Deciding on a DAC and Sonos connection for an audiophile room


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I mostly use Sonos for multi-room ambient sound. But I am trying to build a hi fi room that is connected to my Sonos. I would like to play lossless files stored on my computer (computer located in a room remote from the prospective hi fi room), managed by iTunes (perhaps with Amarra or another player add-on) and appreciate that a DAC would likely improve the signal that any ZP 90 (Connect) sends to my integrated amp. So, here's my question: With the Sonos system limited to 16/44 resolution, why bother with the newer and expensive high end DACs that have asynchronous 24/192 USB ports etc... Isn't the ZP 90 a limiting component in the chain from computer to amp? I was also wondering if it would make sense to run a CAT 6 ethernet cable from the router feeding the Bridge near my computer directly to the Connect rather than having the Connect pull in the digital bits "over the air" (or maybe this is where Sonos folks jump in and talk about sonos' "bit perfect" transmission so the real focus should be on the DACs ability to eliminate jitter and do its other "magic)?

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If you are satisfied that the three items referred above are in good shape, then it is time to think of a DAC between the zp90 and the amp. To make any difference, it will have to be an expensive DAC, the Sonos DAC is itself quite decent. Before buying the DAC, I suggest you audition at home, level matching volume as best as you can before making a comparison. Louder always sounds better in quality, even if the db difference is marginal. It is quite easy to be fooled into thinking that the new DAC is delivering better sound, when all it may be doing is getting the amp to sound louder at the same volume setting.

For the record, a small correction to the above: I now doubt that even a more expensive DAC will make an audible difference to the sound quality, provided the level matching is done, and psychological bias eliminated via blind testing.
Of course more expensive/external DACs may come with sound customisation options allowing for better sound, but that is not down any lack in the Connect DAC, and an apples to apple comparison then involves more than just the basic DAC performance.
I am glad things worked out for you; others visiting this old thread in the future may want to read all of it for a more complete analysis.
[quote=Kumar]So, here's my question: With the Sonos system limited to 16/44 resolution, why bother with the newer and expensive high end DACs that have asynchronous 24/192 USB ports etc... Isn't the ZP 90 a limiting component in the chain from computer to amp? I was also wondering if it would make sense to run a CAT 6 ethernet cable from the router feeding the Bridge near my computer directly to the Connect rather than having the Connect pull in the digital bits "over the air" (or maybe this is where Sonos folks jump in and talk about sonos' "bit perfect" transmission so the real focus should be on the DACs ability to eliminate jitter and do its other "magic)?

No, the zp90 is not the limiting factor to the quality of the sound you will hear.
For hifi sound the limiting factors these days, not in any order of importance, tend to be:
1. Quality of the original performance and its mastering to the CD from which you have ripped the music in lossless.
2. Quality of your speakers
3. Speaker positioning and room acoustics.
Get the above right, and you are addressing 90% - maybe more - of the subject.

Hi res music is a gimmick. The only time it sounds better is when the mastering of the source material is done with greater care than for the regular CD. Which isn't to say that all regular CDs are poorly mastered.

Running a wire from the bridge to the Connect is not required for sound quality, but to eliminate interruptions if your house isn't Sonosnet/wifi friendly. I assume that the computer is wired to the router for streaming the music it contains. You might think of introducing a NAS that is so wired, allowing you to not have the computer on just for music replay.

If you are satisfied that the three items referred above are in good shape, then it is time to think of a DAC between the zp90 and the amp. To make any difference, it will have to be an expensive DAC, the Sonos DAC is itself quite decent. Before buying the DAC, I suggest you audition at home, level matching volume as best as you can before making a comparison. Louder always sounds better in quality, even if the db difference is marginal. It is quite easy to be fooled into thinking that the new DAC is delivering better sound, when all it may be doing is getting the amp to sound louder at the same volume setting.

Good luck!
[quote=TheOtherMe]You guys will be telling me that the digital interconnects will make a difference to the sound next........

Why would we say that? Its a completely different argument. I do NOT agree

In My setup with NAS, Ripped CD in Flac. Sonos zp90, Rotel AMP and B&W speakers. I was vers disapointed with the Sound. I put a rather Cambridge magic DAC in bypassing zp90 DAC. That made a huge difference. So My conclusion is that the Sonos DAC is a weak point. I wish Sonos would marked a ZP90 hi-fi version At a bit higher price
Adding my penny's worth and would appreciate any feedback. Although I've had Sonos for a couple of years this is the first time I've tried to compare WAV with CD playback. I tested a newly ripped CD to WAV through the Connect vs the same CD in my old Arcam CD82. Same amp & speakers. The differences are 1. the Connect's cables to amp are the Sonos supplied cables vs some reasonable quality cables on the CD82, 2. The Connect goes into the line input and the CD into dedicated CD input on an old Roksan Kandy3. The CD was ripped using dbpoweramp default settings for WAV. The Connect is set 'uncompressed' and line-out is 'fixed'.
I immediately noticed differences between Connect and CD82 for the same track - switching sources on the amp. The volume level coming out of the speakers is the same. However, the CD82 source has more detail on the instruments and bass and mid-range is more distinct, giving a more dynamic. These are not night&day differences, but I hear them. I tried other tracks with very different characteristics and the same basic differences remain. I have yet to switch cables to exclude them as the culprit - if the sound differences follow the cables that's an easy fix. I have no idea on the difference between the amp's CD & line input circuitry and I would hope (fairly certain) this isn't the source of the differences heard.
If it's not the cables, then the decision for me is relatively straight forward as my investment in Sonos kit is relatively small.
Be sure to use a pad under the rug.

Also, heavy drape liners can help, along with a pad behind a tapestry.
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As thick a one as you can get hold of will serve better than thin ones. Where you place it also makes a difference.

Good call 🙂
still need to find a decent rug though!
As thick a one as you can get hold of will serve better than thin ones. Where you place it also makes a difference.
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Some good advice from Kumar there.



Agreed. In fact the equipment vendors would like you to think that everything can be solved by buying upgraded kit when, the reality is, most of the problems people have with audio are down to room acoustics, speaker placement, etc. which definitely will not be solved by buying higher-end kit.

The possible exception to that is Digital Room Correction (DRC) which can solve some problems, but not all.

Acoustics can be tricky. As kumar said, bass is particularly difficult to deal with as it's not readily absorbed and tends to build up in specific places in your room. And I agree, experimenting with speaker placement is probably the best starting point.

Cheers,

Keith


Thanks chaps, I had the tape-measure out over the weekend... still need to find a decent rug though!
Some good advice from Kumar there.

Sure:). Home Audio - it is easy to throw money on solutions to non existent problems, while losing sight of the ones that are present. Been there, done a lot of that.

Agreed. In fact the equipment vendors would like you to think that everything can be solved by buying upgraded kit when, the reality is, most of the problems people have with audio are down to room acoustics, speaker placement, etc. which definitely will not be solved by buying higher-end kit.

The possible exception to that is Digital Room Correction (DRC) which can solve some problems, but not all.

Acoustics can be tricky. As kumar said, bass is particularly difficult to deal with as it's not readily absorbed and tends to build up in specific places in your room. And I agree, experimenting with speaker placement is probably the best starting point.

Cheers,

Keith
much appreciated.

Sure:). Home Audio - it is easy to throw money on solutions to non existent problems, while losing sight of the ones that are present. Been there, done a lot of that.
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In that case, the first thing to do is to see if you can improve the room acoustics. Mostly involves filling up the room to reduce reflected sound - carpets, curtains, book filled bookshelves, upholstered furniture and the like. The other thing is to not have the speakers too close to the walls/corners. While there is probably no reason to change speakers, floor standers can sometimes deliver more bass than the room can accommodate without loss of the all important midrange sound quality. Very little that room acoustic solutions can address, low bass energy is very hard to eliminate, in most cases dialling down the bass on the eq control is the only answer for such situations.
Look to change speakers only if none of the above makes significant improvements.
Try out DACs, but be sure not to be fooled by the louder is better thing - how will you ensure that sound levels are matched to within 0.1 dB? Without doing that, comparisons will give incorrect results. Unless you just like the look of an extra box.


Thanks Kumar -you're a wealth of information, much appreciated.
New rug and or house.. its time 😉
they sound incredible.. but acoustically his room is better than mine.

Very keen to try out a DAC though to see if any enhancements to Sonos, need to get one on loan from a local dealer.

In that case, the first thing to do is to see if you can improve the room acoustics. Mostly involves filling up the room to reduce reflected sound - carpets, curtains, book filled bookshelves, upholstered furniture and the like. The other thing is to not have the speakers too close to the walls/corners. While there is probably no reason to change speakers, floor standers can sometimes deliver more bass than the room can accommodate without loss of the all important midrange sound quality. Very little that room acoustic solutions can address, low bass energy is very hard to eliminate, in most cases dialling down the bass on the eq control is the only answer for such situations.
Look to change speakers only if none of the above makes significant improvements.
Try out DACs, but be sure not to be fooled by the louder is better thing - how will you ensure that sound levels are matched to within 0.1 dB? Without doing that, comparisons will give incorrect results. Unless you just like the look of an extra box.
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Speakers are certainly your biggest sound enhancer per buck spent. I would however argue that differences in dacs/cables gear is not small though. Audio is certainly filled with prejudices and preferences, after all....we all don't have the same ears, or wallet for that matter.

Any recommendations for upgrading my speakers? I have this setup but in a very small room: Rotel RC-1550 Pre-amp, Rotel RB-1562 2-channel power-amp & Mordaunt Short Aviano 6 Floorstanders (bi-wired).. my Dad has a set of PSB Image T6 speakers through a Denon amp and they sound incredible.. but acoustically his room is better than mine.

Very keen to try out a DAC though to see if any enhancements to Sonos, need to get one on loan from a local dealer.
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First thing is to set the sonos to Fixed output.

Cheers for the tip, did give this a try but missed the remote control volume too much 😞
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Upgraded speakers will almost always give you more bang-for-buck than any other component (with the possible exception of acoustic room treatments).

A lot of people believe that R&D has reached the point where the differences between components like cables, DACs and even amplifiers are now vanishingly small. That's an area of intense debate.

But one thing everyone agrees on is that we haven't got close to that point with acoustics and speakers.

Cheers,

Keith


Thanks Keith. We have floorboards so probably not ideal, considering getting a rug for in front of speakers. Room size is 3300 x 2900 mm, any acoustic tips for a small room or should I consider getting rid of the floor-standers and replacing with some quality bookshelf speakers on stands? Cheers
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Upgraded speakers will almost always give you more bang-for-buck than any other component (with the possible exception of acoustic room treatments).

A lot of people believe that R&D has reached the point where the differences between components like cables, DACs and even amplifiers are now vanishingly small. That's an area of intense debate.

But one thing everyone agrees on is that we haven't got close to that point with acoustics and speakers.

Cheers,

Keith


Speakers are certainly your biggest sound enhancer per buck spent. I would however argue that differences in dacs/cables gear is not small though. Audio is certainly filled with prejudices and preferences, after all....we all don't have the same ears, or wallet for that matter.
Cheers Keith, some very handy pointers. I'm starting to think my money would be better spent on new speakers or another toy ;)

Upgraded speakers will almost always give you more bang-for-buck than any other component (with the possible exception of acoustic room treatments).

A lot of people believe that R&D has reached the point where the differences between components like cables, DACs and even amplifiers are now vanishingly small. That's an area of intense debate.

But one thing everyone agrees on is that we haven't got close to that point with acoustics and speakers.

Cheers,

Keith
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On the subject of DACs, I'd like to put in a plug for Cyrus products.

They make standalone DACs but I've got one of their integrated DAC/amps to save on an extra box.

The DAC has got digital inputs from my Sonos Connect, TV, AppleTV and PS3 going into it.

I've connected the AppleTV and PS3 so I can listen to audio from these sources when the TV is turned off. I occasionally listen to CDs using the PS3 before deciding to rip them.

The Recording output from the Cyrus DAC/amp goes into the analogue input of the Sonos Connect so I can listen to the other sources using Sonos players in other rooms.

I need to remember to never to create a feedback loop with Sonos Connect input selected on the DAC and analogue input selected on the Sonos Connect. I've never done it but suspect it wouldn't be good...

As to sound quality, I did a listening test years and years ago on a Cyrus amp and thought it sounded good, so stuck with them when I upgraded to the DAC/amp and I still think it sounds good but I haven't done any comparative listening with other products.

I could have bought an AV Receiver to connect all the sources, but it would be a bit of a hassle to put in surround speakers in the room and it seems like a waste to have an AV Receiver and just use it for stereo.
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If your down under, look for a used Burson, local brand down there and also a very good analog sound to it.

Cheers -they look like a good build.
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Some shops will let you audition kit either in their own listening room, or even borrow it to try in your home.

Of course, you would need to find a shop willing to do this. Depending on where you live that may not be easy or possible. And even then trying to create a fair environment for testing is quite tough, especially if the shop sets it up and is keen on selling you an expensive DAC.

The other problem you have is that the Internet abounds with people giving you their personal about this or that DAC (and there tends to be a correlation between their view of how good it is and how much you need to pay).

Ultimately it's down to you as to who you believe:

Do you believe the sales guy who stands to benefit from you buying a more expensive system?

Do you believe the review in the magazine that relies on advertising by the equipment vendors?

Do you believe a previous purchaser who might be indulging in post-purchase rationalization?

Do you believe an audiophile who could be experiencing cognitive bias based on their brand preferences, susceptibility to high-end marketing, or general belief system?

Do you consider it possible that there is a genuine and significant differences between these systems?

Unfortunately for you, if you purchase something there's no guarantees it will sound better. Moreover, none of the recommendations anyone give you are, frankly, worth a great deal in real terms, as none of us have anything to lose by offering them.

Equally, there's no guarantee that the Sonos CONNECT built-in DAC will sound as good as an expensive outboard DAC. However, it's not a zero-sum game: any option that involves an outboard DAC will cost you more money unless you can borrow one to audition.

Whether you want to spend money on the off-chance that some random Internet strangers might be right is up to you. But, if it was me, I wouldn't spend a significant amount of money for this sort of thing without the ability to audition or trial the equipment myself, in conditions I could control. I simply wouldn't have the confidence in there being enough of a difference to warrant the financial commitment.

It might be worth checking on audition/returns policies for suppliers near you.

Cheers,

Keith


Cheers Keith, some very handy pointers. I'm starting to think my money would be better spent on new speakers or another toy 😉
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Ah, ok - these carry analogue and not digital content, I had missed that. Hopefully the new ones weren't expensive, because you would probably have obtained the same results by a thorough cleaning of the connectors of the old ones with a solvent to get rid of accumulated oxidation that degrades connection integrity and thus, signal quality. Only in rare cases is the fault due to the cable core.

It was a cable I already owned and was hooked up to my 'Foxtel' box not even being used. Thanks for the tip re cleaning the cables though -I'll keep that in mind.
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If your down under, look for a used Burson, local brand down there and also a very good analog sound to it.
Hard to do a blind test without committing to purchase :(

Some shops will let you audition kit either in their own listening room, or even borrow it to try in your home.

Of course, you would need to find a shop willing to do this. Depending on where you live that may not be easy or possible. And even then trying to create a fair environment for testing is quite tough, especially if the shop sets it up and is keen on selling you an expensive DAC.

The other problem you have is that the Internet abounds with people giving you their personal about this or that DAC (and there tends to be a correlation between their view of how good it is and how much you need to pay).

Ultimately it's down to you as to who you believe:

Do you believe the sales guy who stands to benefit from you buying a more expensive system?

Do you believe the review in the magazine that relies on advertising by the equipment vendors?

Do you believe a previous purchaser who might be indulging in post-purchase rationalization?

Do you believe an audiophile who could be experiencing cognitive bias based on their brand preferences, susceptibility to high-end marketing, or general belief system?

Do you consider it possible that there is a genuine and significant differences between these systems?

Unfortunately for you, if you purchase something there's no guarantees it will sound better. Moreover, none of the recommendations anyone give you are, frankly, worth a great deal in real terms, as none of us have anything to lose by offering them.

Equally, there's no guarantee that the Sonos CONNECT built-in DAC will sound as good as an expensive outboard DAC. However, it's not a zero-sum game: any option that involves an outboard DAC will cost you more money unless you can borrow one to audition.

Whether you want to spend money on the off-chance that some random Internet strangers might be right is up to you. But, if it was me, I wouldn't spend a significant amount of money for this sort of thing without the ability to audition or trial the equipment myself, in conditions I could control. I simply wouldn't have the confidence in there being enough of a difference to warrant the financial commitment.

It might be worth checking on audition/returns policies for suppliers near you.

Cheers,

Keith
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Hi Shanan,

I'd try and borrow a couple from a local dealer if you can.

I've used numerous Dac's with the connect, all were an improvement.

Since you're in Australia I suspect most of the options available to you will be European? I'd try out a Rega, Arcam, Cambridge Audio.. I'm sure there's a few others you could get your hands on.

I found this link, might be helpful Down Under :-)
http://australianhifiassociation.com
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What are you using for DAC with the Connect?
I was looking at Arcam or NAD..


I'm using a Cary Xciter dac, I chose that basically for it's more analog sound and a used price point in the 500 buck range.

Granted, it's run into some good stuff too. If your just listening on super small bookshelf speakers, Sonos speakers, it will be harder to discern differences. 90% of everyone I know with a Sonos, or Squeezebox use an outboard dac to improve on the sound.

Which to use ? Depends on your budget and sound preferences. Some that are popular are W4S dacs, Cambridge, Musical fidelity, Cary, Arcam, Chord, Audio-GD, PS Audio.

The PS Audio digital link 3 is an older version but still stellar dac that runs around 400 bucks on the used markets. Lots of choices, all depends on your needs, type of files you want to play, and sound you like.....or don't like.

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