OK - Here is my contribution🙂. I am currently running a version of what was known in as the "Trifecta". SOtM kit and spaghetti does feel a bit like ancient history in this thread now that the serial tweakers have move onto NUC's and software optimisations, but for me, it is my system. Also, it is not a case that I have settled on a solution a year or so ago and stopped there, I am still tweaking myself in pursuit of some kind of ultimate goal, kicking the ball at some ever wondering goal posts I guess.
My streaming system currently consists of a Windows 10 PC, typically running Roon, HQPlayer via router, switch, sMS-200Ultra Neo, tX-USBulta, Mutec MC3+USB AES/EBU to my Devialet amp. The SOtM kit and the MC3+USB are all fed from the Mutec REF10, the SOtM kit has the benefit of PH SR4 power. Am I happy with this set up? Well yes and no if I am honest. In terms of functionality, the sMS-200Ultra suits me perfectly. It is one of a very short list of commercially available "NAA" devices that run HQplayer, and for reasons not really relevant to this thread, I also make good use of the other Eunhasu modes, it suits me well. But in terms of sound quality, I never really bonded with the sMS-200Ultra. In terms of detail and dynamics it is tremendous, but there is something a little thin in it's presentation, which gives rise to me sometimes being slightly annoyed with the tonal presentation of some recordings. This in turn means that on some occasions I am sat listening to the system, being distracted by what some might call a slight "digital edge", so end up "listening to my system" rather than actually enjoying the music. This is not anyone's goal. Going back in time, there was a point on this thread where the action had moved away from kit like the sMS-200Ultra to the various NUC configurations that were being investigated. In my case, I had been more than happy with the results from the Mutec MC3+USB, REF10 and tX-USBultra, it was just the sMS-200Ultra that was niggling me. So I think I was probably a prime candidate to ditch the sMS-200Ultra and join in the fun with a NUC. However, I am currently extremely busy with both work and life, and frankly I do not have the time. If anything replaces the sMS-200Ultra it will need to be very much a "turnkey" off the shelf item.
But this leads me to a thought. Despite the fact that I do not have the time to go the NUC route, I have been following this thread closely over the last couple of years. Recently there was a time when the main action in this thread related to NUC's and "low latency" AudioLinux software. At a similar time, we also had a series of firmware updates from SOtM. It felt a little bit like there was an arms race between the NUC tweakers on this thread and SOtM firmware updates, as if the SOtM guys were picking up some pointers here and using this to drive their own development forward. Maybe just wild speculation, putting 2+2 together and making 5, but the fact remains that there were a lot of SOtM firmware updates at this time, and the sMS-200Ultra, to my ears at least, was sounding better than ever.
This takes me to where I am now. With the Neo upgrade and the latest firmware, the sMS-200Ultra has gone from a component that would be top of my list to replace, to something that I am now more than happy with, and overall, my system is sounding better that it ever has. Then we had the Blu-ray player incident......
I have mentioned my Pioneer BDP450 Bluray player in a number of old posts. The poor old Pioneer was becoming a bit troublesome, a case of becoming mechanically very noisy, and vibrating quite severely during some phases of disc playback. Hearing the little Pioneer audibly vibrating during key sections of a movie was not the best way to become immersed in whatever was on screen, so I figured a replacement was needed.
Looking at what was on the market, I quite fancied the Cambridge Audio CXUHD. Trouble is that I do not have a 4K TV, so I then thought about getting a second hand 1080P Oppo. With Oppo recently ceasing production of Blu-ray players, the second hand prices of the better Oppo players were a little high, to be honest, I would have preferred the new Cambridge Audio for similar money. Am I planning to get a 4K TV? In a way yes, I have two 1080P plasma TV's, one is about 6 years old, the other pushing 15 years old. I have been told that Plasma TV's only last about 10 years, so presumably one of them will keel over before two long, at which time the next TV will be 4K. But that might not happen for years, and if I did buy a 4K TV, I would want to buy a latest spec 4K player at the same time, not 3 years or something in advance. So I then started looking on eBay for reasonable looking second hand 1080P Blu-ray players, just anything that looked nice, I was not too fussy. I started putting lowish bids on a number of items, just to see what might happen. The next thing I knew, I had bought an Arcam BDP300 for £200. (they were £999 when new) https://www.arcam.co.uk/products,FMJ,BD-...#techspecs
Anyway, the thing turned up. The box was immaculate, the remote, manual, cables etc. had all been put back in their original plastic bags with cable ties, the player itself looked new. Connecting it up, it works fine, picture quality and sound quality with movies seem fine. It is a big heavy beast too, probably over twice the size and weight of the Pioneer. I am happy I have got a reasonably good buy for the money, it definitely looks like it has been well cared for.
The Arcam BDP300 never had the best reputation, certainly a step down from the equivalent Oppo players. It does use a lot of "parts bin" components from mainstream players, with a little of Arcam's audio circuitry and LPSU's on top. Anyway, this got me wondering, what would it sound like in two channel mode? The Arcam will play music files from a USB drive, and will of course play CD's. I read something on-line that claimed that the BSP300 sounds slightly better from USB, maybe a quirk of the "parts bin" CD / Blu ray drive. So out of curiosity, I loaded some music files onto a USB thumb drive, connected the Arcam to the REF 10 clocked Mutec MC3+USB, thus allowing me to do a direct head to head comparison with the SOtM streaming kit. I have done this before with the old Pioneer BDP450, and the sound quality was quite a step behind the SOtM kit. I have also tried this with my near 20 year old Musical Fidelity CD player, which as I mentioned in a previous post, got pretty close to the SOtM kit.
I was expecting similar things from the Arcam, that it would sound ok, but the SOtM kit would edge ahead for ultimate sound quality. Listening to the first few tracks, the Arcam sounded good, a few switches between the Arcam and SOtM kit I found that it was very hard to discern much difference, this was a close one. I think expectation bias was getting too me, I was telling myself that the SOtM kit was better, after all, it is dedicated audio kit, it has the advantage of being fed with up-sampling HQPlayer, it has SR4 power supplies, etc, etc. Ultimately, and much to my surprise, I had to come to the conclusion that the Arcam was the better performer. Just that touch more real, less "digital", slightly better ambiance and clarity. Not what I expected.
So a big surprise. I guess I have never been 100% convinced by the SOtM kit, but I did not expect my "£200 off eBay" universal device to edge it out. Maybe something to do with taking the PC and network out of the chain, and instead using a simple bit of audio circuitry to send a digital file to the MC3+USB? Maybe a result of taking USB out of the chain altogether? Doing a bit of research on the Arcam, it does appear to be very well designed from a audio perspective, very good electrical isolation and shielding , this kind of thing. But I remain staggered that it has edged out the REF10 clocked SOtM kit. In a way this reminds me of the guy that was experimenting with very simple sources playing from SD cards. A similar concept, and he seamed to be getting good results too. I guess this shows that with audio it is not always the complex and expensive solutions that come out on top, in some areas simplicity can completely nail it.
The plan now is to use the Arcam as a "reference", a second source that is almost identical the SOtM kit for sound quality. This could be very useful for verifying a few tweaks. For example, a while ago when changing my rack and layout of the kit, I took the SOtM modified ethernet switch out of the chain, and it has never gone back. To compare the system with or without the SOtM kit would be a case of listening to a playlist, then very much faffing around swapping out the switch, getting Roon and HQPlayer to talk to Eunhasu again, and so on. Usually when doing this, Eunhasu crashes, much hassle getting everything to work again, by which time I am in a bad mood and have forgotten exactly how things sounded with the previous switch. This is not a good way to look for those subtle differences. But now I have the Arcam as a kind of benchmark, I could install a new switch or whatever, and then do immediate A/B swaps between the two methods of playback. Immediate and hassle free playing the same song, much better, and much easier.
I mentioned functionality at the start of this post, and in this regard the Arcam is utter rubbish! Not in terms of it's ability to spin Blu-ray discs, this is fine, but to actually live with as a music server, it is hopeless. A case of slow and clunky on TV screen navigation. So I am not using it for general listening, but as a reference and a tool for A/B tests, the thing is gold dust.
On my "to do" list is to try this with the SOtM switch. I also have a plan to try the SOtM kit direct to the Devialet's USB, taking the Mutec MC3+USB out of the chain. In this scenario I could try direct A/B swaps between Arcam +Mutec (which sounds virtually the same as SOtM to Mutec to Devialet) with the SOtM kit direct by USB. Depending on the results of this, I could try running HQPlayer, DSD64, SOtM USB, direct to the Devialet, with direct swaps between the "benchmark" Arcam + Mutec route. I am sure you get the idea. The SOtM kit is now powered by a pair of Paul Hynes SR4's, maybe this will provide an advantage over the SMPS powered MC3+USB? Now I can do direct A/B comparisons, these checks will be much easier to do as it eliminates relying on aural memory. It surprises me to think that I have had the SOtM kit for over a year and never tried it direct to the Devialet's USB input, but now I can do these direct A/B comparisons I have become a lot keener to try it. Other things to try now I can do this direct A/B testing is to run my old microRendu again, mR to tX-USBultra to Mutec MC3+USB. Another would be to try the sPS-500 to power my router. I suspect this will make zero to very little difference, but now I have a direct A/B reference it might be worth a go. Currently the sPS-500 is sat on a shelf doing nothing, so worth a try I guess.
In terms of my medium term plans, the EtherRegen looks interesting, and I am also currently researching Room treatments, but that is a topic for another thread.
Meanwhile I will keep following the many adventures in this thread with great interest, ever optimistic that it will eventually trickle down into my own system, by some means or another. Keep up the good work folks! And a final nod to @austinpopfor his good work keeping this thread in good shape, it is appreciated.