Another BRIDGE II Success Story


#1

Some history here, I’ve had a BII since it’s inception, but never really got on with it. Here is why:

  • I despise DLNA, I have tried pretty much every controller out there, and personally, I do not like the experience - especially after being spoiled with Roon for the past few years
  • When RAAT was first available to the BII (if my memory serves correctly, it was circa March or April of last year) ROON streaming to the BII didn't sound as good as DLNA
    • FYI: RAAT is Roon's network audio protocoll
  • Neither DLNA or RAAT sounded even close to my dual custom PC running JPLAY with Roon Bridge
  • The JPLAY setup started to become unstable - this was due to the PPA USB controller and battery power supply kicking the bucket after about three years of use
  • Last April I decided to simplify
  • I read a great deal about HQPLAYER and uRendu - plus Jesus is a great guy that I have owned previous products from so I figured why not!
  • I also happened to have a NUFORCE 9/15 V Toroid Linear Power supply that I could re-purpose with the uRendu
  • RAAT to the uRendu also did not sound as convincing as JPLAY, but HQPLAYER to the uRendu did! - by a far margin (even without over-sampling).
So as of circa May 2016 my reference sound was Roon Core Server (on custom Windows 2012 R2 server), uRendu connected to 9V LPC, USB (via Wireworld Platinum USB) to the PS Direct Stream DAC, but NOT using RAAT, instead using the HQPLAYER engine. ALL WAS GOOD...

…until 3 things happened:

  • Upgrade of DAC to Huron
  • Upgrade of BRIDGE II to accommodate MQA (I really could care less about MQA)
  • and I was bored one night, so decided to install ROCK (ROON Core Kit) on the hardware that was running Windows Server 2012 R2 box)
    • It so turns out that the chip-set I have in my server is near identical to what is on most of the supported Intel NUCs so I was in luck - full support (from the base Linux OS for my hardware)
    • I also happened to have a spare SSD kicking around so I could preserve my existing set up should something go wrong
    • For full transparency ROCK is not officially supported on anything other than certain Intel NUC boards
I also pay attention to the release notes of ROON, and over the past year they have made changes / bug fixes / enhancements to both RAAT, and the server itself. I thought to myself, why not test this again to see how things sound. I completed the following tests:
  • RAAT to B2 with latest (MQA Enabled) firmware
  • DLNA to B2 (latest MQA enabled firmware)
  • RAAT to uRendu (with LPS) (version 2.5 of uRendu)
  • HQPLAYER to uRendu (with LPS) (also version 2.5)
Guess what changed after several iterations of these tests? My preference was now RAAT to the B2. To be clear, the differences between RAAT to B2 and RAAT to uRendu with LPS are VERY SMALL, but still noticeable. The B2 had the slight upper hand with space around, between, and behind instruments. Least preferable was DLNA. HQPLAYER to uRendu (in comparison to RAAT ) sounded slightly veiled (again minuscule, but still perceivable) - part of this may be the differences with Huron over Tories - don't know, but my preferences have changed, and this was on repeated listening on different days.

Next up - “how do I take this to the next level”? Well - I could implement network isolation with TP Link Copper to SM Fiber devices, I could spend a wack of $$$ on expensive Ethernet cables, or I could simplify. There is a ton of information on the internet around signal integrity mostly around USB, but also around Ethernet, and this makes sense to the computer scientist in me - it isn’t the data that is the problem, it is the noise on the Ethernet, or the switch, the signal integrity - and my belief is that this is what we hear when we try different USB or Ethernet cables - we are hearing the results of better or worse signal integrity.

Lots has been written here and over at Computer Audiophile about the use of LPS for Ethernet switches, and since I have a perfectly good 9V linear - I figured why the heck not. Please note that most (if not all of my home) is wired with tested CAT 6A cables that are shielded, and I have never had an issue with dropouts, noise, or ticks. I was not expecting any improvement from what I did next, but what happened, ABSOLUTELY FLOORED ME!

Powering this TP-Link 8- port switch via the NuForce 9V LPS running into a Monster Power HTS 5100 MK 2 (power line conditioner), plugged into a dedicated 15 amp line with a PS Audio Ultimate Outlet) has made an improvement in my digital playback that is ON PAR with the change from Tories to Huron! THERE I SAID IT :wink:

Its that good! If any of you are streaming to the B2 and you REALLY want to hear what this thing is capable of sounding like - do this! Clean up your network, power the switch via a good linear power supply, isolate the AC that the network sits on, and run properly tested CAT 6A cables.

I am only reporting this because I was ready to write all this off as nonsense - not now! I know others have reported on the advantages of proper network isolation or powering your switch with a good LPS, but this is real, and one of the least expensive tweaks you can do. The switch retails for something like $50 CAD (its less in the US), and a decent LPS can be had for $200 - $300. I think doing the isolation (via single mode fiber) is also good, but then you need to look at replacing two power supplies instead of one.

What did I hear:

  • Silence - a new level of blackness
  • Proper brashness - especially on cymbals and brass instruments - the type of brightness that exists in real life -versus a forced replica
  • Space - yes - everything seems spaced apart slightly, less strained
  • Base - seems deeper (but this may be harder for me to quantify)
So in my system the change in improvement was on par with the change in DS Firmware! The B2 is now my reference connection to the DS DAC, and I am certain that due to the clean power and proper cabling on my network, this would be on par (or very very close) to the DMP. We need to remember that the B2 is essentially an Ethernet to I2S converter - bypassing USB and an extra device in the mix.

Am I happy? - HELLS YES - I am hoping that this article will help convince others to take a look at their network, and do something similar :slight_smile:

Thanks

Lou


#2

Well done Lou! I’m thinking I’m getting significant improvements in running optical fiber in between my switch and Mac Mini and then running a “bridged” ethernet connection directly to the DS Sr with Cat7 cable. I’m routinely taken aback at how good things sound now. For this first time I’m thinking that digital is approaching my vinyl rig in terms of SQ - and I LOVE my vinyl rig! I wish I could do a direct compare with yours versus mine so I could see if changing my switch and LPS would improve things at all.


#3
amgradmd said

Well done Lou! I’m thinking I’m getting significant improvements in running optical fiber in between my switch and Mac Mini and then running a “bridged” ethernet connection directly to the DS Sr with Cat7 cable. I’m routinely taken aback at how good things sound now. For this first time I’m thinking that digital is approaching my vinyl rig in terms of SQ - and I LOVE my vinyl rig! I wish I could do a direct compare with yours versus mine so I could see if changing my switch and LPS would improve things at all.


Thanks @amgradmd I’m with you with vinyl. My digital is sounding awefully close to my vinyl rig. I have often thought of also doing some isolation, but im so pleased now im not sure I want to tweak any more. As Ive been listening tonight it is sounding even better as the switch “breaks in” as silly as that might seem.

#4

I might just have to join you in the new switch with LPS. And what turntable and cart are you running? You have a pretty formidable system there!


#5

Thanks amgradmd - same with you ;-). I was lucky in acquiring some of the equipment second hand - especially my analog front end - that I have been continuously upgrading and tweaking: My analog front end consists of Acoustic Signature Final Tool with upgraded platter, and motor. The platter is the same used on the top end AS series that Gunther makes. Mine has 28 brass silencers embedded in the platter. The motor was upgraded about 5 years ago. The platter was upgraded last year, and the new platter consisted of new platter, bearing, shaft, and oil well (so essentially a new turntable). Next on my list is to upgrade to Gunther’s new Alpha Dig+ controller. Tonearm is SME 4 completely re-wired from cartridge clips to XLR with Cardas Clear - so all of the internal and external pins have been removed, for a continuous run of cable - and close to 9 dB of additional gain! Cartridge is a ZYX Omega 4D and phono stage is an ASR. I also have a frankenstiened Technics SL1200 that I’ve been modding (just for fun). Gutted all of the internal transformers and run the table off an external Timekeeper LPS, stock tone arm was replaced with a Rega RB600, and I also had that re-cabled with Cardas Clear - continuous run from clips to XLR. Cartridge on the SL1200 is a Soundsmith re-tipped (ruby fine line) Shelter 501 II and the stock feet were replaced with rollerblock Jrs. The SL1200 sounds WAY better than it has any right to, and next upgrade (if its still available when I can afford it), will be replace the platter and bearing (funk firm is doing some cool stuff for SL1200 enthusiasts). The thing I love about analog playback is that as good as the modded SL1200 sounds, it gets destroyed by the Acoustic Signature. Mind you, for the price of the ZYX cartridge alone, you could buy a very decent turntable and tonearm. I was extremely lucky when a heard through a friend of a friend that there was a local guy selling his 4D with only 50 hours, for the price I paid for a not even broken in 4D was essentially the “deal of a lifetime”. What I love about the sound of DD turntables is the speed accuracy.

I see you have a F&R turntable - I love the looks of those decks from the internet it seems like it is an indestructible piece of engineering! - I also see you are using the Soundsmith Zephr - how do you like that? It is one of the carts on my short list.


#6

Lou - That’s a pretty impressive vinyl rig, my friend! I’m not familiar with the AS Final Tool, but it certainly looks the business. And given their reputation and philosophy, I’m certain it sounds fantastic! If I had a dealer nearby for the WOW XXL, I would have been very tempted to trade in my old ClearAudio Concept. Instead, I happened upon the F&R Montrose randomly after I had finally given up on the speed stability issue that plagued my Concept. After too much back and forth with ClearAudio, it turned out to be an overtightened bearing that was the issue, but by that time I had already purchased the Montrose. F&R is essentially Christopher Hildebrand’s and his business partner Luke’s baby. Christopher is an exceedingly nice guy with a genius for industrial design and Luke is the electrical brains. And they are located in my hometown of Richmond, VA which made things very easy. There are several things I love about the Montrose, the best being the speed stability. I listed to a fair amount of piano oriented jazz (Bill Evans, Brad Meldhau, etc.) and speed stability is paramount to me. The optical sensor and drive system in the Montrose are pretty ingenious and hard to come by at the Montrose’s price point. I really like the sound of the richlite plinth with richlite platter with brass inserts - maybe similar to your brass-inserted AS platter? This makes it a very quiet table with a nice balance of lively responsiveness and fluidity. For that reason I think it’s a very versatile table for jazz, rock, etc. I don’t listen to classical, but I’d imagine it would do well. I find the Montrose to be a significant upgrade from the Concept, even ignoring the speed issue on the Concept. The solidity and low noise floor are so much better. And the setup mechanism with the clever rotating tonearm is crazy easy to setup. It also has a nice unipivot tonearm which works well with the table. My only nitpick is the lack of fine antiskate adjustment on the tonearm. You can adjust VPI style by twisting the cable and giving it more or less slack, which seems to work well, if a little fiddly.

As for the Soundsmith Zephyr MIMC Star (why not just call it the ‘Zephry Star’, or just ‘Star’??), I love it! My other cart is an Ortufon 2M Black which is a great cart for the money. It has nice detail and solid bass, but I find it a little bright on my system, which is solid state. The Star has even better detail than the Black and has a better tonal balance and dynamics. BTW, I setup the azimuth using the Feickert Adjust+ disc and software and eventually set it up so that I got crosstalk values of -41 dB in each channel, which is absolutely insane. Most good carts are lucky to get in the -30 range, for reference. That really contributes to an amazingly 3D soundstage which is wide and deep. Instrument separation is amazing - nearly as good as the DS Sr Huron, in fact (better than Torreys, IMO). So yeah, I love the MIMC Star. :slight_smile:

That ZYX cart looks crazy! Very interesting design. I wish I could hear that for myself.

This thread makes me think that this forum need and “analog” section so we can discuss all things analog without having to resort to other forums’ analog sections. There’s only so much discussion of the Schiit Mani or U-Turn Orbit I can take!


#7

Hi, hoping this group can help me. I’ve been using a Windows 7/Jriver/Ayre QB-9 DSD setup for a few years now. Thinking of upgrading to a sonictransporter i5 or i7, PSA DS Jr using Bridge II (Roon) to eliminate PC in the mix and stream TIDAL (with MQA). Thank you LouWalters for your comments above on techniques for using B2. Is anyone using sonictransporter as a Roon server to DS Jr/B2 as a Roon endpoint? Any new thinking about SQ for this compared to sonictransporter to microrendu to DS Jr using USB?

Many thanks, Jeff Schulman