OK after years of computer audio exploration - I have reached the mountain top. The 'Game Over' end solution for source chain - and the results are beyond any thing I could have imagined when I started this exploration a few years back - see my previous ground breaking threads.
But this one is what I will run with for the foreseeable future - I can not ask for anything more or better. No improvement could come to mind - just more time to listen to my entire music collection again - with a whole new take on things - really like hearing some of these recordings (even 30yr old and heard countless thousands of times) - for the first time.
I know the USB/Ethernet chain I will describe below with shock some people. Oh how I love reading those threads on other blogs - especially that profanity laced one. Starting back in June of this year - when my XU208 F-1 discovery was announced here:
Then later with this thread on AOIP and the Focusrite Rednet gear:
The MARV-E-LOUS ranting on my listening results - and then reading all the happy folks trying the F-1 and then the SU-1, then later the REDNET. Oh how MARV-E-LOUSLY ridiculous the ridicule seems now in hindsight ! Yes these USB gizmo's and devices work and with just the right combination - to world class sound quality levels.
So on with the show.
Just want folks who have not read my previous threads to know a little on my background. Been a music fan and musician almost my entire life. Mostly Guitar for me - both electric (love my Fender Tele!) and acoustic (Takamine!). Starting back in the 70's with vinyl and cassettes. Owned three different Nakamichi cassette decks in college and after - and so many vinyl rigs I could not list them all here. But later (around 15 yrs ago) my vinyl rig got serious and seriously expensive - culminating in this analog chain:
Dynavector XV1-S (Benz Ebony LP as well)>VPI Super Scout Master Signature (Nordost Valhalla tone are wiring)>Valhalla IC>Bent Audio Silver Step-Transformers>Conrad Johnson Phone Pre (NOS Siemens CCa tubes)>Valhalla IC>Conrad Johnson CAT2....
I thought I had this vinyl thing sounding pretty good. Mostly virgin pressed vinyl every one of those amazing 200gm Classic Records QUIEX SV-P I could find (a lot of them!). The height of vinyl greatness (esp the 45rpm ones).
So I know what great vinyl sound like - and let me say that what I have now for a digital source - RUNS CIRCLES AROUND IT! Yes that's right this digital chain smokes the best I could get from vinyl. Not saying if you spend $200-$300K you can't get better from analog - but that's not the kind of money I have to spend. I firmly believe that even with that investment you will never get the level of ink black floor noise - that will reveal all this hidden detail. And why that detail is so important to realistic music production...but more on that latter.
AOIP or USB -
That is the real question - because the discovery of AES67 Audio Over IP Dante (through REDNET and BURL) is where I felt the best of analog was finally beaten. But the trail to get here, and to that question was a long arduous one. Why blog about that journey? Good question - I have suffered much derision and abuse on these past threads - but also have learned some things and have had the true satisfaction of seeing my skeptics proven wrong time and time again (oh to see all those crows eaten!). And for the most part the feedback has been universally positive - so thanks to those kind folks. This is my journey - and I'm not asking anyone else to purchase anything - or follow my path. If you do great! But as always YMMV. I post this, as with my other audio discoveries (like the 1975 Reflektor Silver SWGP tubes - I call the 'HGs'), to give back to the community. I am in no way associated or affiliated with any audio company. This new thread will likely be the most controversial of them all. So please holster the flame throwers - I don't want this thread shut down like many of the others. OK on to the serious business - what has got me so enthralled:
Ultra USB chain (details to long to list) 370
BURL B2B DAC with DANTE Brooklyn II/ modded w/LPS power 285
REDNET 3/Cerious Graphene/Mutec 3+ USB (SPDIF)/Antelope OCX (RN wClock) 270
USB ULTRA CHAIN:
DATA CHAIN: WIN10 MUSIC SERVER (SSD for OS)>JB (modded as a VBUS Blocker)>LH LABS 2G(Data leg)>Startech LEX>BJC CAT6 550Mhz Ethernet>Startech REX>JB (modded as a VBUS Blocker)>LH LABS 2G(Data Leg)>W4S Recovery>stock Recovery 6in USB cable>iFi iPUR2>Singxer F-1>SR Element Copper(Galieo MPC)>DAC60 (heavily modded/HG tubes).
POWER CHAIN: PC SeaSonic fanless high PSRR (El Fidelity SATA filters)
LEX - TeraDak X1/X2 (Nichicon HW caps)
REX - MEIYAN low noise LPS (24VDC - 11uv noise)
Recovery (which feeds the F-1 with the iPUR2 in between) TeraDak DC-30W 9VDC/DC iPur.
Note the PC Server is running Fidelized Pro - Purist level
The key here is a discovery I found after someone who PM'd me to ask if I ever tried USB sticks (for music files) in the REX? I tried it and was very pleased, so I purchased three 256GB USB sticks for the three empty slots - giving me approx 750GB for music storage. So with this storage - no moving parts in the music server - all music files are stored outside the PC and powered by a LPS.
On the Startech I use - and there a few different ones out there - it is this one:
Note it must be the four port GB LAN version. I have tried some others and they sounded awful.
ICRON is the OEM producer of this unit but has since changed the chipset from XLINX SPARTAN 6 FPGA to custom ASIC's. I have not heard this version, so can not give a good or bad verdict on it.
Here are some pictures of the one I run:
So how does it sound? Versus Rednet AOIP?
I posted this on my AOIP thread recently:
No SPDIF reclocker. I tried the iFi SPDIF relcocker and it made the SQ worse, so I sent it back for a refund. Now a better SPDIF reclocker like the Mutec MC-3+ USB might make the SQ slightly better - but it's over $1000 - a lot of money for a marginal improvement.
The chain is quite complex - and was arrived at by innumerable variations and trials. But the payoff has been absolutely worth it. In fact, I've been at this for a couple of years now - and the level of SQ improvements just continues to startle me. I'm noticing a level of detail retrieval that is unprecedented in ANY system I have heard (including Jason Serinus and his DCS Rossini player and clock - see his review in the the latest issue of Stereophile
It is such a seachange in SQ, I find myself reevaluating how I listen to music. Complex productions, well recorded - have brought a new level of appreciation. The unfolding of the musical event and the thought behind the way that it was recorded. I've gained a greater appreciation to this artistry. Not to mention the increased unveiling of the lowest levels of ambient details - presenting small things and big things in a realistic fashion. The little bell ring off to the left - just hanging in space as the ring trails off into blackness, the very subtle vocal background - before there in a semi-defused way - now clear and discernible, understandable. The way a piano or guitar note sounds - so realistic - the immediacy of the initial impulse wave then the clear and almost infinite trailing off of the resonate overtones in space. The deep visceral vibration from a drum roll, the tactile impression of the strikes, virtually creating a visual impression, it just goes on and on. Not to mention the sublime air, space and resolved transparency, or the slam and speed of the dynamics. Just making musical listening an 'event'. Even from 30 yrs recordings I've heard a thousand times, bringing a fresh new perspective.
This speed and slam - dynamics both micro and macro - are the biggest improvements over the best I could get from AOIP Rednet/Mutec/Antelope and the BURL B2B Dante DAC (modded with a LPS PS). The AOIP sounds sluggish or slow in comparison. I would say that AOIP had a clinical quality to it - I would find myself losing interest in the music quickly - it sounded great - but just lacked some emotional connection. I find that USB does this better. Hard to explain - maybe it's a greater tonal density or richness? Definitely the higher degree of dynamics makes for a more realistic effect. The other biggest difference is the greater amount of detail being presented over the best I could get from AOIP.
The actual data and power chain is too complex to go into here - I'll describe it all great detail in my upcoming thread. And the evolution of the path that brought me finally to this place. I'm beginning to feel this is the final destination - my game over solution. I keep asking myself what would I want better or more of? Nothing - just infinite time to re-listen to my vast music collection.
Over the Holidays I'll be visiting a friend with a very nice system - OffRamp 5, PS Audio Direct stream, etc... He lives near Jason, and introduced me to him a few years back. I'm bringing my entire digital source chain to his house - Music Sever toDAC. I will carve out the USB DDC Ultra chain to feed his PS Audio DAC to do on the fly comparisons to his i2s feed from the OR5. To have a listen there in a different setting, another pair of astute ears. If that goes well I will ask Jason to see If can try the Ultra USB chain feeding the the Rossini vs it's built in USB - now that would be interesting...
Why does it sound so good? Well great question I posted this:
Someone over on this CA thread mentioned that USB sticks sound better then SSD or HDD:
Now imagine taking those USB sticks and running them outside the PC - on a galvanically isolated - low noise LPS powered unit - power separate from the PC. But there maybe an additional benefit from the USB>Ethernet>USB packet translation going on. The files all run fine, even 352K PCM Wave and DSD128 files - no hiccups, super stable. Running my system 24/7 for weeks nows - with no hangups. Latency is fine as well. The three 256GB PNY sticks cost $125 total from Bestbuy and give me approx 740GB of music storage.
When the prices drop on the 512GB sticks I can swap them in. That'll double my storage capacity to 1.4TB.
One thing I would like to try is different brands of USB flash drives. Down the road.
I'm as surprised as you are. I had the USB chain in my office and it sounded very good. But someone asked if I tried USB sticks in the Startech? And that got me curious, used an old 8GB as a trial - and it sounded very good. Bought some new PNY 256GB - three in fact - they were much better.
So then upgraded the power supply on the REX (MEIYAN 24VDC discrete LPS/Teddy Pardo silver DC power cable)(four port Ethernet receiver end), even better, that just got me thinking about trying it in my main system - well it floored me at how good it sounded. The USB sticks needed a 100 hours to settle in. Added JB's (modded to a VBUS blocker) to the REX before the 2G data leg to the Recovery and another at the PC before feeding the data leg of the LEX. Upgraded the LEX PS to a LPS. All this just kept improving the SQ.
Swapped the HD spinner running the OS to a SSD (128GB PNY for $39) - now the system has no moving parts(still using SATA filter on the SSD) - even better. Last upgrade was Fidelizer Pro running as Purist.
I still can not believe how much the SQ improved over every thing before - not easy but more then well worth it. This new ultraUSB chain is as big, maybe bigger step up over the best I could get from AOIP, as AOIP was over the Uber USB chain I had before. At a fraction of the cost. In fact I would have to say the SQ improvement from this source is one of the greatest audioadvancements in terms of SQ I have yet heard in 30yrs of audio.
Still have one last experiment to try (replacing the Recovery fed by a TeraDak/Dc iPur) with a LT3042 R-Core 5VDC LPS - directly to the iPur2>F-1.
Oh and had a long interesting conversation with someone in the industry I respect - and they have a killer USB gizmo coming - , as well as a audiophile AOIP implementation in the works. Fun times!
I have tried to simplify the chain - notably replacing the TeraDak DC302/DC iPur and Recovery with a LT3042 .8uv LPS to feed the F-1 by the power leg of the 2G and the SQ deteriorated - so a no go.
Edited by rb2013 - 12/20/16 at 1:17pm