help me make sonos better

you all know sonos does not serve the purity of detail/refinement market but it does do a fabulous job satisfying wife, kids, and even serious listener's who are working on "honey do" lists...

but there must be a way to make it better. read about the cullen mods and external dacs and am ready to dive into the water but for the life of me can't find the ultimate pool. can/will someone lead me to the right place? what and how much $ would be nice to know as well. many thanks....
I am in the boat with you. I am diving into the Bryston BDA-1 to Improve the sound. The sonos is easy and fun $1,700 for the Bryston....outstanding reviews. But I we will see.
I also feel your pain! For the past year I have been planning on a music server rather than purchasing a new CD deck. Couldn't decide between a stand alone like a Fireball or building a PC/MAC something, however I did not want it based on iTunes. I'm just not comfortable with it for a server, although I use it to move files to my iPhone. The Sonos also looked interesting.

No matter the system, I got started ripping CD's to files since that's the majority of the work. To date I have about 2650 CD's converted or about 30,000 FLAC files. A fair piece of work if I do say so.

One of this years Christmas gifts for my wife was a Sonos for music in the kitchen. I bought a Sonos bridge and a Sonos S5 speaker system and have it running from the home computer and wireless network. We each have an iPhone so they became instant controllers. She likes it so much, that I added another S5 for the bedroom. Nothing like a quick "Moody Blues" before bed! I also added a 1TB Seagate NAS drive for all the albums... easy and works.

So today the Sonos is working great, but I'm still listening to "Vinyl" on my "big" system and ready to add Sonos to it. I put a lot of time and effort (and $$$) into the Vinyl playback quality, just not sure how far to go adding the Digital. I was thinking about...

1. Cullen modified ZP-90 with a modded PS Audio DAC or one of the soon to be released Wyred4sound (Cullen) Dac's. Maybe even a Benchmark DAC. Probably $2000.00 cost.

2. Or the cheap approach. A standard ZP-90 with a DacMagic for about $750.00. It's 1/3 the cost and probably sounds good. Question is, just how good. Probably better than a majority of CD players, but would I be happy with it? For the money saved, I can buy a lot of new Vinyl albums.

Let me know your thoughts...

Up until about a month ago I was running a Sonos through a Dac Magic, and I was very happy with the quality of the music, which we used primarily for background and casual listening. Certainly not at the level of your vinyl playback, but still very enjoyable.....and at a relatively low cost.

I've since purchased an Esoteric SA-50 which allows me to run the Sonos through its DAC. The quality of the Sonos music is now on par or better than most CD players I've ever heard. The DAC and a good cable make a world of difference. Sonos + good music files + good DAC + good cable = good music that is limited only by your other components.

The level of quality you choose to attain is limited only the amount of money you wish to spend. Good luck in reaching your respective decisions.

Hi Bobf1717 and Pkubica,

I have the ZP90 feeding the Monarchy DIP Classic (non-upsampling) and DacMagic (at Min filter setting), pulls lossless content from a NAS, and reproduction is fantastic!!! And as Larryski2 says, with a decent cable it's hard to beat. It's a single-zone setup so my ZP90 is wired directly to the router to ensure it can handle the large lossless files. I'm very satisfied with the result.

Thought you may want to try this setup before you dive into more costly mods and options.

Would be happy to hear your feedback whatever you decide to implement.
hey gang, so far so good with the advice. many thanks. hope more keeps rolling on in. here's another thought: move to a remote island and listen to birds chirp! probably cheaper and 100% true analog playback!
An external dac is essential for getting high quality sound out of Sonos. But you should be aware that the digital output from Sonos is very high in jitter. Because of that, if you want to get the most from Sonos, you should either (1) select an external dac with very good jitter reduction, or (2) use a reclocker before the dac.

I chose (2). I use the Empirical Audio Pace Car 2 reclocker between my Sonos ZP and my dac. It isn't cheap (between $1250 and $2050, depending on the options), but it turns Sonos into a truly high end transport, and it widens your options for dac's.
I can report on 'plan 1.5' as Paul layed it out above.

I have a couple ZP90's in various systems in my home. One of them has been modified by Rick Cullen. The two DACs I have at my disposal are a Peachtree Decco and a Cambridge DacMagic. With good files and good cables, I've A/B'd every combination of these components. The Cullen-modded player through the DacMagic is by far the best-performing setup I can piece together right now. Wondering about adding a Monarchy DIP's the only truly incremental ($-wise) improvement I can see out there.
So Larryski2 and Edgejazz are both running a standard unmodded Sonos through a modestly priced DAC and are getting results they are pleased with... and a better quality DAC gives better sound, as expected.

Bryoncunningham is enhancing the Sonos much as a modded Cullen Sonos would do with a reclocker. Could you comment on whether the addition of the Pace Car is a subtle or significant improvement in the sound quality. Also, will a better DAC also reduce jitter.

Soundgasm has both a standard and modded Sonos wih good cables and good DAC's. The mod to the ZP-90 is $550.00. From testing your combinations, do you feel the money should be spent on the mod, or would it be better spent on a better DAC... Moving up to a Benchmark or Bryston DAC?

Thanks to everyone for your comments, it really helps.

paul did a great summary of answers so far to my original question. hoping that by weeks end a clear path will be found via a few more responses. maybe then we should all get a little cash-o-la from sonos ala bill murray's to "the father" in caddyshack for "the effort"!
I should clarify that my DACs are very modest (as is the rest of my system), and that I have maybe a year's experience listening critically...that is to say, almost no experience at all in comparison with most who post here.

That said, it's my understanding that the benefits of the Cullen mod are only available at the digital outputs, so there's no way to really 'just' do the mod in lieu of adding a DAC. Gotta do both.

My thinking was that I'd like the source to be as good as it can be, and my first affordable experiment in that regard was with Cullen. I'd do it again for sure...although I'm thinking I should try the Empirical route next, if only so somebody could provide head-to-head comparison between the two. :-)

In the meanwhile, I'm free to take an incrementalist approach to swapping out other modest (~1k) DACs. But honestly, rIght now I'm trying to just chill out, listen to music, and grow into my ears. I know that my 'persistence of hearing' isn't yet accurate enough for me to discern extremely subtle differences when it takes 5 minutes to go from 'A' to 'B' while swapping out components in the chain.
Soundgasm... I certainly appreciate your comments and many times a "lack of experience" should be viewed by our readers as a "fresh approach". ;)

I realize that a DAC is still needed with the Sonos Mod, I was wondering if the MOD was needed with a better DAC since some of the better DAC's speak of "jitter reduction" circuitry. That may be just more marketing. Your approach of getting the source as clean as possible is certainly valid.

Sounds like you also feel that the $550 for a Sonos Mod was money well spent and the digital output is a significant improvement over an unmodded unit.

Thanks for your comments!
Could you comment on whether the addition of the Pace Car is a subtle or significant improvement in the sound quality.

I think the answer to this question is system-dependent. With highly resolving components, the addition of the Pace Car results in significant improvements. With moderately resolving components, I believe the improvements would be more subtle. You can read more about my experiences with the Pace car in a review I wrote.

Also, will a better DAC also reduce jitter?

It depends on the dac. Some do, some don't. Keep in mind that the "gold standard" for jitter reduction is a FIFO buffer, which discards the timing data altogether and relclocks the audio data with a high precision clock. This is the approach in the Pace Car. Many dac's that advertise their jitter reduction capabilities do not use a FIFO buffer, but use some other approach.

I do not have the breath of experience to generalize about how much better a FIFO buffer is than other possible approaches. I can say that my Meridian G68 uses PLL's and ASRC to reduce jitter, and even with that, the addition of the Pace Car resulted in significant improvements. Again, this assumes a certain level of resolution among the rest of the system's components.

I don't know the OP's system, but since he has not yet added an external dac to his Sonos, I am now thinking that the Pace Car might be overkill for him. In that case, a more sensible option might be the Cullen mods in combination with a moderately priced dac, and a good S/PDIF cable between them.
can i assume that the "OP" in byron's last response is the "Original Poster?". if so, dat would be me. here is my system:

cdp proceed
music server AudioRequest (model: Fusion Pro)
Pre BAT vk-5i
Amp (ss fall/winter) BAT vk-220 with bat pack
Amp (tube spring/summer) Cary six packs (mono pair)
Speakers sonus faber amanti
Cables/intercnts too advanced for my brain to remember the various brands but assume beyond decent in quality.

this "pace car" thing is something i'm going to research. please keep this conversation alive. learning more with each thread/response.
"I do not have the breath of experience to generalize..." I meant BREADTH of experience, not some strange metaphor involving breathing experiences. :)

Bob - Yes, OP is "original poster." As for your system, it is excellent, and far better than I was assuming in my previous post. In light of that, I would say that you would certainly hear significant improvements with the Pace Car. Whether it is your best option for getting the most from Sonos is another question. I think it depends on the dac you are considering. Given the amount of jitter inherent in Sonos, if I were you, I would want bulletproof jitter rejection in my dac. Short of that, I would seriously consider a reclocker like the Pace Car.

Soundgasm, as you hinted earlier, you may want to try the modest Monarchy reclocker, mated with the DacMagic, and test them on both your modded and unmodded players, - you may be pleasantly delighted. You can always move up the ladder with options others have suggested.

Likewise, would be interested to hear your feedback.
That's exactly what I'm thinking, Edgejazz. I have an email out to Monarchy to confirm that the DIP Classic will accept a 96kHz signal from the Cullen-modded Sonos. It looks like that's possible with an 'upgrade kit.'

I'll definitely report back - this is the thread that I was looking for when I started on this arcane odyssey months ago.
this is what i think i'm hearing from ya'll:
first, a re-clocker for sonos is essential to get rid of jitter, which is assumed to be slang for another "like" kind word! second, an external dac. therefore the math/progession goes like this:

source (sonos)--to--reclocker--to--either back to sonos or directly--to--dac--to--pre--to--amp--to--speaker--to--ears. is this correct? should a beer be had thru each progression?

o.k. if this is close to being a truism, then doesn't it make sense for there to be ONE product between the sonos and the pre that can do the trick, or have i missed picking up on this in all your previous responses? there comes a time when all the gear starts to make buying a bigger house a serious consideration! and i'm at the age where i'm supposed to be downsizing my life....

last, how much would this little widget cost? time for a beer....and it's only 8 am!
I tried the Dac Magic on my system and while it helped, It did not get near the quality I was after. Hoping the Bryston does better.
Greywolf, that's on an umodified ZP80/90, is that correct?

Soundgasm, that's good to hear. Btw, the upgrade kit is actually a jumper. I believe you can set it back to "classic" mode at 44.1kHz, try it too with the unmodded Sonos player as you may find the non-upsampled reproduction more to your liking.

Thanks in advance for your comparative feedback.
Yes, unmodified zp-90. Running thru an Arcam av9 preamp
(Slightly OT, but is there an accepted way to link to photographs here? it saves new guys like me so much time to be able to see the objects we're talking about without having to manage a separate parallel image search.)
OK Bobf1717, it's time for me to digest the comments from this thread and move on with my Sonos system. I did a bit of extra research on DAC's before coming to a decision. I had a lengthy conversation with Benchmark and feel their DAC1 USB is the way to go for me. They have a reclocking feature called "Jitter-Immune UltraLock¬ô" which they claim eliminates the need to do a reclock mod to the Sonos or any other source for that matter. It also eliminates the need for a fancy cable between the Sonos and the DAC.

So here's where I'm at. I have a standard non-modded Sonos ZP-90, and I have just purchased a Benchmark Dac1 USB. If I need more, I can always get the Sonos modded as a next step. The Benckmark DAC is said to be on the cool side, but I'm going into a tube preamp which should warm it a bit. It gets me a start at a good price point and I feel with a good chance of meeting my expectations.

Will it be as good as my Vinyl, probably not but I wasn't expecting it to be. For me, Vinyl is still my primary music source. Digital, I want convenience at a reasonable quality level. I'll let you know how it turns out.

The Bryston BDA-1 arrived a few days ago. All I can say is WOW! It took my system to a whole new level. I would put the sonos with the bda-1 up against any cd player I have heard and it would hold it's own. I am incredibly happy with this combo.
Greywolf, I'll bet that sounds great! Looks like an incredible DAC all the way around.

Meanwhile, on the baby-step side of the equation, I added the Monarchy DIP 48/96 upsampler to my system as Edgejazz encouraged, and the results are, essentially, that I need to send him a nice bottle of scotch.

The path is now Lossless files > Cullen-modded ZP90 outputting 96kHz > Speltz IC > Monarchy upsampler (which obviously isn't doing any upsampling) > Speltz IC > Cambridge DacMagic > Jolida 302brc > Rega R5s...and it's immediately, plug-n-play clearer. More resolved, just straight-up better, right out of the box. It's unequivocal.

I'll let everything burn in and then play with some A/B comparisons, feeding it a 48k signal from an unmodified ZP90 in case the Cullen mod is dispensable, but my immediate impression of this combination is very very favorable.

Anyone reading this and considering the DIP can also factor in that I not only have a very modest system, but that I'm blessed with neither the ears, aural memory, or adjectives that most of folks here do. I'm frankly better equipped to NOT hear subtle improvements, and I certainly wouldn't hesitate to say so if this was a hair-splitting refinement that required better gear or ears to discern. But it's a sledgehammer-level improvement. Very happy here!

Soundgasm, happy to hear you're enjoying the elevated sound, thanks for the feedback. Jameson, my any day sipper...LOL...toast to you! Take care.
I've had a chance to listen to many music selections over the past 3 weeks and I have to tell you that the Sonos ZP-90 with the Benchmark Dac1 USB is a very good combination. The jitter reduction in the benchmark really works and I'm very pleased with the sound. Good soundstage with very nice depth. Open and airy highs with good solid bass. I can listen for hours at a time with no fatigue. I just don't see a reason to purchase any additional mods for the ZP-90, the Benchmark cleans it up just like a reclocker mod. If anyone has further info, please let us know.

A side item on the Sonos ZP-90. Out of the box, it is setup in the software with the volume control active. This is OK if you are driving some powered speakers. However, not good at all in driving a DAC. Go into the computer software and select the ZonePlayer Settings. Select the ZP-90 and in its Settings, select the Line-Out tab. Set the Line Out to "Fixed". It's important to eliminate their volume control as it introduces distortion to the sound. Actually above about 75% volume, it over drives the DAC and the sound is miserable. In the "Fixed" position, the Sonos passes through the Digital Stream with no processing, giving the best possible results.

Now if we could get Sonos to upgrade their products to do 24 bit/96kHz Music files!

Paul - Glad to hear you are happy with the Benchmark. Your experience with the Sonos volume control is interesting. I use the volume control on my Sonos, and I haven't noticed any problems with it. I wonder what accounts for the difference.
Bryon... I used it initially as well and thought that at 100% it would have a gain of 1 and all is fine. However, above 75% I could hear distortion. It was overdriving the DAC. Also when set to Fixed the volume is at 60% - 70% of the variable mode. I called Sonos a few minutes ago and they also recommend the Fixed mode when going into a DAC.

I also have two of the Sonos S5 powered speakers and they are just fine with the volume control. Bought them for my wife. ;)

Hur. My understanding is that part of what the Monarchy DIP does is to boost the outgoing signal from ~0.5V to ~5.0V, giving any downstream DAC a better/stronger signal to work with.

Is that completely unrelated to the pros/cons of using the variable volume output of the Sonos?

Like Bryon, I'm using the variable output with success, although I can't say I run it over 70-75% (as indicated on the visual display). Maybe I'm just in the safe zone.
Folks, what is the strategy when using a zp100? I don't believe these have any digital outs- would a dac go into the analog outputs, and if so, how would it sound?

I have a tube integrated Jolida and want to make my Sonos source sound at least as good as the cdp.
I don't think there's a ZP100. There's a ZP90 and ZP120, both have digital outputs.

There's a BR100, which is a "zone bridge" - basically a wireless distributor. The BR100 doesn't play any music, it just sends it to the ZP's.

In any system, DACs can't connect to analog outs; only digital outs. There are some DACs that allow analog pass through, like the Benchmark DAC1 Pre, but that doesn't convert an analog signal, its basically a pre-amp with DAC.
Kbar, thanks for your response. I do have a zp100 (had Sonos since the time it came out). Looks like I will have to get a new one with digital outs...
Pjohri, I think I'm pretty much where you want to be when you say

[I have a tube integrated Jolida and want to make my Sonos source sound at least as good as the cdp.]

Cullen mod to the Sonos, Monarchy DIP, cheap Dacmagic DAC, into an integrated Jolida. That's ~$1100 of tweakery, but it sounds wonderful with lossless files.
Sorry Pjohri. I do remember the ZP100 now. I thought they all had digital outs since the first generation. Guess you learn new things every day!
looks like it is either:

sonos-> bryston bda-1 dac -> pre/amp


sonos-> (cullen mod)-> monarchy dip -> dacmagic -> pre/amp

i'll have to start with getting a zp90 with digital outs first!
I am a little late on this thread but have some experience with SONOS + DAC.

I have two SONOS systems, one in our CT condo and a 2nd in our FL place.

In CT I have a Cullen modded ZP90 into N.Star 192 DAC (SPDIF input) into CJ tube pre and Krell SS amp. My iTunes library is on a NAS. Most all cables are Furutech. I believe the SONOS system sounds as good as my Marantz SA11S1, when both play the same track.

In FL, I have a stock ZP90 into Benchmark DAC1 (same cables) also into CJ tube pre and a Parasound SS amp. Music library also on a NAS. I thought it sounded as good as my Marantz SA11S2. Then I bought a Esoteric SA-50 and used its internal DAC, everything else the same. Now I thought the music sounded better. I have no idea why...but the sound was great (after breakin of course). My friend, a serious classical buff, thought the same.

I'm not sure what I have proved, except the Esoteric SA-50 DAC is pretty good. I also have a Benchmark USB DAC, and I plan to experiment with this new DAC1 vs. the SA-50 when we go back to FL in November.

Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Suggestions.. simple the Esoteric as you found sounds better than the Benchmark. I think what you might want to consider is getting a really good Dac. I tried a Benchmark and didn't care for it at all, sort of bright sounding and a bit flat. From the Benchmark I went to Lavry DA10, then the PS Audio DLIII then Modified DLIII ( Cullen ) then the new W4S Dac 1. That ones a killer for the $$$. I also have the PS Audio PWD and should be getting the Bridge for it soon. I've also been doing the Sonos thing for a few years ( Cullen mod helped a lot) and can't imagine going back to spinning discs. The PS Audio/PWD with the Bridge is a music server on steroids :-) I'll keep the Sonos zone players for parties but my main system will be fronted with the PSA setup
what do you think of running a sonos through an oppo BDP 105. would i still need to address the jitter issues
Probably. Even the Oppo has a mod board available that you can add to reduce jitter from the S/PDIF output. See Dec TAS for review.

Also, this is a cheaper option:

Steve N.
Empirical Audio