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A novel way to massively improve the SQ of computer audio streaming

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2 hours ago, kennyb123 said:

Just wondering - with all these improvements advanced by Romaz and others in this thread - have any of you noticed a change in the importance of the USB cable?  Has direct mode and use of better clocks lessened or increased the importance of proper USB cable selection?

 

I've been looking forward to UpTone allowing the purchase of individual USPCBs.  I'm eager to hear what happens when I can eliminate my USB cable.  I intend to try microRendu > USPCB > ISO REGEN > USPCB > Hugo TT.  My USB cable is the Audience Au24, which I preferred to a few other well regarded cables at and above its price.  It'll be interesting to hear what happens when I substitute the USPCB for the Au24.

 

The full SOtM stack requires adding another USB cable.  So far I think I've seen only one report, from Roy (I think), where I believe he mentioned that the USB cable entering his DAC mattered more than the other.  His DAVE is said to be relatively insensitive to USB cables compared to most other DACs, so I'm wondering what others have discovered.

I have replaced my curious Regen link between the Nimitra server and Iso Regen with USPCB. It is significantly better! Took me less than 5 sec to make the call

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2 hours ago, romaz said:

First of all, a big thank you to @austinpop for his hard work re-organizing this giant thread.  As I see it, Rajiv, this is now your thread, mate.  Feel free to take it where you would like.  I am happy to contribute where I can.

 

Hah - thanks, but I don't plan to moderate this thread. I do plan to continue curating an index for the first post, but that's about it. So far, I think the S/N ratio of this thread has been commendably high, TBH.

 

2 hours ago, romaz said:

I noticed Rajiv's comment on how he will be taking a break from investing further into his digital infrastructure and instead will look into putting more effort into the analog portion of his system.  Well, I have been doing the same and I just received a gigantic dose of perspective these past few days.  

 

Thanks for sharing! Most of us just take vicarious pleasure from your reports, as these are products well outside our tax brackets! :D 

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2 hours ago, romaz said:

 

At this point, I don't know just how good the clock in the sCLK-EX is nor is it that relevant to me anymore since I intend only to use this clock board as a vehicle to implement the REF10.  To be able to bring REF10 level performance to 8 components while only using 2 clock outputs still boggles my mind.

 

Roy, your phrase that I highlighted there caught my attention.

 

So if it were possible to supply two components with a reference clock, one with an "inferior" internal clock vs the other, would  the injection of the reference clock render the internal clock quality differences moot?

 

Somehow that surprises me. I would still expect the internal clock quality to carry forward. But I guess we shall see!

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Thanks Roy for a great and informative post as usual. Really nice to read and learn from your experience.

 

11 minutes ago, romaz said:

Ultimately, what this means is that I have decided to abandon the AOIP route and go straight USB.  Not only is it simpler but there are other advantages.  It's possible some of the improved SQ I am hearing compared against the sMS-200ultra is due to Chord's ASIO driver in Windows being superior to the stock sound driver in Linux that is used by all AOIP devices like the mR or sMS-200

I have made the decision a while back to go USB only in my system for simplicity reasons and not because I know it is superior to ethernet. I always felt that there maybe some compromise there because I always read about how great the performance of SMS-200 and microrendu.  I am happy that you also found that USB has a great potential to sound awesome and that we in the USB camp can have the same if not surpass the SQ of a hybrid ethernet/USB chain. Of course, not all USB chains are created equal. In my system and after a lot of trials I found that the best SQ is this chain:

Nimitra sever (VR Mini)>IR(LPS-1)>tX-USBultra(Nikola flagship LPS)>Brooklyn (VR Mini)

 

I still feel that I have 3 clock taps in my tX that are redundant and that I should do something with them. I checked with SOTM about modding the Nimitra, and they recommended to take the SC-ELK board and install it next to the motherboard of the Nimitra for best results, but there was not enough space, so some complications came in the way and I didn't want to have an external box to house the clock board next to the Nimitra so I canceled the whole thing.

 

Right now I am thinking of my analogue amplification based the advice of @ElviaCaprice which was based on your recommendation of going straight from a Chord Dac to highly efficient speakers. It happens that my system is in a small room and I have a near field setup. I sit about 4-5 feet away from my speakers and this new Dac to speakers approach may suit my needs very well.

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12 minutes ago, austinpop said:

 

Roy, your phrase that I highlighted there caught my attention.

 

So if it were possible to supply two components with a reference clock, one with an "inferior" internal clock vs the other, would  the injection of the reference clock render the internal clock quality differences moot?

 

Somehow that surprises me. I would still expect the internal clock quality to carry forward. But I guess we shall see!

 

I'm not sure I fully understand what you're asking, Rajiv?  I think all electronics stand to benefit from a better clock implementation although the quantitative improvement in SQ will probably be gauged on more than just the clock as you so wisely alluded to in your comparative report.  My goal with the sCLK-EX was to provide any and all components in my signal path with a clean, high-performance clock signal with the hope of enhancing the performance of that component.  With the REF10, instead of elevating each component to the performance characteristics of the sCLK-EX's internal clock, the goal is now to elevate it to the performance of the OCXO in the REF10.  Regardless, the sCLK-EX board still plays an important role since this board is the interface that allows the REF10 to talk to my individual components.

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@Romaz

When you have some time, It would be really helpful to me and others if you can just list the current chain of your digital setup

Thanks

Moussa

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29 minutes ago, romaz said:

Ultimately, what this means is that I have decided to abandon the AOIP route and go straight USB.  

 

I can see the direct USB "team" breaking into cheers and high-fiving! :D These are awesome findings, Roy.

 

One question though - on nomenclature. Isn't the term AOIP typically used to refer to products like the Adnaco and the PS LanRover, which use IP to transport USB audio? I tend to consider the phrases "endpoint architecture" or NAA or renderer or streamer as more representative of the mR/sMS-200 approach.

 

But either way, very interesting results as usual!

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9 minutes ago, mozes said:

@Romaz

When you have some time, It would be really helpful to me and others if you can just list the current chain of your digital setup

Thanks

Moussa

 

I'll see if I can find time to do it later today, Moussa.

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9 minutes ago, romaz said:

 

I'm not sure I fully understand what you're asking, Rajiv?  

 

I was just wondering what you meant by this:

 

Quote

I don't know just how good the clock in the sCLK-EX is nor is it that relevant to me anymore

 

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@romaz

 

LOL, I just upgraded by analogue chain by buying an Audio Research Ref6 to replace my Ref5SE.

 

Quote

  I say this because a good friend who is also a reviewer had recently purchased his own tX-USBultra and upon receiving it, he marveled at how harsh and flat it sounded relative to the broken-in review unit SOtM had sent him (which he still has in his possession).  He said the A/B was very obvious.  With more time on his new tX-USBultra, the harshness is diminishing and depth and air are improving.

 

 I hope this is true because I was really disappointed in the beginning as well.  I haven't felt like I've heard any burn in yet but need to keep listening.

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45 minutes ago, romaz said:

The comment I am hearing from several is that the IR is the "flatter" of the two but also brings richer tonal density whereas the tX-USBultra provides more atmosphere at the expense of a thinner midrange.  I could see why someone would want both.

 

Apropos of this: a quick update on @Bamber's IR/LPS-1 that he is graciously lending me. It has finally shipped :) and should be here this week.

 

I do plan to burn it in for at least 100 hours before attempting a listen, so it may be a couple weeks before I'll have some results to report.

 

My intent is to try at least 3 different configurations:

  1. IR instead of tX-USBultra
  2. IR before tX-USBultra
  3. IR after tX-USBultra

Holler if you have any other experiment of interest.

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2 minutes ago, austinpop said:

 

Apropos of this: a quick update on @Bamber's IR/LPS-1 that he is graciously lending me. It has finally shipped :) and should be here this week.

 

I do plan to burn it in for at least 100 hours before attempting a listen, so it may be a couple weeks before I'll have some results to report.

 

My intent is to try at least 3 different configurations:

  1. IR instead of tX-USBultra
  2. IR before tX-USBultra
  3. IR after tX-USBultra

Holler if you have any other experiment of interest.

All I can tell you is that you will love the IR in your system, it really adds something I didn't get with the tX. I am lousy compared to @romaz of how he describes audio improvements, so I will end it here :) 

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22 minutes ago, austinpop said:

 

Apropos of this: a quick update on @Bamber's IR/LPS-1 that he is graciously lending me. It has finally shipped :) and should be here this week.

 

I do plan to burn it in for at least 100 hours before attempting a listen, so it may be a couple weeks before I'll have some results to report.

 

My intent is to try at least 3 different configurations:

  1. IR instead of tX-USBultra
  2. IR before tX-USBultra
  3. IR after tX-USBultra

Holler if you have any other experiment of interest.

 

You might want to make it 6 with GI on and off the IR.

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4 minutes ago, austinpop said:

 

I can see the direct USB "team" breaking into cheers and high-fiving! :D These are awesome findings, Roy.

 

One question though - on nomenclature. Isn't the term AOIP typically used to refer to products like the Adnaco and the PS LanRover, which use IP to transport USB audio? I tend to consider the phrases "endpoint architecture" or NAA or renderer or streamer as more representative of the mR/sMS-200 approach.

 

But either way, very interesting results as usual!

 

It is sometimes hard to fully convey in written words the extent of how much I like something and so I'm sure there are times when people think I like something to a greater degree than I intended.  With straight USB vs the sMS-200 stack, it's not good vs horrible, it's more my personal preference as to which compromises I'm willing to live with.   Having lived with your sMS-200 Ultra stack for a while now, you can attest to how wonderful it is.  If I had chosen to remain with that stack, trust me, absolutely no one should feel sorry for me because that is one incredible trifecta, especially for the type of music I listen to, and so I would never discourage anyone from going down that route nor would I disparage anyone who is already there.  For those who feel they want more meat on the bones on their music than what this stack provides, I would also suggest adding the IR somewhere in that chain.  If there is no intention to address the motherboard, it's actually my belief that going down the sMS-200 or mR route is the better way to go.  

 

Of interest, the thing that got me looking elsewhere was the dCBL-CAT7s.  I simply didn't expect it would result in such a huge difference to my ears but it also showed me that "Ethernet" doesn't provide the isolation that we think it does.  If this "direct path" was now showing me that Ethernet was just as noisy as USB, why limit myself to Ethernet?

 

Regarding "AOIP" or "Audio over IP", the definition I read states that this is the distribution of digital audio across an IP network.  I know that people often refer to this term with regards to such devices like RedNet and the various Ethernet protocols that such devices use but both the mR and sMS-200 are just as much Ethernet renderers as far as I'm concerned.  Devices like RedNet takes an inputs an Ethernet signal and outputs a SPDIF signal.  With the sMS-200 or mR, the output has been changed to USB and that's it.  Heck, even a basic Mac Mini or PC is an AOIP device as I see it.

 

NAA or "Network Audio Adapter" as championed by HQPlayer and JPLAY is the same thing as an AOIP device as far as I can tell.  The typical NAA is generally a second PC but since both the mR and sMS-200 have HQP functionality, then I think they got labeled as NAAs also.

 

Since it was ROON that popularized the concept of the endpoint, I can see why people think of ROON Ready devices like the sMS-200 or mR as endpoints but as I see it, an endpoint is any device that directly connects to the DAC and this would include devices like the mR or sMS-200 but certainly also things like the IR, tX-USBultra, LANRover, etc.  

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33 minutes ago, austinpop said:

 

I was just wondering what you meant by this:

 

 

 

Only that the sCLK's internal clock performance no longer matters since that responsibility is being shifted to the REF10's OCXO.

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6 minutes ago, ElviaCaprice said:

 

You might want to make it 6 with GI on and off the IR.

 

Good point, but just to avoid tedium, I'm not going to do all combinations. What I'll do:

  1. IR instead of tX-USBultra
  2. IR before tX-USBultra
  3. IR after tX-USBultra
  4. For whichever of 1-3 sounds best, also compare GI on vs off.

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14 minutes ago, romaz said:

 

It is sometimes hard to fully convey in written words the extent of how much I like something and so I'm sure there are times when people think I like something to a greater degree than I intended.  With straight USB vs the sMS-200 stack, it's not good vs horrible, it's more my personal preference as to which compromises I'm willing to live with.   Having lived with your sMS-200 Ultra stack for a while now, you can attest to how wonderful it is.  If I had chosen to remain with that stack, trust me, absolutely no one should feel sorry for me because that is one incredible trifecta, especially for the type of music I listen to, and so I would never discourage anyone from going down that route nor would I disparage anyone who is already there.  For those who feel they want more meat on the bones on their music than what this stack provides, I would also suggest adding the IR somewhere in that chain.  If there is no intention to address the motherboard, it's actually my belief that going down the sMS-200 or mR route is the better way to go.  

 

I agree with you, Roy. There's just too much either-or thinking about this out there. People should just pick the architecture and topology that makes sense for them. Your results just confirm what has always been the case - with enough attention and care, superlative SQ can be achieved with either approach.

 

14 minutes ago, romaz said:

Regarding "AOIP" or "Audio over IP", the definition I read states that this is the distribution of digital audio across an IP network.  I know that people often refer to this term with regards to such devices like RedNet and the various Ethernet protocols that such devices use but both the mR and sMS-200 are just as much Ethernet renderers as far as I'm concerned.  Devices like RedNet takes an inputs an Ethernet signal and outputs a SPDIF signal.  With the sMS-200 or mR, the output has been changed to USB and that's it.  Heck, even a basic Mac Mini or PC is an AOIP device as I see it.

 

I don't think the term is quite as broad as that, but I don't really want to or even care to argue about it. :D 

 

 

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44 minutes ago, austinpop said:

 

Good point, but just to avoid tedium, I'm not going to do all combinations. What I'll do:

  1. IR instead of tX-USBultra
  2. IR before tX-USBultra
  3. IR after tX-USBultra
  4. For whichever of 1-3 sounds best, also compare GI on vs off.

So you're still going to use the bridged NIC sMS-200ultra and sCLK-EX modded switch, right?  You're just making changes at the end of your chain, is that correct?

 

If you have time, try just listening to the ISO REGEN on its own to get some sense of its contribution.

 

Honestly, after reading romaz's change of plans today, my brain kind of hurts.  I really have been trying to follow all these experiments carefully.

 

For those using SOtM-modded ethernet switch and sMS-200ultra, what if you added the JCAT NET Card Femto?  This is kind of analogous to using tX-USBhubIN in the new romaz game plan.

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8 minutes ago, rickca said:

So you're still going to use the bridged NIC sMS-200ultra and sCLK-EX modded switch, right?  You're just making changes at the end of your chain, is that correct?

 

Correct.

 

8 minutes ago, rickca said:

If you have time, try just listening to the ISO REGEN on its own to get some sense of its contribution.

 

Not sure I understand what you mean by "on its own." For me, that's experiment #1. But I think you're referring to direct USB right out of my music server? If so, that's not an option for me. My music server is in an adjacent room, so the distance is too great for direct USB.

 

8 minutes ago, rickca said:

Honestly, after reading romaz's change of plans today, my brain kind of hurts.  I really have been trying to follow all these experiments carefully.

 

I hear ya!!

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6 minutes ago, austinpop said:

But I think you're referring to direct USB right out of my music server?

Yes, that's what I meant but I see you can't do that.  Have another look at my previous post, I edited it and added another idea re JCAT NET Card Femto.

 

Still looking forward to an update from @limniscate when he feels he has things sorted out.

 

 

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On 6/27/2017 at 11:30 PM, austinpop said:

2-day Ultra-vaganza Report

 

A wonderfully enlightening read.  A lot of hard work on both yours and Eric's part, thanks!

 

A few comments:

 

On 6/27/2017 at 11:30 PM, austinpop said:

...we saw no evidence that equipping the Ultra component as a 12V device was any better SQ than the standard 6.5-9V. When SOtM first proposed this option, their rationale was not SQ, but convenience for folks who already had 12V PSUs.

 

No question about convenience with 6.5-9V, especially for LPS-1 owners.  Generally, when a component consumes a fixed amount of power (watts), the advantage of going with a higher voltage supply is that less current is drawnand  to draw less current results in less noise in the ground plane.  Sometimes, this is noticeable and sometimes it's not.  With the mR and my SR7, I found that the mR sounded slightly better at 9V then 7V.  With the sMS-200, since this device can accept anything from 6.5-12V, with my SR7, I felt it sounded best at 12V.  Not a huge difference in either case but given the choice, for me, the choice was clear.  With SOtM's Ultra devices, I have not personally performed this comparison testing but with the sMS-200Ultra specifically, it was Lee himself that said he felt 12V sounded better than 6.5-9V.  He also said the sCLK-EX board sounds slightly better when powered at 12V.  He initially sent me some mixed signals with the tX-USBultra but before I placed my order, he clarified to me that once again, he felt 12V sounded best and so the rationale for choosing 12V for me was purely SQ-based.  It would seem your observations suggests this is a minor issue at best.

 

On 6/27/2017 at 11:30 PM, austinpop said:

Compare dX with Singxer SU-1

 

 

As many know, I was underwhelmed with the contribution of the dX in my system although I initially believed it had more to do with my DAVE not sounding so great via coaxial SPDIF.  I agree with your comments, there is probably more to why the SU-1 sounds good then just the clock.  For starters, the XMOS USB interface used by the dX is quite old (2nd generation) while the SU-1 uses the latest version.  I think this is a big deal and it sounds as if the dX is in need of a freshening up.  Since it now seems SOtM is open to modifying the SU-1, it will be interesting to read people's take on whether the sCLK-EX clock will improve it further.  Obviously, the sCLK-EX opens the SU-1 up to the REF10 which may be where some ultimately wish to take it.

 

On 6/27/2017 at 11:30 PM, austinpop said:

Ethernet experiments - Impact of iSO-Cat6 isolator

  • Baseline: Z-switch > sMS-200 mod > tX-USBultra > dX-USB HD Ultra (all LPS-1) - same for all Ethernet experiments
    • server to switch: generic Cat6 cable
    • switch to sMS: BJC Cat 6a
  • Comparison: changed server to switch: generic Cat6 cable > iSO-Cat6 > BJC Cat 6a
  • Small SQ bump. 
  • I wouldn't pay $300 for this small an SQ change

 

I have posted this same impression regarding the iSO-CAT6 isolator several times on this thread already and so this observation comes at no surprise.  There is definitely some improvement in terms of alleviating a certain harshness but the improvement is small.  I use it because I already own it and that's it.  

 

On 6/27/2017 at 11:30 PM, austinpop said:

Ethernet experiments - Impact of full loom ($2600 worth of cables)

  • Baseline:
    • server to switch: generic Cat6 cable > iSO-Cat6 > BJC Cat 6a
    • switch to sMS: dCBL-Cat7
  • Comparison: 
    • server to switch: dCBL-Cat7 > iSO-Cat6 > dCBL-Cat7
    • switch to sMS: dCBL-Cat7 > iSO-Cat6 > dCBL-Cat7
  • Significant SQ bump. Wow, this full loom does sound good!
  • But still not the magnitude of adding the modded switch to the sMS-200ultra
  • $2600 for this improvement?  Lord have mercy!
  • No thanks!

 

This was an ambitious move on Eric's part.  When I first reported on this, the main impact of the dCBL-CAT7s were within the direct connection pathway.   Similar to my reclocking switch, when placed before the server, it had only very minimal impact and so I would never have considered buying a pair of dCBL-CAT7s to place before the server.  Within the "direct path" between the server and the sMS-200ultra, I did find the impact significant and worthwhile.  I probably would not have spent $300 for the iSO-CAT6 isolator but I certainly would have spent $1,000 for 2 dCBL-CAT7s, one to use between the server and the switch and the second to use between the switch and the sMS-200ultra.  My only complaint about this is how thick and unwieldy these CAT7 cables are.  Another reason I chose to go straight USB.

 

On 6/27/2017 at 11:30 PM, austinpop said:

Concluding Remarks

  • The sMS-200ultra plus a modded switch is the lowest cost winner here.

 

Yes, this has been my impression as well.

 

Once again, well done!

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49 minutes ago, austinpop said:

I don't think the term is quite as broad as that, but I don't really want to or even care to argue about it. :D 

 

I don't care to argue about it either but if I use the term AOIP in the future, people should understand what I mean by it, that's all.  Same thing with "endpoint."

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2 hours ago, rickca said:

So you're still going to use the bridged NIC sMS-200ultra and sCLK-EX modded switch, right?  You're just making changes at the end of your chain, is that correct?

 

If you have time, try just listening to the ISO REGEN on its own to get some sense of its contribution.

 

Honestly, after reading romaz's change of plans today, my brain kind of hurts.  I really have been trying to follow all these experiments carefully.

 

For those using SOtM-modded ethernet switch and sMS-200ultra, what if you added the JCAT NET Card Femto?  This is kind of analogous to using tX-USBhubIN in the new romaz game plan.

 

Yes, I think that JCAT card (or some Ethernet card modified to audiophile standards) can enhance the Ethernet route in the same way as these specialized USB cards.  The advantage of the JCAT card is that you can power it externally.  Whether it is a better value than having a cheap switch reclocked is another matter.  Once again, if this is the path you're set on, I wouldn't try to dissuade you.  As Rajiv has suggested, I think there are compelling reasons to take either path.  In my particular situation, since I am replacing the clocks on my motherboard, I am betting that a triple stack will be unnecessary.

 

What remains a big curiosity in my mind is how the REF10 will alter all of this.  How the REF10 transformed the stock Mutec MC-3+USB in Munich continues to burn strong in my mind.  I was ready to accept that beautiful sound that I heard from that single upgrade and call it a day and this was using a plain Jane Mac laptop connected to the MC-3+USB via a modest USB cable.  No long string of trinkets.  The REF10 might show me that my replacement of 8 clocks will be serious overkill.

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7 hours ago, romaz said:

 I noticed Rajiv's comment on how he will be taking a break from investing further into his digital infrastructure and instead will look into putting more effort into the analog portion of his system.  Well, I have been doing the same and I just received a gigantic dose of perspective these past few days.  As some know, I drive a pair of custom made 95dB-efficient Omega Alnico monitors directly from my DAVE (using no separate speaker amplifier) and the resolution and transparency this provides when combined with my High Fidelity Cables speaker cables have been nothing short of breathtaking.   While DAVE's internal op-amp may not have the emotive coloration or bloom that some people desire in their amps, the 2 watts it outputs at 8 ohms are 2 of the cleanest, smoothest, quietest, yet explosively dynamic and detail-laden watts that any set of speakers will ever experience and because the Omega Alnicos have this natural inherent warmth and sultry texture, I have found the pairing to be mesmerizing.  Having attended numerous audio shows in the past year since moving to these speakers (including CES, AXPONA, RMAF, Newport, San Francisco, and most recently, Munich), I have had a chance to listen to many fine speaker setups from the likes of Magico, Focal, B&W, Wilson, Rockport, Boenicke, AudioNote UK, Voxativ, etc. and even in rooms that contained 7-figure setups, very few captivated me like my own system at home.  While my low power system is incapable of presenting Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture or Mahler's 8th in full scale like a pair of $180k Focal Grande Utopia EMs powered by a $200K pair of Naim Statement monoblock amplifiers, I found my system to exceed it in terms of fine detail, texture, delicacy and nuance.  Where many systems only sound their best played loud, my near field setup comes into its own at my preferred and much less fatiguing lower listening levels.  

 

The only speakers I have heard that have consistently piqued my interest have been the Voxativ 9.87s.  They are the creation of Holger Adler from Berlin and each time I have gone into the Voxativ room at these shows, I have often stayed for hours.  Well, I finally got a pair of Voxativs to evaluate in my system at home a few days ago and just as I feared, they blow my beloved Omegas away.  Not even close as far as resolution and transparency are concerned but what really sets them apart is this wonderful tonal richness and density that the Omegas are unable to convey.  I have yet to hear anything, regardless of price, that image as well as these speakers and at nearly 11 ohms of impedance and nearly 100dB efficiency, they are an easier load for my DAVE to drive directly and so the presentation is even more effortless and relaxed. .  

 

Going form $3k to $30k will have a big effect.  There are low priced gems out there like the Omegas but you're in a new ballpark.  If I could make a suggestion. You've already started listening to some good speakers.  Listen to a lot more and take them home. Side by side your final choices.  Don't focus on what your Chord can power in highly efficient speakers and dismiss using amps.  You might be surprised.  Finally, give Paradigm's new line, the Persona 9H a listen.  They're about $35k and are amazing.  Speakers have the biggest bang for the buck in sound quality improvement. Have fun picking a new pair.

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