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Playing high-res downloads on my good stereo/speakers?


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It's taken me a while to even figure out the right question to start with, so bear with me. As I start to get more into higher-quality audio, I'm doing research on high-res downloads such as those available from HDTracks, etc. For my headphone setup (MacBookAir -> iTunes + BitPerfect -> AQ Dragonfly -> Fiio MB amp -> HD600 headphones), I think I've got it covered. However, when I think about how to play back on my good speaker system, I'm at a loss.

 

Right now, my system is set up so I can wirelessly stream any GooglePlay Music (320kbps) or any ripped iTunes 16/44 track (ALAC or AAC) to my receiver (Marantz 8801) via AppleTV or ChromeCast. No discs or extra wires needed. I can drive playback from my laptop or my iPad/iPhone. Very easy, and greatly improves my willingness to cue up the music: the less hassle, the more I will play it.

 

However, AirPlay is limited to 16/44, so any HDTrack purchases would be downsampled, and that defeats the purpose. Another way would be to just buy SACDs, but that defeats the convenience. I also don't have an old PS3 so if I invested in SACDs and then wanted to go disc-less, I'd have to re-purchase the tracks anyway. I could get a Mac Mini and connect it via HDMI to my Marantz, but that is significantly more investment and complexity than a $99 AppleTV. If I ever move to DSD files, it also won't play DSD over HDMI.

 

What do most people do in this situation? Just go the Mini route and deal with managing another computer?

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I've heard very good things about the Oppo 103. but how do I get the tracks to the Oppo? Do I hang a hard drive off of it? What's the interface for track selection? How well does that interface scale to a large # of tracks/albums/artists?

 

This also means keeping two separate music libraries: my laptop which I can use with headphones in any room, and the hard drive on the Oppo. It's just a pain to keep them in sync.

 

Thanks!

-mike

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Welcome to CA!

 

One of the advantages of having a separate set-up (dedicated mini in this case) is that you can configure it as a dedicated device. That is, you can turn off Spotlight indexing, get rid of irrelevant startup processes etc. And once it is configured, no need to upgrade softwarde until you're good and ready.

 

I decided just to stay with a single device (2010 MacBook Pro) and use the same DAC for headphones and main system. Well actually, I have multiple listening systems... and so I carry the MBP (and external FW drive) to different locations as desired. The Dragonfly just has the mini-phono output connector, so you can buy a mini-to-RCA connector cable to feed the AQ Dragonfly directly into one of your analog inputs on your amp.

2013 MacBook Pro Retina -> {Pure Music | Audirvana} -> {Dragonfly Red v.1} -> AKG K-702 or Sennheiser HD650 headphones.

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Thanks!

 

I would guess that the DAC in my Marantz would be superior to the Dragonfly, but that does help from the convenience perspective. I almost always have my laptop when listening to music, even when driving from an iOS device.

 

There is a very good likelihood that the dragonfly is better. If you can feed its output into your analogue input to the Marantz and avoid the Airplay resolution bottleneck, you will be rewarded.

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There is a very good likelihood that the dragonfly is better. If you can feed its output into your analogue input to the Marantz and avoid the Airplay resolution bottleneck, you will be rewarded.

 

+1. Just take the output from the Dragonfly, use a headphone mini-plug to dual-RCA adapter (I use this one: Bridges Falls Evergreen), run into an available analog in slot on your Marantz, and Bob's your uncle. At least try that out before doing anything else.

John Walker - IT Executive

Headphone - MacMini running Roon Server > Netgear Orbi wireless > Blue Jeans Cable Ethernet > mRendu Roon endpoint > iFi Audio xDSD + iFi Audio xCAN > Focal Elegia

Home Theater - Mac Mini running Roon Server > Blue Jeans Cable HDMI > Pioneer Elite SC-81 > MartinLogan Motion series home theater speakers + M&K subwoofer

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It is difficult to say whether Dragonfly is better than Marantz purely from a DAC point of view. But that's not the only issue here. The issue is that digital music playback going through Dragonfly/Marantz first has to address jitter and then the sound gets sent to the DAC. Dragonfly is better designed to address jitter, compared to the Marantz with basic setup. So for example, there's nothing to stop you from using your MacBook Air's audio output and hook up a Toslink cable (with an adaptor) to stream high-res music to the Marantz (like you already do with the AppleTV) and compare that to Dragonfly to the Marantz's analog output. My guess and everyone else's here is that that Dragonfly will sound better, primarily because jitter management is better with the Dragonfly. In theory, you can get specific asynchronous USB devices to address this problem, e.g. Halide Bridge ($395) or Peachtree X1 ($150-200 but you'll need to add the cost of USB & S/PDIF cable). And it's possible that with a higher end USB to S/PDIF adaptor, the Dragonfly will sound inferior to Marantz. No way to know until you try it.

 

But right now, you're just exploring different options so that you can decide whether to build a new Mac Mini specifically for the Marantz for music playback and how to implement that build. You may find that all this extra setup to be not worth it and you might end up preferring just downconverting all your hi-res music to 16/44 so that you can just send them to AppleTV. Or alternatively, you may find that playing music directly off your MacBook Air (including sound from GooglePlay music and your existing iTunes library) to be so much more superior to your AppleTV/ChromeCast setup that you'll rush out to buy a dedicated MacMini +/- a USB-to-S/PDIF adaptor or an additional Dragonfly.

 

The good thing about having a laptop setup is that you can move it around and try things out first before committing yourself to a big purchase like a Mac Mini and doing a more dedicated setup.

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First off, the Marantz, like most prepros, is limited in its file playback abilities compared to what a computer or dedicated streamer/renderer can do. Inserting GooglePlay or other "convenience" apps only makes it worse. So, it ain't so much that the DACs that are inferior to the DragonFly (although that is possible) but that the entire signal chain is a constraint.

 

I've heard very good things about the Oppo 103. but how do I get the tracks to the Oppo?
USB A or B, ethernet, SATA.

 

Do I hang a hard drive off of it? What's the interface for track selection? How well does that interface scale to a large # of tracks/albums/artists?
You can do this and it is easy and will play almost anything at full resolution. The GUI is not sophisticated but works.

 

This also means keeping two separate music libraries: my laptop which I can use with headphones in any room, and the hard drive on the Oppo. It's just a pain to keep them in sync.
When I used my Oppo for this I streamed the music by ethernet from my computer in another room. This way, only one set of files is needed. You can read more about this in my column. Just look for the reports on the Oppo 103/105.

Kal Rubinson

Senior Contributing Editor, Stereophile

 

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Thanks Kal, I'll take a look at using a DLNA server like Plex on my MBAir. I've been thinking about getting an Oppo anyway and this might tip the balance. Do you have any experience with DLNA streaming over wifi? I don't have a Ethernet drop right there and use a Ethernet->WiFi bridge at my Marantz.

 

Thanks everyone for the variety of options. Love this forum!

-mike

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Thanks Kal, I'll take a look at using a DLNA server like Plex on my MBAir. I've been thinking about getting an Oppo anyway and this might tip the balance.
Just find out if the Plex DLNA server will do DSD. Most don't, some do.

 

Do you have any experience with DLNA streaming over wifi? I don't have a Ethernet drop right there and use a Ethernet->WiFi bridge at my Marantz.
I only have a little experience with WiFi streaming because, some years back, I had limited success with it and went hard-wired. No reason to go back. Also, I do not use DLNA in my setups because DLNA servers can be picky about formats. Many go this route and it will work but I prefer to use SMB over ethernet because it is format-agnostic.

Kal Rubinson

Senior Contributing Editor, Stereophile

 

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If you can get AppleTV & ChromeCast to stream without dropouts, you should be able to use a WiFi bridge although they're usually a little harder to setup. Alternatively, you can use Ethernet via Powerline. I think the decision to get an Oppo should be based on whether you want a fantastic Blu-ray/video player. The DLNA features should be treated as a bonus. And if you're only going to use HDMI from the Oppo, you can get the BDP-103 instead of the 105.

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As a test, I installed Plex on my MBAir and used it to stream to my PS/3 via DLNA. It could handle 16/44 AAC tracks pretty well, but paused frequently on 24/88 ALAC. My first thought was the wifi can't handle it, but when I looked at the network panel of Activity Monitor, very little data was being transferred. CPU usage was pretty close to zero, so the server wasn't maxed.

 

Another odd thing is that on the PS3, there's a setting in the menus for "Music Transcode Bitrate", so I wonder if something is transcoding. I could find no mention of this when searching, either for Plex or the PS3, so I'm not sure where it's coming from.

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I'm not super familiar with PS3. But I thought it doesn't support ALAC files. So to get a 24/88 ALAC file to play off the PS3, you would have to have PLEX transcode the file into a 24/88 format that PS3 supports which I presume would have to be WAV. This would significantly increase your bandwidth needs and may require you to switch over from a wireless network to a wired network (e.g. ethernet over powerline), depending on the throughput speed of your internal wireless network. Assuming this is setup correctly and your wireless network can handle the throughput and your wife is not streaming Netflix, you would have to set the PS3 to audio output frequency of 44/88/176 to ensure PS3 doesn't convert the sound to a different sample rate. And I believe PS3 doesn't support 96/192.

 

That said, Oppo doesn't support ALAC files either so you would still need to transcode it to FLAC at a minimum. The many joys of DLNA media server setups...

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I think you said you have a Marantz AV8801 right?

 

Well if you install a UPnP server on your computer then you can feed the music via Ethernet direct to the Marantz. A versatile option is MinimServer

 

The Marantz application on iPhone or iPad will allow easy control.

 

You should try this as a starting point (IMO) considering it will cost you £0

 

Eloise

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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Eloise has a great point. And Marantz AV8801 actually supports ALAC files. So life should be easier and the digital signal is more direct, instead of going through PS3 first, you're going straight to the Marantz. The only caveat of course is that you'll need to have an Ethernet connected to the Marantz, as opposed to using WiFi with the PS3.

 

btw, you never mentioned how your WiFi is setup. Is it B/G/N? Is it with Apple products or some other brand like Linksys/D-Link?

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The only caveat of course is that you'll need to have an Ethernet connected to the Marantz, as opposed to using WiFi with the PS3.

I assume networking is already set up to the Marantz as the OP mentions using AirPlay...

 

Plex should work as UPnP server to the AV8801 too.

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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Ok Mike......lots of great suggestions here so far......but how bout a question? Have you compared HiRes playback to down converted ATV playback yet to confirm there's value in the Hires playback ability? I'd start there before spending a dime.

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Ok Mike......lots of great suggestions here so far......but how bout a question? Have you compared HiRes playback to down converted ATV playback yet to confirm there's value in the Hires playback ability? I'd start there before spending a dime.

 

 

sell your marantz 8801 and buy a newer model that you can plug a usb flash memory into and that can handle dsd files.

or buy ifi idsd

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I think Mike McSweeney is onto something here. Marantz can't play DSD files but can play the other ALAC files if you just put the files onto a USB stick and plug it in. And as mayhem13 suggested, you should start comparing those ALAC files played via USB with the same files played via your AppleTV and see if you think it's worthwhile trying to play those hi-res files off your Marantz in the first place. Many ways to skin a cat... (I don't like

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