All-in-one systems are great… until we want to replace them for whatever reason. They are also hard to design, as explained by Paul. Separate devices should be the solution, but, in current products on the market, we still get some duplication of functionalities, or additional components we do not really need. These additional components are certainly raising the selling price, and may affect the audio quality (by causing interference or by lowering the potential quality of other parts in the product given a target selling price).
During that COVID-19 pandemic, as a personal project, I tried to design a complete series of audio products that would be both simple and/or modular. In the end, I have published a first version of that “interface standard” on GitHub. Here it is (sorry, only in French at the moment): KISS Audio (on github.io)
I am just not sure how to make those virtual products a real thing. I do understand manufacturers are not likely to offer a solution without some backward compatibility with existing products, but what if the best interface was the only standard installed in future products? For instance, I am thinking of the I2S interface replacing the Toslink plug and all other possible digital interfaces. But, the point is, I do not know how to build good audio products based on the design I have published.
Does anyone have any suggestion? Would PS Audio be interested in creating a set of products based on the KISS Audio specification? Something as great as the Sprout, but allowing replaceable audio devices.
Manufacturer can decide on balanced differential inputs (the real balanced connection, ref. Bruno Putzeys) or fully balanced through. Well established under Pro‘s.
For digital I2S over HDMI
Suitable for all digital file formats, utilizing a well established AV cable standard.
But real world is that the majority of digital sources for streaming have USB as Standard.
I have no problem investing / converting to I2S or USB C, if only the Audio industry could get their act together to agree any link it being the new Standard that complies with today’s state of the art.
The Video industry finally did it with HDMI after experimenting with a plethora of inferior options (DVI) when converting from analog to digital.
Hmm… any type of digital signal going through USB Type C cables? Maybe… but the cable length would be limited to 4 meters, which should be more than enough for most audio systems. Besides the USB 2.0 protocol, which would require a mandatory (additional) decoder in all DACs, I wonder if those USB Type C cables can be used to transfer I2S digital streams directly.
For sure, a modern standard should be chosen. Having Denafrips products supporting up to 4 types of pin-outs for I2S over HDMI cables, plus many other types of digital inputs/outputs, the audio industry has failed at some point (wasted hardware, wasted development/build/test time). That reminds me the memory card battle in the years 2000-2010.
In the end, I am not sure who can make a standard and how to make it. Maybe PS Audio can do something about it.
I don’t really care HDMI or USB-C as long as the industry can agree on a single standard that can cope with the highest bit rate and frequency with minimum jitter and lowest chance of noise like XLR for analog.
PS Audio does a very good job with I2S HDMI digital and XLR balanced for analog.
I wish they could persuade the rest of the manufactures, of which quite a number follow by the way, but far too less to offer the consumer decent options to interconnect.
Nice to buy an Innuos multi thousand dollar server, to find out that it would be better to buy a US$ 3000 USB reclocker because actually USB 2 is not up to the high end audio task.
This is the message for the HIGH END Audio Industry:
Start standardizing on proper Audio interfaces and stop making the consumer waste their money on sinfully expensive interconnect cables or even worse, extra boxes that clutter our increasingly limited living space.
I realize every cable with proper insulation and screening and good connectors costs money. But US$ 100 or maybe a couple of hundred are more than enough. The rest is just a symbol of lack of will to provide decent equipment or hunt for ridiculously high margins.
Some good points… ““stop making the consumer waste their money on sinfully expensive interconnect cables or even worse, extra boxes that clutter our increasing limited living space.””
Most Audiophiles want to, NEED to, spend their money on sinfully expensive cables and extra boxes, etc… For the one’s that choose to - it’s all part of the craziness of being an Audiophile… What would be the point of being an Audiophile if they couldn’t waste money on accessories and sundries.!
I read on the forum that someone has a 3k power cable on a 2k amplifier… Well, not for me, ‘to each his own, it’s their money / system’.
I think the whole premise of this thread is wrong, for several reasons:
I bought an all-in-one system 5 years ago and have no desire to change it. To the contrary, it made me draw the conclusion that multiple components is just making life difficult. I now have systems in three other rooms and they are all one box.
One-box solutions have been hugely popular and successful - Hegel, Devialet, Bluesound, Naim, Dutch & Dutch, Kii, just for starters.
It makes no sense to suggest that because something is difficult the opposite must be the solution. All the above examples prove this wrong. “Difficult” should be a challenge, not a reason to quit and repeat what has been done for decades.
My son is on a team developing a new audio product. It costs millions, funded by external investors. Anyway, PS Audio does not seem to be a particularly innovative company - it seems to make products with existing technology.
USB is not the standard. Wireless and wired ethernet is vastly more common. I mentioned a few days ago the Marantz CDA-94, one of the first external DACs. The idea was to separate the DAC from the mechanical CD spinner (CD-94). Discs have been redundant for some years in favour of streams, and there is no good reason to have the streamer and DAC in a separate box. PS Audio is one of the few companies that has yet to implement streaming in their main product line, so choice of connections becomes an issue.
I2S is a non-standard connection so is only of use in closed systems. So the fact that it is used should be irrelevant because you cannot use it to connect products from other manufacturers.
As far as I’m concerned the idea of connecting things with cables generally is pretty old-fashioned and soon very few people will use cables to connect devices with cables, with the possible exception of an ethernet cable. Of my four music systems, three have no input cables (all use wireless) and the other can operate entirely wirelessly, but I use a direct ethernet connection from the music server to avoid sending the data via a router.
I would never want to stop somebody to buy a extreme expensive cable. Like you said it’s not my thing and if that makes it sound better to them that’s fine.
What my thought was when typing:
For single ended RCA or USB the quality of the cable matters more than for balanced interconnects or indeed the I2S over HDMI.
If the industry is able to standardize the interfaces, the equipment needs less interface options of which we need only a few, but need to pay them all. The more standardized cable production would mean more quality for less cost.
Sure even with that standard manufacturers and audiophiles can take on the challenge to find the end of that rabbit hole.
As for me, I have major difficulties agreeing with my wife that the stock cables sound equally good as the audio grade Atlas cables I bought. Imagine how she would react if I told her that spending that money on cables with such looks, perfectly extruded and assembled, delivered in nice boxes just made me feel better ;-).
You have not been paying attention over the years.
But as to your relevant point, all in one boxes can be superb. Some prefer them, others would rather enjoy the flexibility of multi-box solutions. Both are equally valid approaches. There is no one single “best” approach, just advantages and disadvantages.
Me, I like connecting different boxes up, but I also like using non-expensive cables (not quite the same as “cheap”).
I spent a few years wanting some sort of all-in-one system, but as soon as I had one, I had the urge to change things about.
Please describe what was difficult with your previous components. There may be something that can be done about it.
While my introduction was not totally correct (sorry for that), the point I really wanted to bring is how to get separate audio devices that are more simple (i.e. doing less things at a time) and more modular than actual separate products on the market. PS Audio high-end products are close to that ideal, but I would also like to see such design in less expensive products.
There are conditions under which a DAC can share a single enclosure with a streamer:
The internal firmware and software can be upgraded to support any new streaming service;
Any interference caused by the presence of the streamer in the same enclosure should be within tolerance limits of the DAC in order to meet targeted specifications.
Yes, a streamer’s DAC can be very good, but if the streamer is just not able to support some new streaming services, well, the streamer becomes partly useless. The same applies to the DAC part: if one wants to replace the DAC for a better one, the whole product including the streamer part would have to be replaced. And problems here are: additional wastes on the planet and also less flexibility for some audiophiles.
Good news - the Octave Player is coming soon:
While not standard, many manufacturers are progressively supporting I2S over HDMI plugs, and yes, this is a mess with different pin-outs:
Ultimately, having a single modern digital interface would be great. If it is not I²S over HDMI plugs, there should something that would simplify the back panel of audio products. But… I know, I know…
Very few audio companies are truly innovative, which I would consider to be developing useful patented technology resulting in products that don’t have obvious direct competition. That is different from making a good product that competes with others.
Power plants are probably fairly innovative, although they are an accessory with alternative solutions. In the UK and the EU balanced mains transformers are popular (an industrial product at a fraction of the cost), as is mains conditioning, the leading brand being IsoTek, that precedes PSA by about 10 years. (They also make regenerators.)
I see there being two types of one-box solution:
One box that contains ±5 separate products, and may be modular so they can be replaced.
One box that functionally does the job of ±5 separate products.
The first are just convenient and at best save on cost and space, but don’t really add anything.
The real advantage of the latter is that they work as one product in terms of control, processing, DSP etc.
Two two small black boxes are unnecessary. I choose to use a valve phono-preamplifier for the MC source, but the audio system can be programmed to do that. The audio system is programmed to take the second MM phono source directly. The turntable speed controller is only because I have some 45rpm records. Without it, the turntable will run at 33rpm off the mains. It has speed control electronics built in and is belt driven.
This is not new. Modular systems have been around for 40+ years. Propietary connections are not new either. Going back 20 years, the Quad 99 system, for example, used the Quadlink, a balanced ampbus connection using a 15-pin balanced D connector. This is still in use and was extremely successful, selling hundreds of thousands of units. The 99 series was a development of the original 33/303 units from 25 years earlier and Quad’s reputation went back to their valve amps in the 1940s. So the connection was building on existing very successful products.
People were complaining that they could by a PS Audio product for $5,000 from a dealer, but when PS Audio closed their USA dealer network it cost $6,000 from PS Audio direct.
Besides distribution costs and profit margins, costs will only be reduced if manufacturing technology is changed. Audiophiles like hand-built with traditional large components. The engineer behind Devialet came from the mobile telecoms world (Nortel) and designed using that technology, because primary objectives were to make products small and affordable. The streamer (which is brilliant) is one card the size of a cigarette packet, rather than a large box. Costs are also saved by using the same component throughout the product range.
You have to get used to the idea that if you buy an integrated system, you stop thinking about DACs being separate components. If you buy Dutch & Dutch 8c, you don’t have the mentality of getting a better DAC. I don’t with mine either.
One of their benefits if integrating the DAC is the ability to apply DSP. Use an external DAC and you lose that capability. So it makes no sense to change it.
I bought a Devialet Le 250 in 2016 for £9,000, ex-demo from £12,000 retail. In 2017 I had it upgraded to a 250 Pro CI at a cost of £3,000, so the upgrade cost was 25% of retail. This was available globally, to all products in the range, with a collect and return service. There were improvements in various areas, but mainly a brand new streamer, improved amplifier and power supply. PS Audio offers a trade-in, where you give them their old product and you get up to one third off the price of the new product, so the upgrade cost is 67%, and it is not global (only USA). Most manufacturers don’t offer trade-ins as it is just as easy to sell second-hand.
The upgradeability of my system, which is increasingly common, saves massively on waste. The same casing and packaging is re-used and the internal components replaced can be recycled.
Integrated systems like mine and Linn Exakt, to name another, have built-in hardware upgradeability. Just about every Linn product since 2007 can be upgraded to the current version.
Software updates and upgrades are standard. Just about everyone does it. My system became fully Roon compliant in 2019 with a free software upgrade.
Building in multiple streaming services is like a dog chasing its tail. Some do it, but not many. For example, Naim put Tidal onboard, but not Qobuz, so when Qobuz became popular they lost customers. Same with dCS. Much better is to have multiple ways of sending from any device. My system will receive wirelessly from Roon, Airplay, uPnP and its own proprietary 24/192 platform. It only has Spotify onboard. Even better, you send something, it auto-detects even in sleep mode, wakes up the system and plays it. When the music stops, the system goes back to sleep.
Let’s see - when it comes out.
In reality perhaps a dozen manufacturers use I2S connections? Maybe even less? They are all high-end, so how many users actually use it? Not thing wrong with proprietary connections, except to remember that they are proprietary.
There are enough digital interfaces available: wireless, wired ethernet, coaxial, AES/EBU, dual AES/EBU. They are all standardised. To suggest a non-standard one can gain any traction - it would have to be standardised first, which has not happened.
Dealing with the issue of clean mains is not new, it’s just that there are plenty of ways of dealing with it. The leading amplifier manufacturer in the UK (Naim) has been dealing with this since 1990 by making separate external power supplies for all their products. Clean power is an issue generally for sensitive electronic equipment and companies like IsoTek, Airlink and more recently Shunyata are equally or primarily engaged in commercial applications.
Some other companies that moved from other sectors, like aerospace and telecoms, into audio, build in power management and advise against external power management.
Ghettoblasters and musiccentres integrated multiple components, not innovative even if popular because they were compact and some were portable. Making a product that does lots of things seamlessly can be very innovative. The Naim MuSo was innovative. My son’s chromecast system broke (the active speakers got destroyed by too many student parties), against his wishes I got him for his birthday a MuSo Qb2 and he absolutely loves it and thinks it’s incredibly cool.
The problem with audio seems to be that it is very difficult to innovate in terms of sound quality other than to reduce price, most of the innovation the days seems to be in design and home automation because the vast majority of music is now streamed.
If there has been one truly innovative pure audio product in recent years I would say Roon. A universal streaming platform is a bold concept and the proof is in the number of manufacturers and users who have adopted it and are happy to pay for it (in development costs and license fees). You don’t have to use it, but lots of people do and it has no competition.
I can figure that, but I have also been aware of a ~4000 US$ integrated amplifier that has a disappointing DAC. Well, maybe the problem is not the all-in-one box, but incomplete tests before buying a product…
I can imagine a DAC with DSP capabilities. I do not understand why it has to be in the same box as the pre-amplifier.
That is very interesting! Then, it is a question of choosing brands that offer good upgrades over time. At least, PS Audio’s DAC can be upgraded.
Elk - Steven seemingly is going to great lengths to justify his need/desire for/interest in an Audiophile version of a Lifestyle System.
Perfectly valid need/desire, assuming your family is alive and lives with you, enjoys music, and they are old enough that you’re not worried about them keeping their peanut-butter covered hands off your expensive gear. This is typically a relatively short window in an audiophile’s life (if one is fortunate to live a long life).
However, there are other equally valid criteria for choosing a system and its components. I would not presume to impose my particular needs or use case on anyone else.