Distorded sound with Tidal


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Sorry for the long post (and for English mistakes, I normally speak French) - If anyone can help me with my technical issue it would be very appreciated! But since this community shows an extraordinary level of knowledge, I am taking my chance!  I tried posting my problem on ROON forum with no success.

ISSUE DESCRIPTION. When streaming Tidal on my system, on some tracks I hear some disturbed trebel (let say in the area of 4KHz +/- 1KHz). It is difficult to describe - it reminds me the sound of dirty (dust) needdle playing a record. For example, I hear that crysp on Ella high notes. I also hear it on some cymbals (rides, for example). Sometimes it is more obvious; sometimes it is subtle.

PATTERN. I have not been able to identify a pattern on when it happens. It could be on 16/44, on 24/192, and everything in between. It seems more frequent on MQA (what ever the resolution). Week ends, week days, day time, night time, none seem to have influence (I was thinking power grid pollution)

EQUIPMENT

Tidal HIFI + FLACs on hard drive
NUC I7 (7th) with ROCK/ROON, USB connected to:
IFI micro I-Link USB to S/PDIF converter (24bits/192KHz capable), connected to S/PDIF of:
Audio Alchemy DDP-1 (Preamp and DAC + external power supply), driving A and B:
A: Audio Space AS-3I (tube amp EL-34) integrated amp that drives Reference 3A MM speakers
B: MiniDSP (low pass @ 80Hz) that drives Simaudio W4150 solid state amp that drives DIY subs

POSSIBLE CAUSES
-ROON Issue: Tested Tidal outside ROON (on a laptop) - no improvement
-Faulty Speakers (tweeters). Tested two other sets - no improvement
-Faulty DAC/Preamp - tested with a different DAC (Moon 100D that can only accept 24bits/96Khz) - no improvement
-Faulty amp - tested with a solid state amp - no improvement
-Faulty USB converter - not really tested but streaming directly from a Lumin M1 shown the same problem - no improvement
-Faulty NUC - tested streaming from a laptop - no improvement
-Noisy outlet (AC supply) - tested a few power cords ($100 to $200 each) + connected to different outlets + added power conditioner ($400ish) - SURPRISE! 50% improvement mainly due to using a different outlet in the same room ($2 type of outlet).

  • I also tested streaming directly and from my NUC to a Lumin M1 at my cottage (different power grid, different network, different speakers) - no improvement perceived
  • I tested streaming from my hard drive (tested different quality) connected to the NUC - the result is no issue, no distortion - only distortion in Tidal.
  • I tested streaming from Spotify (highest quality but still a low streaming rate compared to Tidal) - the result is no issue, no distortion
  • LAST TEST: in ROON I decreased Tidal quality from HIFI to the next lower level (forgot the name) - distortion seems to be gone completely or almost (but I am loosing overall sound quality).

HELP
I suspect a mismatch between equipment but I am surprise to hear the same issue with different equipment (Lumin M1) in a different location (my cottage). I also suspect that the internet quality and supporting hardware may be the cause (low speed at the cottage and poor CAT5 in-wall cables and poor switch at home).

Do you have any suggestion for the cause or a test to propose?


explorateur
Have you tried a Linear Power Supply for your modem/router?  Here's a discussion.
Grimm of Grimm audio says that streaming music is watermarked by the streaming companies and that it comes across like a fluttering sound when played. That could be what you're hearing. I think it's in the >1Khz range where they insert it. Why they chose such a critical and easily heard range to insert it is beyond me.

All the best,
Nonoise
Thanks for the suggestion on LPS. No I have not tried but your advise would also apply to the NUC. I guess it is my next step.
Thanks Nonoise.  I would discribe what i hear as distortion rather than an added sound (or tone). While i cannot accurently identify the frequency, i would say it is for sure above 1khz.  Interesting, i was not aware of such "watermark".  I am now chasing LPS for my modem, switch, and NUC.
Watermarking was implemented by UMG years ago they have supposedly stopped doing it as of a couple of years ago. I think all the streaming services had to do was redownload to get rid of the songs that had them. I don't  think they have completely done it yet. Sony did it as well but theirs was a lot harder to detect they probably used a better algorithm.
So it is definitely happening at all resolutions 16/44, 24/96, 24/92, MQA? If so this is a tough one I would have suspected something in your signal chain most likely suspect the Ifi. I had a similar situation a few years back with a faulty W4S Remedy reclocker. But you were able to bypass it and still hear the problem. Can you perhaps tell us some specific tracks you’ve heard it on we can check out ourselves? I stream both Tidal and Qobuz and have never heard any distortion artifacts from either.

Also how close is together is your streaming setup to the rest of your system and to your modem/router? It’s also possible you are getting some RFI issues with streaming.
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Jond, all my gear is on the same table.  My current setup is my NUC streaming directly to the IFI. I wish i would have the equipment to connect the NUC to ethernet and use a streamer (i could actually use a laptop as an endpoint - i will try tomorrow).  Today I just order two linear power supplies to connect to my NUC and to my modem.  I will receive in 4 weeks or so.

Exemples of tracks that works well from my hard drive but have issues from Tidall are Ella and Louis (16/44),  Let it bleed Rolling Stone (24/48 MQA - this one is especilaay bad)
Prpixel, i use Roon.  i tried streaming in Master, Hifi, etc.sometimes i see improvement when I decrease the quality but mkst of the time the distortion is present.
I just listened to Let it Bleed a few weeks ago through a Node2i streamer using Tidal sounded fine to me. 
I am presently tezting a different configuration, bypassing the ifi converter and the audio alchemy dac.  I am streaming directly from the NUC to a simaudio dac 100d ( limited to 16/44 in that configuration). So far so good but for sure not a great sound.  I will continue to experiment tonight
DJONES51,

May i ask if you use the node2i internal dac or an external dac? If you use the internal one, what do you think of the sound quality?  That might be my next move...
By the way, thank you all for your suggestions.  That is helping me and motivating me to push further my investigation!
Tidal settings... try turning  off both optimized playback and loudness normalization.
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To gs5556, they are both off but thanks for the suggestion.

To prpixel, I am using ROON ROCK which is Linux based.  My BIOS is the most recent version.

This morning i am  starting fresh: i will use my previous setup (that was working just fine), directly connected in my modem (no switch, no long cat5), connected directly in the electric main panel.  This should rule out many things. Then i will work from them and add one thing at the time. 
I use an external dac though the dac in the Node is pretty good. I have the streamer direct wired to the router nothing between them then coax to the dac and balanced xlr to my integrated amp. I like to keep things simple. I also keep my personal library of ripped CDs on a NAS in my home office where the router is. What you are doing is a good idea remove everything except what you need then add one thing at a time it's  an easy troubleshoot.
Short update.  I am streaming Tidal outside ROON on my laptop using battery (no wall wart) but ethernet connected, using the audio alchemy dac and the amps.  100% fine 😁.  Next step is to connect the NUC and ROON.
Thanks Djones51.

Fresh update.  I have degradetion when i install the NUC with ROON.  My next step is to re-locate the NUC outside the listening room and to convert my laptop as a roon end point.  However, i am now just enjoying my music - it has been a long time for my sound to sound the way i like...  i am suddently less in a rush to find a solution.
Possibly my last update for a while. An acceptable setup seems to be the NUC with roon core (and rock) in my server room (ok, my hvac room) with the addition of an end point. I am currently using my spouse laptop operating on battery as end point. That seems to be the 99% solution. Now i have to find a decent end point without dac - i have been warned that i have about 48 hours to give her computer back - that is fair!
Thank you all for your support and suggestions
Glad to hear you are working towards a solution! And yes give the wife her laptop back before you have even worse problems! :)
👍 Good music!

My streaming chain is:
Dedicated Windows laptop (with Tidal app) → Empirical Audio Off-Ramp 5 → DAC.

It’s very tricked out with multiple LPS’s, power conditioners and high quality cabling - including after-market umbilical cords for the LPS’s.

The dedicated Windows laptop also has its own 19vdc LPS. The LPS manufacturer cautioned me that the laptop requires a different design of power supply than for a router. It wasn’t just the voltage: 19vdc vs 12vdc. It was something else about the circuitry. He recommended this one for the laptop. It’s been working great for several years.

Note: The umbilical cord for some laptops are 3 wire vs 2 wire. My HP laptop is 3 wire - including a ground. Since most umbilical cords are 2 wire, the LPS manufacturer needs to know if it’s a 3 wire so that they can modify the LPS before shipping. Otherwise, the LPS and the laptop won’t have a handshake.
.
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Steakster,  i am for sure not optimizing the management of power feeding the different components.  Full disclosure, i am an electrical engineer and i see risks in my curreng setup.  To challenge is one can only speculate the impact of a not so good move on other components.  As an example, as a 1st grade project, i built a miniature elevator with vocale interaction (in was in the 80s). I had to design and build my own switching power supply to power the whole system.  When i hooked up and powered on everythin the first time i. The University lab, î froze all computers in the room and wierd display was on all computer screens.  Can you believe such a small gizmo produced such a terrible effect!  To these days, i still don't understand what happened but it was a lesson learned that power management needs to be carefully done...
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Prpixel, thanks for tor the suggestions.  Since i am using ROCK as OS, i have no control on usb driver.  As for my temporary solution (spouse laptop) i am using a generic driver.

I am with you about the configuration.  Something most be wrong but i cannot put my finger on it.  Actually, my succesful configuration i was able to assemble earlier today should not have worked based on previous tests but it did.  This means i am not totally controlling all paramaters of the equation...
Prpixel, the laptop is Windows 10 and i am using a generic usb driver to feed the ifi.  Now that the NUC is downstair, the whole thing has seriously improved.  Yesterday i ordered a low noise linear power supply for the NUC.  I like your suggestion to use UPS.  I will borrow one and try it later this week.
When i mentioned that i am 99% satisfied, here is an example of the 1% off: on the Tidal track Summertime from Ella and Louis, at the beginning just before hearing the trumpet, you can hear the violon ensemble. Those violons still sound distorded - no longer sure if it is my system or if it is the track itself which i doubt.
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Thanks Prpixels. But i believe it is two different ROCK. The rock i am talking about means Roon Optimized Core Kit, which is different fron the Rock64 from Linux.

By the way, i previous said my nuc was a gen 7 - my bad, it is a gen 8 (7I7DNKE).  I believe, from what i have read, that there is only usb3 on it.

Many revelations tonight… i asked my spouse and my youngest daughter (both very musically inclined) to validate if they hear the same issue as I do. Three test tracks we focusec on : opening voice on Biko (Melt, Peter Gabriel), opening guitar on Dear Rosemary (Wasting Lights, Foo Fighters), violon ensemble at the beginning of Summertime (Ella and Louis). They heard the same (ouf, i am not crazy). We tried different configuration, no improvement. Then my wife made me realized that a few weeks ago I elevated my speakers by about 6 inches and as a result high frequencies were lounder… hum, overemphasis of the sound that bugs me. Ok, speakers back on previous stands - good improvement.

Then corrected a roon codec issue and unplud laptop (back to battery operated). Listen again to all those tracks - better but far from great. Then my daughter asked if she can lesson to those tracks on her cell phone with headsets (direct from spotify, no roon, no tidal). And she said “i am hearing the same issue!”!!! My conclusion: my system is overemphazing a sound that was there.

With the codec correctly installed, speakers back to their original position, with special attention to equipment location (NUC in the mechanical room, endpoint battery operated, etc), tracks that are well recorded are perfect, but cheap stuff (mass market rock - hello Mr Bon Jovi!) sounds awefull, whatever the source or format.

Where do I stand? Acceptation, i guess…


Out of curiosity, I just played from Tidal:
- Biko (Peter Gabriel)
- Dear Rosemary (Foo Fighters)
- Summertime (Ella & Louis)

On my system, everything sounds fine - even the specific passages that you mention. This is a result of years of cleaning up the power. It was a long and winding road. I completely empathize. When you install the LPS’s, the SQ will start improving.

I recommend reading this discussion.  
Steakster,

"In my experience, the symptoms are easiest to detect in:
HF:
- High notes that sound shrill, etched, glary, etc. This is often heard with vocalists who belt out high notes.
- Notes in the upper register of the piano that sound unnaturally ringy.
- Vocalists with unnatural sibilance.".

Wow, i do experience those on some tracks. Thanks for the link, i wil read with great interest.

including after-market umbilical cords for the LPS’s.

@steakster Who made the after-market umbilical cords for you? What type of plugs are you using? 


@c_avila1 I DIY’d my own umbilical cords - experimenting with a half dozen different types of wire. Each had their own sonic signature. 20awg OCC pure solid copper magnet wire worked best for my ears. Currently, using cheap connectors from the local electronics store. In the future, to be replaced by Oyaide.

Grannyring makes umbilical cords in his Acoustic BBQ line. (He mentioned that for some customers, he solders directly to the LPS internals, bypassing the connectors.) I suspect that most boutique cable companies will build them: VH Audio, Audio Sensibility, WyWires, etc. Just like power cords, after-market umbilical cords make a difference.

This is an old thread but I received great help from many members and I would like to document my findings over the last month.

A. I kept contradicting myself when explaining symptoms (which was not helping members to recommend solutions). What seems to work one day was not the day after and vice-versa. The reason for that is that nothing was stable and the problem evolving depending on when I was listening. I have not identified 100% of the pattern but it looks like the following: No issue until 6 pm (week days) followed by serious degradation until 10 pm, then fine again. The pattern is a bit different during week-ends. First conclusion: most likely power grid pollution, may be internal to my house or external (my street, etc,).

B. I was able to narrow down suspects: NUC (and laptops as a substitute to the NUC) - both using switching power supply. I received a Low Noise LPS (ebay, China type but still decent) for the NUC. That was a miracle (keep in mind I am an Electrical Engineer and I am skeptical of many things that sounds to me like snake oil). YMMV but for me LPS was the solution (almost, keep reading) to my problem. What was good before became excellent and what was terrible (at specific hours) became very good sometimes and good at other times (I suspect some degradation remained during the worst moments of the evening but I cannot confirm). I was in love again with my system and started to lesson every night for 3 - 4 hours straight with my spouse.

C. But I wanted more, better... I sold the Audio Alchemy DAC (which is very good by the way, very detailed) and now I have a Lumin D2. I do not really believe in electronic burn-in (I do believe in warm up, which is very different - a subject for another discussion). OK, wrong again (may be, or not… could be related to the time of the day). My wife made me notice how better the Lumin was after a few days. Missing the details the first day the Audio Alchemy was so good with, the Lumin started to be more and more detailed (not as much as the AA), and especially started to expend the image and the overall coherence between the different instruments. But I noticed that part of the degradation was back with the Lumin (which is using an internal switching power supply). For example, last time around 6:30 pm, we started earing the degradation during a specific song. Started good and degraded down to terrible. Played again the same song since the beginning and was terrible. Second conclusion: my system does not seem to like switching power supply, at some time of the day.

D. I ordered an other Ultra Low Noise LPS for the Lumin. Waiting for it (as a note, I know it will most likely void my warranty - so be it). I have great expectation it will solve the issue. BTW, the Lumin is fantastic. If the LPS does not work, I will have a D2 for sale... But I want to keep it so bad (until I upgrade to a T2!).

E. What is next? I need to improve electricity quality feeding the system. Not sure what will be my next move since I do not know the cause of the problem. My intents, in that order: 1). Elimination of all Switching power supplies near or on the same power line as my system; 2) Adding a LPS to both my modem and switch to replace their switching PS (not convinced of the result but it will cost me around $200, so I will try); 3). Add additional filtration to the system, may be something like an isolation transfo that provides balanced power and filtration. I already have some filtration in place but quality could be way better; 4) In my dream, because the amount of work will likely prevent me of doing so, adding a dedicated power line directly from the electric panel - this is what I have done for my cottage and my HT in the basement and I see value; 5) what else, don’t know - may be someone would have a suggestion?

To Steakster,

===========

Out of curiosity, I just played from Tidal:
- Biko (Peter Gabriel)
- Dear Rosemary (Foo Fighters)
- Summertime (Ella & Louis)

On my system, everything sounds fine - even the specific passages that you mention. This is a result of years of cleaning up the power. It was a long and winding road. I completely empathize. When you install the LPS’s, the SQ will start improving

==========

Well, you were right all along. I really believed for a moment that those three tracks were poorly recorded. With the LPS in place they sound just great. Like you said, it seems really be about cleaning up power (at least in my specific case). But I must say it - seriously, my system is fragile/sensitive with respect to power. I am 54, used to be a DJ in night clubs and sound tech touring with live bands and I can still ear the impact of every changes I make related to power… I would like to believe it is only perception/subjective but it is more than that for sure.


Thanks again for your help.

@explorateur Just paying it forward. Over the years, I’ve learned much here on AudiogoN. Better living through better music.
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