Audio Over USB Or Ethernet?

Discussion in 'Music Streamers' started by Skyrider, Feb 25, 2014.

  1. Skyrider

    Skyrider
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    Hi,

    I'm considering playing music from my PC/network to my hi-fi system, possibly replacing my CD player (Cyrus transport + DAC) if the results are good enough.

    Just wondering which is capable of giving the best result:

    1. Audio over USB (e.g. Bel Canto REFLink)?

    2. Audio over Ethernet (e.g. Cyrus Signature streamer)?

    With suitably posh cables in each case.

    Thanks (in advance) for your opinions...
     
  2. amcluesent

    amcluesent
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    I'd go for Ethernet just for the convenience of stashing the music library on a server outside of the listening rooms. A bit-perfect stream is just that, regardless of the wire.

    Surprisingly, SATA cables do sound different... | AVForums
     
  3. Skyrider

    Skyrider
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    I was leaning towards the Ethernet option myself, but I'm still undecided:

    I've spent a few hours today comparing like-with-like, as far as possible, to see what works for me:
    I hooked up my Cyrus CD Xt SE2 + PSX-R & my MacBook Pro laptop to my Pioneer SC-LX87 AVR, the only way I could get all sources feeding a common DAC. My desire is to use my Cyrus DAC X Signature, but it's not possible to connect the Ethernet cable to this unit.

    The Cyrus transport was connected using a Chord Company Indigo digital coaxial cable...

    The laptop was connected using AudioQuest Carbon USB & Vodka Ethernet cables, all of roughly equal quality. These were direct connections between the two devices, with no power supplies, filters, switches etc. in between.

    I then played a couple of CDs through the CD player as a reference...

    I ripped the CDs to lossless WAV files & played these back via USB & Ethernet on the laptop....

    At first listen they sounded quite similar, but on repeated listening subtle differences became apparent: ultimately I found that music from the CD was a shade more detailed & easier on the ears, the other sources lost a little 'sparkle' & became a little rough around the edges when the music became louder/more complex.

    Notwithstanding your comment regarding the wire, I do feel that 'other things' in the chain have some effect & I would be grateful for any suggestions on how to improve the quality through the USB & Ethernet connections...

    Many thanks...
     
  4. amcluesent

    amcluesent
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    YOu certainly have plenty of options! At the risk over over-complicating even more, can you try the optical out from the MacBook Pro (hidden in the 3.5mm headphone socket) by using a mini-Toslink to Toslink optical feed into the Cyrus DAC X?

    But you need to set the Mac's audio system so it's not resampling and you're getting a bit-perfect feed.

    Then you could compare the Cyrus CD spinner and the Mac into the DAC X.
     
  5. Skyrider

    Skyrider
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    Actually, that was the first thing I tried, using a Chord Company Optichord; the sound was pretty dull & lifeless, so I thought it best to try something else:

    I have also tried connecting the Mac to the Cyrus DAC using a couple of USB to S/PIDF converters, namely the M2Tech HiFace 2 & the iFi iLink. Both of these gave better results than with the optical cable, but still inferior to the Cyrus spinner, although I daresay they could be improved with extra components such as dedicated power supplies.

    But that's starting to get a bit messy, I would prefer a one-box option if I can find something suitable...

    Thanks for your input.
     
  6. amcluesent

    amcluesent
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    Hmm, tricky indeed. How about a £70 Apple Airport Express with the S/PDIF output connected to the DAC X? That Express is definitely bit-perfact when fed with Apple Lossless CD rips from iTunes. That way both CD and streamed feeds are going into the DAC-X, you won't have wires coming from the Macbook or have to use the DLNA UI on the AV Receiver.

    Obviously there is expectation bias too...;)
     
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2014
  7. Skyrider

    Skyrider
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    Hmm, hadn't thought of that one, just need to get my head round it:

    As it happens I do have an Airport in my system: so the idea is that the laptop streams wirelessly to the Airport, which then sends the data down a USB cable to the converter, then comes out of the converter to the Cyrus DAC? I also have an iMac with an Ethernet connection to the Airport which presumably could work in a similar way?

    If that is correct, do you think the sound would be any different than if the converter was connected directed to the laptop/desktop machine rather than the router?
     
  8. amcluesent

    amcluesent
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    OK, couple of things

    1) The way you describe the connection, it could be read that you connect devices point-to-point using an ethernet cable. If so, kind of odd as most folks use a router/switch so everything is connected together.

    2) Re. the Apple Airport Express, you'd use it's mini-Toslink output to connect directly to the DAC-X using S/PDIF, no USB. That would be the closest comparison of digital streams from the player and the CD rips.
     
  9. Skyrider

    Skyrider
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    Regarding 1): the usual network is connected via a router, but I had tried point-to-point to see if cutting out 'the middleman' made any difference to the sound quality. I also used this method to compare a number of different Ethernet cables to see if I could notice any difference between them: would you expect any difference in sound quality going through a router when compared to point-to-point?

    Regarding 2): sorry, I've misled you slightly; I have an older version of Airport Extreme which does not have an optical output, only USB which I think is for printers or external drives. I had previously tried optical point-to-point but it really did not sound good, being very flat, dull & lifeless, which is why I've started looking at other options.

    I have returned the aforementioned converters, but am expecting a Bel Canto uLink to arrive tomorrow; will have some fun with that one...
     
  10. Jamie

    Jamie
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    1. Its TCP/IP data so no I'd not expect any difference.
    2. I believe even older AE devices do have an optical output, the headphone jack is also a 3.5mm optical socket, so with the correct cable it should work.
     
  11. Skyrider

    Skyrider
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    1. Okay, that's good to know, thanks.
    2. Not this one: see attached. I might consider getting a newer model sometime, but I can live with it for now...
     

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  12. garysan

    garysan
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    From my experience, if your Cyrus DAC has an 'asynchronous' (misnomer of a name IIRC) USB port then I'd use that, if not then either use a convertor or the mini-toslink from MBP to the optical in of your DAC.

    Also, download the trial version of Audirvana+ and route your MBP's audio through that. You may well find it will reintroduce the sparkle you feel you've lost and should take away some of the rough/digital harshness you have heard when feeding from the MBP.

    I'm having a similar 'issue' right now as I can't get the music from NAS/iMac > Speakers to sound as good as my CD player manages.
     
  13. Skyrider

    Skyrider
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    Thanks, garysan.

    Sadly the DAC doesn't have a USB port, only opticial & RCA phono.

    I've tried connecting the MBP to the DAC using an optical cable, but wasn't impressed with the audio quality.

    Hence the try-outs using audio over USB (+ converter)/Ethernet.

    I've got what is supposed to be a slightly better converter arriving today, so will try that out. I'll also give Audirvana a try...
     
  14. garysan

    garysan
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    The problem with the optical out on the MBP (probably all Mac's actually) is that it's quite a bad source of jitter.

    I've used Audirvana+ for a year or so on my headphone rig which is directly connected to my iMac - made a big difference to me.

    This thread has given me some inspiration to try my MBA as a music server connected (via USB) to my irDAC > amp/speakers in the living room. Something I'd not really thought about. I'll do this and compare SQ to my CD37.
     
  15. Skyrider

    Skyrider
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    Good luck: maybe we can compare notes later...
     
  16. Jamie

    Jamie
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    Sorry I read it as express not extreme.
    An Airport Express might be a good option actually.
     
  17. Skyrider

    Skyrider
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    No worries: thinking about it...
     
  18. Skyrider

    Skyrider
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    The Bel Canto uLink arrived yesterday & I have found that this unit gets a lot closer to the sound of my CD player than with previously tried devices: in fact, it's very close, but I still prefer the CD player. I'm hoping to try out the Bel Canto REF Link sometime, which I think will fit the bill.

    I had done my testing using JRiver MC in Windows, but I was interested in trying the Mac version alongside Audirvana, as well as Pure Music & Amarra:

    To cut a long story short, I preferred the sound of the Audirvana player which I found to be a little warmer/softer & easier on the ears. Can't say which of the players is technically more hi-fi, just that I preferred the warmth of Audirvana. I would be interested to learn what others think about these players...
     
  19. garysan

    garysan
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    I ran into some technical (needed upgrades) issues on the MacBookAir on Friday/Saturday which took several hours to work through before I could copy some music across to it and test it connected to the rig in the living room. I haven't finished testing/listening yet really but initial thoughts are JRiver through the irDAC sounds markedly similar to my CD37 as far as overall SQ goes. Considerably better than Sonos (which I was expecting). I think JRiver perhaps is a little more centre-soundstage-focussed but not quite as expansive.

    This is all a bit of a test case as to which road to go down in the near future…. Mac Mini running permanently with JRiver as music server, operated by JRemote (very polished app), perhaps also running PLEX Media Server for movies/tv shows or dedicated streamer such as Naim NDX, etc. for music and continue to leave my iMac running PLEX Media Server and wirelessly sending to AppleTV.

    Further listening will reveal the truth :)
     
  20. Skyrider

    Skyrider
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    Interesting: are you running JRiver in OS X or Windows? I found that running it in OS X gave a slightly harsher sound than some of the other players, which I think is because you are obliged to use the 'core audio' path, rather than a more optimised one which is possible with the others. In Windows you can change the driver, which may/may not change the audio quality to some extent.

    Yes, great app for Android (Gizmo?) not quite so keen on the browser version for non-Android devices, but it works. Do you know of any other apps which would have similar functions & presentation for any of the other players?

    Like yourself, this is all a bit experimental for me, to try & figure out the best route for the future...
     
  21. Skyrider

    Skyrider
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  22. Skyrider

    Skyrider
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    Just found the JRemote app referred to earlier: not what I'd been looking at before, it seems pretty good.

    Anyone know of anything like this for Audirvana?
     
  23. garysan

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    I'm running JRiver in Mac OS although currently running Mountain Lion on the laptop which JRiver doesn't support Integer/Direct Mode in (slightly strange as Audirvana+ supports it in Mountain Lion). I may upgrade the OS to Mavericks (latest incarnation) today/tomorrow so I can make use of Integer Mode.

    I don't' think there is a control app that supports remote control of Audirvana+. It's very important to me to have a really slick interface for control of my music library through iOS. I wouldn't choose user interface over SQ but the overall UI experience could easily sway me between too very similar sounding products; certainly more so than cost. MacMini+irDAC (circa £1,100) vs Naim NDX (£1,975) just as an example. There's a lot to be said for convenience and ease-of-use.
     
  24. Cebolla

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    I believe you haven't factored the other important factor of cost vs convenience with these sorts of systems and that is the general messing around with a computer to get it to sound good vs using a purpose built hi-fi component that works out of the box. That would certainly justify the extra cost of the Naim NDX over computer plus DAC for many.

    Think about it, how much time have you spent trying to get your system to work? It's possible you may have made up the ~£900 difference already if you'd done your 'proper job' in that time. Having said that I do know there is definitely an element of fun in doing this sort of stuff for the technically inclined, so may be it is worth it just for the challenge.
     
  25. garysan

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    Oh, I'm definitely factoring that in, don't worry :) I used to work in IT for years so it's not really a 'chore' and the journey is quite rewarding/satisfying. I wouldn't have thought about it really if I hadn't had a play with Jremote at Bristol Sound & Vision last weekend which Arcam were using to demo their new A49 integrated. If it's good enough for them and all that… Of course, if Arcam would hurry up and release their own streamer then all my problems might be solved.

    I'm buying everything they're selling :)
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2014
  26. Cebolla

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    Ah, suspected as much, a fellow techie. I certainly still get the 'buzz' even after 30+ years of getting stuck into computers as my only means of earning a living and certainly can't resist the temptation of doing so 'after hours'. However, I do feel for the majority, who are not so inclined - both for those that can't sort these things out for themselves and for those that have to put up with us as their partners!
     
  27. Skyrider

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    I agree with all of the above:

    I quite enjoy trying out various options to gain more perspective of what's 'out there'.

    I also would not fall for a pretty face at the expense of SQ, but management & user experience do come into the equation.

    Finances permitting, I would rather go for a dedicated hifi component rather than try to cobble something together & I think this is where I am headed...

    I think I have come to the end of the 'audio over USB' route: I get the impression that it's very popular with the Americans, whereas we Brits seem to prefer audio over Ethernet: see Naim/Linn/Meridian, for example.
     

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