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Sonos/Benchmark DAC sound quality


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Hello all,

 

I use a Sonos system serving music ripped in the Apple lossless format using an optical link to a Benchmark DAC. When I compare the quality of music from this setup to a CD playing on an old Rotel DVD player (through an Arcam integrated amp in both cases), the Rotel sounds better. The difference can be made out in the low end - the bass appears cleaner/tighter with the Rotel. Any thoughts on how I could improve the quality through the Sonos/Benchmark? Is it the Sonos electronics or the Apple lossless compression format? Any pointers would really help.

 

Thanks.

Arvind

 

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Hey…

 

Well I’m guessing that you are going to be get a lot of varying answers to this question, but I have a Sonos system as well as a PC and have been involved with computer based playback for a while now – I also have done nothing short of un-ending research online, so while I wouldn’t say I am an expert, I feel like I have a good handle on the various theories. I have a what I consider a very resolving system with good gear – Bryston SP2, Bryston 9BSST, Focal 1027Be speakers, REL subwoofer.

 

When Stereophile reviewed the Sonos system, they confirmed bit-perfect digital output assuming you have the volume set to FIXED in the software settings. This will disable the ability to use the volume on the Sonos remote, but if you don’t do this then the software is playing with the output and can clearly cause sound quality issues. I would check this first.

 

Second, I would suggest using the coax output rather than the optical. Not everyone believes bits-are-bits, but jitter can certainly have audible effects on sound quality – depending on who you ask this is either a major or a minor problem. Although a small minority claims to get better results with optical, it is fairly accepted that coax is the better connection and will result in less jitter.

 

Third, you need to make sure your ripping process is robust. Personally, I use EAC and a Plextor drive with AccurateRip to ensure the best possible rips. I rip to FLAC first and trans-code to Apple Lossless. Not everyone is this anal, but I am confident that I get bit-perfect rips. Some say that they can rip within iTunes, but I have tried that, and on some discs I have heard differences.

 

I know Chris (the host of this wonderful site) is skeptical of even the lossless compression schemes like FLAC and Apple Lossless as he believes that they are bit-perfect, but that there may be sonic issues that enter into the chain upon playback due to conversion. In my experience, in my system, using my ripping technique, I have not been able to hear a difference between FLAC, Apple Lossless, and WAV files. I don’t necessarily conclude that this means others don’t have issues, I just haven’t had them. As you can see, there are many variables that start to come into play so it’s difficult to isolate a single culprit.

 

I think you should be able to get equal or better sound quality out of the Sonos, assuming you can take some if not all of the advice above, but even so there are some who report that the Sonos system has higher-jitter on its outputs than competing products. There are MANY options to address this – and more coming to market shortly. One person very knowledgeable on this subject is Steve Nugent of Empirical Audio who often posts on these boards. He mods the Sonos unit and sells a Pace Car to reduce jitter. I don’t have this product, but before I bought the Sonos I used one of his Off-Ramps (and still do occasionally) with my PC. I did a bunch of blind tests comparing the Off-Ramp from the PC to the Sonos using my Bryston SP-2 as a DAC and I could not reliably tell a difference between the two.

 

If after the above, your Sonos still isn’t sounding better than the Rotel, you can explore the Pace Car, or perhaps some other alternatives. Cullen Circuits does a modification and PS Audio is planning to release a jitter reduction device called the Lens in the coming months.

 

For me, while I still believe I can improve the sound, I am not sure what my next upgrade will be. I can say that I am getting better results than I ever did with CD’s – I have come close to pulling the trigger on the Pace Car – but haven’t yet.

 

Keep reading this forum to learn more and have fun.

 

Hope this helps,

Lew

 

 

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I have had all of these music servers in my system:

 

Olive, Sonos, AirPort Express, Squeezebox, Duet

 

Of these, without a doubt the Sonos has the highest level of clock jitter. This can be improved a little with mods, but a better solution is to add a slave-clock input to the Sonos and then ship the data stream through a Pace-Car reclocker. The Pace-Car is specifically made for these WiFi servers to significantly reduce clock jitter. Here is more info on the Pace-Car:

http://www.empiricalaudio.com/frPace-Car.html

 

Your DAC is another story altogether. I have been modding DAC-1's for many years so I am very familiar with them. I find it very fatigueing without mods. Unfortunately I have stopped modding them because I have my own DAC now.

 

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

 

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I have this set up. You won't be disappointed.

 

New simplified setup: STEREO- Primary listening Area: Cullen Circuits Mod ZP90> Benchmark DAC1>RotelRKB250 Power amp>KEF Q Series. Secondary listening areas: 1/ QNAP 119P II(running MinimServer)>UPnP>Linn Majik DSI>Linn Majik 140's. 2/ (Source awaiting)>Invicta DAC>RotelRKB2100 Power amp>Rega's. Tertiary multiroom areas: Same QNAP>SMB>Sonos>Various. MULTICHANNEL- MacMini>A+(Standalone mode)>Exasound e28 >5.1 analog out>Yamaha Avantage Receiver>Pre-outs>Linn Chakra power amps>Linn Katan front and sides. Linn Trikan Centre. Velodyne SPL1000 Ultra

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I read this in a review of the benchmark dac where the reviewer reset the jumpers inside the dac so as to isolate the input and output signals to only the ones being used thus defeating any switch-ability but at the same time defeating any cross talk issues with the switches themselves. He set it to use the xlr outputs being that they are of better quality than the

rca. He reported better bass response imaging. Resetting jumpers is detailed in the manualalthough you have to get your hands dirty to do it it seems rather straight forward. I myself am looking to get a benchmark as it is the only reasonably priced dac here in switzerland the land of chocolate and very high prices. I am going borrow a Minerva from Weiss (swiss product) to audition but unfourtunately the price here is no less then the us price. Good Luck

 

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Stets - for a stock Benchmark I would recommend the following:

 

1) open the case the put all 4 of the XLR jumpers to the position most toward the front panel

 

2) replace the power cord with a good one

 

3) replace the fuses in the IEC module with two 3-4 amp fast-blow 220VAC fuses - this removes some protection, but usually not an issue if it is a working unit. It will probably void the warranty though.

 

The DAC-1 USB is a bit better.

 

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

 

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  • 6 years later...

wow.. I found this in a search. here is a blast form the past. Like 5 years back..

New simplified setup: STEREO- Primary listening Area: Cullen Circuits Mod ZP90> Benchmark DAC1>RotelRKB250 Power amp>KEF Q Series. Secondary listening areas: 1/ QNAP 119P II(running MinimServer)>UPnP>Linn Majik DSI>Linn Majik 140's. 2/ (Source awaiting)>Invicta DAC>RotelRKB2100 Power amp>Rega's. Tertiary multiroom areas: Same QNAP>SMB>Sonos>Various. MULTICHANNEL- MacMini>A+(Standalone mode)>Exasound e28 >5.1 analog out>Yamaha Avantage Receiver>Pre-outs>Linn Chakra power amps>Linn Katan front and sides. Linn Trikan Centre. Velodyne SPL1000 Ultra

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