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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152 replies

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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 😞
Userlevel 2
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.
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.
Userlevel 2
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 😉
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.
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
Userlevel 2
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!
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.
Userlevel 2
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 🙂
Be sure to use a pad under the rug.

Also, heavy drape liners can help, along with a pad behind a tapestry.
[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.
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.

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.
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!
Since you are familiar with Sonos, you know about the net as a music source - play some of the good streams in your hifi room and you will be surprised to see how good they sound. Linn radio at 320k is an example, and there are many others that stream at just 192k and sound as good as lossless CDs.

If they are streaming well mastered music, even though the stream isn't the technical equivalent of lossless CDs, let alone hi res, you will get very good sound from that source too, giving you a wide open window to lots of new music.
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... 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" ?

I think you will find that 16 bit is as good as any audiophile needs... take a look at this expensive high-end £11,500 DAC which is only 16 bit using the simplest of DAC chips... http://www.rightnote.co.uk/products.asp?cID=59 as a fine example of that.

I too was hesitant when comparing the Sonos with the SBT as an alternative streamer, because the SBT accommodates 24 bit - but don't worry about it.

The only other issue is the apparent superiority of a well implemented async. USB connection compared with S/PDIF DAC - you will only have the option to connect via S/PDIF using the Sonos which I am sure is still not a problem.

The only other issue is the apparent superiority of a well implemented async. USB connection compared with S/PDIF DAC - you will only have the option to connect via S/PDIF using the Sonos which I am sure is still not a problem.

Just for my continuing education on the subject: Isn't a USB connection required only when connecting the computer by wire to the DAC? If so, how would the OP do this across rooms anyway?
I think you will find that 16 bit is as good as any audiophile needs... take a look at this expensive high-end £11,500 DAC which is only 16 bit using the simplest of DAC chips...
In fact this article asserts that hires is not only unnecessary but could also be detrimental: http://people.xiph.org/~xiphmont/demo/neil-young.html
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I too am considering a DAC.
I understand all the part about speaker positioning etc - but my conundrum is as follows:

Although there is nothing wrong with the sound I get - it is not as good as through my 15 year old CD player.

If i did not have the CD player then I'm sure i would be happy with what I have - but having been used to the sound from that i want to try match it.

My CD collection has been ripped to FLAC so the src is the same.
The amp and speakers are the same - so that only leaves the DAC of the Sonos connect - (or am i missing something?)


I guess it's like a £279 CD player v a £500 one and the DAC included in them.

Although there is nothing wrong with the sound I get - it is not as good as through my 15 year old CD player.
My CD collection has been ripped to FLAC so the src is the same.
The amp and speakers are the same - so that only leaves the DAC of the Sonos connect - (or am i missing something?)
I guess it's like a £279 CD player v a £500 one and the DAC included in them.

No, you are not missing anything, and they should certainly sound the same. And given that price points are similar, all the more reason.

Is Sonos set to uncompressed streaming? I am not sure it always makes an audible difference, just part of the elimination process, this question.

PS: Given that nothing in your system is changing other than the Connect replacing the CDP, feeding the same input sockets of the amp, the only other reason I see for the CDP sounding better is that it must be delivering a higher voltage signal to the amp, leading to a little louder sound at the same volume setting of the amp, leading you to think it sounds better. And just a small db increase from the speakers is all it takes for this effect to kick in. It is very hard to make a A to B comparison, compensating for this reason, my suggestion is to recalibrate in your mind the volume control knob setting on the amp, and spend the money saved on the DAC on other more useful stuff:-)
Is Sonos set to uncompressed streaming?

The uncompressed setting only applies to Line-In. Network-sourced .flac's are delivered to the players in their natural state, where they're decoded back to the 16/44 bitstream.
The uncompressed setting only applies to Line-In. Network-sourced .flac's are delivered to the players in their natural state, where they're decoded back to the 16/44 bitstream.
I did not know this. Are you sure? I ask because one of the things Sonos support asked me to resolve some streaming issues from my bridge was to try using the compressed setting. The solution lay elsewhere finally, but this was one attempt. Although to be honest, maybe this referred to the setting on the Sonos Dock, I can't recollect now, after a year.
spend the money saved on the DAC on other more useful stuff:-)

With reference to the above, I recommend good wine. You will be surprised how much better music sounds after:) Or, get a play 3 or 5 to extend the music to more of your home.

Another thing to see is if your amp volume is set so high that you are playing the Connect with its volume set low, which can impact sound quality. Using the fixed output on the Connect is one answer, but then you lose the volume control on the Sonos controller. A via media is to set the amp volume such that it is at your normal listening levels with the Connect volume set close to 90%. This still leaves you with a plus minus 10% volume control via Sonos, without audible impact on the sound quality.
one of the things Sonos support asked me to resolve some streaming issues from my bridge was to try using the compressed setting.
It would have been the Dock. The compression setting only relates to Line-In and the Dock (which is kind of a smart Line-In).

For other music streams the client is the target Player (where all decode/processing occurs), with any intermediate Sonos units just acting as network bridges.