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The Computer Audiophile

Volume Control | Roon vs Preamp

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Hi Guys - I'm working on a review right now of one component, but I always have a component or two in the on-deck circle that I listen to as I'm finishing up the previous review. Right now I have the Ayre QB-9 DSD and QB-9 Twenty in the on-deck circle. These DACs contain no volume control. This leaves me a couple options for attenuation and I'd like to get some feedback / opinions on this one. I certainly know how the two options sound, so I don't need anyone to tell me what my own ears can hear, but personal experience and engineering information is certainly welcome. 

 

Option 1:

I can connect the QB-9 to my Constellation Audio Inspiration PreAmp 1.0 and use the Preamp's volume control.

 

Option 2:

I can connect the QB-9 directly to an amplifier(s) and use Roon's built-in 64-bit DSP volume control. 

 

 

Question: What do you guys think?

 

P.S. @Ryan Berry is certainly welcome to comment, as I'm using the Ayre components and will review them shortly. 


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Does the pre have a remote? I always prefer that just from a convenience/ergonomic POV.

Also, with a software only control and a direct connection, I'd always worry that I'd accidentally blow the speakers.


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5 minutes ago, firedog said:

Does the pre have a remote? I always prefer that just from a convenience/ergonomic POV.

Also, with a software only control and a direct connection, I'd always worry that I'd accidentally blow the speakers.

Yes, the preamp has a remote for volume and other items. 

 

There's always a possibility of something going haywire with the Roon volume control approach, that's true. 

 

 


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17 hours ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

There's always a possibility of something going haywire with the Roon volume control approach, that's true. 

And the consequences can be disastrous, i.e. blown amp or speaker driver. Software is too glitchy for this IMO, no matter how convenient. 

 

I control level using software in my second system because the preamp has no remote, but I manually set the preamp volume pot so that the system can't be overdriven. 

 

Ultimately this about reviewing a DAC with no level control, designed and intended for connection to a preamp, and should be reviewed that way. It might be safe to play with no level controller for a quick test, but I would not use it that way for long.

 

 


Dr. Floyd Toole: “The best sounding audio product is the one that exhibits the least audible flaws.” 

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1 hour ago, audiobomber said:

Ultimately this about reviewing a DAC with no level control, designed and intended for connection to a preamp, and should be reviewed that way.

We can ask Ayre about the company's intentions with respect to design. That will be helpful. I've always thought that products designed without volume control were to be used with product(s) that have volume control. Whether that's a passive attenuator or software based control shouldn't matter. 


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5 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

I've always thought that products designed without volume control were to be used with product(s) that have volume control. Whether that's a passive attenuator or software based control shouldn't matter. 

I’m sure your thought is correct, Chris - without some kind of attenuation in the signal path, the only determinants of listening volume would be fixed by design.  Sets of progressive density earplugs probably wouldn’t sell well, it’s hard to imagine a music library of FLAC verticals at graded modulation levels, and few of us have listening rooms sufficiently large for effective attenuation using movable seating and baffles.
 

But the design and placement of attenuation in the signal path certainly affect SQ. Even the same methodology at the same point in the circuitry can be implemented well or poorly, e.g. simple progressive resistance in an analog stage can be accomplished with stepped high quality switching, components and assembly or a $0.50 pot.

 

The divide between digital and analog volume control is much smaller than it used to be, but I think optimum use of one is still better than poor implementation of the other.

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7 minutes ago, davide256 said:

I would not use a software volume control unless it allowed you to set a  default safe volume  for application launch or reset.

I've tried opening and closing Roon many times and switching endpoints etc... and I can't get Roon to act strange. This is good. The volume is always at the level where I left off. 


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1 hour ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

I've tried opening and closing Roon many times and switching endpoints etc... and I can't get Roon to act strange. This is good. The volume is always at the level where I left off. 

Your device setup audio settings may be controlling that.  I don’t know how you set yours up, but options include fixed Roon output, volume control by endpoint device, by DSP etc.  And there’s a setting for maximum volume that can be switched on or off and set to the desired level.  None of my settings has been altered yet despite many updates and heavy use.

 

JRiver media center has also been free of setting glitches in any version from 19 to 26 over years of heavy use.  I use fixed / max output in Roon & JRiver and the volume controls in my DACs that have them (SMSL, iFi, M-Audio, Emotiva).  One problem with DACs and other front end components is forgetting to turn the amp on last and off first. I drive a few basic amps directly and have been reminded of this the hard way. Fortunately, none of my front ends or DACs puts out much of a transient, but there are some that will take out a tweeter.

 

It’s best to come up with the safest power-on and power-off routine for each system based on its architecture and settings and to follow it rigorously.

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1 hour ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

I've tried opening and closing Roon many times and switching endpoints etc... and I can't get Roon to act strange. This is good. The volume is always at the level where I left off. 

one of the virtues of not running Roon from RAM where you always have to remember to RAM save 😉


Regards,

Dave

 

Audio system

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5 hours ago, bluesman said:

Even the same methodology at the same point in the circuitry can be implemented well or poorly, e.g. simple progressive resistance in an analog stage can be accomplished with stepped high quality switching, components and assembly or a $0.50 pot.

 Your $0.50 potentiometer will almost certainly have poor tracking of the levels between channels which can cause the image to wander at different volume settings, and you really need a minimum of something like the old Blue Alps type potentiometers for lower noise and longer life. 


How a Digital Audio file sounds, or a Digital Video file looks, is governed to a large extent by the Power Supply area. All that Identical Checksums gives is the possibility of REGENERATING the file to close to that of the original file.

 

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I use Roon with fixed volume and use my preamp to set the levels. Another choice for me would be to use the volume on my Directstream DAC but the one time I tried leaving out my preamp I didn’t care for it. 

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I think if you want to do the purist review possible that is intended to only uncover the SQ of something like a DAC then using Roon or JRiver's software vol control would be the best way to do it. Unfortunately there are certain components that you just can't take out of the signal chain for obvious reasons to achieve the ultimate in transparency but that as they say, is what it is.

 

With that said, I use Roon software vol control because I have to in order for my setup to work as intended. I was VERY concerned when I first started using it for some of the same reasons already mentioned by others but, knock on wood, it has worked very well thus far in the year or so I have been using it without incident. I do still though give myself an "Out" or for the purposes of "CYA" I leave the -10db Output voltage Pad installed in my Benchmark DAC which keeps the VOL knob active. Before each listening session and after initial power up I just need to remember to bury the knob before playback starts. This leaves me the option to quickly reach for the remote control vol/mute controls in case the software VOL decides to do something my gear or wallet won't appreciate :)

 

If I could find an analog Pre that could do everything I need and have all the right Output options in the caliber of a Pass Labs XP-22 or better I would seriously consider buying one. I was in the camp of liking a good analog Pre in the chain and in most cases could appreciate the slight "seasoning" that it added to the recipe. But, thus far I haven't found such a beast within my budget so I'll be rolling with Roon's software vol control for the foreseeable future.

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1 hour ago, cjf said:

I think if you want to do the purist review possible that is intended to only uncover the SQ of something like a DAC then using Roon or JRiver's software vol control would be the best way to do it. Unfortunately there are certain components that you just can't take out of the signal chain for obvious reasons to achieve the ultimate in transparency but that as they say, is what it is.

 

With that said, I use Roon software vol control because I have to in order for my setup to work as intended.

I agree and I use an inexpensive DROK USB volume knob to manipulate the JRiver VC so that I have a physical control which I can access intuitively and quickly if necessary.  It is also friendlier.  Unfortunately, it won't work with Roon.  Same story for the Microsoft Dial.


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14 hours ago, cjf said:

Unfortunately there are certain components that you just can't take out of the signal chain for obvious reasons to achieve the ultimate in transparency but that as they say, is what it is.

It is not obvious to me what you mean. Can you clarify please?


Dr. Floyd Toole: “The best sounding audio product is the one that exhibits the least audible flaws.” 

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I have not tried to compare Roon volume control with preamp control. There is an extensive discussion on the Roon site about it. Here is one of the answers you may find of interest if you have not already seen it.

 

I have been playing with it extensively today. I tried Volume control of the DEQX vs Volume contol of Roon.

First thing to note is that the volume control of the DEQX is way more convenient. It works with a button on the device itself, and it has a remote control that works instantly. The Roon volume control scale is not very refined and the slider is a bit akward in use but that could be a matter of getting used to. The most unconvenient is the fact that Roon remote has to be open and ready to grab for it. When I use my Ipad as remote it goes to sleep after a while and it takes up to 5 seconds for Roon to be up and rady again. Pretty long when you only want to change the volume. If this all doesn’t matter for you then fine. My view is the same as Brian’s, it’s more a utility, a nice to have then a practical alternative to your volume control.

But what about sound quality. Well, that’s a though one. As said I tried both ways. Set the volume control of the DEQX to max (scary) and use Roon, or set Roon to max and use DEQX volume control.

Well the results where about the same as I have concluded before. Up to about -10 db there is no difference whatsoever. From there I thought subtle changes are creeping in, not instantly but just very gradually. In the extreme case of setting DEQX to max and using Roon for volume I was constantly in the range of -30 to -45 dB . In this range there is a clear loss in overall quality. Again, could very wel be DAC dependent. It just sounds like your amplifier has lost some of its power, in other words you lose quite a bit dynamics, sound stage flattens out, and micro dynamics and detail are degraded. Conclusion. Well, for convenience sake I would say no. Sound quality wise it depends I guess. My DEQX certainly loves to be fed with stronger signal then -40dB that’s for sure.

Also tried the difference between Analog volume and digital volume control in the DEQX itself again. The difference here is pretty small, but then again, it’s a 32bit floating point volume control. It doesn’t have to truncate the signal to 24 bit like Roon has to to be compatible with the dac’s input receiver so it’s not a question if Roon can handle it. It’s just not the right place in the chain for a full digital volume control I guess. Use it for convenience, set your main control elswhere in the chain.

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17 hours ago, avta said:

But what about sound quality....

Well the results where about the same as I have concluded before. Up to about -10 db there is no difference whatsoever. From there I thought subtle changes are creeping in, not instantly but just very gradually. In the extreme case of setting DEQX to max and using Roon for volume I was constantly in the range of -30 to -45 dB . In this range there is a clear loss in overall quality.....  It just sounds like your amplifier has lost some of its power, in other words you lose quite a bit dynamics, sound stage flattens out, and micro dynamics and detail are degraded.

 

This SQ degradation matches my experience of Roon's volume control, but for me it was even more obvious well before I got to the -30db level. It was particularly noticeable when using Roon's auto levelling volume function, which was such a disappointment SQ-wise that I raised the topic on Roon's forum - only to be batted away by that forum's vocal bits-is-bits brigade.

 

In short, I would avoid Roon's volume control (and other DSP functions) when trying to determine the maximum potential SQ. 

 

I haven't tried this on the latest Roon versions because I've since moved on to Euphony Stylus. The Roon design team are not as "audiophile" as many here, so it's pot luck whether the next Roon update will sound better or worse than before. I've read some posts that that v1.7 came with improved SQ, but this appears to follow the Law of Unintended Consequences because the team was not claiming any improvement in this area.

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I had a situation with HQPlayer vol. control, where I tried upsampling at a rate that was incompatible with my DDC, resulting in full vol. static. So I think even if the software vol. control is stable (HQPlayer works great) ..... with digital signals, and various hardware and software being involved, maybe potential incompatibilities should be also considered.

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On 3/26/2020 at 4:06 PM, The Computer Audiophile said:

We can ask Ayre about the company's intentions with respect to design. That will be helpful. I've always thought that products designed without volume control were to be used with product(s) that have volume control. Whether that's a passive attenuator or software based control shouldn't matter. 

 

I would love to be able to tell you why Roon's built-in 64-bit DSP volume control worsens the sound. In theory it shouldn’t, but in real life it does nevertheless. I don’t use the Roon DSP neither because if I enable it, even if am not changing any parameters, it degrades the sound.

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Just now, Summit said:

 

I would love to be able to tell you why Roon's built-in 64-bit DSP volume control worsens the sound. In theory it shouldn’t, but in real life it does nevertheless. I don’t use the Roon DSP neither because if I enable it, even if am not changing any parameters, it degrades the sound.

Completely understood. There are quite a few things in this hobby that should or shouldn't work one way, but the end result is often different. 


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