Tidal vs Hi Res Files vs CD vs “Netflix”. My test. Incredible!


1.     Introduction. I know there are several threads on different forums about similar subjects, but I couldn’t find one with the exact information I wanted, so I performed my own test.

This is not a scientific test, but I’ve got very consistent results that I want to share and read your opinions.

2.     First, the basics:

        2.1. I listen to ALL of my music streaming Tidal because I like very much its infinite library, the instant access to the music, the chance to make lists with different artists by gender and not having to listen to entire records, the cost of all that music against having a private library of CDs or Hi Res files, the interface, the information of the artists, the chance of finding new and amazing music, etc.

        2.2. If I decide to change Tidal (for CD for instance) it would have to be due to a SIGNIFICANT difference in sound quality.

        2.3. For the test I used the EXACT same system for every source, from the DAC to the speakers (pream, power amp cables, etc). By the way, the system is a hi end and a pretty revealing one, so I can hear the differences easily.

        2.4. I used only Tidal as HiFi streaming service as I don’t have Qobuz where I live (Argentina).

        2.5. For the comparisons I used the same songs in different formats and sources, most of the times (not always), from the same album when possible.

I know you will say that different masters from any band will differ in sound quality and I know that, but I’ve got consistent and very similar results on the different tests and if I have to choose a source with the effort of chasing each song’s perfect recording/master, it would be endless, pointless and very expensive.

        2.6. The songs I used are NOT audiophile grade recordings, BUT they serve for the purpose as they were available from the different sources and my CD collection is very scarce.

        2.7. I did only a few test as I don’t have the time and the patience to spend hours on this subject as I’m not a reviewer and, as I’ve said, the results were consistent.

       2.8. Cables (speaker, USB, RCA/Coaxial, Power, etc) are good enough, but not the most expensive ones (Kimber and DH Labs mostly).

       2.9. I did A/B test with almost no delay, as the three rigs tested were connected to different inputs of my DAC and I only had to switch between them. That helped me A LOT to detect the differences.

3. Rigs for the tests (upstream from the DAC)

       3.1. Computer-USB chain (for Tidal and Hi Res Files):

              Ethernet Cisco Gigabyte Switch and CAT8 Ethernet cable to my Windows 10 Notebook.

              Audinirvana+ for streaming Tidal or playing Hi Res files from the hard disk.

              Audioquest Jitterbug as pasive filter for the USB port.

              Wyred4Sound USB Reclocker with a Swagman Hifi Linear Power Supply.

              Gustard U16 USB to I2S converter (a very good upgrade in my system).

              I2S 2.1 protocol (HDMI) cable to the DAC.

      3.2. CD Player Rig:

             Samsung budget Blue-Ray player.

             Coaxial cable (Kimber 1m long) to my DAC.

       3.3. Netflix Rig:

              LG Smart Tv.

              Cheap Amazon Toslink/Optical cable to my DAC.

The Tv uses WiFi for connection, instead of Ethernet cable like the computer (wich is much better soundwise), and it is not connected to the AC Power conditioners and Filters as the USB-Computer chain is.

4.  Tests

      4.1. CD vs Tidal (Hi Fi and MQA)

          4.1.1.       Band: Huey Lewis and the News

                          Tidal (Hi Fi and MQA) Album: Sports.

                          CD Album: The Best of Huey Lewis.

                          Best sound in order:

                          a.       Tidal MQA

                          b.     CD

                          c.       Tidal HiFi

NOTE: the differences/gaps in sound quality between a; b and c were similar. NOT big, but noticeable and “very consistent with the next tests (A-ha and Coldplay)”. I also think I noticed them as I changed fast from one source to the next. Otherway, I think it would be hard to detect them.

           4.1.2.       Band: A-ha

                           Tidal (MQA) Album: Time and Again, The ultimate A-ha.

                           CD and Tidal (Hi Fi) Album: The Hits of A-ha (not available on MQA).

                           Best sound in order:

                           a.       Tidal MQA

                           b.     CD

                           c.       Tidal HiFi

           4.1.3.       Band: Coldplay

                           Tidal (HiFi and MQA) Album: A head full of dreams.

                           CD Album: A head full of dreams.

                           Best sound in order:

                           a.   Tidal MQA

                           b.   CD

                           c.     Tidal HiFi

      4.2. Hi Res (PCM 96/24) vs Tidal (only Hi Fi, not MQA)

           4.2.1.       Band: Pink Floyd.

                           Album (for both sources): The Division Bell.

HiRes file was a LITTLE better. May be so little that it could be placebo effect and so little that it doesn’t justify having HiRes files for computer playback.

     4.3. Netflix vs Tidal (Hifi)

Here I don’t have many choices as Netflix is not an audio streaming app.

I found the difference by chance. Nevertheless, before the tests, I always had the feeling that the sound coming from Netflix was somehow better than my USB rig, but I thought it wasn’t possible and it was only my imagination considering all the money I spent on my USB-Computer rig. BOY, I WAS WRONG!!

I only compared a couple of songs, but I didn’t need more than that a couple of direct comparison as I find ALL of the songs to sound better than my USB rig because I’ve been listening to the latter for a long time and, eventhough every recording is different, I know how it sounds my Rig in general (tone, soundstage, layering, imagining, impact, bass, etc).

The songs I used to make the A/B comparison are “Still falling for you” from Ellie Goulding from Bridget Jones’s baby Soundtrack and “Nothing’s gonna hurt you baby” from Cigarettes After Sex from Kidnapping Stella Soundtrack.

Well, eventhough they are NOT audiophile songs, the sound from my Tv (I repeat with wifi, cheap cable and NO AC conditioning) is SO MUCH better and analog than the one from my USB rig, that I still cannot believe it!!!

I cannot compare it to any other format than Tidal HiFi, but the difference is SO BIG that I think not even Tidal MQA on my USB-Computer rig comes close.

5.       Conclusions

      5.1. I know that if I get a better CD player I will get much better sound, but I also think that if I get a good streamer-transport, I will also improve my Tidal sound quality a lot, may be by a similar margin.

      5.2. So, Im after a good streamer-transport to get AT LEAST the sound quality I have with my Netflix rig. If I dont get it with it, I will recomend Tidal to hire Netflix engineers!!! J

6.       I would love to hear some other audiophiles “similar” experiences with CD vs Tidal vs other hifi digital formats and sources.

Please only post about real experiences, not getting to technical, as it gets boring and somehow useless.


plga
@plga You’re brave to take on this kind of Herculean undertaking. Some would say, this way madness lies...

As you correctly stated, the problem is exactly that “I know you will say that different masters from any band will differ in sound quality and I know that, but I’ve got consistent and very similar results on the different tests and if I have to choose a source with the effort of chasing each song’s perfect recording/master, it would be endless, pointless and very expensive.”

I once tried something similar with different minidisc bitrates and then with an MP3 player vs a highly regarded CD player ( same tracks, same volume and instant switching etc). The results were disappointing and rather hard to accept - there was virtually no sonic difference between the two differing sources!! Not even the mildest tonal shading.

I gave up with these kind of logic defying comparisons after that. My ego would have felt miles better had my CD player demonstrated even a slightly better sound.

Even the much vaunted interconnects made bugger all difference against the cheap RCA to Sony jack lead for the MP3 player!

Well, in my case, the differences were easily detectable, but they are not big enough to force me to leave streaming (Tidal). Evenmore, MQA sounded better, for me and in my system, than my CD player, wich is truly a relief!  Even though MQA catalog is scarce in Tidal yet.

The BIG surprise here is Netflix, wich is NOT an audiophile oriented service and it sounded better than Tidal MQA and Hi Res files played by the computer with A LOT of conditioning gear! 

So, I'm pretty sure that a very good (not crazy expensive) transport/streamer like the SOtM SMS-200 Ultra Neo, or the Sonore Ultra Rendu, or Sonore Optical Rendu, will do a MUCH better job than my Notebook soundwise. And I still will have the chance to use all of the gear I have in the USB chain, wich I'm sure will help the transport/streamer to shine.

But, I have to buy one transport/streamer to try it out and that's why I'm very interested on some other audiophiles similar experiences, more if they've tried a dedicated streamer.
Imo the answer for why you obtained these results was simply that the Netflix rig was streamlined, more direct. Short signal path through same DAC will often sound cleaner. Stock computer doing file and streaming sources are poor in my experience even with upupconversion software. Far better to do a dedicated setup like Small Green Computer sonicTransporter and Signature Rendu Se . Cheap transports trash Redbook, too. Even difference in cables can make the difference sonically. 

I do not see the systems as equivalent, and thus the results questionable. Still, kudos for exploring thoroughly to discover best result with your gear.

Bottom line: shorten signal path and less conversion whenever possible. But even at that there are still many levels of sound quality. 

One potential problem: no classical music, perhaps weighting the results in one direction or another.
I think there is some merit to the shorter signal path argument.  You have a lot of pieces in your computer to DAC chain, even though your additions were designed to improve the USB signal from the computer.  Also, optical connections like that from your tv are supposedly "quieter," because they are not subject to electrical or radio interference.

Computers are a noisy source.  I purchased a LUMIN U1 mini as a streamer and it breathed new life into my DAC.  The noise level decreased noticeably.  My Mac Mini and the LUMIN unit are connected to the same inexpensive D-Link Ethernet switch, but I changed the power supply on the switch to an iFi unit.  The LUMIN sends a much quieter signal to my DAC and the result is more clarity and detail in the music I hear.

One question - Is your computer connected to a wall outlet when you listen, or not?  If the former, I suggest you do an A/B test of the computer running each way.  Some have reported better signal quality running with the computer unconnected to an outlet.

Good luck and happy listening. 


I currently use a Sonore UltraRendu with a CIAudio LPS feeding a Mytek Brooklyn+ DAC from Roon and Tidal in one system, a Roon Nucleus feeding a PS Audio Directstream DAC in another system and a Roon Rock i7 NUC that I built just feeding a Yamaha RX-A1060 in the HT system. All three sound great, but if you don’t use Roon then the UltraRendu is a great option. I have been moving the Nucleus and UltraRendu back and forth between the systems to decide which I prefer, but honestly I don’t hear a difference.  Good luck in your hunt!
Hello guys, thanks for the response. 

@sameyers1. Yes, I've tried running the Notebook with only its battery and I dont hear any noticeable difference. I will try again just to be sure.
On the other hand, if I connect the USB output of my Notebook directly to my DAC, the sound is much worse. Both, the W4S USB Reclocker (RUR) and the Gustard U16, do a GREAT job, mostly the latter, but it aint enough to match the quality sound of my TV rig, wich has no signal or AC power conditioning whatsoever.
Just to mention, if Im not mistaken, John Darko on his review of THE RUR said that he couldnt hear a difference in sound between a computer with the RUR vs a budget streamer. Well, I dont think so. Eventhough the RUR does improve the quality sound of my Notebook USB signal, and eventhough it has an audiophile Linear Power Supply and then the signal goes through the Gustard U16 (wich helps A LOT), its not enough yet. 
You just said it, Lumin U1 Mini gave you the best sound as it's an audiophile dedicated streamer/transporter. I think thats the way to go.

@hrabieh. My DAC is the Audio-gd R8 Ladder DAC, with upgrade of Accusilicon clocks. I've been told from some experienced audiophiles that its a hell of a DAC, competing with ones costing much more.

@markcdaniels. Ultra Rendu is another options Im evaluating. I bet it sounds great! 
@OP the UltraRendu is dead quiet and streams pretty much any resolution you can throw at it without any kind of conversion (of which I am aware). I don’t know that the CIAudio LPS made a huge difference, but I like to tell myself it did:)
Forgot to disclose I reviewed those digital components for Dagogo.com 
This may be a gross oversimplification of what you are describing. Since Netflix is set up to stream an incredible amount of data (a movie) doesn't it stand to reason that every available bit of audio data available will be easily transmitted. Just a thought. Interesting bit of information. 
Nicely done. Please keep in mind there is absolutely and unequivocally nothing that can actually improve on digital audio source material ... if we are talking about higher sample rates, or MQA, etc. The BEST quality is the NATIVE sample rate of the session. The end. Now, if you "prefer" something else, that’s of course totally fine and normal. From my perspective as a mastering engineer, MQA introduces very subtle harmonic distortion, and that distortion might make things seem louder, or better, or both. A little harmonic distortion can be a good thing. We add distortion to audio all the time, to make it sound better. Yet for those of us who put the perfect amount in the actual file, it’s too much. Bottom line, no alteration from the mastering source file is actually a better file. If you want the real thing, get the native sample rate file. For example, Dan Lanois did so many great records on a DAT at 16/44.1 Anything else is noise.  If you blow up an old photo post card and play it high res on a big screen TV, it's ugly. Happy listening !
Post removed 
I don't get this, how do you play audio albums on Netflix?
Can you even confirm that the source material is same, and not "prepared" for screen/movie (EQ, dynamics changed or compressed)?
Great thread,

the best response is from the recording engineer: BITS are BITS. PIXELS are PIXELS.

source file, unadulterated, to speaker via minimum equipment and non-altering software is the best 'truth' you can get.

But, as he said, you may prefer an altered truth. It is my opinion that all the tweaks, devices, cables, conditioners, produce just that, an altered truth preferred by this person, not by that person. Problems may exist that need to be addressed by this or that, i.e. power conditioner, but the vast majority have no power problems.

Helping others over the years, the emotional link to the evaluation process, investing research to have predetermined expectations, and, the simple joy of viewing, touching a beautifully designed device has a 'real' effect regarding happiness before it is turned on. So while I could prove to someone in a blind test that a Pioneer receiver could not be distinguished between ......, there was no joy viewing/touching/anticipating greatness from the Pioneer when it was visible, as opposed to those huge blue meters, chassis machined from a solid billet ... 

I digress except to say, OP surely has an open mind and given us all lots to think about, but it is good to admit the joy you get with the process and use of your choices, and discover which altered truth you prefer.

My JSE Infinite Slope Model 2's are the most truthful speakers I ever owned, but I prefer my horns and 15" woofers. And, their efficiency allows me to have my preferred tube sound. Both give me my preferred altered truth.
OP

Thanks for the work. I never compared, but I also get surprisingly good sound via fios cable service: tv/amazon/netflix/you tube .....

Please clarify the Netflix setup, chain from the street/air if satellite. All your streaming comes from the same service/cable correct?

Normally, presumably, your TV sends a signal to a surround sound receiver/amplifier system, i.e. 5.1 surround and speakers in your video setup.

Is the music system/speakers the same as the video sound system? Or you are soing out of the TV to your music system? Out of the TV, or out of your surround receiver?

Presumably you are selecting 2 channel version of the Netflix audio. Where is that choice implemented? The TV, a receiver, ...

It must be said, the individual program's quality is determined by what is being transmitted, both by the networks to the cable companies.

We also need to pay attention to what your TV/computer/receiver is doing, passing sound direct, or choosing/creating an altered version for you. Often I change back to 2 channel or direct and get better (probably original 2 channel) results. Turn it off, back on, let the kids watch something, net time it may be creating or selecting a network/netflix created surround version. 


Your TV has a web browser. You could access Tidal and put that into your music system, skipping laptop, ....
The HDMI out to the DAC may be an issue. To rule that out, you could run toslink or coax out from the PC and/or from the Gustard.

I use a Chromecast Audio into my Peachtree Decco65, with both plugged directly into the wall. It’s super simple, and super cheap, compared to basically everyone else here. I can confirm that the noise floor lowered significantly when I switched to toslink out of the CCA. The lowered noise floor surprised me because I don’t have any power conditioning. My first experience with power conditioning was half a year ago. I thought I would have to buy expensive conditioning to see similar results, but all I had to do was add an Audioquest Toslink Forest.

I’ve seen reviewers and panelists say that at about 400 USD, dedicated streamers start to outperform computers. Some of these reviewers have also said that the CCA isn’t worth the money unless you pair it with something like an iFi SPDIF Reclocker, which apparently brings the CCA up to par with some dedicated streamers.

@plga, what can you tell me about your noise filter and reclocker? Did adding the Jitterbug and USB Reclocker help in your case? Thanks.
I've no doubt your reclocker and such are degrading the signal. I tried several "affordable" forum inspired steps before I decided I could afford a decent DAC. Now I have a Roon Nucleus feeding an Ayre Codex. I listen to much more expensive digital front ends every day. My system at home is good enough, however, that I can hear the difference between music I stream and music I purchase on cd and rip. If I listen to a particular album on Tidal more than a couple times, I'll buy it. I am very happy that Tidal is as good as it is, giving me access to casual listening selection with nearly limitless choice!
"The Tv uses WiFi for connection, instead of Ethernet cable like the computer (wich is much better soundwise)"

I assume you are saying that Ethernet is superior. (?)

If that is the case, you are incorrect. Your test is your proof.

I’m in agreement with @douglas_schroeder ’s post and will add the following...

WiFi into your TV is (likely) the most impactful difference vs. your other "chains." What you’ve accomplished is isolation from a lot of "problem stuff" by doing so. It is an effective isolating ’barrier’ that most in these environs don’t get.

[NOTE: I’m not saying that ’wired’ Ethernet is superior or inferior]

Secondary to that is removing your computer, it’s ethernet connection to the switch, and not utilizing it’s USB output... AND a much shorter signal path for Tidal, including the removal of the multiple layers of peripherals and cabling in your chain.

Tertiary to that is the use of different digital inputs into your DAC (for each leg of your test). For one, you don’t have equivalency, and two, your DAC may have input dependant differences in performance (not to mention cable differences, etc.).


So, Im after a good streamer-transport to get AT LEAST the sound quality I have with my Netflix rig.

If I may, your goal should be "trouncing" the TV / Netflix chain, not equalling it. : )
I’m with @hudo. How are you listening to tracks on Netflix? I’ve noticed that Tidal played through the web browser of my Samsung TV into a cheap Fiio DAC via optical cable into my secondary system sounds remarkably good. @plda
Hello guys,
My answers by topic:

1- I've been listening and improving my system for a considerably long time and when I refer to "better" sound, I don't mean coloured, but more accurate. By that I mean issues that I believe cannot be coloured or "invented" by any part of the system, they dont exist from the beginning, the source.

Let me explain better. As my system got better in accuracy (it is PRETTY revealing today), it evolved in aspects I'm sure cannot be done colouring or masking the sound, only improving the information the system is amplifing:

- Better tone: more real and analog sound, less edgy, LESS SIBILANCE. You know what I mean: LESS DIGITAL SOUND.

For instance: in the song  "Still falling for you” from Ellie Goulding from Bridget Jones’s baby Soundtrack, wich is at the end of the movie and its NOT an audiophile song, in the chorus "on Tidal" you can EASILY detect sibilance on the F and S letter of the words Ellie sings and, on Netflix, the sibilance is almost totally gone. Its so obvious, that I guess you dont need trained ears or a hi end system to hear it. 
Well, that sibilance makes the system sound "digital", affecting the tone and worsening the realism of the instruments and voices. That issue CANNOT be coloured, it is just poor quality digital processing.

- Less ground noise, cleaner soundstage, better separation and layering. 

- Deeper and wider soundstage. 

With the same song, and others, on some Netflix movies, my speakers TRULY disappear. I mean, the image with Tidal and the other sources is GREAT, but on Netflix its like Im inside de stage, its incredible.

I've been listening to my system for a long time and I've got used to how it images the sound, even with the best recordings on Tidal. For me, not even those recordings image as well as most songs on Netflix. I still cannot believe it!!   The sound on Netflix has an easiness and flows beautifully. Another issue that I believe cannot be done "colouring" or with an EQ.

- Dinamics and bass impact. I dont mean only stronger bass, but deeper, profund bass, with out changing anything else on the system. 

2- I stream Netflix with my Tv is a 65" LG 4k and it's connected to Internet with the same WiFi Router as my Notebook (wich streams Tidal), BUT the computer is connected to the Router via a Gigabit Cisco Switch and a couple of CAT9 Ethernet cables, NOT WiFi.

If I stream Tidal with the computer via WiFi the sound is worse than Ethernet with the Switch. It is easily detectable and AGAIN, its NOT something you can mask with EQ or colouring the sound. The computer (at least mine) works better with Ethernet, it sounds better. Not a huge change, but noticeable.

So the Tv, using a worse digital signal than the Computer, sounds better.

Just to mention, I've used some time Dirac Room Correction. I liked it first and it makes a BIG difference in sound, but then I found the sound with Dirac flat, lean and boring, so I stopped using it. The test I've made were WITH OUT Dirac.

3- The TV is connected to my DAC with a cheap 3m Toslink (optical) cable and my system (for movies and music) is stereo, not multichannel as my main goal is music.

@ elliottbnewcombjr Thank you for the advice. I will try it, but I dont know if the browser app on the Tv will be able to stream Tidal. We'll see.

@ classdstreamer The Jitterbug helped a LITTLE bit, maybe eliminating some harshness on the sound, but its so little that Im not 100% sure.

On the other hand, the W4S USB Reclocker (RUR) does indeed improved the sound. Its NOT a big change, but noticeable, mostly on dynamics, tone and realism of the music. I guess another USB conditioners must produce similar results, but for me even the whole USB chain (RUR + LPS + Gustard U16) is not enough to reach the sound quality I hear from Netflix.

By the way, the quality sound is MUCH worse if I connect the computer directly to the USB input of the DAC, avoiding the  RUR + LPS + Gustard U16 chain.

The only answer for me is that the computer is providing a truly awful USB signal that cannot, or is too difficult, to correct.

PS: for the guys that BITS ARE BITS, I can asure you that its not that simple. Time domain is critical in audio and if a piece of gear on the chain introduces jitter, noise, whatever, it will affect the sound BIG time.

Just to mention: I also like photography and I've had great pieces of gear, mostly expensive lenses, but I sold them all and kept only what I need. What I mean is that I don't buy or keep pieces of gear only for aesthetics reasons. I've had also tube gear (300B and EL34 integrateds), wich really looked BEATIFUL, but I sold them because they didnt sound as good what I have now. 

@david_ten Yes WiFi sounds worse "on my Computer" than Ethernet.  NOT by a big margin, but noticeable. 

I haven't tried Ethernet with the TV because I would have to run a long ethernet cable, wich I dont have, and the TV is hanged from the wall and I have to uninstall it, connect the cable and hang it back to the wall. Too much work and time. 

I guess the proof is on the computer, wich is easy and fast to make an A/B test (WiFi vs Ethernet).

Remember that we are talking about SMALL improvements (mostly less digital sound) and I dont know if you will easily detect them if you have long time between listening sessions (uninstalling the Tv will take me at least 30 minutes).
This is an apples to oranges comparison as Netflix is likely EQing the tracks to “sound” better.
Why not use the Netflix app on the laptop or Tidal on the TV (app, browser, Roku/FireTV/Chromecast etc) to do a like for like comparison and compare components
Or do Netflix vs Tidal on the Laptop to compare services.  But you really should not mix them.
Ideally you would use your own Flac on a usb stick, and play that through something like Plex on both the laptop and TV - so you can control both the Master and the streaming quality. To compare components
interesting results; I wonder if the TOSLINK connection has something to do with it (ground loops, etc);
i recall a similar result when I connected my Mac Mini via its combo toslink/audio port to my USB DAC; the optical input sounded much better than USB. Very analog like, pretty much exactly as you described it. Most literature and internet forums mention USB or Coax being superior, but the results speak for themselves. I know you can't push DSD over Optical /spdif, so there's that too.



I think USB output is good enough and better than optical, BUT the computer sends a very corrupted USB signal.

I think its not the transport (USB vs Toslink), but a source problem (Computer vs another sources).

@murtazao I used Digital EQ (Dirac) and the differences are NOT possible with an EQ. You cannot correct soundstage, instrument separation or dynamics with an EQ. Nevertheless, I will run Netflix on the PC or Tidal on the Tv and we’ll see.
By the way, in fact my experience with Dirac is that it makes the sound flatter, less 3D.

I don't know how, but somehow it affects the spatial cues on the signal and the deepness of the soundstage.

A friend of mine, who has a small boutique factory of hi end speakers in Australia, with MANY years of experience listening to hi end audio gear, has heard Trinnov Room Correction with MULTI thounsands dollar systems and he found the same problem: flat sound. 

Digital EQ and Room Correction Software, even expensive ones, can affect negatively the deepness of the soundstage and what I found with Netflix was the opposite, it had a MUCH real soundstage, layering and instrument separation.
great test mate !!
but I think Netflix is sprinkling the same majik as Radio Paradise and other net radio streamers... they have an aural- spacial enhancement algorythm going on that adds alot of separation and some eq lift... that is why you feel Netflix is better. This really helps with movie dialog and background music into 5.1+ rigs but also just puts out a soundstage on a 2.1 system that is not meant to be there in the first place... but it is kinda cool
If its that, I dont know why Tidal doesnt use some similar effect.

But I still believe it is better digital signal processing on the TV than on the computer for two reasons:

1. I don't think adding some effect like surround will sound natural. The same song from the movie on Netflix sounded more real, natural and smooth. If you try to emulate that (with music) on some HT multichannel system, it wont sound natural, speakers don't dissapear that much and it doesn't fix the "digital" sounding flavor.

2. There's a noticeable higher amount of sibilance on Tidal vs Netflix (same song form the soundtrack) and THAT I'm sure is worse digital signal processing.
@plga, it appears that the contributors here identified all the possible variables. Source files make a difference; software processing makes a difference; cables make a difference; a complex chain of interconnects can make a difference; DACs often privilege one input over others.

I would like to hear how toslink from your TV to DAC compares to toslink from your Gustard U16 to DAC. It looks like your Gustard U16 has various outputs to try. I wonder if AC line noise is entering the DAC on your PC chain by way of the Gustard power supply while the AC noise is removed from the TV chain through the use of toslink.
@classdstreamer that´s a good option.

Nevertheless, I think it will be worse as the I2S input of the Audio-GD R8 DAC is known to be the best input, as it is on almost any other Audio-GD and other brands DACs.

Also, all the USB conditioners are connected to two AC power conditioners: the Bada LB-5600 power filter and the Holton DC Blocker. The Tv isn’t.
Interesting work @plga!  A few comments:

A) I agree with @dpac996 (and others) that your computer source may be an issue. I use a macmini. At times is sounds great, at other times it sounds very poor (what some call digital).  It could be both internal operating system issues or, as I suspect, USB issues. USB just isn't consistently reliable in my experience.  I use an Audiophilleo that helps a lot, but at times, computer playback still has issues. It may also be a reason your Toslink connection sounds better.  As you or others have mentioned, an ethernet connected streamer might alter the results.

B) Regarding sibilance. If the sibilance is in the recording, the higher quality playback system will clearly "play" the sibilance because of the detail inherent in the system. The lower quality system will mask the sibilance. However, the sibilance can also be artificially enhanced by a playback system. You really need to know the recording to understand which it is.

C) If you have some sort of low-level ground hum or similar power related issue, perhaps the optical connection is breaking this, leading to the superior sounding Netflix playback. I have no experience with Netflix, so I cannot speak from with any authority, but it does "hurt my audiophile" ego that it could possibly sound better (LOL). It must be perfectly good explanation! Perhaps a power conditioner will reverse the results.

D) Your budget Samsung Blu-ray/CD transport really doesn't give your CD playback a fighting chance! Please borrow a reasonable CD transport and give the poor guy a chance. Your DAC should be great, but your transport is the limiting factor in my opinion.

Anyway, interesting experiment. Thanks for the food for thought!
Netflix is definitely “enhancing” the sound to appeal more. There were news articles earlier this month around Stranger Things season 2 release. They also provide different audio streams based on the client streamer (some TV’s and Xbox, Windows 10 app get higher quality streams) however the stream changes dynamically for a number of reasons. They are providing an entertainment service and are not opposed to remastering to make things appeal to customers more. I suspect Tidal is being closer to the original content. Doesn’t mean the remaster cannot sound better.

My suggestion to use Plex to stream a known file to the PC and TV, was to eliminate any potential uncertainty with the stream and source
@plga, can you educate me on what the I2S connection does? From some poking around, I’ve read that the I2S connection separates the information from the clock. This way, the DAC can use the clock of the streamer rather than its own. Is my understanding correct?
@spenrock my USB rig (as my DAC, preamp and power amp) use AC treatment (a Filter and a DC Blocker) so I dont think it should be any ground hum.

On the other hand, if a system gets more accourate, it’s true that it will show more easily the flaws of a poor recording, but if Netflix is the lowest resolution source, why does it show such much better soundstage and layering. You dont get that with a lowest resolution system, but with the highest one. Not to mention tone, bass definition, impact and dynamics.

@classdstreamer Im not a specialist on the field whatsoever. I've read that I2S connection is more direct and, as you said, "the DAC can use the clock of the streamer rather than its own".

Right now Im at home and I will compare the following:

1- Toslink vs I2S from the Gustard U16 to my DAC. 

2- Netflix on my Notebook, if I manage to send the sound to my system. 

3- Tidal with the browser of my TV, if I can make it work. 

Well, I did the tests suggested, but I could only get one to function:

1- Toslink vs I2S from the Gustard U16 to my DAC.

I've got no music from my DAC, sometimes nothing and sometimes only static.
The U16 has a buggy firmware and we all (the users) are specting to be fixed by Gustard (you can follow this topic on another threads).
Its a great sounding device, but it needs a new firmware. In fact, I've got problems to make it work back again with I2S output. It got me pretty nervous. 
No comparison possible. 

2- Netflix on my Notebook.

Well, I've had Hard time to pick up differences between this two.
I think Audinirvana sounded better, with more definition on the high frequencies, but not by much.
I think we, the audiophiles, can rest in peace!  :-) 

3- Tidal with the browser of my TV.

The TV browser doesnt support Tidal, so it was not possible to make it run. 
So in the 3 different comparisons, the CD player came in second every time, and this was with a "junk" Samsung budget Blue-Ray player used!!!
That's got to tell you something on what could? have been the outright winner by far.

Cheers George
Yes George, for me the CD sound quality came second on every test. 

I know that a good audiophile CD player will improve the sound A LOT, but I'm pretty sure that a good streamer will also be a BIG step up from the computer.

So I guess it could be safe to asume that with both rigs upgraded the differences should be similar. I mean they should sound quite the same. 

That's important to me as I love streaming and I was kind of worried if Tidal was good enough for a high end system. Now Im convinced that with a good streamer, it will be. 

Before I found this out, sometimes I felt that the sound of my system had a "little" digital flavour and I thought its was my class D amp that needed more burn in time and Im glad I was wrong!!! My amp is awesome, but its pretty picky about the quality of the source. 


A sibilant story.

Frank Sinatra was having problems with sibilants at the end of words. Try as he may, he was not confident he had it consistently solved.

He sought out Pavarotti, discussed his problem with him. Pavarotti says, yes, I had the problem, it is easily solved. "You just shutta your mouth".

We just saw the documentary film 'Pavarotti'. Wonderful, I highly recommend it. 
I'm just going to chime in on the wi-fi vs ethernet thing.  The ONLY difference between the two should be speed.  And since a 16/44.1 recording uses so little of the bandwidth, speed can be ignored.  As long as the digital signal is delivered with fewer errors that be corrected by the transport protocol (usually tcp/ip), the signal will be EXACTLY the same. Uncorrected digital errors are not subtle.  (chirps, bits of silence where there should be sound, etc).

I am totally on board with brianlucey.  BITS is BITS.  a FLAC or WAV copy of a CD will be an EXACT bitwise copy.  Potential differences start at the DAC (or other data altering bits you introduce in the middle)
If this were not true, consider the mayhem that would result from downloading software, or even copying it from disc.  It would crash and burn every time.
Well, Im not an expert, but I understand bits are transmitted on packages that are then checked for errores with a protocol.
Thats fine to copy files from one point to another without a time line to cover. 
I understand that when some packages dont arrive or they have errors, they hace to be sent again. Well, doing that in a little time and with wireless or poor quality transmition is not easy, and both the sender and the receiver, have to work hard and that rises jitter inside the digital gear.
Dont forget that some bits are transmited with micro voltage. 
Well, besides any technical explanation, the evidence is on listening, with a high resolution system, the differences. They exist, that's for sure and they are not placebo.
Poor quality digital music sounds harsh, edgy and unnatural. Of course, as the gear gets better, the differences get smaller. 
Actually there is a technical explanation for what you describe and it’s very well understood. It can be summarized in one variable “bandwidth” which is how many bits can be transmitted within a given period of time (one second). This is the same variable as your internet speed, or WiFi router spec. A typical modern (AC) router typically has a bandwidth of 1.3 Gigabit (130 MegaBytes per second. This includes all the retransmissions that you describe, and other effects that your also describe (quality of components etc) so your “effective bandwidth” is usually 10-20% less. If we are generous and say 50%, and also assume 4 different channels consuming that bandwidth- you should easily be able to transmit 15 MB per second. Now a typical Wav file is 600 MB for 1 hour of music (or 0.166 MB per second).

in other words, you should be able to listen to 90 CD’s streaming lossless Wav data simultaneously without any dropouts. Or Bandwidth is NOT a limitation for a modern network. This is also the reason why Netflix/Plex etc can transmit 4K Video and 7 channel lossless audio over WiFi networks
Maybe I missed it, but HOW ARE YOU STREAMING MUSIC FROM NETFLIX?  

Netflix is not a music streaming service.
Hello @dtximages

I'm not streaming music from Netflix, I've just compared some two songs you can hear from a couple of movies on Netflix vs the same songs on the Soundrtrack albums from Tidal.


Ohhh ok.  Yeah that's total apples to oranges.  The movie will EQ the crap out of the music so you might as well turn the bass and treble knobs all the way to the right basically.  


@plga:
Chromecast Audio vs. MSI Laptop
I ran a small test of my own this weekend to try to compare an MSI laptop against the Chromecast audio. My setup is KEF Q150s, on Monoprice Monolith stands, crossed over well with a sub, all powered by the Peachtree Decco65.

The MSI laptop connected to the DAC in the Peachtree Decco65 via USB. The Chromecast connected to the DAC in the Decco65 via toslink. This made for easy switching. The USB cable was stock. The toslink was an AudioQuest Forest. I streamed Tidal CD quality in both cases. I can’t say I heard a difference between the CCA or laptop.

However, I did notice a difference between CD quality and MQA. I could hear more background information in Joshua Redman’s City Folk. Very obvious difference, and almost as big of a difference as going from MP3 to CD quality. Unfortunately, neither the CCA nor the DAC in the Decco65 can decode MQA. And because I listen in my living room on the couch through the convenient CCA, I’ll be limited to CD quality as I stream. If Tidal included the ability to use a laptop as an endpoint the way Spotify does, I might consider using the laptop as dedicated streamer.

@markainsworth
Digital streaming reviewers John Darko and Hans Beekhuyzen often talk about the differences between wifi and ethernet connections on individual streamers. They both say that although bits are bits, wifi implementation is the real issue. Wifi is apparently very electrically noisy. HiFi manufacturers focus on eliminating noise in their components, with some of the biggest culprits being the power supply and wifi. Although I do not have access to higher quality streamers (and I’m still coming around to the idea that I might benefit from spending more than 100USD on a device that merely streams), I can talk to my experience with the CCA.

The biggest gains for using ethernet with the CCA come when using the CCA as both the streamer and DAC. By running toslink out of the CCA, I offloaded DAC duties to the Decco65. At that point, both wifi and ethernet options sounded very similar. However, I do believe I hear a difference that justifies running an ethernet cable across the room. First, I would point to the Yellowjackets’ Man Facing North. The bass fingering around 1:00 to 1:10 sounds clearer. Second, I would point to the fact that I respond differently emotionally to the track. With ethernet, the drum solo at the beginning convincingly sounds like I’m physically present, but over wifi the solo doesn’t sound like I’m in the same room but like I’m listening to a great recording.

In sum, I would consider the CCA ethernet adapter the smallest improvement I’ve experimented with so far. Speakers, speaker stand, sub, integrated amp, and DAC, made the biggest improvements (in that order).
Hey @classdstreamer
Very good and interesting info.

I've got similar results using Ethernet vs WiFi, not big difference, but noticeable. 

I also think that using a better streamer, not too expensive, like Bluesound, will give you another significant upgrade, as it will do adding some USB conditioner on the USB path from your Laptop to the DAC.

I just bought the SOtM SMS-200 Ultra Neo Special Edition and I will take it home at the end of september. Just then I will be able to know how big the difference are between a computer USB signal (very well processed) vs a very good streamer. I cant wait!!  :-)

There´s a neverending upgrade path in front of us!!  I think I want to take a rest after this new upgrade... I hope!