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Network Streamers - to dac or not to dac + bit rates


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Hi knowledge base, I apologise for multiple threads, I have read through multiple similar threads, including Dawso8’s recent thread.

After my Oppo 105 recently passed away, I started the search for a replacement, looked at various options like Network CDP, CDT, streamers etc.

i have a MICHI X5 which as I understand has a reasonable 32-bit/768kHz AKM AK4495SEQ DAC, (max of 24-bit/192kHz via Optical and coax, DSD and MQA only via USB)  I primarily play FLAC and WAV music via a USB SDD, then play CD’s.  I stream Spotify via Sonos connected via Optical to the Michi.

After all this searching, and reading, I have settled on a Network Streamer, most products from the Node, Cambridge Audio MXN 10 & CXN 100, up to the Lumin D3 and U2 mini.  The Cambridge product would most likely to the job I want, but after recent bad experience with a CA851a,  but they are not out of the running.

My priority is SQ, and I like simple, so setting up some Linux server to run as a music server is not up my ally.  I don’t really need a big screen, but not unhappy with one.

1. To DAC or not to DAC.  Is there really much difference between the Lumin D3 vs the U2 mini, similar price, the D3 includes a dac, the U2 does not.  Is the sound quality much better in the U2.  Are the digital output stages the same, so connecting the U2 or D3 directly to an external DAC or the Mich X5 identical.  If the SQ is noticeable better in the U2mini.  I noticed that the power supplies look similar in both these devices, and that the Toroidal linear transformers do not kick in until the T3 or U2, which are probably out of my price bracket.

is the DAC in my Michi “good enough”?  I can always use the Michi DAC for now then trial external dacs like the Gustard / chord etc later.

This question is the same for any similarly priced Network streamer, whether Matrix or others.  Brands like Auralic , Innuos and Aurender are probably outside by budget, although I have seen some demo G1’s on run out.  I am open to other brands, but the Lumin has caught my eye at the moment.

i am open to an all in one, or streamer only

2.  Bit rate - please explain.  
when playing my FLAC files recorded in 16bit/44khz, do these streamers upsample / upscale these to a higher rate, or is this upscaling and support for various bit rates only for streaming from the likes of Tidal or Spotify.  Do I get to choose the Bit and sampling rates or is this automatically done by the streamer

i will stay away from Networked CD Players, and add a CDT at a later date.

any suggestions welcome

thanks

 

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I haven’t heard the Lumin D3, but it looks like a no brainer if you need a streamer and dac. It may or may not sound better than the dac in the Michi, but if you want to try other amps at some point you will have the streamer dac sorted. Some dacs up sample everything, some you can choose whether to enable this or not. I prefer the native bit rate with my dac. Software like Roon also has a lot of up sampling options. 
If you have questions about the Lumin, there is a separate Lumin owners thread. You will get good advice their, including from Lumin. 

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1 hour ago, Godot said:
If you have questions about the Lumin, there is a separate Lumin owners thread. You will get good advice there, including from Lumin. 

Thanks, have just found that thread

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I think you have your first step, aim for a quality streaming transport and have it go straight into the Michi, once less box than adding a DAC straight away but if for some reason you feel its not reaching the highs you want you can add a DAC of choice.

 

Get one with USB and SPDIF outputs and you can choose which input in the Michi you use, USB can sometime be preferred over SPIDF so it will give you flexibility. It won't be hard to find a streamer that will sound better than the Sonos so there some easy upside coming your way if you choose wisely.

 

BITRATES
Unless you have an upscaling streamer (like the Cambridge) the streamer will pass your 16/44 through to the DAC untouched. 

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15 hours ago, Hi-Fi Whipped said:

Unless you have an upscaling streamer (like the Cambridge)


Just be aware of models.  The new Cambridge streamers don’t do any upscaling at all.

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@JkSpinner a couple of thoughts for you.  Firstly, and I say this as a Lumin owner, I think Lumin is overrated and overpriced.  They do not on balance have a material sound quality advantage of cheaper alternatives and their laggy, sometimes buggy app is at times painful to use in my view.

 

Secondly, you have an impressive integrated amp with a high performance DAC on board, it absolutely makes sense to try this out before you invest in another external DAC and see if you can make use of it.

 

If you have decided on going with a seperate streamer, and noting the above point re Michi on board DAC, have you considered trialling a digital transport like the iFi Zen Stream?  Don’t discount devices like this, digital transports are very low on the scale of things that impact sound quality and you may well find you can get a very satisfying result for less expenditure than you are thinking about.  With something like this, easy to re-sell if it doesn’t float your boat.

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Imo another concern is the user interface, given that playing FLAC is the stated aim.

@JkSpinner do you create extensive playlists, or mostly listen by directory structure (album by album)? And where is all that data...on a NAS or on USB drives (spinning or SSD) and what kind of data volume are we talking about here?

If a high volume of data you want a device with an excellent GUI, preferably controled via external pad (or phone if you can stand the small screen squinting and neck cramps).

Scrolling through a deep directory tree on many devices' onboard screens can stretch the patience and be buggy. You'll also want a device that saves playlists so that you can set and forget.

 

And how much time do you want to invest in exploratory listening and learning GUI interfaces? If open to this, ROON of course is highly valued by SNA members.

 

$6K for a NAIM just to play FLAC files off a drive would be a big investment with several less costly alternatives suggesting themselves.

Edited by Steff
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1 hour ago, POV said:

@JkSpinner a couple of thoughts for you.  Firstly, and I say this as a Lumin owner, I think Lumin is overrated and overpriced.  They do not on balance have a material sound quality advantage of cheaper alternatives and their laggy, sometimes buggy app is at times painful to use in my view.

 

Secondly, you have an impressive integrated amp with a high performance DAC on board, it absolutely makes sense to try this out before you invest in another external DAC and see if you can make use of it.

 

If you have decided on going with a seperate streamer, and noting the above point re Michi on board DAC, have you considered trialling a digital transport like the iFi Zen Stream?  Don’t discount devices like this, digital transports are very low on the scale of things that impact sound quality and you may well find you can get a very satisfying result for less expenditure than you are thinking about.  With something like this, easy to re-sell if it doesn’t float your boat.

Hi POV, I absolutely agree, and that was one of my questions, “is the MICHI DAC good enough?) maybe in bother thread.

I am not tied to the Lumin, it just pops up everywhere and the entry level products are in my price range, reviews are pretty good, although I noted from others as well the app is a little laggy and buggy.

i am not necessarily looking for a streamer with a DAC, or a seperate DAC, however I do not mind buying a streamer with a dac, as long as it is different dac to the AKM in the Michi, I use to enjoy flipping between the Oppo DAC and the Michi dac.  In all, I think I would prefer. Streamer with a dac and a CDT, I could then plug the CDT into both streamer and oppos and choose the sound I prefer.  I would rather the Streamer dac over the CD DAC as I do not want to be wearing the laser while I stream.  CDP will not be around for ever, and will not be repairable to ever, so hopefully I can get one to last.  I have never looked at. Digital transport, but happy to.

i have noticed a couple Lumin streamers in the classifieds, which brings them down to a reasonable price, but also noticed the Naim streamers brand new at 50% off which brings them down to a reasonable price as well

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1 hour ago, Steff said:

Imo another concern is the user interface, given that playing FLAC is the stated aim.

@JkSpinner do you create extensive playlists, or mostly listen by directory structure (album by album)? And where is all that data...on a NAS or on USB drives (spinning or SSD) and what kind of data volume are we talking about here?

If a high volume of data you want a device with an excellent GUI, preferably controled via external pad (or phone if you can stand the small screen squinting and neck cramps).

Scrolling through a deep directory tree on many devices' onboard screens can stretch the patience and be buggy. You'll also want a device that saves playlists so that you can set and forget.

 

And how much time do you want to invest in exploratory listening and learning GUI interfaces? If open to this, ROON of course is highly valued by SNA members.

 

$6K for a NAIM just to play FLAC files off a drive would be a big investment with several less costly alternatives suggesting themselves.

Hi Steff, yes, FLAC, then CD then something like tidal, although, with a decent streamer, this order may change.  I do not create playlists with my FLAC, but would like to.  I create playlists on my MP3, I kind of like playing albums, so yes, it’s a directory structure on both NAS and SDD.  I use to stream via a my old WD NAS to the OPPO  however I moved to a Synolgy NAS and could not connect it to the Oppo, so went down the SDD path.  I probably 600 + GB of FLAC, with some more copying to do yet.  I don’t really want to spend to much time exploring different option, I like simple.  I have tried using JRiver on my Windows PC, but would rather a dedicated device.

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Ok so a device that by order of priority...

 

a. can reliably connect to the NAS (ethernet or wireless?)

b. and/or can store an internal 1TB+ SSD

c. can generate and save playlists

d. allows for easy file navigation

e. does Tidal (ruling out many older second hand units)

f. has a different DAC implementation to your Michi (for sound exploration, comparing)

(g. is roon-ready (for future exploration because it's considered the most comprehensive interface and library manager))

 

a-g: Eversolo DMP-A8 ?

a-g: macbook air or mac mini > USB > Michi

a, c, d, e, (f): bluesound node

 

etc.

 

 

Edited by Steff
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3 hours ago, JkSpinner said:

Are Naim streamers considered “good streamers”. There are still some bargains to be had at Addicted to Audio,  like the NDX2.

If you like the Naim sound then yes. The app is pretty good which makes a difference as well. Oh and support for the unit for servicing etc will also be better for longer than a lot of other manufacturers.

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Funny you should mention this.  I just scored an NDX 2 from Addicted to Audio - the anniversary edition in silver, only $5000 (the standard black is $6000).  You have to dug into their website to find it.

 

A whopping great 60% discount!

 

I auditioned one a year ago and loved the sound - but, tempting although it was, it was too expensive then.

 

I’ve only had it 24 hours but the sound is sensational, even though it takes months to burn in properly.  Much, much better than my old PS audio perfectwave (which was over 10 years old).  The detail is extraordinary.

 

I did compare it to an ND5S - didn’t like it at all.

 

Worth listening to one in the store.

 

 

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One other thing - try Roon.  It’s software which manages your music library, streamers etc.  Google it - you can get a trial, but note it needs to run on a computer

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50 minutes ago, Gareth67 said:

I’ve only had it 24 hours but the sound is sensational


Nope, don’t worry about that one.  Burn in is a myth, electronic components do not burn in, they sound exactly the same from first use.

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1 hour ago, Gareth67 said:

Funny you should mention this.  I just scored an NDX 2 from Addicted to Audio - the anniversary edition in silver, only $5000 (the standard black is $6000).  You have to dug into their website to find it.

Hi Gareth

what made you look at the Naim streamers, from my research over the last two weeks, I generally do not find it on anyone’s list, I think they are a few years old as well, with many competitive streamers using the ESS dacs, and having support for higher res files (not sure if that even matters) or the dac for that matter, as it’s more about the implementation rather then the dac.  Keen to hear your thoughts

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Anyone would think we are putting man on the moon for the first time!

Two threads, probably 20 people on it and no closer to a destination. All the information needed is in these threads, no more typing required.

 

My final piece of advice would be to re-read each thread from start to finish, consider the educated advice and then make your decision.

 

The longer the threads run the more noise the more confusion, the more shiny new things appear!

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2 hours ago, Hi-Fi Whipped said:

Anyone would think we are putting man on the moon for the first time!

Two threads, probably 20 people on it and no closer to a destination.

Yeah. It only takes 4 days to get to the moon. But it took the effort of 400,000 people to get us there.

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A few reasons.   I’ve always liked Naim amplifiers - I have a Naim Nait 5i as a second amplifier, which I’ve had for 20 years (strictly, I had two - one was blown up by a lightning strike).  So I know the brand.

 

I bought a turntable 18 months ago and was puzzling about why it was showing up my DAC.  After messing around with my set up, I figured there were real advantages in a single box with a high quality DAC and streamer.  To get great sound, they both need to be good.  And a really good power supply is necessary.

 

I then had some time to kill in Melbourne and went to Carlton audiovisual.  Their streaming DACs included the Naims - which were then discounted significantly.  I was blown away by the NDX 2 - much better than the ND 5 and I think also an Aurender unit.  


The detail was incredible - I was hearing new things on songs I’d listened to hundreds of times,  But I didn’t want to spend over $8K…

 

A year later I came across the sale at Addicted Audio - $5K for the NDX 2 was an absolute steal.

 

On the reviews, Naim is British - so tends to be less reviewed in the US press.  There is a very positive review in What HiFi - which is British (and has a pro British bias).

 

Feel free to fire any other questions at me

 

 

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Posted (edited)
9 hours ago, Hi-Fi Whipped said:

Anyone would think we are putting man on the moon for the first time!

Two threads, probably 20 people on it and no closer to a destination. All the information needed is in these threads, no more typing required.

 

My final piece of advice would be to re-read each thread from start to finish, consider the educated advice and then make your decision.

 

The longer the threads run the more noise the more confusion, the more shiny new things appear!

Not sure I follow Hi Fi whipped, that was a genuine question.  Are you being sarcastic or just an A-hole.

Oh, I am close to a destination.  Lots of helpful people on this forum.

Edited by JkSpinner
Correction
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Sorry, one other thing.  Rightly or wrongly, I haven’t really bought into the debates on ESS v Burr Brown etc.  There’s a lot more to a DAC than a chip, of course.  And with heavy discounts, you can move up a bracket or two in quality - albeit you will get a slightly older DAC.

 

I would carefully listen to your different options, ideally at the one retailer, with music you really know and a system like your own.  Then form your own view, with one eye on your budget.

 

Don’t underestimate the improvements you can get with little tweaks to your existing system.  So, plug your amplifier into the wall - not a powerboard.  Upgrade your power supplies to linear power supplies or, failing that, replace your switching power supplie with something better.  Remove any devices you don’t need.  Move the speakers out from the wall etc.  Try different connections to the amp

 

 

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I agree re the DAC quality conversation, I am certainly no expert, but that is what I read.

i do not think there is a Naim dealer in Brisbane, so it does get a little difficult to audition.

yes, I really need to have a look at power, power supply and also interconnects.  
I am a little tied with placement at the moment.  I use to have my 2 channel in my home theatre, I played around a lot with speaker placement and it sounded great with a nice wide sound stage.  But now I have separated it to a room off my main living area.  I listen to it a lot more now, however with the speakers only 1.5m apart, one side wall open, the other walled, it does not have that SQ impact that it one did.  Still sounds great, just not as great as it use to

thanks

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1 hour ago, JkSpinner said:

Not sure I follow Hi Fi whipped, that was a genuine question.  Are you being sarcastic or just an A-hole.

Oh, I am close to a destination.  Lots of helpful people on this forum.

 

Take all the time you need and ask as many questions you need to further your knowledge, and then feel confident to make an educated decision. If someone has become frustrated with the questions being asked they should simply move on from this thread.

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1 hour ago, JkSpinner said:

i do not think there is a Naim dealer in Brisbane, so it does get a little difficult to audition.

 

Not too sure where the new distributor is up to with Naim, but may be worth contacting them to see if there is any options for Brisbane

 

Contact Us (westan.com.au)

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