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Apple airport express and DAC


The Digital Viking
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Hello Computeraudiophiles,

 

I was thinking of buying a new cd-player, but then I started considering the possibilities in audio steaming instead. I have done some research, and looked at the different products. I was thinking of buying a apple airport express ( http://www.apple.com/airportexpress/features/airtunes.html ) then connecting it to my HI-FI system via a High-end DAC. I think it will be the Stello DA100 signature ( http://www.computeraudiophile.com/Stello-DA100-Signature-DAC-Review ) but i am not sure that i can get a digital signal from the apple airport express. Can any of you computeraudiophiles help me here, and maybe comment on my idea, will it work well seen from a audiophile perspective?

 

The Digital Viking.

 

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Hi Digital Viking - You certainly can get a digital S/PDIF signal from an Airport Express. You just need a cable like the WireWorld Supernova 6 that has a miniToslink termination on one end. http://www.gcaudio.com/cgi-bin/store/showProduct.cgi?id=197

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

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Digital Viking, the Apple Airport Express works great. For $99 you can't beat it. I have it hooked up to my Neuhaus Labs T-2 amp with built in DAC. With the Optical connector on the amp connected to the optical with mini plug on the Airport Express. My Mac is on one side of the house and my amp with speakers is on the other side. I can control my iTunes playlist with the free remote app from Apple with my iPhone. Anywhere in my home I can view album covers and change playlist.

 

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What originally got me into computer audio was that I was sitting at my I-Mac one night listening to streaming audio wishing I could put it in my main stereo system. One year later I continue to experiment. I originally did what you are thinking of doing and what I found was that, while decent, it was a long way from my CD player- A Dan Wright hot rodded 777 feeding a modified PS Audio DLIII DAC. I then went directly into the DAC with with the Airport, bypassing the preamp ( a Jeff Rowland design) and the sound got much better- almost as good as my CD player through the preamp. My next step was to buy a Mac Mini, put my I-tunes library on it and directly wire it through a Wireworld toslink to the DAC. I was now getting significantly better sound than the CD player. I have done a bunch of other things that are too long to go into here, but will e-mail you my journal if you send me your e-mail address. One problem though, I still can't stream audio from the I-Mac to the system. Its probably because I am not smart enough to configure it correctly.

 

 

 

gjg

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Hello,

 

I am not sure I understand this, i guess that if I can get a digital signal from the airport express, it would be just as good as any other product, I mean digital is digital right? In That way the sound would only be influenced by the quality of the dac i connect it to, or have i misunderstood something. I hope I am not asking too stupid here :)

 

The Digital Viking.

 

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Hi DV - Unfortunately digital is not digital. There are countless things that can influence the sound of digital audio. The most talked about issue is timing AKA jitter. It's a never ending discussion that can get really heated.

 

I always say, if it sounds good to you then it's good. Start small and inexpensive. If satisfied you've just saved a lot of money for other things like music or family.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing The Audiophile Style Podcast

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Sorry I confused you with my response. For context, I am an audiophile trying to get digital to sound as close to vinyl as possible, so I am approaching this as a purist. What we found was that going the wireless route with the Airport "softened" the sound compared to directly wiring it from the computer. You miss some of the body and dynamics of the music with the wireless set up, which is why we went the direct wired route with the Mac Mini. Chris offered some sage advice, start small and see if you are satisfied. If not, then you can start to experiment like many of us have. Good luck and good listening.

 

gjg

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ggraff:

 

did you play 44/16 both from Mac and AE? AE as known support only this resolution, so if you play hi-rez from Mac it will lose.

 

also, did you check AE wireless settings? it has to have highest multicast rate in its options, maximum transmission power (100%), and work at a free wireless channel. and of course, not being transferring internet data while you use it for the music.

 

I just spent few hours comparing two optical outputs - MBP and AE, and didn't find any difference: dynamic, stage, speed, musicality were identical... I use e-mu 0404 modded in output stage, tube DIY amp, DIY monitors, DIY wires and power supply conditioners. maybe I'm wrong due to the cable: I don't have good glass cable yet, it's plastic but really thick, well protected and lays straight without corners, I forget the name but it was about 50-60$ for its 1 meter.

 

I can only assume that PSU in AE is not as good as a linear one could be. Is your AE connected to a clear conditioned power? Is it connected to the same sockets as the rest of the sound system, or to a separate one?

 

Could be an option (tricky but good) — break AE and replace PSU with linear, well conditioned: 3.3 and 5v...

 

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Sound quality is subjective and people usually associate price with quality.

 

Yes Airport Express does support TOSLINK via its mini jack. However I did encounter an apparently common annoying problem with clicking when played with a Meridian F80. Details here:

 

http://www.computeraudiophile.com/content/Airport-Express-X-DAC-V3-unbearable-stuttering-will-macbook-be-different

 

So it is caveat emptor. At that price it does not hurt to try, you may or may not have the same problem.

 

Macbook Pro/MacMini/dCS Debussy/Cambridge 650BD[br]Vitus Audio SS-010/Living Voice OBX-R2 Speakers/Ultrasone Edition 8 phones[br]Airport Express/Meridian AD88[br]

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not only the distance but AE settings also, see my comment above. by default, AE has low or mid multicast rate which should be increased. it's good if there's no many other wireless networks around, but it they are exist it's good to select free channel.

 

cable does matter too, even if it worked fine with the other equipment before... was it good and well protected?

 

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Yes, we were set at 16/44 ( we just found out about changing the Midi settings this weekend). We had also taken the Jeff Rowland preamp out of the system, which did give better sound. However, a toslink directly from a Mac Mini sounded much better than the Airport. BTW, I am using a PS Audio PPP which has isolation for digital signals. I did not check the AE settings as far as broadcast.

 

gjg

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And by configuration, I mean how you are using the AE. We use them here to extend the house wireless network, and we have a Airport Extreme Base station as the master for the network. This makes a huge difference in performance.

 

We are running three systems over AEs in the house, and also use them simultaneously for normal network traffic, including printing, file transfers, and updating music into iTunes on a Mac Mini that serves as our music media server. No issues with the music that we can hear.

 

Network jitter is, in my opinion, slightly overrated for audio. Yes, it occurs, and yes it can affect sound. But if it is such a problem as to affect sound, it is going to seriously affect everything else running on that network too.

 

Besides, not only are music transmissions highly buffered (to allow synchronization of multiple devices) but also uses RTP (Realtime Transport Protocol), or rather an Apple Variant of RTP, to ensure the data stream arrives in good shape. Like TCP, packets are reconstructed and buffered on the receiving end.

 

I too, am puzzled how people can reliably detect differences in the sound of digital streams- I would like to assume there is some difference in kit that is what is really causing the difference. But some people have "golden ears" and can really discern the difference, even being able to hear and factor out the difference between kits.

 

Not me, tough I wish I could. :)

 

There is such a thing as optical jitter, but that would be caused by equipment tolerances in the device itself, and not have a lot to do with the network or transmission quality.

 

-Paul

 

 

 

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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Paul: every single thing affect the sound. The better system you built, the more difference after each even simple change you hear.

I never thought there is a huge huge difference in optical cables. There is.

 

ggraff: check AE internal settings and check power supply clearance. I believe these are the only left that affect it...

 

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Oh, I am not disputing that there *is* - I just cannot find a reason why.

 

I have a few sets of very inexpensive optical cables that transmit data with characteristics indistinguishable from the cable we use for SONNET connections. That carries voice and data at huge data rates without any errors.

 

There has to be some factor that makes the difference. If anyone has any ideas, I would like to spend a little time investigating it.

 

-Paul

 

 

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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Sure... I was looking for some reasonable explanation, but... failed.

 

What I heard by myself that cheap cable vanish sound stage clearness, make instruments sound not as drunk as they are, with the good cable. It's something that seemed work similar to interconnection and speakers cables, their difference and quality causes same obvious changes. Regular optical plays sounds, good one make it music and make you forget that these are all electronics...

 

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"I have a few sets of very inexpensive optical cables that transmit data with characteristics indistinguishable from the cable we use for SONNET connections. That carries voice and data at huge data rates without any errors."

 

Hi Paul - I think the transfer protocol is the big differentiator on this one. Synchronous Optical Networking (SONET) has error detection and correction overhead that is likely on a level far different from S/PDIF connections.

 

 

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing The Audiophile Style Podcast

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Mr Viking. At risk of muddying the waters still further: In my system (feeding to Cambridge 840 cdp) and with my ears, the apply TV sounds better with 16/44.1 material than either the AE or the MBP connected directly. I am most likely deluded because that just can't be, but fwiw that's my experience. Also, given the ability (should you wish) to continue playing with the computer switched off I really find the ATV a much better buy.

 

- John.

 

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JOHN SAID : "In my system (feeding to Cambridge 840 cdp) and with my ears, the apply TV sounds better with 16/44.1 material than either the AE or the MBP connected directly. I am most likely deluded because that just can't be, but fwiw that's my experience. Also, given the ability (should you wish) to continue playing with the computer switched off I really find the ATV a much better buy."

 

Just curious, how are you getting the 16/44 material on your ATV?

 

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