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Article: Reality Quest: Going to Extremes with the Taiko Audio SGM Extreme (Part 4 of 5)

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As good as the tX-USBultra SE is (and it is one of the crown jewels of audiodom), amazingly it seems like it is holding back what the Extreme can do natively. 

 

It isn't clear if you are amazed that it didn't make it better because you expected it to, or amazed (and pleased) that the Extreme is so good it doesn't need it. I would think the latter. 

 

If I spent $26K for a device to deliver USB to my DAC, I would be amazed and sorely disappointed  if I discovered it needed another $2K device tacked onto the USB output to optimize that delivery.

 

 

 

 

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The AT&T Pace 5268 Gateway is now outdated. Their latest unit is the ARRIS BGW 210-700 (a much better unit as ISP stuff goes). I power mine from a rail of my HDPlex 200 W linear PS. You will need to get a 5.5x2.1 adapter as it uses an unusual size. I just ordered one of those multi adapter packs and kept switching until I found the correct one.

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1 hour ago, bbosler said:

 

It isn't clear if you are amazed that it didn't make it better because you expected it to, or amazed (and pleased) that the Extreme is so good it doesn't need it. I would think the latter. 

 

If I spent $26K for a device to deliver USB to my DAC, I would be amazed and sorely disappointed  if I discovered it needed another $2K device tacked onto the USB output to optimize that delivery.

 

 

 

 

 

For me, the wrinkle is that the USB on Extreme is the native USB on the ASUS motherboard.  

 

My presumption would have been that the tX-USBultra (with attention to clock, power, etc) would have an incremental positive impact (even if ultimately small).  The fact that it took things in the other direction really shines a very bright light (for me) on the overriding impact of the USB chipsets being used.  The ASMedia 3142 seems to be bringing a lot to the table.

 

Would the equivalent of a tX-USBultra built around this chipset be better still?  Or the JCAT USB XE paired with a quality power supply?  I'd very much love to hear those and see!

 

 

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32 minutes ago, bbosler said:

 

so you will be selling the tX-USBultra ??

 

It has a very happy home already (and yes, I did disclose why I was selling and my findings with the Extreme to the very happy buyer).  Except for Extreme owners, the tX-USBultra has my highest recommendation, and I consider it a gem.

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thanks for the great insights Ray-dude!

 

i'd love to get a sense of the distance(s) you've covered since going down the rabbit hole.

in some overall sense (however you define it), how would you rate the streaming relative performance (0-100 to get an approx. sense of scale)

 

0.  pre-optimized NUC/network

1.  your optimized NUC + network system

2.  plain vanilla Extreme

3.  your optimized Extreme + network

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I did consider adding something like, but I couldn't figure out how to do it cleanly (even if qualitatively).  I can compare NUC to NUC++ and Extreme to Extreme++ though (and I will below).  

 

Originally, I intended to have the bulk of the review being NUC vs Extreme (similar to your outline), but it is such a different experience between the two, and Extreme (and presumably other high power servers) is doing something with dynamics that I simply haven't heard before.

 

For NUC pre vs post optimization (power, USB, network, OS/buffers), call it 3 to 9 (on 10 point scale).  Differences were pretty material, and part of the joy of the NUC for me was having the low level access to tweak things to try and figure out what was making those differences (in particular, I was very surprised at the impact of buffers withs Sqeezelite, both on the network side and USB output side...massive).  For me, the optimizations of the NUC completely transformed the experience.

 

For Extreme, I'd say 6 or 7 out of the box going to a 9 with optimization (completely different scale that what I used for NUC above...I can't meaningfully compare the Extreme to the NUC).  Out of the box, the Extreme is WAY beyond anything I've ever heard (shockingly so).  With all the optimizations, that goodness just keeps getting better, but it is not introducing something fundamentally new to the party.

 

Qualitatively, the character of each optimization was less "adding to sound quality of the Extreme" and more "removing something that was holding the Extreme back".  This is what I meant when I called the Extreme a "True Reference". 

 

That being said, the starting point of the Extreme is so damn high, any improvement put a huge smile on my face (kid in the candy store stuff).

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Thank you very much @Blake!  I'm delighted that you're gleaning nuggets to apply to your own system. Obviously crazy few people will opt to get an Extreme, but Emile's deep expertise and experience is in all the details, and I've learned a huge amount about digital audio in studying his designs (the last time I spent this much attention on a piece of computer hardware was WAY back in the day when I purchased one of the original NeXT Cubes).

 

Mark is a delight to work with, and I am absolutely delighted that his sensibilities and musical priorities seem to be such a good match to mine.  It is very rare to listen to something and go "This is just right, I'm done" but having that happen in relatively quick succession on three different things from the same company is a very unexpected treat.

 

 

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Ray dude what a fantastic review, a joy to read and a wealth of information.

 

But that being sad you can’t leave the Extreme on the floor in a corner, even if it has a hundred year old Steinway as its roof. I think you need a new “generic media console” maybe you can ask a carpenter to make something for you out of panzerholz.


Looking forward to part 5


🇳🇱
Meitner ma1 v2 dac,  Sovereign preamp and power amp,

DIY speakers with scan speak illuminator drivers.

Under development:

NUC7i7dnbe, Euphony Stylus

EtherRegen, LPS1- Isoregen, Lush^2

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I would love to get a fixed bid for carpentry with panzerholz, just to hear the guy curse and shout as all his cutting tools don't work ;)

 

Post Pandemic, social norms (bathing regularly, wearing pants to work, no servers under pianos, etc) will return, but for now, I get a chuckle every time I see it there

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You may chuckle but Emile and the rest of the audiophile community is crying. 😁


🇳🇱
Meitner ma1 v2 dac,  Sovereign preamp and power amp,

DIY speakers with scan speak illuminator drivers.

Under development:

NUC7i7dnbe, Euphony Stylus

EtherRegen, LPS1- Isoregen, Lush^2

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4 hours ago, ray-dude said:

I did consider adding something like, but I couldn't figure out how to do it cleanly (even if qualitatively).  I can compare NUC to NUC++ and Extreme to Extreme++ though (and I will below).  

 

Originally, I intended to have the bulk of the review being NUC vs Extreme (similar to your outline), but it is such a different experience between the two, and Extreme (and presumably other high power servers) is doing something with dynamics that I simply haven't heard before.

 

For Extreme, I'd say 6 or 7 out of the box going to a 9 with optimization (completely different scale that what I used for NUC above...I can't meaningfully compare the Extreme to the NUC).  Out of the box, the Extreme is WAY beyond anything I've ever heard (shockingly so).  With all the optimizations, that goodness just keeps getting better, but it is not introducing something fundamentally new to the party.

 

That being said, the starting point of the Extreme is so damn high, any improvement put a huge smile on my face (kid in the candy store stuff).

 

thanks Ray, i understand.  it seems like the extreme is somewhere over the horizon (or rainbow?) relative to the NUC and NUC++.

 

hopefully someday we'll be out of lockdown and i'll get a chance to head into NYC and experience this for myself.

 

for now, living vicariously through you and others for now......................

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I may need to get a keg of Ballast Point Sculpin post pandemic, and have a beer listening party here in San Diego for all the poor folks that have been wading through the novella of a review!

 

And to try and articulate things better, the Extreme (and I presume other high power servers) are doing something with dynamics that I simply haven't heard with the NUCs.  It is sort of like the experience of going from bookshelf speakers to full range speakers.  There is something there that I just haven't heard before.  Very difficult (and I think unfair) to compare them

 

I think the NUCs are wonderful and would highly recommend them for folks that aren't ready or willing to go in for all the pomp and circumstance (cases, power, etc) that the high power systems require.

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6 hours ago, ray-dude said:

And to try and articulate things better, the Extreme (and I presume other high power servers) are doing something with dynamics that I simply haven't heard with the NUCs.

 

As I mentioned in one of the other parts of this review, this is a splendid job you've done.  And a great read.

 

Question (open to others): what other music servers would you put in this high-power class of server that may likely be doing similar things with dynamics? 

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Ted @Nenon is going to have a much more considered opinion than mine. This is my first high powered server, and it way exceeded my expectations. 

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14 hours ago, ray-dude said:

 

It has a very happy home already (and yes, I did disclose why I was selling and my findings with the Extreme to the very happy buyer).  Except for Extreme owners, the tX-USBultra has my highest recommendation, and I consider it a gem.

Innuos Zenith SE and Statement owners also need to be careful. I found the tx-USBUltra to be a significant downgrade with my Zenith SE in a highly optimised network. It robbed the system of its final degree of magic and was clearly outperformed by a simple Synergistic Research Atmosphere X Ref USB cable. It would be a clear downgrade with an Innuos Statement, with its further optimised USB interface, 3ppb clock and dedicated dual linear power supply rails. 

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Hi Raydude,

 

It is great to read your review of the Taiko Audio Extreme. I've just finished reading parts 1 to 4. It is especially interesting to read of your experimentation with the network and usb ends of the system.

 

I hope you don't mind a few niggly technical questions.

 

You write that:

"The Monoprice SlimRun is not quite galvanically isolated, since there is a power line for the end connector and USB Vbus that runs the length of the cable, but there is an option to externally power the cable with a micro USB connector on the DAC end of the cable."


My Monoprice SlimRun fiber USB cable has a micro USB power input on the server end of the cable. Can you please point me in the direction of the option that allows the DAC end of the cable to be externally powered?

 

While I know your music is stored on the Extreme in ASUS base NVME drives, your diagram shows a NAS as well.  How does playback from the NAS sound in comparison?  As good as Tidal?

 

Anyway thanks again for your write-up of the Extreme. You write very well, and clearly have a great understanding of the technology, so it is a pleasure to read.


Enjoy,

Larry


nuckleheadaudio.com

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Thank you Larry!

 

For the Monoprice SlimRun, that is a mistake (thank you).  The USB connector is on the Extreme end of the cable.  I'll work with Chris to fix that.

 

It is a Freudian mistake though.  I am thinking of getting out a drill and soldering iron and putting DC leads on the DAC side of the cable.  I just don't feel good about having a 30' unshielded tiny DC lead from my LPS 1.2 on the TX end to the RX end.  What impact will it have?  No idea, but it feels like this one is worth some MacGyver action.

 

I did speak to music location a bit in Part 3:

 

Quote

 

Choice of Music Location

So how about the choice of where to put your music library? As I mentioned previously, my Extreme has 8TB of local PCIe M.2 storage, so I was able to copy my entire 4TB music library from my Mac Mini media server to the Extreme. This allows me to compare the exact same source files local on the Extreme, vs via an SMB share on my home network from my Mac Mini, vs (what I hope is) the same content streaming from Tidal (unoptimized network configuration in all cases).

 

With PCM content, HQPlayer, the JPLAY driver, and an unoptimized copper ethernet connection, I found that local content on the Extreme had consistently and notably better dynamics and speed than the exact same content over the network from my Mac Mini server. 

 

Where I could find Tidal content that I was confident was from the same mastering as my redbook content (my content was typically ripped from CD for these tests), TIDAL was consistently a significant step down in dynamics and speed vs what I was hearing locally or over my LAN. That being said, I obviously can’t control for different masterings on TIDAL vs what I have locally on my systems, but the impact was consistent across the tracks that I auditioned.

 

A reminder that the above impressions were using a completely unoptimized network. I will revisit these tests in the context of a highly optimized network and internet connection in Part 4 (LINK) of this review.

 

 

After I optimized the network, the gap closed considerably, but local content was still clearly better to my ear.  Very difficult to compare to TIDAL (mastering differences, etc), but my sense (very vague) is that TIDAL streaming may be better than content on the Mac Mini (local still wins over TIDAL).  Again, I can not be definitive on that, since I can't guarantee I'm listening to the same thing locally as I do on TIDAL

 

For now, I have my Mac Mini as my consolidated media server (music, videos, movies, etc), with my Plex server running on the Mac Mini for remote streaming when I am away from home (alas, not happening these days).  I manually sync new content from my Mac Mini to my Extreme, and play music locally on the Extreme or via TIDAL.
 

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1 hour ago, ray-dude said:

I am thinking of getting out a drill and soldering iron and putting DC leads on the DAC side of the cable

Same thoughts here. Funny, I burned through several Corning cables trying to power the DAC end 5 years ago.  It's best to proceed slowly. Like the Corning cable, the voltage is probably boosted for the long cable run in the Monoprice so you may need to find the output of the buck on the DAC end for connection at 5 volts.

 

I am successfully using the Monoprice USB as a server connection to the network, with the remote end powering an USB NIC and Monoprice CAT 8 into a LPS powered network extender. Just for grins I've moved a backup USB HDD to my NAS on the router (dirty) side of the network. Despite this, and surprisingly, SQ between Qobuz and the NAS based HDD is tough to distinguish. Indeed local files stored on the servers Optane drive are tough to distinguish from the same tracks on the NAS. More long term listening may tell the story, but no doubt, the Monoprice does sound awfully good.

 

Anyway thanks again for the terrific write-up.

 

Larry

 

 


nuckleheadaudio.com

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