Just Simplified My Digital Front End

Music as represented in 1's and 0's. Discuss anything pertaining to D hardware - CD, DVD, SACD, DAC, etc.

Just Simplified My Digital Front End

Postby rtsyrtsy » Sun Dec 06, 2015 11:32 pm

Warning, some of the things I will say may be unsettling especially to those big fans of a recent trend to have a computer-based digital source. I apologise in advance. Unsettling anyone is not my intent. I am merely sharing one man's experience in this one guy's system, in this one guy's room. You are of course entitled to your own experiences and opinions.

I was an early convert to carefully ripped to lossless music then served via network. Pre-2009, I destroyed the CD-ROM of an IBM (pre-Lenovo!) Thinkpad ripping my CDs using Read Until Right settings. I had a Red Wine Audio-modified Squeezebox feeding FLAC via coaxial S/PDIF an Audio Note DAC One.x (non-oversampling, tubed) DAC which was upgraded to Signature status by none other than Rene Rivo. The Squeezebox is on Rene's repair queue (I plugged it to 220v when it is a U.S. model expecting 110v! The AN DAC is now in my living room playing background music.

I jumped into the Mac Mini as source bandwagon in 2009. For a while, I was OK with an optical feed from the Mac Mini to a Naim DAC which I got right around the time a firmware upgrade allowed the Naim DAC to play FLACs. I remember how absurd the idea of upgrading the firmware on an audio component was at that time!

Over time, my curiosity on how to get better digital led me to the world of USB to S/PDIF converters. I had a short and failed relationship with the M2Tech Evo--great product if you can configure it to work. During my time with it, the support engineers in Italy seemed like they only worked from 10am to 2pm and took a 4 hour lunch in between. :fubar:

Eventually, I found happiness with Audiophileo and went full hog with its battery power supply and Wireworld USB cable. I also "enhanced" iTunes with Amarra. Both good moves.

I then read about further upgrades to the MacMini--configuring it so it is purely a music server, changing the spinning platter hard drive with SSD, replacing the switch mode power supply with a linear power supply. All very interesting ideas particularly those promoted by Core Audio.

All that effort, expense, and the growing box count and cabling--the chain by this point has become:
1--Mac Mini running Amarra feeding a
2--Audiophileo USB-to-S/PDIF converte
3--Battery power supply for the Audiophileo
4--Naim DAC (which itself garners ponderings of its own power supply upgrades)...

...made me pause and think--is this a rabbit hole I'd continue getting myself sucked in to or are there alternatives?

I reflected and realised that during my time with a MacMini-based digital source, a love affair of about 6 years, I did not feel that there was a sufficiently long period of being settled--a period when I can just get home, sit on my listening chair, fire up iTunes on my iPad/iPhone, then get music flowing through the MacMini. There was always something that I needed to tinker with. Each of them individual tinkers seem trivial but put them all together, the man-hours spent tinkering add up quickly and competed against man-hours spent listening.

The nature of the tinkering were but were not limited to:
1--Converting all my FLACs to ALACs so my music plays nice with iTunes. Haven't figured out the DSD solution without spending more $$$ on upgrading my basic Amarra.
2--Rather frequent firmware upgrades--to the router (an Apple Extreme), to the MacMini (OS X, iTunes, etc.), to the USB-to-S/PDIF converter, and to the DAC (the most recent one gives the Naim DAC the ability to play DSD 64 and DSD 128!)
3--A thousand and one re-sets on other components as firmware of other components are upgraded
4--Endless tinkering especially once you start seeing those "cable dressing" threads on the Naim forum.

So this weekend, with the help of the guys at Architectural Audio, I ditched the multiple boxes and simplified my rig to a Naim NDX.

Indeed, there was some tinkering to set this up. I had to allow the NDX's MAC Address access to my home network (not many people use this security on their home network, I think). I forgot to re-index my music files when I moved them from a 4-bay Synology NAS to an 8-bay model which went on overnight. I had to download the Naim app on my iPad and iPhone.

But boy, when I finally sat for a listen, I was in for a surprise. First, the Naim app on my handheld automatically search for metadata, album cover, etc. iTunes used to do this for me but on ALAC files which I ditched since the NDX can play FLAC natively and I never really was diligent enough on the metadata when I ripped. As for the sound, well, I did not really A-B vs. the MacMini-based rig but I am sure I experienced the much maligned audiophile "blacker blacks." Perhaps this is due to the removal of a number of switch mode power supplies in the audio chain. Perhaps this is due to the significantly reduced cabling. Perhaps this is due to the better synergy with the rest of my Naim rig (Nait XS amplification driving Ovator S400 speakers via NACA5).

I am downloading a bunch of sampler DSD and high res FLACs at the moment and am looking forward to hearing them in the days to come.

Anyone else went through the simplification route, especially given products like Aurender, Lumin, Auralic, the Naim streamers, etc.? Or perhaps the opposite. I'd love to compare notes and learn from your experiences.
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Re: Just Simplified My Digital Front End

Postby Oldfogey » Mon Dec 07, 2015 1:52 pm

Russ, nahilo ako sa pagbasa ng post mo. There's so much tech in there! Have fun and a peaceful holiday season!
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Re: Just Simplified My Digital Front End

Postby JoeyGS » Mon Dec 07, 2015 3:30 pm

Would have really loved to go with the one gear approach but the wallet just does not seem to allow it in my case.

However if I have to sum up all the gear, cables, clocks, PSUs, player, and OS, I could have afforded a single gear. In my case, I just enjoy the tweaking, tinkering and upgrading. In the process I am able to learn the important aspects in the digital domain. What will really eat up the listening time is the ripping of all CDs to a different format. I did not go into that. I just rip whatever the moment presents and I coupled with getting DSD files from friends and from websites offering free music. I am happy to where I am now and there are still areas for improvement. And I still have my CD player and my TT set-up ..... so never a dull moment.

Anyway, congrats to your new found digital source and I am sure Naim products provides one of the best in music sound.... Happy Listening!
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Re: Just Simplified My Digital Front End

Postby rtsyrtsy » Mon Dec 07, 2015 10:48 pm

Oldfogey, indeed, that's quite a lot of tech compared to the feed a disc to the tray and hit play digital listening mode when I used the Audio Note CDT-One transport.

JoeyGS, what I went through the past 6 years is truly a lot of tinkering, a lot of learning. There was a lot of hair pulled (not much is left to begin with) and a large eyebags but the satisfaction of getting all that tech to behave the way they should was fulfilling.

It was fun for a while but I guess I just got tired. The expense was not insignificant either. Of course though, I totally respect all the different means one gets fun out of this hobby--tinkering and lazy bumming alike.
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Re: Just Simplified My Digital Front End

Postby dimfer » Tue Dec 08, 2015 12:57 pm

Congrats on the NDX..

I am an Aurender user now as well. I was curious to do a DIY fan less server ala CapV4 but just went for the simplicity of the Aurender
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Re: Just Simplified My Digital Front End

Postby JoeyGS » Wed Dec 09, 2015 11:06 am

It's just that the age is catching up on us ...... :angel:
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Re: Just Simplified My Digital Front End

Postby cia » Fri Jun 15, 2018 9:56 pm

Just simplified with this....Naim Uniti Nova. Game over.....
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