Sound quality: USB vs. Ethernet

Dear Naim forum users,

I’ve just bought an NDX 2 (I’m very happy with my choice) and I would like to know, according to your experience, if there’s a difference in sound quality when streaming music through the USB and the Ethernet port.

Right now I just copied some flac files to an old USB pendrive, but I was wondering whether a small NAS (with a cat 6/6a/7 cable) or a an external hard drive would be better regarding the pure sound quality.

What are your experiences/thoughts? What would you suggest?

I also wonder if somebody has tried to stream audio with JRiver through the Ethernet.

Thank you very much in advance for any advice.

Well, technically you wouldn’t be streaming from a USB connected drive, just playing. So if you want access to music on Tidal or Qobuz, and/or you want to send local files to another device in your home then you would need to use ethernet.

And to answer your last question, yes you can stream from jriver to the ndx2, just create a dlna server with the output as 24 bit pcm, and control via the Naim app. Or drive it direct in jriver with the ndx2 as the selected zone (using “play to” option).

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I apologize, I used the incorrect verb.
I mainly want to play flac files which might be stored in a NAS or simple USB hard drive.
What would be the best option, sonically speaking?

Thank you very much, then I’ll do it as soon as I get my ethernet cable.

In that case, attach a portable ssd drive eg the T series from Samsung to the back of the streamer.

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Stream from the NAS otherwise every time you want to add some music to a USB hard drive you would need to unplug it from the streamer, plug it in to a computer and then plug it back in to the streamer. That sounds like a pain in the neck.

That’s a good point indeed, I was concerned about that. Luckily enough, I don’t usually add a lot of music. However you are right, it can become a pain.

I would guess that you didn’t find any substantial difference in audio quality between the USB and the ethernet connection, it’s basically a matter of convenience.

I’ve never used the USB and my streamer (ND5XS2) is connected via wifi. It sounds mighty fine to me, others report no noticeable difference in sound when using Wi-Fi vs Ethernet

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Thank you, I’ll give it a try.

Not necessarily, as the streamers have a UPnP server built in. This enables you to access the contents of a USB drive via the server input, browse its metadata and play it just as you would from an external server. The server also makes the music available over your network to any other UPnP streamer.

Yes, but with Linn streamers. I have been using for several years, Works very well.

Sound quality in my system, in my room, in my settings and to my ears:

  1. NAS>AudioQuest Cinnamon>Naim App>NDX2
  2. Tidal>Naim App>NDX2
  3. USB HDD>Naim App>NDX2

The difference in SQ between the NAS via Ethernet and Tidal is not too big, but the sound via NAS is better.

The SQ via USB HDD is good, but to my ears are quite far from that of Tidal and, above all, that of the NAS.

Functionality in my system:

  1. NAS : on all 4 configurations, the main one with the NDX2, another with Marantz SR 6012 and two others with ProJect Stream Box DS, what works best is the NAS, both for SQ and because, out of conviction, I lack Smart Phone and all systems except the NDX2 do permit music programming evenly through their remote control and front screen (or TV).

  2. TIDAL : works very well on the NDX2 and the Marantz, except that it also requires Marantz’s dedicated App for its progrmation; it doesn’t work on ProJect Audio streamers that, although perhaps already obsolete, still sound great and are tremendously functional for simple applications in the bedrooms.

  3. USB HDD: the sound is the poorest and, in addition, using the NDX2 in server mode from the USB HDD, loses a lot on the rest of the streamers in front of that from the NAS, and even against that from internet radio. In addition, and this does seem to me a great but, the Naim server seems too basic and very Spartan to me, basically because it does not allow the import of m3u format playlists and makes it very difficult to configure playlists from the Naim App.

In conclusion, the NAS has not died but quite the opposite, TIDAL is a great source although it has its minus, and the USB HDD and the NDX2 “server mode” are a convenient facility but only for some rush and/or undemanding systems.

Currently the Ethenet cable is Chord Epic Digital Streaming (already ran in and settled), with a very significant improvement over the AQ Cinnamon.

If we add that the NDX2 internal server is so basic and functional, soso, for me there is no doubt:

1st - NAS
2nd - Tidal
3rd - USB

In fact, I already removed the HDD of the USB connection, urrently leting it as an additional permanent backup disconnected and in a drawer.

Cheers.

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Thank you!

Thank you very much for the very interesting and complete comparison.

I guess that a NAS would be the best solution regarding both sound quality and storage convenience. I’ve used Tidal many times, but never on the NDX 2 (hope to do that soon).

I wonder what kind of improvement you had updating the ethernet cable.
Overall how much does it affect sound quality (I mean compared to other cables like speaker cables, power cords, analog interconnects, etc.)? What does it mostly affect?

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The AQ Cinnamon was a weak link in my system. I recommend trying BJC Cat 6a since they’re inexpensive and made to spec. It’ll outperform the AQ all day long.

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I’ve never heard of BJC, but I had an AQ cable and wasn’t really satisfied as well.
I’ve been quite happy with Nordost cables so far.

Precisely Ethernet cabling is especially susceptible to EMI and RFI noise. AQ Cinnamon doesn’t seem like a bad cable to me, heavily shielded, but it has its particular signature, very transparent and slightly bright. The truth is that I was not dissatisfied with the results of the Cinnamon, which was only installed on the main system, because the other 4 I have configured them with Wi-Fi, but I had the opportunity to try the Chord Epic Digital Streaming, and I like it more, so I stayed it with a very good offer, less than half of its retail price. It provides a more cohesive, more balanced sound, with good treble extension, the same crystalline mids, and equally strong and well-defined bass, but less bright and more balanced, more linear throughout the frequency band and the frequencies better integrated. At least for my ears.

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Thanks for the the detailed analysis.

As far as I understand, those two cables are very different as the Chord is more than a step up compared to the Cinnamon.

I would be curious to compare different ethernet cables like the Chord Epic Digital and the Nordost Blue Heaven or Heimdall 2. I’ve been enjoying Nordost cables for a while and really appreciated their signature: very fast, punchy, crisp, with wide soundstage and excellent control/definition across bass, midrange and treble (after the break-in period they are just a touch less bright and more balanced for me).

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I was wondering one detail about the USB HDD option. Were you using a proper high quality USB audio cable or just a generic one? Maybe that’s the key difference.

Also may I ask you how long your ethernet cable is? As far as I understand: the longer, the worst (unluckily I need a 10 meter cable).