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upgrading audio quality of my system

Wharfedale EVO4.1 Bookshelf Speakers

firearm12

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Hello everyone,

I am looking to upgrade the sound quality of my setup.

Source: FLACs on a NAS via Computer(Laptop) usb out
DAC: Audio-gd DAC-19
Amp: Naim Nait XS2
Speakers: Dali Mentor Menuets

I am thinking of to replace the computer/laptop a network streamer and plug its coax out to coax in of the DAC. Please suggest some good streamers and also if this would be the right way to get better sound or will it be same as through usb.
 

regeHA

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I'd start with galvanic isolation first, it can make a huge difference (did for me) or not.

Go with Optical Toslink input from laptop to DAC. You can take it one step further by borrowing either Chromecast Audio or Raspberry Pi with HiFiberry and using both wireless streaming (to the Pi or CCA) and then Toslink to the DAC.

Change in the source would be my next recommendation. Get a Pi and plug in the HDD via USB or ethernet. It will make a world of difference over a PC and/or laptop for source.

Start with these two and then take it from there... and yes they sound much better than USB.

For me (and many others) Toslink sounds the best - it achieves both galvanic isolation and lower noise floor. That alone will make your system sound twice or thrice what it costs (if it works).

After this the 3rd option would be even further isolation by using the Pi as a NAA (Network Audio Adapter) and isolating the source PC/NAS and also letting the PC do some heavy grunt work with the likes of HQPlayer. I'm using a similar setup with a NAS located in a different room and the Pi doing the "minimal" job of simply receiving audio from the NAS and outputting to the DAC.

Honestly its sonic nirvana that makes my $3000 setup sound like $6000 to $8000. I know for sure because I was auditioning for upgrades and realised I needed to upgrade my budget to really get any meaningful upgrades compared to my present setup.

PS: If the initial tests are promising then you can consider more serious upgrades like a NAS or an Auralic or Aurender for a server/streamer. Till then I'd hold off on any purchases. Streamers will offer a huge upgrade, but there are 3 (or more) paths you can take - NAS, streamer, or PC with NAA - so its better to make sure which path you want to focus on before making a purchase.
 

firearm12

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Messages
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Thanks for the suggestions. I already have a Netgear NAS storage that stores all my music and I mount the smb shares on my windows 7 laptop and play music via foobar. So far so good but I am now trying to find if I can make it more sweet sounding

Go with Optical Toslink input from laptop to DAC. You can take it one step further by borrowing either Chromecast Audio or Raspberry Pi with HiFiberry and using both wireless streaming (to the Pi or CCA) and then Toslink to the DAC.
Did some googling on raspberry pi + hifiberry digi+ that can enable receiving from NAS and to output to coax or optical. Any idea from where I can get it in india? Chromecast audio I am not sure as it doesnt have an ethernet connectivity option. which would be better sound wise?
 

regeHA

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Oct 22, 2015
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Location
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Thanks for the suggestions. I already have a Netgear NAS storage that stores all my music and I mount the smb shares on my windows 7 laptop and play music via foobar. So far so good but I am now trying to find if I can make it more sweet sounding

For starters install this addon in Foobar and stream via wireless/DLNA to any compatible device like an AVR. I found it eliminated a lot of PC noise in my setup. foobar2000: Components Repository - UPnP/DLNA Renderer, Server, Control Point.

Did some googling on raspberry pi + hifiberry digi+ that can enable receiving from NAS and to output to coax or optical. Any idea from where I can get it in india? Chromecast audio I am not sure as it doesnt have an ethernet connectivity option. which would be better sound wise?

Google Chromecast available here - https://store.google.com/product/chromecast_audio. It has inbuilt WiFi so does not need ethernet. Same for Pi 3. But you can add ethernet to CCA too - https://store.google.com/product/ethernet_adapter_for_chromecast, not sure if its available locally. I use WiFi without any issues.

Pi 3 for sale on Amazon India.

HiFiBerry you have to order from their website - https://www.hifiberry.com/.

I use CCA as transport and don't use its internal DAC. I've not heard any of the Pi DACs like HiFiBerry extensively and not in my setup. I prefer to use external DACs anyways... so cannot compare in terms of SQ. The goal here is reducing noise floor and achieving galvanic isolation via wireless and Toslink... and that will improve the existing SQ with minimal investment. I certainly don't see the need for any DAC in your case, not with the Audio-gd. Purely as a source/transport Chromecast gets my vote because I use it for a lot radio stations, streaming services like Tidal and Spotify and also podcasts. In that regard (using Toslink) I'd venture to say both Chromecast and HiFiBerry should should the same, but CCA offers more at a lesser cost.

However, like I said try with existing equipment or borrow (if you can) before going with the purchase route.
 

firearm12

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Joined
Sep 24, 2014
Messages
924
Points
93
Location
noida
For starters install this addon in Foobar and stream via wireless/DLNA to any compatible device like an AVR. I found it eliminated a lot of PC noise in my setup. foobar2000: Components Repository - UPnP/DLNA Renderer, Server, Control Point.


I dont have any DLNA compatible device like an AVR. However I checked that netgear NAS has DLNA server built in

Google Chromecast available here - https://store.google.com/product/chromecast_audio. It has inbuilt WiFi so does not need ethernet. Same for Pi 3. But you can add ethernet to CCA too - https://store.google.com/product/ethernet_adapter_for_chromecast, not sure if its available locally. I use WiFi without any issues.

Pi d3 for sale on Amazon India.

HiFiBerry you have to order from their website - https://www.hifiberry.com/.

I use CCA as transport and don't use its internal DAC. I've not heard any of the Pi DACs like HiFiBerry extensively and not in my setup. I prefer to use external DACs anyways... so cannot compare in terms of SQ. The goal here is reducing noise floor and achieving galvanic isolation via wireless and Toslink... and that will improve the existing SQ with minimal investment. I certainly don't see the need for any DAC in your case, not with the Audio-gd. Purely as a source/transport Chromecast gets my vote because I use it for a lot radio stations, streaming services like Tidal and Spotify and also podcasts. In that regard (using Toslink) I'd venture to say both Chromecast and HiFiBerry should should the same, but CCA offers more at a lesser cost.

However, like I said try with existing equipment or borrow (if you can) before going with the purchase route.

Is tidal service available in India?
 

asliarun

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You have quite a good setup that likely sounds very revealing. I've used an Audio GD DAC previously, and was really impressed by the quality of sound, but you have the PCM1704UK R2R ladder DAC, which is supposed to be one of the best there is.

Generally speaking, Audio GD's SPDIF implementation has been better than their USB (they use a good SPDIF module), so I would agree with RegeHa - the simplest upgrade you can probably do is to try optical and then coax and compare it with USB.

They also have some customization options for DAC-19 on their site. Usually, they offer opamp upgrades for many of their DACs but I don't see it for yours. Opamp upgrades makes a fair bit of difference, especially in terms of sounding more warm etc.

You can probably email kingwa directly and ask for suggestions on upgrades to your existing DAC - he is quite prompt and detailed in his reply. Perhaps he might suggest a better/different opamp too, even if it is not listed on the site!

Also, I would imagine that a setup like yours would sound quite unforgiving for bad recordings/masterings. Do try some well mastered music and see if it sounds better/different.
 

firearm12

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Sep 24, 2014
Messages
924
Points
93
Location
noida
You have quite a good setup that likely sounds very revealing. I've used an Audio GD DAC previously, and was really impressed by the quality of sound, but you have the PCM1704UK R2R ladder DAC, which is supposed to be one of the best there is.

You are quite right here. Mentor menuets sound quite bright in the setup. I love the presentation of the DAC especially in acoustic music. I dont have any issue with music itself but vocals (especially male vocals) sometimes sound harsh. I am not sure its because of resolution of the setup or source issues or because of speakers.

Generally speaking, Audio GD's SPDIF implementation has been better than their USB (they use a good SPDIF module), so I would agree with RegeHa - the simplest upgrade you can probably do is to try optical and then coax and compare it with USB.

One day I was accidentally trying different usb cables and suddenly found that the stock cable that came with the DAC sounded more warm and balanced than any other. So thought maybe it could sound different with spdif. I think I will go with RegeHA suggestion and try the chromecast audio as this seems the cheapest option.

They also have some customization options for DAC-19 on their site. Usually, they offer opamp upgrades for many of their DACs but I don't see it for yours. Opamp upgrades makes a fair bit of difference, especially in terms of sounding more warm etc.


You can probably email kingwa directly and ask for suggestions on upgrades to your existing DAC - he is quite prompt and detailed in his reply. Perhaps he might suggest a better/different opamp too, even if it is not listed on the site!

I have played extensively with jumper settings on the DAC which claim to make music more towards warm side but noticed all the settings were compromising the overall tone one way or the other. So, I am using the DAC just with with PLL off. This way it sounds most musical to me.

Also, I would imagine that a setup like yours would sound quite unforgiving for bad recordings/masterings. Do try some well mastered music and see if it sounds better/different.

I have played all kinds of music including the DALI CDs and naim sampler cds for reference but found that most vocals tend to be on sharp side and show harshness.
 

regeHA

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Oct 22, 2015
Messages
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Location
India/Singapore/US
You are quite right here. Mentor menuets sound quite bright in the setup. I love the presentation of the DAC especially in acoustic music. I dont have any issue with music itself but vocals (especially male vocals) sometimes sound harsh. I am not sure its because of resolution of the setup or source issues or because of speakers.

I have (had) similarly bright speakers in KEF. I tried many different amps but the brightness was always there. I'm all for detail and clinical accuracy, and prefer that to warm speakers that are more musical but lose the details, but I still like detail without extra brightness.

Anyways the brightness disappeared when I used a Raspberry Pi for the first time in my setup. Never ever thought that a change in source could have so much of an effect, but it did. That's one reason why I stress source separation and galvanic isolation, it made a huge difference in my setup.

I'd go as far to say don't use USB unless you have to... as in high res music over 24/96. Whatever the limitations of Toslink, the benefits and gains in SQ it offers with galvanic isolation cannot be denied and may be even worth the trade off.

Also, they are huge tweaks on the cheap. $35 for the CCA + $35 for the Pi, that's $70 in tweaks that will be better than $700 tweaks in most instances like $700 spent more on an amp, speakers, or even cables. You may or may not have similar results, but at $35 it hardly costs anything and if nothing you can always use it to stream radio. If it works then at least it will point you in the right direction of eliminating noise floor from your system.

That said, its only one end of the spectrum on improving the SQ in your existing setup.

Amps are often neglected, but going from a $800 to a $1800 amp made my speakers sing unlike anything. They raised the bar on my speakers like 3x.

Then I plugged a Yggy into my system and man it was a revelation. Unfortunately I could only have it for 2 days, so it was not enough time to listen to all of my music "for the first time" again.

I'd venture to say the tweaking is never ending... but thankfully we can have most of them without costing an arm or a leg.
 
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