nDac: Digital source to match or outperform USB stick

Audirvana can use an iTunes interface (I don’t, because I don’t like iTunes!) My frustration is with its handling of files with poor metadata in respect of my own music collection - if your metadata is all good, or if you predominantly stream online (which I don’t), it may be very different.

Regarding computers being too old after 7-8 years, yes if you use for mainstream computing or want always to have the latest software, but for limited use like music play that is less of a consideration, though admitedly more demanding if you stream online because of potential security risks once security updates cease to be available, and also the online streaming software might require more recent OS that the computer can’t support.

By the way, to use a computer for music rendering it is generally best for it to be dedicated and not do other tasks at the same time. The advantage of the Mac Mini is it is small, easy to set up to run headless (no keyboard or monitor), very stable, silent, and can be turned off and on without having to go through a shut down process. Mine is late 2012 and never a problem with it. And a strength of Audirvana is that it can be optimised to bypass the Mac’s inbuilt sound drivers and hardware, disallow other programs running at the same time, and dedicate a USB bus.

I am beginning to understand that vinyl, even to the point of refurbing a Garrard 301 is the antidote to some of this.



I know tongue and cheek… but it’s a bit like saying I can’t get get a clear picture on my 78 RPM Playola.

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Hi, @Simon-in-Suffolk.

I am as guilty as anyone here of obsessing on details. If a 50 year-old vinyl player can deliver rapture, it may well help some perfectionists on a certain path to know it, as an opportunity for a reset and discovery in a different direction. (It has for me.)

I will tag up with you on a different thread re optimizing my UPNP situation, which could use your help.



Well put, I do agree… a reset can be very effective in getting out of an obsessive rut.


That’s good to know, thanks!

My iMac is used only for one thing a time, either listening to music or watching movies, no other tasks in the background (at least none that I’m aware of).

Well, I enjoy both vinyl and digital, each for it’s merits.

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Hi Simon,

Agreed and point taken, but the issue does become more real if, for instance, you blow £13.5k on a streamer/DAC. I could buy more than 10 TVs (at my current level) for that and the central heating only has to do one thing and has an easily replaced user interface (and I’m waiting a little longer before thinking about heat pumps).

All of which suggests a more modular approach is more sensible, which is is what you have done, although maybe you would have sprung for the ND555 if you had preferred the way it sounds over the Chord DACs?


Hi Keith… sure modularity has many advantages.
I’m pondering the question you posed with the ND555… it’s interesting… if I did prefer its performance I suspect I would have been frustrated with coupling interactions that I hear others mention on the forum such as quality of Ethernet cable, connected switch etc… to me this would be unacceptable and might have encouraged me down a modular path anyway for performance and practical reasons.
Of course with my current modular -as you put it - setup this has become irrelevant to me.


Hi Keith, well said, I think a modular approach is what I try. I hope to use the nDac for a long time and only update the digital source (iMac in this case) when necessary - for a fraction of the cost of a NDS/ND555 and a wider variety of digital services able to use

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Hi @jmtennapel - 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 - what could be an alternative to the iMac?

How would you suggest to decouple beyond the Audio-GD that sits between them?

I use one, totally forgot about it in my previous posts :wink:

Audio-GD DI20HE is a DDC (Digital to Digital converter, sometimes called Bridge) that I use to convert USB from the iMac to S/PDIF into the nDac.

From the manufacturers website:

  • Built in Amanero USB interface and isolator , Support up to PCM384K / DSD512
  • Built in the 150M high speed isolator between USB interface and FPGA signal processor. Because the isolator can effect the data and clock transmit, so the FPGA has corrected the timing to improved on sound quality
  • The USB inteface and FPGA processor have applied the same clocks for avoid the different clocks effect the sound quality
  • Built in FPGA S/Pdif input support up to 384K/DOP
  • ACSS /Class S/Pdif output support up to 384K
  • R core transformer and 13 groups ultra PSU double stage power supplies, supplys to the different signal parts separately
  • FPGA firmware design by audiophile, the codes most consider by the SQ but not function
  • The DI-20 has built in ultra speed isolation, for work most stable, don’t connect external USB isolation, just let the USB connect to computer directly.

Reading the last bullet point, I think I will try without the Audioquest Jitterbug and see if there is a difference in any direction.

On the manufacturers website there is quite some more details on the power supply and other technological aspects

How are you finding the Audio-GD DI20HE. Do you prefer it to the USB stick?

Hello @Fatcat, thanks for asking!

And sorry for me being so late to post my findings.

The short answer: Yes, the Audio-GD DI20HE is better!

The long answer:
When I bought the Shiit Eitr about five years ago, digital sound was quite enjoyable, my system was nDac+555 > Nait XS > custom Bookshelf speakers.

Upgrading via 282/HiCapDR/250DR to 552DR/300DR/Ovator-600 and optimizing shelves, placement, cable dressing etc. I found myself enjoying digital less and less, I was turning down the volume and was more or less avoiding digital.
I wondered whether the issue was the nDAC or the digital source, so I tried the USB stick and was amazed by how much better the USB stick sounded compared to iMac > Shiit Eitr.

Now with iMac (Amarra Luxe Player) > Audio-GD DI20HE > nDac… I really enjoy listening to digital again.

Compared to USB stick, the Audio-GD is more easy to listen, removes an ever so slight harshness the USB stick might have, let´s each individual instrument appear clearer, in general has more details from bass to treble.
So many details, that sometimes I feel like mixing and mastering effects (e.g. echo, multiple layers of voices) are clearly audible, almost too much for my taste.
Most of the time the additional detail is well appreciated though, yet this was not my goal.
My goal was more easy and enjoyable listening and this was well met.

Audio-GD offers firmware updates that seem to be very worthwhile (according to Head-Fi forum), and a better digital cable might be a good idea as well (BNC-BNC, maybe Naim DC-1) - so the fun never stops.

Or also adding an external clock maybe?

True, but quite a pricy upgrade this would be, at least when looking into Mutec Ref-10 or even Ref-10 SE territory

Afterdark, for around 500 dollars. Look at the Afterdark clock for Etheregen, if the specs are similar.

I use a mutec mc3 usb + clock cybershaft 10 mhz to feed my Ndac. Works very well. Cybershaft is cheaper, you can only find them in japan, and there is a full range of product available.

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That’s good to know, that’s my goal also. I’m feeding the Ndac (without PSU) from a squeezebox touch, and prefer the optical input to the USB stick for this reason. Although, the SBT optical output isn’t the most detailed.

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Thanks @frenchrooster and @Guibo for these suggestions on clocks, looks really interesting.

Right now there is no upgrade itch waiting to be scratched, but who knows what long dark winter nights might bring… :wink: