If you stream music from the internet, I can't recommend this more highly

I had been using a Roon Nucleus to stream Qobuz, with my Chord Qutest directly connected to the Nucleus. I thought I was getting pretty decent sound quality. And then I got a marketing email from Small Green Computer touting some of their optical gear. The basic idea is that normal cables and connections used to stream from the internet pick up noise of one kind or another (radio frequencies and electromagnetic something or other). But fiber optic cables and their connections/interfaces do not. I don’t know anything about anything, but it made theoretical sense to me, it wasn’t a huge amount of money ($1,400), and with a 30 day return policy I figured I could always return it if I didn’t hear any improvement. Well, I didn’t just hear a slight improvement; it was like turning on the lights in a dark room. Much greater clarity and detail, much better micro and macro dynamics, better timbre to acoustic instruments -- overall just more lifelike. Two quick examples: I’ve listened to some of Steely Dan’s top songs 100s of times over the course of my life, and this is the first time I’d ever noticed a particular and very subtle sound characteristic of Fagen’s keyboard in Babylon Sister. It’s hard to describe, but it’s like there’s a slight sound of air being exhaled by it. The other example: the specific timbre of whatever percussive instrument is used at the beginning of Copeland’s "Fanfare for the Common Man" (a recording by the Minnesota Orchestra). There’s more of a metallic sound than a drum skin sound to it that I didn’t know was there before. The metallic sound starts in the center and then projects out and to the sides, like a wave washing over you. Anyway, I’m just thrilled about having stumbled upon the whole "optical" thing and felt obligated to let others know about it. If you stream music over the internet, I highly recommend giving it a try. (The product I got was the opticalRendu, with the linear power supply option, and the Fiber Ethernet Converter Bundle option.)

Showing 20 responses by hiphiphan

I guess some of my wording sounds sales pitchy. But I’m not in anyway associated with SGC. I’m just extremely happy with the sound I’m getting from my purchase. I’m sure there are other companies that offer similar products. SGC is just the first one I’ve happened to stumble across offering these optical devices. My feelings won’t be hurt if you find another company offering similar products.
My test process was the one that matters most in this hobby:  actually listening.  You on the other hand haven't even done that, and yet you're going to make a judgment based on some universal (and btw, untested) theoretical assumption about all "competent" DACs.
Julie, if you have a decent audio system that can take advantage of the greater resolution and reduced noise-level of optical, I’m confident it would significantly improve the sound quality. But I’m not tech savvy enough to know how it would fit into your system. The owner of Small Green Computer (Andrew) can answer any questions you have. His email address is andrew@smallgreencomputer.com I had a 10 minute phone call with him and a long email chain, and he was very helpful and got right to the point.

Larry, I felt the same way about streaming Qobuz with my Roon Nucleus, but the optical thing is just crazy good. I would recommend Doug’s review of it in the following article (in which he says that the sound quality of optical is vastly superior to that of his high-end CD rig): https://www.dagogo.com/audio-blast-sonore-systemoptique-signature-rendu-se/?fbclid=IwAR3jp6Gth94SMBi...

"A pure fiber connection from ethernet switch/media converter to DAC would be fantastic." I’m sure someone somewhere is working on that right now.
No, your internet service doesn't need to be delivered via optical cable. There's probably a way to make it work with an integrated system, but you'd have to ask Andrew at Small Green Computer to find out how. Just send him an email: andrew@smallgreencomputer.com   You might be able to figure it out by looking at the following two pages on their website:  1) https://www.smallgreencomputer.com/pages/systemoptique

2) https://www.smallgreencomputer.com/collections/systemoptique/products/opticalmodule?variant=32001196...
Doug, thanks for your comment. I looked up your reviews and they confirm my own thinking about this technology. I don’t think people in this hobby fully understand the significance of it yet. There are people who can go down very expensive and time-consuming rabbit holes trying to improve the sound quality of the source/signal. Tens of thousands of dollars for high-end turntables, styluses, real-to-reel tape decks, servers, audiophile ethernet cables, switches, etc., etc. I for one was considering starving myself for a year to save up $30k to buy the Taiko Extreme music server, before I stumbled on this whole optical thing. There’s no way I would ever put more than a couple of grand into a server now, because the optical technology makes the server so much less important. I’d really like to spread the word to spare people like me all of those costly rabbit holes.
Thanks sonic79.  It would have taken me a paragraph to explain it worse than you did in a sentence.
Dougey, the jitter is taken care of at a later point in the chain, after the optical rig has cleaned the signal of "noise."
richtruss: That sounds like an interesting approach. I might give it a try at some point, especially since you offer a return window.

treynolds: Sorry, I’m not tech savvy. I can’t explain it. Maybe richtruss or sonic79 can offer an explanation? All I know for sure is that the sound quality improved and it’s not subtle.

philgo01: I think SGC servers work with just about any streaming service EXCEPT Amazon. But that’s just servers. I have to think that the optical technology could be used with Amazon somehow. That’s my next venture. If I can get optical working with Amazon HD, I think I’ll be done as far as my end-game music source is concerned. Regarding ROON: no, it won’t work with Amazon, because Amazon is preventing it -- won’t allow it.

djones51: "The devices do work, the thing is it doesn’t matter unless your DAC is junk." My DAC is hardly junk. It’s the Chord Qutest -- considered by many to be the best DAC at or near its price point ($1,700). One of your other comments seems to suggest that you agree that the Quest is a quality DAC: "The Qutest is very good at noise rejection."

arafiq: Thanks. It’s good to know that others can confirm the improvement in sound quality. One of the posters above (douglas_schroeder) wrote an excellent article about his experience with optical, which agrees with our experiences: https://www.dagogo.com/audio-blast-sonore-systemoptique-signature-rendu-se/?fbclid=IwAR3jp6Gth94SMBi...
Thanks Andrew. Seems like a lot of moving parts. I have to think the whole optical thing is going to be simplified in the near future. Not to cut into your business model, but I think a lot of people are probably going to wonder, if they just want to "clean" the signal with fiber optic wire, why do they need this other contraption (the opticalRendu) after the conversion to optical has already occurred in the little media conversion box? It seems to me that the main reason for it is just that most DACs don’t have the proper port for the fiber optic wire. Or is there more to it than that? And while you’re here :) ... do you have time to offer a brief answer to someone’s question above: "I’m not saying that any of these devices don’t work, but what I don’t understand is, don’t streamers cache a certain amount of the data internally? If you are listening to music and you pull the ethernet cable out of your streamer, it will continue to play for a brief period of time. So I’m just not sure how "cleaner" ethernet packets going into a devices memory chips (cache) would improve the sound. Could anyone elaborate on this?"
I have a "competent" DAC - the Chord Qutest.  I originally had it connected directly to my Roon Nucleus.  When I added the optical gear, it dramatically improved the sound.  The difference is not subtle.  I can hear your rebuttal already:  it's all in my head, it's confirmation bias, etc.  Wrong.  I've tried other pieces of gear expecting that they would improve the sound quality, and yet I heard no improvement and was disappointed.  Other pieces of gear, I immediately heard an improvement.  Two other people who posted above heard a clear improvement as well, one of which wrote a review about it:  https://www.dagogo.com/audio-blast-sonore-systemoptique-signature-rendu-se/ 

By the way, anyone can try it out for themselves with no risk -- they offer a 30-day, no questions asked return policy.  Then they'll know whose word they can trust.
pophaudio:  Ansuz power distributor; Roon Nucleus; Chord Qutest; T+A integrated amp; secondhand Raidho D3.1s.  (And now, of course, the optical kit.)
gkr7007: Please let us know how it goes.

som:  It's good to hear that others can confirm what I'm hearing. What brand/model are your horn speakers? My speakers aren't horns, but they're very detailed/revealing nonetheless (Raidho D3.1, purchased secondhand), and they're thriving with the optical gear.

I wonder though, before getting the optical in place, all I had in my digital chain was the Roon Nucleus, with my DAC directly connected to it.  So maybe some of the improvement I got was just from adding a separate streamer (the opticalRendu), instead of having the Nucleus do all the work?  It makes me think that people who don't already have a separate streamer might get a bigger boost from the opticalRendu than those who do. 

volumizer: yeah, someone mentioned that already. I replied above. I have no association with SGC whatsoever. I’m just very happy with my purchase and they happened to be the first place I stumbled across the optical thing. Someone above said that SOtM has some good products that work similarly, so I would encourage people to check that out -- or any other company that has similar optical gear.
cycles2:  I agree, the SGC website is confusing. I must have visited that thing 100 times before I kind of figured out what was what.  But regarding your question:  I don't know this for sure, but it sounds like your set-up is already so optimized for reducing noise (no computer/USB out, hi-fi switch, dCS Rossini DAC/Streamer), that I don't know how much of an improvement you'd get from the opticalRendu.  Maybe someone else can chime in about this?  

But regarding what all you would need to try it out:  I think you're on the right track.  Maybe Andrew can confirm this, but I think you would plug the little optical converter box (which is part of the Fiber Ethernet Converter Bundle) into your switch, then you would plug one end of the optical cable into this converter box and the other into the optical port on the opticalRendu, then connect the Rendu to the Rossini via USB.  By the way, a respectable reviewer on YouTube (Hans Beekhuyzen) in his review of the opticalRendu seemed to say that you might get better results if you used the Optical Module instead of the cheap little media converter box.  But I can't vouch for that since I haven't tried it for myself (at least not yet).
Regarding a couple of the questions above about the traditional "optical" ports on audio devices -- this was discussed a little bit earlier.  As one poster put it: "Different optical we're talking here. The topic is on ethernet over fiber optic, not TOSLINK over fiber optic."

Also, I questioned some audio manufacturers about this recently.  Here's what they said (starting with Small Green Computer):

Question I emailed to SGC: I was curious why other audio companies don't go the optical route, so I did a little reading and stumbled across some articles that said optical is more limited with regard to high-res signals/files. So, what is the highest resolution file the OpticalRendu can handle and faithfully pass on to the DAC? The highest res files on Qobuz are 24/192. Does that pose any problems for optical?

Answer: Other companies are behind in technology. With 18 to 24 month design cycles it will be a few years before everybody else goes optical. You have to be VERY careful and read closely. The word "optical" in the old world refers to SPDIF optical. which is very limited. Optical Ethernet has no limits. We support every rate available on any DAC in the world. As of today that is 36/384 PCM and DSD512.

Question I emailed to Baetis Audio (which makes customized music servers): I have another question about Baetis servers: can they come with a Toslink out, capable of transmitting high-resolution files (at least 192kHz/24, and preferably higher) to a DAC with a Toslink in? It seems to me that fiber optic cable would completely solve the problem of line noise (from "dirty" power, radio frequencies, etc.).

Answer: Many of our systems do come with a TOSLINK out capability. However, these are not subjected to the clean signal that our daughterboard’s SPDIF and AES provide. While in theory an optical transmission of audio data is great, the implementation of the TOSLINK standard is not so great. Many DACs are limited to 96KHz via TOSLINK and 192 is the absolute maximum of the standard, I believe. In practice, our Coaxial SPDIF and AES is a MUCH better option.

Question I emailed to Berkeley Audio (maker of a very highly respected, high-end DAC): Hello. Regarding your flagship DAC, does the TOSLINK port support 192kHz/24? And is it the best input for sound quality?

Answer: In answer to your question; optical Toslink has limited bandwidth which results in slower data transitions which in turn increase effective jitter in the data receiver. With an excellent cable and source device Toslink can sometimes pass 192kHz but not reliably. 96kHz is a more realistic limit. We provide a Toslink input primarily to allow connection to devices such as AV receivers without coupling noise from them to the DAC through a ground connection. 

Balanced AES/EBU is the best format for sound quality. It is also preferred over coaxial SPDIF. The primary reason is that it has 8 to 10 times greater voltage swing than coaxial SPDIF which results in less effective jitter in the DAC’s data receiver output. 

If possible, use a 1.5 meter long AES/EBU cable. We recommend a 1.5 meter length because it is short enough to have low capacitance providing fast data transitions and long enough to reduce the negative effect on data receivers of reflected energy caused by return loss in real world transmission lines that use connectors with impedance discontinuities.

I shouldn't even reply to someone so rude. But for the sake of other readers . . .
Part 1:  OK, so why should I listen to you at all? [You don't have to. This is a hobbyist forum. I'm just sharing my experiences with fellow enthusiasts. I'm free to do that. And you're free not to listen to me.]
Part 2:  If you don't know anything, how are you qualified to say that it makes theoretical sense? [It made theoretical sense TO ME, because the audiophile community is always trying to find ways to reduce electrical noise. Fiber optic is glass (or plastic), not metal, so it's incapable of picking up or transmitting electrical noise the way a metal cable is.]
Part 3:  $1400 not a huge amount for a cable?  REALLY!! What planet are you from?  Trust fund babyland?  I'm not poor, but I work every day for my money. [It's not just a cable. It's two cables, a media converter box, an optical streamer, and a high quality linear supply unit. Of course, whether $1400 is a huge amount of money is relative. I'm nowhere close to wealthy, but to me, it's not a "huge" amount of money for what you get, and for the boost in sound quality depending on your set-up.]
cycles2: To be honest, we’re talking about what is essentially a $1,400 streamer compared to your $23,000 streamer/DAC. You are waaaaay beyond where I was with my digital front-end. Common sense is telling me that the opticalRendu is just not going to be worth your while. I have to think that a very high-end, very highly lauded audio company like dCS Rossini has designed their streamer to fix the noise issues that the optical set-up addresses. And of course, their streaming/clocking functions are going to be far above the Rendu’s. I think the Rendu optical kit is mainly going to benefit people who don’t already have a high-end streamer. In his review of the opticalRendu, Hans Beekhuyzen says that even though it’s good, it doesn’t match the sound quality of his $4,000 Auralic streamer. (Although he does say it comes close, and that it offers much bigger bang for the buck than the Auralic.)

Regarding the Lumin streamer, that’s really interesting. I noticed that Auralic’s new $9,000 external master clock uses optical isolation to separate certain sections of that device. I’m confident that a couple of years from now, optical is going to be ubiquitous. It seems to very effectively, simply, and cheaply solve the issue of electrical noise.

Peter, if I'm understanding correctly, the optical converter you have isn't compatible with the Optical Rendu. If so, no worries -- if you order the Optical Rendu, it comes with a compatible optical converter. If you need any further info, I would recommend emailing the owner/operator of SmallGreenComputer:  andrew@smallgreencomputer.com