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REVIEW: Comparison of 5 High End Digital Music Servers - Aurender N10, CAD CAT server, TotalDac d1-Server, Auralic Aries, Audiophile Vortex Box

Discussion in 'High-end Audio Forum' started by romaz, Nov 9, 2015.
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  1. Whazzzup
    That is how antipodes audio ds core works as well.
  2. bruceorr
    I've had my SE for maybe 3 months or so, and I'm glad I've got it. I've tried Roon Core on the SE, and also used the SE as a Roon Player with the Core located on an iMac connected by ethernet.
    In my system I did not hear the noticeable upgrade in SQ when the Core was on the SE, but...different systems, different ears, different sounds. So I offer that thought only in that context. Separately, if you upsample, Innuous recommends not using the SE as a location for Roon Core. It does not have the processing power to handle heavy upsampling which I enjoy. Another consideration. I have not tried upsampling when Roon Core is on the SE, so I'm not sure what it's upsampling limits are, but I imagine at minimum pushing things to DSD is problematic.

    My chain:
    Netgear Router (sps-500) > iMac/Roon Core > Cat6 > Netgear GS108 switch (mod. to 7v; w/LPS 1.2) > A-QuestVodka RJ/E.75m Cat7 >
    Zenith SE > Lush USB > SoTM tx-USBultra (mod. to 7v + clk to Netgear switch; w/LPS 1.2) > Lush USB > Simaudio Moon280D DAC
  3. Malcyg
    Yes, all very true. I ran Roon through a PC which meant traffic back and forth through the network and using the SE to cut that out was very beneficial.

    The SE can handle EQ and Crossfeed together as well as multi room with no problem. I think you may be right regarding heavy upsampling with DSD - it handled it ok when I tried with PCM - but given that @Pappadave is using a BluDave, I assumed that he would not be using that functionality anyway. I should never assume I suppose.
  4. Pappadave
    Thank you guys for your help. Run yesterday back and forth my SE as a player (taking music from the Synology server) and as a core for playing files locally (apparently my license allows for two instances as long as they are not run concurrently). For my ears the local option sounds better as it gives appearance of more relaxed and airy sound. Network based files sounded duller and flatter. This, however, brings @romaz post to mind, where he described RW reaction to Zenith (“RF noise generator”) and his insistence that noiseless music should sound duller and flatter... Here we have it and I certainly prefer (same as quite a few who commented before me) the (allegedly) nosier option.
  5. flummoxed
    I completely concur.

    I’ve tried the same with my SE, and local files using Roon are without doubt my preference.
  6. Malcyg
    Well, it’s a bit of a puzzle. I have found that the more I have removed noise, the more relaxed and natural things have sounded as well as being smoother, darker and more refined - and these are all descriptions that also fit with RW’s description of removing RF noise. Also, until I made changes, I found the CD to sound more airy and relaxedthan my files, and the CD should be much less prone to RF noise than the network. Whatever, if you are happy, that’s what counts!
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2018
  7. romaz

    I've owned numerous Oppo Blu-Ray players dating back to the BDP-83SE and I have always been pleased with their performance for price in my home theater. I thought they hit a home run with their BDP-105 and I considered it the best value entertainment hub I was aware of that included the convenience of a Blu Ray / SACD transport, multi-channel DAC, and a decent headphone amp. With an output impedance of 100 ohms at it's XLR outputs, I was even able to connect my 300-ohm impedance Sennheiser HD800S headphones directly to these XLR outputs and found that it sounded very transparent albeit a bit harsh. I always felt that the Oppo, more than any other device, had the potential of being the ultimate jack-of-all trades A/V device even if it was the master of none. If I was forced into exile to the planet of Xanadu and I could only take with me my HE-1000, a flat panel OLED monitor, my hard drive full of media and one other electronic component, that component would have to be an Oppo.

    Oppo upped the ante with the release of the BDP-205 which included true 4K playback capability, Dolby Vision, and ESS's latest ES9038Pro DAC chips, With firmware upgrades, this device has now become a certified Roon Ready network player as well as an MQA-enabled DAC. Typical of most products in this price range, what held this unit back was it's power supply. Oppo saw fit to power the analog section of the BDP-205 with an independent linear-regulated PSU but chose to power the digital section with a switch mode PSU. For some reason, it remains a common belief that analog components benefit from good power supplies while digital components do not.

    Back when I owned the BDP-105, while pleased with its feature set, I always felt it could be improved and I contemplated various upgrades from the likes of Modwright, Audiocom, The Upgrade Company, JVB Digital, and Oppmod. Of particular interest to me was the upgrade offerings from Oppomod as they were the only one offering an OCXO clock upgrade option in addition to PSU upgrades. Having exchanged several e-mails with Dr. Lee Jaehong, who personally performs all the mods for this company, I was impressed by what he was willing to offer for a relatively affordable price (at least compared to his competition) but because I could never find any credible reviews, I never took the plunge.

    With the release of the BDP-205 last year, I really wanted the 4k playback it offered and so I went ahead and upgraded. I was impressed by how much better this unit was compared to my BDP-105 with regards to both audio and video and so I thought it would be worthwhile to explore my upgrade options once again. I explored the Modwright upgrade and spoke with Dan Wright who informed me that his upgrades focus solely on the analog output stage. In other words, he left the digital side untouched including its noisy switching PSU. Since I generally bypass the analog section of my Oppos in favor of one of my Chord DACs, this particular upgrade had no real appeal for me.

    I decided to check out Oppomod again and the first thing I noticed was they were still in business (which I thought was a good sign) and that they had updated their upgrade offerings to include both the OCXO clock and PSU upgrade for the BDP-205. Furthermore, their "Complete mod" upgrade which includes the OCXO, their best LPSU, replacement of the fuse with a circuit breaker, and mods to the DAC board were being offered for only $850 which included return shipping from Korea. While Audiocom was now offering a much more comprehensive upgrade that included a Femto clock, a better PSU, and other tweaks that addressed vibration and RF/EMI, their upgrade was considerably more expensive and so I decided to go with Oppomod. Of course, such mods would void your warranty with Oppo so proceed at your own risk.

    What I expected to take a few weeks surprisingly took only a few days and while my Oppo was in Jaehong's possession, he communicated with me frequently, even showing me pictures of the upgrade process. Returned with my newly modified unit was the unit's stock switching PSU. I opened up the unit and it was easy to see the modifications that were performed. As far as quality of workmanship, it appeared top notch. Cables management was very good and nothing rattled when I shook the unit. As soon as I plugged in the unit and turned it on, everything functioned as I remember. This is as seamless an upgrade as there is.


    As far as what got better, well, I'm happy to say, quite a lot and more than I was expecting. Video quality improved in terms of better clarity and deeper black levels. Is it the same difference between DVD and Blu-Ray? No, but the improvement is easy to appreciate and was noticed by every member of my family. As far as improvements in audio, this was the surprise because the magnitude of improvement was considerably more than I was expecting. Based on the quality of parts used in the upgrade, I had modest expectations and was expecting this unit to perform on par with something like an Auralic Aries which, to be frank, was an optimistic expectation because I never thought the stock unit when used as a streamer feeding either of my Chord DACs sounded all that great -- passable for movies but not really for audio. With the better PSU, OCXO clock and other mods, there was a very noticeable drop in noise floor, better detail clarity, better detail layering, a greater sense of space, and more dynamic weight and this was evident at low volumes and high volumes with both 2-channel audio and multi-channel video. Is this thing now a world beater? It's not realistic to think that this machine can compete with Esoteric's finest purely as a CD transport and DAC but when you factor in its versatility as a streamer or transport to feed a better DAC, at its asking price of around $2k, this unit would free up funds to allow the purchase of a better DAC and combined with something like a Hugo2, I would now absolutely put it up against Esoteric's finest. How does this unit stack up against my highly regarded Zenith SE when paired with the tX-USBultra and REF10? You would think the Zenith / tX-USBultra / REF10 trifecta would trounce it and you would be incorrect. In blind testing, with this modified Oppo connected to either my Chord DAVE or Hugo2 via Toslink (which is arguably these DACs' best input), a difference can be heard with a slight preference for the trifecta but the difference is barely large enough to matter and certainly not worth more than 5x the asking price of the modified Oppo.

    For those content with the qualities of the ESS 9038Pro DAC who are looking for a genuine world class, single-box, Roon Ready, MQA-enabled, multimedia entertainment hub, I'm not aware of a better performing unit for the dollar. Seriously recommended.
    apmusson, ZappaMan, soares and 9 others like this.
  8. romaz
    Like you, I would go with what sounds better even if it turns out what I am preferring is distortion but somehow, I'm not convinced that what I'm hearing is distortion and so the jury is out but I'm at least more aware of this possible bias.

    There is a way to level the playing field between local playback on your Zenith SE and streaming from a NAS or from Tidal and that is with a very good network switch. The audiophile landscape will soon be littered with various network switch options from the likes of SOtM. Uptone Audio, and Aqvox. Last week, a company called The Linear Solution (based in Washington state), sent me their customized OCXO switch for trial and feedback. Essentially, this is a commercially available 8-port TP-Link switch that they "gutted" and improved with better capacitors, regulators and an OCXO clock that they sourced from Japan. To their knowledge, this is the only network switch that incorporates within the chassis of the switch an OCXO (other companies who offer an OCXO option for a switch house the clock in a separate chassis). They also designed a special linear-regulated PSU just for this switch that meets the 2.2A demand of the switch + OCXO and I'm told the combo of modified switch with PSU is available presently for an introductory price of $659.


    I have several switches on hand to compare against including a stock Netgear GS108 that incorporates John Swenson's SMPS tweak, a Paul Pang TCXO network switch, and a SOtM-modified DLink 5-port switch clocked by an sCLK-EX/REF10 and powered by a 5V rail from a Paul Hynes SR7. At this time, I am using the SOtM-modified DLink switch as my reference and when fronting the Zenith SE, the improvement in less harshness, detail clarity and immediacy is very evident. I also have a Netgear cable modem / router modified by SOtM and so this cable modem / router is also being clocked by an sCLK-EX / REF10 and while this unit yields an obvious improvement, the improvement I get with the DLink switch is considerably more noticeable. With this DLink switch in place and connected to my Zenith SE via SOtM's dCBL-CAT7, if there is an advantage with local playback vs NAS playback, it is almost too small to tell and not of any great significance. With Tidal streaming, depending on the quality of the master used by Tidal, sometimes Tidal streaming sounds better.

    This OCXO switch from The Linear Solution is at least as good as my DLink switch and with further burn-in, it may turn out to be convincingly better. At the present time, my DLink switch has a touch more smoothness and a touch less glare but music streamed through the OCXO switch definitely has more of a "you are there" presence and this switch seems to still be improving. If I can get this slight harshness to go away, my preference is definitely for The Linear Solution OCXO switch. Compared to "no switch," the Netgear GS108, or the Paul Pang TCXO, I would definitely go with The Linear Solution switch. When you factor in the cost of a REF10 and sCLK-EX board, my SOtM-modified DLink switch can only be considered a good value when these items are also used for other components such as a tX-USBultra or sMS-200ultra. While the Aqvox SE switch appears to be a better standalone value at 798 Euros (or nearly $1k USD), I have not yet heard this switch and so I can't really render an opinion but at only $659 for The Linear Solution switch, this switch will be tough to beat.

    Within a few month's time, hopefully, we'll have a new switch from Uptone Audio and SOtM (which will be unique as this switch will include both RJ-45 and SFP ports) to evaluate but I am convinced that streaming from a NAS or from Tidal need not be inferior to local playback.
  9. austinpop
    Way to go out on a high note, Roy! Yet another game-changer, and an amazing find.

    I agree with you, that if one can live with the Oppo as a DAC, after the PSU and OCXO clock improvements, this is an incredible one-box solution. But if you want to use an external DAC, I do think the Oppo's limitation to the Toslink output (i.e. no USB output) makes this a rather narrow solution. Yes, for you Chord owners, because Toslink is that family of DACs' best input, this is a great solution, but most DACs have rather poor Toslink input performance, so for these DACs, the trifecta will have better performance.

    One other caveat - the Toslink output also limits one to PCM-only, and 24/192 (or is it 24/96?) and under. Which is OK for a majority of people, but some of us have a lot of DSD and DXD content too, which we'd rather not transcode to lower-resolutions.

    First-world problems!
    ZappaMan likes this.
  10. seeteeyou
    Please kindly correct me if I were mistaken, I don't see a significant difference between the digital section of UDP-203 versus that of UDP-205. If that were the case, those of us who are looking for an I2S output should have lots of fun with I2S mods available from either Dr. Lee or JVB Digital


    It's also worth mentioning that we could even get UDP-203 with Vanity203HD, then connect its quad coax outputs to four units of Hugo 2 (or even DAVE) for 5.1 / 7.1-channel materials.

    As if that Korean OCXO (27MHz SBtron SBOC25) were not good enough, we could also reclock the I2S signal with even better clocks


    Then convert I2S to either coax or Toslink afterwards

    https://github.com/iancanada/DocumentDownload/tree/master/FIFO II series/SPDIFboard

    BTW, there are even better 45.1584MHz and 49.152MHz clocks for Ian's FIFO reclocker such as Pulsar Clock

    ManufNameTypeFc(MHz)BW(Hz)RMS Jitter (fs)
    Micro CrystalSCOCXOHOCXO100.0010.00-10.00k159.949
    Dynamic Engineers IncOCXO3308CIHR100.0010.00-10.00k69.452
    PulsarPulsar MaxIHR100.0010.00-10.00k35.115
    PulsarPulsar TypIHR100.0010.00-10.00k20.174
    Magic XtalMXO37H/14IHR100.0010.00-10.00k58.573
    Magic XtalMXODR2xIHR100.0010.00-10.00k25.974

    And then there's also NDK DuCULoN

    ManufNameTypeFc (MHz)BW (Hz)RMS Jitter (fs)
    SymmetricomSA45s CSACCSAC10.0010.00-10.00k1428.198
  11. seeteeyou
    Just an FYI - for DSD64 only, MinimServer could wrap *.DFF and *.DSF files inside DoP containers without PCM conversion


  12. TheAttorney
    You write 2 "posts that launch a thousand questions" a couple of days before retiring from forum activity? I'd better get my questions in quick!
    But don't worry, I'll limit it to 2 questions that try to relate this to my setup: W10 Laptop with Roon Core -> direct bridge -> mR 1.4 -> IR -> DAVE. (There is no router/switch in this path. I bridge Ethernet to wfi in order to connect to my distant broadband router simply to get a dynamic IP address for the mR, then put my laptop to airplane mode which disables its wifi for a slight SQ boost (I would only need to enable it one day if I went for Tidal streaming etc)).

    My 2 questions:

    1. Would you expect that replacing both mR and IR with the Oppo would be a significant upgrade?
    2. Would adding a Linear Solution switch into this direct chain further improve the sound?

    The Oppo is physically too big to fit with my main rig downsizing aspirations, but I see an opportunity to kill 2 birds with 1 stone by using the Oppo as both A/V hub (Tier 2 sound qualiy) and my Tier 1 DAVE-based main rig. I was already considering the Oppo to replace my ancient DVD player in my A/V system. I'm still not going to spend any significant money until my SR7 arrives to give me a new reference point. Sadly, Paul has already missed his new delivery schedule - As 7th in queue in January, I should have had notice of shipment by now. Sigh....

    BTW, Linear Solutions seem to have lots of interesting OXCO-based products, including LAN and USB cards and a wireless router.

    BTW 2, whiist not spending much money on my main rig, I've had a very worthwhile incremental SQ boost by upgrading my Fidelizer Pro from 8.0 to 8.1 (still alongside Process Lasso). I've had mixed feelings over FP over the years, sometimes wondering just how much benefit it was providing. But with 8.0 the designer made a concerted effort to keep audio related processes within specific cores etc. Also, on his recommendation, I switched off hyperthreading. That seemed a nice incremental improvement, but now that he's just cleared that big release's snagging list in 8.1, well, that has been the most obvious improvement I've yet heard from any FP release. Highly recommended (alongside PL) for those who have basic Windows Servers and don't want to go the more extreme Audiophile Optimizer route. This further reinforces my view that improving the server still matters despite all the little black boxes downstream.
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2018
    ZappaMan likes this.
  13. Whazzzup
    My ds core antipodes upgrade will commence soon, give a heads up then, but expect less scientific appeals to give way to, I like this or don’t like that.
  14. austinpop
    Not all DACs accept DoP over Toslink. My Codex, for example, while it accepts up to 24/192 PCM on Toslink, will not lock on to DoP streams, even though they're technically 24/176.4 PCM (for DSD64).
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