I use Roon on a NUC, and I mainly stream to either of these paths:
NUC=(RAAT)=> PC => USB => Topping DX3pro => Either Audioengine A5+ powered speakers or AudioQuest Nightowl carbon speakers.
NUC=(RAAT)=> Macbook => AudioQuest Dragonfly Red => Audioengine A5+ speakers.
I use AQ Red River / Cinneamon cables.
I bought the DX3 pro for it’s multiple inputs so I could consolidate the DAC’s and get the AQ DF back for use on my tablet or phone. To do this I could buy either a Thunderbolt 3 docking station like a Caldigit TS3+ or OWC one who have optical out, and pipe that into my DX3, or alternatively add a Digione for a bit less or a Digione Signature for a bit more money and have a streamer as well. Both the Mac and the PC also use their respective external DAC for non-Roon audio like Youtube which is a big plus, but untill now I still need to power up one of both to play music through Roon which I eventually want to be able to avoid.
I think either upgrade would improve the sound quality during Roon-listening (mostly redbook and Tidal Masters with the odd high res album up to 192/24 and DSD 128), I am not sure which of those upgrades would give me the most ROI. Currently I feel the topping is better than the AQ DFR. I’m leaning towards the dock with Toslink now. I also fear a DigiOne signature (while being able to scale better with future gear). might need a more resolving pair of speakers and amp to let me resolve the difference… On my headphones I might be able to discern the difference…
Aldo, instead of changing things on the source side, I might be better off looking for better speakers and upgrade those first? I think I want the LS50W’s over time, but I am not willing to spend 2300 on those just yet.
So, Should I go DigoOne (signature) yet or do other options first (Thunderbolt dock with Toslink out or new pair of speakers?
There is no reason to go SPDIF into the Topping. Stick to USB. Get an RPi4 kit, connect the Topping to it via USB (no HAT required on the RPi4). Run RoPieee(XL) on the RPi4. You are done, and spent less than $100USD. Optionally spend another $100 for the 7" RPi display and a case for it and the RPi4.
Or get a dock with enough USB ports to connect the Topping and whatever else you need to connect to your computer. Gives more flexibility to the computer. But then also means you need the computer on to play music, which you said you’d like the option of not having to do. That’s the tradeoff between the dock and an RPi4.
Really, that’s all you need to do. Do not get sucked into the “USB is bad for audio” hogwash that permeates the web. It’s not true, especially with modern gear.
I am using USB now on my PC and I find it really enjoyable.
I still need audio out for both my PC and Mac, and want to add a permanent and silent streamer to it, when I’m out my mac is out with me most of the time and I want my wife to be able to use the DAC/Amp without requiring her having to plug in her mac or firing up my PC…
My PC has TOSlink (forgot about that), my mac (or hers) only has USB-A through one of these Satechi dongles, converted from USB-C/TB3 now. I switch often between PC and Mac for work. I have tried a USB 3.0 switch before, like a KMS switch, to switch both systems to the USB input of the DAC I used then: an Audioengine D1. This was electrically very noisy and I ended up separating both systems again. These switches seem to be rather rare. I can’t access the rear of my PC easily either, so I want a clean and “permanent” solution that I can cable manage out of sight.
I will try using SPDIF out from the PC into the Topping, and USB in from the Mac, that way I can at least remove the Dragonfly and use the silent Mac if I want to use Roon (because I believe USB>SPDIF for SQ) and have SPDIF on the PC for non critical listening.
EDIT: I did try this and it works, the same song upsampled through Roon and played through SPDIF from the PC does seem to sound a bit thinner compared to identical settings and speakers but through USB on the mac now… I have removed the Dragonfly Red now.
I could technically also use LDAC over Bluetooth from the PC, but I guess that would take a quality hit as well. I have no experience with LDAC but hear this Windows / Android only standard is better than AptX.
If i wanted to use the mac, the PC and a RPi4, I would need either an electrically silent switch for USB or get one device on Coax (the topping had 2 Coax inputs), 1 on SPDIF, and the “best” streamer on USB… That would likely be a RPi4 with a good PSU then?
If I understand from the speakers you use (and the overall setup) you have either a small room or having a near-field listen to your music.
If so, imho, there’s nothing you can do to significantly increase the overall performance and listening experience.
Yes, you can change the speakers, of course. Get a Tannoy Gold for instance or the LS50W’s for that matter. But don’t expect any extraordinary change, because all these speakers (the A5+ included) are well made, with low distortion and relatively flat frequency response for this kind of listening.
Well, you can still fiddle the electronics, problem is (as they’re all around the -110dB distortion range) you cannot have a noticeable change, except if it is for the worse, like introducing some kind of distortion on purpose (I have seen plenty of dacs with strange preamp sections that do just that : add distortion). A streaming upgrade can be nice in terms of ergonomics, but don’t expect much in audio performance.
You could try to fix some room acoustics, but, except of some obvious things (like table/support distance) you can’t do much in small rooms (let alone headphone listening, haha).
I can see two solutions : Try adding a subwoofer for very low frequencies (but good subwoofers are expensive) or… moving to a bigger room.
I happen to have purchased many of the products you own, except my AQ is Cobalt, not Red. For the money, the A5+ speakers would let you hear the step up that I’ve experienced going from my Mac or RPi USB to the outstanding DigiOne, but wouldn’t justify the Signature until you upgrade to KEF speakers.
Subwoofer would fundamentally improve your system. Also, I would toss the Audioengine lamp cord for something decent and use appropriate stands. Lastly, I was surprised to find that a $50 AQ NRG power cord for the A5+ makes an audible difference.
It is indeed a near-field setup. It used to be in a smaller room, but now it is setup on a desk that is on short the side of our living room (wide open 6x14x2,5m in the front and 3m in the rear or so space that also has our kitchen in the opposite side of the room). The speakers “point” into the room, but are angled slightly to my chair, as I most often have them on when I am sitting in front of my monitor. I do also play music through them while cooking etc…
I cannot reasonably change the acoustics of the room without changing the interior design. It’s probably not the best interior style for optimal acoustic performance… Floor standing speakers wouldn’t work because our toddler would wreck those… I am thus desk bound for a bit longer. The speakers are not on stands, just flat on the desk. I have a subwoofer connection on the A5+s and I have in fact been looking into one last week, but to be honest I am not sure where to start looking, there is so much out there… What would be a decent unit, that could scale up to support LS50W’s over time? A sleek, unobtrusive unit would be ideal, as it should fit under my desk), which is not great for concealing large objects. I do have a large plant to hide it behind.
I would need a coax input if I want to connect a PC, Mac and streamer to the same DAC without some kind of USB switcher (my current one is unusable for audio). A Digione would be ideal then…
If I would buy KEF’s, they have a streamer and DAC built in, and the DSP samples everything (including the analog inputs) to 192/24 anyway I believe, so that would work without a Digione.
I have decent interconnects, but I am a but hesitant about upgraded power cords if I am honest. I understand the logic for well insulated and pure copper for subtle analog signals, even for digital signals to an extent, but for mains power I currently do not understand how a more advanced cable design would provide a better sound quality out of the speakers. I have also never tried it… For 50 euro I could try that ofcourse…
The A5+'s comes with a foam base (2-3mm), so that’s covered.
I have just removed the optical SPDIF connection from the PC as it caused the audio to desync with the video on Youtube and Netflix rather quickly. It’s unusable in this state… It must be something with the dac as my previous AudioEngine D1 DAC did not have this issue (but that has only one input).
So we are going back to Dragonfly on the Mac and The DX3 Pro through USB on the PC…
I also noticed some artifacts when I upsampled to max PCM rate and the power of 2 version of that on USB. I switched the DSP to convert to DSD 128 and now it is gone…
I will explore the brands you suggested @Themis. I don’t know any of those… Thanks for your suggestion!