Ethernet sources and dealer spin

Recently I was looking to get out of the USB game and add DCS Network Bridge, or even upgrade to a DCS Bartok. I asked both DCS and their retailer what the best source was for maximum sound quality: if I should get a consumer NAS, or a fancy server like an Innuos Zenith. They both replied to get a cheap NAS and a cheap ethernet cable.

However, when I asked the Innuos dealer about what they he said he replied “only if you don’t care about sound quality”.

I remember a PS Audio dealer also telling me that cheap ethernet and server into the Bridge II was best. Now everybody seems to say that I2S and high end servers actually sound better.

So what is the truth? Are the DAC makers trying to sell their products as if they can’t be improved upstream, or are the server makers and their dealers blowing hot air about their product’s sound quality over the network?

I’m most interested in hearing from those who have experience, as opposed to those who simply know how networks operate.

What drives me crazy about this concept is doing the bitperfect test on my DSD. At one time I used a PC to stream to my Bridge II and USB to Matrix to I2S to DSD. In each case the BP light lit. So which one sounded better and why? (Each sounded really good)

Then I “upgraded” from a Win10 box (Fidelizer paid version) to a Euphony server with the same results, Bit perfect each way and again, did this sound better than with the Win10 box? Does the Bridge II sound better or worse than the Matrix path? (each sounded really good)

And now I am using an EtherREGEN, a UltraRendu through the Matrix path and the Bridge II is on the shelf, disconnected from the DSD. The BP light is lit. Does this sound the best? (It sounds really good)

I am a guy who thinks he heard a difference when I put IsoAcoustic feet under my Wilsons. But still.

I am in no mood for a $10k server. Bah. I might be in the mood for a $5k Aries G2. I might be in the mood for a DCS something. I guess I would choose to trust the word from DCS.
But then there is the Nagra gear…

I am holding still for a while, just playing with cables.

I have a Devialet Expert fed by Innuos Zen Mk3 using an ethernet connection. Excellent result.

A friend also has a Devialet Expert, from the same dealer, and uses a dCS Bridge connected by AES/EBU with a remote server in his basement (QNAP or something similar). Also an excellent result.

When I bought my Innous I had an old SATA QNAP that was not good enough to act as a Roon Core, and anyway was used mainly for business. I’ve since replaced it with a QNAP 473+ with SSD drives. If I’d had tat at the time, I may well have spent the extra money on the dCS Bridge and used the SSD NAS for Roon.

The reason being, you can feed the dCS Bridge with pretty much anything and it makes no difference. Another dCS dealer I know does it with a cheap Synology NAS into a Vivaldi system.

dCS is adamant in arguing that network gear, as long as fully functional, is irrelevant to sound quality. I have seen this position many times throughout the various fora.

My opinion: if you have a modern dCS dac (I had the Vivaldi stack), go with the Ethernet input and be happy. Nothing that I changed upstream of the dac made any difference whatsoever. And Ethernet way better than usb, specially in the highs.

If not a dCS dac, experiment with the various inputs. You may find AES, optical, i2s or USB to be the best sound

Dor the DSD dac, which I also had, it seems to be consensus that the i2s is the best sounding input, specially when paired with a high quality source (Matrix, PinkFaun i2s card).

Hope it helps.

An attraction to me at the time is the ethernet output of the Innuos Mk3 Zen and Zenith. Even if you do need to use usb, the usb output has its own dedicated linear power supply. The Innuos Statement does full usb reclocking and the Innuos Phoenix is simply the Statement usb reclocker as a standalone component. So the means of connection is a consideration, and I use a $10 BJC ethernet cable whereas my friend uses a very expensive looking AES/EBU.

dcS does not consider usb our optical to be good enough so they don’t provide them on their Bridge.

I considered getting an innuos, (my dealer trust them blindly), or at least an innuos phoenix usb reclocker.

But then I came to know that Nagra is in the final steps of their streamer, who will use their optical proprietary interface. Then I got a second hand Lumin U1 Mini, hooked it up to my LPS, and I am a very, very happy AES user.

Bear in mind that when I sold the Vivaldi I kept the ridicuosly expensive transparent AES cables (2 of them), that my dealer had thrown in to convince me getting the Vivaldi in the first place. So i had to put them to good use…

Great topic. Thanks for posting.

As a Bridge II DS user, I am looking forward to more posts by those that have played with both Ethernet and USB inputs and the upstream signal path extensively.

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when I used the bridge, i heard differences when I plugged in a fancy kubala-sosna ethernet cable. the bridge came much closer to the sound of matrix -> i2s. but the investment in the ethernet cable was way larger, so I kept the matrix route.

I am using a SOtM switch, connected through its optical port to my main router. I cant say I hear a significative difference. But once I had the switch, and the optical SFP and cables, why not. The amounts were not large enough to motivate me to go through the selling hassle.


The answer to your question is that a NAS connected via ethernet can give at least as good sound quality as a custom server, but there are important caveats.

I have a Synology NAS serving music (using MinimServer) which is connected by ethernet to a dCS Network Bridge and thence by AES/EBU to a PS Directstream DAC. (The dCS Network Bridge recently replaced the Bridge II in the DAC as renderer.)

Before going down this route in 2013 I listened to a Linn server at a dealer. Good sound quality but expensive so I investigated the NAS option.

My knowledge of custom servers is otherwise second hand: from reviewers whose opinions I have come to trust. One of several who have reviewed many servers and other network products is Andrew Everard; his blog is worth a scan:

The caveats for NAS vs Custom Server (in my opinion!):

A server is very convenient to use with all the network hardware you need in one box, and probably with bundled software. Setting it up and learning the new operating system is likely to be time consuming. Because the components (hard-disk drive, optical drive, cpu, wireless implementation, DAC, power supplies etc) are all in close proximity considerable design effort is required to minimise electronic and mechanical interference. Servicing and repair will probably require the complete server to be removed from the system.

A NAS combined with separate components to rip and curate music, render ethernet music packets and a DAC, requires marginally greater network knowledge to setup the hardware and software to play music. The physical separation of components reduces the potential for interference problems, however in my experience sound quality can be improved by further inexpensive measures: Siting the NAS, optical drive, curating computer etc at a location remote from the hifi (with a long wired connection or a wireless bridge), siting the wireless access point at least 6ft from the DAC etc, and inserting an optical ethernet run immediately before the renderer and DAC.

Everard’s posting of June 8 2015 is relevant:

Only other comment I’d make; you should compare the sound quality of the dCS Network Bridge + DS DAC (Bridge removed) with the Bartok. I’d be very interested in your opinion: you may find it hard to choose between them.

Apologies for the long post but you did ask for user experience!

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I’ve been reading Andrew Everard for about 25 years as he’s the audio editor of Gramophone. I implemented his fibre optic solution with a Cisco switch off eBay and added insulation. I changed it to a TPLink, but find a direct ethernet sounds just the same. I still use the fibre optic for AV and wifi access.

My servers and Innuos are all in my office on a different floor to the hifi. An ethernet cable feeds the hifi without any switching. The fibre cable feeds an access point that does the AV, but not the audio.

The long and short: Innuos is effectively plug and play. Using a server needs a bit of time getting used to the server operating system. It can be a bit daunting at first for non-technical people like me.

I use a W10 Ethernet NAS system;
i7-3770 on an Intel MB board with a Seagate 6TB IRON WOLF HDD NAS storage drive and 8GB of memory. The boot drive is a 128GB SSD. The PC system cost was less than $1,200.00 since it is so simple.

The PC goes into an Ethernet over Power-Line module with a CAT6 Plus patch cable to the router located upstairs.

My Motorolla PHONE uses Bubble Up UpNP controller software to talk to the roter and PC wireless. The PC is loaded with MINIMSERVER software. The PC streams music to the ASUS ROUTER through another CAT6+ patch cable and then to the DAC to the BRIDGE II and into the DS DAC with WINDOM firmware. The ASUS router is a 802.11ac version 5, not 802.11ax version 6 (useless for the low data rate).

If I use WIRELESS at 2.4 GHz or 5.0 GHz from the PC to the router upstairs, I do get data drops, not with hardwired connections. I find the seemingly Neanderthal Ethernet power line adapters are very good (I have the latest IEEE spec HOME LINK versions). I test over 50 MBPS throughput.

I have no issues with sound quality at all with this setup. The limits are more my sources than the “system” and, it is easy to use as digital ever will be with a homemade set-up.

OK, a dedicated music NAS may be easier to use, but Ethernet is re-clocked (even in the bridge II it is re-clocked) and errors remain at zero (but not with wireless!).

The main issue I see is EASE of USE. That is an important one, too.

Building a PC, router network, getting all the PC software settings working and a wireless “controller” loaded and working isn’t a cake walk if you aren’t pretty PC oriented. A plug and play solution is a HUGE benefit to most people. Better, it needs to be a protected ecosystem such that it can’t be “broken” with a W10 update or server / controller software update; MINIMSERVER or BUBBLE UP UpNP in my case.

A typical user should not have to wrestle with all this stuff if digital is to be as easy as dropping in a CD, and that being easier than messing with a record.

I’m all for a quality closed ecosystem NAS for MUSIC more for stability of USE than SQ as Ethernet moves data around the globe with zip errors. My experiences with my homemade music NAS fully supports a far more user friendly interface that is reliable, upgradeable (storage) and cost effective.

My system is the WORST for stability day-to-day thus, it is a good jumping off point for something BETTER. When it dies, I will re consider what is available.

Galen Gareis

So I went to a dealer to check out the Bartok (it was a little weird being all masked up). Honestly I am a little bummed, because there was some kind of glare, which I’m pretty sure was coming from the network input. I don’t have any glare of that kind in my fancy USB/I2S setups with my DSS or Manhattan II, even using a laptop. Later in the visit we checked out a Rossini system and the rep switched the the ethernet cable to an expensive Transparent one, and it was indeed a little better. I’m definitely coming away with the sense that even with high end gear like this it requires money to get a decent sound via network, and network streaming is not necessarily as cost effective as it would seem. Not just the cable, but the source signal need upgrades to match my own system.

It’s possible some of what I was hearing was just the Bartok, or its headphone output, which would be kind of lame. (I found the 1/4" out to be pretty underpowered for my Empyreans) We only did the ethernet cable test with the Rossini, but it did do what I hoped it would to an extent. Maybe I’ve been listening to my Shunyata Denali/Alpha NR power system for too long and I’m not used to the cables they have on hand. I think in just about every technical sense the Bartok was superior, but kind of like the Hugo 2 I had for a while, it didn’t have the fullness, texture or presence of my current DSS+MZ3 system. If that glare wasn’t there it might be a fair fight.

Glad to hear you got a chance to audition the Bartok but it is very difficult to reach meaningful conclusions based solely on a dealer’s system. Any chance of being able to audition the Bartok at home in your system? Failing that can you take your DSS to the dealer and do a comparison there? Without these options you have little chance of knowing the effect of room/speaker/amplifier on your assessment. Does your dealer have a dCS Network Bridge? If so you could potentially compare this + your DSS against the Bartok.
For what it’s worth I read (can’t remember where) of one such comparison that concluded the difference was minor and a matter of personal taste - the DSS was slightly warmer while the Bartok was cleaner - but both were very good.

I think you are right. I really need to be able to hear it in my own system and/or the Network Bridge with my DSS. For the money involved as well, especially with the Bartok, I need to choose right.

I’m really hoping they can send me a loaner. The challenge is that I think DCS only makes them to order and the retailer doesn’t have any extra. The other problem is that they are 4 hours away and I although I was willing to take the one time chance breaking quarantine and traveling, I really shouldn’t do it again as Washington State is flaring up again.

The differences I could discern in the DACs was that the Bartok was an order of magnitude better at the “performance” side of things, separation, stereo width, dynamic control, detail, but seemed less rich in color in texture and maybe less full in lows and midrange. Kind of a move in the direction of Chord DACs, but still halfway to the DSS. With proper cabling it was easily a full step “better” than the DSS, but didn’t necessarily sound that much better specific the DSS own strengths of richness and analog quality. I’ve found generally that DACs with better separation and imaging tend to make individual instruments sound smaller.

It may be that in my own system the performance benefits stand out, while the the rest is at least even. One thing I will say is that we had to use a balanced headphone with the Bartok to get comparable results with my cheaper single ended cable, LTA and Audeze amps. The 1/4" out was somewhat anemic and underpowered for my Empyreans, while balanced sounded really good. That was a little weird.

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Good luck on your quest!

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