Beginner quandry...

nigel_shearing

Standard Member
Hi all

I'm a CD die hard running a (low) high end Audio Analogue Maestro Settanta CD player (with 192/24 DAC potential) and integrated amp through Sonus Faber speakers. I have a wireless network laptop at home with router etc.

I don't want to stream to more than one room, and I'm happy to keep CDs and the current set up, but the potential to stream from central, digital music providers with mammoth libraries like Napster into my existing set up is drawing me in. I understand that there are different options with different providers like sonos/squeezebox etc. And I need a little help before I waste any more time chasing my head up my own rear end :eek:. Sorry. I know this is basic stuff for most, if not all of you!

Is the quality of streamed/downloaded music from central service providers comparable to the quality of CDs/ripped CDs? Can I set up a virtual database of 'favourite' albums, without a need to download?

What's the most effective method of linking my HiFi to a streaming set up, and are there any benefits to using an external DAC? (I'd prefer not to have a pc involved).

Forgive my ignorance, I've probably asked questions that are far more complicated than I've given credit for. But I need to start somewhere and any help or pointers will be greatly appreciated.
 

Autopilot

Distinguished Member
Is the quality of streamed/downloaded music from central service providers comparable to the quality of CDs/ripped CDs? Can I set up a virtual database of 'favourite' albums, without a need to download?


Need to separate 'streamed' (from services like Napster, Last.FM) and 'downloaded'. Most services like Napster stream at 128-192kbps. The bit rates are lowish due to having to be able stream 'on demand' without any breakups (rebuffering). Good for most people, but not quite CD quality and you would notice the difference on a high end system. However, still good enough and the convenience of instant access to almost every album ever made is its selling point. I sometimes struggle to tell if a track is 192kbps or lossless - only listening to the CD/lossless can i say for sure, but there is a difference (although the terrible mastering of modern CD's sometimes confuses things).

With downloaded music the bitrates are often higher and thus virtually CD quality. Some providers even sell their music in 'Lossless' format and will sound identical to a CD on any system.

If you rip your CD's using a lossless format like FLAC then you will have perfect CD quality.

CD's will be dead one day, so you will have to join the party at some point :)
 
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Dave964

Well-known Member
If you rip your CD's using a lossless format like FLAC then you will have perfect CD quality.

But, that doesn't necessarily mean it will sound as good as your CD player. After ripping my CDs to FLAC with EAC, the sound from my SB+ is excellent and I'm very happy with it - but I still think my CD player is better, and that's without it being particularly high end.
 

Autopilot

Distinguished Member
But, that doesn't necessarily mean it will sound as good as your CD player. After ripping my CDs to FLAC with EAC, the sound from my SB+ is excellent and I'm very happy with it - but I still think my CD player is better, and that's without it being particularly high end.

Yes, but the quality of the audio data is identical. Any real difference in sound quality will be down to the DAC. So if you fed your CD player and Streamer with lossless files into the same DAC, the quality will be the same.


Oh course there are other things that audiophiles will go on about, like power supply and clocks etc - but, IMO, these dont make any real difference unless you have a uber-highend system, and even then the difference is minimal and then often only if there was a problem to begin with.
 

Dave964

Well-known Member
I agree - it's just that the OP mentioned the quality of streamed music, so I wanted to be clear that depends on more than just an accurate digital copy.
 

nigel_shearing

Standard Member
Many thanks for responses.

Do the squeezebox and sonos systems have built in DACs and amps, or can I link to the CD player (as a DAC) and amp I already have? Is there any benefit to that, or am I just being protective over beloved hifi gear? I wouldn't class myself as an audiophile so not that precious about it, but love the build quality and it's only a year old!

Maybe I should have thought about this earlier, to prevent the decision I now have to consider selling up for dedicated kit and a better party! That'll take some explaining though... :suicide:

Any suggestions to make use of my existing kit and get what I need greatly appreciated!
 

Sir Arthur

Active Member
The Sonos system has two types of player.

The ZP100 and ZP120 have an integrated amp, so you just connect speakers and away you go.

The cheaper and smaller ZP80 and ZP90 have no amp and so need to use an external amp.

Both types will output to an external amp/player. The benefit (IMHO) is that you could use the cheaper kit, or have a 'bigger' sound if your existing amp is >55W.
 
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Dave964

Well-known Member
Squeezebox (SB3) has built in DAC - although you can connect to your existing CD player if it has digital in. Assuming you don't, you simply connect the SB3 to inputs on your amp (same as you would a cd player).

The SB3 is pretty good for the price - but I found the sound wasn't good enough when I turned the volume up a bit. I ordered an SB+ 2 days after I'd received the SB3 - and that was a very good move. I still think my CD player has the edge, but the SB+ really does sound pretty good.
 

nigel_shearing

Standard Member
Thanks. The amp and CD player both have an RS-232 interface control and a multiple control management system. Not sure what this really means or if it can be used for 'digital in' as mentioned above - there's no guidance in the manual and Italian firm with not particularly brilliant support (ooops).

The stand alone DAC potential of the CD player has been highly recommended. So would be a shame to waste it.

Am I still chasing the wrong route if the SB/Sonos gear has inbuilt DACs and am I likely to get any significant improvements? I note the expensive 'transporter' option...

Any further comments welcomed
 

Dave964

Well-known Member
Thanks. The amp and CD player both have an RS-232 interface control and a multiple control management system. Not sure what this really means or if it can be used for 'digital in' as mentioned above - there's no guidance in the manual and Italian firm with not particularly brilliant support (ooops).

The stand alone DAC potential of the CD player has been highly recommended. So would be a shame to waste it.

Am I still chasing the wrong route if the SB/Sonos gear has inbuilt DACs and am I likely to get any significant improvements? I note the expensive 'transporter' option...

Any further comments welcomed

No - RS232 is something altogether different (it's purely for controlling the player).

If the standalone DAC potential of your CD player has been recommended, then it means it must have a digital input for the audio data - i.e. so it can receive it as digital data and use it's own DAC to convert and output it as analogue to your amp. I would expect that one of the connections on the back will be labelled as "digital in" or something similar.

I do think the difference between SB3 and my CD Player was pretty large, so I suspect the same will be true for you - in which case, using the CDP DAC may be a good solution.

If you used the transporter, you wouldn't use the DAC of the CDP because the cost of the transporter is really for the improved DAC etc.

SB+ is a modified SB3, which competes with the transporter - and is a little cheaper, but still £1000.
 

amcluesent

Distinguished Member
>Is the quality of streamed/downloaded music from central service providers comparable to the quality of CDs/ripped CDs?<

Objectively, no. Subjectively, that depends on the music you listen to - rock/pop on 256kbit or 320kbit streams would be OK. Classical on 128kbit stream would be dire.

TBH, if you are talking about playing compressed streams from MP3 Locker, Napster, Last FM etc., then the DAC question is irrelevant as the music's mojo has gone.

NB I had a quick look at the manuals for the Maestro CD 192/24 (http://www.audioanalogue.com/eng/manuali.php) and there's no mention of a digital in to use the DAC within the player. I'd guess the 192/24 refers to some upsampling process in the player.
 
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nigel_shearing

Standard Member
Thanks - I was disappointed to find no line-in last night - it was removed on a previous upgrade. Never mind. It does simplify my options.
 

nigel_shearing

Standard Member
Ok... I'm getting nearer!

I now realise that I want music in one room only, not worried about live streaming, or radio, want to rip my current cd collection, and download others, to play through my existing amp and speakers. Not particularly worried if wireless or wired, pc or NAS, remote or not!

Can anyone guide me towards the most effective way to do this with best quality sound/user interface and a budget up to £800?
 

amcluesent

Distinguished Member
>a budget up to £800<

Does that include the PC for music server or just for the digital streamer?
 

Dave964

Well-known Member
If it doesn't include the PC, you're close to SB+ budget. With digital out, it's £1K - but I think you can buy it without the digital out and it's supposed to be £800.

Sound quality from that is very good, and way above the SB3.
 

nigel_shearing

Standard Member
Ooops... sorry! Excluding cost of pc/laptop, which I'm about to replace (spec pending this outcome), but maybe including NAS if it can be done and is effective...
 

nigel_shearing

Standard Member
If it doesn't include the PC, you're close to SB+ budget. With digital out, it's £1K - but I think you can buy it without the digital out and it's supposed to be £800.

Sound quality from that is very good, and way above the SB3.

Ok, please be gentle with me... can you tell me what the difference is re with/without digital out?
 

Dave964

Well-known Member
Ok, please be gentle with me... can you tell me what the difference is re with/without digital out?

Simply that digital out would allow you to feed it into an external DAC (either the one in your cd player, or a dedicated DAC). You've said your CD player doesn't have digital in, so I doubt you need digital out. I never asked about SB+ without digital out but did see threads quoting the price as £800.

By the way - you don't need a hi-spec pc to stream your music. I'm using about a 6 year old one which I hadn't used for years. I do need to leave it on all the time though (or I'd have to switch it on whenever I wanted to listen to music, which I'm not willing to do).

I'd definitely consider SB+ if I was you :

At-Tunes: Audio

Am happy with mine, as most people seem to be.
 

amcluesent

Distinguished Member
So £800 is a bit of an inbetweener price point. A Duet is under and a Transporter some more. I'd say you're looking at a Sonos ZonePlayer 90 + Controller or a SB3 with an external DAC.

That said, if your sound quality expectations are set by Audio Analogue + Sonus Faber (must be for classical?) then a Transporter or Linn Majik DS should be auditioned.
 
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nigel_shearing

Standard Member
Oooooohhh dear... now you've got me slipping back to my CD comfy blanket again...:eek:

£1,500 or so is a lot of music!!

I listen to a wide mix, lots of acoustic and jazz, a sprinkling of classical and opera, some mad and bad stuff and an occasional bite of cheese!

Is there a massive difference between the SB+ and higher Linn/Transporter standard... any comparisons done?
 

Dave964

Well-known Member
Is there a massive difference between the SB+ and higher Linn/Transporter standard... any comparisons done?

When I got the SB3, and decided it wasn't good enough for my tastes I did some research on the internet about what I should buy instead - and it was going to be the transporter.

But the comments / reviews I found seemed to prefer the SB+, and I didn't actually find anybody who'd been unhappy with it. The price didn't concern me - although being cheaper was nice - but the 30 day money back trial period was the thing that sold it to me. If I didn't like it, I didn't have to keep it.

I should say that I never actually heard the transporter though. It's possible it's better and I made the wrong choice. My SB+ sounds excellent - but my CD Player is slightly better in my opinion. Maybe the transporter would have beaten both - but I did find a few comments suggesting that people who'd heard both preferred the SB+.
 

nigel_shearing

Standard Member
Thanks, I've got a foot in the door now, one last thing to help me though - can someone tell me when Amazon will stop selling CDs and an SB+ will cost £500? :D
 

sibeer

Well-known Member
If you can use your CD-Player as a DAC (if it has a digital input), then I really think you may be best with a Sonos kit. For music purchases the sound will be best if you rip the music from CD to FLAC or buy in a lossless format. This will sound very similar to the output from your CD Player if you can use the DAC from it as you will be feeding the DAC a virtually indistinguishable digital feed.

The Sonos then comes into it's own for convenient subscription access to almost any track you can buy through Napster. Essentially you can search Napster and play any tune on there on demand. This requires no separate storage, no computer to be on, just a broadband internet connection and a router.

The quality is not up to that of a lossless rip, but it is not bad either. You definitely cannot beat the ease of use, nor the range of available tracks for a low monthly fee of £10. Personally I still buy CD's for the albums I want to listen to again and again and rip them to my server. I then use the Napster service for occasional listens, trialing new music and background/party music. I have just ordered a Sonos myself as I have been doing this through a PC & DAC combination up till now and wanted something more convenient.

You can get a decent Sonos package for £500 to £600 if you are happy to take the old model (less wireless range and the amplified unit is larger). For that you will get a ZP80 to plug into your exisiting system, a CR100 controller and a ZP100 amplified Sonos box to put in the kitchen, bedroom, dining room or anywhere else where a small music system would be handy. Seach on the internet for reviews or you can go have a play with one at most Richer Sounds. Best two deals I could find for it are £500 for a BU130 kit at Richer Sounds (though most are ex-display), or £600 for the same kit new and delivered from Simply Sonos with a free cradle for the controller (£30) and a 6 month Napster subscription (£60). You might have to phone Simply Sonos though to get the 6 month subscription thrown in. If you are absolutely certain you only need one box then they even do a single ZP80 with remote for £400.
 

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