Best connection implementation for streaming Tidal?


#1

Hi there,

I am looking for the best way to squeeze the best sound quality out of streaming Tidal to my DS. I am currently connected from my computer to a cheap USB hub and then via a Wywires silver USB cable to the DS. Sounds good but I wonder if it could sound better. I will add that I have a Bridge I that I have compared to the USB and dont notice much difference. I have been busy researching different alternatives. 1) Bridge II 2)Intona/Jcat USB isolator 3)a regenerator such as the Lanrover, W4S recovery or Uptown Regen. The bridge would seem to be decent and would not require a linear power supply but cannot pass as much as USB. The Intona/Jcat is intriguing as it appears to be a regenerator that does not require a linear power supply. Those in option 3 would seem to need a linear power supply which adds expense. What are your experiences and/or suggestions?


#2

Bridge II, all day long. And if you haven’t discovered Roon yet, it will change the way you experience music. Roon integrates Tidal with your existing music collection in unexpected ways.


#3

Another option if you want to continue USB is a microRendu, it has the Regen technology built it but it too sounds better with a power upgrade like the Uptone LPS-1. Can’t say how it would compare to a Bll though.


#4

I’m becoming a broken record around here but… try optical. You probably already have something with a Toslink output and all you need is a cable that works.


#5

If you don’t want to purchase Bridge II, I’d highly recommend checking out the Pink Faun I²S PCIe card. It a much cheaper alternative and will allow you to skip Roon completely (another added cost) and allows for a straight I²S input into your Directsream. It will also allow for any audio from your PC, not just from Tidal, to be sent to your Directstream. Highly recommended and the sound quality is amazing. They use I²S to and from the PS Audio Memory Players for a reason. :slight_smile:


#6

My goal was to get rid of my general purpose PC in my music room, with its inherent noise, so went to the microRendu.


#7

The Pink Faun card doesn’t get power from the motherboard PCI connector. It has it’s own Molex power connector to feed it’s own power supply. Use a high quality power supply from someone like Seasonic and you should be all set. It shouldn’t have the noise issues you’re talking about due to how it’s designed. USB, in general, should really be avoided. I think a high quality optical solution, which can be quite expensive as typically glass optical cables are needed, or I2S should be used for optimal results. Here’s a blurb from their website (translated from Dutch as they’re based in The Netherlands):

The Pink Faun I2S bridge is based on a multi-channel C-Media HD audio processor with it's own separate power supply, equipped with passive and active stabilization. A TCXO clock with its own power supply provides a highly accurate clock signal for this IC. For a good transfer of the I2S signal over the HDMI cable, which is used between the streamer and DAC, the I2S signal is buffered with very fast line drivers. All capacitors used on the Pink Faun I2S bridge are of low ESR tantalum high quality, connected in parallel for even faster and cleaner power.

The Pink Faun I2S bridge has its own power connector, allowing power from the motherboard is not necessary. I2S-bridge is also provided with capacitors which filter the PCI supply lines, so that the computer also there is improved.


#8

Yes I know a lot of audiophiles like it and it may well be better especially via I2S, I’ve never heard one, but was really stating why I got rid of my pc.


#9

The issue is you’re still using USB though and yes, there are plenty of things companies can use to mitigate the issues surrounding USB, but no matter the device there are still inherent issues with it. I’ll let Paul McGowan explain. Skip ahead to 5 minutes and 50 seconds in:

https://vimeo.com/15490809

He states, in order of best sounding on the Directstream, the inputs are:

I²S

Network Bridge

Optical (if it’s well implemented)

USB

Like I said, due to the Pink Faun design you’re able to isolate out the issues with noise that other I²S PCIe options might have. It’s really an excellent choice and I think it much better than USB.


#10
Seegs108 said

The Pink Faun card doesn’t get power from the motherboard PCI connector. It has it’s own Molex power connector to feed it’s own power supply. Use a high quality power supply from someone like Seasonic and you should be all set. It shouldn’t have the noise issues you’re talking about due to how it’s designed. USB, in general, should really be avoided. I think a high quality optical solution, which can be quite expensive as typically glass optical cables are needed, or I2S should be used for optimal results. Here’s a blurb from their website (translated from Dutch as they’re based in The Netherlands):

High quality glass optical cables needn't be expensive at all, in fact in my system a $9 glass AT&T from Fry's sounds better than a top of the line glass cables from AudioQuest. The expense of high quality optical setups is in the transmitters, receivers and their associated electronics.

I’m not trying to be argumentative, but I don’t react well to overgeneralize statements: Electrical noise from a PC can’t be entirely avoided if there’s an electrical connection - taking steps such as separate power supplies, good filtering and good drivers can definitely help, but that doesn’t force you to use I2S over other solutions. Note I’m not putting down the Pink Faun product, I’m just pointing out that there’s nothing inherently superior about I2S over all other possible connections between a PC and a DAC. Other things in one’s system probably have more of an effect than the specific electrical connection between a PC and a DAC.

I also chastise Paul at times about overgeneralizing his specific experience to all other systems. Just like at shows, if you hear something good, it means that that sound is possible. If you hear something bad it doesn’t mean that everything (or anything) in that system is inherently bad. There are multiple ways of getting great sound and a lot of them depend on other components of your system.


#11

[big multiple nested quotes deleted]

Would you classify the optical receiver in the Directstream to be up to the task to handle 24/192 (given the cable has the appropriate bandwidth)? I’m assuming that this means you use the Optical input on your Directstream? The interesting thing is that I hear a noticeable difference using the I²S input from my I²S card compared to the USB input. I’m not entirely sure what makes up for the difference I’m hearing. I remember reading through some forum posts on the Directstream before I bought it and most were saying they couldn’t hear any difference at all between any of the inputs. So when I heard a noticeable improvement when using the I²S input I was a little confused. I haven’t gotten around to checking out the optical input yet, but going off your comments I might just have to try it out. :slight_smile:


#12

So it would appear that noise is the main reason for the sound quality differences? I am assuming optical can sound better because it dispenses with an “electrical” connection. And I would assume that the Pink faun card would yield better results because of how they deal with noise and not so much the I2S connection? For a optical solution would I simply plug a optical cable into my motherboard or is there a better solution? If controlling noise is the biggest factor in sound quality I am really wondering how a “isolator” such as the Intona would do. Thanks very much for all of your input. As an aside what are the downsides to the bandwidth limitations of optical and the Pink faun card? I assume it just means that I would not be able to play certain DSD files? Thanks again


#13

Many people can get 24/192 (or at least 23/176.4) over TOSLink - it depends on the source the destination and the cable.

I use which ever input suits my needs at the moment - all in all I use USB the most. Different releases of the software still make a bigger difference in sound quality in my system than optimizing one input over another. YMMV.

The DirectStream is pretty good at rejecting incoming jitter so, all other things being equal, all inputs are closer in quality than most other DACs out there. But all things are rarely equal and further most people don’t do carefully controlled experiments. In fact it’s quite hard to compare, say, USB to the bridge since, at best, you might be comparing a unit’s USB output combined with the DS’s USB input to the other unit’s Ethernet output combined with the DS’s bridge… To get a real idea you need to use a lot of sources in many systems…

If you take a multiple output device (like the PWT or DMP) and hook all of those outputs to the DS at once and then compare the sound as you select between inputs you might find that you can’t hear a difference at all, in fact many people’s first reaction is that the DS isn’t changing inputs at all because most of the time you don’t even hear a click. Hooking multiple cables up all at once means that you have the same groundloop, radiation emission and radiation reception, etc. no matter which input you select on the DS. To really compare inputs you need to optimize each input with nothing else connected and do long term listening to get a more accurate impression of each. As an example: people usually forget to disconnect their electrical connections when listening to optical so they blame optical for their electrical problems…


#14
Brent said

So it would appear that noise is the main reason for the sound quality differences? I am assuming optical can sound better because it dispenses with an “electrical” connection.

I'm not sure about the limitations with the optical input as it seems it's more related to cable quality than anything else, but the Pink Faun card supports up to 32 bit/192k. Though the Directstream is limited to 24/192k so the extra bandwidth it has is superfluous. I'd take Ted's advice and (if you have the money) try them all until you find what sounds best to you. I know, in my system at least, I heard a noticeable improvement with the Pink Faun card over a standard USB output coming from the back of my Asus X99 Deluxe motherboard. There are objectively better USB output implementations out there for sure so YMMV and your experience with various output/input options may turn out to be different than my own. It looks like Pink Faun has an optical SPDIF card too that's setup similar to the I²S card with it's own power supply and high quality filtering. I might give that a try next if I can find one cheap enough. With that said, I'm extremely happy with my I²S card, so it's probably not worth it spending another ~$300 on an extra card. :)

I know I’m pushing the Pink Faun card pretty hard but if you’re looking for some more info there’s a decent length PS Audio forum thread here:

http://www.psaudio.com/forum/pwd-topics/pink-faun-computer-based-i%C2%B2s-bridge/

and a review here:

http://www.modelpromo.nl/PinkFaun_I2S_Bridge.htm

and here:

http://www.tnt-audio.com/sorgenti/pinkfaun_i2s_bridge_e.html


#15

I looked at the Pink Faun card. As far as I could tell (the website isn’t terribly helpful), it doesn’t handle DSD natively, but converts everything to PCM. Is that right? That doesn’t seem like a helpful scenario for the DS, which can handle up to 2x DSD over its I2S inputs. Why convert DSD to PCM then back to DSD inside the DAC? My main issue with the Bridge is that won’t handle 2xDSD, but I am still looking for a good alternative.


#16
magister said

I looked at the Pink Faun card. As far as I could tell (the website isn’t terribly helpful), it doesn’t handle DSD natively, but converts everything to PCM. Is that right? That doesn’t seem like a helpful scenario for the DS, which can handle up to 2x DSD over its I2S inputs. Why convert DSD to PCM then back to DSD inside the DAC? My main issue with the Bridge is that won’t handle 2xDSD, but I am still looking for a good alternative.


Not handling DSD doesn’t matter if your playing software wraps the DSD in DoP.

#17

@tedsmith a little off topic, but I was testing out the Bit Perfect FLAC files PS Audio has to ensure bit perfect playback of audio sent to the Directstream. I ran into an issue. In foobar2000 choosing ASIO output I was able to get the DS to show the green checkmark and BitPerfect text through USB and Optical, but not through the I²S input. I don’t know if this is due to my Pink Faun card or if it has to do with the signal being sent to the DS being fundamentally different. Is there anything you can think of that could account for this or do you think maybe the Pink Faun I²S card is actually tampering with the audio signal? Normally I use MPC-HC to decode, render and output high resolution audio to my DS. The media player has a built in audio renderer that utilizes WASAPI exclusive mode and I was using that, assuming I was getting bit-perfect output, but then I tested the FLAC file to confirm and that’s when I ran across this issue. I used foobar2000 to confirm that it definitely wasn’t an issue with MPC-HC. If I had another I²S source like the Directstream Memory player I could confirm if it’s my card or not. but alas, I don’t.


#18

The bitperfect test works with all inputs identically (the FPGA doesn’t know the difference between inputs after all.) Also foobar2000, JRiver MC etc. can be configured to get bit perfect transmission over ASIO, WASAPI, Kernel Streaming, etc. I’ve personally checked the bit perfect test on all inputs at both 24/96 and 24/192 (and other rates.)

I’d suspect either the Pink Faun card or the configuration of it’s driver (if there are any options.) A common problem when the bit perfect test fails is not having the volume set at unity.


#19
Ted Smith said

The bitperfect test works with all inputs identically (the FPGA doesn’t know the difference between inputs after all.) Also foobar2000, JRiver MC etc. can be configured to get bit perfect transmission over ASIO, WASAPI, Kernel Streaming, etc. I’ve personally checked the bit perfect test on all inputs at both 24/96 and 24/192 (and other rates.)

I’d suspect either the Pink Faun card or the configuration of it’s driver (if there are any options.) A common problem when the bit perfect test fails is not having the volume set at unity.

The odd thing is that MPC-HC at least seems to be treating the FLAC file used for this test quite a bit differently than it does other FLAC files. Here's what the audio render is telling me for the 24/192 test file:

s3YqmQJ.png

So as you can see under Processors, it lists Matrix and Limiter. I don’t know why they’re listed as I have nothing set in the decoding or rendering settings that would make either of these things be used. I’m assuming limiter is some sort of volume control and my best guess is matrix means it’s turning the mono audio into stereo? I specifically have my decoder set to not mix mono to stereo and I have the clipping protection turned off so there’s no tampering going on with the volume. If I playback another stereo 24/192 FLAC file I have, with no other settings changed on my end, it works fine:

ZDvudp0.png


#20

Yes the bit perfect test is a mono file, still making it stereo shouldn’t need to mangle the bits. In general, a mixer has to worry about overflow, but you’d think they’d special case channel mapping, etc. where it can’t overflow. foobar2000 plays the bit perfect tests well, so you can probably test the I2S link with foobar2000.