Improving streaming of Apple lossless to Arcam A85

korgua

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Greetings,

Over the years, I have ripped all my CDs into iTunes, to Apple lossless, I listen to almost every genre of music.

I currently stream to various Airport Express v1 - either analog or optical, to different amps. For serious listening, mostly to a Cambridge Audio A1 Mk111 but now an Arcam A85.

The same CD played on an Arcam 7 CD player via Arcam A85 is noticeably improved in every way and I don't think that is subjective.

The Airport sound quality is a massive step up from a Desktop PC 3.5mm output and if I did not have the Arcam 7 CD player, I would be none the wiser.

I would like to explore improving the streamed CD quality and the market seems to be screaming one abvious choice, a Wiim.

Another area I would like to dip my toe into is seeing how much more sound quality I could get playing a streaming service through the A85.

I don't like subscription based services for the reason I might not use them for months on end and so far, the MP3 quality has been shocking, but I have not tried Tidal / Qobuz etc.

Priority is improving the CD rip streaming quality, with a desire to test some gourmet streaming for an occassional treat.

I think I know what the recommendation will be, a Wiim, but there might be other products out there that smash local lossless rips out the park when hooked up to an Arcam A85. This is where I would appreciate the input of more experienced streamers.

Thank you for wise words you can share.
 

Kenneth Fernandes

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Another area I would like to dip my toe into is seeing how much more sound quality I could get playing a streaming service through the A85.
Your best option currently would be to buy an Arcam A25 and connect your laptop (not sure why would someone connect a Desktop). Then you could upscale your CD rips as you please or play directly from a USB CD player with another software like Jriver or Audirvāna and apply different filters to improve the CD quality or instead play 24-bit tracks either downloaded or streamed.

Arcam's 25 Class G amplifier would mean you will need to purchase a separate electric room heater.
 

Fandango Andy

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Greetings,

Over the years, I have ripped all my CDs into iTunes, to Apple lossless, I listen to almost every genre of music.

I currently stream to various Airport Express v1 - either analog or optical, to different amps. For serious listening, mostly to a Cambridge Audio A1 Mk111 but now an Arcam A85.

The same CD played on an Arcam 7 CD player via Arcam A85 is noticeably improved in every way and I don't think that is subjective.

The Airport sound quality is a massive step up from a Desktop PC 3.5mm output and if I did not have the Arcam 7 CD player, I would be none the wiser.

I would like to explore improving the streamed CD quality and the market seems to be screaming one abvious choice, a Wiim.

Another area I would like to dip my toe into is seeing how much more sound quality I could get playing a streaming service through the A85.

I don't like subscription based services for the reason I might not use them for months on end and so far, the MP3 quality has been shocking, but I have not tried Tidal / Qobuz etc.

Priority is improving the CD rip streaming quality, with a desire to test some gourmet streaming for an occassional treat.

I think I know what the recommendation will be, a Wiim, but there might be other products out there that smash local lossless rips out the park when hooked up to an Arcam A85. This is where I would appreciate the input of more experienced streamers.

Thank you for wise words you can share.
Nothing seems to come close to WiiM for the price. The DAC in the mini and the Pro isn't the best so you will probably want an external DAC. I'm told (but haven't heard myself) the DAC in the Pro+ is very good.

On a side note, you mention using the 3.5mm output on a PC. As well as the limitations of the 3.5mm jack and wire you will also be using your PCs DAC which is probably rubbish. Have you tried a USB output from the PC into a DAC?
 

korgua

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Nothing seems to come close to WiiM for the price. The DAC in the mini and the Pro isn't the best so you will probably want an external DAC. I'm told (but haven't heard myself) the DAC in the Pro+ is very good.

On a side note, you mention using the 3.5mm output on a PC. As well as the limitations of the 3.5mm jack and wire you will also be using your PCs DAC which is probably rubbish. Have you tried a USB output from the PC into a DAC?
Thank you, the Desktop PC is the workhorse so I had used this in the past and was commenting on the huge improvement I saw with an AirPort Express, making the Desktop redundant other than being handy to use iTunes GUI. I have no DACs so I have no experience of these and I do need to put as much over the network without having to plug stuff in, hence multiple Airport Express units wired into the various amps around the house.
 

korgua

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Your best option currently would be to buy an Arcam A25 and connect your laptop (not sure why would someone connect a Desktop). Then you could upscale your CD rips as you please or play directly from a USB CD player with another software like Jriver or Audirvāna and apply different filters to improve the CD quality or instead play 24-bit tracks either downloaded or streamed.

Arcam's 25 Class G amplifier would mean you will need to purchase a separate electric room heater.
Thank you, I think an A25 is a step to far for me at this stage, given I just invested in a 2nd hand A85. The Desktop 3.5mm was pre AirPort Express and, at the time, nothing more than convenience at the office desk.

The more I think about, I need an affordable device (circa £300) I can network, with a degree of portability, that takes the lossless rips and plays them at a quality comparable to the Arcam 7 CD player, with some 'HD streaming options.
 

Tinman1952

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Thank you but I would like to use the Arcam A85 for amplication so I guess a Wiim Pro + would be more suited?
Good choice. You will find with streaming that the control software interface is as important (if not more so...) than the hardware. The Wiim has an excellent app for every streaming service except Apple Music (you have to use Airplay for this currently) and is constantly being updated to include more features!
The app connects to your Home Server for your CD rips 👍
 

Fandango Andy

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Thank you, the Desktop PC is the workhorse so I had used this in the past and was commenting on the huge improvement I saw with an AirPort Express, making the Desktop redundant other than being handy to use iTunes GUI. I have no DACs so I have no experience of these and I do need to put as much over the network without having to plug stuff in, hence multiple Airport Express units wired into the various amps around the house.
At the top you mention music ripped onto iTunes. I haven't used iTunes for about seven years, I'm not sure how it works. Are you playing files that you have stored, or are you streaming? And if you are streaming, is it lossless.

If the answer to both questions is yes, I would go WiiM. Pro+ on the main system and Mini if you have lesser systems around the house. If at any time you want to upgrade the mini you can add an external DAC for about £100.
 

korgua

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At the top you mention music ripped onto iTunes. I haven't used iTunes for about seven years, I'm not sure how it works. Are you playing files that you have stored, or are you streaming? And if you are streaming, is it lossless.

If the answer to both questions is yes, I would go WiiM. Pro+ on the main system and Mini if you have lesser systems around the house. If at any time you want to upgrade the mini you can add an external DAC for about £100.
Thank you, I am playing M4a files stored on an SMB share that I can access over the network via iTunes, but other ways if I need to. Most things I have read about Apple Lossless files ripped from a CD is that they are equivalent to .WAVs in terms of zero loss.

I am still not sure how much a Wiim Pro+ Plus will improve the quality compared to playing them through the Apple Airport Express 1 vs the Arcam 7 CD player ( which is only used for the occasional comparison )....short of buying and trying.
 

Fandango Andy

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Thank you, I am playing M4a files stored on an SMB share that I can access over the network via iTunes, but other ways if I need to. Most things I have read about Apple Lossless files ripped from a CD is that they are equivalent to .WAVs in terms of zero loss.

I am still not sure how much a Wiim Pro+ Plus will improve the quality compared to playing them through the Apple Airport Express 1 vs the Arcam 7 CD player ( which is only used for the occasional comparison )....short of buying and trying.
If the files originated on CD, you are not going to get any better than CD quality, but you shouldn't get any less than CD quality. If you are currently not getting CD quality the most likely reason is the DAC in your apple devices. Do they have an option to use an external DAC?
 

korgua

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If the files originated on CD, you are not going to get any better than CD quality, but you shouldn't get any less than CD quality. If you are currently not getting CD quality the most likely reason is the DAC in your apple devices. Do they have an option to use an external DAC?
I can only think it is the DAC in the Apple device, the quality is still good but toggling the amp between the Arcam 7 CD and the Airport input reveals what is missing, a good review of the Airport express spec is on https://www.kenrockwell.com/apple/airport-express.htm#spex

I do not believe they can use an external DAC. The only weak link I might have is the analogue lead from the Airport Express to the RCA on the A85 amp.
 

Roger_A

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I can only think it is the DAC in the Apple device, the quality is still good but toggling the amp between the Arcam 7 CD and the Airport input reveals what is missing, a good review of the Airport express spec is on https://www.kenrockwell.com/apple/airport-express.htm#spex

I do not believe they can use an external DAC. The only weak link I might have is the analogue lead from the Airport Express to the RCA on the A85 amp.
The DAC in the Airport Express v1 is not especially good and this was improved in the Airport Express v2 which is available on eBay for between £30 to £50 typically.

However, it is better to use the optical output from the same 3.5mm port to an optical input on your amp if it has an appropriate input as you are then using the Airport express just as a streamer which should be better with the v1 than using the Apple DAC.
 

Tinman1952

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The DAC in the Airport Express v1 is not especially good and this was improved in the Airport Express v2 which is available on eBay for between £30 to £50 typically.

However, it is better to use the optical output from the same 3.5mm port to an optical input on your amp if it has an appropriate input as you are then using the Airport express just as a streamer which should be better with the v1 than using the Apple DAC.
Agreed. Unfortunately the Arcam A85 is just an amplifier and has no digital inputs. However even a basic DAC like SMSL SU1 for £79.99 will be a big improvement despite the original Airport Express said to have high jitter on it's output ... which may or may not be noticeable.
 

My2Cents

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I find it interesting that folks use a mix of old PC/Windows products with old Apple gear, out of date Apple software and older hi fi gear and try to patch it all together to achieve an outcome that it was all never really designed for and do it all as cheaply as possible.
As you are talking about iTunes I'm guessing that you are still on Windows 10?
You mention SMB... SMB V1 has now been disabled on W11 due to serious security issues. I hope you are a computer guy 'cos using SMB on 10 will leave you open to attacks unless you know how disable V1 (which may cause issues with certain older software).
As you already guessed, at the end of the day the WiiM pro + is probably your best budget option.
The old 'plug into the wall' Airport Express 1 is probably something that needs to go to the local electronics recycling facility.
 
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Fandango Andy

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I can only think it is the DAC in the Apple device, the quality is still good but toggling the amp between the Arcam 7 CD and the Airport input reveals what is missing, a good review of the Airport express spec is on https://www.kenrockwell.com/apple/airport-express.htm#spex

I do not believe they can use an external DAC. The only weak link I might have is the analogue lead from the Airport Express to the RCA on the A85 amp.


I think others have already mentioned it, it looks like there is a digital output which would allow a external DAC.

The spec says: "3.5-mm audio minijack for analog or optical digital sound"

This would be a Mini-TOSLINK such as this:

Mini-TOSLINK optical audio cable with signal protection – 1.5m (Mini-TOSLINK to TOSLINK, digital S/PDIF cable/fibre optic cable for soundbars, stereo systems/amps, Hi-Fi) by CableDirect https://amzn.eu/d/fbcWiV0

As for an external DAC I have an SMSL SU-1 which you can get for £79 from amazon. There are lots of similar products on the market, I believe this is the best in the price range.

S.M.S.L SU-1 MQA MQA-CD Audio Decoder AK4493S XU316 768kHz/32Bit DSD512 Hi-Res DAC https://amzn.eu/d/481vEut
 
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My2Cents

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Most things I have read about Apple Lossless files ripped from a CD is that they are equivalent to .WAVs in terms of zero loss.
M4a is a file extension/container type and can contain either one of two file types; either AAC (which is lossy) or ALAC which is 'technically' lossless. As M4a is an Apple Inc. design it's not compatible with most Windows software (e.g. Windows Media Player).
If you ripped your CD's using the ALAC codec be aware that decoding ALAC files require around 4 times the CPU processing power than decoding a FLAC file does.
Also, when an M4a ALAC file is decoded (by iTunes or the Quicktime player for example) there is no error correction applied, this would have to be done by whatever digital board/DAC that you send it too.
 
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korgua

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I find it interesting that folks use a mix of old PC/Windows products with old Apple gear, out of date Apple software and older hi fi gear and try to patch it all together to achieve an outcome that it was all never really designed for and do it all as cheaply as possible.
As you are talking about iTunes I'm guessing that you are still on Windows 10?
You mention SMB... SMB V1 has now been disabled on W11 due to serious security issues. I hope you are a computer guy 'cos using SMB on 10 will leave you open to attacks unless you know how disable V1 (which may cause issues with certain older software).
As you already guessed, at the end of the day the WiiM pro + is probably your best budget option.
The old 'plug into the wall' Airport Express 1 is probably something that needs to go to the local electronics recycling facility.
Thank you, I do find it interesting what can be done with different gear. I could chuck money at it but I don't like to without understanding what the improvements / gains will be. I think I have done the right thing with lossless RIPs and my goal is to bridge the gap between the playback quality of iTunes vs Arcam 7 CD player. If a WIIM Pro+ was only 50% then it might not be worth it......someone has suggested I can use the optical out of the Airport and connect up to a SMSL SU1 https://www.amazon.co.uk/S-M-S-L-MQA-CD-Decoder-AK4493S-768kHz/dp/B0C1Y7C9HH ..... how this compares to a WiiM for playing lossless RIPs is what I need to understand.

As for the IT, I am comfortable with everything I am doing on the network.
 

Tinman1952

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Thank you, I do find it interesting what can be done with different gear. I could chuck money at it but I don't like to without understanding what the improvements / gains will be. I think I have done the right thing with lossless RIPs and my goal is to bridge the gap between the playback quality of iTunes vs Arcam 7 CD player. If a WIIM Pro+ was only 50% then it might not be worth it......someone has suggested I can use the optical out of the Airport and connect up to a SMSL SU1 https://www.amazon.co.uk/S-M-S-L-MQA-CD-Decoder-AK4493S-768kHz/dp/B0C1Y7C9HH ..... how this compares to a WiiM for playing lossless RIPs is what I need to understand.

As for the IT, I am comfortable with everything I am doing on the network.
£79.99 (plus optical cable) vs £219 ..... and I don't think you will hear any difference....🙂
 
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korgua

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M4a is a file extension/container type and can contain either one of two file types; either AAC (which is lossy) or ALAC which is 'technically' lossless. As M4a is an Apple Inc. design it's not compatible with most Windows software (e.g. Windows Media Player).
If you ripped your CD's using the ALAC codec be aware that decoding ALAC files require around 4 times the CPU processing power than decoding a FLAC file does.
Also, when an M4a ALAC file is decoded (by iTunes or the Quicktime player for example) there is no error correction applied, this would have to be done by whatever digital board/DAC that you send it too.
Thank you, interesting. the files are ALAC. I have "Error correction" enabled on the Import settings, does this mean the resulting files will not need error correction applying during playback? With the same CD import settings file bitrates vary from album to album, usually 500 - 1000kbps, all 16bit / 44.1Khz. It might be co-incidence but it feels like the higher figures are from albums that they cared about the sound quality on.

Is there a better app for ripping files e.g. Exact Audio copy.

I don't see any CPU hit for itunes.exe on the PC....an 8th Gen i5.....is this what you were referring to with a decoding overhead.....probably not having just read "The Express will decrypt, and then, decode the ALAC stream to an encoded digital audio (PCM) format at the same quality level of the original audio source format, and then, buffers it for up to 2 seconds before it outputs it via its digital optical or analog port."
 
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My2Cents

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Trying to find out what can be done with different gear basically involves 'chucking money at it', you've created an 'experimental process' which only your ears can judge the results of.
Comparing the streaming of ripped CD's from a computer and playing that same music from the original CD on a CD player (a 23 year old CD player to boot - I'm guessing that it's the Arcam 7)? is comparing apples to oranges.
Understanding the improvements and gains will only occur by hooking up various pieces of equipment and listening to the result.
However, here is perhaps something to understand:
The original CD's were mastered specifically for CD playback and the Arcam 7 will be making corrections and audio 'enhancements' to the sound before it even leaves the analog outs from the back of the unit.
Unless you made bit perfect rips from the CD's (highly unlikely) and then remastered them for streaming delivery you have already completely changed the tonality of the sound.
Even the streaming services files are done this way much of the time. Sometimes they even take a master that was created for vinyl and just make an MP3 or FLAC file from it, which is why a lot of streaming music actually sounds average at best and sometime just flat out bad - even when it's 24/192!

There are so many potential flaws in the stream (from the computer to the amp.) that the ripped files you are streaming (regardless of how they were ripped) are being digitally altered many times during their trip to the amp.
One of these would be their transmission to the Airport Express, which uses a very out of date WiFi 3 802.11g wireless protocol. The v1 Express also plugs into the wall right? how much noise is being generated there?
 
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My2Cents

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The first I've seen of this SMSL SU 1, looks like a possible solution. Buying from Amazon should be easy to return stuff if it doesn't work out?
That way you chuck some money at the problem and then Amazon chucks it right back LOL
If you like wires you could use the computer's USB out to the SMSL.

 

korgua

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Trying to find out what can be done with different gear basically involves 'chucking money at it', you've created an 'experimental process' which only your ears can judge the results of.
Comparing the streaming of ripped CD's from a computer and playing that same music from the original CD on a CD player (a 23 year old CD player to boot - I'm guessing that it's the Arcam 7)? is comparing apples to oranges.
Understanding the improvements and gains will only occur by hooking up various pieces of equipment and listening to the result.
However, here is perhaps something to understand:
The original CD's were mastered specifically for CD playback and the Arcam 7 will be making corrections and audio 'enhancements' to the sound before it even leaves the analog outs from the back of the unit.
Unless you made bit perfect rips from the CD's (highly unlikely) and then remastered them for streaming delivery you have already completely changed the tonality of the sound.
Even the streaming services files are done this way much of the time. Sometimes they even take a master that was created for vinyl and just make an MP3 or FLAC file from it, which is why a lot of streaming music actually sounds average at best and sometime just flat out bad - even when it's 24/192!

There are so many potential flaws in the stream (from the computer to the amp.) that the ripped files you are streaming (regardless of how they were ripped) are being digitally altered many times during their trip to the amp.
One of these would be their transmission to the Airport Express, which uses a very out of date WiFi 3 802.11g wireless protocol. The v1 Express also plugs into the wall right? how much noise is being generated there?
Thank you, all very interesting information. I agree...Apples and Oranges but it triggers my curiousity and desire to learn more.....which I have and very grateful for everyones input. I have ordered the SMSL SU-1 based on input from this forum, followed by watching / reading reviews. it was a no-brainer.

The Airports are definitely 802.11n, when I hookup the SMSL SU-1, I will test it over ethernet as well. I assume it would be a valid comparison to hookup a computer via USB to the SMSL - this would eliminate what everyone is saying is the weakspot.

In my cave, all the power is APC Smart UPS protected, incl A85 / CD, not sure how effective that is as eliminating noise, never spent time researching that.

I am intrigued to see if I use USB only from a PC direct into the DAC, what the improvements / differences will be. As you quite rightly say, it could be the rips are the weakest link but at least I will have minimized the times the digital files are altered.

What would be your software recommendation for making bit perfect RIPS?
 

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