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Adding external DAC to AVR

Jonas F

Novice Member
Hi all.

Im going to try keeping it short :) My main focus when i build my system was movies.
I am running a Marantz SR8012 AVR, bi-amped to a Rotel RMB1585. With full lineup of the biggest Arendel speakers. Sounds great.

I used to just use the build in HEOS in the avr, but discovered Roon. And what a magical thing for music!

Now i have to use Airplay. This has its limist as everyone knows.

I have settled on going the RasberryPi route to build a Roon Endpoint. Looking at either Toppiing USBridge og Digione signature.

The Digione signature is straight forward. Just plug it into my AVR using S/PDIF and use the AVR’s DAC “AKM AK4458”.

But but but. I would love to be able to upsample to DSD and get MQA “Tidal user”.
AVR’s are apperently notorius for sending almost everything through its own dac, even when using analog inputs. It is my understanding that i can use “Pure Direct” on my avr to bypass this, but this shuts my sub off, this isent optimal in my setup.

I have been looking at a SMSL m500 dac that does MQA and DSD. But would i benefit by throwing this into my chain in some way. I am very confused
:slight_smile:


I hope there are some clever minds that can clarify this for me.
 

Khazul

Well-known Member
Make sure that whatever DAC you choose is what with full sample rate bit depth and DSD support on the specific Roon (bridge or server) host platform in which it will be directly plugged into.

The Project S2 digital DAC for eg is fully supported on both R-PI with Riopeee and Roon's own ROCK server platform

Once you get away from the basic 16/24 and go past 192k, then you can run into platform driver support issues, especially with DSD.

I am not saying any of these other DACs you mention are not as well supported, just that you should probably check (as I dont know what their support situation is) with the vendor and/or on Roon's own forums first.

I personally run Roon on an intel NUC on which ROCK has been installed and I have my Pro-ject S2 plugged into that via USB and that supports everything that the device is capable of. I have previous had it plugged into a USB port on an R-Pi 3b+ running Riopeee and likewise that appeared to fully support the device even if the R-PI 3b+ lacked the grunt to handle high sample rates (which should not be an issue with a R-PI4).

The last time I checked, the SMSL M500 worked with Roon of course (for MQA in exclusive mode if necessary in Roon on windows) but is not actually a Roon tested or Roon certified device, but I believe it does fully work with the R-PI and Roon bridge, however you should do your own research rather than take my word for it.

As for benefit of using one of these DACs - well yes - you will get a technical improvement (whether you hear it or not is a different matter), however if plugged its output into you AVR then in the end unless in pure direct mode on the AVR, then any improvements will be negated by the AVR (making MQA to the new DAC probably pointless for eg). If you have full range speakers, then maybe you wont care about the sub. Of course you wont have the room correction active either, but with music, that may be a good thing depending on your room and speakers.

Airplay (1, not sure about v2) does introduce its own issues as well besides the sample rate/bit depth limit that will be circumvented by using a USB DAC, but again you may not actually hear a difference beyond DAC character difference.

The ideal of course is to bypass the AVR entirely with an HT bypass capable HiFi amp (whic several of us have done), but then that will add a load of expense and complexity.
 
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Jonas F

Novice Member
Thanks for the reply Khazul. Wow that adds another potential challenge :) diddent know this was an issue aswell. Getting the things to speak well togther and then with Roon.

So you have your Roon Rock in your audio setup, plugged directly into your Pro-ject S2 and then to some sort of amp, pre amp?

I have thought of going the ROCK route but figured i needed another ROON endpoint hooked up to a DAC. And using the ROCK as i thought it was intended.

Maybe the best solution for me would be gooing Allo Digione connected directly to my AVR. Tehn i woul bypass Airplay and would be able to upsamlpe to the max of the build in dac in the AVR. Isent this the smartest solution?

Going external dac doesent sound like it would be worth my money :)
 
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Khazul

Well-known Member
My living room setup is a hybrid AVR + Hifi stereo amp with my hifi amp (Yamaha A-S2100 which includes HT bypass function) acting as the front power amp for my AVR (Yamaha RX-V781 which has front pre-outs).

Roon core runs on an intel NUC with Roon's ROCK OS. My project S2 is plugged into that via USB. The DAC outputs connects to a line input on my hifi amp.

I also have a bunch of other endpoints around the house including some on R-PI (onme of which also has a dragonfly red dac) and use one of the R-PIs for hosting Roon extensions including Deep Harmony that integrates Roon with logitech harmony so it can control my amp and other AV equipment, or control Roon from Harmony's remote control.

Bypassing airplay is useful, so your suggested optical in to the AVR will help with that. I know my Yamaha AVR will fully slave to it optical input (I have tested this), so I would expect the marantz to do so as well which will bypass my main issue with airplay.

Roon of course can decode MQA in software and via optical it should be able to output 192/24 to the AVR which is more than a decode of MQA needs, however MQA is designed to be used with an MQA renderer as well and without out, I'm not sure you will find it any better than CD.

Of course with Roon, then Qobuz is an alternative to Tidal to avoid MQA entirely and TBH this would suit you setup better (via optical). I am of course assuming that your AVR can accept 192/24 over optical.

If you are using an R-PI3, then you may run out of CPU for high sample rates, but an R-Pi will be fine of course. I would suggest a dietpi or Riopeee build.

As a separate thing, you mention 'bi-amped with rotel .... Personally I think passive bi-amping is a waste of time. You may be better served just using the rotel as a dedicated front amp and leaving the AVR to only drive the other channels. I dont think using differnt model and especially vendor amps is a good idea at all for bi-amping - can be hard to get a good match even with identical amps.
 

Jonas F

Novice Member
Thanks for the great answer Khazul!

Sounds like i am going Allo Digione Sig route then.
May i ask what NUC model you are running :)

Regarding MQA ROONS wirtes this on their site.

I don’t have an MQA DAC, how does DSP work in Roon?
First, Roon will decode the MQA file or stream to an MQA Core stream. This produces a PCM stream at 88.2kHz or 96kHz. Then, any selected DSP is applied to that stream, and the output is sent to your DAC.


So if understand this correctly, i can build myself a ROCK sever on a NUC for an example. And fully get the benefits of MQA via DSP ?


Bi-amping was the wrong word. I have used the Pre-outs on my Marantz to my Rotel. The Rotel is driving my 5 main channels. Atmos is driven by the Marantz :)
 

ChuckMountain

Distinguished Member
But but but. I would love to be able to upsample to DSD and get MQA “Tidal user”.
AVR’s are apperently notorius for sending almost everything through its own dac, even when using analog inputs. It is my understanding that i can use “Pure Direct” on my avr to bypass this, but this shuts my sub off, this isent optimal in my setup.

Are you sure that Direct, bypasses this?

Most AVRs digitise the analogue inputs, with some suggesting even with Direct On, which will then require their DAC to convert back again. It would then seem a bit of a waste :(
 

Jonas F

Novice Member
Are you sure that Direct, bypasses this?

Most AVRs digitise the analogue inputs, with some suggesting even with Direct On, which will then require their DAC to convert back again. It would then seem a bit of a waste :(
I am not sure no :) But i dont really wanna take the chance i guess
 

Khazul

Well-known Member
My NUC Intel 717BNH I think. It has 16GB ram, 256GB M2 SSD + 1TB SATA SSD. Complete overkill TBH though I do also use Roon to do some EQ for room correction. I originally bought it for something else, otherwise I would probably have built an i5 NUC with only 8GB memory.

So if understand this correctly, i can build myself a ROCK sever on a NUC for an example. And fully get the benefits of MQA via DSP ?

Fully get the benefits? No. Mostly get the benefits - yes.

MQA is intended to be played back with an MQA rendering DAC allowing some metedata to be used to tweak the MQA filter in the DAC slightly. Without this, then you wont be playing it back as intended.

Whether that would result in any perceivable different is up for debate of course :)

(Just noticed you posted this to the Roon forum as well).

Most AVRs digitise the analogue inputs, with some suggesting even with Direct On, which will then require their DAC to convert back again. It would then seem a bit of a waste :(

If the AVR room correction is active (ie not in pure direct equivalent mode), then it will be digitized and output though the AVRs DAC(s) as the room correction is done by DSP. In pure direct mode, the the digitizing (ADC), DSP and DAC are bypassed for analog sources. For digital sources, then only the DSP (or at least the room correction bit) is bypassed when possible - this is how my Yamaha AVR works. I expect other decent AVRs would work similarly otherwise it is not really 'direct'. If the AVR has some other name for this function that doesnt sound very 'direct' or 'bypass' like, then maybe it isnt.
 
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ChuckMountain

Distinguished Member
If the AVR room correction is active (ie not in pure direct equivalent mode), then it will be digitized and output though the AVRs DAC(s) as the room correction is done by DSP. In pure direct mode, the the digitizing (ADC), DSP and DAC are bypassed for analog sources. For digital sources, then only the DSP (or at least the room correction bit) is bypassed when possible - this is how my Yamaha AVR works. I expect other decent AVRs would work similarly otherwise it is not really 'direct'. If the AVR has some other name for this function that doesnt sound very 'direct' or 'bypass' like, then maybe it isnt.

It was Yamaha's that were doing this afaik, particularly as the volume control is digital. Do you have anything in the manual or other links that describes it? Would like to see something from a manufacturer to counter the very mixed from the various forums :)
 

Khazul

Well-known Member
It was Yamaha's that were doing this afaik, particularly as the volume control is digital. Do you have anything in the manual or other links that describes it? Would like to see something from a manufacturer to counter the very mixed from the various forums :)

A digital volume control can simply be a digitally controlled analog gain control (which I beleive is what current Yamaha AVRs and even HT systems have been using for a while). I know I get effectively zero latency through my AVR in pure direct mode with an analog source.

You can determine this quite easily if you have an analog source that is fed to both the AVR and another amp and speakers (or feed both the input and to a mixer) as you will hear an obvious delay, or in the case of ultra low latency ADC/DSP/DAC then some phasing effect (usually very obvious).
 

dannnielll

Well-known Member
A digital volume control can simply be a digitally controlled analog gain control (which I beleive is what current Yamaha AVRs and even HT systems have been using for a while). I know I get effectively zero latency through my AVR in pure direct mode with an analog source.

You can determine this quite easily if you have an analog source that is fed to both the AVR and another amp and speakers (or feed both the input and to a mixer) as you will hear an obvious delay, or in the case of ultra low latency ADC/DSP/DAC then some phasing effect (usually very obvious).
There are at least three ways of digitally adjusting volume.
1. The Yamaha AS801 uses an old fashioned analogue potentiometer just before the power output stage , and uses a motor from a microcontroller PWM output to drive it.
2. The HK AVRs use a multiplying DAC where the reference voltage is actually the analogue signal , and the volume is set by the dac digital code.
3. Totally numerically .. by subtracting a number from the signal code before allowing it into the DAC.
The first two methods preserve the full bit resolution,and no latency issues. But the AS801 method will eventually get noisy. All pot wipers wear.

There are plenty of other ways open to Digital designers .. one of the very high end Sony models using a class D stage, simply altered the DC voltage on the output switching transistors
 
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