DACs: Improve your USB (break out PCI USB card with Unison)

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by purr1n, Jan 1, 2022.

  1. crenca

    crenca Friend

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    It bugs me as well, although I don't find it very surprising. Fact is Schitt has pored significant effort into their USB development, and if memory serves Unison and before that Gen 5 were entirely in house custom designs. They have done this because so many of their typical customers connect to their DACs with USB. As I understand it their AES/SPDIF hardware in the Yggdrasil/Gun/Bitfrost is standard off the shelf commodity (someone correct me if I am wrong).

    So it figures that if fed an ideal signal from an ideal source, Unison is the "it" sound. At this level of effort/pricing and with headphones (as the main advantage appears to be stage) I'm not interested, but if I was configuring an expensive speaker system I would have to consider it, at least after I optimized other things...
     
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  2. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    I forgot to mention, just added to the second post, but I am running a high-end Corsair AX860i power supply for the PC. Many years ago, I decided to take the plunge and decided on this because of its supposedly better regulation. The USB PC card is placed on the slot farthest away opposite from the GPU.
     
  3. haywood

    haywood Friend

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    But was she shaking her head because one sounded so much better or because she thought you were crazy?;)

    I think we tend to exaggerate subtle differences in situations like this to justify our nervosa and the average person isn’t going to hear much difference. Not that there isn’t a difference but to normies we may come across a bit like:

    [​IMG]

    Anyway the biggest advantage to a pi-based streamer for me has always been getting rid of the need for a big, loud, energy sucking pc to run your audio. Blackground isn’t blackground if you have a nest of 120mm fans spinning away in the background.
     
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  4. econaut

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    Indeed because the sound difference was that big. Fortunately she loves music and good sound, too, but is a little less enthusiastic than me ;) We often listen to music together and sometimes it's interesting to her her thoughts on gear, too.

    Concerning exaggerating subtle differences: full ack - most of the time.

    There have been many situations where I did not hear a difference or wasn't sure if it just might be placebo. For me the difference between Jot 1 und Jot 2 is not that big, for example. Same with Schiit USB Gen3 to Gen5. I also remember having a Wyrd in my system and did not hear a difference. But maybe my gear, ears and brain were just not up to the task then. I also did cable demos where I did not hear a difference at all, but also some where I did. One issue I still have is to be able to describe to others what I hear and OTOH to hear for myself what others describe, in reviews, for example.

    So I don't have a problem to admit that I don't hear a difference at all or find it rather subtle.

    In this case the switch to the SotM + LPSU added space, blackground, holographic three-dimensionality and smoothness to an extent that I had not expected in the slightest. I have never been to a hifi show and even when I chose my speakers I never really listened for these traits, but mainly frequency response and "if I liked them".

    The first time I experienced that kind of three-dimensionality, where you could "walk and grab into the music" was a million euro two channel system I had the chance to listen to once in 2021. I did not know a sound like this existed. His system sounded like something out of this world and I even had to cry when I heard "Agnes Obel - Familiar" like I have never heard that song before. The only thing I can compare that experience to is a psychedelic experience when you can see sounds and you are basically overwhelmed by everything (in a good way).

    Still - there were songs that sounded better on my own system, because he aims for perfect analytical resolution, my goal is musicality. To me his system was too bright and there was so much information it was downright fatiguing.

    Long story short: Putting the SotM in my system added most of the (good) traits I heard in his system and instantly catapulted my two channel system to almost end game status for me.
     
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  5. Garns

    Garns Friend

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    I'm enjoying how this thread is adroitly tiptoeing around the big black pit of nervosa. Everyone posting seems to have it figured out. My approach is to treat these tweaky comparisons like a trip to the opticians. You get like two goes to compare sides 1 and 2, better with or without, and you just go with your immediate reaction. Your opthamologist ain't going to let you spend 5 hours comparing sides 1 and 2, or try coating side 1 in nanofluid or stacking seven copies of side 2 on top of each other. You want to do it quickly and confirm that the result is not worse (which happens about 30% of the time, and is particularly painful if you dumped a lot of money into making it worse). When you are done, wherever you end up your ears will adapt, so now leave well alone for a year or so, enjoy listening and maybe come back for another round at your next scheduled checkup.
     
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  6. crenca

    crenca Friend

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    This thread got me thinking about how I have not even tried Unison yet, even though I have had a Yggdrasil A2 with it for a month now. When I got it I just pluged in the Pi2AES and forgot about it. So I decided to do a little bit of A/B:

    Windows PC/Roon > wasapi > Unison on Yggdrasil A2 > Saga OG > Asgard 3 > Final D8000 Pro

    vs.

    Windows PC/Roon > Pi2AES > AES on Yggdrasil A2 > Saga OG > Asgard 3 > Final D8000 Pro


    I unplugged all USB devices from my HP Envy All-in-one (essentially laptop internals in an upright from factor) that is running my Roon core so that the only USB device on the bus was the Yggdrasil. Also I have a AudioQuest Jitterbug on the wire, because it might not be as expensive as @econaut SotM but it gets me 96.72% of the way there (joke people, joke :) ) I choose to use the Asgard because it dulls details a touch, and I wanted to see if I could hear the differences (if any) through it. I will try the Starlett later...

    • Even in my non optimized USB chain, Unison is much better than the Gen 5 was on my Gungnir A2. I expected this, but not how close it took it to the AES input.
    • Pi2AES/AES input still edges it in detail and separation, images are tighter/more obviously placed, but it's a small delta now.
    • Unison is warmer, and I think has a small but significant bass boast - and/or the AES is just cooler
    • Unison is louder by .5db, or .7356db, or something. It's cheating ;)
    • Unison washes out the stage a touch, almost as if it has a subtle crossfeed
    • If I can hear a "wetness" to Unison, I want to say it's this washing out effect combined with the warmth that gives it this reported "Tube" sound, but the Asgard may be covering this up for me, will try Starlett later.

    Anyways, for what's that worth.
     
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  7. dericchan1

    dericchan1 Acquaintance

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    Interesting thread.

    I have a ifi neo idsd dac. Actually I have never connected directly from my pc to the dac through usb before until last night when I had to do a major firmware update. (I was using a pi2aes with coax out to the dac before and now using a rpi4 as a hqplayer NAA and connected to my hqplayer desktop pc through cat6 then NAA to intona usb isolator then Oehlbach reclocker to dac)

    I plugged in a 6” amazon basic usb 3.0 cable between my pc and the dac for the firmware update but I did play a couple of familiar tracks before and after. Either way, this direct connection from pc mb USB port to the dac was so horrible I did not recognize my system sound anymore!!!

    I swapped it back to my old set up with the rpi4 as Hqplayer NAA to the dac immediately and the “house” sound is back!!!

    btw, I have now moved the pi2aes as a hqplayer NAA to my bedroom system with my Marantz hdamp1 via coax and paradigm premier 200b speakers. Upsample to 24/192 with sinc-m filter. This setup put a smile on my face everytime I listen to it.

    Deric
     
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    Last edited: Jan 2, 2022
  8. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    Order of sound quality goes like this, noting differences are not huge (or perhaps they are huge to super discerning audiophiles):
    1. Tower PC Ryzen B350 board with AX860i power supply 5V feeding Renesas chip USB PCI card (no other devices on the bus) -> Unison Input on Yggdrasil LIM
    2. pi2AES AES output - > AES Input on Yggdrasil LIM
    3. pi2AES BNC output -> BNC input on Yggdrasil LIM
    4. < small gap >
    5. Tower PC Ryzen B350 board with AX860i power supply motherboard USB out -> Unison Input on Yggdrasil LIM
    6. Dell PC Laptop -> Unison Input on Yggdrasil LIM
    Order of convenience / utility goes like this:
    1. pi2AES / Roon (can just use the Roon phone app to play back stuff)
    2. < gap >
    3. Laptop
    4. Tower PC
     
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    Last edited: Jan 3, 2022
  9. Wilewarer

    Wilewarer Rando

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    This gets me wondering about whether the sorts of "better" PC components usually used by extreme overclockers for flashy nonsense might be relevant here. Better motherboards and power supplies, etc. I wouldn't expect it to make up for the electrical signals environment in a PC being really bad to begin with, but if you really need the sound to be coming from the computer...

    Not that I'd expect it to be cost-effective in any sense, next to the 30 dollar USB card. And I wouldn't expect it to match/outdo a pi2, maybe just further narrow the small gap. But the price for a motherboard with a better layout and power delivery parts can be shockingly reasonable compared to some of the stuff people try to sell to audiophiles.
     
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  10. exocer

    exocer Acquaintance

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    Glad to see this topic as well. In my experience, the JCAT card in the same system sounded substantially better than the standard Startech card using the same chipset (all else equal). No comparison. Also, the power supply feeding the USB card has an influence as well. It is shocking how well unison scales with a "better" source. A friend of mine was kind enough to let me borrow his JCAT USB XE card for about 2 months. During that two months I did a lot of swapping of 4 USB cards.

    Audio options were:

    CoreAudio P24 OCXO
    JCAT USB XE

    Standard options were:
    Startech PCI-E USB card using ASM3142 chipset
    Generic PCI-E USB card using NEC uDP720201 (another "good sounding" chipset)

    The audio options were substantially better using the below LPS module:

    https://www.mpaudio.net/product-page/als-hpuln-ps

    I later upgraded to a better LPS which improved SQ even further to a large degree.

    I also tried multiple OS's on this server ( i9 9900k/z390 full atx motherboard) and GentooPlayer (which worked really work with the Pi2AES as well) and Euphony (what I currently use) sounded best to my ears. Daphile is also a good free option but with limited customizability.

    Expecting some downvotes but hopefully someone found this useful.

    Case is an HDPlex H5 so the PC sits in my audio rack without issue.
     
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  11. Yethal

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    Comparison with a usb-based streamer such as sms200, rendu series or usbridge (by someone with better ears than me) would be helpful so that we can combine the best of both worlds (Unison and dedicated low-noise source)
     
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  12. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    LOL why? This was super useful info. I also just learned about something I didn't know about: HDPlex H5


    SBAF is x10 friendlier than Reddit and has gotten friendlier over time as its "rules" have become better known, while Reddit has turned into "baby 4chan" where "anyone with 4000 Reddit karma is an incel". My kids' words, not mine. Hate to admit it, but I ask them about this stuff so I know better (was wondering to myself why Reddit seemed so toxic recently). Then again, they also say that "forums are so 2007".
     
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  13. dericchan1

    dericchan1 Acquaintance

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    When it comes to usb, my view is that galvanic isolation and keeping the connection to shortest possible and properly shielded are key.

    I really think the hqplayer desktop and NAA set up is a genius idea - leave the heavy lifting/processing work with your powerful computer then transfer the processed digital music files through Ethernet which is meant to be transformer/galvanic isolated to your NAA (which should be a low power, low noise sbc powered by a decent lps - ie a rpi4 powered by a ipower x or a decent lps……

    rpi4 as the NAA then connect to intona usb galvanic isolator then a 15cm shielded usb cable (Ghent audio makes excellent shielded usb cable at great price) to the dac.

    the set up makes logical sense to me and sounds great to my ears

    Deric
     
  14. crenca

    crenca Friend

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    Update, same chain as above except DNA Starlett as amp and Utopia as HP:

    • The Utopia/Starlett does not do low bass/subass like the D8000/Asgard 3 (mostly its the Utopia), so the difference in bass go all but missing.
    • Through this chain the perceived loudness is the same, probably due to the bass.
    • Utopia is weaker with headstage width, so the Pi2AES/AES input showed it's separation/imaging advantage mostly through greater depth, "dimensionality" and image boundary delineation.
    • The Utopia (and Starlett) is stronger than the D8000 as far as raw resolve and microdetail, and thus the delta between the two inputs widen a bit more with these attributes. Unison now sounded closer to a full step down.
    • Voices, cello's, and the like sound more pure and "unveiled" with the AES input vs. Unison

    This exercise has reminded me of the need to pay attention to other components of the chain when thinking (and reading reviews) about subtleties of DACs, let alone the differences in sound of their inputs.
     
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  15. exocer

    exocer Acquaintance

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    Nice comparison. I think it is worth it to mention the source/input/playback software when making comparisons. You are comparing pi2aes/aes to Windows-Roon/laptop/usb. Not sure what OS you’re running with pi2aes but that has an impact on sq too. Would be interested in your results if you tried something like Audirvana or JPlay on the laptop. Roon seems to prioritize UI/visuals over SQ.
     
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  16. Armaegis

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    Oh come on, 2007 was only... *mental math*... oh god...
     
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  17. earnmyturns

    earnmyturns Smartest friend

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    I keep reading such claims, but no one to my knowledge ever provided concrete technical arguments that support them. Until they do, it seems just so much woo, as there's already too much of in this hobby.
     
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  18. Aklegal

    Aklegal Almost "Made"

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    This is essentially what I am doing. I have a PC in another room running JRiver. I have a Pi2AES sitting on top of my Yggdrasil A2 running whatever endpoint software I choose (right now that is IdPi). Both are connected to the same ethernet switch. The difference in SQ between using the PC as the server and the Pi as the endpoint and using only the Pi as the server is minimal at best though. I went the route of using the PC because the PC version of JRiver is just more stable than IdPi.

    Is anyone else having a USB Nervosa PTSD episode from reading this thread? I may reconsider building a linear power supply for the Pi2AES to calm myself down but I am loath to go down the USB route again for my own sanity. I am definitely not doubting what folks are hearing but shit man...

    I remember having one of those first or second gen, external powered SoTm usb PCI cards and then putting a $700 CIAudio Transient in between the card and my dac. And then thinking that "maybe I should buy the Empircal Audio Off Ramp instead" *shudders* (No judgment here, the Offramp was the best we could do at the time).

    It does however make sense that all things being equal, Unison would be the best input given that the spdif hardware is mostly off the shelf so to speak. I wish I could test it out, but I am still rocking Gen5 USB in my DAC.
     
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  19. Beefy

    Beefy Almost "Made"

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    Eh, I'm much more inclined to believe that software has an effect on sound than the digital interface hardware.

    I'm strictly Windows, and there are enormous differences with how software deals with upsampling, downsampling, mixing sounds from different apps, etc. Even within something like the SRC plugin for foobar, in ASIO mode where the windows mixer is out of the way, I can choose between different resampling algorithms that have a SNR equivalent as low as -144 dB which is surely inaudible, up to -80 dB which is definitely marginal.
     
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  20. dericchan1

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    I am guessing using pc as server to rpi end point vs using pi as server and playback shouldn’t make too much difference since the pi itself is low power, low noise. It might make a bigger difference if you simply plug in pc to dac through usb and skip the pi? I tried to plug in a amazon basic usb directly from pc to my dac and it sounded so terrible I did not even recognize my system sound!!!

    I have two systems, 1) pi2aes with lps to Marantz hdamp1 through coax to paradigm premier speakers and vintage sub in my bedroom 2) rpi4 to ifi neo idsd dac through usb to power amp to monitor audio silver 300 and a psa 15” sub

    pc running hqplayer desktop server through lan switch to both systems with rpi4 as network endpoint

    obviously with usb you have the advantage of supporting higher resolution pcm and dsd playback (personally I find dsd sound smoother overall)
    But you need to keep the usb to really short distance and in my case I also added a usb galvanic isolator.

    pi2aes sounds great through coax and is convenient.

    Deric
     
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    Last edited: Jan 4, 2022

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