Why is pro-ject stream box ultra s2 so expensive (700euro for an R-PI)?

Discussion in 'Music Streamers' started by Khazul, Jun 22, 2018.

  1. Khazul

    Khazul
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    I am curious about this thing: Box Design by Pro-Ject Audio Systems

    When I first saw and before I knew the price - was almost tempted to buy one expecting it to be quite cheap to go with a pre-box s2 digital that I am also interested in, that was until I saw the price at 700 euros/pounds.

    As I understand it, this is basically a bare bones raspberry pi 3 model b or b+ in a box with a psu and a load of open source software collected together and stuffed on it and pretty much nothing more. It doesn't have a DAC as it relies up an external USB DAC. Perhaps the tidal player is the cost bit? They mention something about cleaning up audio - digital audio? yeh right. Some snake oil buried in this thing as well?

    Doesn't anyone know why this is 700 euros and not something more inline with what you can pick up a pi 3 b+ starter kit for + some allowance for box, packaging, effort of collecting together other peoples open source work etc, is that basically what they are charging the extra 600 euros for?

    At 100 or even 200 I might have been tempted, but at 700? ouch!

    For a tiny fraction of this I have a pi model 3 b+ with a large touch screen that I am in the process of writing home control software for and will probably collect together audio stream for as well.
     
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2018
  2. larkone

    larkone
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    50 euros for parts, 650 euros for marketing, licences and margin
     
  3. Cebolla

    Cebolla
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    Nope - plenty of free network audio file players/streamer software for the RPi that supports TIDAL, eg, upmpd (+ mpd), Moode Audio Player, OpenHome Player, etc.
     
  4. Khazul

    Khazul
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    With MQA support if the DAC can do the complete unfold?
     
  5. Cebolla

    Cebolla
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    No, none of the software I mentioned uses a TIDAL API access token to enable them to natively stream the (undecoded) TIDAL MQA file tracks. They only use the standard CD resolution TIDAL HiFi access token, which causes the TIDAL online server to transcode any selected 24bit/44.1 kHz or 24bit/48kHz TIDAL MQA file tracks to a 16bit/44.1kHz audio file stream.

    However, the free official MQA supporting mconnect Player Lite controller app (available on iOS & Android) can be used to allow any UPnP/DLNA supporting streamer to natively stream & play the MQA file tracks from TIDAL, so that the resulting audio output can then be passed to a connected DAC that supports full MQA decoding.
     
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2018
  6. Khazul

    Khazul
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    Thanks - ill look into that.
     
  7. Khazul

    Khazul
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    While I started a roon free trial out of curiosity. Have roon core installed on my QNAP NAS, a dragonfly red DAC (to Yamaha A-S2100 amp) plugged into my raspberry pi 3 b+ and installed roon bridge on that.

    End result seems to be very convenient NAS/Tidal MQA multi-room streamer with remote control from laptop, pc and iPhone.

    The only things missing are
    - I had hope they might have release at the very least a now-playing type UI for the R-PI
    - Some way to get internet streaming working so I can stream from home dragonfly on my iPhone at work :)

    I may get another r-pi, but barebones and headless this time as my current one has the big touch screen on it.
     
  8. Cebolla

    Cebolla
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    For network streaming, Roon relies on its Roon Server core, running on a reasonably powerful computer or NAS, to play the audio over the network to its Roon Endpoint supporting device(s).

    So, you can't use a Roon Endpoint on an RPi without the Roon Server sending it the audio from another networked machine - not really convenient if all someone requires is streaming from on online music service like TIDAL!
     
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2018
  9. Khazul

    Khazul
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    Actually I find Roon architecture ideal for me.

    One thing I do not like about MQA on tidal is the reliance upon a computer - ie my MacBook pro or desktop PC. Fine when I am actually using them, but annoying to have the laptop tethered to my HiFi via a DAC as I tend to use it all over the place and the PC is off when I'm not using it (but it is at least close to HiFi), so my ideal has always been some kind of stand-alone streamer, hence I mostly use Zone 2 out from my AVR most of the time, except when I can leave my laptop next to the HiFi and connect up the DAC.

    I had a QNAP NAS anyway (albeit a somewhat underpowered one for an ideal spec Roon core, but it works more than well enough for my needs and seems to manage hires perfectly well). And I had an R-PI 3B+ with 7" touchscreen kicking around that I tinker with.

    I now have all streaming being handled my NAS including the premium DI.FM internet radio service that I also listen to use a lot. Tidal MQA no longer needs the use of a computer. I have full control from my mac laptop (and actually every other computer and phone/tablet in the house) and am no longer tethered via a USB DAC. Any computer can be used as an endpoint as well and it seems to consider my Yamaha AVR as a viable wireless endpoint as well somehow (not sure what protocol it can access it with - might just see it as a DLNA endpoint). For standalone endpoints I guess Ill need more R-PIs+DAC for that job for now, though for a kitchen grot box, I guess the built in audio out will probably do.

    A more surprising to me, I am actually finding the Roon metadata to actually be quite interesting and useful and it vastly improves the usability of Tidal for finding new music. I find that the tidal to be just plain annoying because it does not label genres so to find anything new that I may like I have to wade through loads of irrelevant crap. Also Tidal's idea of electronic and dance music genres is highly questionable (you would think the guy who started it would know better, but it seems not).

    My R-PI is also serving as a now playing view and basic touch screen controller for its own zone - just having a useful size yet discrete what's playing view in the living room is really useful as well as my wife was asking asking me what is currently playing.

    I have even got some integration with Logitech harmony as well, so if I start playing a track and the hifi isn't on, it will ask harmony to switch the hifi on automatically and stop streaming if it detects that harmony has switched to another activity (TV for eg).

    Looking good so far TBH and using an R-PI instead of the pro-ject streamer, then I can customise and I should think have far better Roon support than that can provide is it has no touchscreen.

    Re the pro-ject streamer - I still it is taking the piss grabbing a load of open source free software and a R-Pi and sticking some massive price tag on it. Their dev effort can have been much at all. No doubt one of their techies hacked it together one day on his PI and some marketing person decide to sell the result and differentiate by adding a USB filter. As I get things sorted I may even send some donations to some of the donationware developers involved - I wonder if pro-ject are sending even a penny to the developers who good work they are exploiting.
     
  10. larkone

    larkone
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    You think that the Project box is expensive - try this Naim ND 555 Network Player

    You could buy a house full of RPis and Chromecasts for that and have change to pay someone to implement it.
     
  11. Khazul

    Khazul
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    But is the Naim actually a raspberry PI stuffed with open source software like the pro-ject streamer is apparently or did they put some effort into it?
     
  12. dannnielll

    dannnielll
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    I dont think so .... a house is rather big, so even just a 50 cubic metre room filled with chromecasts all in their nice packages will take maybe 50,000units and at 30 euro a piece ,will cost 150,000 euro
     
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  13. Trollslayer

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    From the S2 description: "This USB output is perfectionized for audio signals".
    Would you trust people who can't write?
     
  14. dannnielll

    dannnielll
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    I would thrust them as far as I could throw them!
     
  15. Trollslayer

    Trollslayer
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    But they do have a very fancy build in a nice bit of Austria.
     
  16. John Westlake

    John Westlake
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    As a co-designer (with Jarek) I can help answer some questions about the ProJect Streambox S2 Ultra - ProJect is our 3rd OEM “customer” for our streamer solution :)

    The roots of this design is based on our own internal requirement for a streaming solution for a crowd funded DAC I've been developing for the past few years. The crowd funded group consists of about 150 development sponsors – so I have to be creative to maximise the limited funding resources.

    One requirement for the DAC was for a Streaming solution that allowed HiRes Bit Accurate (no data manipulation), DSD support and allowed the DAC to be Audio Clock master. With our limited 150pcs to 200pcs DAC production – nobody was interested in supplying a streaming solution so I was forced by such circumstances to turn to an open source software.

    The Open Source community is very active in this area, but the hardware solutions are based on non optimised off-the-shelf computer hardware. While the Raspberry Pie is a great low cost computer hardware – however it’s been designed with cost as the primary objective and understandably not with audio optimisation anywhere near an important consideration.

    So while there is zero chance we have the resources to develop / support the streaming software for our small volume group sponsored project, we can develop the hardware with our eyes closed shut.

    It became apparent that Volumio offered the best feature set (just missing SBT / LMS support) – but as an old school turntable / CD user I struggled with its UI. I needed to find a way to have a customised version of Volumio, but with only 150 to 200 potential units there is no way we could afford to directly pay for the customised software development.

    So, as our requirements where rather desirable for HiFi manufactures (Bit Accurate HiRes (no data manipulation), DSD support and allowed the DAC to be Audio Clock master) I developed a plan to offer our streamer hardware solution to a few select customers I’d worked with in past (who all struggled to find a decent streaming solution).

    Now with a rather large carrot (the potential of large OEM sales) – I was able to convince Volumio’s founder Michelangelo that he could make a nice little business from developing a custom OEM version of his software that would work with our hardware platform – in exchange we would get a supported software solution for our 150 – 200 group funded DAC :)

    After several false starts (BeagleBone, and a few other cheap Chinese SBC’s) we about gave up on the streamer side of the project when the raspberry Pie foundation released the long promised Quad Core industrial version of the RPi3. This industrial version of the RPi3 called the CM3 module allows us to optimise the streamer hardware (PSU, RF and Clocking) while maintaining software compatibility with RPI. An important goul of our streamer solution is that we wanted an optimised “audio” streaming solution while not limiting the customer to a single software solution – for those skilled in software they can install any of the RPI based media players (Moode, LMS and even Kodi) etc.

    Another important advantage of the RPi based CM3 module is the use of onboard eMMC memory thereby removing reliability issues (and speed) when using “External” SDcards.



    In answer to “why the extra cost” over the standard RPi3 – it’s required to give a basic explanation of the RPi3 weakness WRT high end audio applications (remember is designed as a lowest cost computer platform NOT a highend audio streamer). These weakness in no way are a criticism of the RPi3 – but rather its design limitation from my perspective as an audio designer.


    Basically its weakness are all based on Clock Phase Noise (Jitter) and local PSU noise (which directly impacts the Jitter performance) and also the resultant local RF emissions:-



    1. The USB HUB / LAN IC is clocked by the CM3 SoC which has significantly higher jitter then an external Clock oscillator. More detrimental is that fact that clock phase noise is heavily correlated with the SoC software processing – resulting in Data correlated jitter.



    2. The USB HUB / LAN IC PLL clock circuits are powered from the switching supply rail that also powers the SoC Memory, so as data is “processed” though the memory this causes modulation of the PSu Rail directly correlated with the Data patterns which then modulates the critical PLL in the USB HUB / LAN which is used as our USB “source” via this noisy PSU rail.



    3. As one would expect little care has been taken with the quality of the 5V rail for USB DAC power – in fact its really pretty poor by “Audio” standards.




    4. There are multiple “free running” switching regulators on the RPi PCB – whose clocks are not related to the USB clock Rate so there switching products are free to induced multiple / complex RF and Ground noise spurie in the system.



    I could list more weakness, but you can start to appreciate the “Deficiencies” (not unexpected) of the simple Rpi3.



    1. The little ProJect streamer tackles these issues by making the USB 24MHZ clock the system “Clock master” and cleanly generating the LAN’s 25MHz clock and the multiple local switching supply’s operating from a divided down synchronised frequency of this 24MHz.



    2. Great care has been taken with the internal PSU’s – I count 8 low noise PSU’s of the top of my head.



    3. The USB host signal from the CM3 is RF filtered and USB “Detoxed” (the poor Phase noise of the CM3 USB Host controller) is attenuated by two Cascoded USB Hub bridges (and RF filter) resulting in a much attenuated USB Jitter on the “DAC” USB output.



    4. The DAC 5V feed has a very low noise regulator – whose voltage and current can be monitored via the streamer software.



    5. The DAC 5V USB voltage output can be disabled via software for DAC’s that don’t require 5V.



    6. An external USB bypass to the DAC USB output is proved, this bypass “Detox’s” the external USB signal in the same manor as applied to the RPi CM3 USB Host output.



    7. 16GB onboard eMMC is available for OS / software & local files.



    Sadly, all this makes for an expensive hardware solution – with “low volume” production costs are factored (ProJect will manufacture thousands Pcs – not millions) – the end selling price is just a fact of European low volume manufacturing – this is not China manufactured mass market pricing…


    I don't seem to have an image of production versions of the PCB, but here's an early prototype of the board - where you can see its not simply a RPi3 in a smart box :)


    Dropbox - MiniStreamer A01 PCB.JPG

    Sorry for the errors in the published documentation / marketing – no text is run past me for proof reading…
     
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2018
  17. Khazul

    Khazul
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    Welcome aboard John - good to have the designer here and thank you for taking the time to explain. It is much appreciated.
    Still, it does seem rather expensive for what it is (especially as it is just a box and has no display/control), but then I have seen crazy prices for USB cleaners and I appreciate the economies of small volume production runs. Had it been similar in price to the S2 digital, I might have given it some thought, but as is, it still seems far too expensive to me for what it is. Lets hope they use the specified parts this time ;)

    I am also well aware of the limitations of the R-PI 3B+ when driving a USB - indeed I am actually driving another one of your projects; the Pro-ject S2 digital DAC and have been considering a USB cleaning solution once I have given the subject suitable consideration and am on the hunt for reasonably prices clean PSUs as well. I came to the conclusion something is needed because it sounds clearer from my MacBook pro than from the R-PI. Oddly my dragonfly red seems less disrupted, but it isn't as clear on the MacBook pro. The software in both cases (MBP and R-PI) is Roon.

    While on the subject of the S2 - is there any news of your own update for this DAC's firmware? I gather there have been 'issues' between yourself and pro-ject and not being paid for support and thus I think you have mentioned that you had in mind a future paid firmware update of you own?
    It would be great to finally see an end to the MQA drop-outs.

    As a point of note, it does seem that that the dragonfly red is rather more tolerant of using the ethernet on the R-PI than the S2 is at the same sample rate (ie data rate), so I think there may be some room for USB optimisation. I have actually ended up disabling the ethernet on it to avoid drop-outs at even 44.1k. No such issues with the dragonfly even at 96k.

    Otherwise it is a great DAC :smashin:
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2018
  18. Richhoos

    Richhoos
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    I’m interested in trying the Pro Ject Stream Box S2 ultra but am having trouble finding where/how to buy this, any help would be much appreciated. Thanks!
     
  19. Khazul

    Khazul
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  20. Richhoos

    Richhoos
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    Thanks for your help Khazul!
     
  21. Richhoos

    Richhoos
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    My understanding with the pro Ject stream is that I’d be able to stream Tidal to the pro ject from wi fi and output from there to my parasound p6. It seems like with the Allo or raspberry pi’s I’ll need a network or roon. All I have though is your average internet connection and modem...
     
  22. nomore landings

    nomore landings
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    Did you actually read John's comprehensive and insightful post? No wonder people are put off forums by disingenuous or dumbed-down agendas.

    I do have a question for John should he ever bother to return to this forum.
    I listen to Radio Paradise's superb lossless flac internet radio station - until recently the flac stream was only available via IOS/Android apps but the web player is being released. I plug my iPad into the optimised USB on my Marantz SA14 S1se and utilise its excellent DAC/Analogue output stage. Sounds superb and close to a good CD. Inbuilt tunein/Vtuner etc mostly limit you to the dreaded MP3 streams. Will the Stream box allow access to the Web player or is it limited to Soundstage? radio? I tried the Blusound Node 2 to replace my faulty SBT, but that was hopeless with both iMac incompatibility and restricted 192 MP3 radio.

    many thanks
     
  23. Trollslayer

    Trollslayer
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    If you have spent as much as you can on AV gear, speakers and room treatment then go ahead.
     
  24. maciekb2

    maciekb2
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    John,

    I am particularly interested in the ability to turn off the power to the USB port, but I cannot find it anywhere in GUI or manual. Can you please be more precise where can I find or what I should do to disable voltage output to USB DAC port?

    Btw, very clever and good performing device. I'm very happy with it. :)

    Best regards,
    Maciej
     

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