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Why does Sonos Connect volume have to be at 100% when connected to external amp in 'Variable' mode?


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Hoping someone can help with a really annoying problem with my Sonos Connect seti-up. Must point out first I am not very tech savvy or experienced with Sonos (although am loving it despite this problem!)

I have a Sonos Connect going into a Cambridge Audio CXN streamer which is connected to a Cambridge CXA80 integrated amplifier. When Sonos is set in 'Variable' mode (which allows me to control the music from the Sonos App) I have to turn the volume to 100% (full) on app and then use the amp to control the actual listening volume level. The whole idea of course is you can so it straight from the app rather than using the amplifier remote or walking across room to do it. Its nothing to do with the amp inputs as tried other devices through them and all work fine - same goes for the CXN streamer. Also same happens if I just connect the Sonos straight to the amp with the CXN off and not connected so not that either. Additionally the problem was the same whether using digital (toslink or spdif cables) or analogue (RCA and XLRs). Nothing is in mute

I called Sonos who did a diagnostic of the device and said it has no fault. They then said the issue must be the line level strength required by the amplifier and Sonios's was too low and therefore nothing to do with the Connect? They suggested there might be some device 'out there a bit like a phono amp' that could boost the Sonos strength? They also suggested I ask the Sonos community about this problem which is why I'm writing. It does seem to me that this should work ok?

So I also asked Cambridge Audio who said "The CXN and CXA only require a 'Line Level' signal which the Sonos Connect should produce. You are able to connect a phono stage but this would be to the CXA only as the CXN does not have any analogue inputs. This is usually used for items such as turntables that require extra amplification." 

So that's where I am. Is there nothing to be done? Is it the amp? Is it the Sonos? Is something faulty or is this just normal? I have no idea! Clearly don't want to buy a phono stage if waste of time. Has anyone else had this problem and is there a remedy?
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Best answer by Kumar 20 June 2017, 22:32

I ask the question to simplify the troubleshooting: if both are at 50% level, and deliver reasonable sound levels as I expect they should, there is enough upside to use just the Sonos controller to get higher volume levels by moving it to the right till 100%, thus being the volume control you are looking for.

Connect delivers output levels which are close enough to that of any CD player for this to not be an issue.
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23 replies

If you have scope to control the volume on the amp then you are choosing to make the Sonos variable and then manually fix it. Put the amp up to full volume and leave it there. Or are you saying that with amp on max and Sonos on max the volume is still low?
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Yes I could put the amp up really high but that's very risky as all it takes is to accidentally switch to another device input such as CD etc and I'd blow the speakers. So really needs to work as Sonos planned where you can control from the app. But if you have to have on 100% then realistically that's neither practical or possible so you have to use the app + amp remote which seems a bit pointless. But my main question I suppose is this normal and how Connect works or is there a problem with either my Connect or amp. Sonos suggested it was due to the amp requiring a stronger line level than Sonos provides but given the amp is well respected for its many inputs and accessibility, and the fact Connect has is now in its second decade of existing, that seems a bit unlikely to me.
A phono preamp is definitely not the answer. Apart from having much higher sensitivity than is compatible with line level, it would apply RIAA equalisation and sound horrible.

BTW, using the S/PDIF outputs (optical or coax) produces Full Scale output when volume is 100% (or set to Fixed Volume). In other words it's at the level of the original digital content; it can't get any louder.

It sounds like there's some attenuation somewhere in the chain downstream of the CONNECT. Clearly two volume controls in series -- CONNECT's and the amp's -- will result in a lower overall signal if both controls are only at, say, 50%.

One could always explore the option of a line-level amp, of the type typically found in mixers. The quality might however be affected.
I keep my amp at minus 7 dB, which I think might be half volume. Variable output on the Connect. Goes louder than I can tolerate. But then Sonos is my only input. What's a CD player? :)

It seems inevitable to me that you either fix the Connect volume very high (which is what Fixed mode does) and control on the amp, or set the amp high and control on the app
What happens when connect is wired direct to the amp, and volume on both is set at 50 per cent?
I ask the question to simplify the troubleshooting: if both are at 50% level, and deliver reasonable sound levels as I expect they should, there is enough upside to use just the Sonos controller to get higher volume levels by moving it to the right till 100%, thus being the volume control you are looking for.

Connect delivers output levels which are close enough to that of any CD player for this to not be an issue.
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Have you tried plugging in your CD player (which you know works) to the same inputs you were using for the Connect? If you get the same results volume wise, then it sounds like it's a problem with the amp. Conversely, you can plug the Connect where you currently plug in the CD player.
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Sorry for not getting back to everyone so will try and answer each one now individually using 'quotes' facility so you know my replies.
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A phono preamp is definitely not the answer. Apart from having much higher sensitivity than is compatible with line level, it would apply RIAA equalisation and sound horrible.

BTW, using the S/PDIF outputs (optical or coax) produces Full Scale output when volume is 100% (or set to Fixed Volume). In other words it's at the level of the original digital content; it can't get any louder.

It sounds like there's some attenuation somewhere in the chain downstream of the CONNECT. Clearly two volume controls in series -- CONNECT's and the amp's -- will result in a lower overall signal if both controls are only at, say, 50%.

One could always explore the option of a line-level amp, of the type typically found in mixers. The quality might however be affected.


Someone further down the comments suggests trying amp volume at 50 % and then using Sonos at same which I will try - although ultimate still feels like a bit of a compromise - but will try and maybe will have to live with that
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I ask the question to simplify the troubleshooting: if both are at 50% level, and deliver reasonable sound levels as I expect they should, there is enough upside to use just the Sonos controller to get higher volume levels by moving it to the right till 100%, thus being the volume control you are looking for.

Connect delivers output levels which are close enough to that of any CD player for this to not be an issue.


I'll give this a go and let you know how it works and how practical it is. Family watching TV at moment so will need to do in morning. But from what you are saying you don't feel this is a fault with the Sonos or the Amp? I just presumed, perhaps naively, that I'd have a little more freedom with the app when Connect is integrated into a system (which is what its designed for) than I'm getting. But appreciate this might just be the way things are...
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Have you tried plugging in your CD player (which you know works) to the same inputs you were using for the Connect? If you get the same results volume wise, then it sounds like it's a problem with the amp. Conversely, you can plug the Connect where you currently plug in the CD player.

No the CD player works perfect - or rather the amp does so no issue with inputs - and yes have plugged the Sonos in using tocslink, spdif and RCA and same issue on all 3
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I keep my amp at minus 7 dB, which I think might be half volume. Variable output on the Connect. Goes louder than I can tolerate. But then Sonos is my only input. What's a CD player? :)

It seems inevitable to me that you either fix the Connect volume very high (which is what Fixed mode does) and control on the amp, or set the amp high and control on the app
I keep my amp at minus 7 dB, which I think might be half volume. Variable output on the Connect. Goes louder than I can tolerate. But then Sonos is my only input. What's a CD player? :)

It seems inevitable to me that you either fix the Connect volume very high (which is what Fixed mode does) and control on the amp, or set the amp high and control on the app


Too risky having amp really high as switch on another device like the CD player without remembering to reduce and speakers could blow. So at moment its Sonos on 100% and control via amp (or just go fixed as essentially both require me to use the amp as volume control)
The difference between a CD player and a CONNECT is that the latter contains a volume control. There's no getting away from the fact that use of that control will lower the output level. From memory the analog output level -- at 100% volume -- is comparable with CD players, and as noted the digital output is unscaled at 100%/Fixed.

I'll give this a go and let you know how it works and how practical it is. Family watching TV at moment so will need to do in morning. But from what you are saying you don't feel this is a fault with the Sonos or the Amp? I just presumed, perhaps naively, that I'd have a little more freedom with the app when Connect is integrated into a system (which is what its designed for) than I'm getting. But appreciate this might just be the way things are...

Once you do what I suggest and it works - which it should unless either Connect or the Amp is defective - you will find after playing around with it is that this is as integrated as it needs to be, providing you with all the freedom needed. I have a Connect wired to an amp that is in a box, which I see maybe once a year or so; all my volume changes are done via the Connect using just the Sonos controller app.

REMEMBER that 50% on each device is just the starting point. Experimenting with these settings will allow you to set the amp at a level that allows the Connect volume slider enough ability/motion range on either side of its centre such that it delivers volume changes up and down in a range that meets all your needs.
What might be a little tricky then is setting the amp at a level that isn't so high that it is too high for other sources. But some experimenting ought to allow you to find a good balance for this as well.

Of course if you move the amp volume around for other sources and then don't remember to reset it to where it needs to be for Connect to work with effective volume control, you are back to square one. Which is why if you use other sources often, it is best to use Connect in fixed mode and use the amp volume control to manage volume levels for all sources. If you can do that for the others, you can for Connect as well.

I don't have this problem because I have no other source: with all my CDs and owned music on a NAS, and an Apple music subscription, I don't need any.
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thanks for all the great advice. I think it all makes sense and i'm pretty sure now there's no fault - just some technical naivety on my part. So something of a relief really. Only have this combination for less than a week - main thing is i'm delighted / stunned by how good the Sonos sounds through the CXN and CXA80. Big thanks to everyone for feedback - much appreciated!
just some technical naivety on my part.
If you reflect on it a little, you may find that it isn't technical naivety.
But I must admit to not understanding why you need the Cambridge streamer, when you could just as easily wire the Connect to the amplifier directly - even to its digital inputs if you must - and not lose anything by doing so.


I called Sonos who did a diagnostic of the device and said it has no fault. They then said the issue must be the line level strength required by the amplifier and Sonios's was too low and therefore nothing to do with the Connect? They suggested there might be some device 'out there a bit like a phono amp' that could boost the Sonos strength? They also suggested I ask the Sonos community about this problem which is why I'm writing. It does seem to me that this should work ok?

So I also asked Cambridge Audio who said "The CXN and CXA only require a 'Line Level' signal which the Sonos Connect should produce. You are able to connect a phono stage but this would be to the CXA only as the CXN does not have any analogue inputs. This is usually used for items such as turntables that require extra amplification." 


Cambridge Audio response is correct while that quoted above from Sonos is peculiar and worthy of attention by Sonos Staff to see why such odd statements were made, about the line level required by the amplifier possibly being much higher than what the Connect can provide. Equally peculiar is the advice to look for a signal level booster. I don't know of any stereo amp with line level input jacks that needs such a device when driven by a Connect in good working condition. The icing on this particular cake is to deflect the problem to the community for a solution.

Which Sonos location was this?!
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[quote=Kumar]

I called Sonos who did a diagnostic of the device and said it has no fault. They then said the issue must be the line level strength required by the amplifier and Sonios's was too low and therefore nothing to do with the Connect? They suggested there might be some device 'out there a bit like a phono amp' that could boost the Sonos strength? They also suggested I ask the Sonos community about this problem which is why I'm writing. It does seem to me that this should work ok?

So I also asked Cambridge Audio who said "The CXN and CXA only require a 'Line Level' signal which the Sonos Connect should produce. You are able to connect a phono stage but this would be to the CXA only as the CXN does not have any analogue inputs. This is usually used for items such as turntables that require extra amplification." 


Cambridge Audio response is correct while that quoted above from Sonos is peculiar and worthy of attention by Sonos Staff to see why such odd statements were made, about the line level required by the amplifier possibly being much higher than what the Connect can provide. Equally peculiar is the advice to look for a signal level booster. I don't know of any stereo amp with line level input jacks that needs such a device when driven by a Connect in good working condition. The icing on this particular cake is to deflect the problem to the community for a solution.

Which Sonos location was this?!

To be fair I do think they were trying to be helpful with their suggestion as they were rating the support of the Sonos Community very highly rather than washing their hands of my problem. But yes their answer did feel a little shaky. From the accent I would say it was from somewhere in Scandinavia
Stepping back a bit, if other sources are to be played through the amp -- necessitating adjustment of its volume control obviously -- why not simply treat the CONNECT as another fixed-level source? Configure the setting to Fixed Volume and it will operate the same as a CD player (well, better in fact since lossless music will be free of the real-time error correction inherent in recovering music data in a CDP).
'Swatisaid:-)

Still don't see the role of the streamer though.
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'Swatisaid:-)

Still don't see the role of the streamer though.


Technically it upsamples Spotify and anything else you put through it. Also if i upgrade to a power amp it apparently makes a very good pre amp as well. But only had 4 days so need to play around with it and see if it was a wise buy or will be back on ebay in a few weeks!
IMO, the only advantage is the screen that displays what is being played - but does it do that for all sources including Connect and CDs?

The up sampling benefit is psychological.

If you upgrade to the power amp - though I don't see why you need to do that - the Connect can do preamp duty, used in variable mode. Including allowing the CDP to be wired to its line in jacks.

But yes, with a power amp it makes a lot more sense.