The DAC is the roadblock - not the transport/streamer. Want better sound? Get a better DAC! Lots of choices available! I say this because transports and streamers have been essentially bit-perfect for quite awhile. Whether the source is hard drive, SSD or optical CD what comes out in bits is what went in. Digital data storage is not a problem! Unlike analog digital allows unlimited copies to be made, each identical and not dependent upon the storage material.
Weakest digital link: DAC - Streamer - Server?
I am curious WHICH of the three is MOST important in digital playback? DAC, Streamer, or Server? I assume DAC is #1, but what about server/streamer?
Specifically, I have a Synology NAS which I can host ALL my music on, then using a good streamer play off it via Roon/Upnp, PLUS my streaming services. Does it make sense to use a SEPARATE server JUST for my music?
Like is there going to be MUCH difference between these setups?!
1. NAS (music server) --> Good Streamer (ethernet, Roon) --> DAC
2. Dedicated Music Server --> Same streamer (ethernet, Roon) --> DAC
3. Dedicated Music Server with streamer (digital out) --> DAC
I understand for SURE, if one connects a NAS USB out to streamer/DAC it will sound WORSE than dedicated music server with low noise components, BUT if I am sending the music over ethernet to a good streamer, WHY would a music server make ANY difference? The streamer would essentially take the same files off my NAS, as if would from Tidal and play in the same fashion... no?!
WHAT am I missing?!
PS. I can also upgrade the NAS with linear PSU to lower noise, but once again, sending audio through ethernet shouldn't matter.
Within a DAC the output stage is the final arbiter of sound quality. The chip type and its implementation is secondary. Careful design choices of chips and output devices (transistors, ICs, tubes) can allow production of excellent sounding DACs at low cost! One need not spend four-figures to buy an excellent DAC.
@alexb76 Basically Alex the guys that use dedicated streamers have "old school" beliefs that the source is the most important thing to sound quality. However more recently people believe that DACs are the most important.
I used computer audio for years and I'm talking about ripped CDs on my storage not streaming and even using a dedicated computer with specialist software and Windows Server I could never get anywhere near what I get with a dedicated streamer.
I know that bits aren't bits and digital cables make a difference.
To sum up however because Cindy will be along shortly to tell everyone what's what. If you get a decent DAC first and a Server/Streamer later you'll save money in the short term. But if you want the best get a DAC and Server/Streamer but audition them first and don't be afraid to take your files along to compare.
If you can minimize noise generated by Synology (LPS is recommended) and your router, you can get a very high quality playback of your local files and streaming from Qobuz/Tidal. I would recommend installing a Ethernet switch w/LPS as a central data point to route all the incoming data before getting to your choice of server or streamer. There are few options like English 8S.
For a high quality streaming, dedicated audio server or streamer is equally important so pick a device that is designed for audio. Check out Small Green Computer, they have a good selection of music players or servers (which will eliminate the need for a NAS).
As far as DAC, you got so many choices. I would steer clear of cheap junk being sold on Amazon and pick up a nice R2R DAC. Look into Denafrips, like Pontus II. If you prefer a tube DAC, look into MHDT DAC’s sold by Linear Tube Audio.
And lastly, pick decent LAN cables (yes they matter). Check out Supra CAT 8 LAN cables. They are being sold by eBay seller ‘zendada’.
Whatever you do, do not get caught up in the endless debate of what’s more important. Everything matters!
IMO, a NAS should outperform Tidal depending on the quality of the drive you are using for the NAS.
One of the reasons you want a server is to tame the extremely volatile internet. If you are just using a streamer, it has to work harder to settle things down. A high powered server is best sending the signal to a lower powered player. I have never heard a streamer perform as well as a comparably priced server and renderer.
If your NAS is SSD based and is quiet and fast it should outperform Tidal sending a signal to a streamer. This assumes it is on a wired connection, etc... But, the key is quiet and fast. As pointed out above, noise can come from a lot of places and the goal is to minimize this.
If your local files are underperforming compared to Tidal then you have an issue on your network. Local files should outperform tidal.
Regarding which is most important, DAC, player, server, cables I agree again with the above that it is all important. Given that there is less deviation in tonal profile from servers/renderers vs DACs, I think you start with the DAC first as it can be more colored. And then pick the optimal device for your DAC choice.
There is a chain and the system is only as strong as its weakest link. And a quality DAC differentiates itself in execution of bits to music.
A quality DAC will take the best streaming, audio files and deliver great sound but just as critically it will take MP3 and bluetooth and present a cohesive sound.
I use a DAS and have no doubt a music server will do the same. The analogy I made up (and it could be wrong) is a quality turntable is the basis of using a higher quality cartridge or tonearm and even phono stage. Lack of the quality table and the stuff down the chain doesn't work. (of course someone can say without a phono preamplifier it means nothing - lets just leave that out for this example).
Members here like @jasonbourne52 tell you that the DAC is the most important part of the chain. Then, in their very next breath they tell you that they all sound the same and don't spend over a couple hundred dollars or you are an idiot.
Thanks guys, lost of great advice. To be more specific, I currently OWN a nice NAS (Synology DS920+) which I use for backup, PLUS I stream ALL of our movies/TV shows/Baby stuff from it, so it's for sure capable of streaming audio!
I also just bought an Innuos Zen3, to RIP CDs mostly and the question is, should I keep it? or get rid of it, and just host my files on my NAS... THEN get a good streamer like Auralic/Aurender instead.
I know CLOCK makes the biggest difference in Digital Audio, and noise coming into the DAC, BUT hosting files shouldn't matter, so while Innuos DIRECTLY connected to my DAC WOULD be better than if my NAS was directly connected to my DAC, IF BOTH are elsewhere (my server closet), WHY would it make a difference?!
Essentially, I wanna simplify, host ALL of my Video/Audio on my NAS, then get a good streamer/DAC to play off it, or play off Tidal when needed and be done. With Innuos I have to maintain TWO separate servers, one for Audio, the other for Video and other files.
Gotta love it when your reputation proceeds you ....
Let's do a thought experiment:
I make a DAC. The DAC has a SD memory card on which there is music. The DAC of course reads the music from the memory card, puts it in a buffer, and then plays it out. What impact does the SD card have on the quality of music assuming it is not broken? None. I think most would accept that. If someone does not, then an reasoned discussion is impossible.
Now let's say I have a cheap server or expensive server/streamer, and it connects to my DAC. It does it using USB or Ethernet. The DAC just like above, reads the data (perfectly), and puts it in a memory buffer? How is this at all any different from the above? From the data side none. They both get perfect data. One one and singular difference is noise. So now we know the difference between a SD Card, a NAS/Computer and an expensive streamer is purely noise.
Ethernet: This is already electrically isolated. There is a transformer on each end. That is pretty effective noise isolation. Being Ethernet, you can place your hardware a distance away if you are worried about AC noise, and/or buy one of many AC filters. If you are still worried, there are Ethernet filters that claim to remove unnecessary frequencies from Ethernet (keeping in mind you already have two isolation transformers).
USB: Direct electrical connection, hence high potential for ground noise. No worries, a really good USB isolator is about $300, maybe $400 with a linear supply. I hear Topping has one <$100 now. Optical isolation. No direct noise path. You have some distance limitations.
What are you missing? Nothing. You seem to understand the basics just fine.
High End Server = -60db noise, DAC-B = -50db rejection - final result = -110db
Well what do know, it is not about the weakest link, it is the combination. But frankly it does not matter, you would not hear something -110db or -120db noise with music playing .... the chain is more than good enough.
TEST A: Plug / Unplug Ethernet with the volume at the max of the listening level. Do you hear any change in noise? No, then you don't have an analog noise issue.
TEST B: ... really there is no test B, because the next claim will be "well what about digital noise hurting the clock". Well if the analog noise is so low that you can't detect it or super faint, what are the odds it is impacting the super fast transition of clock signals that are at least 1V? The noise from the internal circuitry in the DACs digital section is likely orders of magnitude higher than external sources with Ethernet or isolated USB.
Thanks Cindy, so my assumption is CORRECT, having my Audio files HOSTED on my NAS in a separate room and using a good streamer/DAC to play them will yield the EXACT same results as if I had a dedicated Audio server (Innuos, etc...) in the same room - BOTH connected via the same network/ethernet cable!
From what I can gather, the dedicated music servers just make the life easier, and make it dumb proof for folks to host their files (Innuos is super easy), but for anyone with technical background like myself, I can simply put my files on my Synology Audio folder and have exact same results with data redundancy, backup, remote access and ease of use! It's currently hosting 4K videos without a problem.
I guess my next question is, WHICH streamer/DAC, under $2K, would do the job best playing files off my NAS PLUS having Tidal/Spotify Connect?
Roon helps consolidate a library with multiple sources. You can use anything from a laptop to an expensive music server as the Roon core. Link your Tidal or Qobuz account to Roon and continue using your NAS for local files. A simple Raspberry Pi can be used as the streamer/Roon endpoint, and allows for the DAC of your choice. You can also use any of the countless streaming DAC's. Companies like Auralic have offered streaming DAC's for many years. I personally use an Okto Dac8 Stereo, which has an integrated RPi acting as a Roon endpoint. The Okto is $1500 and is a superb DAC, although difficult to purchase from high demand/low supply.
As long as all the devices are connected to the same network, it should work.
People are still making claims about digital that have not been true for decades. This is just one of them. There used to be problems with jitter on TOSLINK, but then just don't use it. The rare time you may get jitter on SPDIF if poorly implemented, but then just change the cable length. Noise on SPDIF is a potential issue, so buy something with transformer isolated SPDIF. USB can present electrical system noise, so isolate it. Hard to comment on Ethernet noise. Many claims, nothing to indicate any level of testing. Theoretically possible, so if you feel the need add a filter. Computers can have noisy power supplies, but then again, linear supplies create awful harmonics on the AC line with lots of current/power. But you can remote your hardware or buy a filter.
Agreed, items like Innuos are simple, and make sense for many audiophiles. Time is money, and most don't have the experience. A lot of the reticence of using PCs as streaming sources is not just USB, but inability to set up the system so that you got bit perfect, and Windows or OSX was not inserting sample rate conversion, limiting, etc. in the middle.
I applied this approach initially with the Node 2i and I do not notice any obvious difference between music on my PLEX Server- WD PR2100 - versus IDAL on my streamer DAC.
My server with PLEX installed is connected into my router via ethernet as is my stream/DAC.
I find I stream much more than I use my server - I can't recall the last time I bought a CD - mid 2000s.
The upgrading from the Node 2i to Moon 280D did make a huge sonic improvement. Lots of options at $2-3.5k price point. Part of the reason I bought the Moon unit is they advertise they design upgradability into their equipment.
And my stored music isn't changing format - so really the only value I get out of new technology capabilities is with new music in high resolution format.
Hope this is constructive.
You need to say your budget , that’s the biggest limiting factor if you only have $4 -5 k including cables ,power cords , dac should be themodt expensive for sure
even a computer can sound pretty good with a ether regen , ad a ddc reclocker
to the dac , a good streamer server at least $4k with linear power supplies
cables alone are at least a grand buy the best you can at least buy a good dac first and good usb cable ,
@soix +1 couldn’t agree more with his take.
First I got an Innous Zenith MK3, then got a decent DAC (Musetec MH-DA005), now finishing it up with the Innuos Phoenix USB reclocker.
So start strong, then finish strong and lastly work the in-between to shore up any weakness in your sound chain.
@alexb76 Many, many years ago I ripped my CD library to a Synology NAS using iTunes, installed LMS, and used it for whole house stereo via Squeezebox devices connected to NAD 7140 integrated amps and tower speakers in several rooms.
About 4 years ago, I ditched the Squeezebox devices for RIVA Wand powered speakers. I purchased a 2TB Innous Zenith MKII streamer and a Roon lifetime subscription. I hosted Roon core on the Zenith, and I ripped my CD library to FLAC on the Zenith I had two zones: RAAT in my basement listening room and rec room; and AirPlay to the RIVA Wand speakers on my first and second floors.
A couple of months ago I migrated Roon core and database to a new Mac mini. In my basement, I use Sense and Roon for my first and second floors. IMHO, the Sense SQ exceeds Roon by a wide margin. Both Roon and Sense use the Zenith’s "shared" music library. I stream Tidal, Qobuz, and JazzRadio.com. If you haven’t yet, give Sense a try if you can. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
These are the worst things you can do when setting up a digital playback system: use usb into a dac and have a server in the same room as your audio equipment.
Most of your better dacs use Ethernet and i2s. Using Ethernet, you can put your server in a different room.
If you buy a dedicated proprietary music server, the main reason you should be doing this is so you don’t have to build 1 yourself. There are many threads that have stated they heard no difference in sound between a good audirvana or Roon server or a $10k dedicated server. I’m in that camp too because I did have a Auralic Aries server for a couple years using usb to the dac then sold all that and went back to a Roon server (my hardware) using Ethernet to a great dac.
As for bit perfect streaming: how many times have you dealt with a remote company anywhere in the world and the data you sent to that company turned up not what you sent? If you purchased 10 shares of stock, did the remote computer interpret that 10 shares to be 100 or 1000? Packets of data are guaranteed to be sent in the order it was sent and the data had to be bit perfect or the packet is resent. If the data we send to banks or stock exchanges could not be guaranteed to be identical as the source, we would have major issues.
Your question, if i understand it correctly, is What factors influence
It has been said that on a scale of 1-10.
CD = 10
File = 9
Streamed music= 7-7.5
If the above is accurate, streaming is already behind the eight ball by 25%.
Of the three you mention, the DAC is the first place to find improvement.
But just using Roon degrades the SQ.
And what about your Router line corrections?
Are you using fiber, coax or USB connections?
Please keep us posted on your progress!1
I was previously considering the Holo Audio May DAC as my next purchase, but the positive feedback for Mustetec on the other thread has me wondering if I should save my money and go with DA005 instead.
Hopefully you will share your impressions once you get the Phoenix USB reclocker. BTW, have you looked into PhoenixNET by any chance? There are folks who believe that it might result in more improvements compared to the USB reclocker.
There are 4 elements to an excellent streaming setup. The Network, The Streamer, The Music Server, The DAC.
The network, streamer and DAC are the most important in equal measure. Skimp on any of these and you won’t get there.
The music server is a convenience device in my view. Pay more to get easy ripping and nice user interface and easy library management. Pay less if you’re more techie and can do a lot of manual file shifting. My music server is a Raspberry Pi with 2TB drive attached, it’ll sound the same as any other fancy server if you’ve got your other three elements right, in equal measure.
Network switch, network cables & RFI filtering - £3000
Streamer - £3000
DAC - £3000
Very manual techie Music server - £100
@arafiq Will do! I hadn't looked into the network switcher yet, but will absolutely report back on the Phoenix. As for the 005, I was shocked at how good it is. Holographic sound and microdynamics galore! The Zenith MK3 is my only venture into a streamer/server, but upgraded from an X26 Pro DAC and definitely worth it! The Musetec 005 and my SU-R1000 MC phono stage with DSP have me in disbelief most days at what I'm hearing and how things sound.
I have recently been asking myself the same question regarding source and chain of hardware and software to achieve the best results with streaming. The one thing I've learned for sure is it for me it has been a nebulous topic, although I feel as though I'm gaining clarity. On the issue of network I found this video really informative.
My journey down this rabbit hole went something like this....
At first I used a win10 pro laptop with wifi on battery running the tidal app via USB to a Peachtree nova pre. Not bad, but thought I could do better. I then bought an iFi Zen Stream and connected to the Peachtree via USB. I streamed via tidal connect, which allows the Zen Stream to receive data directly from Tidal's servers using a phone as the remote - now that was a massive improvement! I then traded the Peachtree on a used PS Audio Perfect Wave MkII DAC with Bridge II from The Music Room (total cost $1,100.00 after trade) and connected the Zen via USB. This yielded another big improvement. Further research courtesy of PS audio forums led me to understand that a critical issue with a DAC is how it handles the input. The manual for this DAC states the best sound comes from I2S followed by ethernet (via bridge II which uses I2S protocol), then USB, then SPDIF then optical. I then figured out I can stream directly to the DAC from tidal via bridge I2S with mconnect control! Man, that is the real deal! And seems to me like the best topology to get the best streaming sound. Essentially it is the shortest path to the DAC and utilizes the best input protocol. This is just my experience and I'm sure there are many high-end streamer DAC combinations out there that utilize a similar topology and negate the USB or SPDIF issues. If you plan to stream tidal, then be sure to find one that utilizes tidal connect and not their app. I read that in an attempt to gain control of the user interface, tidal is holding out on sending them all the bits. ☮
Basic computer technology allows you to transmit bit-perfect data from an Internet source to a buffer in the computer to a buffer in a device over USB. If that was not true, the world would shut down immediately. Perhaps there is noise that can leak into audio, but the bits are fine.....indeed, they're perfect. Yes, there may be pauses in the feed, but the bits remain perfect. There can be a mental disconnect in projecting audiophile nervosa onto basic computer technology.. I do it, even knowing how extraordinarily robust the transmission technology is. I buy the better and best cables and add some tweaks because that's what audiophiles do.
I agree with @electroslacker, except about buying the best cables. Especially a digital cable. As long as the cable passes bits it doesn’t matter. Goodness, my $8 HDMI video cable passes a whole lot more information flawlessly than my USB audio cable does.
In the past, some unscrupulous manufacturers have manipulated the standardized analog conversion formulas for their DACs. Basically adding internal EQ to them to make them stand out. That’s not what a DAC is supposed to do. I used to be a programmer and have written other types of conversion formulas. There’s no big mystery to them. Once they’re figured out, they’re figured out ... and standardized. Theoretically, all DACs should output the same, with noise, including jitter, being below audible thresholds. And I think ASR’s measurements continually prove that. I worry about the speakers and the room, not the digital components.
No. Just...no. If you can’t hear the difference between digital cables I truly feel sorry for you. Jitter being below audible thresholds? I guess timing then just doesn’t matter. People who can’t hear well or don’t trust their own ears fall back on measurements to support the fact that they can’t hear differences. How awful that must be as an “audiophile,” and I weep for you.
Today, for most digital USB in audio, i.e. USB and Ethernet, no, timing does not matter, not even a little. For SPDIF, most modern DAC chips and SPDIF receivers will remove every last bit of normal jitter. The rare time, very rare, make your SPDIF cable longer. Jitter stopped being an issue a long time ago in most setups. I am sure there are some low volume DAC's that don't have the necessary circuitry to eliminate jitter.
Insulting someone's hearing is not going to make your point when you are unable to prove that your's is any better.
Those are the two that will affect what your hear more than digital cables and such. As long as we are talking about competent design I think what a lot don’t seem to grasp is DAC’s, cables and to a great extent amplifiers are commoditites and they do very little if nothing to affect what you hear in your room. Get the features you like at the price you're comfortable with.
A lot of people use amplifiers, tube, many low feedback designs, etc. to alter the tone of their system. Those will definitely sound different from amplifiers designed to be a straight wire with gain. Some speaker cables may be tone controls. I guess an interconnect could be too. Some MIT seemed to be.
"Jason Bourne I think you're quite wrong about that, anything under four figures won't sound very good at all and you're also wrong about transports...... esoteric makes the best ones and everybody else is second and third"
Not sure how someone can pass judgement on every DAC under $1,000 and dismiss 99.9% of the CD transports in one sentence, but it must be nice to know everything.
Why are you here?
Anyone that quotes Audio Science Review as Gospel, really does not actually listen to the equipment they pass judgement on. To them, measurements are everything.
How can any review of a piece of audio equipment not comment on the "sound" of the component at all?
How do you review a car without driving it?
Because some components, when designed that way, really don’t have a sound compared to their similarly designed peers. That people won’t accept that does not make it untrue. For components that do have a sound, the sound is dependent potentially on what comes before it, what comes after it, the speakers, the room, the person, their mood, to the point that listening impressions, for anything but speakers become nothing but a good story and about as useful as a marketing sheet.
ASR's reviews are a tool, and measurements, if you understand what they mean are essentially irrefutable evidence taking in the context of how the test was administered.
Measurements are a filter. For instance, I don't test drive all cars. I use measurements to filter down to the group of cars that fit my needs. Some car components DO make a difference. But whether the taillight is square or oval makes no difference in how the car performs. Likewise in audio. If bits are passed perfectly and the noise level is below the threshold of human hearing then by definition I'm not going to hear any difference. And with digital components, those two things can be easily measured.