Subsequent dac purchases for computer based audio yielded "possible" improvements, but finally, in Spring 2015, Schiit's Yggdrasil took me to "Woah! Touch, texture, flesh and bone!". I still preferred a USB box (bel canto) residing in separate quarters instead of the big house. And by now, the outboard USB box market included complete USBs, cleaners/reclockers, and various hybrids. But they still used a USB receiver at some point.
One path to avoid USB altogether caught my eye in 2016. Seattle HeadFiers seemed to be the at the center of a mini-explosion. Dante AOIP Ethernet. Pro gear not aimed at consumer electronics. At least it was an explosion for those using it around here (unnoticed by the greater hi-fi community)-- apparently started by rb2013, it spread like a fun virus at our meets, with muziqboy, soundsgoodtome, johnjen, atomicbob (who solved an early Rednet SPDIF issue), grizzlybeast and others jumping in and smiling. Rednet boxes and ethernet cables were taking over tables. USB was deemed a muddy, potholed path, and AOIP the autobahn.
I heard it and smiled also. Even had JJ make me a breakout XLR cable for a Rednet 3 not yet purchased. I took my time however, because (1) Retired and on a limited income, I need to throw away my kids' inheritance carefully and gradually; (2) On my plate already was a 1993 Yamaha Waveblaster ground up resto-mod project ($XXXXs and many hours wrenching); and (3) I don't have an acute case of FOBLB (fear of being left behind).
So it was fine to go Dante or not this year. Sightings included Rednet 3 and 16, Arrakis Simple IP, and an interesting black box described in the Rednet thread by PCWar -Atterotech unDAES-O. The latter uses a Dante Ultimo chipset, does just 4 channels max, only does up to 24/96, and has transformer isolated AES outputs. Hmmm...simpler and more affordable; could this be tailor made for "the master of Redbook" silver box sitting on my desk, Yggdrasil? The one that has had me mumbling "...who needs hi-rez..." for the last year and a half? Maybe.
So a grand total of $643 was surrendered, unDAES-O arriving first and the wall wart 24v power supply (with 4 adaptors for many plugs worldwide) drop-shipped separately. Both were on-hand within a week.
This review is only in context of the gear I own, in my home. So I'm referencing three USB boxes - Gen 3 (inside Yggy), Musical Fidelity V-Link, and bel canto m-link, the latter two connected to Yggy with coax BNC SPDIF (with and without a Schiit Wyrd).
I won't go into cabling specifics, but my basic HeadFi rig is OS X, Audirvana+, Schiit Yggdrasil, Birgir/Stax 727A driving SR 404LE earspeakers or Woo WA6 driving various dynamic cans. The unDAES-O has not been used in my speaker based system yet.
Got home from a dinner out at 9:00 and started. Purchased and downloaded Dante Virtual Soundcard ($30) and Dante Controller (free). Pretty straightforward with some headscratching and re-reading. Had music playing and a swearing session between 1:00 and 2:00 with the entire system insisting on a 48k sample rate (playing 44.1 files). Was proud of my old ears/brain saying it sounded like crap, metallic sheen and ssssssibilance. Gave up reading DVS and Dante manuals and found a one minute Dante video (there are many) that took me a few easy clicks to 44.1k. 2:00 AM, five hours to beautiful music.
Now, a couple weeks later, here are my comments:
NOISE - A pane of glass removed, Windex used on those remaining. I won't claim to know the mechanism, but there is less grunge and noise riding shotgun with the music. Did I hear noise when listening pre Dante? Nope, but I sure as heck hear the absence of noise now. In Gary Peacock Trio's 'Now This' there is a 5 sec silence at the start of the piece Gaia. Previously, though I wasn't aware of any noise per se, I knew the piece was starting. Now, I look up at the A+ screen thinking it didn't start, but I find it actually has.
TIMBRE - Is anything more important in our music listening? Don't think so. Differences of touch, presence, and pacing WITHIN vocal harmonizing. In 'The Way It Goes' does Gillian Welch slightly sneer while David Rawlings lends a straight and pure harmony? Applause, always difficult when recorded, is less "firecracker-ish" and more real clapping. Differences between guitar playing on different cuts within albums by Metheny, Abercrombie, or Hall, are huge; heck they are huge within a single cut.
IN REAL SPACE - Very soft and delicate micro-details are so present. Yggy's ability to wring this info out has always been there, but now it's startling (yet relaxed?). An actual wood block struck, not just something that "reminds" me of the striking of a wood block in live music. "Noticing" these details is a funny thing. Once heard on this rig, I can go to the same cut on a phone and "hear" them because I'm looking for them. But they're not alive in real space.
DYNAMIC ATTACK - Is it better, or does it just seem so, emerging from a blacker background? Feels louder, so volume knob is likely to be at 11:00 instead of 12:00.
I have several new cans on my desktop. No, wait, these headphones have been here for months, years. But they have moved several steps "farther apart" from each other, asserting their personalities. Most surprising are the DT880's, cleaner with no edge, now "refined", seemingly "electrostatic-ish with balls".
TIDAL WiFi-ing through Audirvana even sounded pretty darn good. But connect up with an Ethernet switch for a dose of reality. Listening to John Renbourn's Palermo Snow now. The touch, texture, breathing, are in my room.
MOAR BASS - Nope. I don't find frequency response "improvements" or "aberrations" comparing the three USB solutions and the Ethernet approach.
DOWNSIDE - MANUAL SAMPLE RATE CHANGE REQUIRED - A huge rock in the road leading to widespread adoption by consumers (This function is not needed in Dante's huge Pro Audio world). Could be a deal breaker for anyone with varied music files. But I see lots of folks on the RedNet thread talking about sample rate following, indicating there is a solution. As the owner of thousands of 16/44 albums, a dac that draws a bullseye squarely at Redbook, and fewer "hi-rez" albums than fingers and toes, I'm more than fine with it as it currently is.
COSMETICS - I like homegrown. Woo, Grado, Schiit, Quicksilver reside here. Atterotech proudly sports "made in USA" on the front. Fort Wayne, Indiana. Thumbs up from me. But it looks more like $60 than the $600 it sells for. Schiit's $100ish mani and wyrd look almost elegant by comparison. (But I own Stax Lambdas, as "unstylish" as it gets) I'm not talking about construction quality here; the unDAES-O seems real solid, especially around back.
I've had years of upgrades that were "...yeah, I think it's better..." side-grades. But in Spring 2015, Yggy took playback of my digital music files to the most vital & natural musical experience I've had. Now in 2016, compared to USB solutions in my home, the unDAES-O Dante Ethernet link has improved the system by that much again! That it has done so without ANY sonic trade-offs that I could find is amazing. And I never would have found this product reading HiFi magazines. Thanks to HeadFI, the folks diving into this and talking about their experiences, Big Poppa for the meets, and Seattle HeadFi buddies!
Follow up January 27, 2017
Now, six plus weeks of ownership and lots of listening. At this point the nature of the sonic changes in my system are very obvious and very simple.
First, the Yggy "sound" has not changed one bit with the Dante interface. The touch of every string, tic of cymbal, gravelly Tom Waits growl, crystal voice of Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh, rifle shot snare strikes, Miles' brassy attack, Gary Peacock's bass - sometimes fat and sometimes snapped, Bob Brozman's "too metallic" resonator guitar, breathing, foot scraping, hum in a recording's left channel. All real.
Second, these changes are obvious because the noise floor has dropped completely out of sight. We audiophools use the expression "black background" more often than it really occurs. But I can't miss it here. Everything leaps into perfect focus instantly, though not because it's louder. Decays, in fact, trail off so gradually that I find myself "leaning in" as they disappear. Looks to me like the unDAES-O, with Ethernet in and transformer isolated AES out, has achieved the computer>>dac isolation that is so heavily discussed and desired these days.
I have seen a thread or two that suggests the Dante delivery of files gives an overly sterile presentation. I don't doubt that this could be the case with some systems, especially those that lean towards that personality already. A natural result of lack of grunge, perhaps? However, I think that other "flesh and bone with transparency" dacs will meld perfectly with a Dante Ethernet file delivery.
In my rig, the synergy of this Yggy/uDO combination is unbeatable. 30 plus years after the sales-pitch of "...perfect sound forever..." digitally stored music is providing me with the most enjoyable listening I have ever experienced
Power Supply Upgrade, March 25, 2017
Replaced the unDAES-O wall wart with an Acopian Gold Box linear PS. Already thrilled with the uDO/Yggy combo, I didn't expect significant sonic improvements, just peace of mind with a quality PS. What I got was an ever more graceful ease (with no loss of detail) --- garden gloves replaced by custom fitted velvet ones.
A shout-out to atomicbob for testing the Acopian and nicely cabling it up!