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Comparison between toslink and firewire interface

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i was wondering if anyone has done some comparisons between using a toslink cable direct from a computer to their external DAC compared to using one of the Firewire based solutions to the same external DAC? And what were the sonic differences you have heard and which did you prefer?


The reason that I am asking is that I have tried my Macbook Pro connected to my external DAC via an Audio Quest optilink-5 toslink cable (and a mini-plug adapter on one end for the macbook pro) and have used the latest version of Itunes (with all settings done correctly and audio midi also set correctly) to listen to various audio files ranging from 16/44.1 to 24/44.1, 24/88.2, and 24/96 from HDtracks, Linn and Kent Poon's web sites. In all cases, except for the Kent Poon files, I have compared these audio files to their redbook CD equivalent or the in the case of the Linn and HDtracks files to their SACD equivalent via my CD/SACD dedicated transport connected to the same external DAC. While all of the computer audio files sounded good and in the case of the high- rez downloads (which sounded very good) the music from the dedicated transport sounded better to me and a friend of mine that also listened to the same comparisons with me. In the case of the redbook CD's compared to the 16/44.1 audio files - the CD via the transport was much, much better. If I had to put a percentage on it, which I think is hard to do, I would estimate 30% - 35% better. In the case of the high rez files compared to their SACD equivalent, I would say the SACD via the dedicated transport was about 20% - 25% better. I would have liked to try 24/192 downloads, but it appears that the optical output on the Macbook is limited to a maximum of 24/96 (my DAC can do 24/192).


Also, I am wondering if Chris could provide some further impressions of the Amarra solution that he has had a chance to listen to and how it compares sonically to his reference computer based front end.


Thanks very much, Arnie


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I’ve evaluated my Macbook Pro through all its interfaces, toslink, USB, and firewire. The chief differences are those of capability and compatibility. Thus firewire offers 24/192 capability, toslink is 24/96 on OS(X) and 24/192 on Windows, USB is 24/96 max. With any laptop you generally want compatibility, a simple and straight forward connection to your DAC, without adding another intermediate piece of equipment and additional cables. Examples of DACs that I’ve owned that have flexible interfaces include the Benchmark DAC1 USB and the Apogee FW Mini DAC.


As to the sonic differences of the interfaces, there are several variables involved including the successful implementation of the interface in the Macbook Pro, the successful implementation of the interface in either DAC, the different cables and as you say my personal preference. Despite these differences I generally found the coaxial, firewire and USB connections to sound very similar. I found the toslink connection to sound more forward and I generally preferred the more apparent soundstage depth. For obvious reasons I preferred the firewire connection for resolutions greater than 24/96.


That said, I found that the CA Recommended “Audiophile Reference Music Server For A Song” still bettered any Mac solution that I tried to date.


babybear, I not sure what you’re comparing when you cite your preference percentages for CD and SACD playback. SACD playback on your CD/SACD dedicated transport connected to the external DAC will only play the 16/44.1 CD layer and not the DSD layer. Thus if you’re comparing that to the playback of high-rez downloads it’s not surprising that your preferences would drop.


Not knowing the particulars of your equipment and setup, it may be helpful to know whether you find:


1. SACD playback on your CD/SACD player to be superior to CD playback on the same CD/SACD player.

2. CD playback on your CD/SACD player to be superior to CD playback on the same CD/SACD player used as a transport connected to your external DAC.


You should know that there is no uniformity in preferences for the above choices, but it may help reveal your system weaknesses or your subjective preferences. Regardless, there are several theoretical and technical reasons why direct digital files are almost always superior to the same digital files being read off a optical disc in real time and there are mitigating reasons why this is not always the case.


Finally, we are all on pins and needles, awaiting Chris’s review of the Amarra solution.




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Hi Audiozorro,


Thanks for the info.


My Digital front end is the Esoteric P03 CD/SACD transport connected to the Esoteric D03 DAC via dual AES/EBU digital cables. Perhaps I am missing something, but when I play an SACD, the P03 definitely plays back the SACD layer through the D03 and not the 16/44.1 layer.


To answer your questions:

1. In general, if I compare an SACD to the same music on a Redbook CD (not the CD layer of the SACD) I do find SACD playback to be superior to CD playback. I don't think I can answer your second question since I don't have a one box CD/SACD player.


I was curious to know if anyone has compared toslink output from the MAC to using something like the Weiss AFI1 or Vesta, or an RME Fireface 400/800 (or a product like these) as a firewire interface to an external DAC as i don't plan to change DAC's at this point. Since I now know what sonics I can achieve by using a Macbook Pro connected to my DAC via a good toslink cable, I am trying to learn if I can achieve better sonics and get closer to or even surpass what I can achieve via my P03 transport. I was hoping to eventually use a Mac Mini as the server, but I have been assuming that by using my current Macbook Pro I can get a very good idea of what sonics are possible via a computer front end.


Thanks, Arnie




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I was not directly involved in this, but two friends recently did a 'burn-off' between an EAR cdp and the Benchmark DAC1. Both are very fine pieces of equipment. For the two guys doing this, the EAR won by a whisker - their reasoning being that although they could detect no notable differences, the EAR sounded less clinical than the Benchmark. Both preferred the less clinical sound.


My guess is that's where you're at. Once you get to a certain point, the trade-offs are largely likely to boil down to the sort of sound you prefer. As Audiozorro, I find more of a signature in Toslink cables, although my description for what I hear is 'brash'. I have not had a chance to compare firewire to usb but, where I have heard it, I have always preferred coax spdif to usb.


Within my own system, replacing the cdp with a computer was a done deal. Way better. Comparing different computer-to-dac connections was nowhere near as easy but, if pushed, I would go for co-ax and then firewire or usb.


Hope this helps.


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Thanks babybear for clarifying what equipment you use. Obviously the Esoteric is one of a few players capable of SACD digital output, as would be necessary to go from the P03 to the D03.


To answer your question, I have used the Apogee FW Mini DAC and I believe Chris has used the Weiss Minerva DAC to feed a 24/176.4 signal to another DAC. I believe Chris said economically such a combination did not make sense and I concur. It’s been awhile and I can’t recall any critical listening details, but it was enough to convince me not to go that route.


I have to believe that if you’re committed to a Mac, that the Mac Pro and an excellent internal digital I/O card for would be superior to built-in interface of the Macbook Pro or Mac Mini. Again, it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but I found my CA recommended XP Windows Music Server with the Lynx AES16 interface or my Vista Music Server with a Juli@ interface to be sonically superior to my Macbook Pro. I can only theorize that I would reach similar conclusions with a Mac Pro and a suitable internal digital interface.


But whether a Mac Pro and any excellent digital I/O would be better than your P03 transport is hard to know without trying and experimenting. I trust that you will continue to find your computer music server more convenient, otherwise why bother. I just love it that my server plays music 24/7 without me having to lift a finger.



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I agree with audiozorro. Using the optical output of a Mac Pro straight into your high-end DAC is not an audiophile means of computer playback, especially competing with your Esoteric player. You have a high bar set to achieve your desired results, and while the optical output of a Macbook Pro isn't bad by any stretch it surely is not up to par with your standard. You could spend the money on a Mac Pro tower with a Lynx card to output AES to your DAC; or for less money purchase a re-clocker such as the Empirical Audio Pace-Car which would convert the toslink connection from your laptop through the device to output an AES connection into your DAC while reducing the jittery signal & noise from the optical output's clock by using a much higher quality clock inside the pace-car, hence "reclocking". It basically makes your laptop a better source. I suggest you talk to Steve Nugent the founder of Empirical Audio. He posts here and has an in home trial if you are skeptical. It wouldn't hurt to try and your feedback would be greatly appreciated on the board because I have had great results with my external word clock used with my pro audio device. Are the AES cables you use up to snuff with your Esoteric gear? I'm sure others will disagree and laugh but there is no reason to use plain unleaded fuel in a Porsche if you get my drift. Unfortunately there is no way at this time to rip SACD's to a computer for playback. Perhaps in the future DSD files will be offered online as downloads, but that would need a heap of bandwidth for them to host and users to download.


david is hear[br]http://www.tuniverse.tv

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Thanks everyone for your insight. I supposed that the best way to see if I can find a computer based front end to pair with my DAC will be try some of the various options.


Chris, it would be most helpful if you could provide some of your impressions of the sonic capabilities of the Amarra solution that you have had a chance to hear and let us know how it compares with your current reference computer front end.


Thanks very much.



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Babybear - How would you describe the 30% improvement in sound quality of your transport over the Mac toslink out? What sorts of things do you hear?


I ask because I have my Mac Mini feeding my Classe SSP-800 prepro via toslink, and when I compared this to the coax output of an expensive Classe CD player, I heard little to no difference between the two. I also recently tried the Bel Canto USB link out of the Mac and compared it to the toslink, and again, very little difference.


I'm just trying to figure out if I'm listening for the wrong things, or if my prepro is just particularly immune to jitter.


My system sounds great, so I'm not too worried about it, but if I can do better, well that's what this hobby is all about.


DavidR - I'd also like your thoughts on why the toslink out from a Mac is not up to audiophile standards.


Cheers,[br] - Tim

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I'll do some test during the w.e. with my system and see if I can bring any feedback to you about sonic differences between Toslink and FW on my system. I'm feeding my Bryston with AES/EBU trhough a Digital Konnect X32 (I preferred it over AFI1) which receive FW from my MacMini. I'll compare it against Toslink from my mini to Bryston direct and Toslink from mini to Digital Konnect X32 then AES/EBU to Bryston DAC. If you are interested I can also check the USB from mini to DAC direct. I went straight to FW+AES as this is the clearest and safest today path to 24/192.


I also have an Esoteric UX-1 which plays everithing: CD, SACD, DVDA, DVDV, tested against the Mac Mini, in my setup, my room and for my taste these where my outcomes:


CD player playback vs hardisk ripped CD --> PC do it better

SACD player playback vs hardisk ripped CD --> player do it better

SACD player vs hardisk HD files --> no possible to me to find same music on the 2 formats, so no feedback, but different software streaming in HD format gave me even better sense of quality than SACD experienced quality (so just a speculation untill real test can be done).





MacMini->FW->Digital Konnect X32(AES->Weiss DAC1 mkII

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Hi Tim,


Some of the key differences that I hear with Redbook CD on the P03 and the same 16/44.1 audio file played on the Macbook Pro via toslink are:

1. The soundstage with the P03 is significantly wider, deeper and layered front to back. With the Macbook it is narrower and basically flat.

2. High Frequencies (like the very high notes on piano played hard) are significantly fuller and richer sounding on the P03.

3. There is a good amount of glare and grain in the high frequencies compared to the P03 for example on trumpets when played hard. With the P03, there is virtually none of this for the same recording.

4. There is a better sense of air around performers within the soundstage - and the performers have more body with the P03.

The above differences are not subtle and you can hear them right away and help contribute to a more enjoyable listening experience for me (and i listen to my system just about every night)


When I play back 24/44.1, 24/88.2 and 24/96 hi rez files on the macbook pro - these are significantly better than any of the 16/44.1 files and in fact, are very, very good. Its only when I hear the SACD version of these same tracks on the P03 do I realize that the P03 still sounds better to me. The differences are in the same areas as redbook, but not as great a difference.


This experiment has me believing in the capability of a computer front end and I love the ability to access my entire music library from my iphone using the Remote application. But, having said that, I want to get the sound quality basically on par with what I can achieve with the P03. That is one of the reasons I am so curious about the Amarra solution based on what I have read and I look forward to hearing from Chris on how this compares sonically to his reference computer based front end.


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Hi Paolo - if you could do these comparisons that would be great and would be very helpful.


I agree with you that I would like the ability to go up 24/192 which is why I would like to go the firewire route (I know that USB will eventually get there as well). I will also do some research on the Digital Konnect X32 since the Weiss AFI1 is one of the firewire interfaces that I have been interested in. Thanks very much and let us know what you learn.


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Arnie, I think your outcome is very dependent on your system. I have TEAC/Esoteric delight experience since the time of PS2/D02 and what I learn is their DAC is primarily desing to match at best the suited transport player, if you mix the ligue of P03/D03 with P05/D05 or P07/D07, etc.. I bet you find the original couple to be better or at least equal than any different combinations. For my taste the TEAC DAC had poor performaces in comparison when fed with other transports/digital sources other than the suited one. The Toslink for instance was not the D07 better port, AES/EBU was much better. I would recommend you to experiment different ports and different DACs as well to notice how different, in your specific system chain, the result can be.




MacMini->FW->Digital Konnect X32(AES->Weiss DAC1 mkII

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  • 3 weeks later...



what is the result of your tests ?

I actually use toslink between my new macmini and the BDA1, I only found a basic plastic minitoslink-toslink cable (I live in a small island in indian ocean and no Van de Hul or Wireworld dealer near). In several weeks, I plan to by a Van den Hul OptocouplerII with minitoslink-toslink during my next travel in Europe).


The Weiss AFI1 seems very interesting, but the question is : a huge improvment in audio quality or not ?


In fact, I find a toslink cable very usefull in my system, because it transports also DD or DTS sound and the BDA1 has a digital coaxial bypass to my Bryston SP1.7 processor.





MacMiniDB+Amarra >>digital AES/EBU cable>> Bryston BDA-1 >> Klinger Favre analogue RCA cable>>Bryston SP1.7 >> Klinger Favre Studio 15 amplified (front) & Bryston 4BSST+Klinger Favre D26 (rear)

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but I tested last night the BDA-1 either with Mac Mini - to - BDA-1 Toslink (Wireworld cable and MIT cable via mini toslink adapter) and Mac Mini - to - Digital Connect X32 (FW) - to BDA-1 (AES/EBU) (LFD cable).

I didn't do yet the test of driving the BDA-1 with USD directly nor via X32 Toslink.... I bore doing test :-) I end always keepin listening music and forget about AB test ...


But I can report my feedback. There's definietely a difference in favour of driving trough the X32, sounds more open, bass portion of spectrum sound more precise and articulate. My general perception was of music flowing easier, smoother.

Coming back to your basic question: would I invest 1.5k into an AFI1 or X32 for the sake of BDA-1 improvement? Well, I wouldn't do. IMHO the difference is not worth, I would live along happy with just the BDA-1 and toslink, investing in music or saving the money to DAC upgrade sometime. BDA-1 is a very honest and anjoyable piece of D/A converter.




MacMini->FW->Digital Konnect X32(AES->Weiss DAC1 mkII

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm currently using a mac mini via firewire and a Konnekt X32 feeding an Esoteric D-05 with dual AES. Before the X32 i ran the mac mini directly into the D-05 with toslink. I think it sounds better with the X32 in the chain but this improvement could just as well be due to the superior AES input over the toslink on the D-05. Esoteric recommends using the AES or iLink input over toslink and coax.


Paolo, why did you choose the X32 over the AFI1? I'm considering to buy the AFI1 mainly because of the Amarra version that is developed specifically for Weiss and was mentioned somewhere else in this forum.


JRiver MC22 -> Merging+NADAC (8CH) -> Bryston Cubed -> Vivid Giya G2/Vivid C1/4xVivid V1W

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These results are very dependent on the computer and the converter device.


For instance, I have found Fireface 400 to be not good with PC, but fine with Mac. It is asynchronous, but needs ASIO to bypass kmixer on a PC. Mac does not have this issue. If the clock in the computer has lower jitter than the one in the device, then the Toslink may sound better. If you have a bad ground loop, then the Toslink may sound better. There are so many variables between USB/Firewire, PC, Mac, ASIO and the actual devices that there is no definitive answer.


I never use any of these stock devices alone anyway because the jitter is too high IME.


Steve N.


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I went for the X32 for the following reasons:

- time: too much to wait to get an AFI1 demo (even if the local distributor was very supportive and got Daniel Weiss kind availability to ship a demo to Italy)

- flexibility: with X32 I have all sort of digital in/out to be routed as you like and even an analog monitor port and even an headphone plug. I like to link my SAT receiver, DAT or any digital source I wanna run. I can also use it patching signals for digital recording.

- performance: the X32 has indeed a great jitter specs (less documentation available for AFI1) and at my home test was immediately delivering improvement over direct DAC toslink (apart unlocking the 24/192 streaming).

- price: I got the X32 at 1.1kE vs. AFI1 1.5kE price list.

I knew only later Amarra will be supported by AFI1, but I wanda why shouldn't it work with any firewire devices? Price for Amarra is also another wondering...


I think, generally, that AES/EBU has been up to day the reference digital interface, the one the most experience and efforts have been put by manufacturers. I do not know if it has an intrinsic design advantage over toslink and SPDIF, but for sure it has been the first and safiest to run PCM streams above 96KHz.


I always been a fan of Esoteric, on paper the D-05 looks to me as the top and most advanced Esoteric design today. Can you spend two words on it? How did you come to choose it?


..last thing, cabling does make a difference, not night and day but noticeable. I experienced differences playing with different AES/EBU and power cords...not done any FW comparison yet though.




MacMini->FW->Digital Konnect X32(AES->Weiss DAC1 mkII

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According to the amarra website the price for the software is $1495. I wonder what will be the price in Europe though..


I'm sure the AFI1 is handling jitter very well too and you will probably find one or two TC chips there as well. :-)


I chose the D-05 because I wanted a good converter for computer playback and still wanted to be able to play SACD. I could then keep my beloved Sony XA-9000ES and run it with iLink into the D-05. It is in my opinion a great sounding converter and I also love the build quality and overall finish - not necessary to hide it in the closet. :-)


I'm sure the BDA-1 is a great sounding unit and you should if possible make an A-B comparison if you consider to buy an Esoteric.







JRiver MC22 -> Merging+NADAC (8CH) -> Bryston Cubed -> Vivid Giya G2/Vivid C1/4xVivid V1W

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I'll go on Amarra website and check the news. I'm curious to know your insites about TC and Weiss... are they sharing R&D?

I currently own a UX-1, very little difference with X-01, but the advantage to play anything, I know the Esoteric top line quality (but not directly of your D-05). I'm waiting a Weiss DAC1 mkII as a BDA-1 replacement, that's the main reason I bought the X32. IMO this is a serious step forward outbeating in my environment all the digital (and analog ;-) ) sources I experienced up to now (well I decided for it after the medea test.. this gave me the flourish of the DAC1..).

Anyway... not for all, but for most parameters I preferred the Macmini+X32+BDA-1 to my Esoteric...





MacMini->FW->Digital Konnect X32(AES->Weiss DAC1 mkII

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  • 2 weeks later...

I've been using the Weiss DAC to for about 3 months now and I prefer the firewire using the mac mini....toslink sound slighly more relaxed and rolled off...not huge differences but very slight...I went with firewire as my solution mainly due to the slight increase in transparency but also confirmed by some of the detail Daniel wrote regarding the use of firewire so decided to stick with it....I have to admitt I havent spent an age pondering over it...firewire seems the obvious choice with the mini/Weiss DAC2


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  • 5 months later...

Not mentioned (apologies if I missed it) in the thread above is the wordclock link option that Esoteric kit provides. A recent article in German magazine (AUDIO; Sep09; including a very positive review on the Ayre QB-9) contained a review/article on the Esoteric D-05, teamed with the Logitec Transporter as a digital transport. The transporter was fed with the clock signal from the D-05. The article was VERY positive on the results and on the effect of the clock link (Title of article ='Dream-Couple').


So, on topic: if you seek ultimate quality from an Esoteric DAC fed from a computer, you may want to try a digital interface that allows you to clock-link (slave) the computer source to the clock of your Esoteric converter. That MIGHT bear more fruit then particulars of toslink vs coax vs AES/EBU vs USB vs FireWire alone. There may be consequences in the area of user friendliness (change of sample rates might require manual intervention, even in case of PC or Mac/Amarra, since the sample-rate is not set by the source, but by the DAC..)


The Lynx cards provide such clock-link option (see CASH list). In case of Mac that implies a Mac PRO (I think). I do not know if these are WORD-clock links or other (check for compatibility of clock signals). I do not know of any FireWire interfaces (very likable in case of MacMini) that allow clocklink.


If you're not blessed (or cursed?) with a DAC with clocklink option (or in my case; likely to go for a new DAC) there's likely more to chose (& eliminate).


Just my 2 c's


Bits to analog: Server [i9-10850k; Win10Pro, Roon Core + HQPlayer4 >all DSD256x] -> mRendu -> Regen -> Lampi GG

Analog to sound: ASR Emitter II Exclusive, Battery -> Gryphon Mojo S + 2 x REL G2

Details: Audio System

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