Deciding on a DAC and Sonos connection for an audiophile room



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Why would we say that? Its a completely different argument.

Argumentative Troll?
Userlevel 2
I have been looking at Sonos actually making a DAC for a little while so that it looks similar to the rest of the system but I think that's a long long way off. I recently read an article about the Arcam SonLink DAC that looks interesting and sits underneath a ZP90 or Connect and uses the coaxial output. I think this is a great idea.

http://www.custom-cable.co.uk/arcam-sonlink-dac.html
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My SONOS sounds great with my NAD system. NAD makes great products and i use Martin Logan Speakers. What is the best PC media player to send the music to the player or do i need to get a good sound card?
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I have connected my ZP90 to my Chord QBD76 DAC and the improvement is fantastic.
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is now as old as the trees! I would seriously go audition some DACs, preferably in your home environment with an independent with you.

I used my wife as a listening buddy; some of them showed no audible difference and some blew our socks off. The NAIM DAC is where I landed but I also loved the chord.
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I love the look of this too...

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I use a Sonos Connect linked to the built in DAC on my XTZ amplifier. I have recently added a Monarchy Audio DIP Classic, whilst I consider myself a HiFi sceptic to some extent, the Monarchy DIP has really improved the sound; wider soundstage with a clearer and more analogue sound. £150 well spent!
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OK, my post here is a direct copy (with a few edits) of one I did on this topic, different thread. I've since done some testing using my younger brother's ears, which are way more sensitive than mine, and he tends toward the subjective audiophile point of view.

Our final conclusion: the Sonos DAC sounded 'better' than the CD player DAC and the Emotiva DAC. Mostly this was my brother's conclusion, since for me the differences were very subtle and I had to listen hard to detect them. For me, listening that 'hard' does more to inhibit my enjoyment of the music than any subjective benefit to hearing something that I can't say is better, just different. ALL of them were pleasurable.

I went through the same questioning of the need for an external DAC with the Sonos Connect (purchased in August 2012), and did buy an Emotiva XDA-1 DAC before my Sonos arrived.

My Opinion, Bottom Line: Unless you really like to spend money as part of this hobby, don't spend any money on a DAC, you won't improve on what the Sonos DAC does on its own.

I spent about 90 minutes listening critically, not extensive, but enough to say with confidence that my system does not benefit. I can hear absolutely no difference in sound between using the Sonos analog outputs to my preamp compared to using the Sonos digital out to the XDA-1 with the XDA-1 analog output to my preamp, regardless of music, from classical to jazz to rock.

I think that the XDA-1 is a great value as a DAC, but that the Sonos DAC is equal for my system and hearing ability.

So far have only tested this myself, no other listeners.

My System:
Rotel RC-1070 preamp (2005)
Rotel RB-1070 amp (2005)
Large Advent speakers (1973 vintage, refoamed surrounds)
Emotiva XDA-1 DAC/preamp (2012)
Denon DCM-360 CD changer (1997)
AKG-400 headphones (1997)
Sonos Connect (2012)
Western Digital MyBook Live network HD
Apple Airport Extreme router
All music files in Apple Lossless format

I did testing both with the headphones connected to the Rotel preamp headphone jack, and speakers. Sonos connect is connected to the XDA-1 by digital coax RCA (emotiva brand cable), and to the Rotel preamp with high quality Monster cable RCA coax. When switching between sources using the headphones, there is no interruption or gap in the sound.

It is slightly harder to tell if there is a difference when using the speakers, as the is a short interruption in the sound on switching, but I could could hear none.

Also tested the sound from the Sonos system in both configurations against the CD played in the Denon. The Denon may be the weakest part of my system (??) but again, I could hear little or no difference between the three sources, and even if there is a difference, it was so small and hard to pin down.
For me, listening that 'hard' does more to inhibit my enjoyment of the music than any subjective benefit to hearing something that I can't say is better, just different. ALL of them were pleasurable.

I agree. There are however some people who see music as a test signal.
Getting over this, and getting back to listening to music for what it is, can be very liberating. With all its features, Sonos does this better than any other solution I know of.
As to the differences you heard, it is possible that they arose from very small differences in sound levels where precise level matching was not possible. Depending on the nature of the music and amount of the difference, some may be more pleasurable, but the reason for the differences remains the same where modern audio equipment is concerned.
Userlevel 2
Kumar, I agree completely. Did my best to match levels, but it was not a scientific test. Some will never like it if it's not well north of $1000. It sounds great to my ears.
Userlevel 2
I use a Moon 100d DAC with my main sonos room and found it made a significant difference with both 320 mp3's and flac source files. I would definitely recommend trying one out. Approx £300 now I think.
I use a Moon 100d DAC with my main sonos room and found it made a significant difference with both 320 mp3's and flac source files. I would definitely recommend trying one out. Approx £300 now I think.
If it has a signal output voltage that is even a little higher than that of the Connect, it would make a significant sound quality difference for the better, for sure. The same difference can be achieved for free by bumping up the volume setting on the Connect to compensate for this voltage difference.
If the signal output voltages are the same, and/or the significant improvement is still heard in a level matched blind test, it is a fantastic deal for GBP 300. If this was established to be the case, I would be first in line to buy one.
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I'm curious. When people trash the idea of an external DAC, saying the chips are all the same and are not expensive, are they taking into account the analogue side of things? I have a Weiss DAC202, which uses 2 Sabre ES9018 DAC chips per channel. Then there's the analogue stage. Not sure of its design, but it occupies most of the space in the DAC. The analogue stage has got to count for something. The DAC sounds wonderful.
I'm curious. When people trash the idea of an external DAC, saying the chips are all the same and are not expensive, are they taking into account the analogue side of things? I have a Weiss DAC202, which uses 2 Sabre ES9018 DAC chips per channel. Then there's the analogue stage. Not sure of its design, but it occupies most of the space in the DAC. The analogue stage has got to count for something. The DAC sounds wonderful.
My assessment is based on my experience with a few DACs:
1. Musical Fidelity Tube DAC. This one was a monster, larger and heavier than many integrated amps. It even had a couple of tubes in it, in the analogue stage. I am sure very little space was taken up by the DAC itself.
2. The DAC in a Marantz KI Pearl SACD player.
3. DACs in a 2011 I pod and I pod touch.
4. DACs in Sonos Connect/Connect Amp
I did some investigation into the subject after realising that none of them sounded different from each other.
The analogue stage is important, as are some other things around the DAC implementation itself. But the work to be done in an analogue stage is to amplify the converted signal to a line level. Perhaps not as challenging as that for an amplifier that has to take that input and amplify that to speaker level, and yet this is now a solved problem. Yes, there still are lousy amps made today, and there must be lousy DACs too. But the thing to think about is whether this is still rocket science.
In a few cases - like comparing the sound from a Connect v that from a CD playing in the Marantz, with the Connect playing lossless rips of the same CD - it wasn't difficult to set up a level matched comparison at home, selecting from the inputs of the preamp that was receiving both signals. I could not pick between the two even without instrument precision level matching. Since then, I have had the same results with a iPod dock that had built in op amps and analog RCA outputs, ones that left the DAC duties in the I pod untouched.
I come to my conclusions based on the above. And I have to still come across someone that has set out the opposite - that two modern DACS, in a controlled blind listening test were audibly identified. Not even with a DAC costing say GBP 300 and one costing multiples of that.
docmark,

We are not "trashing" the idea of an external DAC. Certainly, poor analog design can result in higher noise levels and obviously miserable sound.

Our beef is with the experimental design of the comparisons. Valid comparisons are very difficult to set up. Very small, difficult to measure level differences will cause the louder unit to obviously sound "better", even to experienced listeners. Many audio sales people exploit this human quirk to steer the purchase decision. In this environment a "good" salesperson will check the stockroom each day and make sure that the customer buys what is in stock. The customer is happy, certain that he or she picked the best sounding unit. Tomorrow, depending on what is in stock, choices will go another way.

A DAC manufacturer could design the analog section to have slightly higher output than likely competing units and "win" the comparisons.

I have no doubt that the conclusions posted on the forums are sincere. Unfortunately, the experimental design of the comparisons are sloppy or not reported. A properly set up comparison could result in a reversal of results or a stalemate.
The analogue stage has got to count for something.

We're saying once the playing field is leveled -- particularly output levels, so one is not louder than the other -- you can't tell the difference.

There has been plenty of double-blind listening tests to prove that. Yes of course, if you move far enough down the line -- portables like iPods, for example -- you can probably find DAC's that don't measure up.

There's an easy way to know, if you think about it. If I ran a company that sold equipment with demonstrably better playback capability, and it was easily, repeatably, proved by double-blind listening tests that anyone could conduct, I'd run those tests all over the place where anyone and everyone could experience it. That would put the doubters in their place, wouldn't it? Wouldn't you do that too? Just go on a mega-road trip to settle the discussion once and for all? How could they pass up the opportunity to rub their superior hardware in the faces of the doubters? The units would just fly off the shelves, right?

I'll give you three guesses as to how many DAC manufacturers have gone out on that road trip.
Userlevel 2
The Idea that a Dac isn't necessary is simply not my experience. As noted elsewhere in this thread, regarding Dac vs CD; my 20 year old CD player( CAL ICON MkII )which sold for $750 new, was very much better sounding then my Sonos. Once I added a Dac it got closer and that was a Scott Nixon TubeDac, but not as much sizzle. Things like symbols, Snare, bells have more sparkle with my Musical Fidelity V-Dac 1st Generation. My brother uses the PeachTree Audio Decca with his Sonos and gets great smooth and non fatiguing sound. A Sonos without a Dac hasn't sounded as good as any CD player I have tried. And HD recordings are many instruments away from the 16/44 CD sounds that unmodified iTunes & Sonos deliversthe Beatles catalog was remastered so how much of that is additional I can't say. Don't get me wrong, the sounds of Sonos can be quite good; but Apple & Sonos are behind the curve on the HD music experience. What my ears tell me is Digital music can be more engaging with a Dac and for an Audiophile system getting a modified Sonos from Cullen or Wired 4 Sound is a way to research. There is simply PRAT with a DAC that Sonos alone doesn't quite deliver. I am a long standing Sonos Fan, ease is a major feature. But for an Audiophile Experience I have never been fully happy with what sound just a Connect allows.
There is simply PRAT with a DAC that Sonos alone doesn't quite deliver.
What is PRAT? What aspects of the measured performance of a DAC would affect whatever that is?
Pace, Rythym and timing 🙂
Pace, Rythym and timing :)
Is that what it means?!;).
Not going to take a shot at the second question, are you?:)
The Idea that a Dac isn't necessary is simply not my experience.

Not going to take a guess at my "...how many DAC manufacturers..." question? You get three, you know.
The Idea that a Dac isn't necessary is simply not my experience. As noted elsewhere in this thread, regarding Dac vs CD; my 20 year old CD player( CAL ICON MkII )which sold for $750 new, was very much better sounding then my Sonos. Once I added a Dac it got closer and that was a Scott Nixon TubeDac, but not as much sizzle. Things like symbols, Snare, bells have more sparkle with my Musical Fidelity V-Dac 1st Generation. My brother uses the PeachTree Audio Decca with his Sonos and gets great smooth and non fatiguing sound. A Sonos without a Dac hasn't sounded as good as any CD player I have tried.

Funny, I had a CAL IKON MK II, and certainly can't say it sounded one iota better than my Sonos. Also has a Sony ES SACD player; again, no discernable difference. BTW, the Sonos Connect:Amp is Class-D, just like the Peachtree Decca, but measures slightly better per Stereophile's tests, at half the price. Highly doubt anyone could tell them apart in an ABX test.
BTW, the Sonos Connect:Amp is Class-D, just like the Peachtree Decca, but measures slightly better per Stereophile's tests, at half the price. Highly doubt anyone could tell them apart in an ABX test.
Connect Amp does come out very well in the Stereophile testing.
Strangely though, the same magazine doesn't rate the Connect as highly and recommends using its digital inputs into an external DAC for its performance as a transport to match the highest end CDPs. Strangely, because it must be the same DAC as that in the Connect Amp and I would think there is less power amp electronics in it to guard against, compared to the Connect Amp.
I find no difference in the sound between the Connect Amp or a Connect, analog output wired, using its built in DAC, to a third party amp, using the same speakers.
The DAC thing has become like climbing Everest - why buy external DACs? Because they are there to be bought. Sold with very clever marketing.
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Kumar that's a kind of a silly thing to say
"The DAC thing has become like climbing Everest - why buy external DACs? Because they are there to be bought. Sold with very clever marketing."

Have you listened to any of the state of the art or close to SOTA Dac's in your system? I doubt it. Trying to compare the sound quality of a Sonos connect to a PS Audio Direct Stream, or Berkley Audio, or Luxman ( to just name three) it's not even close.. But the great thing about this hobby is you're free to believe what you want 🙂 and I sure the rebuttal is "so am I" But I do go and listen at shows and dealers and in my system...I'm not sure if you have any real hi-end stores in India or any consumer audio shows but I think you might have an interesting experience if you got chance to listen.
But I do go and listen at shows and dealers and in my system...I'm not sure if you have any real hi-end stores in India or any consumer audio shows but I think you might have an interesting experience if you got chance to listen.
You would be surprised to see how many high end showrooms there are here.
But I prefer to spend my time listening to music on my system and at live performances.