that Rick Cullen's mod upsamples from default 44.1kHz to 96kHz (or 48kHz - worst case possible). Audio degrades from such resampling unless it's done properly.
I would prefer to have 44.1kHz output.
I have received my Cullen modded ZP80 yesterday morning. Was shipped over here to Germany without problems.

The first impression is just stunning. I set up the Cullen ZP80 and the standard one as two zones so I can switch directly for comparison and the difference is just amazing and much more obvious then I had ever expected. Much wider soundstage, even most complex music (Mahler, Wagner operas) sound transparent and not as "muddy" as with the standard ZP. On Jazz, the Keith Jarrett Trio come accross as if they were sitting in front of me in the living room!

I will now have a serious look at the PS Audio DAC as modded by Rick Cullen for the next stage of sound improvement.

Finally, Sonos convenience and high end sound seem to come together :-))


I guess the focus in your words is "unless i'ts done properly"

My Cullen ZP80 is 96khz and it's improvement rather than degradation.


>What to point your attention, that Rick Cullen's mod >upsamples from default 44.1kHz to 96kHz (or 48kHz - worst >case possible). Audio degrades from such resampling unless >it's done properly.
My findings with the Cullen modded ZP-80 match up pretty well with what has already been reported.

However, after doing some comparrison, I do feel that results will vary, based on the system that it is being used with.

In comparing the stock zone player vs. the modded player, I feel strongly that the DAC & digital cables, etc. play a major role in how much the performance improves.

Though the mod is a noticable improvement over the stock ZP-80, we could not get it to match the performance of our reference cdp's.

My goal is to eventually replace my cdp with Sonos. For me, we are not quite there yet.
Barrelchief, just for clarification, are you saying that the modded zp80 WITH an outboard dac still doesn't match your reference cdp? Can you elaborate by identifying your reference cdp (and cost) and the dac(s) used with the modded zp80? I think this would help everyone understand your evaluation to date. I too am trying to get to the point, hopefully at a reasonable cost, of getting cdp-type performance from my sonos setup. However, I think it is important for all of us to establish a cost/performance reference. If I'm looking simply to equal the performance ofr my old Adcom GCD700, I shouldn't have too far to go, nor (hopefully) should I have to spend $2-3000 in total to match $700 performance. On the other hand, if someone is trying to match the performance of a $5k-10k reference quality CDP, well, that's another story. Can the Sonos system ever get there, and at what cost? Look forward to your current system comparisons. Regards..Jeff
Based on this thread, I am going to give the Cullen mod a try. Unlike others, I am not trying to replace my cdp (Esoteric P3 D5 combo), though I do want my digital music to sound as good as reasonably possible. For me, my Esoteric serves as my primary source for critically listening. The ZP-80 is used for casual listening while I am working or reading. Because of large music collection, I only encode in VBR 256 so since the source is already limited, I dont need the ZP80 to be match the performance of my Esoteric. That being said, I know some people encode in lossless and want to replace their cdp. Good luck!

I will let everyone know what I think after I get my ZP80 back.
Hi Jeff:

Yes, my goal is to have my Sonos system perform at least as good as some well respected & pricey cdp's.

My reference cdp is Electrocompaniet EMC-1 (24/192,) which had a $5K MSRP. This reference source was compared to the modded dac, driving $1K Dac's from PS & Monarchy and the $2250 Electrocompaniet ECD-1, which is essentially the Dac section of the EMC-1UP cdp. Amplification components used to evaluate were from: MBL, H2O, Cary.

In a second system, the modded ZP-80 fed the digital inputs on an Audio Aero Prestige Cd/SACD (I beleive that this lists close to 10K.)

Though the modded ZP-80 did sound better than the stock player, in both systems, the original cd definitely beat the Sonos playback. Furthermore, the improvements were more noticeable with the pricier AA player's dac & all tube Joule Electra amplification. Could this have been because the AA has a better dac section? Could this have been because of the nature of the J-E tube gear???

Again, I think that this is very system dependant. Your milage may vary.

I hope this helps.