Flaws in this chain?


New to streaming and such. Is there a serious weak link in this chain?:

MacBook Pro with Tidal (hi res)------wireless to-----Apple TV-----toslink to-----Schiit Modi 2 Uber-----RCA cable to----Line stage.

I know that the Schiit is no great shakes in terms of a DAC but is there any other serious limitation in the chain? Thanks.

George
n80

Yes I would call it serious.  The jitter from the ATV is very high.  If you add a Synchro-Mesh reclocker and a Standard or Reference BNC-BNC cable, you not only get 7psec of jitter, it will upsample to 24/96 so your DAC uses a better digital filter.  Inserts between the ATV and the DAC.

Jitter plots:

https://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=157348.0

You will notice a dramatic improvement in detail, imaging, dynamics and clarity with low jitter.

30-day money-back, less shipping.

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

If you cannot afford the ~1K for the EA setup, try the iFi SPDIF iPurifier for $150 on Amazon.  You get what you pay for.

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

Less link is better. Get a Schiit Multibit Modi DAC. Then Macbook->USB->Modi DAC->line out RCA-> RCA->Modi 2 preamp->Amp
I own a Multibit Modi DAC and I get much better sound directly out from the headphonesocket on a macbook air(2018) ....
Modi is overrated IMO, or hyped is maybe the correct word.
Really? But sound quality is very subjective.

Thanks to all for the help. 

I understand the  Modi isn’t all that great but for now it will have to do. But to be honest, playing ripped CDs through it sound quite good to me. Not the same as a CDP but close and in some ways a little less bright and strident and slightly warmer. So for my untrained ears the Modi is okay. A multi bit may be in my future but not now. 

And unfortunately there here is no way I’m spending a grand on a device that seems to solve problems associated with the low end stuff I’m not willing to upgrade.  ;-)

So so the question I have now is the issue of jitter from the Apple TV. I do not even know what jitter sounds like so that might be a saving grace. 

I read some some technical reviews of several low end DACs that measured jitter...however you do that.  The reviewer was pointing out how some of them had jitter real bad at some level and others did not. He was very critical of the ‘jittery’ ones but then went on to point out that humans could not perceive that level of jitter.....but he still didn’t like that it was there. 

All of which is is to say....only jitter that the average person would hear would be significant to me. 

And the Apple TV is an important link in the chain for me as I don’t want to be hardwired into the system from the MacBook or my main iMac which is in another part of the house. 

Unless there is a cheap alternative to the ATV then I’m stuck for now. 
I’m +1 with Steve.  The ATV is ok with movies but you can do much better for music.  I would check out the Bluesound Node2i
I meant Modi Multibit are overrated. Havent heard the other modis.

If I had been on the cheap from top:
-buy used toslink made out of glass not plastic - the difference are huge. DH Labs Master Glass, Lifatec etc. are good. Don’t recommend Wireworld Supernova.
-buy used a better dac.
-buy used a signal cable but don’t know what you have now. Also a pretty big difference going from a radioshack to a lets say good 400$ cable.

or whatever. Its also about matching. There are many ways to go today when streaming, unfortunately if one wants both good functionality and sq it will cost.

For Bluesound Node 2i there are something I dont like about it also on the digital out. There are some hiss that goes to the dac it seems, or some sorts of jitter or clocking faults. But after all its not a 8000$ Lumin U1 streamer. Still I never got fully satisfied with the bluesound 2 whatever output.

I would try to connect the Modi wired to the MacBookPro and eliminate the Apple TV. Is there a reason you have to do that?
B
Less is more. Anything you add between Mac and DAC will color audio signal.
Less is more is actually often true for especially budget fi.

Just try the iFi SPDIF iPurifier for $150 on Amazon. You can return it if it does not make a difference.  I use two of them for my home theater.

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

I have the Vault2 and two Node2 in my house, and no hiss issues
 iFi SPDIF iPurifier is for coaxial not optical which OP runs.
Get an iFi DSD nano , can do DSD128, MQA, PCM384 and has an earphone amp. Silver color matches you Mac Pro. Portable. SQ is amazing. I drive my BeyerDynamic DT990 250ohm and produce amazing sound. Very cost effective if you use it in your office or on traveling.
iFi SPDIF iPurifier is for coaxial not optical which OP runs.

Actually, the input is a coax/mini-Toslink combo port. It also outputs both coax and mini-Toslink. Might be a nice inexpensive solution for the OP. I've heard nice improvements using one with an ATV and Chromecast Audio.
iFi SPDIF iPurifier is for coaxial not optical which OP runs.

It has both coax and Toslink in and out.

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

Okay, so let me ask the obvious question for an inexperienced audiophile: What does jitter sound like?

Jitter causes the image to smear and even have halos. Vocalists seem 2-3 feet wide. Cowbells sound dull. Pianos sound warm and bloomy. Difficult to pinpoint deep sounds in the image.

Reducing jitter is like cleaning the dirty window so you can see clearly.  Improved clarity.

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

Thank you. So far I have not played anything hi-res through the current set up. I have yet to re-activate my Tidal account.

My ripped CDs are on an old iMac wired directly to the DAC via USB.

I will rip some CDs onto my new iMac (in a different room) and then play it through the current Apple TV set up and see what I hear. If I can't tell the difference then, well, caviar and truffles are wasted on the untrained palate and jitter might not matter to me.

Is the iFi SPDIF iPurifier you mention similar to the Schiit Wyrd and Eitr?
I don't see a  iFi SPDIF iPurifier with Toslink.
Try Googling "iFi SPDIF iPurifier" - the pictured optical port supports toslink via included adapter. I own a handful of these as well as a Empirical Audio's Synchro-Mesh. The iFi is cheap and convenient, and it does seem to clean up dirty sources somewhat. I have my Sonos running through Synchro-mesh right now, and it's the best digital source I've ever heard. Like Steve said, you get what you pay for.  
Thanks, I did not see the adapter.

I guess my point is why spend even $150 to correct (purify, decrapify) the signal from a $100 Apple TV? Seems like I should save my money until I can come up with a better wireless solution....whatever that would be and however much that would cost. Of course, if that solution is going to be $1000 or more then I guess the iFi makes sense.

As far as the Schiit devices they are only for USB and optical connections, not Toslink. So no help there.

I'll do some testing this afternoon to see what my ears tell me.
@n80 .. there's nothing at all wrong with your system, but if you want an increase in fidelity you have options. First you should be aware that the ATV re-samples all audio to 16/48 then sends the signal on to your DAC. So, if you want to listen to some high res (MQA) via Tidal the first unfold is done by the Tidal software, then the ATV will re-sample your high res back down to 16/48. That is a lot of unnecessary manipulation of the signal and your sound quality will take a hit. I think the benefits of Tidal HiFi is kind of wasted on the ATV. A streamer like the Bluesound Node 2i is terrific if you want to spend $500. If not, you could always go the Chromecast Audio route for a cheap ($35) streaming alternative to the ATV. The CA uses a combo 3mm/mini-toslink optical port so all you'll need is an adapter or a new cable (mini-toslink optical - standard toslink optical). Lifatec makes a good one btw. Best of luck.
Thanks wtf. It really sounds like ATV is dismal on all counts for this process and I appreciate all the advice I’ve gotten in this thread. Fortunately the only money I’ve spent so far is for the mid-grade Toslink cable.

With all this info in mind it is time to step back and reassess.

At this point I will not renew my Tidal HiFi account since as you mention it would be pointless.

For now I will continue to use this set-up to research music (find what I like and then purchase CD/vinyl) via Apple Music and Amazon ( I’m using the trial periods).

Once I decide to take the plunge into hi-res streaming I’ll re-visit my hardware needs.

Thanks again.

Edit: What are the downsides to the Chromecast?
Okay, just now spent some time researching music via iTunes via ATV. SQ stinks. Even I can hear it. The only way I can describe it is muddy.

So it isn’t even all that great for previewing music. Doing the same thing without ATV (MacBook to DAC via USB) sounds much better...even iTunes.

Will look into Chromecast. Nothing to lose really.

I guess my point is why spend even $150 to correct (purify, decrapify) the signal from a $100 Apple TV? Seems like I should save my money until I can come up with a better wireless solution....whatever that would be and however much that would cost.

You will end up playing for $1000 de-jitter for your $1000 device or $150 for your $100 device.  They all need it.

Okay, just now spent some time researching music via iTunes via ATV. SQ stinks. Even I can hear it. The only way I can describe it is muddy.

No surprise.  iTunes stinks and the jitter from the 24/48 ATV is high.  What you need to understand is that it's okay to have a cheap digital source like ATV or Sonos, as long as you put the money into reducing the jitter from it.  It's only is only providing the data.  It's the de-jitter device that makes the sound quality great.  I can use a really cheap old transport for playing CD's, but adding the Synchro-Mesh and  good digital coax cable makes it a world class source.

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

Thanks. That helps me understand what I'm up against.

But here's a question....why don't device makers, at least high end device makers, include some method for decreasing jitter in the device itself?

And as for the Chromecast. Still 'jittery' but less so than the ATV?
But here's a question....why don't device makers, at least high end device makers, include some method for decreasing jitter in the device itself?
Most do in fact.

And as for the Chromecast. Still 'jittery' but less so than the ATV?
Actually, its jitter measurements are rather poor. That being said, the CA sends an unmolested digital stream (via optical) to your DAC, which should clean it up rather nicely. Same with the ATV except the ATV sends a re-sampled (molested) stream to the DAC .. not good.

Re-clockers like the SPDIF iPurifier can do wonders for jittery streams feeding DACs with less-than-stellar jitter reduction, but not so much feeding higher-end DACs which have been engineered to do so.

The Chromecast Audio is by no means perfect, just damn good for $35. A couple of things about using the CA with Tidal on Apple:

  1. I don't believe cast is enabled on the Tidal Desktop App yet, leaving you with either Tidal's iOS app or the web player.
  2. Safari isn't supported for Tidal casting so you must use Google's Chrome browser if you go this route. Works great.
  3. Casting from an iPhone/iPad is quite nice if you have one.
FWIW, IMHO, etc., etc., I would purchase the Chromecast Audio and assess. Then if you feel improvement is needed/wanted try out a SPDIF iPurifier. If the iPurifier doesn't move you .. send it back.
Thank you. Excellent advice.
But here's a question....why don't device makers, at least high end device makers, include some method for decreasing jitter in the device itself?

Many DAC's have reclockers and FIFO's inside to minimize jitter.  The problem is that IME most of them do a poor job of it.  This is why I recommend a DAC with no reclocker on the coax input, like Metrum or Audio Note. 

USB interfaces also have a Master Clock in them, but most do a poor job of achieving low jitter in the USB interface as well. You can get an external USB converter with lower jitter, but you will also need one of these to achieve good SQ with USB:

https://sotm-usa.com/collections/sotm-ultra/products/copy-of-tx-usbultra-regenerator-1

Without this, you might as well stick with S/PDIF coax and a reclocker.  It will sound better.

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

I use an Apple TV in my system and I can't tell the difference between it and an Airport Express, which does not resample my signal.  When I plug in my laptop directly to the DAC it still sounds the same to me.  Of course, I am limited to 16/44.1, but unless I am using headphones I can't really tell the difference between the set ups.  So I leave the Apple TV in the system and have moved on to other things.

As far as hi-res, I struggle to find a difference between it and 16/44.1.  Now I CAN hear the difference in mastering, and a lot of the hi-res music out there has been re-mastered, and it does sound better, but the same remastered hi-res files sound just as good (to me) when downsampled in my system to 16/44.1.

As far as jitter goes, I have yet to figure out what that sounds like.  I've run directly from my MacBook Pro into a Benchmark DAC 3, and it sounds the same to me as when I run the same DAC using an Airport Express (didn't have the Apple TV for comparison).  Still using 16/44.1 files, maybe it is a hi-res thing.  I dunno.  I figure if I can't hear it, it's not worth going down that rabbit hole.  I probably need better equipment if I really want to hear jitter.

Apple TV>Schiit BiFrost MB>Odyssey Candela>Odyssey Khartego>Harbeth P3esr.  Groneberg interconnects, Kimber 4TC speaker cables.

AEX>Schiit Modi MB>Schiit Vali>Sennheiser 650 headphones.  Also run Grado 325e headphones with Little Dot 1+ (that combo is a blast)!
kahlenz I think you hit the nail on the head from everything I have read about jitter on engineering and pro audio sites it's another blown out of proportion worry any jitter produced is outside the audible range and if you are using a well built dac no need to concern yourself with it. 
listen to the wind blow, down comes the night
running in the shadows,  damn the DAC damn the interconnects
break the silence, 
kahlenz I think you hit the nail on the head from everything I have read about jitter on engineering and pro audio sites it's another blown out of proportion worry any jitter produced is outside the audible range and if you are using a well built dac no need to concern yourself with it.

The industry DAC designers were asked: what is the biggest issue with digital audio playback?

The unanimous answer was "jitter" was the #1 issue.

Minimize it or you will never realize what digital audio can offer.

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

Yes, jitter was the #1 issue which is why I'm glad they have figured it out in well designed modern dacs that have been made in the last 20 years or so.  Actually longer than that but I believe dacs have improved in the last number of years but that's just a belief if I had to pick a well designed dac from the 80's from a newer one in a blind test I doubt I could. I have listened to files that have jitter in them which can be found at various sites like hydrogen audio, AES etc.. and I have never heard jitter in my system.  So if I don't hear it, I don't worry about it. 
Sound on sound has a good article "Digital problems, Practical solutions". In the section on jitter the bottom line is it just isn't a  practical problem anymore and this article is 10 years old. If you are slaving multiple A-D converters then use an embedded external clock. 
Listener fatigue. Ever experience it? Excessive jitter was the culprit for me a number of years ago. Since that time I’ve paid close attention to eliminating it as much as possible. Never again experienced listener fatigue in my home. DACs have come a long way, yes, but feeding a DAC a low jitter stream can help performance. IMO of course.
That's good to feed a low jitter stream but modern DAC's don't use the embedded clocking information from the incoming stream they use removal systems to isolate it from the reconstruction clock in the converter. If you can hear jitter and it bothers you then use whatever you need or want to me I don't hear it so I don't worry about it. 
I am no expert by a LONG shot which is why I try to read as much as possible from those who are. I could be wrong and would be the first to admit it but the way I understand it is the digital stream , the 1’s and 0’s, are sent to the DAC that converts to analog, as long as those 1’s and 0’s get there the DAC reconstructs them using it’s clock since the embedded clock information and any jitter that was sent in the stream has been isolated out. If the 1's and 0's don't get there you have a bigger problem than jitter and it's pretty easy to hear if the information does not arrive. 
All that I can say is that using the chain I described in the OP above, the SQ is not particularly good...but it is with basic iTunes files....which don't sound too good to me most of the time anyway.

I have not compared a hi-res ripped CD through the ATV vs direct connect to the computer. 

Probably won't bother as I'm finding I can preview stuff okay via the ATV when I'm lazy. If/when I go to hi-res Tidal I will experiment some more.
So, Macbook Tidal  > wireless> ATV> DAC> preamp sounds kind of lousy and itunes the same chain sounds better?  My guess is it's tidal but I never used tidal so have no direct knowledge. Can tidal be installed on the ATV ?  I use an integrated amp/dac/streamer so I might not be the best for ideas but it looks like a lot of nodes involved. To me even ripped CD on my  NAS wireless to my integrated  doesn't quite have the SQ as CDP digital to the integrated but it's close, blind I might not be able to tell. So far I have only listened to internet radio over my integrated which isn't bad for casual been waiting on Qobuz to try hi - res streaming. 
Yes, jitter was the #1 issue which is why I'm glad they have figured it out in well designed modern dacs that have been made in the last 20 years or so.

Some designers have started to figure it out, but not many IME. Most USB interfaces suck because of the high jitter.  Most internal reclockers are poorly implemented and don't do a good job.

 I will admit that the jitter in the average component has improved a lot since the inception of the CD, but most designers still have a LOT to learn.

I recently made improvements to my reclocker that reduced the jitter from 22psec to 7psec.  Did I notice the difference?  Absolutely.  Did my customers notice the difference? Absolutely.

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

...the digital stream , the 1’s and 0’s, are sent to the DAC that converts to analog, as long as those 1’s and 0’s get there the DAC reconstructs them using it’s clock since the embedded clock information and any jitter that was sent in the stream has been isolated out

In an ideal world, but that's not the world we live in.  PLL's and downstream buffers, registers and dividers are all affected.  IF there is a reclocker in the DAC, then the effect is usually less, but if you can change coax cables and hear the difference, then source jitter still matters.  If it really worked as good as you claim, then everyone here would only need a $20 Markertek coax cable to achieve the best SQ.

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

I use a $20 blue jeans belden coax cable and my SQ is good enough for me. Obviously you know more about this than I do. All I know is what I have read. 
djones51, I have not actually tried Tidal hi-res on this set-up.

Ripped CDs played through USB to low end Schiit DAC do not sound the same as CD through CDP but it is quite close. In A-B testing I find the CD to be brighter and the ripped CD through the DAC to be less strident. Hard call as to which is better. Through the DAC is usually good enough for me even for serious listening sessions.

At this moment I'm listening to Mark Knopfler's Sailing to Philadelphia through iTunes via the ATV and it is surprisingly acceptable....but I'm sure that is in part due to its exceptional production quality shining through compression, jitter and whatever else.

A good Chianti vs a high end Super Tuscan. I can live with both.
I use a $20 blue jeans belden coax cable and my SQ is good enough for me. Obviously you know more about this than I do. All I know is what I have read.

Have you tried a better cable to see if that makes a difference?

Have you tried another source, like a Sonos and compared that to your transport? Two different transports?

If there are differences in any of these, then your system will likely benefit from low jitter sources.

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

Yes I have tried better cables. Let me rephrase that , Yes , I have tried more expensive cables not really better cables at least to me. Not sure why I would want to try a Sonos, I am sure it's a fine streamer but I am happy with my Micromega. 

So, you didn't hear any difference in different sources or different cables?

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

Cables no, sources yes but nothing drastic depends on the source, whether it's a newer CDP or an older one and what DAC is used  or a file off my NAS or transport to a stand alone DAC . Not sure where you are going with this, like I have said using different sources, amps, pre amp, integrated amps some with DAC's some without. Cheap cables, expensive cables I have never heard anything I would attribute to jitter in the last 20 some years. Now an old I believe technics or sony  CDP with  a 14 bit DAC  I had in the early 1980's did make a piano sound a little like a harpsichord which I would agree was probably caused by some jitter. From the information I have found  from my reasearch which I always do on these types of claims on pro audio sites jitter in well designed modern DAC's is not a problem and hasn't been in 20 years.  I'll reiterate, I don't hear it so I don't worry about it.