- Sep 18, 2015
I'd like to chime in here but please forgive me if you find something disagreeable. I'm no expert by any means and am only sharing my experiences when it comes to digital. Just a bit of background: I was previously into analogue only (casettes and CDs; typical 90s kid). Over time I found it be difficult to sustain my collection and the final nail on the coffin was when I moved to our new place and the move destroyed 2/3rds of my collection. I have since moved to a digital only setup and have converted whatever analogue I had to digital. I'll admit it doesnt sound as "magical" but it does the job.
So initially i was struggling quite a bit. The wavs and flacs that I had created were being pushed into a DAC from foobar on windows. The quality of audio was pitiful to say the least.
The next step was ASIO and it upped the game but I wasn't satisfied. At this time I upgraded my DAC to a maverick audio tubemagic d2 (my first serious DAC). The change was a revelation and I think that's what motivated me to keep it digital and not giving up on it so fast.
I used the d2 for a few years and in the mean time I experimented with the software side of things. I tried Audirvana, Jriver and a plethora of other windows based options. I think the best was Bughead emperor. But it was just too clunky functionally. Not to mention it required a fairly decent machine. This was the time I got into experimenting with linux distros focused on audio. Tried a lot of them and that's when I stumbled on Daphile. I won't go into the nitty gritty details but it's been my goto audio playback and library management tool but I'll come to it later.
I think this is where I lost track too and gave into the Raspberry pi based solutions. First got a pi and then the allo based solutions. I upgraded to better and better dacs and also auditioned a few dedicated streamers from bryston, sotm, etc. I think the cambridge cxn v2 was the last one I tried and even had it in my system for a few weeks. They are all good solutions but they were either too expensive or didn't sound significantly better than the allo based units.
During this I was also in the process of setting up my reference DAC, I chose to go for a NOS DAC (PCM1794 based). The dac which I wanted to build only had a spdif input onboard and required a seperate usb to i2s interface to convert the signal so that it could be fed to the dac main board. I got a luckit usb-i2s board and powered it using a seperate linear power source. My dac build was completed last year. I used this dac for testing with a lot of equipment.
I was using an allo usbridge at that time and the sound was pretty acceptable. One day the lps powering the usbridge went bust and I had to use an old laptop. I don't know what hit me and i just wiped it clean and installed a live version of daphile on it; remebering it to sound best amongst the pc based solutions. Set up upnp/dlna and played music. I kid you not, the laptop ran circles around the allo. Details and dynamics went into another level altogether.
I compared that laptop to a number of commercial players i mentioned with help from a lot of friends. The laptop was almost always superior (but only with my DAC). I was finally getting the audio quality I wanted.
I then played around with hardware: got myself a dedicated fanless audio pc, linear power supply for the pc, mutec usb reclocker (MC3+ usb; although i just recently sold it too coz i found it to be not affecting the sound much), did some fiddle-foo with daphile and here I am. My source sounds better than most four figure solutions. I'm a happy camper.
1. Software is as important as hardware. Ditch windows if you can. No matter what any software claims, or no matter what bypassing you do; it still sounds inferior to most linux distros let alone daphile.
2. Daphile is good but limited in functionality. There's no free lunch.
3. Avoid pricey streamers, allo stuff sounds pretty good and costs less.
4. The main game is played by your usb to i2s interface. As long as it has a seperate power supply and is isolated from the usb power, you don't need any fancy reclockers or other voodoo-doodoo that companies seem to be selling these days. Check this before you buy your dac. A similar solution will be a dac that takes i2s from an outboard usb to i2s interface. But i found that it only prolongs the signal path.
5. Good grounding and a linear power supply for your PC is almost always ideal. But differences won't be very huge.
Thanks for reading and good luck!
100% agreed that linux audio is a crazy upgrade over windows. I use wtfplay, similar to daphile but this time commandline instead of fancy ui.
Now regarding upgrade with dedicated streamers, I haven't explored but I'm inclined to believe they may sound better than PC direct when done well for many DACs. So the thing about these is that we are mostly playing against stress along the phy or ground plane noise, either due to periodicity issues of the data or due to emi along the data. I had as much improvement moving from stock cable to uptone uspcb cable as much as I did moving from windows asio players to wtfplay. Now I understand some DACs might have super well isolated systems from usb input to i2s conversion making them impervious to these, and great internal clocks, but do remember that you'd have been paying quite a bit for that design. Isolating power supply, optocoupling etc cost quite a bit. Schiit sells just interface upgrades for 300$, and this is excluding the power supply design you already paid for. If I bought a quite expensive dac I guess I could take it as a given, but for the DACs I could afford, I doubt.
Regarding NOS, unfortunately I share a different sentiment. I'm in for extreme oversampling for as close to accurate reconstruction as possible (closest to perfect sinc, minor windowing changes aside). I agree audio is ymmv, but don't let a poor OS reconstruction filter get you to thinking all OS digital filters will be bad.
And last but not the least don't waste your time with the guy with preconceived notions that windows audio is better supported. Alsa is UAC compatible from the get go, windows didn't support so they had to write driver. On top of that linux has special audio priority kernels developed just for the craziest of us. For interfaces, manufacturers care for Mac the most and we are talking about things like round trip latency etc which are not directly related to just sq perspective. Next thing you'll hear from those guys, they'll try to tell you windows directsound is an audio enthusiast "feature".