Featuring gear from ReQuest, Questyle, Noble Audio,
Crestron, Wadia, AURALiC, iFi Audio, Roon, Sooloos, OPPO, Bryston, And Innuos.
Like many out there, I struggle with the daily challenges of being an audiophile. Whatever that term means to you; it's usually a lifelong (unachievable) goal. For me, it means listening to the finest music reproduction possible, at all times. No matter where I am. If I am at home, that means my dedicated Audio Room.
For the past year, I have spent numerous, unreported dollars, into turning my Home Theater into an Audio Room. For the most part, I have achieved my goal. A nice sounding (re: neutral room), with the assistance of plenty of sound absorption/reflection materials. Surrounded by the best equipment I can buy, beg, borrow or steal; I enjoy every hour spent in this room.
But what happens when I step outside of the Audio Room?
I was fortunate (when I built this house) to have been able to pre-wire and design the audio features, from the ground up. Virtually every room is wired. Most rooms have Martin Logan in-walls, as well as Niles or Sonance subwoofers. The entire house is controlled via a Crestron control system.
It's nice. I'm spoiled. All audio/video sources are controlled via touchpad or tablet (along with all home controls). Everything is available at the touch of a button. Which is not necessarily a good thing.
But like I'm reminded with every birthday; time is not kind to anyone or anything. My speakers have been stressed by sound and scorched by Arizona heat. They are showing their age. They have been in place for over 15 years. Like any homeowner, a year ago, I started (systematically) upgrading and replacing most of my audio and video gear. Starting with the Kitchen, most speakers throughout the house, have been replaced. The video distribution was upgraded, from analog HD to HDMI distribution. All TV's were upgraded to 4K Samsung's.
What about my audio distribution? Surely, it deserved an upgrade as well?
My Odyssey Begins Here
Several years ago, (based on a PC chassis, with standard ATA drives), we experienced our first hard drive failure. It was devastating. I cannot describe to you, the feeling of losing your entire music collection, along with your carefully constructed playlist. It was like we lost a member of the family. Being a programmer at the time; I had several clients' music collections on this spare drive or the other. We also maintained our (physical) collection of over 1200 CDs. The thought of starting the re-ripping process, sent shivers down my spine. It took several months, but we finally managed to cobble together our collection and playlist, song by song.
I had purchased the final version of their music server (the F1), along with a demo unit. The demo unit would be a "back up" of the main server. Additionally (because ReQuest has changed to a Linux OS), I was instructed on how to back up our playlist. And I did. On multiple drives and locations. These playlists remain in my archives, to this day.
Time Passed. A Decade
Why? Because I was trying to maintain five (or more), multi-format playlist and collections.
Let me explain.
We purchased a 27" Apple iMac desktop. Its sole purpose, is to play, backup, and maintain my wife's iTunes playlist and MP3 collection. This is what I bought the iMac for. That's all it does. It's his only reason for being. An iMac for an iTunes playlist (Collection #1).
The next playlist, is on our ReQuest Audio F1 music server (Collection #2). This server houses a separate MP3 (and some WAV files), and multiple playlist. This player is tied into our wholehouse audio system and has been running constantly for 10 years (post-crash). The ReQuest music server can "sync" with the iMac and iTunes playlist (and music) automatically. After a few "copy over" incidents; I disabled this function. The F3 was no longer allowed to update anything automatically.
The next playlist (Collection #3), is my High-Resolution List. This collection consists of DSD, FLAC and AIFF files. These files are loaded onto my Questyle QP1-R DAP (reviewed here).
The Questyle QP1-R DAP are paired with my Noble Audio K10 CEIMS (reviewed here).
Together, this $2100 combination of audio nirvana is the only reason I drag my body to the gym these days (well... yoga pants do provide some motivation as well).
The next two collections (Collection #4 and #5) are the His and Her Car Collection. These are the songs that are stored on SSD drives, within our two cars. Due to a manufacturer limitation, these files must be MP3. These collected songs are stored on the NAS array as well. My wife's car list is extracted from iTunes. My list, is comprised of my normal Hi-Res playlist, converted to MP3 files.
There has got to be an easier way for me to maintain (and enjoy) my high-resolution music files, while keeping my wife's iPod / iTunes world intact? There has got to be a way for me to listen to my high-resolution tracks, when I'm not in my Audio Room or at the gym (I mean, who wants to be that ripped)?!
So, my search began.
Like all successful projects, I needed a plan. A project workflow. A path to success. What's my success criteria? What are my limits?
1) Good sound quality. If it doesn't sound good, why bother. I wasn't expecting a song to sound as good by the pool, as it does in my dedicated Audio Room, but it had to sound good.
2) Ease of use. My wife must be able to use it, without my intervention. She has been using our present setup for over a decade. She must be able to touch a few buttons and hear her music. No touching wires, or long waiting period. The solution, must go from "Request Music" to "Hearing Music" in two minutes or less. No more!
3) Easy to maintain. I developed a three-minute rule. I must be able to access a downloaded high-resolution file and be able to listen to it on my patio, within three minutes. Any longer, and it becomes work
4) Upgradeable and durable. I would be spending some real money, here. It had to last a while. It also had to be left on, all the time; so, playback was instantly available.
First, I had to examine my existing process. If I could make any process improvements; would it come from new hardware or just a new way of working with an existing product? I had two different processes. One for CDs and one for Hi-Res Music downloads.
When a new CD would arrive, I would follow the same process:
1) Unwrap the CD and rip it on the iMac (iTunes) first. The new MP3 files were now stored on the Synology NAS, in the standard iTunes format. My wife would see the new CD, the next time she went into iTunes.
2) I would then, rip the same CD onto the ReQuest music server. Now, the whole house system had the new CD as well. Playlist would be manually updated, as needed.
3) Finally, I would insert the CD back into the iMac, and re-rip the CD to AIFF format, and store them on the Synology NAS. This time, the AIFF files resided in the "High-Resolution" directory. These files would be added to my Questyle QP1-R DAP. This last step is a bit ridiculous, but MP3 files don't touch my QP-1R. Never. Ever.
Downloaded high-resolution files would follow this process:
1) Downloaded file was stored on the Synology NAS (from the website). The file would then be stored in its original format (DSD or FLAC), in the "High-Resolution/New" directory.
2) QP1-R DAP or the QP1-R storage directory (if my DAP wasn't docked).
3) The downloaded file would then be converted to MP3 (using XLD software) and then stored into the iTunes directory. iTunes would see the addition and add this CD to the list.
Now, I had my success criteria, my processes, and a small budget. Now came the research. Ideally, there was a ready-made product out there. I didn't want to re-invent the wheel, (if I could help it). I wanted to use as much of my existing equipment as possible, but I was ready to invest in a real solution as well.
Simply knew I wanted this "solution" to reside in my Audio Room rack. I wanted to best sound quality to be routed from the Audio Room. This was non-negotiable. I then wanted a secondary audio route, to my wholehouse pre-amp. As this is a Crestron home, all audio/video sources (DVR, DVD, Blu-ray, Roku streamers, etc.) are routed through a Crestron Bi-PAD8 audio pre-amplifier. This could easily be a speaker switch or some other pre-amplifier box.
As the Audio Room is next to my whole house rack, I need to get this secondary (line-level) audio signal, to my rack-mounted pre-amplifier. Total distance was a little more than twenty feet. A bit long for direct wire, so I would probably need a Balun of some sort. This would compromise my sound quality some. I had just started the project, and sound quality was already taking a ding. After a bit of research, I ordered a few MCM Custom Audio Cat6 Baluns.
I had just purchased a Wadia di322 digital audio decoder, and loved it. She was not going anywhere. Whatever final solution I would come up with, must include the Wadia DAC. The Wadia di322 has both, balanced and unbalanced outputs. Both outputs are active at the same time, so this is where my primary and secondary analog streams would come from. Testing aside, I was done at this end. Now I needed some solution, to route audio files; from my NAS located within my office to the Wadia DAC.
I needed a High-Resolution audio streamer. As you are reading this in the first quarter of 2018; high-quality streamers are everywhere. In late 2016 (early 2017); they were not.
I started looking at familiar brands and asking friends. ReQuest Audio was my natural first choice. Since we had been using their products for over a decade; loyalty lead me to their door. After just a few minutes on their website, and a quick call to a local rep, ReQuest Audio was ruled out. They just didn't offer any serious High-resolution playback solutions, without purchasing an additional HD Module that maxes out at 192kHz/24-bit. Coax and TosLink outputs were the only option as well. My F3 had served me well for many years, but it was time to look elsewhere.
When I'm stuck for a solution, I usually make a quick call or e-mail to our Geek Wizard and Creative Director Steven R. Rochlin. Steven suggested I contact Xuanqian Wang, President and company CEO for AURALiC Limited and Summer Yin (AURALiC Limited Sales).
AURALiC has been winning several awards and high praise, for their audio streamers and DACs. One of the first to market; AURALiC has been producing top quality products streamers and other audio components since 2009. Key to their success has been the release of great sounding products, at a reasonable price point. From the budget Aries Mini, to the Aries (and soon, Aries G2); AURALiC brings you excellent sound quality and features, and at less than the price of some other well-known audiophile offerings. A few phone calls and emails later, and a demo AURALiC Aries LE wireless audio streaming bridge was heading my way. I really wanted to demo the step up AURALiC Aries model (with two Femto Clocks and low noise external linear PSU), but none were available. Beggers can‘t be choosers.
The AURALiC Aries/LE certainly packs a tremendous amount of electronics into a small space. The AURALiC Aries/LE features a proprietary Tesla hardware platform (Quad-Core ARM Coretex-A9 p1GHz_processor, 1GB DDR3 on-board memory and 4GB internal storage. The decode AAC, AIFF, ALAC, APE, DIFF, DSF, FLAC, MP3, OGG, WAV, WV and WMA audio formats. A look on back will find: Dual-Band high-speed Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet and USB 2.0 port, USB audio port (PCM from 44.1 to 384 kHz with 16, 24 and 32 bits plus DSD / DSD 2x2), AES/EBU, S/PDIF coaxial and optical TosLink outputs (192kHz/24-bits).
I was also concerned with any possible DAC issues, so I wanted a secondary DAC on hand. At this point, I didn't know if I would be running two separate systems or one. To be safe, I needed another DAC. For this option, I turned to a trustworthy source; iFi Audio.
I have been a fan of iFi Audio, ever since I reviewed their awesome Pro iCAN with studio-grade headphone amplifier and audiophile line-stage. If you haven't demo'ed the iFi Pro iCAN, please do so. I jumped on the phone with Tyler of iFi Audio, and told him about my article. I already knew that they had a hot new DAC on their hands; as he told me about its release, several months ago. The DAC I was looking for was the iFi Audio micro-iDSD BL (Black Label). This little DAC was so popular, that iFi Audio had none to loan out. After harassing Tyler repeatedly, he found one (somewhere) and sent it to me. The squeaky wheel (sometimes) gets the grease.
In a few weeks, I had my first wholehouse system in place. Both units combined, took up less space than a Stephen King hardcover book. The AURALiC Aries LE wireless audio streaming bridge was the first device to setup. AURALiC recommends that you download and install their control software (Lightning DS), first. It's free, and currently available in the Apple App Store (The Lightning DS software works for both the Apple iOS and Android).
Once you launch the Lightning DS software, you are instructed to power up the Aries. The streamer boots and creates a Wi-Fi hotspot. You connect to the Aries, and it walks you through the remainder of the setup process. Total setup time was less than 20 minutes.
Although I was counting on a different GUI for my final interface; I started the testing with the AURALiC Lightning DS on my iPAD. Lightning DS is the iOS/Android control app for all Lightning-enabled hardware from AURALiC. Its interface will allow you to browse and search your digital music library, control playback, create playlists, and more. I directed the Lightning DS app to my NAS and selected my Demo Playlist. Next to setup, was the tiny iFi Audio micro-iDSD BL. Since I am very familiar with iFi Audio products, setup was a breeze. iFi Audio constantly amazes me. How do they pack so much goodness, into such a small package?
The iFi Audio micro-iDSD BL is latest iFi micro flagship product. This diminutive (8" x 3.6" x 1.8" and 6.9 ounces) powerhouse is designed to be the ultimate portable Headphone Amplifier, but I'm using it as a DAC. iFi Audio seems have a knack for designing their products for one purpose, but are perfectly suited for another. Case in point is their Pro iCAN. TheProiCAN is a studio-grade headphone amplifier and audiophile line-stage. I also found it to be one of the best phono pre-amps I've have ever listened to. Someone should talk to their marketing department. I think they missed the marketing target with this one!
The iFi Audio micro-iDSD BL is packed to the brim, with Dual-Core Burr-Brown chipset, upgraded DAC digital signal and digital power sections, upgraded AMR Global Master Timing femto-precision clock system, upgraded Analogue signal and power sections, and the latest Output stabilization network for less distortion. This little black beauty can playback all music formats, from MP3's to 512 DSD,768 PCM and 2 x DXD. That means, Bit-Perfect DSD processing and Bit-Perfect PCM processing. That means you can listen to: DSD (512/256/128/64 24.6/22.6/12.4/11.2/6.2/5.6/3.1/2.8), DXD (2x/1x 768/705.6/384/352.8kHz), and PCM (44.1to 768 kHz). All native decoding and no internal hardware conversion. None! It will do this all day, every day.
Well... not all day.
The iFi Audio micro-iDSD BL was designed to be mobile. On a full charge, it will play Hi-Res Audio / Hi-Res Music files for 6 to 12 hours. As there are three headphone power output modes (Eco, Normal and Turbo), the iDSD BL can handle every type of headphone and IEM you choose to plug in. If you're done listening to music, it will even charge your iPhone (from the SmartPower Socket). This is a USB charging port on the side, which boasts a USB battery charger (Standard 1.2 to 5V @ 1.5A).
The micro-iDSD BL has inputs and outputs at both ends. Full USB 3.0 (and Apple/Win/Linux compatible) type A "OTG" Socket, 3 Way combo S/PDIF port (Coaxial In/Out; Optical In; up to 192kHz PCM) and S/PDIF Optical cover the inputs. Audio RCA L+R, and Intelligent S/PDIF Coaxial up to 192kHz PCM cover your outputs. You'll also find a 6.3mm headphone jack, 3.5mm Input, X-Bass On/Off switch, 3D Holographic Sound On/Off switch, and a volume with power On/Off switch. It will also do speaker auto-switching (using two separate and distinct circuits). Running out of room, they had to put Line Direct/Preamplifier and iEMatch controls on the bottom.
All this for only $600.
At press time, I heard a rumor of a iFi Pro iDSD? I'm wondering why I do not have one of these in my possession? (Oh Tyler of iFi Audio? If you are reading this, please know that I feel slighted and upset....and that my world has lost all focus and meaning).
From shipping boxes to audio rack, total setup and connection time; 52 minutes.
Since this is an article about the user experience and how best to enjoy the music; let me dispense with the obvious.
The AURALiC / iFi Audio combo sounded good. Very good. Originally piped through the Audio Physics Tempo Plus speakers (review coming soon), then my old Jamo Concert 8 speakers, and finally my Audio Room standbys (Martin Logan Summit); the AURALiC / iFi Audio combo was warm and enveloping. Since both components have been widely praised and reviewed; I expected nothing less. But this was within my very controlled Audio Room. What about the kitchen? The pool? The Bathroom?
As mentioned before; the connection to my wholehouse audio system pre-amplifier, was via a MCM Custom Audio Cat6 Balun transmitter/receiver. Transmitting from the Audio Room, receiving in the wholehouse audio rack. The signal path was, analog output from the iFi iDSD, into the Cat6 Balun. Cat 6 up the wall, over the attic and down the wall, into the rack. Then a Cat 6 Balun receiver back to RCA analog, into the Crestron Bi-PAD8 wholehouse pre-amp (input #2 previously used by the ReQuest audio server). Total distance: 28 feet.
Leaving the music playing in the Audio Room, I strolled in to the kitchen and pressed the ReQuest Audio button on the Crestron Touchpad (final interface reprogramming would come later).
I heard music. I heard High-Resolution music. I heard High-Resolution files streaming from my NAS (located in my office), now playing in my kitchen. I was elated.
For the first time ever, I was able to hear the same files from my High-Resolution playlist, throughout my home! Well... at this point my kitchen. This wasn't my "Hi-Res converted to MP3 list". This was my High-Resolution playlist, that (before), I was only able to listen to, in two places; the Audio Room and my Questyle QP1-R DAP.
Next, I tried the outside patio. High-Resolution music played there, as well. The Master Bathroom. High-Resolution music. The office? No music. The great room? No music. The master bedroom? No music. What do these rooms all have in common? AV Receivers. These three zones all have AV Surround Sound receivers. These three zones are all part of the recent HDMI Video upgrade project; and as such, no longer connected to the old (analog) Crestron Video system. Oddly enough, the Crestron (analog) Video system had the ability to pass digital audio via Cat 5e. That's how I fed these audio receivers in the past. This was a stumbling block, but not a deal breaker. I had High-Resolution music in the primary rooms: Audio Room, Kitchen, Pool / Patio area Master Bathroom. Since the Office AV receiver is rack-mounted with the rest of the wholehouse system, it was simple matter of taking the loop out of the Crestron Bi-PAD8 pre-amplifier, into the CD input of the Office AV receiver (an Onkyo TX-NR 575). In just a few moments, I added the Office to High-Resolution wholehouse music recipient list. The other rooms would have to wait.
I allowed myself the rest of the weekend to enjoy the wholehouse music. I focused on the GUI and total usability of the AURALiC / iFi Audio combination. How would it work day after day, week after week? I can use it, but what about my wife? It really had to be full proof. I went back to my checklist: Good sound quality, Ease of use, Easy to maintain and Upgradeable and durable.
Good sound quality was a "Yes". I was very happy with the sound quality. Easy to update was also a "Yes". I was able to update firmware as easily as I updated the music on the app.
After a few weeks, "Ease of use" and "Upgradeable and durable" came in to question. Since the iFi Audio micro-iDSD BL was designed to be mobile, it really depends on its internal battery being charged and re-charged. Upon entering my audio room, I found the micro-iDSD BL out of power (from time to time). My fault for leaving it on for days at a time, but that's what I do. A quick email to Tyler of iFi Audio, and a fix was on the way. Tyler sent the iFi Audio Gemini Dual-Headed USB cable. Connecting the USB cables and a spare 12V USB Wall-wart was all I needed. The micro-iDSD BL was now being constantly charged. Now I focused on the GUI.
The Lighting DS app was very usable, but you can tell it was designed by an engineer. With your primary GUI being an iOS app, the interface (in theory) should be fairly easy to use. The Lighting DS app was good, but not great. It's a little boxy. A little clunky. It's not slick or "WOW" inducing. For most people, that is fine. For a wholehouse interface (that will be used by people with varying degrees of technical prowess); the Lightning DS app needed a bit of help.
This lead me to Roon.
I was explaining my reservations towards using the AURALiC Lighting DS interface, to my good friend (and fellow audiophile) Timmy. As a man of few words, Timmy offered his sage advice.
"Dude, just download Roon". So I did.
Roon is a subscription-based, software app, that gathers, displays, and streams, all your music files; with an extremely intuitive GUI. It's all about the GUI.
I downloaded the free, two-week trial version from Roon Labs...and bought the $120 annual subscription by the end of the day. The software is just that cool. So are the people who developed it. Roon Labs has a great pedigree. They started out with Sooloos in 2007, which Meridian Audio purchased (by acquisition) in 2008. Like the Borg, Meridian Audio assimilated Sooloos into its own streaming collective (products). By 2015, Meridian released Roon Labs upon the world.
In the simplest terms, Roon is a music management and listening solution; comprised of a Roon Server (Core) and Player. The Roon Server (Core – music database), can run on Mac or PC; just about anywhere on the network. It can run from your PC's hard drive, your NAS drive, or even a dedicated, low cost NUC (Next Unit of Computing) or Mac Mini. After consulting the Roon Forums for a few days (and several conversations with long-time Roon user, Timmy); I opted for the NAS/Roon Core solution.
At the time, I owned a Synology DS-415+NAS array, with 2GB of on-board memory and 24TB of storage. A third-party Roon developer (Chris Rieke) had written a software package for the Synology NAS (.spk) and QNAP NAS (.qpkg) devices. I downloaded his Synology package and created the Roon Core.]
Like any database, your optimum hardware/software configuration will directly affect your performance. As this was going to be my main music system, I insisted on the best performance I could afford. For testing purposes, I started with my Apple iMac (2.7GHz Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 1TB SSD). Within seconds of launching the Roon software and selecting the location of my music files; cover art started appearing on my screen. Because of my extensive music collection (over 2600 CDs by 2018), I only pointed the Roon software to my High-Resolution folder (about 200GB worth).
Within a few minutes; all of my 200GB worth of High-Resolution files were being cataloged into the Roon database. The awesome GUI showed the cover art, title, song name, length of recording, resolution, year recorded and more. Much more. Within the hour, I could view album descriptions, biography of the artist, and on and on. Without turning this into a 10-page Roon review; head to the website and download the demo. If you are a music lover, this is the music software for you.
Late into the evening, I directed Roon to catalog the remainder of our music collection; and walked away. I knew it would take several hours (or days) to catalog that much material. The next morning, it was done. I eagerly selected the Roon app on my Mac... and waited.
The app was a bit slow to come up. Performance hits continued for the remainder of the day. I had to fix this. After a little more time on the Roon Forum, I had my solution. I would stick with the NAS solution but move the database to a USB 3.0 external hard drive. I had a few 120GB Samsung SSD drives lying around, so I dropped one into an external chassis, and connected it to my NAS. Because of the size of my CD collection (2600+ albums), the memory and performance on my Synology DS415+ NAS, came into question. Roon recommends the following:
"We strongly recommend 4GB of RAM and an SSD for the Roon databases. Your music files can be on spinning disks, but ideally the Roon database should be on an SSD. This one optimization can provide the single biggest improvement to Roon's performance and user experience."
A NAS with at least 4GB memory and a Quad-core CPU was recommended, but my 4-bay Synology DS-415+ only had 2GB DDR3 (not upgradeable). Looks like it was time for an NAS upgrade!
Because my NAS array is the default storage space for everything we hold dear (entire photo collection, document storage, music collection); the decision to upgrade was a no brainer. A few clicks on Amazon, and my new 5-bay Synology DS-1517+ NAS, was on its way.
The 5-bay Synology DS-1517+ NAS was packed with a 16GB DDR3 (8GB x 2), Quad-core 2.4GHz CPU, four redundant 1GbE LAN Ports (with the option of a 10GbE NIC) and with RAID5 configuration. It can support up to 50TB in total storage. SSD drives are supported, but I maxed out my array with five (5) 8TB Western Digital Red internal NAS drives. To partially fund the upgrade, I sold my used Synology DS415+ NAS with four 6TB Western Digital Red internal NAS drives to a fellow audiophile (with less performance needs).
During this time, I returned the loaner AURALiC Aries LE and purchased the AURALiC Aries (upgraded with the two Femto Clocks and low noise external linear PSU).
Two days later, I had my new Synology DS-1517+ NAS installed, and the Roon Server/Core back on-line. This time, the Core was running off an external 120GB Samsung SSD, connected to the USB 3.0 port of the NAS. Performance was no longer an issue. It was time to get back to the GUI and back to the music.
There are multiple ways to configure and play your music through Roon. Since Roon has been widely reviewed, I won't dive in too deeply. Spend some time on their website, and you will quickly discover all of the Roon Ready network players, Roon Tested DACs and Roon Core servers, available today.
Since Roon can run off a variety of hardware, I was interested in using a device for a Roon Bridge or Roon Endpoint. A Roon Bridge or Roon Endpoint means, when on the same network as your Roon Core; many devices become a Roon Player! The Roon player software recognizes the network device, and makes that device available on their interface, as a Roon "End-point" or "Bridge". Once powered up, Roon will see your device in seconds.
I missed the opportunity to review the OPPO UDP-205 Ultra Blu-ray player to another Enjoy the Music.com reviewer; but I knew where I could get a loaner?!
Having spent a lot of time with the outstanding OPPO HA-1 Headphone pre-amplifier/DAC (now discontinued); I had developed a nice relationship with Jason of OPPO Digital. OPPO has been releasing amazing products for years now, and the OPPO UDP-205 was no exception. Videophiles around the world are familiar with the line of OPPO BDVD players, Blu-ray players, and now...their Ultra HD Blu-ray players (UDP-203 and UDP-205).
A few emails and a Fed Ex ride later; the OPPO UDP-205 was sitting in my great room. The OPPO UDP 205 was never going to leave my home. I knew that before it even arrived. It was going to become my Universal Transport for my Audio Room. But today, I needed to complete my Wholehouse High-Resolution System. With the help of Roon; the OPPO UDP-205 would become my great room Roon End-point.
The above mentioned (excellent) review will give you all the details about the UDP-205; but the key points for me?
1) OPPO Digital made it.
2) The UDP-205 features dual ESS ES9038PRO Sabre Pro DACs.
3) The UDP-205 a high-stability, high-precision clock and a special audio jitter-reduction circuit on one of two HDMI ports.
4) It's more multiple Inputs and Outputs for your every need.
5) It has Balanced Outputs for the Audiophile.
After the initial setup and configuration of the OPPO (within Roon), I used my iPad to connect to Zone Grouping. Once there, I added the "Great Room OPPO" zone to the "Audio Room" zone and hit play.
Music. My music. My playlist was now reverberating off the walls in the great room. Once again, I now had music playing in all zones of my home. All music controlled from my iPad (or iPhone). I had to select stereo DSP on the great room receiver (a Denon AVR-X4300H) to reduce the delay, but other than that change; I had music in my great room.
My proof of concept had been completed. It was now time to optimize. What would be my permanent solution?
I did not own the iFi Audio micro-iDSD BL DAC, but I did own a new Wadia di322 digital audio decoder. A few months before starting this journey, I laid the foundation to upgrade my audio system, from the ground up. Literally. I started with floor tiles.
One of my first new audio purchases, was the Wadia di322 digital audio decoder. It would be the core digital piece of my system. All digital roads would lead to the Wadia. Owning a Wadia DAC was a bit of a home-coming to me. Once I got my first real job, the first piece of audio gear I purchased, was a used Wadia 12 DAC. I've been hooked on them ever since.
The Wadia di322 DAC is a bit of an upgrade, from my Wadia 12 DAC. The Wadia di322 features the eight-channel ESS Technology Sabre 9016S DAC chip. Through the USB input, the di322 supports DSD64, DSD128 and DSD256 music files and PCM files with sampling rates up to 32-bit/384kHz (including DXD 352.8kHz and DXD 384kHz formats). The Wadia di322 sports a pair of balanced and unbalanced audio outputs connects, powered headphone port and a pair of both optical TosLink and coaxial RCA jacks. The USB port (Type B) is wedged in the back as well. All of this goodness, wrapped in a polished aluminum and glass chassis.
Disconnecting the iFi Audio micro-iDSD BL DAC; I had the Wadia di322 DAC installed within the hour. Remembering a conversation I had with AURALiC owner, Xuanqian Wang; I was a little concerned with a AURALiC /Wadia combination. Xuanqian Wang (of AURALiC) was very clear in stating; that AURALiC streamers may have trouble with some Wadia DACs. I was hoping that my Wadia wasn't in that club, but ultimately, it was. I didn't notice any issues at first. Everything worked as before, and the sound quality was full, warm and clean. No distortion or artifacts, no matter my choice of music. Everything seemed fine. Then I turned everything off.
Going back to my original success criteria; I wanted to test the system as if I was someone else. As an old programmer, the ultimate test of your code, was if a stranger could do XYZ, without your input. To this end, I wanted to pretend to be my wife. My wife has zero tolerance for change, and zero tolerance to tweaking. She is my perfect tester for any changes I make to our home system. If she can't make it work in five minutes or less, then it was back to the drawing board. I hit the stop watch and walked into the audio room. I turned on the AURALiC Aries first, followed by the Wadia DAC. The power-cycle time was an immediate concern. It was about three minutes until both units were fully power up and booted. The AURALiC Aries required an additional boot-cycle, before it connected to the Wadia DAC. It had never needed an additional boot with the iFi DAC? After much tweaking (including accessing the AURALiC setup menu through their Lighting software interface) I (finally) had music. Total time was 22 minutes. This won't do.
I repeated the process and cut my time down to 16 minutes. This would never work with the family. Even I was frustrated with the operation. I swapped out the Wadia DAC with the iFi DAC and tried again. Success! Total time from boot to music, 6 minutes. If the units were powered on; a mere 35 seconds.
I had a problem. As luck would have it, I had the solution right in front of me.
Had just received a prized review combo and happened to have it burning in before my eyes. Good fortune comes my way occasionally. This was one of those times. Chief God-like figure (and Creative Director at large) Steven R. Rochlin asked if I wanted to review the new Bryston BP17³ Preamplifier (pictured above). I told him yes, but only if I could review the new cubed-series pre-amplifier...with their cubed-series amplifiers.
Ok, who am I really kidding? I said yes please(!) and begged for him to allow me to review the new Bryston 7B³ amplifiers (below) with the Bryston BP17³ preamplifier. My tears must have gotten to Steven.
In short order, Bryston sent me three big boxes consisting of a Bryston BP17³ Preamplifier and two Bryston 7B³ monoblock amplifiers. I was to review them as a set or combo. Review coming soon!
Bryston was garnering much acclaim over their new BDP-3 Digital Player. So, I did what any reviewer with $ 20,000 of loaner gear staring him in the face would do. I asked for more, and I got it.
Like Santa Claus, Fed Ex dropped off a slender Bryston box, with a new BDP-3 Digital Player tucked inside.
The Bryston BDP-3 Digital Player was remarkably easy to set up. While not as intuitive (and GUI-based) as the AURALiC Aries to setup; I managed to produce sound from my Roon playlist in about 30 minutes (from unboxing to playing music). After getting comfortable with the BDP-3 Digital Player for a few days, I was eager to re-do my torture test. I repeated the process from power off, to power on. Success. Total time from boot to music, 4 min. If the units were powered on; less than 20 seconds.
Since the "Stand By" mode on the BDP-3 Digital Player didn't seem to cause any issues with the Wadia DAC "Wake Up" mode; I opted to leave the BDP-3 Digital Player on constantly. The same for the Wadia di322 DAC and the Bryston 7B³ Amplifiers.
I was saddened, that the AURALiC Aries Streamer would not work with the Wadia DAC. I had been warned about this issue (in advance). The AURALiC Aries Streamer had such a wonderfully warm sound, right from the first track. The Bryston BDP-3 Digital Player took several weeks to warm up. Honestly, I was a little concerned for a time. After some heavy burn-in time, the BDP-3 Digital Player began to hit its stride.
But no matter what I tried, the AURALiC Aries would not work correctly with my Wadia DAC. Not all components will work together, folks. Most will, but this combination will not. Reluctantly; I turned the AURALiC Aries Streamer over to an eager young audiophile and continued my quest for perfection.
So here I am today.
From start to finish, this quest took 16 months or so. I now have a working, high-resolution, wholehouse audio system. I can listen to music throughout my home again. More importantly; I can listen to the same music, the same playlist, the same high-resolution music, as I do in my dedicated audio room. Roy Orbison's DSD file "Crying" (at DSD 2.8MHz) in the audio room, is the same Roy Orbison's DSD file "Crying" (at DSD 2.8MHz) in the bathroom. Does it sound as good in the bathroom, as it does in the audio room?
No, of course not. It's not supposed to, and that's not the point.
This journey was about musical enjoyment. For the sheer pleasure of it. Remember that? Remember just enjoying music for the wonderful gift that it is?
I remembered. Hunched over my Mac for hours, ripping a CD, then converting it and putting the files in four or five different directories. This format for her list, that format for my list. It was draining the fun from my music. It had become another task, another chore. Another line item on my never-ending list of chores to do.
Is my final solution perfect? No. no it's not. But that's expected. The high-resolution music world is evolving like any new format. When I started this quest, no one had a good "all-in-one" solution. Now, there are several.
Roon demo'd a killer server with a Crestron interface at Cedia 2017. Since then, Roon has released the servers; the Nucleus and the Nucleus +. Roon is selling two variations: the standard Nucleus (i3, 4Gb RAM, 64Gb OS SSD) and Nucleus+ (i7, 8Gb RAM, 128Gb OS SSD). Both will do Multi-room systems with of five zones or more! The Nucleus servers are being sold through select retailers.
I have been begging Rob Darling (of Roon Labs) for sample unit, but no delivery, yet [hint hint Rob Darling, as am very persistent]. Just this month, Rob acknowledged the release of a revamped Crestron Interface for Roon. Great! But then he confirmed; that it will only works on the Roon Nucleus Server line. I was obviously bummed by this news, as a Crestron / Roon interface (for non-Nucleus Server owners) would be the icing on my cake. For now, however, we'll have to struggle with a static Crestron page and use an iPad or iPhone to control the Roon interface.
Another company making waves, is Innuos. Innuos was founded in 2009 within the United Kingdom and they are making some serious waves in the audiophile world for their Zenith SE MK.II STD (limited edition) and Zenith MK.II STD music servers. I had the opportunity to spend a brief hour with a Zenith MK.II STD music server. I can tell you, I was impressed by what I heard and saw during that brief time. Amelia Santos (of Innuos) has promised me a review piece, soon [again... hint, hint Amelia Santos].
Will either of these new servers replace my existing high-resolution, wholehouse system? I don't know. We'll have to see after I review their products.
For now, in this rare moment, I am content. I still spend an hour or two grooming my music. I think anyone with an extensive music collection does. I'm also still forced to convert all my favorite songs (in various file formats), to MP3s. Just to load onto our cars SSD audio systems. That just doesn't seem right, does it?
I wonder if anyone has ever traded in their car for one with a better music interface? A car that can play all file formats from DSDs to MP3s? Hmmm... Let me get to work!
Analog Sources: Technics SL-D3 Automatic Turntable.
Digital Processors: Wadia Di322 DAC, Audioquest DragonFly Red DAC
Pre-Amp: Audio Research LS27
Phono Pre-Amp: Parasound Zphono
Power Amplifiers: Bryston 4B SST2, Bryston 3B ST.
AV Receivers: Denon AVR-X4300H, Integra DRX-5
Loudspeakers: Martin Logan Summit, Martin Logan Purity, Jamo Concert 8, Sonus Faber Chameleon B, M&K V1250THX Subwoofer, SVS Ultra-13 Subwoofer. Vermouth Audio, "Little Luccas MkII Limited Edition" (under review)
Headphones: OPPO PM-1 (balanced), Meze 99 Classics, Noble Audio K10 CIEM, Noble Audio 3 IEM.
Cables: USB: Audioquest Carbon, Audioquest Cinnamon. Audioquest Yukon S/PDIF: Audioquest Optical Carbon, Audioquest Optical Cinnamon. Line level: Audioquest Red River, Audioquest Mackenzie (XLR), Audioquest Golden Gate, Audioquest Big Sir. Audioquest Irish Red, Audioquest Boxer. Audioquest Yukon (XLR).
Speaker cables: Audioquest Rocket 44, Audioquest Rocket 33, Audioquest Type 4.
Accessories: Dedicated 20A lines to dual Furman Elite ELITE-20 PF I surge protectors.
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