Deciding on a DAC and Sonos connection for an audiophile room



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it seems misleading to me to suggest that they have audiophile pretensions.

If they suit your particular room and circumstances better than the Harbeths, that's great.

The play 1/5 units don't have any pretensions, they just sound good under what I believe are typical home listening environments - in India at any rate.
While I haven't tested them, the size of a AVI active speaker, or a Genelec M030 isn't a whole lot more than a play 5. If they aren't limited by the box size, why would the 5 units be?
Size by itself isn't a limiting factor where LF extension isn't a priority.
This points to one downside with actives. Given the advances with solid state, it is now possible to have the upstream components to be a small percentage of the system cost, if one has invested in a high quality pair of passive speakers which can last for decades with reasonable care and some luck. If the upstream electronics fails a lot earlier as it is more likely to, it can be easily and cheaply replaced with no effect on SQ or aesthetics.

From a system design point of view, active speakers have the potential for greatly surpassing passives. The magnetic circuit in the passive drivers is inherently nonlinear (causing audio distortion), drivers are temperature sensitive, the enclosure characteristics depend somewhat on air density, and the relative proximity of the individual drivers is in the mix too. At this point, using clever active design that includes some signal processing, we can address all of this. If goodness of sound is the ultimate goal, passives are not the path to bliss.

And, since the typically miserable acoustics of the listening environment are by far the the worst impediment to good sound, the active can address some (not all) of these issues too.

For the serious, dedicated audiophile actives should be the obvious choice. Yes, there we might be trading some long term reliability in the bargain, but in other hobbies, such as boats and cars, maintenance cost is a given.

To date the audiophile market has shunned actives. I think this is because an active speaker robs the shopper of half of the shopping experience. The shopper would rather purchase the "ultimate" speaker and the "ultimate" amplifier, never mind shopping for speaker cables too. Another reality in the overall equation is that the audiophile manufacturer is typically centered around a single prophet who is an electronics or acoustics designer, not both. (And why the turntable manufacturers can't hire a competent mechanical engineer is another story) The result is that one side of the design (acoustics or electronics) is lacking.

I think that the SONOS active speakers, particularly PLAY:1 are trend setting as an example of what can happen if manufacturers start using a team approach to speaker design.
The other thing that I have realised is that the differences between audio systems at home - once they are past a certain standard that Sonos meets in my view - is much less than the chasm between the best I have heard and live performances. That perhaps makes those differences easier to live with.
The other thing that I have realised is that the differences between audio systems at home - once they are past a certain standard that Sonos meets in my view - is much less than the chasm between the best I have heard and live performances. That perhaps makes those differences easier to live with.

So really you're saying that the Sonos gear is 'good enough' for your current needs, taking into account room and possibly other limitations (in my case, hearing). Sounds sensible - I made the same sort of choice when I replaced my Quad setup with a modestly priced AV amp. The connectivity and convenience improvements outweighed the perceived loss of sound quality.

Doesn't mean that a well set-up system won't show the limitations of the Sonos kit, though.

I don't disagree about the use of active speakers, overall, as it's always seemed sensible to me to control the drive units directly.
Interesting perspective from an audio product designer: http://vaetr.com/2013/10/22/passive-loudspeakers-why-do-they-still-exist/#more-45

His observations on the Play:1 with Sub:

http://vaetr.com/2013/12/09/sonos-play1-stereo-subwoofer/
So really you're saying that the Sonos gear is 'good enough' for your current needs, taking into account room and possibly other limitations (in my case, hearing). Sounds sensible - I made the same sort of choice when I replaced my Quad setup with a modestly priced AV amp. The connectivity and convenience improvements outweighed the perceived loss of sound quality.

Doesn't mean that a well set-up system won't show the limitations of the Sonos kit, though.


Isn't life about making sensible choices, and as in the case of physical fitness the key question is fit for what purpose? The thing about Sonos play units is that they make it that much easier to make sensible choices for most listening environments in the home. In my case I know I am losing some midrange quality, but I am gaining on bass extension. And the loss in the midrange isn't to the extent that it takes enough away from my music listening experience, in my room, with the music I like.

Someone else may see the midrange difference as a limitation which isn't acceptable.

But for Sonos kit to be seen as outclassed on all levels will take a dedicated listening room, with the space for much better speakers that go low enough on their own to shine and for subtle detail to be more audible over a lower room noise floor. For that application, Sonos play units/Sub aren't the solution as of now.

We have digressed substantially from the subject of this thread - DACs - deservedly so!:)


His observations on the Play:1 with Sub:

http://vaetr.com/2013/12/09/sonos-play1-stereo-subwoofer/

From the review, quote:
However, this does not bring the clarity and openness I would prefer. I am nitpicking – the overall effect of the stereo PLAY:1 plus SUB system is pretty impressive, capable of high levels and suited to a wide range of music.
Unquote
Sounds about right, I think.
One thing to also remember are the non auditory inputs that colour any assessment. While I don't think anyone argues that speaker/room interaction based sound quality cannot be identified in a controlled DBT, that does not mean that other than auditory factors do not affect perceived sound quality of speakers.
In the case of the play 1 based on its looks and size it is easy to dismiss it as just another bluetooth level speaker. Or as a glorified clock radio:D. Once that mindset is established, it can never sound good enough.

His observations on the Play:1 with Sub:

http://vaetr.com/2013/12/09/sonos-play1-stereo-subwoofer/

I just finished reading these materials and stumbled across something on the site from which I quote - about using Sonos as a three channel system:
Quote:
Then, I add a single PLAY:1 as the L+R “center” channel. This is easy, since it already is a mono speaker designed to play left-plus-right. The PLAY:1 is placed straight ahead, at 12 o’clock. Ideally all three speakers are the same distance from the listening position.

Group the mono PLAY:1 with the stereo pair of PLAY:5 speakers and you are done.
Unquote
I started laughing when I read this, because this was eerily similar to what I did just yesterday. I had a play 5 that was not in use, so I placed it exactly between the two paired play 1 units, and grouped the two zones together. Since the Sub is in the mix, I dialled down the bass on the 5 to about 25%. Volume of the 5 is just a tad below the play 1 pair. Overall volume settings can be lower now - perhaps conferring more life to the units.
This after I moved the Harbeths away, so there is no side by side comparison, but the SQ improved. But whether this is better than the Harbeth based system on every count for my environment isn't something I can definitively say.
I also hesitate to say if the SQ improvement is worth the extra spend if one doesn't already have the required Sonos unit.
PS: When you think about it, my main system now has 11 drivers in it, with 11 amplifiers dedicated to their drivers for power delivery and, via DSP, for frequency response performance tuning . Not too many audiophiles would have that much hardware I would think:-)!

For the serious, dedicated audiophile actives should be the obvious choice. Yes, there we might be trading some long term reliability in the bargain, but in other hobbies, such as boats and cars, maintenance cost is a given.

Nicely summarised. As to the quoted part I don't have a problem with maintenance, but with not getting service in locations like mine, which will leave the speaker as a useless box if the electronics fail, and replacement remains the only expensive alternative. With passives there is less that can fail, and upstream amplifiers can be replaced cheaply if bought for functionality and nothing else.
I don't see this as a problem with a USD 200 play 1 unit, but a USD 1500 active pair is another story, more so if lack of service for one speaker that has failed involves replacing both.
Taking a typical Genelec unit as just an example, is the RCA input sensitivity of a typical studio monitor at levels that match the signal levels from the analog output of a Connect such that it can deliver its designed sound levels if a Connect was to be wired to it?
PS: I can obtain this information from Genelec too, they have a forum similar to this one, if I knew the signal voltages of the Connect analog outputs. Sonos doesn't specify these, does anyone have any notion of what these are in fixed output mode?
PPS: Please ignore the PS, I just found out in Sonos published material that it is approximately 2V rms.
Genelec confirmed that the 2V from the Connect line outs will work perfectly.
Another question though: Delving into the world of active speakers I find that many of them are made by companies that don't have visibility in the consumer/hifi markets.
If a company had a good active studio monitor, marketing apart, what would it have to do to it to be successful in the hifi markets? Seems to me so far that all that would be needed is to dress them up to look less industrial including perhaps adding a grill for driver protection. Is that so?
The other thing about most of them is that they seem to focus on their suitability for near field listening. Does that focus make them less suitable for normal listening some distance away from the units, unless of course they are so small in size and amp power to not be able to go loud enough for that use? But many seem to have wpc in excess of what is the norm for the usual integrated stereo amp - 50/60 wpc.
What is the sound quality downside of using a studio monitor for home listening compared to a hifi active speaker of similar spec?
Check out UK based AVI, and Dynaudio's Xeo range. Active speakers for the living room.

Also the Grimm Audio LS-1s. I could easily live with a pair of these beauties. With Bruno Putzeys involvement, I know they were designed using sound engineering principles, too. Just a bit out of my budget, though. :-)

http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/grimm/room45.png
Check out UK based AVI, and Dynaudio's Xeo range. Active speakers for the livinng room.
Yes, and there are quite a few others too. But there are plenty more at a range of price points in the pro audio market that are well reviewed for their application as studio monitor, with comparable and often better specs, depending usually on price points. Many are more VFM than their hifi market equivalents.
My question is when you say for the living room, is it to do just with the way they are dressed up and look? If one can accept a slightly industrial look, there is a lot of money to be saved. Would there also be a SQ compromise - I don't know, hence the question.
Well, lots of audiophile love for the KEF LS-50s right now, which look quite "industrial" to these eyes. 😛 But then I grew up dreaming of Acoustic Research AR-3's, which I still think are hard to beat for looks,not to mention innovation.
Well, lots of audiophile love for the KEF LS-50s right now, which look quite "industrial" to these eyes. 😛
That's another matter - industrial looks to differentiate from lifestyle looks and charge a fancy premium for that. Why pay that when you can get function over form industrial looks for a lot less in the pro audio market?

What is the sound quality downside of using a studio monitor for home listening compared to a hifi active speaker of similar spec?


This is always personal, of course, but I don't usually appreciate the results when "studio" speakers are used in the home. Obviously, I have not listened to the entire universe of studio monitors, but they usually have a midrange peak that, while bugging me, is preferred by lots of studio folk. These same studio folk will criticize home speakers for being "lifeless". Some of the studio folk will rationalize this choice by pointing out that they become fatigued during a day in front of the monitors and they need a speaker that yells at them in order to be able to hear problems in the vocal range. I'll also observe that some of the control rooms are too heavily padded in the mistaken idea that a "dead" room is the best environment for mixing. In my opinion, the music in this environment sounds ... er ... "dead". Perhaps this is another reason why the studio types need a speaker that yells.
Yeah, I had a thrift store pair of the infamous Yamaha NS-10s, which a musician bought from me (at considerably more than I paid). They were anything but flat, but very widely used in studios, since some platinum-selling albums were mixed using them years ago. 😉
I have not listened to the entire universe of studio monitors, but they usually have a midrange peak that, while bugging me, is preferred by lots of studio folk. These same studio folk will criticize home speakers for being "lifeless".
That's odd and it doesn't square up with what admittedly is only research at this time.
I have understood that it is monitors that can sound lifeless because of their flat free space frequency response and it is hifi speakers that are coloured to suit listener preferences targeted by the maker.
Kumar,

The studio guys can be as bone headed as the audiophiles, and worse because the studio guys will claim "professional" and trump any outsider's opinion. I think that the studio guys learned their craft in another studio that used "monitors" and want to keep the familiar sound. (otherwise, they would need to relearn things) I don't mind that the studio guys need a certain sound in the control room in order to get good results (a good recording). Some of the studio guys insist on using "monitors" at home too, but I would not bring a pair of "monitors" home.

chicks, I agree about the NS-10's, but sometimes in a really dead control room with limited space and limited budget, NS-10's are not so bad.
Some of the studio guys insist on using "monitors" at home too, but I would not bring a pair of "monitors" home.

Interesting. So if a company was offering a hifi version of a active studio monitor, you would prefer that for more than just the looks, because it would sound better at home?
Kumar,

Again, "best" sound is personal. And, there are traditions. For example, there is a tendency to colorize old black and white films in an effort to to make them more attractive to modern audiences, but in my opinion Film Noir is not "Film Noir" if it is colorized.
Kumar,
there is a tendency to colorize old black and white films in an effort to to make them more attractive to modern audiences, but in my opinion Film Noir is not "Film Noir" if it is colorized.

Right, and that would suggest that a differently dressed up version of a monitor would meet a preference only if the monitor does.
Else one should look for an active speaker that also has a non flat free space response of the kind the play 1 has, if the preference runs on the lines of the play 1.
That is going to take some searching.
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Not going to take much searching at all. Just look at the ATC monitors.. Of course if you're trying to be cheap then they aren't the ones. But if you're looking for the real thing, nothing better.. http://www.atcloudspeakers.co.uk
Afaik, there aren't any stand/shelf mount active models in their consumer range. I need something that will sit on a shelf.
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We'll I can't recommend AVI highly enough.

http://www.avihifi.co.uk

Looks like a few other users here too.

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