Don it's one thing to get music out of a "box" and another to have it sound good. Many devices, the Blue Sound Node, I use an Auralic Aries Mini, will output sound, a good DAC will make that sound better. And presumably $20K DACs sound amazing but nothing you need to worry about, there are tons of DACs out there at a variety of price ranges.
Understood and I appreciate the point you are making which is "good sound" is all relative. I guess what I am trying to figure out is, what is the appropriate level of component to pair with the stuff I have already purchased?
Is hooking up a bluesound appropriate for the amp and speaker combo I have?
The other hobby I have is race cars. Id align this with putting a set up cheap tires on a high performance car.
If you had a honda civic, you could go with budget tires.
If you have a mercedes, you could go with mid range tires
If you have a ferrari, you more than likely want to go with high end tires.
Is my gear I already purchased the honda civic, the mercedes or somewhere in between?
Should I invest my money first in a good quality DAC first (for which I can hook up a laptop to) then look for a streaming box after?
Thanks for the advice thus far. Im learning a ton
Blue Sound is one option. There are many.
Auralic has reduced pricing on their current new units (new releases on the way) so you could step up from the mini and get a unit with the DAC built in.
There are many terrific DACs on the market, at very reasonable prices, should you want a stand alone DAC.
I'd look at this as the start of a journey. You'll decide how far and deep you go. I'd be super excited, and it sounds like you are! Welcome to Audiogon.
You will need two things, and sometimes they come in one box. You will need a streaming device and a DAC. Simple to use streaming devices could be an Apple Airport Express, a Sonus Connect or a Google Chromecast Audio. Personally I prefer these units to dedicated audiophile streamers because these three are from brands with such a market penetration that each and every streaming service will have to provide an App - you are not locked in. These three all have an inbuilt DAC, and to be honest pretty good ones. So you could start with them and use their internal DACs first, to see if you like the system. In my own case, I use Chromecast Audio players in a number of diferent set ups, and I am rather pleased. Even in my main system with Quad 2805 electrostats the sound is very good. This of course is not surprising, given the excellent measured results with 16/44 (i.e cd quality) recordings. See here for measurements: http://archimago.blogspot.nl/2016/02/measurements-google-chromecast-audio.html
The Airport Express measures similarly well, but it is perhaps slightly less convenient because it needs continued contact with your tablet or smartphone: http://www.kenrockwell.com/apple/airport-express-audio-quality-2014.htm
If you think you can get better audio quality, you can get a DAC with optical input (all three streamers that I mentioned have optical outputs as well and produce bitperfect and hence identical digital output). Here, the sky is the limit, but the million dollar question is whether you will hear the difference, as differences will be minute at best. The Pioneer U-05 would be a very good DAC at a reasonable price, the Benchmark DAC 3 defines the high end of the market, and an Oppo UD 205 UHD Bluray player may be a very practical option, as it combines pre amplifier, UHD multi format disc player and DAC with external inputs. If you also want digital room equalization the new DSpeaker Antimode X4 will give you that, plus automatic crossover setting between main speakers and subwoofers. All four of these DACs have variable outputs (i.e. a volume control) so they can serve as pre amplifiers, but not all of them still have analogue inputs for legacy gear like turntables.
But if I compare the sound quality of even the analogue output of a Chromecast Audio with that of a good turntable like my Linn Sondek LP12, it is obvious that the 16/44 stream is far superior.
I thoroughly can recommend Bluesound but depending what you want to do as well, you might want to look at the Vault 2. This can store your entire cd collection on its built in hard drive as well as streaming not only Tidal but most other popular streaming services AND internet radio stations.
Best of all in my opinion you can control it direct from your phone (android or iPhone) or tablet/ipad. You will need a Tidal account obviously at either $10 or $20 a month depending on quality of resolution of files. You do not even need Tidal app, just the Blusound app to stream all services.
You have a choice of digital output (coax or toslink) and analog output.
Many other choices out there for sure but if you have the slightest possible need to rip your cd collection and store them as well then this is a superb all in one solution at about $1000 online.
I've always stretched my budget for the best tires and brakes (for the application / use) on my cars, budget or otherwise.
Since it is the 'missing' component in your chain, I recommend (as with tires) putting as much as you can on a standalone DAC. It is a foundational component and you can stream direct from your laptop initially (and add mini components to clean the signal for not much of a spend).
Thanks for all the great recommendations and conversation.
Im thinking I'll start buy buying a chromecast audio (super cheap) and can get music from the internet out of my amp to start. Then I can do more research to figure out which DAC I can pair with the other equipment.
A friend recommended I look at PS Audio Direct Stream Junior.
Any thoughts on how this will pair with the equipment I have?
I, too, was overwhelmed by the digital/streaming move.
I wanted to get the best sound for the least money (don't we all?).
I ended up buying a pair of Bluesound Node (1's), and using an Ayre Codex for a DAC.
The Nodes allow me to have wireless connectivity throughout my home, while the Codex upgrades the sound reproduction. The nice thing about Ayre is that they usually offer upgrades to their products. (Which leads me to recommend another manufacturer-Schiit. A Gungnir or Yggy are fairly comparable to the Ayre. Schiit also offers upgrades, when available).
Okay, so if you are on a tight budget and can buy used.
A Bluesound Node (1) on Ebay is about $250 and an Ayre Codex can be had for about $1400, sometimes less.
For less than $2K, you'll have a really good setup that should be upgradable, too. DAC technology is moving fast, which is why I don't believe in spending big bucks on these units.
And, all the companies mentioned have great customer service.
Great questions and feedback! I’ve been also investigating ways to make better use of my Tidal subscription and hopefully implement a Roon system.
i look forward to hearing more as I’m in a similar search....
Here's some feedback on one possible solution...Oppo Sonica...
I currently have an Oppo Sonica DAC that I’m trying. The sound is very good (I’m not an expert but have dabbled for years including some pretty decent stuff - Bryston SP1 and SP1.7, Legacy-Audio, others).
The Sonica sounds good, seems well made, is good looking and somewhat easy to setup... in my humble opinion, the Sonica app, sucks. It often (mysteriously) won’t/can’t play tracks - which if I switch over to just the Tidal app on my iPad or streaming thru my Sonos Connect play just fine... at times it will say "can’t play song, skipping to next song" or some such message and skip thru 20 songs or more at a time.... other user interface issues abound... also, they have no plans to be Roon ready, if that matters...
Good luck with your search! I too look forward to hearing the advice of the knowledgeable members here.
Are you having stability problems using DLNA networked streaming, USB or S/PDIF input?
DLNA can be problematic depending on the playback app used. RAAT will probably be more reliable when it is Roon ready.
If you like using your Sonos Connect, you could lower its jitter by reclocking it with a Synchro-Mesh to lower the jitter over the S/PDIF cable to the Sonica. This would probably get you lower jitter than the Sonica by itself. 20psec jitter on the S/PDIF cable, if you use the right cable:
30-day money-back if you don't like it.
As I said above, a DAC with a variable ouput is a perfect pre amplifier, but many do not have analogue inputs. I don't care, but others do. If you go that route, all you need is a power amplifier. Many of these DACs will have balanced ouputs, and if that is what you have, get a power amplifier that also has balanced connections. My preference is for beefy solid state amps. The more power the better, and solid state amps usually perform rather better/more neutral under real speaker loads (see the graphs in Stereophile). Beefy solid state power amps do not need to cost an arm and a leg.
I appreciate all your input as well as everyone else's on this thread. I used your input to make my next move.
I went ahead and purchased the following:
Google Chromecast Audio
PS Audio Directstream Junior DAC
Toslink full to mini cable as I didnt want to mess with hard wiring my DAC to my network and will use chromecast to connect it.
Will plug this into the PrimaLuna to start and go from there.
For streaming Tidal, I suggested the Node 2 as a place to start. I believe the Node 2 requires an external DAC which should be purchased commensurate with partnering equipment. If Music Hall has them for $300, a great place to start.
I am looking to purchase of a server to for the playback of AIFF files and am considering the Vault 2 which can be used in my secondary system with the internal DAC and in my primary system feeding my Bryston DAC.
I would heartily recomend the Oppo Sonica DAC, I use one from my main Computer / DAW to my Head Amp from USB when mastering CD's and can say I have only good things to say about it. I don't use anything else on it but the USB straight in to the Head amp. It does have the apps for networking and it has a superb volume control which again I don't use but it could save the cost of a preamp and with less electronics in the mix should be more transparent. The DAC chips inside are Sabres and the top ones and they are very well implimented so they give top notch sound but do take a long time to burn in. If you can afford to put the digital output from say a DAB radio trough it for a couple of weeks before you do some really serious listening it will reward you in the end with a really open sound for the money.
Good luck, Jim.
See here for a review of the Sonica DAC: http://archimago.blogspot.nl/search?q=sonica
Summary: it is a good one with two limitations: the analogue input is less than perfect and there is only one optical, coaxial and usb input each. Try to connect a disc player, a tv and a Chromecast or other streamer and you are one input short.
One avenue to take is getting a Sonos connect off of craigslist to get a bump start, plug that strait into primaluna . There are about 3 on Denver craigslist from $175 -$250, they should be easy to find about anywhere. That will get you bump started streaming red book quality (16/48 ). This will give you time to survey the landscape. You can upgrade the power cable on the Connect and add a good coax digital cable and still be in for low investment. Lots of good used DACS on the market so you can start rolling DACS while you still have the Connect. Then when you find a DAC you like you can upgrade the Connect with the Wyred4Sound mods or dump (Connect) and jump to the Bluesound or something else. Depending on you music taste you might take a look at Deezer and compare to Tidal. Deezer has a very large library of world music vs Tidal. I ran both Tidal and Deezer for a bit and decided on Deezer because the large library.
Note: I have not seen the interfaces on other products but the interface and application for the Sonos products is top notch. Support is good as well. I had an issue with dropped connections and Sonos had me run a diag utility within the application. I then called them back and they analyzed the output and detected some disturbance at the bridge. I moved the bridge just a short distance and it cleared the problem.
I have no views on the PS Audio Jr other than that it is pretty pricey. I have not seen any proper tests with measurements done with serious lab gear like from Audio Precision. The currently best one on that is probably the Benchmark DAC3.
By and large I don't believe there are many meaningful sonic differences between well designed electronics, whatever the subjectivists on this forum want to believe. If there are differences, they are not necessarily for the better (e.g tube sound). The straight wire with gain criterion was met ages ago with solid state amplification, and I am increasingly inclined to believe that the same is now true for DACs. I am using the analogue output of the Chromecast Audio, and cannot hear any issues, even on a revealing system with Quad electrostats. Even if there may be a slight sonic degradation playing 16/44, it must be small, and I am also pretty sure that relatively affordable DACs like the Sonica, the Pioneer U-05 or the Teac UD-501 are as good as it can get. If you look at the measurement data for such DACs, you can see that frequency response, distortion and noise levels are mostly quite a bit better than for amplifiers, so they are not an problem. Electronic perfection has become pretty cheap, and there is nothing more perfect than perfect, given human hearing limitations. Those who believe they can hear differences between electronics are never able to repeat their insights under controlled conditions.
With electronics the three things that really matter are:
1 matching gain structure to avoid clipping. An example is the 2.0 Volt rca output of many digital sources and the too sensitive line inputs of many amplifiers.
2 insufficient power to prevent output clipping in dynamic music. In a largish room a few hundred watts per channel will do no harm.
3 load independent flat frequency response. Real speakers have varying impedances along the frequency spectrum, and some amplifiers' frequency response is far from flat under such realistic conditions (see the graphs in Stereophile - the audible limit of non-flatness is about 0.2 dB). Many tube amplifiers are very bad at this, hence their individual sonic signature, which is nothing other than an engineering shortcoming.
This is not to say that audio systems cannot be improved, but the weak links are the speakers, with their far bigger deviations from the flat frequency response, and much higher distortion that we would accept from any piece of electroncis. Finally, there is the issue of room interaction. Look at any in room response graphs and you will be horrified.
The more power the better, and solid state amps usually perform rather better/more neutral under real speaker loads (see the graphs in Stereophile). Beefy solid state power amps do not need to cost an arm and a leg.
This is how I felt, until I was introduced to SET high-power tube amps. My reference I used at trade shows and for voicing was a pair of 600-1000W JC-1 Parasound monoblocks. Very low output impedance and obviously high power. Almost needing two power cords each. Also runs class A for 25W.
Then I modded a prototype pair of point-to-point wired SET TUBE monoblocks that output 35W each.
The SET tubes outperform the high-powered SS in every way, from high-frequency extension to dynamics to bass extension and tightness. And of course the midrange is more beautiful.
If it were only true, you could get the best DAC on the market for $500. Reviewers would not be giving rave reviews to ladder DACs that cost $10K+ and then buy them for themselves.
The thing that motivates people to believe that most DACs sound the same is that the sources that are feeding them have so much jitter. Take the transport for instance:
or a Sonos Connect:
And then add a S/PDIF coax cable:
If these sources are not reclocked, there will be enough jitter to mask most differences between DACs.
Add in an inexpensive active preamp, and you have additional distortion, compression and noise that will mask the rest.
The good news is that a good reclocker like the Synchro-Mesh can fix this. Also, replacing your active preamp with a good transformer passive linestage like this one will eliminate the active preamp contribution:
Every DAC has a different sonic signature. I have been to enough trade shows over 15 years to know this for a fact. And perfect measurements means little. The current measurement suite doesn't quantify dynamic response or jitter properly. New measurement techniques are needed for both of these metrics. This is why I'm doing the measurements above, direct jitter measurements.
By the way, doesn’t the direct stream Junior have a built-in PS audio bridge 2? This allows you to stream without the chrome cast. I have an older perfect wave DAC MK2 with bridge Mark 2 and this is the set up I use. No streamer, a computer plugged into the DAC via ethernet cable, and that’s it. I control the system using Roon software, a very good audio control and organizational app. You may be able to use the Tidal app directly with the latest bridge firmware, but don’t quote me on that.
i can tell you, my PS Audio Dac sounds far better when using the PS Audio bridge than using USB
Great that you are measuring jitter, however, you are just using your ears to judge if a DAC rejects jitter and sounds right - in fact you claim that no DACs successfully reject jitter which is counter to several manufacturers claims as well as independent test results ? How do you reconcile your conflicting approach when there already exists a jitter J test which is used by Stereophile and which is part of the measurement suite offered with Audio Precision test equipment(the world leader in audio test gear)?
Also I am curious that a jitter expert does not use AP test equipment? Is there a problem with AP equipment also? Just curious because you make many claims but your approach is let’s say - rather unorthodox.
I suspect that differences in SQ when changing cables or sources on S/PDIF can be heard in DACs with low J test jitter. I just don't put much stock in this method. I have yet to hear ANY DAC that is immune to jitter on the S/PDIF input.
The B/W of AP equipment is insufficient to do direct jitter measurements. I need the 7GHz scope.
I like to think outside the box. That is what sets my products apart from the pack.
No streamer, a computer plugged into the DAC via ethernet cable, and that’s it.
You must be using a swap cable to go directly from computer to DAC with Ethernet.
Would probably get better SQ using a router with a LPS with earth ground tied to DC common to wire to the DAC. Leakage is a significant problem across Ethernet interfaces.
If you cannot do this, at least get a EMO EN-70e isolator and put it in the cable.
Thanks! I have no feedback yet on the configuration since everything is still en route to me. Im literally that new to this hobby. Im sure anything will sound nicer than my 2 sonos Play speakers I currently use to listen to spotify :)
Good info on the bridge. I was under the impression I needed to use the RJ45 port on the DAC and hardwire that into my network. Everything in my house is Wireless, router is in a closet and the stereo is going in an area that would be difficult to drop ethernet cable into.
But now I see what you are saying. Plug my macbook into the bridge (easy to do) and control the playlist via roon or tidal app. Makes sense. Would be nice to have a solution to where I dont have to plug in my laptop. Thats where I was thinking the chromecast could come in handy?
You can certainly use WIFI from your latop and even the DAC. The DAC however requires more attention for good results, since it is the endpoint.
If you want a WIFI solution that sounds really good, I have one with grounded LPS supply and CAT7 cables as well as an isolator. Not cheap though. You just located this next to your DAC and plug the Ethernet from the DAC into this. It is WPS enabled, meaning that it learns your network and password from your router. Once it learns this, then the network is secure. During the programming, it's not secure. Takes about 5 minutes.
WPS I believe is Wireless Pairing System.
Understood. You seem like someone that is very passionate about this stuff. I like to read about things I am buying so I can understand them better. Understand that you might not be marketing this as a product. If you plan to in the future, put out some literature and let me know so I can do some studying on it before I purchase.
Just looking at your oscilloscope plots, I would say you have plenty of triggering issues - this would explain why you get bimodal distributions and distributions that look a mirror image of each other.
You would be much better served by analysis of the final analog output of the DAC - any jitter will show up as distortion of the known digital input signal.
The APx555 by Audio Precision is designed to robustly test for jitter by injecting known signals.
@audioengr, for those of us who don't have an Ethernet-enabled DAC and use a Windows-based PC to stream our song library (JRiver) / TIDAL to a USB DAC using Wi-Fi, is there an Ethernet-based solution - other than buying a different DAC - to reducing jitter in the digital signal prior to it arriving at the DAC?
Steve, I know you believe ethernet delivers the highest quality signal, but I'm not able to run a cable from where my router sits to my audio-based PC.
My integrated, a hegel h360 has an onboard dac but i'm new to streaming and currently run a usb from a laptop to the unit and with tidal's highest res option many songs sound very good but am I getting the most from both formats? 1 being tidal and the other being the onboard dac? a dealer recommends the blue sound into my analog outs which makes no sense to me?
Just looking at your oscilloscope plots, I would say you have plenty of triggering issues - this would explain why you get bimodal distributions and distributions that look a mirror image of each other.
I don’t believe they are triggering issues. The trigger error is something like 1-2 psec. All of my products don’t have the bimodal shape. Even the bimodal is only maybe 10 psec between peaks. Insignificant.
I don’t want the DAC in the picture when I’m testing my various interfaces. I want to measure the digital jitter directly.