nDac: Digital source to match or outperform USB stick

Although I believe that streaming (from local storage) will yield great results, this only covers part of my digital music listening:
Byte.fm archive (online radio shows behind paywall), FM4 archive (online radio archive on website), YouTube and Movies will not work with a streamer.

So I also have a look into USB-S/PDIF interfaces like Mutec MC-3 USB (+ stacked a second one or add REF10), Audio-GD DI20HE, MATRIX AUDIO X-SPDIF 2 (+ KECES P3), Audiophilleo2 MKII + PP - any experiences here what would have the best sound?

I do so enjoy casting my line out and waiting for the bite! :smiling_imp: :smiling_imp:

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bad girl :joy:

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I am ashamed!

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It would appear that there are those on this forum who cannot conceive of any other option apart from to add a Naim Audio streamer, which may require a budget that is more than you had hoped to spend. As you already have an Apple Mac computer, you might want to look into something like Audirvana:

Home - Audirvana

I have never played around with a Mac for computer audio as I don’t own one. I have been using a Windows PC based solution for a number of years and it produces very acceptable sound quality. It cannot match my LP12/Armageddon/ARO/Troika for pure musical involvement but I prefer it to my Naim Audio CDS2. That’s not to say the CDS2 is poor. It is a very good CD player, although IMHO, the computer based system is better. I use a Singxer XMOS USB Audio Bridge, which goes between the computer and the nDAC. This enables me to replay files up to 24/192 or DSD64 resolution. I find that this provides better sound quality than a USB pen drive plugged into the nDAC and is is much more convenient. The Singxer unit can be further upgraded by the addition of an extwernal power supply, although I haven’t done this yet.

I use the JPLAY Femto streamer software:

JPLAY | hi-end audio player for Windows

I use it in a dual PC configuration. Further details are on the above website. JPLAY have a very active user forum, with many members willing to share knowledge and expertise to help you out. The performance of a Windows PC based set up is that it can be enhance through the use of software such as Audiophile Optimizer Highend-AudioPC | AudiophileOptimizer or Fidelizer Pro Fidelizer - Optimize sound quality for Windows Computer Audio Server (fidelizer-audio.com). I use both of these in my setup. To get a good sound will require time, patience and a working knowledge of the Windows OS but your efforts will be rewarded. I would estimate that you could get started with a single PC set for around £1K, which should give you plenty of musical enjoyment.

Good luck in whatever you path you choose to take.

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I can conceive of it, and actually went down the alternate route first. (Mac streaming via Audirvana to microRendu to ultraRendu etc) When I started adding up all the little extra’s (usb cables, power supplies etc) I was quickly approaching the cost of a Naim streamer. I do like the simplicity of the new Naim streamers and to me it just sounds better (my system, room etc) into my nDAC.

To the OP I also wish you luck in whatever path you choose.

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emphasized text[quote=“JazzMan, post:28, topic:17561”]
there are those on this forum who cannot conceive of any other option apart from to add a Naim Audio streamer
[/quote]

I don’t think that’s fair. The OP posted on what is, after all, the Naim forum. They have a Naim DAC, pre, power amp and speakers, so recommending a Naim streamer to match seems pretty reasonable to me and I no longer have any Naim in my main system.

As for budget, the OP has a seriously high end Naim amp and speakers and a 500PS on the nDAC, so it surely makes sense to invest in a front end of a quality to match, whether Naim or another manufacturer.

Roger

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This is a very interesting question. I was searching different forums for quite some time, but did not find anyone who wrote about this comparison.

Thanks @JazzMan for your thoughts.

As an alternative to iTunes I use Amarra Luxe, which sounds better but has an awful GUI and is a pain to use, maybe I should give Audirvana a try.

The Singxer SU-1 USB Bridge gets some very good reviews, it’s good to hear that it provides better sound quality than a USB pen drive - this is what I want to achieve for now.
Did you ever compare the Singxer to a Mutec or other bridge?

It seems a new version is available: Singxer SU-2 and SU-6 gets some nice reviews too.

Currently I gravitate towards a Mutec MC-3 USB modded with an external PowerSupply. Quite some talking about this for several years now, maybe for a reason?
But the Singxer seems to be a very attractive alternative… thanks for pointing me into this direction, I will do some more reading.

Hi, @IIIIIIIIIIIII .

Another vote here for Audirvana. I use an older Mac Mini. I upgraded the optical cable between the Mac and nDAC to a WireWorld one, which was better sounding than the no-name cable I started with.

Significantly better was to insert a Meridian Explorer 1 USB to Optical adapter.

I find USB sticks are a reliable benchmark, and that other sources have to be tweaked and optimized to approach the same level. On a good day, both my Mac and my NDX-FM come pretty close. Still, doing the test is helpful, to let you know when performance degrades, due maybe to conflicting software updates or the simple need to reboot or dress cables, etc.

Nick

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Thank you for your reply PeakMan. With respect, I believed that my observation was fair. Strong brand loyalty is a characteristic of this forum, as might be expected. You point out quite correctly, that this a Naim forum. Does that mean that it is a discussion board sponsored by Naim Audio or does it mean, as I detect from your response, that it is a a forum on which any suggestion of an alternative to products that come from Salisbury will be met with challenge. I have been a Naim Audio user for many years, having purchased a 42/110 way back in 1982. I also use an Armageddon and ARO with my LP12 and my amplification is a NAC52/Supercap/NAP250 so I think I can claim to be a devotee of the brand. There are pros and cons to factory built streamers as opposed to computer based setups. I will refrain from going into detail on this as, while enthusiasm for streaming appears to be on the increase, computer based setups remain a minority interest among members.

After reading through endless threads in the head-fi forum I’ve narrowed down my choice between Audio-GC DI20HE and Denafrips Gaia.
Both devices were released just recently, receive a lot of praise and do exactly what I’m looking for.

I contacted each their European retailer/distirbutor with Audio-GD retailer coming back to me on the next day and Denafrips not answering at all - so the decision for Audio-GD DI20HE was easy.

Today it arrived, quite a substantial device, about the size of a Naim shoebox, weighting around 5kg, much of it owed to what seems to me being a sophisticated linear power supply.

Interestingly, it comes without power cable, as the manufacturer assumes the users will have high quality power cables laying around. Indeed one of the standard Naim power cables is doing it’s duties right now, allowing for future upgrades (the fun just never stops).

Happy to report that even out of the box the music via iMac > Audio-DG DI20HE > nDac/555 sounds way more natural than the Shiit Eitr ever did.
Once fully broken in, I will compare to an USB flash drive.

The retailer suggests to allow about 2 weeks of break in and then install latest firmware which shall bring another uplift.
Exciting times ahead!

For now placed on my tuner as a temporary solution:

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Nah! don’t be, for me streamers are mostly about the user interface.

I have an RPi3 plus allo hat thing for digital out. For me the LMS solution was the most bearable implementation on the RPi, but several corrupted micro SD cards later my interest has faltered.

Surprised no-one suggested the Uniti Core, given that the OP is after a source, not a streamer. Works well, you choose your hard drive so you can go for spinner or SSD. Only issue is playlists, where support is not great - can only be played in order created rather than random.

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I’m not sue off your rationale here. The streaming codecs include those that were developed mid 90s, only 8 years or so after CD was invented. The UPnP AV protocols and standards used were developed mid 00s and are still going strong in new and old products around 16 years later…
Sure there will be almost certainly advancements in the future… like with many products, but the old products are unlikely to cease working… just like first gen CD players still work, and there are very few copy protected CDs and other non Redbook compliant CDs that won’t play.
It is fair to say the first generation Naim streamers were relatively limited or performance compromised with lossless cloud streaming (CDNs etc), however the current streamers are more flexible here and haven optimised for local network streaming as well as Cloud CDN streaming.
CDNs will be around for the foreseeable future and is the architecture that powers much of the content supply side of the internet used in the world today for social media, media streaming (video, audio, graphics), and web provisioning.

It’s also fair to say, that say twenty to thirty years in the future, there are new streaming type services available that are not even a twinkle in anybody’s eye right now, and turn out to be a seismic shift from current standards, then almost certainly there will be available media converters or media proxy servers that will allow compatibility.

Now one observation I do have is that Naim currently don’t support ipv6 - which is used more and more on local networks where there are key advantages compared to ipv4 - as well as on the internet where some of the advantages are more obvious. I hope this is only a software change - as I’d be disappointed if this is hardware limitation

Sorry, not dipped into this before.

It is widely recognised that RF noise superimposed on a digital stream can adversely affect the audio output from a DAC, presumably a modulation effect. Some DACs are affected mire than others - e.g the original Hugo was particularly susceptible. I don’t know to what extent the nDAC may be.

A reason why a USB stick sounds good may be that there is no RF source within it, and minimal opportunity for it to act as an aerial picking up RF.

This brings to mind two considerations:

  1. All computers - and streamers are in part computers Inside - generate RF internally, so an important factor is the effectiveness of any RF blocking before the DAC, as well as the susceptibility of the DAC. A quality purpose-built streamer or rendering source would be expected to have gone to significant effort yo minimise the RF in its feed to the DAC (or DAC stage), though of course some will do it better than others. On the other hand general purpose computer used for rendering will undoubtedly benefit from an effective RF blocker in the path to the DAC, though again how much difference it makes will vary from DAC to DAC, some (e.g. Dave), being designed from the ground up to prevent RF being an issue, so much less if any consideration is needed.

  2. A network may be a significant factor in terms of RF, some network components injecting RF, some picking up RF, and some filtering RF. This is a possible reason why different network cables and switches etc have been found by some people to affect the sound, variability depending on the network setup, the environment it is in, and of course the specific DAC.

So, alternative sources to the directly attached memory stick bring with them inherent risks of increasing RF into the DAC, streaming across a network possibly more so than a simple direct connection.

In my case I use a Mac Mini running Audirvana as a combined store & renderer, with USB output to the DAC. When I had a Hugo DAC which was very noticeably affected by the RF, I used a Gustard U12 isolator/converter to SPDIF, which solved the problem. Now with Dave that is unnecessary. The MM/Audirvana-Gustard into Hugo sounded better than NAS-network-ND5XS into Hugo. In a brief comparison I could discern no audible difference between MM/Audirvana into Dave and a Melco N1 into Dave.

However I find Audirvana frustrating from the library handling angle, and will change some time - but when I do I will stick to the simplest path, avoiding streaming across a network to keep that variable out of it. Options range from just different library/rendering software, to self-contained units such as from Melco or Innuos, to more assemble-your-own approaches such the RPi solution someone has mentioned. For simplicity especially for other users the self-contained units have advantages.

Thanks @Bluebeard I thought about the Core as well, but this only helps for locally stored files, but not the other digital sources:
Byte.fm archive (online radio shows behind paywall), FM4 archive (online radio archive on website), YouTube and Movies will not work with the Core.

I admit the feeling of obsolescence towards streamers in general (not just Naim, but all of them) might be a bit irrational:

In my view a streamer is a computer and I have the feeling that a computer feels outdated after 5-7 years: Latest OS updates will not work anymore, GUI feels outdated and slow, new services can’t be used anymore. It will work, but it’s not fun anymore.

On the other hand I can totally accept the nDAC not being the latest tech anymore, as it still sounds wonderful to me and there is no GUI that makes it feel outdated for me.
The nDac feels to me as great a device as back many years when I bought it new.
There might be DACs with more modern tech somewhere, but I don’t care so much.

Now I have accepted buying new computers (smartphone, tablet, Mac) every few years, but I don’t want to add an expensive streamer to the list of this kind of devices.

Another aspect is, that big part of my digital music listing is not covered by regular streaming services, but for example Byte.fm archive (online radio shows behind paywall), FM4 archive (online radio archive on website), YouTube and Movies - all of which will not work with a streamer.

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Thanks for your thoughts, it’s reassuring to read that even with a standard computer as digital source, good sound is possible.

I use iTunes for library handling, I’m used to the GUI, it works fine for my purpose and I can sync playlists with my iDevices.
Amarra can use iTunes playlists as well, sounds good, but the general GUI of the Amarra player is a pain, ugly, slow and buggy.

Now reading your comment I feel Audirvana is not really better.

Maybe in a long cold winter night I might try different software players.

Well, yes just like your CD player, your smart TV, your central heating system, your digital microwave , your DSLR etc… these are all computers in your terms… but they are not general purpose computing machines like your Mac or Windows laptop… and so will function as good as new as in 7 years time… so I think as you say a bit of irrationality is creeping in.

My 1998 digital portable MP3 player works now as well as it did 23 years ago… and plays old and current MP3 files… now that is quite an impressive lifespan of nearly a quarter of a century… its computer is still going strong. My CD players and my cassette players from that era have long since bitten the dust.

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