High End Streaming System Advice

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Hi Forum Members,

After reading this months WhatHifi Mag, ive been pondering a music streaming question.

This months mag looked at 10 different ways to stream your music ranging from the simple airplay solution to the ultimate multiroom solution.

Ive always thought that using the Sonos connected to a high end dac via a digital coax cable would produce almost a high end quality CD sound. Am I mistaken?

Thanks
 

CnoEvil

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IMO The transport matters, so the Sonos would always be the limiting factor.

Companies like Linn and Naim put a lot of effort into things like power supplies and isolation of componants etc. The Linn DS solution showed a noticeable improvement with the introduction of the Dynamik (switch mode) power supply.
 
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Anonymous

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Haggy792 said:
Having just gone through this process I arrived at the system you see below.
I'm jealous. Heard the cheaper Naim Uniti at the weekend and loved it. Still mulling over where to go next. Had an Olive 4HD (£2500) but couldn't fall in love with that one so saved some cash, flogged it on ebay and went for system below for now. Love the control aspect of Sonos but I also am not sure if its a sonic compromise in the end. Will have to save some pennies methinks. Wish I had joined this forum a year ago and would have been running Naim Uniti I think. For its price you get on paper at least, what the Olive does plus a CD player plus an amp. You can play CD's in the Olive by the way. Personally for someone just venturing into streaming its a bit of a minefield and its all to easy sometimes to go for fancy 1 box solutions that are hard to control. The Naim I think is one of the better ones from this aspect. Good luck
 

CnoEvil

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nick8858 said:
I'm jealous. Heard the cheaper Naim Uniti at the weekend and loved it. Still mulling over where to go next. Had an Olive 4HD (£2500) but couldn't fall in love with that one so saved some cash, flogged it on ebay and went for system below for now. Love the control aspect of Sonos but I also am not sure if its a sonic compromise in the end. Will have to save some pennies methinks. Wish I had joined this forum a year ago and would have been running Naim Uniti I think. For its price you get on paper at least, what the Olive does plus a CD player plus an amp. You can play CD's in the Olive by the way. Personally for someone just venturing into streaming its a bit of a minefield and its all to easy sometimes to go for fancy 1 box solutions that are hard to control. The Naim I think is one of the better ones from this aspect. Good luck
IMO I think it is also worth checking out the solutions from Cyrus and Linn, before coming to a final conclusion. They both have models with a built in amp, and both sound very good.
 
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Anonymous

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I've used a Sonos ZP90 connected through an external dac for a couple of years now. My observations on this in terms of 'high end sound' are as follows:

- unfortunately, 'digital out' from the ZP90 doesn't necessarily equate to 'job done' in terms of the source quality. I'm no tech expert and I don't know why the 1s and 0s don't all sound the same but (much to my horror) I have discovered I can hear a significant difference between optical and coaxial ouputs (coaxial from the ZP90 sounds better in my view - clearer and also fuller and less 'brittle'; low notes on violins or cello are a great way to test this!). However....

- This does depend on the DAC. Some DACs are much better at handling the 'jitter' (or timing errors) than others. The better the DAC, the less sensitive it is to the source quality in my experience. If you only use an entry level DAC, it is quite possible it would sound better accepting a digital signal from a decent quality CD transport than the feed from your Sonos (and I'm taking it as given that the files being streamed are lossless - not low bit rate MP3s!)

- In my view, sound quality can be improved by inserting a reclocker in between the Sonos and the DAC. This takes the digital feed from the Sonos, applies its own clock to the signal (which is supposed to be more accurate and has fewer tasks to perform than the internal Sonos clock) and then supplies the re-clocked (i.e. lower jitter) bit perfect signal to the DAC. I don't own one of these devices but I have heard them in others systems. The effect is subtle but quite audible and well beyond the 'snake oil'/placebo effect I've found with some other 'upgrades'!

- Even more annoying and (to me) surprisingly, I have been forced to accept (following experimentation) that the choice of digital interconnects/cable also impacts the sound quality. I've tried a small sample of what's on the market and have settled quite definitely on the Black Cat Veloce digital coax cable. I found this to be significantly better than others I've tried from Chord and Wireworld in a comparable price range (somehow just sounds fuller, less 'edgy' and more musical). If you do use a reclocker, only the cable downstream of the reclocker (i.e. between the reclocker and the DAC) makes a significant difference to the sound - you need a really bad cable to ruin the data integrity of a bit perfect signal but a good cable can, in my view, reduce jitter. (Note that I believe the choice of DAC will have a much greater impact on the sound than the choice of cable - cable is the last 5-10% of difference only)

- Audiocom (UK) and Cullen (USA) both offer mods to the Sonos that improve the quality of the output (albeit they probably void your Sonos warranty). Audiocom takes the route of upgrading the power supply and reducing associated noise. Cullen takes the approach of upgrading the Sonos internal clock. I have not heard Cullen's mods but I do have the Audiocom modded ZP90. To be honest, I was quite disappointed with the result. In my opinion clarity is improved vs the stock ZP90 but only very subtly and not v good 'bang for buck' vs the potential improvements from spending this kind of money elsewhere in your system.

- My modded Sonos still doesn't sound as good as the USB feed from my computer after it has been fed through a JKenny MK2 Modified HiFace USB to SPDIF (i.e. digital coax) converter/reclocker. Low level details are slightly smeared/harder to pick out on the Sonos and the sound is not as rich/musical. It would be interesting to see if using an external reclocker for the Sonos evens the score, which I guess it theoretically should do!

All in all, the digital out of the Sonos fed into a good DAC is very solid 'mid fi' sound quality. To approach true 'hi fi' though, you either need to spend more on the soure (E.g. Linn, Cyrus or Olive streamers as mentioned already) or add mods/upgrades to the Sonos signal. However, as with many audio upgrades of this nature, I believe the law of diminishing returns sets in very quickly so you ultimately need to decide how far you really need/want to go and how much you are prepared to spend. This decision also needs to be made in the context of how a similar spend could benefit other parts of your system, potentially with greater effect (e.g. dac, amp, speakers/headphone upgrades).

Just my two pence worth...!
 

AlmaataKZ

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Please consider Squeezebox touch or Sonos + active speakers e.g. AVI adm9 or adam artist 5 or 3. compare to more expensive set ups. you will not regret having this comparison. Add a sub and you have a pretty much unbeatable system.

want to spend more? go for the likes of adam tensor range or active ATC floorstanders.
 

Haggy792

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I've got a Cyrus AV system but didn't audition their streamers, I did audition Linn and found it a little lean for my taste but far better than Chord.

See my post "Blank Canvas"

BTW I too thought I would go for a one box solution but quickly realised why the Naim Superuniti was cheaper than the separates, it sounded great but not quite as good as what I went for, though let's be fair it all comes down to taste (sonically and aesthetically) and cash, I would have went for something higher up the Naim line if I had another £4k/£5k but I just couldn't justify/afford to spend any more than I did. Maybe I'll sell a kidney and get some upgrades
 
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Anonymous

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AlmaataKZ said:
Please consider Squeezebox touch or Sonos + active speakers e.g. AVI adm9 or adam artist 5 or 3. compare to more expensive set ups. you will not regret having this comparison. Add a sub and you have a pretty much unbeatable system.

want to spend more? go for the likes of adam tensor range or active ATC floorstanders.
I have 2 of my 4 Sonos systems connected via a digi coax cable to a Musical Fidelity (MF) KW DAC and these send a signal to MF KW AMPs which power MA PL Speakers. I have added a DIY sub I made to the setup and its a wonderful full range system now.

I did some initial testing vs my MF KW Transport & Dac vs the Sonos and it was clear there was some micro detail lost and a very small amount of dynamics. But the fun and ease of the system was just too good to turn away. And the small trade off in pure audio quality was very quickly forgotten as I just enjoyed the fun of having 1000's of loseless files at my finger tips.

Thanks for all the info - I shall explore other options but not sure I will pursue as I do need 4 integrated solutions and so far it seems Sonos is the easiest to achieve this
 
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Anonymous

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Haggy792 said:
I've got a Cyrus AV system but didn't audition their streamers, I did audition Linn and found it a little lean for my taste but far better than Chord.

See my post "Blank Canvas"

BTW I too thought I would go for a one box solution but quickly realised why the Naim Superuniti was cheaper than the separates, it sounded great but not quite as good as what I went for, though let's be fair it all comes down to taste (sonically and aesthetically) and cash, I would have went for something higher up the Naim line if I had another £4k/£5k but I just couldn't justify/afford to spend any more than I did. Maybe I'll sell a kidney and get some upgrades
I seem to be having the same issues - wondering whether its worth me spending so much money for a little sonic gain...
 

The_Lhc

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CnoEvil said:
IMO The transport matters, so the Sonos would always be the limiting factor.
If you really believe that then you can spend up to 600 quid having your ZP90 modified to make it less "limiting".

But it still won't play 24-bit files, which is the only limit I think it's got.
 

CnoEvil

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The_Lhc said:
CnoEvil said:
IMO The transport matters, so the Sonos would always be the limiting factor.
If you really believe that then you can spend up to 600 quid having your ZP90 modified to make it less "limiting".

But it still won't play 24-bit files, which is the only limit I think it's got.
You have a good point about the 24 bit....which I have to say, I hadn't taken on board.

As to the Sonos + Dac issue, I suppose it depends on the price of the Dac. If I was using a £2.5k one, I would be looking for a very decent transport to go with it. I think quality "Streaming Transports", for want of a better word, will start making an appearance. It will go between the NAS and your choice of Dac....but of course I could be totally wrong.
 

John Duncan

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CnoEvil said:
I think quality "Streaming Transports", for want of a better word, will start making an appearance. It will go between the NAS and your choice of Dac....but of course I could be totally wrong.
I'd be surprised if "transport only" streamers turn up, but "quality" separates are already here; Cambridge's NP30, Marantz NA7004, NAD C336, that sort of thing, and that's before you get into hybrid devices like the Uniti or Linn's mental-money-but-astonishing Akurates and Klimaxes.

More will come, and they'll engender stronger support amongst the traditionalists than devices such as the Squeezebox have, more for their looks or one-boxedness than anything.
 

CnoEvil

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John Duncan said:
I'd be surprised if "transport only" streamers turn up, but "quality" separates are already here; Cambridge's NP30, Marantz NA7004, NAD C336, that sort of thing, and that's before you get into hybrid devices like the Uniti or Linn's mental-money-but-astonishing Akurates and Klimaxes.

More will come, and they'll engender stronger support amongst the traditionalists than devices such as the Squeezebox have, more for their looks or one-boxedness than anything.
Most of the Streaming solutions (Linn/Naim etc) are tied into their own dac (obviously). There is a demand (admittedly small atm,) to be able to choose your own dac (like the forthcoming Pathos In Transfer), and slot it into a streaming solution.

As a result of other tentative enquires, my dealer has been looking into this. He has come up with one very expensive transport at £1700 (I think), but is also waiting on a more wallet friendly one. Unfortunately the names escape me for now, but he thinks some interesting products will be launched next year...we shall see. :)
 

Gasman

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I have spent a few months on this after hearing a cd played on a Naim Uniti then the rip of the same cd back throught the same uniti - it was noticably better - so that was the end of cds for me.

It doesnt work on every thing but certainly the collection (800 cds) I have now ripped in FLAC onto a nas drive - QNAP TS212 does sound better across 90% of the music - live cds and old cds not sounding that great but certainly the same as cd

I have replaced the naim cd player in my cinema room with a sonos zp90 for music - this goes through a denon370 av amp and an arcam power amp onto monitor audio gr20s. It is pretty good sound - it has improved and got close to the cd player once i put the arcam dac in for £300.

I was looking to set up a room with just stereo sound in it using some form of streaming solution thinking probably a uniti. having demoed this and been very impressed i then demoed the stand alone naim streamer - NDX and the top end intergrated naim amp - the supernait - twice the price of a uniti - could not hear much of a difference, maybe 5% clearer and potentially a bit louder. Critically for me the soundstage and the separation of the music was the same - lovely.

Having done this I waited for the superuniti to come out before buying and guess what? its fantastic - more power gives even better clarity and tightness to the music( mostly rock but with the better sound I am going back into all my classical stuff and folk / acoustic music as it sounds outstanding. The superuniti runs through the new B&W PM1s and these speakers have turned out to be everything I wanted and more so happy days.

I did test others such as Olive and Cyrus once I knew I was going to move from cd but the naim sound has that bit more attack - it sounds live in the room.

I have not spent as much on a system before just for music - just over £5k but am glad I have - I have also checked that spending £10k will not improve things for me so reached the point of deminishing returns - just like spending more than £15 on a bottle of wine!

The PM1s really are a fantastic speaker - I have had many floorstanders in the past but these really are fast and wieghty - you will be suprised how well they produce good bass and a lovely tight sound at the same time

hope this ramble helps but the bottom line for me is no more cds, the HDdownloads really are worth having - easily better than cd and find the point ( within budget) where just adding money stops working for you
 

CnoEvil

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Hi Gasman

You have (imo) gone about this exactly the right way. You found the sound you liked, checked that other brands made no improvement, and then finally, made sure that spending extra wasn't going to give better VFM.

This means that the "little nagging voice" in the back of your head (telling you that you've done the wrong thing), was silenced.

Enjoy (without the doubts)

Cno
 

paradiziac

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CnoEvil said:
I think quality "Streaming Transports", for want of a better word, will start making an appearance. It will go between the NAS and your choice of Dac....but of course I could be totally wrong.
Assuming you're excluding USB converters, what about something like the Audio-gd DI?

http://www.audio-gd.com/Pro/dac/USBface/Digital1EN.htm

One of the few products that (in addition to USB) can reclock an SDPIF signal (e.g. from a Sonos, Squeezbox or CD player). The Teralink x2 is the only other I've heard of.

So...you can address whatever shortcuts have been taken in your transport / DAC by buying another box! :doh:
 
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Anonymous

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hope this ramble helps

A most interesting ramble Gasman and seems to me a well thought out strategy, hearing is of course believing. Happy with my system but made the mistake of popping into my local independant hi fi dealer last weekend who just happened to have the Naim Uniti on demo. Looks like divorce proceedings could ensue as I thought it sounded brilliant. He had it hooked up to PM1's as well (using real world cables on my insistence). Its just a really listenable sound. I do not possess audiophile ears (whatever they are) but it sounded great to me. The CD player was pretty cool also (took some of my own). What I liked was being in the room and not being aware where the speakers were etc, just being able to appreciate the sound. Next problem of course is how to persuade the good lady, as really I'd like the Superuniti and a separate CD player as on listening to that combination I descended into somewhat of a trance.
 

paradiziac

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CnoEvil said:
As to the Sonos + Dac issue, I suppose it depends on the price of the Dac. If I was using a £2.5k one, I would be looking for a very decent transport to go with it. I think quality "Streaming Transports", for want of a better word, will start making an appearance. It will go between the NAS and your choice of Dac....but of course I could be totally wrong.
I tried to answer this before, but my post was "in a moderation queue"--perhaps someone could point me in the direction of the house rules?

@Cno: what I was trying to say was, I believe there are a couple of products already existing that, among other things, take a jittery SDPIF signal and re-clock it before passing it on to your DAC. Clearly, if you have an expensive well-implemented DAC, the DAC itself will do sophisticated re-clocking "in-house" and you wouldn't need the extra box.

For example the Audio-gd DI and Tera link X2 will re-clock/de-jitter output from a Sonos or Squeezbox, in case your DAC isn't doing its job very well.

I believe Audiolab are developing a streamer/transport to go with the M-DAC as well--that's probably more what you had in mind?

So yes, products are coming (or exist) that separate each part of the chain and allow you to mix n' match to taste.

Whether that's a good thing depends, but it's good to have the choice and flexibility.
 

CnoEvil

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paradiziac said:
@Cno: what I was trying to say was, I believe there are a couple of products already existing that, among other things, take a jittery SDPIF signal and re-clock it before passing it on to your DAC. Clearly, if you have an expensive well-implemented DAC, the DAC itself will do sophisticated re-clocking "in-house" and you wouldn't need the extra box.

For example the Audio-gd DI and Tera link X2 will re-clock/de-jitter output from a Sonos or Squeezbox, in case your DAC isn't doing its job very well.

I believe Audiolab are developing a streamer/transport to go with the M-DAC as well--that's probably more what you had in mind?

So yes, products are coming (or exist) that separate each part of the chain and allow you to mix n' match to taste.

Whether that's a good thing depends, but it's good to have the choice and flexibility.
Thanks for that. It will be interesting to see how the market pans out. If you already own a NAS and a DAC, you may well want a solution that doesn't involve spending money on duplication.
 

pwiles1968

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Very happy with the sound of my system, the HMI and useability is a consideration IMO after all that is part of the point of a streaming setup.
 

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