I hope my question is clear. I am basically asking if adding components into the chain could improve the sound. The amp in question could be any amp - tube, SS etc.
If the answer is yes, what would the DAC/Pre be doing that the Sonos isn't?
Unless your amp has an integrated DAC (like the Peachtree units, for example), the amp itself is irrelevant to your question. The Sonos Connect/Zone Player 90 has two methods of output: analog and digital. The digital outputs do no conversion. So if you output digital data from the Sonos it must be converted to analog before your amp can accept it.
If you use the analog outputs of the Sonos unit, the data has already been converted to analog by an integrated DAC chip in the Sonos. So your question is whether an external DAC will improve on the audio quality, compared to the embedded DAC module in the Sonos.
My opinion is yes, an external DAC will almost certainly improve the sound. I would advise you to test an external DAC and ascertain if you can hear a difference. But since the Sonos will only output at 44.1 kHz, there is no need to spend too much on a DAC. Also, you won't need a USB DAC - SPDIF or optical will do unless you want to complicate life and use an optical or SPDIF bridge.
I can speak to this with some experience. I have 6 Sonos zones in my home. My main system consists of a Sonos zone player driving a pair of Audio Note kits 300b Monoblocks directly (downstream from them is a horn system). I have tried, quite literally over a dozen DAC's in the 1k - 3k range. Every time I put the Sonos in directly, I feel that the sound is more direct, more honest, and more live sounding. It is a bit hard to believe I realize, but I have proven it to my own ears at least. If you by chance live near the Maryland / D.C. area, I would love the opportunity to show you just how good a Sonos zone player can sound driving high quality gear directly, with no preamp.
Martingren - I had a similar experience, just on a much smaller scale. I have a Sonos CONNECT and I was using the Emotiva XDA1 DAC to convert the signal. I did A/B testing between the Sonos internal DAC and the signal converted by the XPA1. At level matched volume, I A/Bd them for 30 minutes and could not hear any difference. The Sonos is a great piece of hardware in that it does all I ask of it AND it has no issues. The iPad interface is great. I would not ask for more.
OKAY, so, let's say the Sonos DAC is of acceptable quality and remove it from my question. Would adding a preamp in the path have any benefits? Drawbacks?
I'm building a new system for 2-channel, but already have 4 Sonos zones. I'll be trying this test myself, into a new preamp and direct into an amp. I'll try to remember to post my opinions here.
Without more information about the rest of your system, it's going to be impossible to tell if the rest of your system will be resolving enough to be able to tell the difference between using an internal or external DAC, or using a preamp.
My system consisted of an NAD C162 pre, Aragon 2004 amp, Emotiva XDA-1 DAC and several different speakers (Silverline Minuets, Dynaudio DM 2/6, Paradigm Studio 10s, System Audio 505s).
Using my very modest system as an example, I could definitely tell the difference between the Sonos internal DAC and the XDA-1. Using the XDA-1, the highs and lows were more extended. The bass was tighter, etc. Just about everything improved.
Still, if you like the internal DAC of the Sonos, the internal volume control of the Sonos could be a problem for you. It's volume control is within the digital domain, meaning that it cuts bits to control the volume level. At lower volume levels, the quality of the music may suffer.
Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I'd suggest that you try the Sonos straight to the amp. If you like the way it sounds, then you've answered your own question. I'll also tell you that when I've had to rig up something portable, I've often run a Sonos straight into an amp. I didn't think it sounded great, but it was certainly more than good enough.
I have tried this experiment both ways and to my ears having the Sonos drive my amps was merely adequate. The best I can say is that the Sonos produced background music, nothing I could sit with and get fully engaged. To me the sound was thin, gritty, and 1 dimensional if that makes sense. There was no texture and depth. Running it through a DAC helped a lot. I intend to also add the Empirical Audio Synchro Mesh to help reduce jitter. I love the Sonos interface and ease of use though.
I've decided - without even doing the test - to do two things:
1. I'm going to buy the Emotiva XDA-2 DAC, and
2. I'm also going to send one ZP90 to Wyred-4-Sound for modification. I want the digital out on the ZP90 to upsample to 24/96.
The DAC will feed a Conrad Johnson PV-15 -> CJ MF-2500A -> Paradigm Studio 100s.
The system is coming along nicely in the design phase, and I thank the OP and everyone else in this thread for their input & findings.
I have a similar question, I have new nad pre pro setup driving polk audio rti a9 towers, zp90 is main musical source, I have actually been given a nad d1050 dac to test as I know the rep, luckily, .. Will sonos and it's output limitations affect the final result and as the last user posted, if he had his output converted to 24/96 is this possible if the base file getting to sonos is initially limited by its software?
Depends on the component you are adding. There are many preamps that really don't sound that great but if you find the right one, then you can have magic.
I heard a shootout of some very expensive DACs where, at least for part of the shootout, a Sonos streamer was used as the source feeding the DACs. You could easily hear the differences between the DACS, so the Sonos is certainly good enough that other components matter and can improve the sound.
I have (last I counted) 11 Sonos zones in my home/yard and I believe that I've tried just about every combo you can try. Note: The older zone players didn't offer digital out, so I can't comment re: those units.
I have run the newer Connect units into a couple of high quality pre-pros (Onkyo, Theta), a highish quality AVR (Integra), and a couple of good to very good stand-alone DACs (Cambridge DACMagic Plus and Benchmark DAC One). In the case of both the AVR, and the pre-pro, I use Audyssey digital room correction. If there's a difference between the DAC performance, I guess it's obscured by the Audyssey DRC software (at least to my ear). because I couldn't tell the difference when toggling between the analog and digital output from the Sonos.
Both the Theta's internal DAC and the Benchmark offer a choice on a more apples to apples basis - no DRC at play. The Theta internal DAC, like the Benchmark, sounded better to me than the internal Sonos DAC. However, I found it to be a pretty subtle difference. The internal Sonos DAC tends a bit toward the lean/dry side of the spectrum, IMHO. The Theta the Benchmark both shared the lean/dry character with the Sonos, but both registered with me as both more musical (and possibly more resolving, tho that could be a stretch) than the internal Sonos DAC. The sound of all three DACs are - to my ear - cut from a similar cloth, but the Sonos, while "playing in a similar sandbox", trailed this pack by a small margin.
The DACMagic goes the other way - generally thicker and fuller sounding than the others. It allows some variety in reconstruction filters, so there's more than one possible comparison between it and the Sonos, but In all cases, the DACMagic offers that somewhat fuller sound. Here the differences are more easily audible, but preferences will probably vary listener to listener and possibly on a system to system basis for a given listener.
Were the Theta or Benchmark on-line in my system now, I'd definitely utilize either of those DACs over the Sonos internal DAC. They're all similar in flavor, but the Theta and Benchmark find a more satisfying variation of that flavor for my taste. However, neither of those units are still in use at my home now. So, today, I use the Sonos digital out on only two zones - into the Onkyo Pre-Pro in my main system and into the DACMagic that feeds a quality stand alone system in my family room. The other 9 zones use either the integrated power amp section in the Sonos or the analog out.
BTW, IMHO, the audio quality of the powered zone players can easily be bettered with analog out into a good external amp, provided that the chosen loudspeaker is sufficiently revealing/difficult to drive to lay bare the shortcoming of the Sonos power amp section.
I think all the above are correct. How can everyone be right? The DAC in the Sonos is direct and more "honest". External DACs whereas all they do is convert digital to analog are overall better. I've been battling this question for years myself. I think I prefer the Sonos Internal DAC going into a tube preamplifier. The marginally inferior DAC is bettered by the dynamics and filtering of a preamplifier. This is all my opinion. I currently use a external DAC on one system that has the more sensitive speakers and use the built in Sonos DAC on the speakers with lower sensitivity. I get the best results with a tube preamp on both. Again, IMO
Thought this thread is a little old, I thought I could second Hudsonpatrick's use of a tube pre. I recently popped an old one in, between my dac and amp, and it makes the Sonos "listenable" to me.
I was 50/50 before that addition, now I'm actually enjoying Tidal.
My dealer loves Sonos as a source component, but, always uses a better DAC feeding into a preamp.