Sonos surprise

Hey guys. I just wanted to share an experience that I had, which really surprised me. On a whim, I picked up a Sonos Connect (ZP90). I wanted to try something easier. I quickly got tired of dealing with a dedicated music server and the Apple TV and everything associated with it.

Anyway, I got the Sonos unit home, connected it to my NAD T163 Pre/Pro via glass optical and did some A/B comparisons with the Apple TV rig and they sound EXACTLY the same. At this point it was a toss up as to whether I was going to keep the Sonos or return it. I played around with it last night and most of today, all the while assuming that the DAC in the NAD would be superior to that of the DAC built into the Sonos.

Well, being bored, I decided to try out the internal DAC in the Sonos, so I grabbed an IC and went to work. What do you know? It sounded a bit better. My little 685s that I have sitting in shelves actually sounded more full.

So...I got to wondering what would happen if I just pulled the NAD all together and connected the Sonos directly to the amp (HK PA5800) and switched the output to variable so that I could use the Sonos to control the volume.

What a surprise I got. The sound stage got BIG and WIDE. I was listening to the rig for a good half an hour before I realized that my sub wasn't even working.

In any case, I just wanted to share the experience. For me, it turns out that less is more. The NAD was definitely doing a job on the signal going through it.

I've found the Sonos to be a very nice compromise. To say that it is easy to use would be an understatement. I have it reading my music off of a USB drive that I have connected to my NetGear router. I just plugged the Sonus into the router and it read everything the way it should have. When I want to add music to my library, I just use a laptop with iTunes and I have my USB drive set as my iTunes directory. I rip a CD and it goes straight to the USB drive. The Sonos re-indexes the music once a day, so I don't even have to worry about it.

I also have to say that the Sonos is a very well thought out product, especially the software. Now, listening to music is as simple as pulling out my iPhone, iPod or iPad and hitting play.

The one big drawback to the Sonos is that it is only capable of playing 16 bit 48khz files, tops. Anything more and it just won't play it at all. For me, this is fine, since I get most of my music from ripping CDs and very little of what I like is available via HD downloads, most of it being standard 16/44.

Now I'm wondering if going with an out board DAC and getting my Sonos modded might be worthwhile. I'm really liking the idea of having nothing to deal with to listen to some good sounding music. Right now, my system consists of the Sonos, an amp and a pair of speakers.
I have the Sonos on my list of things to buy when the money shows up. I have listened to the Sonas at my dealers many times and am very impressed with everything this little unit can do. I will suggest from that experience a good DAC is a worthwhile investment. Listeong at the dealers he has used the ARcam, Rega, Bryston and now the Audio Research DACs and each one has increased the sound quality. And that winds us up back at my starting point as to why I haven't invested yet. Because I want not only the Sonos in a couple of areas but also a good DAC for my main system.
Thanks for sharing your experience with the Sonos as that adds to my confirmation of desire.
Yeah, as I said, I've completely yanked the NAD Pre/Pro as a component from my system. Right now, I'm just using the Sonos as a Pre and it's doing OK.

I should have noted previously that all I'm really after right now is a good mid-fi system. Like you, I also have a list of things that I want to get and am just waiting for the money to show up. Still, I also felt that a decent DAC would help out further, so I took the economy route. I ordered an Emotiva XDA-1 last night and it will be here Monday. Since I'm running all digital, the Emotiva will do duty as a switcher as well, although I'm not wild about the thought of using it as a Pre, so I have my eye on an Axiom passive Pre. Its having only one input will do me just nicely with my setup and it's CHEAP. I'm just gonna wait until the XDA-1 gets here and check it out as a Pre and see what happens.

The DAC should be a good match for my amp, since it's rated at a nominal 1V output on the unbalanced outs and my amp is rated as delivering full power with 1V in. I am hoping that the Emotiva will work out as a Pre. If it does, then all I'll really NEED to do is grab myself a better than run of the mill CD player for serious listening (or what I call serious listening).

I think I'm going to abandon the idea of having a digital setup for hi-res. There just isn't enough of it out there to make it worthwhile. Not right now, anyway.
Sonos is really all they say it is. One of the few products that delivers as promised. I was an early adopter in 2005. Has gotten better and better. Not really hi fidelity for serious listening but for a whole house audio or just fun it cant be beat.
I like the Sonos stuff. It's a lot better than a lot of people here think it is.

I bought the Apple TV 1 for a few 2 reasons: I can synch my music to its hard drive, eliminating the need for my computer to be running; and cost. Sonos didn't have an iPhone remote app at the time. Once I have a home where I can have a few zones, I'll go with a Sonos.

One Sonos product that gets no respect is the amplified streamer. It can't compete with $10k amps, but that doesn't make it junk. I've heard it set up with some good speakers that are relatively easy to drive, and I've always been impressed. They shouldn't be able to do Vienna bookshelves justice, yet they sounded far better than I expected. Anything more than what they did is a waste of money in a bedroom, office, dining room, etc system IMO. I'd never replace my Bryston B60 with one, but it'll easily make a secondary system sound great. I'd love to hear it with some Focal Chorus 705Vs.

As a curiosity question or two...
Did you have the ATV 1 or 2? Did you try it's analog outs like you're doing on the Sonos? My ATV1's analog outs are sufficient for background listening, but my Rega DAC wipes the floor with it, as it should considering the price.
I have the ATV 2 and it has no analog outs. Strictly either HDMI or Toslink. I'm actually finding the Sonos to be more convenient than the ATV for adding music in my setup. With the NAS (sort of) setup, I just rip from a laptop that has the NAS as a target and it goes straight there. I have the Sonos reindex and that's it.

I gotta admit that the Sonos is turning out to be a lot of fun. Just today, I had a bunch to do around the house. I just set it to shuffle all of the songs in my library and let it go. It was really handy being able to skip songs and adjust the volume from my iPod without having to worry about line of sight or a commplicated rf setup.

I am, however, starting to notice some negatives though. When I turn it up, I am noticing an edge on the top end. I'm really hoping that the new DAC will take care of that.

On another note, I started thinking. How on earth can I use the Sonos as a Pre when my DAC gets here. I mean, how can you attenuate a digital signal without affecting the quality of the signal? I'm almost starting to think that I might have opened a can of worms with this Sonos rig. I really want to be able to continue to control the volume with the Sonos, but would also really like to retain sound quality. Oh well, I'll have to put some more thought into it. I'm still seriously considering going with a passive Pre, like the Axiom.

The reason is that one thing I noticed when I was running the NAD as a Pre, using the digital out on the Sonus, was that if I had nothing playing but turned the volume on the NAD all the way up, I got noise. Like a hiss/hum. I don't get this when I'm running the Sonus directly into the amp. All I get is dead silence.

Like I said, more thought. What I'm mostly worried about is that I read something about the method of attenuating the digital signal and over driving the DAC with too much signal and then getting signal degradation when you turn it down too far.

I really need to find a new interest/hobby. My head is starting to hurt.
"The reason is that one thing I noticed when I was running the NAD as a Pre, using the digital out on the Sonus, was that if I had nothing playing but turned the volume on the NAD all the way up, I got noise. Like a hiss/hum. I don't get this when I'm running the Sonus directly into the amp. All I get is dead silence."

This is the noise floor of the preamp. Every product has a noise floor; some are just louder than others.

Out of curiousity, did you hear this hiss/hum with no music playing at a volume position that you normal listen at? If it's not audible at the level you normally hear at and a bit higher, it's kind of nitpicking, isn't it? If it doesn't occur at any level you'd listen at, what's the difference?

Please don't take my post as derogatory. Not the intent whatsoever.
The fact that the hiss/hum was audible at all just bugs me; and no, I couldn't hear it while listening to music.

Oddly enough, I got my Emotiva XDA-1 in today. Although I don't have the proper cabling to hook everything up right yet, I did some piece meal patch work with some cables just to get it up and running.

First to address the hiss/hum, I first hooked everything up to the XDA-1 and then ran that to the NAD Pre/Pro (not using the DAC built into the NAD), no hiss/hum. Maybe it had something to do with the internal DAC on the NAD.

Anyway, I went ahead and used the NAD as the Pre/Pro with the XDA-1's volume set on 80. It was very nice with both CD's and through the Sonos. More detail, wider sound stage, the whole nine yards. I think this says a lot with regard to the quality of the internal DAC on the Sonos and that of the NAD. The XDA-1 is an improvement over both of them.

Now, where I really saw the improvement was when I pulled the NAD from the system all together and just used the XDA-1 as a Pre. Considering what I'm used to (mid-fi at best), I was stunned. I wish I had done this a long time ago.

Anyway, back to the point; the Sonos is very nice and CONVENIENT. I think I'm going to keep it, especially after the improvements that I got with the new DAC.

The NAD T163 is going up on ebay. I don't need it any more. I'm going to start experimenting with using the volume control on the Sonos with the DAC and see how that sounds.
For those that might be interested, I just wanted to update this, since I've been running the Sonos for a while now.

First of all, the Sonos is a killer unit. It sounds more than good enough to enjoy my music, as long as I'm listening to the music and not the equipment; although I think it sounds pretty darned good. It's also idiot proof and not buggy at all. Everything is very well thought out, from the packaging to the software. I just wish it did HD.

I got rid of the T163 and am now running a C162 as a preamp. The major reason for this is that a tech a Emotiva confirmed what I thought I was hearing. To me, it sounded like it just sounded better the louder I played it. I was told by the tech that the volume control of the XDA-1 is a digital control and it chops bits to control the volume. The best quality is obtained when the volume is on full.

I have tried a couple of other lower priced DACs (V-Dac II and Cambridge DacMagic) and decided to stick with the Emotiva. I think it sounds better.

All in all, I'm a pretty happy camper with the Sonos rig.
Sonos is plenty good for the High End, or else I would not use it in my listening room.

You may wish to have it modded and I'm sure there is substantial improvement to it - something I may pursue in time. However, you can get very good results simply by taking the dig. coaxial signal out of it into the outboard DAC, as you have done.

The quality of the DAC is of monumental importance. You are wise to seek a 32 bit DAC, however there is a large variation on how these DACs sound, so it would be advantageous to hear two or three in your room if so inclined.

The digital cable is critical; there are different levels of sound quality between digital cables, and one has to try two or three to find an optimum result.

Some RCA interconnects perform better as digital cables than other competitors' digital cables! So, if you have alternatives lying around, try them. Typically, use of an RCA interconnect will warm up/plump the low end and attenuate the treble, causing the system to sound more mellow, but there will be some loss of treble detail and some loss of extension/depth of the soundstage. Ideally you will find a coax digital cable which will give you all the performance you want in every respect, but this is a good compromise solution to tame a hot high end.

You need to make a decision on whether to continue to run a DAC with a pre/vol. control or not. The DACs I have used with vol. control have been compromised in terms of absolute sound quality. I prefer use of a dedicated DAC with set output and a separate preamp. You might find a DAC with a vol. control which is not significantly influenced by the compromise of having both functions together, but it might cost you about $5K to find one which doesn't compromise.

I have compared Sonos/DAC combos to iTunes and JRiver via USB file playback and it holds its own. With the advent of the 32 bit processing DACs the issue of missing out on Hi Rez files is reduced imo. I don't care for much of the music currently on Hi Rez downloads, but I'm getting better sound quality from CD playback via a 32 bit DAC than what imo 24 bit players can provide. So, there's not much to complain about. :)
I'm listening to a Stock Sonos right now, but I use a reclocker between the Sonos and the outboard DAC. This is what is needed with Sonos. The imaging is balled up in the center and the bass is lackluster until you reclock the digital stream and reduce the jitter.

I actually use this is one of my references, although it is not my best. Since there is no core audio stack involved with Sonos like with Firewire or USB, you get a clean stream without jumping through any hoops. No need for Kernel Streaming, ASIO, WASAPI, Pure Music, Jplay or Amarra.

The point is: if you are going to use an external DAC (recommended) with the Sonos, you can rest assured that the digital stream is accurate, it just suffers from jitter.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Steve, my understanding is that with the stacked ESS Sabre chips doing 32 bit processing jitter is eliminated. Why, then would one want to put a reclocker in the chain before a component which does the same function?

I can understand that if one has an older DAC that might be appropriate.

Am I missing something here? Have you used the reclocker with 32 bit DACs, and if so what was the outcome?
Why, then would one want to put a reclocker in the chain before a component which does the same function?

Possibly because he sells reclockers?
I have no issue with Steve's recommendation of a reclocker, and I believe it would be beneficial. My question pertains to 32 bit DACs and the efficacy of the reclocker with such DACs. I have heard the Empiracle Audio gear and it is impressive; I would not desparage people from looking into it but want clarification regarding suitability with certain DACs.
"Why, then would one want to put a reclocker in the chain before a component which does the same function?"

Simple. It does not do a good enough job of jitter reduction. No DAC does. Dont believe all of the marketing hype.

"Have you used the reclocker with 32 bit DACs, and if so what was the outcome?"

I have used low-jitter digital sources with HDMI I2S and S/PDIF into both PWD and W4S DAC2. Big difference. Here is a web feedback from a PWD beta-tester:

"The sound is more dynamic, voices are better delineated, everything is more vibrant. And the bass is better. That's what surprised me most. Bass seems to be tighter, crisper. I also have a bridge and felt that the Off-Ramp 5 via I2S bested the bridge in sheer dynamics and transient attack. With the Off Ramp 5 via I2S and the upgraded PW DAC, this is the best I've ever heard from my system."

Feedback from a W4S beta tester:

"With just the addition of your OffRamp 5 / I2S (even the S/PDIF) was a noticeable improvement to the present W4S system."

Its not just reclockers, any low-jitter digital source will make an obvious improvement IME. I have yet to find a DAC that does not improve with a low jitter source.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Well, then, I guess it remains to be heard, which I might just do. :)
I'm surprised that Steve implemented the HDMI I2S in one of his products. I remember McGowan giving a long detailed answer as to why the then proposed Digital Lens II would superior to the Pace-Car.
Surprised? Do you think I would be swayed by some marketing?

Mr. McGowan has no idea how my Pace-Car or any of my other products work. I'll bet he has never heard them either. Maybe I'll have to send him one to audition.

Why did I add HDMI I2S? Because my customers want their W4S and PWD to sound better. They asked for it. Reports from the beta testers indicate that they do sound better, a lot better. What I told Dave, the PSAudio engineer and designer is that there is a superb DAC in there trying to get out. Dave is a nice guy BTW, very helpful.

Most of the products that I create now are a result of customer and dealer requests. Customers build my product roadmap for me.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
I use Sonos with one of Steve's reclockers. At the risk of sounding like a shill, the addition of the reclocker made a big difference. Benefits included greater perceived resolution, better imaging focus, more realistic instrument timbres, less shrillness in high frequencies, and a lower noise floor.

I don't know whether other dacs would benefit from the reclocker as much as mine did. What I can say is that the reclocker works as advertised... excellently.

I wrote an A'gon review of Steve's reclocker, if anyone would like to hear more about my experiences. BTW, I have no personal or financial relationship with Steve or Empirical Audio.

I have the Wyred4sound I2s mod on the ZP 90. Sounds absolutely great. You can only go this route with the W4S DAC which has the HDMI receiving port. Believe it works with some PS Audio equipment as well. The analog inputs are removed from the Sonos and the I2s HDMI port is configured to run a near jitter less line from the Sonos device to the DAC. It is around a $350 mod from W4S. You can control the Sonos with a controller or free app on your Ipad for Pandora, AUPEO, your CD collection - all with very good quality. The mod is far better than the stock Sonos DAC.