Making sense of streaming etc.

Discussion in 'Hi-Fi and General Audio' started by Jeff Lee, Mar 5, 2018.

  1. Jeff Lee

    Jeff Lee

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2013
    Messages:
    37
    Likes Received:
    1
    Having invested in a pretty pricey stereo system a few years back (Boulder amplification and Triangle Magellan Cello speakers), I have added a few bits of kit to add streaming and CD-ripping in a way that I hope will retain the SQ of the system and even build on it via hi-res. Trouble is I am never too sure if I am getting the best from what I have. and I do get lost in a lot of the info about different DACs, quality settings, etc. And although I can now stream music from Qobuz, I'm not sure how to ensure the quality is at its best. Main interest is classical music but also jazz, female vocalists, classic rock.

    If anyone can offer advice I'd be very grateful.

    Kit:
    Boulder pre-amp (no digital input as such)
    Bluesound Vault 2 (ripping CDs and includes Qobuz access as well as radio sources)
    Chromecast Audio (my first foray into streaming, and seems to work OK with Qobuz
    Marantz SACD player SA10, which includes co-ax and optical inputs/outputs as well as usual RCA outputs to pre-amp (so the Vault 2 and Chromecast are connected into the Marantz)
    I have a subscription to Qobuz Sublime and wondering whether to up it to Sublime+, which offers hi-res streaming)
    I also have a subscription to Roon since I found the metadata offered by Bluesound is a bit hit and miss and I don't want to spend hours editing it. But Roon and Qobuz don't seem to link together easily so I might give up on Roon - does that make sense?

    The other query is re. setup. I've pored over the instructions for everything but I'm not sure how to get the best sound quality especially since the Vault, Chromecast and Marantz all seem to have onboard DACs.

    Dimbo question: do all the DACS work together, or does the music signal somehow pick the best one available, or if not does anyone understand how to get all this stuff to work at its best?

    Apologies if this is unclear but this forum seems to be the best source of objective info. CDs and LPs are so simple...

    Many thanks.
     
    Jeff Lee, Mar 5, 2018
    #1
    1. Advertisements

  2. Jeff Lee

    Old Mercer

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2009
    Messages:
    3
    Likes Received:
    0
    Hi Jeff, I wish I could help, but I'm in a similar position to you. Or actually, worse, because I haven't yet been able to work out what equipment I would need in order to download hi res classical music, or how I would get it from the room the computer is in to the hi fi system in another room. I've occasionally come across an article or a guide which thinks it explains these things, but the authors don't realise how much less I know compared with them and they make assumptions about their readers' existing knowledge which puts what they have to say beyond my comprehension.

    Maybe there's someone on here who not only knows enough but also has the ability to explain it to those who don't, but I'm not very hopeful!
     
    Old Mercer, Apr 3, 2018
    #2
    1. Advertisements

  3. Jeff Lee

    Empirical Audio

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2017
    Messages:
    5
    Likes Received:
    0
    If you are driving the Marantz with S/PDIF from the Bluesound, then it is using the DAC in the Marantz.

    If you are using the L and R analog outputs from the Bluesound, then you are using the DAC in the Bluesound.

    Neither of these DACs is great quality IMO. Another outboard DAC would give better results, but you will have to spend some money, probably $2-3K.

    One thing that you could optimize is the jitter from both your transport and Bluesound. This jitter is on the S/PDIF coax outputs from either one. Jitter prevents the image from being clear, like looking through a dirty window. Causes fatigue, edginess and "smearing" of the image. The way to clean that window and reduce the jitter is a reclocker. This inserts inline in the coax cable. Here are some jitter plots:

    http://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=154408.0

    http://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=154425.0

    A reclocker like the Empirical Audio Synchro-Mesh ($699) will reduce jitter to ~20psec. Most transports have 100 times this jitter at least. The other thing is to use the very best coax cable you can afford, not a big brand name either. You can get an excellent coax cable from Empirical Audio for $275. You can connect both the transport and the Bluesound digital outputs to the Synchro-Mesh and then the output will feed any DAC, including your Marantz. The output from the SM to the DAC should be your best coax. One will need to be Toslink, so I recommend this optical Toslink cable in the length you need, not less than 1m:

    https://btpa.com/TOSLINK-XXX.html

    Streaming is another matter. The problem with sound quality with all streaming services has to do with the FLAC encoding. Decoding this on-the-fly causes all player software to create distortion. The best way to get great SQ is to play from a local disk on a computer or the Bluesound and files must be .wav format. All CD's can be ripped to .wav and downloads from HDtracks can be .wav. If your system is not optimized, then you may not hear the difference between WAV and FLAC however. Everyones system is at a different level. The best streaming I have heard, although its FLAC, is using Linn Kazoo controlling Minimserver to stream Tidal on a Mac. Linn Kazoo and Minimserver are freeware.

    If you want to just improve what you have, my recommendations are:

    1) add a Synchro-Mesh reclocker for both transport and Bluesound
    2) play local files in .wav format from the Bluesound
     
    Empirical Audio, Apr 3, 2018
    #3
  4. Jeff Lee

    Jeff Lee

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2013
    Messages:
    37
    Likes Received:
    1
    ...and I thought it was just me. If you have a look at the one other reply to my query (from a US-based dealer) you'll see that there are indeed a couple of concrete suggestions about getting the best from my existing system, but one involves spending another $700 dollars on a further device. The other idea is to use a different file format (WAV as opposed to FLAC) and I cannot find any clear report/review saying that the former SOUNDS better than the latter. So I'm not disposed to try either approach.

    So I didn't find this forum helpful at all, really. I had a look down the list of threads and replies for this area of it and noticed that lots of queries attracted no replies at all, the exception being the occasional queries about (e.g.) a Shearne amplifier, or freezing CDs, or opinions on overrated kit, or what speakers have you bought in your lifetime.

    Anyway: if it helps I could describe what I have done so far to add a streaming facility to my system and to add a CD backup arrangement. Let me know what your audio equipment is in the first place. Happy to do this via private email if you can find a way via this forum!

    Jeff
     
    Jeff Lee, Apr 9, 2018
    #4
  5. Jeff Lee

    Empirical Audio

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2017
    Messages:
    5
    Likes Received:
    0
    I am not a dealer. I am a designer and manufacturer since 1996. I have earned best of shows at several trade shows in the past. My products have gotten Golden Ear awards and Best Bits.

    The thing you must understand is that there are two significant pieces of your system that determine sound quality:
    1) speakers
    2) source

    The other pieces are less significant.

    If you are primarily using a digital sources, then reducing jitter from those sources is the most important thing you can do. I am an industry expert in digital and reducing jitter. Here is my latest DAC review if you don't believe me:

    https://www.audiostream.com/content/empirical-audio-overdrive-sx-ethernet-dacpre

    Here are some jitter measurements:

    http://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=154408.0

    http://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=154425.0

    I am trying to give you sound advice here. Unlike other large companies, I am the designer and I actually personally help my customers attain good sound quality. I also routinely upgrade my products at low cost.

    Steve N.
    Empirical Audio
     
    Empirical Audio, Apr 9, 2018
    #5
  6. Jeff Lee

    Jalna

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    6
    Likes Received:
    0

    I was in a similar position to you last year but wanted to move to streaming music instead of having to load CDs. I spent days trying to work out what I should do; I didn't want to lose any sound quality.

    My original system was a TEAC P30 CD Transport, feeding a NAD M51 DAC, to a pair of Chord Monobloc amplifiers, and finally to Wilson Benesch Act One speakers. Cable was/is primarily Van Den Hul. I also had a Sonos Connect for streaming Spotify/playing radio (so not CD quality), but using the NAD DAC as a pre-amp to maximise quality.

    What I discovered from research (and listening) was:
    1. FLAC 5 or WAV are both fine for ripping CDs. Information suggested they were equal quality, and that's what I thought when I tried both; the important thing is to pick one and standardise.
    2. A ripped CD sounds at least as good as the CD played from my TEAC P30 Transport (which is high end). So I sold the CD Transport and simply use a network drive to store all my music.
    3. You need a good DAC; the best at the moment are probably Chord; the latest Chord Qutest is getting rave reviews, but if that is too expensive get some recommendations of DACS from the last 2-3 years and buy one second hand. The NAD M51 is good and great value second hand, especially as it has the digital pre-amp; a cheaper alternative is the Audiolad M-DAC. A good DAC is an important and worthwhile investment as it will improve the sound quality of all your sources, except analogue, such as records.
    4. You need something to manage the streaming. For me, that is the Sonos Connect. It doesn't impact the sound quality as, when using a separate DAC and pre-amp (or DAC with pre-amp), it is only being used as a music manager. I think the Blusound Vault probably does the work of my network drive and Sonos Connect combined.
    5. Cables do not make a big difference, better to spend the money on the DAC.
    7. If streamed, ie not using a CD transport, then jitter is not an issue. I never found it an issue with the P30 anyway, but it is a high end transport.

    No doubt someone will disagree with some of this, it is just my personal experience.
     
    Jalna, May 1, 2018
    #6
  7. Jeff Lee

    Empirical Audio

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2017
    Messages:
    5
    Likes Received:
    0
    Empirical Audio, May 3, 2018
    #7
  8. Jeff Lee

    Jeff Lee

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2013
    Messages:
    37
    Likes Received:
    1
    Steve

    Many apologies for wrongly identifying you as a dealer (here in the UK I had not come across Empirical Audio at all), and thank you for your comments and thoughts. I should have checked your background and achievements first. I think I understand how a reclocker might fit into my system and the benefits it might have. What I lack is an overview of computer/digital technology in the field of audio, so I will do some more reading on all that. Meanwhile thank you again.

    Jeff
     
    Jeff Lee, May 5, 2018
    #8
  9. Jeff Lee

    Jeff Lee

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2013
    Messages:
    37
    Likes Received:
    1

    Thanks, Jaina. Yes, the Bluesound Vault 2 is a ripping and streaming device and I cannot hear any difference between a CD ripped to and played from it, and the CD played on the Marantz. (In passing, the Marantz SA10 is a stunning player whether playing SACD or standard RBCD).

    As far as DACS are concerned: the Chromecast Audio must have a DAC (probably fairly basic one), the Vault has a DAC, and the Marantz has a DAC which has been lauded as doing an excellent job! The outputs from Chromecast and Vault feed into the Marantz to utilise the its DAC. If it's not a silly question, why do we keep buying yet more DACs? And how would a Chord DAC (for instance) improve my system? Where would it fit in? And would a reclocker help, as suggested by Steve at Empirical Audio?

    Getting out of my depth here but thanks for your comments!

    Jeff
     
    Jeff Lee, May 6, 2018
    #9
  10. Jeff Lee

    Jeff Lee

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2013
    Messages:
    37
    Likes Received:
    1

    By the way: meant add that the great advantage of having a good CD/SACD player in the system rather than relying totally on a streaming or ripping system is (of course) that friends can bring their discs and hear them at their best. When they come with their Apple phones we are stuck since my main computer is a PC and I have no idea how to play their music through my system.
     
    Jeff Lee, May 6, 2018
    #10
  11. Jeff Lee

    oldburyj

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2008
    Messages:
    11
    Likes Received:
    0
    I bought an Olive 04HD music server a few years ago, to move away from CD clutter, and it worked well, however once streaming became higher quality, I went with a Linn Majik streamer being fed by the Olive, and using Tidal. I still felt something was missing as the onboard DAC's did not meet the sound I was looking for. I added a seperate Synthesis Matrix valve DAC, which know brings them both to a much more engaging sound. I think getting the correct cables is a much, and after many disapointments, I latched onto Acoustic Zen MC2 cables which I am happy to report are Brill.
     
    oldburyj, May 8, 2018
    #11
  12. Jeff Lee

    SnowDog

    Joined:
    May 27, 2018
    Messages:
    16
    Likes Received:
    0
    All I can say is: invest in a good DAC and cables (at the front-end especially) and you should be OK.
     
    SnowDog, May 28, 2018
    #12
  13. Jeff Lee

    Jalna

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    6
    Likes Received:
    0

    The DAC has a huge impact and if you're streaming digital music will ahve a greater impact on overall quality (sound-stage, depth, clarity and musicality) than anything else £ for £.

    I haven't used reclocking, but it sounds like I should give it a try. I have tried many cables but haven't noticed a huge difference, unlike speaker cables which can have a significant impact. The interconnects I use are 20 years old now (Van Den Hul the second) but as they're still available they must be OK. Steve (Empirical Audio) sounds very knowledgeable, so if in any doubt I'd go with his advice; mine is just my own opinion!
     
    Jalna, Jun 4, 2018
    #13
    1. Advertisements

Ask a Question

Want to reply to this thread or ask your own question?

You'll need to choose a username for the site, which only take a couple of moments (here). After that, you can post your question and our members will help you out.