SD3100HV DAC extremely flexible!

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This review is going to be really different than most reviews, as it is more about helping understand the process of setting up a DAC than just how good it sounds. And no, the set-up isn't meant to be the very last bit of information out there but it is intended to at least GUIDE a newer DAC user through all the hell you'll encounter getting your streaming system running and maybe which choice to make and use. Comments on set-up software is encouraged!

I use a PS Audio Direct Stream DAC. The DS DAC is a pure DAC with zip software. It is not a “streaming” DAC by itself. It is a decoder box, that's it. To make it a streaming DAC, you need to dig into the architecture of your Ethernet network and provide software. I used this DAC purely as UPnP/DLNA and commercial software (MinimServer and Bubble UPnP/DLNA control client) was meeting my needs.

The PS Audio and like design DAC's use open architecture with commercial software. This is great because if you don't like one manufacturer's stuff, change! You'll need to settle on a couple of different client packages as each has a different job to do. We'll get to all this and why this reviews is as it is because of the SD3100HV DAC's streaming ability that makes it different, and better for overall flexibility. For starters, the SD3100HV has twenty-three input options;

  1. IPA Link

  2. FM Radio

  3. DAB Radio

  4. USB1

  5. USB2

  6. NAA

  7. Optical 1

  8. Optical 2

  9. Coaxial 1

  10. Coaxial 2

  11. BNC 1

  12. BNC 2

  13. AES/EBU

  14. Bluetooth

  15. HDMI 1

  16. HDMI 2

  17. UPnP/DLNA

  18. USB


  20. Deezer

  21. Qobuz

  22. Tidal

  23. Roon Ready

The SD3100HV is a STREAMING DCA. It has built-in streaming software such that if you use a pre-built DLNA UPnP/compliant streamer and plug it into the SD3100HV, you can communicate with the UPnP/DLNA compliant streaming PC and immediately play music straight away with the built-in file navigation system into the SD3100HV. You don't need anything else to play basic music files. I say basic because the built-in album / song menu is an index, like a book, and you can albums in sequential order or play songs from your start point. You can't make play lists and play stuff out of turn to your liking. Nothing different than any DAC's index type playback here. This is why we leave the convenience of the built-in hardware based indexing software behind and move to a networked (Minimserver) or USB (J.River) based system. We have a lot of setup to do, ugh! Face it, the indexing is more a convenience for smaller file folders.

To those that want the nitty-gritty on the SD3100HV DAC's general design, it is pretty awesome. It is two separate DAC's in the same box, each designed just for DSD or PCM exclusively. This is part of the reason we need to really look at the DAC's main advantages and how to best use them. With my prior experience with the really nice PS Audio Direct Stream DAC, the filters of a DAC are it's sound. All filters are distortion to some extent. How well, and expensive, the filters are pretty much gets you from digital A to analog B. The SD3100HV's sonic qualities are extremely, extremely good. The price should suggest that, but it often doesn't. To use both PCM and DSD 9USB only or NAA), you'll need to use a USB connection to a PC. The UPnP/DLNA setting won't play your DSD. Streaming from the Internet needs the NAA 1 GB Ethernet walled channel with nothing else allowed to use it.

The over the top sample properties of the DAC give the sound an analog quality. All DAC's have some digititus and my ear says it is more the filters properties assuming the same rate (how much the sine waves are sliced up). The SD3100HV has two DSD filters choices and four PCM filter choices. Yes, they sound different and this is why I suggest that the filters are oh so important. A quick listen and you will find the filter you like in a hurry. Better filters use lots of processing horsepower.

Is the DAC “that” good? Well, this is the only DAC I've used that makes me say it is better than my records at times. Equals is good, but the SD3100HV exceeds in many instances! The sound is more open and fast than warmer so if you like a heavier bass timber this isn't your DAC, it's basic sound is far, far more neutral to the source. I go nuts over the expansive distances between musical events as recorded, left to right, front to back and even up and down. The focus and purity of this DAC opens up the spatial recorded bits and paints them in front of you like a digital device isn't expected to...but it does.

I categorize stuff based on the seasons. Corny, but it works;

Summer – heavier and warmer sound, like a hot day on Florida. The air is thick with humidity. The view out to the horizon is slightly hazy and softened. Everything is pulled in around you.

Fall – we get some cooling that removes some of the haziness out. Some, not all. This adds a little more definition and dynamic pratt. Music opens up and spreads out.

Winter – here we get all that false relief removed, the humidity. We see the facts as they are like it or not. The horizon greets you against a stark blue sky with little to soften what you see. We can see for miles in every direction. Some call this “clinical” or a “cool” sound. Is it really? Or do we just want some distortion added?

Spring – This adds in a touch of the distortion we like. A little moisture in the air and the softness of the spring leaves on the trees is a temporary and romantic way to see the world.

I lean towards spring a touch. But just a touch. I still want to hear it like it is. I want the recording to be the season and not my equipment so much. When a source is, of course, the same season as you device you may get too much. So there's that compromise. The SD3100HV is so darn good, that a WINTER recording plays on a near spring sounding DAC (where I place the SD3100HV's basic sound) is still superbly easy to listen to. This DAC is SMOOTH in texture even with an amazing resolution. You can remove hardness in a picture with edge softening (blur the boundaries). This DAC is different in that it replaces a “warmer” softer edge to remove the aliasing jaggies with such high resolution that the jaggies aren't there. The DAC will follow the source and not add distortions of it's own. I have so, so few recordings that I'd say are remotely winter in relief. Some old Elvis stuff is really good at decent spatial resolution but you get what I mean, I think. Most recordings have added warmth and any DAC can't remove what the recording has added. But, get an exceptionally neutral recording and this DAC gets you farther into the actual sound of just the recording than I'm used to reaching. Bravo.

When you go to a carefully done DSD file, WOW, stuff really POPS. Micro dynamics are exceptional. The PS Audio “ONE” DSD is in the room with you good. Take PCM on steroids, as good as the PCM is, DSD just runs with it. This is an expensive DAC but at least it sounds expensive in a very, very good way. Saying it is organic is almost an understatement as the phrase has been used on stuff this DAC makes digital again. It's a file / filter changer sound for sure. The DAC's specs are nuts good, and so is the resulting analog like sound. I've played my compressed beyond belief (what were they thinking?) best of Herman's Hermits on this DAC and darn if it isn't fun to listen to. Do listen to this DAC! The SD3100HV's sound is over the top in neutrality and exceeds the musical dynamics in every measure. It never seems to be “in the way” somehow adding stuff to your meal you didn't order. You get what's in the box.

The SD3100HV's extreme flexibility also exceeds in first time set-up frustrations and complexity. Digital is not easy for even those with some networking experience. Let's consider JUST the DAC's built-in streamer function. Using the DAC's built-in UPnP/DLNA streamer itself is easy peasy if you have a UPnP/DLNA client set-up. It finds it and you select the source with a press. The two large knobs are intuitive, and the user quickly finds the proper turn and and press, short or long presses, to get the job done. The built-in menu is a little frustrating until you figure out that this DAC requires a LONG press to go “up” the index (backwards to the root folder again) if you want to back out and go to another folder. You don't turn the knob “backwards” to go backwards. This just loops the file contents you are in, say a list of ten songs. So give a longer press, and the display will POP up one level at a time until it goes back to the root if that's where you want to go. Once this is figured out, you can whip through a menu pretty fast. BIG index of files do loop forward 1-9999, 9998, 9997 (counter clock-wise twist) or 1-2-3 (clockwise twist) but to get to 5000 in the middle requires some spinning of that really GOOD feeling knob. Such is why we go to a network based system, yes? The index system isn't really designed to be your main squeeze.

The built-in system requires you have a UPnP/DLNA compliant streamer software in your NAS or PC. YOU have to get that part figured out. YOU also have to make sure your Ethernet network is working, too. That in itself is a lot to digest and work through. Wired, wireless, Ethernet over power lines, some of two or all of them? Lets just say your Ethernet works OK?

To get away from the limits of the built-in Indexing inside the SD3100HV, we need to get to a NAS type system and a way to get what we want in the order we want and to the DAC. Most are familiar with UPnP/DLNA type streaming services because we also use this type of client function getting music data from the “cloud” streaming services. Essentially we use an Ethernet network to connect to a HDD somewhere with music on it. The cloud or your own PC or NAS. Software on a remote device (tablet / phone) tells the cloud or NAS what to send and in what order.

To make this full UPnP/DLNA and remote control client system work, we are kind of are left stranded a little. T+A has great equipment with as yet not so great instructions. My prior experience with the PS Audio dead-headed DAC taught me that you need an “approved” software client that sends data from the PC to an endpoint, like MinimServer. The DAC is the endpoint but it could be a TV or any endpoint in your house that processes digital music....and the issues of setting up all those too! The streaming software is “dumb” and follows commands...but from where or who? The SD3100HV can talk to the PC's streaming software structured on the network. The DAC and the PC see each other and the DAC's built-in control client directs the PC's streaming client, I use MinimServer, to send it music to the DAC. We can get more complex if we have several PC's each with a streaming client installed. You now need to select from the list (each streaming client will get it's own ID on the SD3100's front display).

There are several choices streaming clients to load on your PC to be commanded to send music to your DAC. Pick the one that seems to be the proper fit. Some are free, some are W10 or MAC only. Once that is installed, and you set that up (where your music files are located need to be set) you also need to get a client on your phone/tablet to talk to the streaming client wireless. Make sure your tablet Wi-Fi is connected to your LAN router first and is working properly.

The SD3100's INDEXING system is limited in how and in what order ETC it can instruct the PC's streaming client to send data to the DAC. Loading that additional “control” app on your TABLET or PHONE does the play list work. Here is the catch, because the SD3100HV has a control app inside it, you need to use the control app on the tablet/phone that meshes with that too have ONE easy option and that's the T+A Music Navigator app for the tablet/phone. The T+A system allows your choice of UPnP/DLNA compliant STREAMING client like MinimServer, but it does not allow an open architecture for the CONTROL application as much.

For those already worried...You can get around this limitation with USB, and use JRiver on the PC and yiour preferred control point. Just set the SD3100HV to “USB1 or USB2 input.

The T+A Music Navigator control client is software, so features and such will vary over time. Ease of immediate use (streaming client DAC verses dead-head DAC) will also add trade-offs. If you use the T+A Music Navigator to easily search your libraries and create play list and all that you'll get used to what the software can do. Unlike the dead-head DAC's that require you bring both the STREAMING and CONTROL clients, both, the Music Navigator is already ready for you. The T+A SD3100HV requires just the STREAMING client be decided upon and installed on your PC. This is good and bad. The dead-headed DAC's allow you to try several CONTROL apps (what talks to the streaming client) and decide which one you want to use. There are several different tablet/phone control apps. The T+A SD3100HV restricts this to JUST the T+A Music Navigator control app with UPnP/DLNA PCM files. That's OK until you see a limit in a feature set you want and don't have. Want more than 1000 item long play lists? Want a random shuffle feature? This is where it gets “the same” but different getting past the T+A Music Navigators limits as software. And, the DSD can't be played over the UPnP/DLNA network so we have that issue to solve. Ugh again as we add another interface layer. But hold on, this is actually brilliant in the end.

If we want to route around the Music Navigator as a CONTROL and change our feature set to something more complex (some hate the complexity and will sit fine with Music Navigator) to play DSD and PCM music how can we do that? We already have a PC or NAS (Network Access Storage) system connected to the PC. There is also an option to DIRECTLY connect the PC to the DAC with a USB WIRE, not the Ethernet network wire or wi-fi. This system is using the USB type A ports on the PC and the USB type C port on the DAC. The PC needs to be about a 3 meter reach as this is high speed digital and distances are limited on USB verses Ethernet.

Here is where it gets strange for new folks to all this. The UPnP/DLNA Ethernet based system needs a DAC, PC, STREAMING client on the PC, and a CONTROL client on a tablet/phone. So does the USB system. But, the old STREAMING client and CONTROL client are “fired” and new guys need to be hired in the USB environment! WHAT? I need to find and add new talent AGAIN? Yep, you do.

The first order of business to solve is that W10, not MAC's, messes with the digital files when exporting them to the USB bus. To stop this, we need to add a Windows driver, not on MAC's they are OK native, that forces W10 to stream digital data native to the format you stored on your hard drive. That needed driver T+A gives you and easy peasy to load that. After we solve the driver issue the instructions stop. I'll fill in the blank for you. Here is where it gets really good and bad at the same time. Good is we get to decide what to use! That's GOOD. Bad is we have to decide what to use, that's BAD. Remember, we are adding a USB based music streaming system BECAUSE the T+A Music Navigator and MINUMSERVER set-up didn't have something we need right? One for sure is DSD capability. That feature is certainly one you are looking for in the new hire software. Other features are larger play list, larger interface of file structures and stuff like that.

The PCM only file extension compliant UPnP/DLNA system used the iPAD's T+A CONTROL to talk to the, in my case MinimServer, STREAMING client loaded on the PC instruction it to sent data to the DAC to be played. The new USB systems FIRES the MinimServer, in my case, software and we need a new client to play and send data to the DAC. Notice many PC client applications controls both what we want to send and then sends the chosen music to the DAC. It is now one app on the PC at this point and nothing is on the tablet/phone just yet. We have no more remote control! Don't despair I'll loop back to the tablet/phone later let's just get music playing first.

You could use W10 Media Player as a streamer to your SD300HV. Pick a song on your HDD / NAS storage and W10 will play it by default through the Media Player and send music bit-perfect (we loaded the W10 don't mess with me driver right?) data to the DAC. But this is player only PCM based files, so no DSD serial type files. Oops, we lost half the SD3100HV's capability! Not all PC based control/streaming apps do native DSD.

After we fire the rudimentary Media Player app we need to pick a new streaming and control client for the PC that works with PCM and DSD. I picked J.River MC28. This plays PCM and DSD files, both, and offers over the top flexibility compared to the T+A Music Navigator app. Since this is now an open architecture USB system we get to decide how and what we use and how features we like work! You don't have to use J.River Music Streaming and Control client. Pick one you like.

Remember, the USB PC based system COMBINES the streaming and control, into one app on the PC where the UPnP/DLNA set them apart on the PC and tablet/phone; the STREAMING client was on the PC and the CONTROL client is on the Phone/tablet.

And yep, we need to get up off our butts to go to the PC to CHANGE stuff with the current USB set-up. Ugh again. Right now we can't poke at the tablet or phone music menu like we could on the UPnP/DLNA Ethernet “system”. Now what? Yet another decision needs to be made. With the USB system we are open architecture. We fire the T+A Music Navigator app and YOU also have to pick another remote tablet/phone client control app that talks to the J.River, ROON, or what ever app you selected on the PC from the phone/tablet.

It is weird that the UPnP/DLNA system keeps the streaming (on PC) and control (on tablet/phone) separate, while the USB system combines the streaming and control on the PC, and fragments yet another remote app on the tablet/phone. I didn't make this all up, I'm just trying to use it. Can we get a remote app on out tablet/phone? Yes. I selected GIZMO as a tablet/phone app to trial as a remote to the PC's J.River app. GIZMO is given a code to allow the app to communicate with J.River and make play list changes on the fly from your seat with the tablet/phone. Yes, there are choices of remote tablet/phone apps with varying features so try some and use what's best for you. The USB system is much more open architecture in the end but requires more set-up decision. Once completed the USB system routes around the T+A Music Navigators control application limitations and allows you to place the limits where you need them. And, you get DSD and PCM, both.

This set-up will be common to all DAC's that use a “control” client built-in if you want to route around that convenience. Use a parallel USB system. Each will provide differing convenience but each is going to be limited differently like any software. Want more than T+A Music Navigator app has in flexibility? You need to use a USB based system and make some new hires that are YOUR decisions.

The T+A has yet another system using UPnP/DLNA to the “cloud” called NAA. Network Audio Adapter. This firewalls the Ethernet into a walled garden with a minimum of 1.0Gig Ethernet channel to stream up to DSD1024 from the cloud services that offer super wide bandwidth data. Nothing else can be on the channel except the SD3100HV. This isn't used all the time, and in my case I'd probably store files on my NAS after downloading them. But, you can stream crazy big DSD file sizes too and from any location NAS or cloud. The HQ Player that allows massive up sample control choices and ROON, that is a great consolidation client, are nice but expensive. With HQ Player, you can essentially run ALL you sources, yes including PCM, as DSD512. Since NAA is a closed garden 1 Gig Ethernet network, the files can be the cloud or any NAS in your house. Make sure you have a dedicated Ethernet modem for the SD3100HV, though. It will need to grab and isolate everything else off it.

To play any DSD, you need to use the USB or NAA. With USB use a short cable (less than 3 meters) and with J.River I had to alter setting in the tools/options to bit stream; “YES (DSD)” and make sure the drop-down had bit-stream all sample rates selected. If that isn't done you'll get a PCM on the fly conversion. My suggestion is to use the DAC's USB option to get the best out of JRiver across all file types in one place.

My summary is that the SD3100HV's DAC's flexibility will frustrate some, and that there are a lot of mysterious set-up information that is missing on all DAC's instructions I've seen. Once you get through all the complexities of the set-up, stuff seems good again. But to new users adding UPnP/DLNA or USB or NAA or all three at once is involved. The SD3100HV USB system lets you go rogue and use what you like and get DSD and PCM, both. The UPnP/DLNA system is easy to use and make play lists from your seat with PCM files. NAA also allows one source for high quality DSD streaming.

The SD3100HV also has ROON, TIDAL, Deezer, qobuz streaming clients built-in. These are PCM based, though, unless NAA is activated to uncap the DSD format. What is not to be overlooked, is that you can have ALL of these functions (UPnP/DLNA, USB, NAA, TIDAL, qobuz) running concurrent and select the best one for the job you have at hand on any given day. Want a simpler interface and PCM files? Use the UPnP/DLNA Music Navigator. Want to make more elaborate play lists with DSD ? Use the J.River app with USB. Each streaming system has it's advantages and the SD3100HV lets you easily use them all.

Don't be afraid of the SD3100HV DAC's feature set, even digital FM and podcaste, complexity. Broken down one at a time you'll be set-up pretty quick and with superb flexibility to all available modern music source material with a tremendously good sounding PCM and DSD DAC. Either digital format is exceptional sounding with filter options to fine tune to your ear. Many sites, can cover all circuitry technology but I wanted to sort of go over how to get the best out of the DAC's streaming music function basics. A sort of 30K view of what's happening between UPnP/DLNA, USB and NAA option. Is the massive effort and cost of the separate DSD and PCM digital filters worth it? Is the incredibly flexible interface support worth it? No question the SD3100HV is a better DAC but only you can decide the value scale.




Showing 1 response by schroeder26

Hey I'm kind of a beginner here and I'm looking for a good value stack around $300 with optical to go with my HD6XX's do you guys have any recommendations? The main things i'm looking for are imaging, and soundstage.