Supporting Roon by PS Audio (was Merging's OEM ZMan board)


#1

Hi Paul @adminpaul

I’m sure you’ve seen this announcement from Munich: http://www.merging.com/news/news-stories/merging-innovation-at-high-end-munich-2017

I think I’ve seen you mention that the DS’s Bridge II input is technically the best sounding but you prefer using USB, just because you love using your setup and UI of iTunes and BitPerfect.

I think a lot of us can relate to that and having our preferred UI dictating which DS input we use.

Cutting to the chase and thinking about Octave coming at some point next year. For those of us that are either

  1. locked in with Roon and invested in the DS because of it’s fantastic integration with Roon (with no USB involved) or

  2. even forgetting about Roon - I know some DS users that happily only use an iPad running mConnect and Tidal, as there only source and love it or

  3. using their favourite UPnP player with their DS and Bridge II and loving it

Has any thought been given to a solution like the ZMan board?

Have you thought about how/if the ZMan board could be implemented? Maybe not a slide-in network card (if it won’t fit?) but maybe a small external device with I2S (HDMI) output, just for the the DS?

The really cool thing about the ZMan board is that with Ravenna, ALL your PC and Mac and even Linux can have all the audio sent to the board, over the network, not just a particular music playback program. Any audio whether it be music, movies or video streaming can be routed over the network. Similar to how the LANRover works but of course the LANRover involves USB in the path, whereas the ZMan connection would be like the Bridge II and avoid USB along the entire path.

For those that may be really locked into Roon or perhaps Octave will be too expensive for some of our wallets (I last read it’s expected to be roughly around the price of the DS) or those that just love mConnect and Tidal or UPnP with their DS, then this allows us to stay with our favourite UI.

Of course, if Bridge II support is still planned for years ahead, then none of this is an issue. But I was thinking, when Octave and the Bridge III come next year, if Bridge II support ends (like Roon Ready support ends) then I’d be a little sad if my only option was to go back to USB or leave Roon, if though I’m very happy with Roon as is.

Can you share any thoughts about the ZMan and these other things. Is the OEM module in PS Audio’s plans at all?

On another note - have you considered implementing the ZMan board directly into Octave itself?

This networked audio technology and PSA’s technology is moving so fast (that’s a great thing) but as a Roon user I can’t help but fear that 18 months from now my Bridge 2 and RoonReady support may be ‘expired’ and ancient, even just a year in.

I know it can be tricky to look into a crystal ball with some of this stuff, but given design and planning is already underway with Octave, I imagine some thought must have been given regarding Bridge 2 support after Octave is released (still 12-18 months away of course).

Appreciate any insight!

A very proud DS & Bridge II (and Roon) owner here :slight_smile:


#2

Ravenna is not new. It has has been around for years as a commercial network technology for transmitting audio and video data in commercial environments. They are now trying to gain inroads in the consumer market.

Why would PS Audio switch from its own Ethernet interface over which it has full control for sound quality, etc. for a new competitor’s generic OEM board?


#3
Elk said Ravenna is not new.
Thanks mate but this is understood. This isn't about Ravenna in general - this is about the ZMan board and it's possibilities.

Paul has hinted that the Bridge III may not support Roon going forward. So as per my OP, something like the ZMan board would allow users to use any playback software they wish - whereas currently with the Bridge II playback software is limited to UPnP, Roon and mConnect. It may allow easier support than the current mConnect boards, since the software and protocol side is taken care of by Ravenna.

I sincerely appreciate the comments but questions were addressed to Paul.


#4
Mi2016 said Thanks mate but this is understood.
Excellent. :)

The point is the technology is old, well known, not newly innovative. Merely because Merging now seeks to enter the consumer market does not make it compelling. It is known for its convenience, not its sound and video quality. My guess is PS Audio was aware of Revenna when it decided to design its own dedicated audio network interface which would sound superb and over which it would have full control.

I sincerely appreciate the comments but questions were addressed to Paul.
When you post publicly in an open forum you risk receiving responses from the unwashed masses. Some may even disagree with you. It is the nature of public forums. And, as you learned when demanding responses from Ted, you do not always get what you want.

#5
Elk said When you post publicly in an open forum you risk receiving responses from the unwashed masses. Some may even disagree with you. It is the nature of public forums.
That's absolutely most welcome, of course. Your input is most appreciated.

#6
Elk said

Ravenna is not new. It has has been around for years as a commercial network technology for transmitting audio and video data in commercial environments. They are now trying to gain inroads in the consumer market.

Why would PS Audio switch from its own Ethernet interface over which it has full control for sound quality, etc. for a new competitor’s generic OEM board?


Bridge I/II works either with DLNA/UPNP or Roon endpoints. None of which PSA has control over. To be honest, DLNA sounds crappy (at least in my system using usb interface and bridge-I) - its fine for playing mp3 but not high resolution audio. I only knew it how bad it sounds until I tried HQP/Roon/Daphile etc. If the next generation Bridge III doesn’t support Roon endpoint to the least, then its a serious challenge unless PSA develops its own control protocols, which should also provide full control end-to-end.

Whatever it is, there is a proliferation and never-ending usb trinkets in the market today only to desperately overcome the drawbacks of usb audio. Hence there is a dire need of a replacement and I bet we are going to see more and more networked DACs in the coming months - weather that happens with manufacturers adopting ZMan OEM boards (the VSC is readily available in Linux today) or not, time will tell.


#7
Dev said weather that happens with manufacturers adopting ZMan OEM boards (the VSC is readily available in Linux today) or not, time will tell.
Fully agreed. And I only brought up the ZMan as an example of Ravenna going mainstream (potentially) but if PSA choose not to support Roon for the Bridge III, then I would love for the Bridge III to support Ravenna (whether using the ZMan (if it even fits?) or a custom solution) - we could then stream any audio we like from any computer via a Virtual Sound Card (I just expanded VSC for others reading this that may not know) from any Mac, PC or Linux, as you mentioned.

And forgetting about Roon completely because not all Bridge II owners are using that - opening up all of the computer’s audio over Ravenna (any program you want) versus the Bridge II’s Roon/UPnP/mConnect options would be a huge thing for the Bridge III, if possible.

My basic understanding is that Ravenna (and even Roon RAAT) could work alongside other protocols, including whatever Octave uses but I’m no expert and could be very wrong.

I’m just one data point of course and I know Octave is an ambitious project and completely respect that PSA want to go all in with that at some point next year.

Of course if the Bridge II can continue to be supported even after Octave is released, that would be amazing too, for those that are baked in with Roon like myself that may worry about losing RoonReady-ness later.

Just wanted to get a feel for what Paul may be thinking, with his planning with Octave. That’s still 12-18 months away I’m guessing. In the mean time, that’s plenty of time to continue enjoying Roon with the DS right now of course.


#8

Thanks for bringing this up. We’ve looked at Ravena and it’s an interesting protocol for network play. We may use it someday. Right now our focus is on Octave and getting the software to work how we want - and designing the hardware platform it will run on. It’s a huge undertaking - kind of like what it took to get Roon working, but more (since it is also hardware intensive). Think of how long they have been working on it, first starting with Sooloos and then moving over to Roon. That said, we’re not fans of their model. We think software should be free and you pay for the hardware that runs it. That’s our model.

You can see our direction. The first product will be the big server and it will run Octave - a complete package of hardware and software married in perfect harmony. If we do our job well then this will be a huge improvement over anything that’s yet come out in terms of sound quality and user interface because of our direction of controlling hardware AND software.

So, now, let’s imagine this happens, everyone loves it. Next steps are to make more hardware going down in scale but still using Octave as the UI. The way we’ve designed it, it can run on some pretty low-cost hardware - pricing at the same as the Bridge or even lower so it will become Bridge III.

From a user standpoint, there will be no difference between a $6,000 server running Octave or a $799 Bridge III card or even a $500 or less future version in lower cost entry level products. The user interface and experience will be identical. What will change is the hardware and its storage capabilities, perhaps sound quality (where it is based upon hardware (like galvanic isolation)) innovations: built in ripper, built in backup, display possibilities, power supply options, case, etc., etc.

The Roon model is flawed from our perspective for two reasons: they have to sell their software for a lot of money to make a viable business and the complete user experience cannot be controlled (there are computer and network setup issues). At the moment, Roon software is $500. So, to that expense, you have to add whatever hardware costs (and setup hassles) to run the software in order to keep the business going. In our case, the software is free, and we can dream big in terms of hardware innovation. We could make small kitchen appliances, bedroom sets, based on low-cost ARM processors, or massively complex beasts with the kitchen sink included, all running and offering the same user interface platform. To keep our business viable, we need only make the profit on the hardware we sell - and since hardware and technology are what’s changing over time. we need only make sure our software platform stays up to date.

In our case, the software is free, and we can dream big in terms of hardware innovation. We could make small kitchen appliances, bedroom sets, mobile hardware, all based on low-cost ARM processors or expensive Intel devices. We then have the freedom to go from massively complex beasts with the kitchen sink included, to low-cost appliances, all running and offering the same user interface experience. To keep our business viable, we need only make the profit on the hardware we sell - and since hardware and technology are what’s changing over time we need only make sure our software platform stays up to date. Our hardware engineers can rock and roll with new ideas.

In both cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars are invested up front to develop the user interface. Neither company is different in that respect.

We’re a hardware company leveraging software, while Roon is a software company hoping to leverage off-the-shelf hardware. Both companies have viable platforms and models. We just believe that over time, it is the user interface that will become the centerpiece of systems. The hardware to run that software then becomes more like an appliance IF (and this is a big if), it can be made in such a way that it seamlessly runs the software to provide the expected sonic benefits without the need of a degree in rocket science to get it running.

We believe our customers want a simple to use, great sounding product they do not need to fiddle with. One that gives them the performance and user experience they expect and demand. There’s only one way to do that IMHO. Control both the hardware and software.

That is what we are doing.

Stay tuned.


#9
Paul McGowan said Thanks for bringing this up. We've looked at Ravena and it's an interesting protocol for network play. We may use it someday. Right now our focus is on Octave
Thank you so much for the courteous (as always from you) and super informative and insightful response Paul. I really do admire your goal here and you will mostly likely pull it off and change the game, yet again.

One of the things I absolutely love about this forum is the ability to ask you anything about what’s going on around the industry and we always get it raw from you but always in such an open, balanced and courteous manner.

Thanks for taking the time here and sincerely wishing you a happy 4th of July!


#10

Thanks! Terri and I are celebrating the 4th in Copenhagen. Great city!


#11

Paul, well that explains why you are up and posting a 4am cst. Copenhagen, business is good;-)

I have a question, for those married to Roon, would they be able to just keep the Bridge II and use a DS firmware version that supports Roon?

I’ve got the impression that the Bridge II is still working with the Huron firmware, and that with the MQA update will still support Roon. Is the firmware for the Bridge II dependent on the firmware for the DSs? Could an update to the DACs make the MQA/Roon version of the Bridge II inoperable?

Even though the Bridge is included in DSJr, I get the impression that one can be updated without the other. Is the Bridge in the DSJr identical to the optional Bridge II?

What I’m asking is if someone is using Roon, will they always be able to use it with Bridge II? And will the Octave UI just be a player, like Roon or JRiver is a player? Although ideally a better, more advanced player.

And finally if you decided to could you sell the Octave’s player as software, to replace say for example JRiver? If I understand correctly their will be Octave the hardware, a superior component that will compete in the market with Aurenders, Melcos, and all the other hardware players. And Octave the software that will compete with Roon, and all those other players out there.

I think this is mostly hypothetical, as I don’t see PSA getting into the software business. It is more so I can understand the software part of Octave. I have a good grasp of what the hardware will do, of course not how it will be implemented.


#12
Dev said

DLNA sounds crappy (at least in my system using usb interface and bridge-I) - its fine for playing mp3 but not high resolution audio.
. . .
I bet we are going to see more and more networked DACs in the coming months . . .


I am certain you are correct; IOT will soon include many Ethernet connect DACs. And the poor sound you report with others’ endpoints is precisely why I doubt PS Audio will adopt a competitor’s generic OEM board such as the ZMan.

#13
Paul McGowan said

We believe our customers want a simple to use, great sounding product they do not need to fiddle with. One that gives them the performance and user experience they expect and demand. There’s only one way to do that IMHO. Control both the hardware and software.

Stay tuned.


Customers come in many shapes with many different desires. Some do want a turnkey solution to their music - buy one company, one box, plug it in and play. Some other customers are tinkerers who want to setup their own music pieces, their own networks, and play. And there are still other customers who are already heavily invested into a number of music end points, network devices and need a solution that is able to play across platforms.

PSA in the new model you describe fits the first set of customers, Roon does well with the others. I for one own different end points in each room, all integrating very nicely with Roon server running on my choice of computer hardware. Is it cheap? No but I like it this way. If PSA no longer played in this environment, forcing me to make my home PSA only, then I’d sadly have to sell my Junior and find a new DAC for my main room, one that plays nicely with 3rd party music servers. That would be a very sad day, one I hope I never see.


#14

Very good points.

But have you not already elected a proprietary system by installing Roon and requiring your endpoints be Roon ready? Is this not exactly what you are telling PS Audio you do not want them to do, become like Roon?


#15

Paul, thanks for the reply. I applaud you for taking this daunting task as I am well aware of what it takes to design & maintain good s/w. However, I wanted to highlight couple of key points and at the same time needs some clarification.

As you point out, UI and usability is the key to success for these kind of music software but at the same time it also matters how it sounds. When Roon started out, it met the first criteria but miserably failed on the second, well it sounded good but not as much as HQP. While HQP was very good at “how it sounds” part, it sucked on the UI/usability aspect. There are many folks, including myself, used Roon and HQP in combination to get the best of both the world. Take Roon today, the landscape is completely changed - they made up drastically at what they lacked, even their up-sampling sounds better than HQP today. Taking one more steps further, ROCK, the Roon Optimized Core Kit which is basically a customized bare minimal Linux + Roon, can be installed on NUCs and other x86 hardware and they sounds a lot better than other Linux based music s/w, like Daphile, Audiolinux, etc. Yes, I have tried them all in the quest to get the best out of my system and I am confident PSA will be taking all these into consideration.

Will the Octave s/w be usable (and I don’t see why) with other non-PSA DACs as well ? Will it support all environments - Windows/Linux/OSX ? There are many DAC which rely on up-sampling. Will Octave support s/w filters/modulators & noise shaping algorithms as well ?


#16
Dev said

There are many DAC which rely on up-sampling.


What do you mean in this context? How do they rely on upsampling? For example, do they somehow expect to receive an upsampled data stream from a server?
Will Octave support s/w filters/modulators & noise shaping algorithms as well ?
What specifically would you want the Octave to do and how would you use it?

Are you thinking VST plug-ins, or would you like Octave to have additional capabilities baked in?

My needs are simple. I only expect a server to send my DAC the cleanest signal possible in the native format of the file so the DAC can sound its best. This is a difficult enough task. :slight_smile:


#17

Elk, I might not have been clear enough - what I meant earlier was there are DACs in the market that expects to receive fixed data stream - pcm or DSD. One of the AKM4490 feature is a DSD bypass which means it doesn’t apply any additional processing of filters/modulators on the incoming data. This can work great provided the system is tuned to a specific sample rate - i.e. choosing clocks which work better in such scenario, instead of using noisy PLLs to generate other sample rates. Another example is the T+A DAC8 DSD Dac which sounds exceptionally good with DSD512 stream, not so much on other sample rates. I think in coming years there “could” be a shift in direction where more stress is given to leveraging the power of s/w and its flexibility.

Yes, I agree that the server should send the DAC the cleanest signal but the key question is what is the balance between the feature set and quality ? If we want more features/up-sampling, etc then we are talking about more compute which leads to more noise (the higher the frequency, the higher the bandwidth of a device, the more the challenge for signal integrity and hence more demanding to keep noise low). If we are only concerned about the clean audio signal then a low powered device could work well but we sacrifice the feature set. My experience with digital and computer audio these are two extreme ends of the pole unless one can spend a considerable amount of money having both - there is a SGM server (@ $20k) which does both exceptionally well (at least that is what I read). The rest of the world, who cannot afford the price, has solved the problem by HQP NAA and Roon Raat protocol - divide and conquer, i.e. let there be two devices, each doing one task the best. If Octave (s/w & h/w) solves both and with PSA pricing, I don’t see how it won’t make to the top of the list of every audiophile enjoying digital audio.


#18

Great explanations on both points. Thanks!


#19

What would be a cool product from PSAudio would be something similar to the Pink Faun I2S PCIe card. I say this because it seems a lot of people here on the forum are just itching to take advantage of the I2S input from other source devices. I realize most people don’t like “Computer Audio”, but the Pink Faun I2S card works kind of in a unique way; you have the option to power it completely from an outside power source. I currently have mine powered via a 12volt linear power supply. You might then say what about a “dirty” signal coming to the card via the motherboards signal path? The card heavily filters the incoming signal to remove such noise, but with that said, most enthusiast grade power supplies that you might be using to power the rest of your PC will have next to no ripple noise (a Seasonic powersupply as an example has been measured to exhibit very low noise) so even though the Pink Faun I2S card filters the incoming signal it doesn’t necessarily have to for audiophile level audio. The nice thing about having this as a PCIe card is that due to it not being in an external enclosure necessitating something like a USB connection to give it the digital information, there are far fewer conversions that happen to the signal before it reaches the DAC. As far as I’m aware, the signal gets decoded and stays in it’s native “I2S” signal format and doesn’t even get transformed into PCM audio (though I may be incorrect), but the way I see it is that less is more when it comes to good sounding audio and it being encoded and decoded from multiple transport signal formats only does bad things to how audio sounds and it seems this card allows for at least one less conversion with the other added benefits that I2S has to offer (keeping the clock and data separate and having extremely low jitter).

With that said, the reason I’d like PSAudio to look into such a card would be because I’m having an issue with Pink Faun’s. I don’t know if it’s driver related or if there is something going on with it on a hardware level, but I cannot seem to get a bit-perfect test file to work properly with this card. Despite this issue, it does sound decidedly better than any of the other inputs I’ve tried on my Directstream (USB and Optical) so I still use the card, but I’m a little weary about the integrity of the data signal as it doesn’t pass the bit-perfect test as the other inputs do. I’m convinced there is some type of volume control going on and this is why it doesn’t pass the test.Unfortunately it uses generic Windows drivers and I think this issue could be overcome if a custom driver were made for it. Pink Faun is a tiny company and doesn’t have the capability do so. Obviously there could be worse things happening to the signal but I’m hoping to see another card like this be made from a reputable manufacturer such as PSAudio. Any interest Paul?

I2S-800.png

<img src=“http://www.tnt-audio.com/jpg/i2s_stereo.jpg” width=“950” alt=“i2s_stereo.jpg” " />


#20

Pink Faun I2S is a great little card and I always wanted to get one but it has its own drawbacks. I think the itch for connecting over I2S on the DS (and other DACs supporting I2S as well) is that the I2S is a better (and direct) interface which requires less USB trinkets to get great sound - a lot easier path to achieving your sonic nirvana I guess :slight_smile:

However, I may be completely outdated but the last time I checked the Pink Faun card when it came out (couple of yrs back I guess), it didn’t support DSD, Windows was the only option and the drivers was unstable. I am sure they have come a long way since then. Not sure what is the status on DSD now but having only windows support is a big drawback in today’s world, IMO. Again, I could be completely wrong as I haven’t checked on it a long time.

Having said that, I re-collect there was some discussion on I2S out with the Octave h/w but I don’t think its necessary to employ the Pink Paun card as part of it - PSA knows this I2S thingy well enough than anybody else in this business.