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Ayre Acoustics QX-5 Twenty – The Digital Hub


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3 hours ago, austinpop said:

But - entertaining as all the above is for tweakers like me - ultimately most people want simplicity, and if Ayre can deliver a DAC that sounds its best on the Ethernet input, and beats out digital transport chains like mine, that would be a compelling product.

 

Hi Austinpop,

 

There are three basic methods of transferring digital audio data - S/PDIF and variants (AES/EBU, Toslink, etc.), USB, and Ethernet. Modern implementations of the latter two are "asynchronous", whereby the master clock is in the receiver (DAC) and not the transmitter (transport or server). (This is not to be confused with "Asynchronous Sample Rate Conversion - ASRC - that always degrades the sound in my experience).

 

Asynchronous operation yields a marked improvement in sound quality due to markedly reduced jitter levels. You may recall that Ayre assisted Gordon Rankin of Wavelength Audio in developing asynchronous USB, and both companies co-launched the first products of those types many years ago, effectively jump-starting the PC audio revolution. Now Ayre has a patent-pending method to create an asynchronous S/PDIF input stage that works with any audio transport and doesn't require a proprietary system with an extra clock signal. The goal was to boost the performance levels of all three types of inputs such that they could all provide equally high sonic results.

 

With the clocking (jitter) problem solved, about the only thing that separates the sound of inputs is the associated equipment. Much of the differences in both Ethernet and USB inputs can be traced down to the implementation of the computers used - as you have so clearly found. At the factory we have had better results with a highly-tuned USB source than a sloppily executed Ethernet source. The new Stereophile that just came out today reached the opposite conclusion - likely due to the quality of the external computer connections.

 

If you don't mind selecting discs and inserting them one-at-a-time by hand into a transport, I've found that an S/PDIF variant provides the simplest route to the best sound of all. The only microprocessors built into CD players are small ones (4 bits in the earliest models!) to control the laser servos and the display. By using a TosLink connection one can achieve total galvanic isolation from the CD player and achieve superb results with very little fuss.

 

Of course then one no longer has access to playlists, metadata, Roon, direct downloads, streaming, and so forth - but it is the easiest way to achieve top-flight sound quality. With any computer setup, one needs to take great care to achieve the best sonic results.

 

Hope this helps,

Charles Hansen

 

Charles Hansen

Dumb Analog Hardware Engineer
Former Transducer Designer

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Hello Mr. Hansen,

    A number of people have found improved sound quality with a ethernet input when fibre media converts have been placed in the line right before the renderer and the very best power source used for the downstream FMC.  I am assuming this is about noise reduction on the wired ethernet into the renderer.  The downstream FMC does inject some noise into the stream as the ones I have use switching regulators.  Would it make any sense for the renderer to accept optical ethernet rather than wired and do away with the downstream FMC ?  I am thinking DAC sound is improved by all the methods to reduce input noise.

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18 minutes ago, d_elm said:

Hello Mr. Hansen,

    A number of people have found improved sound quality with a ethernet input when fibre media converts have been placed in the line right before the renderer and the very best power source used for the downstream FMC.  I am assuming this is about noise reduction on the wired ethernet into the renderer.  The downstream FMC does inject some noise into the stream as the ones I have use switching regulators.  Would it make any sense for the renderer to accept optical ethernet rather than wired and do away with the downstream FMC ?  I am thinking DAC sound is improved by all the methods to reduce input noise.

 

Hello Mr. Elm,

 

I also am thinking that DAC sound is improved by all the methods to reduce input noise. The problem with optical ethernet is that the input device is about 20x more expensive for optical than electrical (the last time I checked), plus it draws a considerable amount of power and would require a dedicated regulator and larger power transformers. That means adding a fairly expensive input on an already-crowded rear panel that perhaps one person in a thousand would use in today's world.

 

I would guess that in another 5 years or so such things will become more commonplace. In the meantime the best Ethernet performance would likely be attained by what you are doing - having a sub-network dedicated to audio data that utilizes fiber-optic isolation and is powered by linear supplies. Or as noted above, do a similar thing with a manual disc player and Toslink - and lose all the advantages of computer audio.

 

Hope this helps,

Charles Hansen

Charles Hansen

Dumb Analog Hardware Engineer
Former Transducer Designer

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Hello Mr. Hansen,

    Thank you for the reply regarding optical ethernet input.  I am surprised you find few people are interested

in this.  Perhaps it is an awareness issue.  That being the case a QX-5 with USB only input would do me nicely.

A QX-5 lite !

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Hi @Charles Hansen:

 

When streaming Tidal through the QX5 would you expect better sound quality using your PC/Mac and Roon to control Tidal in the ethernet input?   Or would the sound quality be better keeping your PC/Mac out of the loop and stream directly from your router to the ethernet input and using the Mconnect as a controller?

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6 hours ago, austinpop said:

Details in my sig. Insane or not, it has raised the SQ of my Codex and the system as a whole to an extent I had never dreamed possible. What is even more fascinating is that with this optimized digital chain, I am finding that the differences between DACs is much smaller.

 

I'm an Ayre DAC fan, I've had the QB-9 then upgraded it to the DSD version and then a Codex as well.  The Codex drawing USB power definately liked clean power and every little tweak helped it.  I found the QB-9 was almost immune to upstream USB changes, the same goes for my Mirus Pro that replaced the Codex.  I have a feeling the QX-5 would respond like the QB-9 and the QX-8 being bus powered again would be more tempermental to USB source.

Roon Rock->Auralic Aria G2->Schiit Yggdrasil A2->McIntosh C47->McIntosh MC301 Monos->Wilson Audio Sabrinas

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I would like to thank Mr. Hansen for taking the time to contribute to the forum.

 

Im surprised to hear that Arye is using USB, I have spoken to Michael at Arye several times regarding my QX 5 and he said Arye uses Ethernet because it sounds better then USB and is one of the reason along with the great threads on this forum regarding optical ethernet isolation why I have gone this route. My whole ethernet is isolated , both FMC run off batteries which has improved the sound stage depth and tonal balance vs just the FMC closest to my Melcro/Dac. 

 

A side note the Melcro is vastly improved with it grounded to the Entreq via the USB 3.0. I did not detect any improvement on the Melcro using the chassis ground.

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A follow up question Mr. Hansen, you state at the factory you have obtained better results with a highly tuned USB vs sloppy executed ethernet, why hasn't Arye spent the same time developing a highly tuned ethernet ?

 

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Charles, thanks for sharing on the boards. I used to just ask Alex to get answers here, but since he left for AQ, that hasn't happened.  It's more than helpful.

 

I too have a question. System is the newest Vandersteen Quatro's, AX5/20, QX5/20 and Steve Nugent rebuilt Mac Mini server with Paul Hynes LPS and a SSD internally filled with a lot of well recorded high res music.  I am currently only able to use the MControl via wireless on the QX5 (for Tidal streaming).  The server is USB connection (Steve installed an asynchronous USB board) using the AQ Diamond cable and a Basis power cord that AJ made for me a couple of years ago.  

 

I am about to get Comcast internet in the house (100mbs I think it is called).  I was going to bring the modem into the audio room to hook up the router for the house, but this way I can easily run a direct ethernet connection to the back of the Ayre so that I can use the streamer built into the Ayre and just use the music server to serve what's on the hard drive as Steve has turned off everything  that hurts audio other than Bluetooth that I use to control the Mac.

 

How would you set up my system for the best sound? Thanks so much.  BTW, when Johnny from Audio Connection was installing the VAndy's a few months ago, we called into one of your techs to help me set up my MControl app as it was acting up. Just GREAT service.  The went above and beyond.  

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On 8/13/2017 at 4:59 PM, infonut said:

Hi @Charles Hansen:

 

When streaming Tidal through the QX5 would you expect better sound quality using your PC/Mac and Roon to control Tidal in the ethernet input?   Or would the sound quality be better keeping your PC/Mac out of the loop and stream directly from your router to the ethernet input and using the Mconnect as a controller?

 

Hi Infonut,

 

Good question, but I don't know the answer. I would suggest trying it both ways. The second scenario can't be simplified much, but the first scenario has plenty of room for "hot-rodding" the network to improve sound quality as noted by Austinpop. If you try it, please report back and let us know what you think.

 

Cheers,

Charles Hansen

Charles Hansen

Dumb Analog Hardware Engineer
Former Transducer Designer

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On 8/13/2017 at 5:32 PM, Tecnik1 said:

I would like to thank Mr. Hansen for taking the time to contribute to the forum.

 

Im surprised to hear that Arye is using USB, I have spoken to Michael at Arye several times regarding my QX 5 and he said Arye uses Ethernet because it sounds better then USB and is one of the reason along with the great threads on this forum regarding optical ethernet isolation why I have gone this route. My whole ethernet is isolated , both FMC run off batteries which has improved the sound stage depth and tonal balance vs just the FMC closest to my Melcro/Dac. 

 

A side note the Melcro is vastly improved with it grounded to the Entreq via the USB 3.0. I did not detect any improvement on the Melcro using the chassis ground.

 

Hi Tecnik1,

 

I'm surprised that Michael said that the QX-5 uses Ethernet "because it sounds better than USB" - he may have heard that from other people's experiences but that is not why it was included. It was included simply because with regards to features, USB excels at certain things while Ethernet excels at completely different things. At this point I believe there are simply too many variables for anyone to flatly say either interface is definitely superior sounding to the other interface. Ayre has done everything possible to maximize the performance of all three families of interfaces.

 

I suspect that with an "average" set up, it is easier to get higher sound quality from the Ethernet input as all Ethernet ports have an isolation transformer right at the input. In contrast USB cannot be transformer isolated, so the Ayre products have the USB input board on its own isolated subsystem with isolated power supplies that connect to the rest of the circuitry via opto-isolators.

 

However there are many, many ways to improve the performance of both inputs. The USB output on the Melco far outperforms the USB output on any Mac or Windows computer I've heard. And it may be that a highly tricked-out, opto-isolated Ethernet source with linear power supplies on everything sounds even better still. As noted, my favorite sound comes from a disc spinner via one of the S/PDF variant inputs - but then one loses all of the advantages of computer audio.

 

But these are the kinds of problems that are nice to have - do I want it to sound really, really, really, really good or do I want it to sound really, really really really, really good? And don't forget about tweaking the rest of your system as well...  :)

Charles Hansen

Dumb Analog Hardware Engineer
Former Transducer Designer

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On 8/13/2017 at 5:41 PM, Tecnik1 said:

A follow up question Mr. Hansen, you state at the factory you have obtained better results with a highly tuned USB vs sloppy executed ethernet, why hasn't Arye spent the same time developing a highly tuned ethernet ?

 

Hi Tecnkik1,

 

The Ethernet input is made to the highest possible performance level currently available. The Ethernet system at the factory is designed to connect 20 or so computers to the server and internet router. We don't currently have the need to evaluate the "world's best" network implementation at this time. The broad-band router is ~200' from the audio system. I don't listen to streaming personally, and the state-of-the art peripheries for both Ethernet and USB are still changing at a rapid pace.

 

Plus often it doesn't matter. In many cases the installation of the system in your home will determine whether USB or Ethernet will even work in your application. Then you gotta dance with what ya' brung.  :)

 

Hope this helps,

Charles Hansen

Charles Hansen

Dumb Analog Hardware Engineer
Former Transducer Designer

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It's good to see you here Charles.  Hopefully Maureen and I will see you at RMAF in October.

 

I prefer the USB input on our QX-5, but only because I have an ultraRendu connected to it with a short USB cable.  I was planning to eliminate it and just use the Ethernet input, but in this system the Ethernet connection doesn't sound as good.  I'm using Roon and Spotify Connect, on the ultraRendu.  Perhaps if I had a better quality server and optical Ethernet, the differences would be reduced.

SonicTransporter i9 > EtherRegen (powered by Uptone JS-2) > opticalRendu (JS-2) > Ayre QX-5 DAC > Ayre KX-R Twenty Preamp > Ayre MX-R Twenty mono amps > YG Kipod Signature Passive speakers.

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Hi Charles @Charles Hansen,

 

If you'll be at RMAF, I am going too, and I would love to stop by and chat with you in person.

 

Over on this thread, we've chronicled a wealth of purely empirical findings around improvements in the Ethernet and USB chain that are truly astonishing. If anyone wants to explore, I recommend you scroll down the first post to the index, and look at posts from myself and @romaz.

 

What we have discovered is that even if you hold these constant:

  • Roon Core server
  • DAC and everything downstream

there is an incredible improvement that is still possible in sound quality. This has to do with changes of these kinds:

  1. the use of a direct, bridged connection from the Roon/DLNA server to an endpoint
  2. the use of improved clocks across the chain
  3. the use of USB isolation
  4. the use of USB  and Ethernet regeneration
  5. the use of high quality reference clocks.

For those that are interested, have a look. But the key point is this - even with DACs of very high quality, and even when using the so-called asynchronous USB connection, everything still matters! 

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On 8/15/2017 at 6:19 PM, Ultrarunner said:

I prefer the USB input on our QX-5, but only because I have an ultraRendu connected to it with a short USB cable.  I was planning to eliminate it and just use the Ethernet input, but in this system the Ethernet connection doesn't sound as good.  I'm using Roon and Spotify Connect, on the ultraRendu.  Perhaps if I had a better quality server and optical Ethernet, the differences would be reduced.

 

Hi Ultrarunner (don't want to give away your real name),

 

Yes, it is impossible to make absolute judgments, as there are so many variables. JA preferred the Ethernet, yet you and I preferred the USB. I'm pretty sure it all comes down to what Austinpop says:

 

2 hours ago, austinpop said:
  1. For those that are interested, have a look. But the key point is this - even with DACs of very high quality, and even when using the so-called asynchronous USB connection, everything still matters! 

 

As crazy as it sounds, I've found almost nothing that doesn't make a sonic difference (to a trained listener with a good system listening to music they are familiar with). There are times when the differences are so small that it may not be worth worrying about. Then there are other times when a dozen tiny differences add up to a significant overall difference.

 

As I said, I'm unsure as to what the ultimate limits are with either Ethernet or USB. The only thing I can say is that Ayre has a patent-pending asynchronous circuit on the S/PDIF (and variant) inputs that makes it virtually immune to everything - especially if you use Toslink and have complete optical isolation of the source. That is worth having just as a reference (naturally it is then no longer a computer audio system!). In the system at work the Melco into the USB is very, very close to the S/PDIF - but not quite there yet. I'm sure that some of the hot-rod tricks AustinPop would bring it closer. Would it ever get all the way there? Would the Ethernet ever get all the way there, even all tricked out?

 

I honestly have no idea, but as noted it's nice to have a simple reference in the form of a CD player with an SPDIF out (or just a transport). We tried several different players with several different connection methods and all of them were much closer to each other than the changed heard simply by changed music player programs or file formats. If you want to get a taste of how good your computer audio source is, try comparing it to a CD transport/player connected with Toslink. (Be sure to disconnect all of the computer gear from both the system and the AC to ensure there is no noise injection when listening to the S/PDIF, and conversely to disconnect the CD player/transport from the system and the AC when listening to the computer source. Otherwise you may just be hearing the effects of other noise injection mechanisms - even though Ayre does everything possible to minimize their effects.)

 

I haven't finalized my plans for RMAF, but typically am only there one or two days for a few hours at most. There is some rumblings of a panel discussion, but you never know...  :)

 

Cheers,

Charles Hansen

Charles Hansen

Dumb Analog Hardware Engineer
Former Transducer Designer

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Wow, just so much great info.  Is there anyway to do a cliff note to set up the (modem, Router (suggestions on which ones to use as they have those new Eos etc..), switch, optical converters, optical cable, PSU's to use on either or both ends and if there are ethernet cables that seem to work best).

 

I have cognitive issues with the MS.  That's why I write down my listening notes so that I can go back and post when I forget things (although my long term memory is outstanding as I remember things after the fact most of the time).  I tried to read that long thread that was so kindly put together, however I wasn't able to as I"m not quite as technical as many of you. I do know that I need to set up any router with a separate audio only channel, but I'd love to have cliff notes.  

 

I have and love my Hynes PSU for the Steve Nugent made Mac Mini server I"m using. The question I have is can you even get a PH PSU? I know on that long thread there was a price list for multi rail (I assume that you can use that for multiple devices???) and single rail, but there was a long time where you couldn't even get one made and that you would lose money. Kind of like what has happened at Vapor Audio.  Great guys, great speakers, but not able to keep up with demand and the business side of things.  I'd love to be able to get PH PSU's for all of the optical conversions and the router and modem and then on the audio side for the server and one for the QX5. 

 

Hope I said that ok.  sorry to all if not. I'm trying, because I'm getting bombarded with folks asking ME what to do, lol.  Speakers, amps, DAC's, Servers, Headphones, Cables, TT's, Cart.....I give advice all the time and have for over 40 years now, but getting to the server and from the server to the DAC is just very complicated now.  I want the best I can afford (I do have budgets as I don't have a ton of money) for myself and also because I have lot's of folks who come to listen and want them to hear the best and then let them figure out what they can and should do.  Thanks again to everyone in this amazing thread.

 

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11 hours ago, ctsooner said:

Wow, just so much great info.  Is there anyway to do a cliff note to set up?

 

Ayre tried to do this with USB when the QB-9 asynchronous USB DAC was introduced. It was thorough enough that some other manufacturers of async USB DACs actually made links from their website to our website. The problem is the rate of change.

 

Within a year, changes had been made to operating systems and music player programs so that the screen shots were not representative of what would be seen by a current user. We've updated it a few times, but those two parts alone almost make up a full-time job. By the time you start adding in things like filters (eg, AQ's JitterBug), reclockers (eg, UpTone's Regen), optical isolation (which we addressed at one point for USB, but the company that make optical USB adapters - designed primarily for extending the range past 3 meters electrical limit - has changed their models since), it would become a full-time job to stay abreast of all the things out there.

 

Many "upgrades" turn out to be fads - like the green pen for CDs. (Yes, it helped most CD transports slightly, but the trouble-to-audible gain ratio was not even close to make it worth recommending.) The only thing I can say with some degree of confidence is that electrical noise appears to be the single biggest problem. (As I've said many times before - all of the problems with digital audio are actually analog problems.)

 

At Ayre we do everything we can to make our products as immune to noise as possible from all input ports (which includes the AC power line). Our engineering team does everything possible - use opto-isolators , filter whenever possible (it can have adverse sonic effects, especially when overdone) pay very close attention to ground return currents during PCB layout, and many other things including trying to run everything in the entire unit from the digital audio master clock.

 

In the latter case there are times when it is much easier to run the master control microprocessor from its own asynchronous clock located a few mm away from the chip rather than run the master audio clock halfway across the unit. But whenever we do that we put the micro to "sleep" (turning off its clock) when it is not being used (to change inputs, change volume levels, and things like that).

 

But there are other cases when some things are simply unavoidable. One is for USB the fundamental operating frequency is 12MHz (or a multiple thereof). That frequency has essentially no relationship to any CD-based source (44.1kHz and multiples) although it does to a video based source (48kHz and multiples). Then there is Ethernet, which is based on a a 25MHz clock (or multiples thereof) which has essentially no relationship to any digital audio frequency.

 

As with the main system microprocessor Ayre tries to shut down any unused clock to avoid problems with internally-generated RFI. Layout and shielding helps a lot - the main digital PCB in the QX-5 Twenty is an 8-layer design. That is the minimum number of layers one can use and still attain top-quality signal integrity and still maintain a large degree of freedom in the "ease of layout" department. It is possible to use 4 or 6 layers on very simple layouts, but only if one spends a lot of time trying to juggle opposing design constraints. By the time one gets into BGA (Ball Grid Array) packages - almost mandatory for modern high powered FPGAs, DSPs and microprocessors. 8 layers is something of a minimum, and 12 or more layers are not uncommon. I've seen digital audio PCBs for multi-channel digital audio (professional mixers and the like) that have as many as 20 layers.

 

It all boils down to the age-old rule: Performance, features, price. Pick two.

 

Back to your original question, Austinpop linked a thread that should be very helpful for optimizing Ethernet-based solutions. Also there is a wonderful website run by a gentleman in Switzerland (I believe) that is an invaluable source of information on almost everything related to computer audio:  http://www.thewelltemperedcomputer.com/

 

Even it he doesn't have all the answers, he keeps up with all the trends and gives links to additional sources of information.

Charles Hansen

Dumb Analog Hardware Engineer
Former Transducer Designer

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<=Blown away.  Thanks for sharing. I understood isolation and layout, but that's about it. I'm sure others get it all.  Just amazing and very cool.  I listen to a ton of gear as Alex knew.  I'm constantly out listening and have been blessed to be able to get a nice system that I never thought I'd be able to afford.  I chose your gear because of how it sounded and not because I liked my dealer (I have bought from two different Ayre dealers) and felt I should buy from him only as many will do.  I guess I should ask, if the QX already has optical isolation built in, is an external isolation needed? It seems like it wouldn't hurt it at all and it's not the most expensive thing.  

 

As for USB, I"m using a simple AQ Diamond cable and it sounds great.  What are the tweeks some are doing with USB and why?    I guess that's for the board too.  I'm trying to understand all the Regen and Sotm gear and why folks are doing it.  Pete 

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Hi Charlie,

 

It is nice to see you posting here again.  It is always interesting to get a little inside information on the technical aspects of Ayre's products and the attention to detail which goes into the design and development of them

And, Congratulations to all at Ayre for the excellent Stereophile Review of the QX-5. 

ROON: DSD 256-Sonore opticalModule-Signature Rendu optical--Bricasti M3 DAC--DIY Purifi Amplifier-Focus Audio FS888-JL E 112 sub-Nordost Tyr USB, DIY AC, Iconoclast XLR & speaker cables, Synergistic Orange Fuses, Dark Matter system clarifiers.                                                       

                                                                                           SONORE computer audio

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3 hours ago, ctsooner said:

<=Blown away.  Thanks for sharing. I understood isolation and layout, but that's about it. I'm sure others get it all.  Just amazing and very cool.  I listen to a ton of gear as Alex knew.  I'm constantly out listening and have been blessed to be able to get a nice system that I never thought I'd be able to afford.  I chose your gear because of how it sounded and not because I liked my dealer (I have bought from two different Ayre dealers) and felt I should buy from him only as many will do.  I guess I should ask, if the QX already has optical isolation built in, is an external isolation needed? It seems like it wouldn't hurt it at all and it's not the most expensive thing.  

 

As for USB, I"m using a simple AQ Diamond cable and it sounds great.  What are the tweeks some are doing with USB and why?    I guess that's for the board too.  I'm trying to understand all the Regen and Sotm gear and why folks are doing it.  Pete 

 

Hi CT,

 

Inside the unit it is difficult to create total isolation, as just the physical proximity of the components creates some small amount of stray capacitance. For example two bare parallel copper wires, 1/10" apart and 4" long with no insulation (best case scenario) will have about 1 picoarad of capacitance. (A picofarad is a million times smaller than a microfarad, so it is a very small amount of capacitance indeed.  But at high frequencies (as found in modern digital audio) even teensy-tiny capacitances can couple unwanted noise. For example the master audio clock in the QX-5 runs at approximately 100 MHz. Since it is a square wave, it will have strong harmonics out to the GHz range. At 1GHz even our example short wires space fairly far apart will couple with an impedance of only 160 ohms - enough to let in some noise. If you have Wi-Fi running at 2.4 GHz (the exact same frequency as your microwave oven - what genius came up with that idea?) then 1pF of coupling will only provide 66 ohms of isolation.

 

That's why its nice to have external optical isolation. There's simply more room to physically separate the devices to be isolated and the isolation can be much more effective. It's kind of like turning back the clock 50 years when it was easier to get more performance from "separates" than a receiver. In those days a receiver had a phono stage (lower gain as low output moving coil cartridges  were extremely rare, but still typically 54dB at low frequencies, power amps had massive power transformers to deliver 50 or 100 watts per channel, and built-in AM/FM tuners created internal sources of RFI - they had RF oscillators running at around 90 MHz to beat with the incoming FM signal to create a 10.7MHz "intermediate frequency". Putting all of the various noise sources (some RFI, some stray magnetic fields at the power line frequency) allowed for better overall performance.

 

Modern "all-in-ones" often have lower performance for many of the same reasons. Adding digital anything (whether DACs or displays) to an otherwise analog box is putting a source of RFI right inside the unit itself. Big power amps still require big transformers which create stray magnetic fields that contaminate low-level phono circuits - but many of them hide it by using switching power supplies. Now the "hum" is at hundreds of kHz where it cannot be heard directly - but may still cause audible degradation.

 

As always the old rule: "Performance, features, price. Pick two." still applies.

 

As far as USB cables go, I'v always been a fan of the Cardas Clear. I've not heard it, but am told the the Clear Ultra (at twice the price) is actually worth it. Either way I would give it a shot. I think you work with John at Audio Connection and he should be able to get you one to try out.

 

Cheeers,

Charles Hansen

Charles Hansen

Dumb Analog Hardware Engineer
Former Transducer Designer

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Thanks for that Charlie. I WILL do the external isolation as I have been planning on. Some folks are trying to get me to look into the inexpensive ethernet isolation transformers, but I can't see how that would be better than using the FMC's.  

 

For USB, I bought Shane Buttners's Audioquest Horizon (the WEL) balanced from the AX5/20 to the QX5/20 and he thew in the AQ Diamond, which is outstanding.  I too was told the Clear Ultra is special. I  will probably see if  Johnny will get one for me to try vs the Diamond.  I will say that the Horizon/WEL balanced made a full component upgrade difference that I was not expecting.  I had been using a Niagara which is also a very good cable.  I do like Cardas also.  Alex used to tell me to try it out.  I also am going to be ordering some of your footers.  Is there a special place to place them under each component?  Sorry, don't mean to hijack the thread, but often times the dealers don't fully know about set up for accessories.  Thanks.

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6 hours ago, ctsooner said:

I also am going to be ordering some of your footers.  Is there a special place to place them under each component?  Sorry, don't mean to hijack the thread, but often times the dealers don't fully know about set up for accessories.  Thanks.

 

Hi CT,

 

I've tried all kinds of footers over the decades. The first common ones were the Mod Squad Tip-Toes - conical aluminum things. When they first came out in the mid-80s, I honestly couldn't hear any difference, but my then-partner at Avalon Acoustics, Neil Patel could correctly identify brass versus aluminum cones - blind. I was trying to trick him and I couldn't. After about 10 tries with perfect guesses, I said, "Let me try something." I went an grabbed a machinist's 123 block which is a piece of steel exactly 1.000" x 2.000" x 3.000". The cones I were using were also 1" high so I could substitute a steel rectangle.

 

Then  I really thought I would trick him. I used two brass cones and would move all of the cones and blocks each time so he couldn't tell by the sound. The third footer was the steel block and the test device was a one-box CD player. I started out by putting the steel block underneath the transport of the unit. My partner said, "That's really weird, what did you do?" I wouldn't tell him but he said it kind of sounded like the brass cones but something else had changed in the sound stage. Then I shuffled them all around again and put the steel block underneath the power transformer.  He said, "That sounds completely different than anything else you've done." The bass got much more powerful.". Finally I shuffled them and ended up with the steel block underneath the section of the player that had the analog circuitry. He said, "That is completely messed up. It sounds like the sound stage is twisted and and everything is bent out of shape."

 

No matter what I did, the guy could hear it. It took me another 5 years of listening to get to where I could hear those same kinds of differences. Nowadays, my go-to footers for everything except speakers are wood blocks. Cardas makes some for Ayre - plain for under components, large notched ones for under power cords and speaker cables, and small double-notched ones for interconnect pairs. I always put three under every single component I have. It's best if the block goes between the shelf and the metal bottom of the unit so that the stock feet are hanging in the air. I've never tried optimizing the location (don't have the patience) but always make a triangle with two of the blocks along the heaviest edge. If any of your equipment is on carpet, I always put down a sharp spiked cone (my favorites are stainless steel) and then put a wood block on top of that (except for loudspeakers - then I just use stainless cones alone.

 

But just as important is to get your cables (interconnect, power, and speaker) off the floor - especially if your floor is carpeted, but it even helps with hardwood floors (don't ask me why). The difference between a fully blocked system (including all cables) and an unblocked system is scarily obvious. If you don't want to spend money experimenting, just buy the kid's game called Jenga. You get 50 blocks for $20 new, and I've bought 50 used ones in a bag for $2 at a garage sale. They don't sound quite as good as the golden ratio myrtle wood blocks, but they are at least 3/4 of the way there. The biggest pain is the cables. Without the notches it can be really hard to make the cables stay on top without sliding off. But it's a super cheap and easy way to see if you like them.

 

Compared to Jengas they are expensive, but compared to other footers they are silly inexpensive. If you don't like the Jengas, just give them to the neighbor's kids. Either way, feel free to report your findings.

 

Cheers,

Charles Hansen

Charles Hansen

Dumb Analog Hardware Engineer
Former Transducer Designer

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great reply.  It's funny as I told Johnny to order a bunch for me, but I work with wood on my good days and when my buddy Al is over (I won't use power equipment anymore without full supervision, lol).  I will just cut up some 8/4 maple I have and make enough blocks for all my components and then cool risers for the speaker cables and power cables.  I don't have any interconnects on the ground, so I should  be set there.  

 

I stil have some mod squads down with my Krell Steath DAC from the 90's, lol.  I just sold my mod squad passive preamp also. I assume they were the same company.  I forget, lol.  

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