We need Audiophile Edition version of Port

  • 18 February 2021
  • 34 replies
  • 563 views

First of I want to say that I have been using Sonos products since 2009. Besides Sonos, I had a lot of gear but none of it could match Sonos's ease of use and sound quality (for the price). I have to come clean and say that I am used to using Sonos everywhere and I love it. 

As an audiophile, I was looking to replace my aging Sonos Connect with Port and realized from all the reviews that it does not have a better digital output. This was a show stopper for me and it is a show stopper for all audiophiles out there. 

You are missing a very important niche of the market. It is taken by Raspberry Pie implementations and Bluesound and Aurelia, not because they have better software or support for services, but because they have a better digital output. That is it. Nothing else. Everyone I have talked to said they like Sonos but the digital output is jittery. I have tried a lot of solutions and even they sound better than Connect over coax they are all not easy to use, do not have support for the majority of services, etc… I meet old people putting Raspberry Pie solutions together and struggling with boards and power supplies and software issues just to get good digital output. Audiophiles are people willing to spend a lot of money on a good streamer. 

Wired 4 Sound managed to mod Connect into a damn good streamer. There is no reason you can do it too! 

Sonos has the best software and the rest of the products are great but you are missing the main link with audiophiles.

Sonos Port Digital or whatever you want to call it

No audio inputs or outputs. Audiophiles will not use them. They suck compared to $$$$$ priced amps. Just Digital Coax and maybe, just maybe, optical output.

Get power supply clean and stable, maybe even consider having standard power cable, get rid of jitter, use high-quality SPIDF connector…

Make Sonos digital output sound great and you will sell a bunch. 

I will buy it first if you manage to do it for $899 or less.

I sure hope that someone from Sonos will take this seriously.

If anyone agrees with me please leave comments so we can get Sonos attention.

Cheers!


34 replies

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Ivan - to be honest, I can’t see it happening. Whether you like it or not, Sonos is a volume manufacturer, but the audiophool market is (by comparison) a tiny one.

Sonos will probably want to leave it to the tiny specialists. It’s hard to be both a volume producer and a niche specialist, not least because in the specialist niche that you’re talking about, the marketing has to be completely different. It’s easy for a tiny, specialist company to do the necessary thing and start inventing things that don’t exist to satisfy this small group of people, but it’s hard for a big company to do that and maintain credibility with their “normal” customers (who will always bring in most of the revenue).

Here’s an example: How do you satisfy a niche market when most of the people in it don’t know what they want? Ask ten “audiophiles” what jitter sounds like, and you will get ten different answers. How do you manufacture a product on that basis?

So… IMO it’s something that Sonos will choose to leave to others...

Any self-proclaimed “audiophile” would use an external DAC which will reclock the signal, thus eliminating any jitter.  So exactly what’s the problem (besides not being expensive enough for bragging rights?)

I agree on economic side of your point. It is always better to have general population as customer then a niche.

The question here remains who do general population consult when buying music gear? 

My point is that you have to have music lovers on your side. There is a very small difference from being judged as great from just good. It is a matter of preference. People who are active on forums, write reviews, do youtube videos and so on are audiophiles. This is a best way to make them LOVE Sonos. It is always give and take relationship.

From technical side and jitter Sonos knows what sounds good. If Wired 4 Sound can do it Sonos can too and 10x better. When something sounds good everyone agrees and let it go and when something sounds bad everyone tries to find out why. Jitter is just one of these excuses. Even 39$ Raspberry Pie HAT has better coax output for goodness sake.... It can not be that difficult or expensive.

Just wanted to help since I really love Sonos and I would like to continue to use its products for many more years to come. 

 

Any self-proclaimed “audiophile” would use an external DAC which will reclock the signal, thus eliminating any jitter.  So exactly what’s the problem (besides not being expensive enough for bragging rights?)

I have Naim DAC-v1 and Hegel H190. On both cheep Raspberry Pie HAT sounds better. I do not know if it jitter or something else. Everyone says it is a jitter.

What DAC do you listen to and do not hear a difference?

I have Naim DAC-v1 and Hegel H190. On both cheep Raspberry Pie HAT sounds better. I do not know if it jitter or something else. Everyone says it is a jitter.

What DAC do you listen to and do not hear a difference?

 

Jitter is a catch all term audiophiles use when they want to denigrate a piece of digital gear.  The fact is, jitter has never been proven audible in double blind tests for the vast majority of home audio devices.  Sonos gear has been tested for jitter, and found to be far below the threshold of audibility.  I’m afraid when you start talking about things like “jitter”, you have gone down the “audiophile” rabbit hole, from which there is no exit, except to stop listening to your gear, and start listening to your music. 

One question, though.  The Port is known to roll off when using the variable output setting.  Then again, no self-respecting audiophile would use the digital volume, they would want a bit-perfect signal and when set to “Fixed”, the Port is bit-perfect to the source.  Are you using the variable output setting?

Also, unless you are conducting a level matched double blind test, subjective claims of “better” are useless.  The human ear can consciously detect only around a 3 dB difference in volume level.  Tests have shown that just a 1 dB difference can be unconsciously detected as sounding “better” instead of louder.  Your ears can (and will) play tricks on you.  

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Everyone says it is a jitter.

That goes to the heart of the problem for Sonos, and other similar manufacturers. Everyone (who has golden ears) says this, and yet there is still no consensus on what jitter sounds like in the real world! Why is that?

Essentially it’s because of the development of audiophool tropes. These are the things that “everyone knows”. Here’s an example: “Everyone knows” that interconnects made out of silver sound “bright”. It’s a good example, because frequency response is easy to measure - there is absolutely no factual basis to this trope.

And so it becomes common knowledge that a $399 product must have poor jitter performance, even though 99.99% of the users have no way of measuring jitter, and are just recounting something that “everyone knows”. They say that it sounds bad because the price means that it must have poor jitter performance, even though they have no way of measuring jitter.

So... the “audiophile” community wants to drive the company to develop a low-jitter product, without any factual basis. Will it sound better? You can’t predict, because nobody can tell you what jitter sounds like, other than it is “bad”.

At the root of the problem is the fact that the “audiophile” community has to believe in almost mystical things - because if there were not such things as “magic” mains cables that make “night and day” changes to the sound of a component, who would be making any money?

 

 

My point is that you have to have music lovers on your side.

 

 

And by the way, the last thing I would call audiophiles is music lovers.  Music lovers listen to music.  Audiophiles listen to gear. 

 

My point is that you have to have music lovers on your side.

 

 

And by the way, the last thing I would call audiophiles is music lovers.  Music lovers listen to music.  Audiophiles listen to gear. 

I agree. Many audiophiles are NOT music lovers. My question to all is does music in your house/office/car plays even if you are not listening to it? Do you go to concerts? Do you explore new artists or genres? If answer is no to all three then you are not a music lover regardless of how much money you have spent on gear. Many of audiophiles start as music lovers but get obsessed by sound quality. Like all hobbies it tends to grab you and make you more interested in details then in whole. It is probably a distraction from other things in life or something… 

Anyway… Maybe I did not choose words wisely but point that I wanted for Sonos to take away is that with not so much effort they can get attention of audience which is predominant in gear reviews.

I need a device like this so one customer is already there.

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I can understand what you are saying, and it’s a very interesting subject, if you like that sort of thing!

A very recent example that I can think of is a highly respected manufacturer of loudspeakers, covering both domestic and “professional” customers (I won’t name them here). Their products have been well reviewed for many many years, and then suddenly a reviewer (Audio Science Review) decided to measure the linearity of the frequency response of their products and found that - shock, horror - they aren’t very linear at all!

Of course, everyone knows that the frequency response must be ruler-flat, so how could this be, when many people (including me) like the sound of their products?

It does imply that focussing on what “everyone knows” will produce the best sound may be counter-productive, and that you may be better off simply trying your equipment in front of a selection of “typical” listeners. You can then make whatever they like the sound of best - even if that means non-linear frequency response, poor jitter performance, etc.

Totally agree. As one smart man said once “You are listening to music not measurements” 

 

I know very little about jitter. Virtually nothing in fact. What I do know is that if I am using digital coaxial out from a Connect, I must have an external DAC, and be bypassing the DAC in the Connect. 

So how can my Connect be introducing jitter that is not, as @jgatie says, sorted out by the external DAC?

What is the Connect doing to degrade the sound please, @Ivan Jeremic ?  What is it doing other than forward packets of 0s and 1s?

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An external DAC can’t resolve jitter on an SPDIF link, because SPDIF has no error correction facility.

Essentially it happens when the clock at the receiving end fails to match the clock at the sending end. Valid data can be lost, invalid data can be inserted and valid data can be corrupted.

The receiver may be able to detect that errors have occurred but, because there is no error correction, can do nothing about it.

This description makes it sound serious but, in my experience, it’s not in the real world! I did some experiments in the mid 90’s with cheap SPDIF equipment and… I never found any examples of errors caused by jitter. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen.

Jitter seems to be quoted frequently by higher-end audio manufacturers, and I suspect that the main reason they do it is that few people understand what it is, and even fewer have the ability to measure it - so they can make any claims that they like with no real danger that their claims will be questioned.

Historically, concern about jitter mainly arose in telecoms networks before the time when the phase locked loop had been invented. These days, clock stability is such that networks can operate at tens of Gb/s without any issues at all, so designing a clock for PCM audio really isn’t a technical challenge!

@Antifon gave a very good explanation of most of the problems.

Another problem I am aware of is also that 0 or 1 is level of voltage. It looks something like this __-_-___----__ where low is 0 and high is 1. Change from 0 voltage to 1 voltage levels does not happens in no time. You have time needed to change voltage from 0 to 1 and vice versa so you have some “in between time” lets say not 0 not 1 but if you catch signal in a bad time then it is “0.2” or “0.332” times. Also you can see that if you have several zeroes in a row there is no change in voltage.. If signal is not clocked correctly then these get misinterpreted.  You have electrical pollution from WiFi and home appliances etc which can cause “buzz” in audio circuits. You have definitely hear those sometime when being extremely strong but they occur all the time. Signal is passed through the cable which can be faster at transferring this voltage level changes or slower… When you have 44kHz/16bit signal that mean DAC is taking 16 bit of signal 44000 times per second… Plenty of chances to make an error.

Coming from IT background in the first I did not believe in any of this stuff. Sure good DAC will interpret digital signal in more musical matter but that is it. 1 is 1. 0 is 0. Nothing could change that until I heard noticeable differences when using different digital sources even different digital cables.

Antifon is right when saying that this is not a big problem in a real world. Most of the people will not recognise it because they do not have gear which can reproduce this errors in processing in a way you can actually hear them. I describe it as a coarse sound. Its like you have a distortion in a sound similar to what you get when you crank volume up too much but in a more subtle manner. You can recognise it when it is gone. Music appears softer, cleaner, more relaxed. There are no sharp edges. You can listen to music longer even on higher leves.

How Sonos can deal with that I do not know. Probably just by removing complexity from device (no audio processing etc) and try to get rid of interferences from electric network I suppose… Maybe using better components since this part was left as appendix which no one cares about. I am not an expert on this.. Just my thoughts.

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If I had an ask of Sonos in terms of ‘upping their game’ then it would simply be around things like the robustness of components liable to wear and tear (e.g optical connection on play  bar). 
 

i don’t claim to be an audiophile. Have dabbled in high end audio equipment in the past, same for specialist AV/TH equipment - but ultimately it was the ease of use, accessibility and convenience of Sonos that won out. Sure there are 100s of features each of us would like to see happen (higher bitrate, more speaker options in TH congigs etc) - but those who’ve already said it are correct - Sonos is a ‘mid quality mainstream’ manufacturer. There will probably never be a product that is significantly ‘better’ than a pair of Play 5s for stereo. And same goes for the rest of the niche players. 
 

despite grumbles. I would still rather the convenience that filling the house or any multiple combination of rooms with Spotify over a single ‘high end’ system. It makes for a much more flexible ‘music’ experience than sitting in a dark room with acoustic treatments, the ball-ache of a turntable and worrying if the £1000 gold cables really were a wise investment. 

My point is that you have to have music lovers on your side. There is a very small difference from being judged as great from just good. It is a matter of preference. People who are active on forums, write reviews, do youtube videos and so on are audiophiles. This is a best way to make them LOVE Sonos. It is always give and take relationship.

Honestly, I can’t say that I’ve looked at the opinions of audiophiles when making decisions on audio quality.  Whenever possible, I trust my own ears. Even when seeking advice from youtubers  or other social media, it’s not the people looking for perfection that I’m listening to. From my experience, audiophiles don’t have the same priorities as me.   

Even if audiophiles did help with sales as you suggest, I’m not sure that a $900 Port is going to help sell the $350 Port….since the audiophile is likely going to say the  $350 Port isn’t good enough.  Really, your argument is like saying that Honda needs to start making supercars, so the supercar fans will tell others that the Accord is a good vehicle.

If a USD 25 Chromecast, a USD 350 Port and a USD 1000 external DAC can’t be picked apart in a blind listening test, what’s the point of such a Port?

Audiophiles will never love Sonos, a mass market brand, even where it sells at a higher price point than many such. As soon as mass market is the target, audiophiles exit. It has nothing to do with sound quality, but with human psychology.

@Kumar These are all assumptions. These are not grounded arguments. What if difference can be heard and what if a lot of audiphiles use modified Sonos Connects as a source just because of convinience?

You are basically speking in front of milion of audiophiles even you are not one and about things you havent even tried. 

@melvimbe Honda Racing Fondation was formed in 1982 in order for them to be able to experiment and try out different things to build better cars and I would say that it was a good idea. Honda today build great cars. 
Bealive it or not Sonos is building audiophile gear. Everyone who buy more then one of their products is an audiophile. They can buy cheaper products but they choose Sonos because it sounds good and it is easy to use.
Would you buy Sonos speaker if it sounds like crap but it is easy to use and looks kind of nice?

 

You are basically speking in front of milion of audiophiles even you are not one and about things you havent even tried. 

That is a classic example of an ungrounded assumption.

@Kumar If you have tried 35$ Chromecast, 350$ Port and 1000$ DAC in blind lostening test and could not hear difference then I stand corrected and you have my deepest appologies. 

@Ivan Jeremic : it isn't just me; there is not ONE reported controlled level matched blind listening test anywhere in the world that has been able to pick the difference in a way that is statistically reliable. 

If there is any such reported, I would be very happy to read it through.

It will not affect my listening/buying - since I don't hear differences, I don’t need to run after expensive streamers or DACs, but more learning is always welcome.

My source these days is an Echo Show 5 - USD 50 - and that is just as good as anything else I have used in the past, and with album art as well, it is a very convenient high quality music source to Line In jacks on my Sonos kit. 

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Really, your argument is like saying that Honda needs to start making supercars, so the supercar fans will tell others that the Accord is a good vehicle.

I think your point is largely a valid one, but the choice of Honda is a bit ironic, because the (original) NSX was considered to be a supercar, by the standards of the time! And it probably did affect their reputation for a time, though few people seem to know much about them now.

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Just my 2 cents I have loved hifi for 20 plus years and as someone in this thread said I had stopped listening to music and started listening to the kit itself. Its a never ending pursuit of tweaking and upgrading which gets eye wateringly expensive. I started with sonos with a single play 1 for my wife for her work space years back and as time went on I have added more about the house and I have to say it brings back the joy of the music not the equipment. I have stopped the critical listening and accepted the sonos kit for what it is. I will say though that the port does not sound right to me I have one into a very good dac and it just sounds average compared to a raspberry pi plus a hat board at a fraction of the price but still the ease of use and integration is so good it cant be matched in my view. I cant see sonos ever offering an audiophile grade port as its such a small market compared to the their target market. Don't get me wrong id love one but it will never happen. I think the likes of aftermarket upgrades are going to be the only way if that's your thing or as I have done keep 1 good digital transport for listening in your main space alongside a sonos port. Finally with regards jitter maybe its snake oil I don't know but I borrowed a linear psu for the port and it sounded better with my dac anyway so maybe there is something to it(I'm aware that this doesn't resolve a digital issue though). Also my understating with regards to jitter/timing/clocking with spdif is that it is done before it is sent via spdif where as usb reclocks on receipt at the far end so for example my chord dac converts the spdif signal to analogue as it receives it errors and all where as it corrects a digital signal received via usb. 

The Port has drawn criticism for the DSP applied to the digital out when using Variable Volume mode. When using an external DAC it would make sense to switch to Fixed Volume, albeit at the loss of volume/EQ control via the Sonos controller.

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The Port has drawn criticism for the DSP applied to the digital out when using Variable Volume mode. When using an external DAC it would make sense to switch to Fixed Volume, albeit at the loss of volume/EQ control via the Sonos controller.

I use it in fixed mode only so you do loose the volume and tone controls. Incidentally I think the dsp used in sonos speakers make them so easy to listen to and a sonos port connected to a pair of dsp powered speakers sounds better than through a standard dac amp speaker combo. Dsp is the work of the devil to some audiophiles but I'm all for it. If it sounds better to my ears I don't really care what kind of audio heresy has gone on to achieve it.

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