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BluesDoc
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digital audio listening

we've had several reviews (e.g. airport express, olive symphony, sonus, squeezebox) and several "big brother" pieces yet to be reviewed (e.g. Transporter, Olive opus). And yet the obvious buying choice still escapes me. Which unit results in the best SOUND? with or without external DAC, optical outputs, etc? with or without regard to price point? Any thoughts? John A. are you ready to jump in on this? thank you all in advance. Rich

BluesDoc
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Re: digital audio. Sonos?Transporter? Opus?

I'm surprised no one is interested in this subject? John Atkinson certainly seems to be in his reviews. Or did I miss postings on another thread? thanks

Jim Tavegia
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Re: digital audio. Sonos?Transporter? Opus?

I think this is a relatively new area for true "audiophiles" and I do not say this in a snobbish way. When I look at the size of some music libraries from the photo gallery I can get a sense of the immense amount of time to transfer all of this software to any type of server.

If I was 30 and not 59 I would take on this project. I also think that if hi bit rate, jitter free fownloads come to be this may move some audiophiles to music servers of some type.

Being an audiophile is not about convenience otherwise the LP would not be alive and doing quite nicely, or sales of $2K and up cd/sacd players, or turntables $2K and up. Although I am sure music from a Sonos through some Wilson Watt Puppies is very, very nice.

2007 will be very interesting on this front for sure. I think more people are doing this than you might think. They are just not on this forum...yet.

tomjtx
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Re: digital audio listening

This is a more appropriate thread so I'll re-do my post here.
I have a Transporter going on 6 weeks now.
I have Rowland into Watt/Puppies.
I,ve had a LavryDAC 10 , which many feel is better than the Benchmark, I have an updated SFDMARK2D2
The Transporter is IMHO is the best DAC I've heard in my system.
I've ripped using AIFF and ALAC and hear no difference. They both sound better than CD playback. I use itunes and an external hard drive.
The TP has transformed the way I listen to music. Most importantly it is the best sounding , most musical digital playback I've heard in my system.
It rivals my vinyl (Full blown Linn with graham arm)
I never thought I would say this, but I have wondered if I might sell my Linn
GASP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! But no, I still love that tweaky devil :-)

Yes, it's way more convenient and this has the added benifit that I listen to more music more often.
For the 1st time after listening to some vinyl I am not at all dissapointed to return to the TP.

Sorry, I don't mea to sound like a commercial , but I have gotten such pleasure from this product that I enthusiastically recommend anyone try their 30 day trial to see if you like it.
The TP does seem to "break in" a lot the 1st week so give the 30 days to decide.

Anyway, that's my 2 cents.

struts
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Re: digital audio listening

Couldn't agree more BluesDoc! Transformer down (Feb 2007), Olive Opus (and almost certainly others I've missed) to go.

I think this streaming lossless files thing is a big can o' worms that JA has boldly opened. Will he come to regret it I wonder?

  • My own experience, and that of many others like tomjtx whom I've spoken to or whose expereinces I have read about, is that streamed audio absolutely can offer serious high-end sound. Several have claimed that in direct A/B comparisons they think their streamer sounds better than their high-end transport (sold mine long ago so I'm afraid I can't comment here).
  • The accessibility and convenience benefits are almost indisputable
  • Most converts (yours truly included) swear that this has, through greater convenience/accessibility or otherwise, considerably increased their overall enjoyment of music and that there's no going back.

I think Jim's points are well taken:

  • Many people are just waking up to this and audiophiles old and new will be jumping on board daily. Take yours truly, for example, I sold-off/packed-up my last high end system three years ago when our first daughter was born and have been enjoying(?) lo-fi/AV ever since. It was actually my Sonos purchase at Christmas (see other thread for the unexpurgated version) that indirectly rekindled my interest in this whole high-end thang.
  • I also get the feeling that this whole phenomenon is set to break out this year

So what are the issues I would like Stereophile to address? Here's a couple for starters:

  • Sound quality and how to maximize it (you hit the nail on the head BluesDoc!). Experiences with file formats, encoders/decoders, streaming hardware (primarily via digital outs, we all have DACs, don't we?) and digital interconnects (Toslink vs coax etc.).
  • Is streamed better or just different? Do streamers have some massive inherent advantage over optical transports? JA's words from the Sonos review (Oct 2006) are still ringing in my ears:
    Quote:
    But when used to feed 16-bit/44.1Hz digital data to my high-end Mark Levinson No.30.6 DAC, the ZP80 performed flawlessly. I was hard-pressed to hear much of a difference between the Levinson driven by the ZP80 receiving Apple Lossless Compressed or AIF files, and the original CDs from which I had ripped the tracks, as played back by the Class
Elk
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Re: digital audio listening

All of the units I have seen tested offer bit perfect transfers from the hard disk at acceptably low jitter rates. I think all offer S/PDIF outputs so they all have a good digital out. Thus, I believe that the technology is at the point where sound of a streaming server is going to be as good as the sound of the DAC it is feeding.

The biggest question is whether one is ready to make the mental shift of storing your music on a hard drive, and whether you are comfortable either leaving your computer/server on all the time or taking the additional step of turning it on when you want to listen to music. I think these are major hurdles for many and feel that this is a bigger shift than the change from LP to CD.

The issues of what to buy are:

1) Do you like the user interface of the product? Sonus has a neat handheld remote that contains a wonderful graphical interface. The Slim Devices products have excellent screens. Olive has a superb screen but which is too small to read at a distance but has a nice browser interface that can be accessed by a laptop, PDA or any other WiFi browser.

2) Do you already have a good external DAC? If you do, pick the interface you prefer. If not, you may want to consider either the new Transporter that sounds excellent on its own. The Olive Symphony analog out is very good, but not excellent - modded it is superb. The Squeezebox output stock is OK - but modded can be very good.

All can access a separate computer for music as well as networked hard disk storage. The Olive has a built in hard drive and CD drive as well as built un USB ports for direct access to files. None of this matters as to the sound, but are basic factors as to how you will integrate a server into your system.

The learning curve can feel steep for people not comfortable with computers and file storage. The Olive is easy on that it also offers the ability to rip and encode any CD upon simply placing it in it's drive. The others require a tad bit more computer sophistication, but nothing difficult.

Organizing your CD collection is not as automatic as the manufacturers like to make it appear. You still have to make decisions as to what makes sense to you and need to over ride various labeling defaults if you really want the organization to make sense.

I have an Olive as I did not want a separate computer on all the time. At most it consumes seven watts and is silent. I added a USB external drive for backup/additional storage. I am accessing it through a Nokia N800 Interest Tablet. It is easy to find what I have stored on it. It sounds as good as the DAC that I am using. I like being able to easily compare recorded performances such as a particular Goldberg variation played by different pianists. The ability to easily find high bit-rate Internet stations and stream them to a good DAC is fun. I like being able to easily stream music that I have personally recorded and am editing to my main system for final sound checks without burning a CD-R and transferring it via sneaker net.

I am still not completely enamored with the technology however. I like the physicality of CDs and LPs. As I have no problem finding CDs in my collection, even though I have thousands, the computer database of recordings isn't that much of an advantage. I dislike needing to catalogue recordings while I am ripping them - the automatic CD database catalogs are great for pop and rock but lousy for classical - for example, the "composer" field is almost always blank and the composer's name and/or performer is in the "artist" field.

If you are interested in diving in I suggest that you either by the Transporter for its excellent sound and wonderful online support community, or simply pick one of the others and feed your existing DAC. If you are feeling unsure whether you will like it, I would be a Squeezebox 3. It is cheap, has a highly visible screen with an easy interface and great support. If you already have a computer and a WiFi it is easy to integrate a Squeezebox and test it out to see what you think.

struts
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Re: digital audio listening

RE-SPECT Elk, a truly excellent summary. In fact I really think somebody should pin your post somehow as it is a comsummate 101 on this whole subject. If I can work out how to I want to give you a star for it. It was a real eye-opener for me as you touch on many points that I as a reasonably experienced (if not proficient) computer geek had singularly failed to appreciate.

I got a little taste of this medicine myself over the weekend. As my project to rip my CD collection to hard disk gathers pace (400 discs and counting - onwards and upwards!) I started noticing how erratically album art is handled. I never really bothered about this when listening to music on my iPod, but since the Sonos Zone Player became my principal source component this has taken on a whole new significance.

I won't bore you with all the gory details but it turns out that in trying to be clever (will I ever learn?) and manually scanning in some album art I couldn't find online (Google Image Search, by the way, for those of you who haven't discovered it, is your new best friend) I drove myself all the way up a blind alley that it took me two infuriating days of reversing to back myself out of.

Along the way I learned more than I ever wanted to about bugs (id3v2.4 tags anyone?) and UI idiosyncracies in iTunes, file size limitations in the Sonos system, and the relative payload represented by .bmp and .jpg files of exactly the same images. It is only fair to point out that throughout this process the Sonos support pages were a paragon of simple, but helpful clarity.

So, to your point, Elk, the expereince is not wrinkle-free, even with systems as well designed as the Sonos. It's back to the old adage "there's no such thing as a free lunch" and that convenience and ease-of-use have their price. Or as my now seventy-seven-year-old father puts it "if there's a computer involved you know you're in trouble!"

Elk
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Re: digital audio listening

Struts, given how much thought you have given to this topic this means a lot. Thank you.

I've gotten caught as you describe, although in a different way, by trying to change labels in ways they were not meant to be changed. Argh!

struts
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Re: digital audio listening


Quote:
Struts, given how much thought you have given to this topic this means a lot. Thank you.

My pleasure Elk. I really appreciate posts with either interesting information or insightful analysis. I thought yours was a great example of both.

Completely OT, but apropos...


Quote:
I like being able to easily compare recorded performances such as a particular Goldberg variation played by different pianists.

...I wondered if you were familiar with Ito Ema's interpretation (MA Recordings M024A). I bought it recently on a friend's recommendation and it has become an instant favourite. Wonderfully elegant playing (with enough mistakes to convince one she's 'human') and a very natural recording.

This one is really one for the klavier fetishists, the piano is apparently the pianists own "magnificent" 1903 vintage Steinway D Concert Grand. Well of course I would have lent her mine if she'd asked!

If you've heard it I'd be interested in your thoughts (feel free to message me or we can reconvene over in the classical 'room').

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