There are at least two ways to improve the Sonos performance. Here I am referring to the ZP80, which has both digital and analog outputs.
I have seen an advertisement on Audiogon to upgrade the digital signal processing of the ZP80. I recall that the upgrade costs about $550. It ought to improve signal processing from both the digital and the analog output. I have not listened to any unit with this upgrade.
The second way to improve the ZP80 is to upgrade the power supply. I have listened to units upgraded in this way. It does significantly improve the quality of the output signal, adding weight to lower frequencies, while diminishing glare and improving articulation at higher frequencies. I use an external Audio Horizons tube DAC for attentive listening sessions. While I'm working around the house, I use the ZP80 analog outputs. I'm very pleased with the quality of the signal.
The power supply upgrade is not marketed yet - I am a Beta tester. It will be sold by Audio Horizons pretty soon, I guess. The cost should be about half as much as the digital signal processing upgrade mentioned above.
If I choose to use an external DAC should I opt for traditional digital input or USB?
Sonos does not support the USB output, I think. Digital coax or optical are the only choices. I prefer the digital coax.
You'd still want a good external dac whether you mod the zp80 or not. I have a Bel Canto Dac 1 that sounds great and are a great value now. If you can afford a better Bel Canto, go for it, it's hard to go wrong with them.
I've owned the bel canto dac 2 in the past and loved the sound. However, I had difficulties with signal drop out which was frustrating. I may consider another unit now though.
I agree with some of other posts. I personally think upgrading the power supply and possibly the output stage will give you more bang for your buck. I even want to go so far as to modify the male power input on the back to a more standard 15amp IEC so I can get a good aftermarket power cord. I use my ZP-80 with an external DAC and it sounds much better than the stock DAC in the Sonos. The Sonos can have too much sloppy bass as well as a harshness. The instruments are not very well articulated either. With my Esoteric D5 DAC, separation is much better.
What digital cable are you using?, Im kind of disappointed by the improvement I get when I connect my ZP-80 to an external DAC. I have used the DAC section of my moded Opus 21 and the top of the line Integra receiver (in my HT room), with relatively minor improvements. I wonder if the AQ VDM-3 (RCA to RCA) cable Im using is not a good fit.
Anyone else has experience with different digital cables?
Just an update on my search. I purchased a Benchmark Dac1 for use with my Merlin VMS/Ars Filharmonia/Sonos system and found the sound quite thin and too revealing. I guess you can have too much of a good thing. I have now bought another Bel canto dac2 unit and it is working flawlessly. Sound is much fuller and rich. Think I'm done for now.
Thanks for the update. The Bel Canto is reported to be a warmer sounding DAC than the Benchmark. Your experience seems to support that report.
Down the road, you may wish to have the richer, fuller sound, but also a more articulate sound. If so, keep an eye open for the ZP80 power supply upgrade ofered by Audio Horizons. I mentioned it in an earlier post to this thread. I think it is well worth the investment.
One thing that greatly helps the Sonos is a jitter reducer. I picked up a Genesis Digital Lens (GDL). this really improved the soundstage, bass, and cleaned up the highs. I hear the Monarchy DIP works well too.
After using the GDL a while, I picked up a Cullen Modified PS Audio DLIII DAC. This also was a marked improvement. This really brought out the fine details, and again improved the bass.
I then took out the GDL, and the sound was still nice, but the sound is better witht the GDL.
The DAC you got sound like it is a good improvement. If you want to experiment, pick up a used GDL or DIP.
Even with the changes, I mentioned, the Sonos/GDL combo isn't quite as good a transport as my Denon 3930 player. I am guess this is due to the power supply. I have seen you comment about the Power Supply upgrade for months now. Do you have any info when this will be ready? I would love to try it as I think I have the Sonos jitter issue under control.
That's a good question. I contacted Joseph, the owner of Audio Horizons, to ask. I've been using protoypes of the power supply for several months and have posted my praise of it elsewhere. So, how about offering it to other people?
Joseph told me that he has reached his targeted performance level but that he is not yet satisfied with cosmetics of the unit. The power supply is external and includes an IEC input, too, so that power cord can be improved. He has been been waiting for cosmetic samples of the power supply enclosure - the box into which the power supply circuit and connectors are mounted. He told me the supplier has been slower than expected but that samples should arrive next week.
I hope the product will come soon because I'm confident that you and other Sonos owners will like it very much.
The Digital Lens is a good solution, but it was made for CD's, not streaming audio, and as a result it expects the music to stop after 10-15 tracks. If you have a long playlist, it will overrun or underrun the FIFO and start popping. A better solution is the Pace-Car which has a similar function to the Digital Lens, but can provide a clock to the Sonos. This will never underrun or overrun no matter how long the playlist.
So I just learned the hard way about how poor the support is for WAV files within Sonos. I ripped my entire collection (300+) CDs and setup my Sonos system only to find that the only way to play tunes is navigating a file folder structure. Ugh!! I really wish I would have read the Sonos primer on their site first.
So now my question is...convert to FLAC or Apple Lossless. Given that I also have a few iPods, wouldn't Apple Lossless be the one to use? From what I've read, there is absolutely no advantage to FLAC from a metadata(tagging), file size or audio quality perspective. Is that right? Seems like most people use FLAC just because they don't want to support Steve Jobs and his quest for world domination. :-)
you should really listen for yourself to see if you can tell the difference between FLAC, apple lossless, mp3, ogg, etc. Personally, I noticed a slight difference between mp3 and FLAC which manifested itself in a lack of soundstage and a loss of microdynamics. However, given my large music collection (5000 cds), I thought it was worth it to rip to a smaller size file (256 VBR).