Sonos Connect causing ground loop buzz

  • 13 February 2018
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61 replies

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The entire concept of HiFi separates where one can pick and choose the system components from different makes is not something any make is happy about, but this way of ensuring that this does not happen to them seems drastic and even unscrupulous.

That's a bit of a stretch of the old imagination, if you don't mind me saying. I already had the Naim CD player in mind way back when I started auditioning amps, and asked the guys at the shop to keep me in mind when it went ex-demo (hence bringing the price down a bit and avoiding the risk of buying a second-hand one via eBay). So there's no unscrupulousness going on - the piece of kit I was going to buy became available roughly on schedule, and managed to solve a problem which has so far baffled everyone.

And it all sounds fantastic.
I am certainly not saying that the guys at the shop indulged in any sharp practice.

And if the sound is fantastic, it is a four way win - for you, the shop owner, Naim and Sonos. Which can only be a good thing:-).
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I am certainly not saying that the guys at the shop indulged in any sharp practice.

And if the sound is fantastic, it is a four way win - for you, the shop owner, Naim and Sonos. Which can only be a good thing:-).


With you on that one! I'm just listening to stuff I've had for 20-30 years or more and finding new details and clarity all over the place. Crucially, the Connect sounds pretty damn fine through this system (especially without that infernal buzzing!).

The CM1s are excellent little speakers and definitely sound rejuvenated with the new arrivals, so I'll take my time and keep an ear out for anything that might be an improvement. I'll keep your advice re. hi fi shop snake oil in mind, though..!

I'll definitely put the Harbeths at the top of the audition list with the Spendors. Bearing in mind something you mentioned earlier, do you really think there's little advantage in floor-standers over stand-mounted speakers? I've always gone for stand-mounts from a budget and space perspective, so I don't have any practical experience with floor-standers.
I have found that not only are floor standers more expensive for just the cabinetry needed to reach down to the floor, but they often suffer from bass bloat. And if you see a Harbeth SHL 5 in the flesh, you will see that it is not the average stand mounter in size. Neither are some stand mounted Spendors I know of. Even the smaller Harbeth C7s are large speakers.

But when spending on expensive speakers like Harbeth/Spendors, let the shop earn its profit in full by allowing you to audition the speaker you like in the shop, at home in its designated listening place for a day or two before finally buying it. Because the sound that any speaker delivers is a function of how it interacts with the room. And to a lesser extent, with the amp that is driving it. The other reason for this is that speaker preferences are also subjective and only at home will you know how it will sound in the home, to be sure it ticks that box.

Doing this will allow you to make sure that the expense becomes an investment.
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I had a listen to the Spendor A4 floor standers and they were very impressive compared to the B&Ws - but, as you say, a lot depends on how they'd transfer to my own listening space. The next purchase is some way off now, so I've got plenty of time to research, audition and try things out at home.

Thanks a lot for your advice - it's been a pleasure chatting with you. I feel a bit guilty that more of it hasn't been about Sonos since we're in the Sonos forum... :)

Cheers!
At this time I also suggest you give Apple Music a test drive via Connect. You may need to turn up the volume control a tad to get the same sound levels as CD, but you may then be surprised at how little if any is the difference in sound quality obtained.
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I'm hoping to give the Connect a good workout tomorrow. To be honest, I've tended to use it more as a 'background listening' tool, so it'll be interesting to compare the quality from the various services - I mainly use Spotify and Apple Music, and very occasionally Amazon Music. Have you found much difference between them? I used Deezer for a while, but wasn't overly impressed (lots of tracks cutting off before they were finished etc).
I would be surprised if there is a difference, I just happen to be more of an apple music user.

For a day try this: pretend you don't have any CDs and listen to apple music as you would to a CD. Turn the volume up a little to compensate for the slightly undervolt signal output level of the Connect. Listen this way also to albums you have on CD, and see what you find on the sound quality front.
The next purchase is some way off now, so I've got plenty of time to research, audition and try things out at home.

That is a good space to be in so what follows ought to be useful to search your way to the answers via Google.

Note that what follows is based on a personal journey to where I now am with music and audio kit - so what follows is valid and invalid in equal parts! And no audiophile and almost no HiFi shop will agree with much of the following because it cuts their margins and even reasons to exist.

First, before buying any more kit to support what you have consider this: While an excellent set up, the Naim+B&W is essentially decades old tech that has stagnated and is obsolete. Changing speakers to better ones will improve the sound, but only to the extent allowed by this tech and at a higher price. Fyi, the speakers used for this set up are known as passive speakers - ones that need an external amplifier to drive them. Adding a Connect to this set up does bring it up to date in terms of features and music access, but does not confer the other benefits of tech progress of the last decade or so.

Research and consider instead active speakers/active crossovers that represent the state of the art. These are speakers that have built in amplification, often a dedicated amplifier to the needs of each driver in the box. For instance the same box may have a 50 watt amp for the tweeter and a 200 watt amp for the woofer because of the different energy needs of the two units to deliver a given sound level. Active crossovers handle the separation of the signals between the two drive units before the signal is amplified, allowing for state of the art tech to be deployed in the process.

Not many traditional HiFi makes have active speakers in their portfolio - neither Harbeth nor Spendor does. One well known name that has been doing this for a long time is ATC. Dynaudio also now has an excellent range of active speakers. With a pair of active speakers and a NAS that contains ripped copies of all the music on now obsolete CDs, all you need to add to them is access to the NAS and to the much wider world of quality music available on the net. So if you had a pair of quality active speakers, all you would need to get the sound quality you get today in addition to the said NAS is a Connect wired to each of the two speakers. No other wires except the mains wires to all units, and no other boxes of kit.

Both makes named offer active speakers that are expensive, but no more expensive than an equivalent pair of passive speakers + the external electronics needed to drive them. But that is if you want to remain in the gentlemen's club of pipes and slippers - the wood veneer for the speakers and the fancy cabinets for the electronics. The same sound quality is obtained for less than half the price of this kit in the world of pro audio that is functional and carries an industrial look. Because the pros don't care for veneer that only damages their return on investment. This is a huge market that is a lot more competitive with names like JBL, Adam, Genelec to name just a few. As an example of a speaker pair that will give you sound that is very good indeed is the JBL LSR 308. For about 10% of the price of HiFi kit, they will do more than 80% of what that kit will do. And by paying a little more but not more than 25%, you can get the same sound quality. Industrial looks of course, there is that.

Finally on the subject of active speakers, every Sonos speaker made is of that kind. Even the little play 1, with two amplifiers for each driver. While the play 5 has as many as six amplifiers inside each box for each driver. With DSP that includes tuning of the speaker's sound to the responses of the unique room it is placed in and bass and treble controls that allow for further tweaking. The Naim on the other hand has no tone controls, so the only way to cope with room acoustic effects is to tailor these by adding stuff to the room. Or by playing around with speaker placement. Both routes do not offer the same degree of freedom to customise the sound compared to an amp that has tone controls - leave alone one with room response tuning DSP of the kind Sonos has. And of course, with Sonos play 1 units, even the Connect box becomes redundant. Except if you must have active speakers that have even more money spent on how they look, and with more power to fill larger spaces loudly than any Sonos play unit will; in such cases a Connect with a pair of these is the way to go.

To summarise: well implemented active tech will deliver the same sound quality as the best passive tech at a much lower price and will deliver much better sound quality than passive tech of the same price. Except of course when the price point is so high that the law of marginal returns kicks in. And active tech will always have the advantage of drastically reducing messy cables, and have a smaller footprint by not having so many boxes of kit that need space for keeping them.

The other thing to discover, that is easily done at home with what you have on hand, is the explosion in the amount of cheap well recorded music available on the net, compared to what the largest of CD collections can provide - if you can escape the trap of thinking that just because it is so easily available and is cheap compared to buying CDs, it is not good for anything more than background listening. Over five years ago, I finished the ripping of about 1500 CDs to my NAS, and in time added about 500 more via iTunes downloaded purchases. Now, I hardly use even the 20,000 tracks filled NAS; the music services are used over 90% of the time. A no brainer that - Apple Music has some 45 million tracks, as does every other mainstream service.
Ted, I have sent you a long post via PM since the Sonos Roomba ate it up mistaking it for spam.

More entertainment on the spam subject here, if you want some laughs: https://en.community.sonos.com/new-community-feedback-229090/new-spam-6798989/index2.html#post16207785
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I don’t know if it has been mentioned yet, but I got rid of the hum by wiring up the outer of the digital output coax (of the Sonos Connect) to the Earth pin of a regular mains plug. I did it years ago when I heard about the floating earth issue, anyway, the long and short is that it works, it hasn’t harmed the connect in 4 years, and hum is gone.