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Berkeley Alpha USB still relevant?


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13 minutes ago, hopkins said:

Well then there is a lot of wasted time and effort from some people on this forum to try optimizing the source :)

A wise conclusion... 

 

Put differently, sometimes good enough is good enough. Alas, many audiophile are in a relentless pursuit to squeeze that last bit of goodness from their systems. The futility lies in our sense of hearing, which evolution has stunted and demoted to the bottom of the pack; only our dull noses lose to our ears. 

 

Stereo

[Genelec 1032C x 2 + 7360 x 2] <== [MC3+USB x 3 <-- REF10 SE120] <== [AERIS G2] <== [EtherRegen x 3]
Chain switchable to [Genelec 8331 x 2 + 7350]


Surround

[Genelec 1032C x 3 + 8431 x 2  + 7360 x 2] <== [MiniDSP U-DIO8] <== [Mac Mini] 

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5 hours ago, Summit said:

I believe that Berkeley Alpha USB and other comparable audio gear are design on well understood technical principles and tech and aren’t "magical in nature". The people that prefer to use a Berkeley Alpha USB, Singxer SU-1, Schiit Eitr or similar devices aren’t inevitably believing in magic. To separate the DAC from the computer is one of the best thing one can do IMO, as all standard computers generates a lot of unwanted pollutions like EMI, EMC, RFI etc. To convert and reclock from one digital interface to another can be done without degrading the digital signal and instead result in less noise, jitter, leakage current, ground loops etc etc.

I am very sorry.  Clearly I did not explain what I meant well enough at all.  I believe the above quote from you to be correct, and I would never suggest that a USB-SPDIF converter operates "magically".  In fact, for some DACs with poor USB interfaces, and really good SPDIF interfaces, I would recommend a USB-SPDIF converter.

My point is, that in a DAC such as the Ayre QX-5, using its USB interface, the computer is already separated from the DAC, by the USB interface.  This interface is galvanically isolated from the computer.  

Additionally, I would never suggest that anyone interested in the best possible sound quality use a commercial computer directly connected to a DAC, for all of the reasons you give (and more).  If I owned the QX-5, I would connect it the same way I connect my current DAC (also using a completely isolated and re-clocked USB interface): via a really good Ethernet Renderer (in my case the Sonore Signature Rendu SE).

 

Using an Ethernet Renderer solves a multitude of problems: It allows all the commercial computer gear to be eliminated from the proximity to the audio system.  All of this gear (whether NAS or server) is built to much lower standards than high end audio components, and it all emits a large amount of noise, both airborne and through any attached wiring (including the often overlooked AC cable).  By getting the computer away you eliminate virtually all the negative influence that gear can have on the system, and Ethernet is also a galvanically isolated connection, by its nature (transformer coupled).  Of course many of us has read about the high impedance leakage currents reported by John Swenson as well, so I do ground that computer gear.

 

When I say "magical" I am referring to the notion, that somehow the Alpha USB would provide isolation that the QX-5 does not already have via its own USB input.  I am referring in a general sense, to an audiophile/consumer, who does not have enough technical understanding of the matter at hand and who is just gong by some kind of belief or notion, that using a USB-SPDIF converter is somehow (magically) going to be "better".

 

Also, anytime one brings an additional active component into a system, one introduces a potential source of another problem, as every powered component has a power supply, and every power supply in the system produces noise (all power supplies, linear and switching).  Noise is a cumulative thing.  So, generally speaking now, my advice is always going to err on the side of less components, and keeping it simple, rather than adding components to the system which can do more harm than good.  In this case, (Alpha USB-QX-5) I very strongly believe, based on the QX-5's USB implementation, that the Alpha USB would be superfluous, and adding additional complexity to a system which will gain no benefit from it.

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2 hours ago, hopkins said:

Sometimes I wonder too...  But I have heard some differences which I wish did not exist! When you can consistently repeat them it makes it hard to dismiss them. 

 

I wish some source immunity could be achieved. 

This is what using an Ethernet Renderer does.  Get the commercial computer gear away from the audio system (including fancy servers which use off the shelf noisy motherboards internally) and just have a small, ultra low noise, purpose built Ethernet Renderer in the system as the source.

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2 minutes ago, barrows said:

This is what using an Ethernet Renderer does.  Get the commercial computer gear away from the audio system (including fancy servers which use off the shelf noisy motherboards internally) and just have a small, ultra low noise, purpose built Ethernet Renderer in the system as the source.

 

Thoughts on running the Ethernet from a Wi-Fi router/access point (in my case through a grounded switch) vs. wired all the way?  Some folks are leery of Wi-Fi near audio components. 

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical Ethernet to Fitlet3 -> Fibbr Alpha Optical USB -> iFi NEO iDSD DAC -> Apollon Audio 1ET400A Mini (Purifi based) -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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5 hours ago, Summit said:

You seems to believe that measurements can be used to show the best digital interface. Okay let’s say it does. How about presenting some measurements on the Signature Rendu SE. You must have them if you have design it.  

 

 

To be clear, the Sonore Signature Rendu SE is designed by a team effort, as are many complex audio products these days:

 

John Swenson designed the critical mainboard and all the high speed circuitry,

 

I designed the main power supply and did the internal layout within the chassis.

 

And Adrian Lebena (Sonore VP) designed the chassis.

 

And of course the custom OS is a unique joint effort of the vortexbox team and Andrew Gillis and Sonore president Jesus Rodriguez.

 

It takes a village!

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12 minutes ago, Jud said:

 

Thoughts on running the Ethernet from a Wi-Fi router/access point (in my case through a grounded switch) vs. wired all the way?  Some folks are leery of Wi-Fi near audio components. 

Excellent question Jud.  At this point, I accept WiFi as a necessary evil, and most people already have WiFi in their homes.  Even if they do not, most non rural folks will see multiple WiFi networks already at their homes.

If you can live without active WiFi at home, and live in a rural area without WiFi pollution all around you anyway (your new place looks great, BTW!), and you can live without using a wireless device to control your system (see Chris' article on wired control point use)  There might be an advantage to eliminating WiFi and it would be worth testing out.

In my system I accept WiFi, but I do have the router in another room, on the upstairs of my home, and there is no WiFi transceiver actually in the audio system.  As most know, the signal strength of WiFi drops off pretty quickly with distance. 

Of course this is also one of the reasons Sonore Renderers do not offer WiFi as a connection option, as having a WiFi transceiver directly inside the component would be counterproductive to the ideal of ultra low noise.

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1 hour ago, barrows said:

This is what using an Ethernet Renderer does.  Get the commercial computer gear away from the audio system (including fancy servers which use off the shelf noisy motherboards internally) and just have a small, ultra low noise, purpose built Ethernet Renderer in the system as the source.

 

To my ears, I have experienced better sound with a Mac Mini than an ethernet renderer, and this is where I get confused and question what is at work! 

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15 minutes ago, hopkins said:

 

To my ears, I have experienced better sound with a Mac Mini than an ethernet renderer, and this is where I get confused and question what is at work! 

We have demoed this often for folks, with a Mac computer vs. one of the Sonore Renderers, and within a few seconds of playback, every time, the listeners are blown away by the difference.  Hence the "Product of the Year" (from Computer Audiophile) award for the microRendu a couple of years back.

Set up details can be important though, it sounds like you may have had a set up problem of some sort?

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31 minutes ago, hopkins said:

 

To my ears, I have experienced better sound with a Mac Mini than an ethernet renderer, and this is where I get confused and question what is at work! 

 

Audio is a strange thing and we all have our preferences.  My microRendu was significantly better than my Mac, even with tweaks, usb cleaners, etc.  It honestly was not even close.

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2 hours ago, barrows said:

I am very sorry.  Clearly I did not explain what I meant well enough at all.  I believe the above quote from you to be correct, and I would never suggest that a USB-SPDIF converter operates "magically".  In fact, for some DACs with poor USB interfaces, and really good SPDIF interfaces, I would recommend a USB-SPDIF converter.

My point is, that in a DAC such as the Ayre QX-5, using its USB interface, the computer is already separated from the DAC, by the USB interface.  This interface is galvanically isolated from the computer.  

Additionally, I would never suggest that anyone interested in the best possible sound quality use a commercial computer directly connected to a DAC, for all of the reasons you give (and more).  If I owned the QX-5, I would connect it the same way I connect my current DAC (also using a completely isolated and re-clocked USB interface): via a really good Ethernet Renderer (in my case the Sonore Signature Rendu SE).

 

Using an Ethernet Renderer solves a multitude of problems: It allows all the commercial computer gear to be eliminated from the proximity to the audio system.  All of this gear (whether NAS or server) is built to much lower standards than high end audio components, and it all emits a large amount of noise, both airborne and through any attached wiring (including the often overlooked AC cable).  By getting the computer away you eliminate virtually all the negative influence that gear can have on the system, and Ethernet is also a galvanically isolated connection, by its nature (transformer coupled).  Of course many of us has read about the high impedance leakage currents reported by John Swenson as well, so I do ground that computer gear.

 

When I say "magical" I am referring to the notion, that somehow the Alpha USB would provide isolation that the QX-5 does not already have via its own USB input.  I am referring in a general sense, to an audiophile/consumer, who does not have enough technical understanding of the matter at hand and who is just gong by some kind of belief or notion, that using a USB-SPDIF converter is somehow (magically) going to be "better".

 

Also, anytime one brings an additional active component into a system, one introduces a potential source of another problem, as every powered component has a power supply, and every power supply in the system produces noise (all power supplies, linear and switching).  Noise is a cumulative thing.  So, generally speaking now, my advice is always going to err on the side of less components, and keeping it simple, rather than adding components to the system which can do more harm than good.  In this case, (Alpha USB-QX-5) I very strongly believe, based on the QX-5's USB implementation, that the Alpha USB would be superfluous, and adding additional complexity to a system which will gain no benefit from it.

 

If the QX-5 or any other DAC were immune to noise and jitter on its USB input (or any other inputs) a Berkeley Alpha USB or equivalent wouldn’t be required, I agree. But if that would be true, (which I don’t think) that the QX-5 already provide perfect isolation via its own USB input, why would anyone use a really good Ethernet Renderer or server with it? To get the computer gear away from the audio system is important I know, but even a microRendu with Ifi PSU does that. To me it’s all boil down to one question, if the SQ from the DAC improves from multiple layers of isolation provided from upstream gear or if the quality of upstream gear is irrelevant.  

 

It’s not magic if a Berkeley Alpha USB, ultraRendu or equivalent gear would provide isolation that the QX-5 doesn’t already have via its own USB input. I consider remarks like magic to describe that a device from a respectable company like Berkeley or that someone would think its beneficial, below me and from someone that make a competing source equipment even worse. I feel no incentive to continue this conversation and think I have made my view clear.  

 

FYI a Sonore Signature Rendu SE is as much an additional active component in the audio chain as a DDC.

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47 minutes ago, Blake said:

 

Audio is a strange thing and we all have our preferences.  My microRendu was significantly better than my Mac, even with tweaks, usb cleaners, etc.  It honestly was not even close.

 

I only get good SQ on my Mac with the Tonal app. On the same Mac, Roonbridge, for example, does not come close. I have never tried a MicroRendu, but have a USBridge, and there again the USBridge does not sound as good - better than Roonbridge on a Mac, but not as good as Tonal. 

It may be a glitch in my setup, and may just remain a mystery... Unfortunate, since Tonal is not even a commercial product (and hence have no commercial interest!). 

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1 hour ago, Summit said:

FYI a Sonore Signature Rendu SE is as much an additional active component in the audio chain as a DDC.

This is incorrect: it is not an additional component in the audio system.  A Sonore Renderer takes the place of much more detrimental component (a standard commercial computer, Mac, etc) it is not an additional component.  That is the entire point:

 

When put the Renderer in the system you remove the much noisier, commercial computer product and replace it with a purpose built, much lower power consumption, much quieter device.  It is not additional from a noise perspective, it is subtractive.

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28 minutes ago, hopkins said:

but have a USBridge

I cannot comment on some other product I have no experience with, except to say that all not all Renderers are equal in performance, far from it.

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Again, please read my words:

 

I have no experience with that product and I do not know anything of its performance.

 

There are differences in performance with different hardware (and software) with Ethernet Renderers.  I agree, software matters as well.  Sonore Renders use a proprietary operating system, Sonic Orbiter.

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OK.

 

How would one explain the performance of software?

 

In my example, on the exact same "non optimized" OS I can repeatedly hear a significant difference between two applications, both geared towards "audiophiles"... Both of them stream audio from the network. Both of them play to the same USB DAC, with the same cables.  I do not think my DAC is the issue. It has been very favorably reviewed (on hifi-advice, for example). It has a high quality headphone amplifier and using it with beyerdynamic headphones, which are high quality and revealing, the differences are just glaring. The SQ I get with Tonal is really outstanding. 

 

Does the software influence the noise on the usb signal? Regardless of what else is going on in the system? 

 

I don't want to sidetrack this topic. I just find usb audio frustrating and mysterious! 

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2 hours ago, Summit said:

 

If the QX-5 or any other DAC were immune to noise and jitter on its USB input (or any other inputs) a Berkeley Alpha USB or equivalent wouldn’t be required, I agree. But if that would be true, (which I don’t think) that the QX-5 already provide perfect isolation via its own USB input, why would anyone use a really good Ethernet Renderer or server with it? To get the computer gear away from the audio system is important I know, but even a microRendu with Ifi PSU does that. To me it’s all boil down to one question, if the SQ from the DAC improves from multiple layers of isolation provided from upstream gear or if the quality of upstream gear is irrelevant.   

 

It’s not magic if a Berkeley Alpha USB, ultraRendu or equivalent gear would provide isolation that the QX-5 doesn’t already have via its own USB input. I consider remarks like magic to describe that a device from a respectable company like Berkeley or that someone would think its beneficial, below me and from someone that make a competing source equipment even worse. I feel no incentive to continue this conversation and think I have made my view clear.  

 

FYI a Sonore Signature Rendu SE is as much an additional active component in the audio chain as a DDC.

 

Speaking not as a manufacturer, but as a computer audio user here (if such a thing can be done): I will preface by saying that I have not tried the Alpha USB with a QX-5 or any other Ayre product, but as Barrows mentioned, I would be surprised if it makes much of a difference with the isolation already inside the QX-5 and other Ayre pieces.  I'd also be wary of introducing an interface that adds jitter into the mix vs. the asynchronous USB solution many manufacturers now do since it was introduced in the QB-9 with Gordon Rankin's technology -- unless the unit has a way to deal with S/PDIF jitter...which many don't.   The bigger problem to me, also as Barrows mentions, is at the source, which doesn't change no matter how many layers of isolation you stick in there.  I could be wrong, and I'd be interested in hearing it for certain just for the knowledge of having heard it.  I can imagine the sound will certainly change going through the unit, I'm just not convinced if it would be better or not, nor can I see a way that it would be better than what's built into the unit at this point.  I can't emphasize enough that I'm not trying to put down the product.  I'm quite certain it has a place with certain products out there, I'm just not convinced that it's universally helpful.

President

Ayre Acoustics, Inc.

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52 minutes ago, hopkins said:

OK.

 

How would one explain the performance of software?

 

In my example, on the exact same "non optimized" OS I can repeatedly hear a significant difference between two applications, both geared towards "audiophiles"... Both of them stream audio from the network. Both of them play to the same USB DAC, with the same cables.  I do not think my DAC is the issue. It has been very favorably reviewed (on hifi-advice, for example). It has a high quality headphone amplifier and using it with beyerdynamic headphones, which are high quality and revealing, the differences are just glaring. The SQ I get with Tonal is really outstanding. 

 

Does the software influence the noise on the usb signal? Regardless of what else is going on in the system? 

 

There's a lot of factors there.  Depending on the playback method, some route through Windows' sound mixer while others bypass it (obviously only applicable to Windows machines).  Some use integer mode, some use floating point.  Some have various levels of digital processing that sounded better to the people making it that isn't even an option to turn on and off while others have explicit digital processing.  I don't think the software influences noise, but from the time Charley was working with a team to make a software solution, I can say that there's quite likely some influence in what actually is sent to the DAC from the file.  

President

Ayre Acoustics, Inc.

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28 minutes ago, Ryan Berry said:

Some have various levels of digital processing that sounded better to the people making it that isn't even an option to turn on and off while others have explicit digital processing. I don't think the software influences noise, but from the time Charley was working with a team to make a software solution, I can say that there's quite likely some influence in what actually is sent to the DAC from the file.

Comparing software, in the context discussed here, without verifying bit accurate output is meaningless.

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Just now, mansr said:

Comparing software, in the context discussed here, without verifying bit accurate output is meaningless.

 

Certainly so.  I'm just not aware of a list of verified bit-perfect solutions.  For the average user looking at the options out there, it's pretty reasonable to believe that many of them are not listening to such a player.

President

Ayre Acoustics, Inc.

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11 minutes ago, Ryan Berry said:

Certainly so.  I'm just not aware of a list of verified bit-perfect solutions.  For the average user looking at the options out there, it's pretty reasonable to believe that many of them are not listening to such a player.

Anything using exclusive access to the sound device is likely to be bit perfect unless configured otherwise. All the usual players discussed in these pages have the ability.

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Just now, mansr said:

Anything using exclusive access to the sound device is likely to be bit perfect unless configured otherwise. All the usual players discussed in these pages have the ability.

 

I can think of a few players that use exclusive access that have sounded different version to version to us.  I haven't ever tried to measure for bit-perfection like Hopkins linked, but there's been a few "Why does this sound different?" moments followed by rolling software versions back and forth to figure out what happened.  So I don't believe that's universally true for these players and would contend that the only way to really know would be to test for it on the latest version of each software.  If they all are spot-on, then I'd be inclined to agree; though the audible change would be really hard to explain then unless it's a perception problem.

Hopkins, Roon's one of the players that has explicit digital processing I mentioned.  We were using it at the Munich show and playing with it quite a bit.  They're not trying to hide it, it's a feature for them.  Nothing wrong with that by any means if that's what you're looking for, but it does mean the software has an effect on what gets to the DAC.

President

Ayre Acoustics, Inc.

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if the DAC (box) is well isolated, has adequate buffers, and reclocks... then does it need anything else ??  that seems to be how things boil down here

 

I use WiFi as the transmission medium; the computer & router are however about 40-50 feet away and on a different AC circuit

 

I suspect EMI from my heat pump and fridge are worse than from the WiFi "catcher" near my DAC

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RFI/EMI "problems" are very component specific.  Some products reject problems very well, not so much others.  Balanced connections certainly can help with this as well.  So all that stuff is going to be very system dependent.

 

As to software differences, I do not write code, so it is all just gibberish to me (mostly).  But clearly different player softwares sound different, even when bit perfect.  I had a fascinating discussion with one of the guys from Amarra at RMAF last year about this, he was the first person who really was able to explain to me some of the things which matter (not that I remember the specifics).  My take away was that there are a lot of very subtle things going on, each one of which may make a tiny (perhaps inaudible) difference, but when you add them all up, you can hear the differences.

Suffice it to say, it is worth trying different playback softwares in your own system to find the combination of features and sound quality which works for you.

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