AUDIO FORUMS >> Digital >> What next?

Message started by CAJames on 04/25/23 at 18:58:41

Title: What next?
Post by CAJames on 04/25/23 at 18:58:41

I guess it is the age old story: I got some money and blew it on my stereo. It sounds better, but now I'm unhappy.

I listen to a lot of CDs and some (but more everyday) files I either download or rip. I bought a (used) high dollar Synergistic Research AES/EBU cable half expecting to return it, but damn it really made my CDs sound noticeably better. So, what's the problem? The problem is when I play files now I really notice they don't sound as good as the physical media. Previously I worked hard to get files and CDs to both sound good enough I didn't care what I was listening to, but that changed with the new cable.

I play files with Foobar2000 on a Windows laptop that I've tweaked. I power it with a linear power supply instead of the supplied wall-wart (some improvement), I have a pretty nice Tabulus Argentus USB cable (big improvement)  and I tweaked the OS to turn off a bunch of unnecessary services (some improvement). So the question is, what do I have to do to make files sound better?

A better USB cable? This is certainly a possibility, and I'm willing to believe that it takes spending more than 500 bucks  to maximize the sound. OTOH my impression is I'm well into the diminishing returns part of the curve with my current cable.

Do I need an actual dedicated streamer? Again, I'm willing to believe I need to spend more than 500 bucks (the cost of my laptop + LPS a couple of years ago), but it seems like streamers are optimized for, you know, streaming, in which I have no interest (long story, don't ask). And under the hood streamers are a laptop anyway so my Scottish Heritage is uncomfortable paying thousands of dollars for what is basically just a souped up laptop. And, I really like Foobar.

So, who listens to files and what have you done to optimize your play back?

Title: Re: What next?
Post by bramar on 04/26/23 at 01:17:56

Not sure if this will help, but maybe it will:

In my case I went with a pretty expensive dedicated streamer as host to my DAC from the beginning, do I have no experience with a pc performing such duties.

Title: Re: What next?
Post by will on 04/26/23 at 06:44:40

I seem to recall us having some different experiences in the past about FLAC versus uncompressed files. In all my tests back in the day, using the "best" ripping software for Mac at the time, I heard a difference. The Flac was good seeming, but more focussed, less complex and nuanced... big deals to me, and the more refined/complex info from uncompressed rips implying more complete rips. And since drives were getting pretty cheap, and my listening collection was maybe 500 disks, I went with uncompressed files. Might be worth some tests.

Also, everything matters as your experiments indicate, but as things get better overall, weak links that were not noticeable can become so.... so cables that once were better without comparison, or vibration mitigation, or anything, all can make a difference, so it may be time to play with these things again.

Another thing I found back when, was that a Macbook Pro running on its battery, sounded less good than a Mac Mini, using the same OS, the same player software with the same filter tuning, and the same system adjustments for audio. A sensible theory I heard is that though the Macbook Pro was using good parts to make it small, fast and light, and Mac being into good (quiet) parts in general... so it would seem to be quieter by comparison to many. And a Mini is similar in need for good parts to make it small and powerful, but the MacBook has a screen, and this is a noise maker, and the Mini is made of an aluminum block with all its noise and vibration benefits.

My setup was really revealing though. As illustration, I used (and still do use) firewire for my cyro'd drive enclosure, using a drive tested to sound good by trusted friends. Presumably the chips and electronic matter, and why not. But where I was going, the firewire was good because I was using a USB DAC, so on a different computer buss than the DAC. And a little weird to me then, but not surprising now, I could hear subtle differences between normal firewire cables, enough for choices. And using the one I liked best, I could choose one direction over the other for a little better sound. Not giant, but a choice.

Also, in my systems, the player software is bigtime. All the big players I have used with Mac sound good, but they are definitely different and have different tuning tools, which can mean a lot to me... so it could be worth some play also.

And not least, when my buddy worked with a guy to develop a seriously tuned version of Mac OS Mavericks, it was a more streamlined OS version to start with. But after removing something like 200,000 lines of code not necessary for audio, by concept, and by sound, it really was a notable difference... smoother, more solid, more harmonic complexity and spacial information, more everything really. So all the work folks are doing to create simple systems can have merit in terms of sound... just depends on how good the ears and systems and goals for presentation are.

All that said, I have been wondering about the Holo Red, which I think has a streamlined Pi 4 OS, and is designed by a brilliant guy who also listens while making exceptional tech. I am no expert by any means on this piece, just glancing around so far, but it could be worth a look. It has been some months, but I think I recall early reports being quite good, and if I am not mistaken, I think it does net streaming, disk streaming, and Digital to digital conversion. Don't believe me without checking, but what comes to mind. Might be able to basically "trade" it for your Denefrips converter???

Some thoughts anyway, and good luck!

Title: Re: What next?
Post by Lon on 04/26/23 at 12:48:55

There is a very long thread about the Holo Red on the PS Audio forum if anyone thinks that might be helpful.

Title: Re: What next?
Post by CAJames on 04/26/23 at 15:05:51

Thanks Will.

Yes, I remember our conversation about FLAC vs. WAV. But I totally agree that the software matters, big time. I've tried many Linux based players/systems like Volumio and others that I can't remember off the top of my head. They either sounded less good than Foobar, didn't handled all my files or allow me to organize them my way.

I don't love Windows and would prefer to get on either Linux or a raspberry pi but I've yet to find other software that does what Foobar does for me. It plays all my files, from 16/44 FLAC to 256 DSD as well or better than everything I've tried and it makes it easy for me to manage my files, which is a way bigger deal than I would have guessed going in.

All the music software that I've seen is built around the idea of songs, albums and artists. I listen to a lot of classical so a symphony with movements and orchestras and conductors just doesn't work in the database. I organize my files in a directory structure similar to how the CDs are organized on my shelves. And with Foobar it is easy to access the file system directly to select a directory of files to play. A few other players can do that, but those that I've tried either don't sound as good as Foobar, don't play DSD or both.

I have looked at the Red, and it is very interesting technology, but isn't really what I'm looking for. It seems like it is mostly a DDC, which is a good thing but I've already got one of those. And, FWIW, going from USB or AES/EBU into my DDC and then via I2S to the DAC was a nice improvement vs. straight into the DAC. But as a media player it has the same limitations as the other pi based systems for me.

I guess I should start thinking about a new USB cable. As for a player, if I were to go that route it would be something like the Lumin that Joman likes so much. But I keep going back to the idea that it is basically a souped up laptop.

Title: Re: What next?
Post by ArtMan on 04/26/23 at 17:49:29

I have the Curious USB cable and it made a significant improvement in the sound over a typical USB cable. The change was much more significant than the DH Labs HDMI 2.1 cable I recently purchased. It is now connected to my Denafrips Iris DDC. I am very pleased with the sound of the Curious USB/DH Labs HDMI 2.1 combination feeding my Pontus.

I would recommend checking it out. Last I looked, the price is around $350 for an 0.8 m length. He also has an upgraded USB cable, the Evolved, at around $550, which I have not heard.

Title: Re: What next?
Post by CAJames on 06/08/23 at 15:32:38

FWIW after much soul searching and online research/discussion I ordered a Network Acoustics ENO 4 USB cable. In theory I should get it tomorrow, or maybe Monday. It has a 30 day return (like a lot of high end cables) so if it doesn't work out I can send it back. Depending on how it goes I may also get a NUC to replace my laptop.

I appreciate the input in this thread.

Title: Re: What next?
Post by JOMAN on 06/09/23 at 18:21:51

But I keep going back to the idea that it is basically a souped up laptop.

Agreed! and I have the same... pain... when I spend large for components that are made of parts that in themselves cost a fraction of the assembled unit be it a cable, streamer etc.

But then I realize that the finished item takes a lot of investment of parts and time or, in other words, research and development to achieve the end result which should be far greater than the sum of the parts.  If the component achieves that then I'm reminded of what a colleague once said "remember, you're paying for what it does, not what it's made of".

That philosophy has paid off large in my recent purchases of digital components, cables and filters.

Regarding the USB cable, I ended up with the Vermouth Audio Reference USB cable and for the money it cost it was a screaming deal based on what it does.  The other cables cost  much more even when bought pre owned.  I now hove the itch to try the Network Acoustics Muon USB cable after experiencing the Muon system.  That will likely wait until I complete the current journey... next week I get my cryo treated UFO25 back and the Vermouth is so good that I'm questioning my sanity for even thinking about what if????  When you look at the components of the Muon System and try to reconcile the cost based on what you hear, well, no wonder people think that we audiophiles are... mentally challenged.  But when you give it the 100+ hours break in time and compare the cost to what it does, reconciling the cost to performance is easy and obvious.  

So CA... give the ENO USB cable 100 hours burn in at least, and for anyone else that is going through the same... struggle??? Welcome to the audio club!

Title: Re: What next?
Post by JOMAN on 06/09/23 at 18:58:41


When you look at the components of the Muon System and try to reconcile the cost based on what you hear

Meant to write "based on what you see" - I was interrupted half way through.

Title: Re: What next?
Post by CAJames on 06/10/23 at 16:37:59

Posted by: JOMAN      Posted on: Yesterday at 10:21:51

...a souped up're paying for what it does, not what it's made of...

Yeah, I totally get and respect that. My thing is I have computer skills, and just as some people with wood working skills can make their own speaker cabinets I feel like I can make my own audio computer. And this isn't so much because I think I'm better than the people who make these gizmos full time as it is that I don't really see anything that does what I want: plays files (with software I like) rather than stream internet music. The Bryston BDP3 is close, but it doesn't play DSD over 128, and while I'll concede it may have advantages over my laptop and Foobar I'm pretty certain if I put my mind to it I can get very close for a fraction of the 4.5K$ asking price.

.. give the ENO USB cable 100 hours burn in at least

I get that too. After a day I'll say it is better than my Tubulus Argentus but I'm not sure that it is worth twice the price. Not nearly as big a difference as upgrading my AES/EBU cable.  Am I being held back my my laptop?

Welcome to the audio club!

Indeed. Stay tuned for more.

Title: Re: What next?
Post by CAJames on 06/14/23 at 20:05:18

So after 100+ hours burnin on the Network Acoustics EVO 4 cable I've reached a number of conclusions.

The NA EVO 4 is a great USB cable, and a clear upgrade from my previous one (as it should be for like twice the cost). The sound is bigger, more detailed and more relaxed. I hate to say "more analog" but that is exactly what I was thinking.

My Tabulus Argentus is very good, and clearly going from a $500ish to a $1000ish USB cable is deep into diminishing returns. The difference between it and the EVO is clear, but not very big.

My laptop does a good, maybe really good, job playing files. I think I will investigate galvanic isolation for the DAC facing USB port and depending on how I feel I may still look into a NUC at some point down the line, but for now I'm happy.

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