Gear should adapt to a changing world

I have gear that works well, in some cases superlatively, but is nonetheless annoying because it is stuck in old-think, hasn’t kept up with the changing world.

It isn’t all about sound quality. I recently moved back into my house after a remodel, I had spent a lot of effort on getting the design and furnishings just right, I wanted a calm, zen vibe — and then the electronics looks like a dumpster fire in a hardware store.

I will illustrate these problems in the context of my Chord stack (M-Scaler and TT2), which I otherwise love for its sound quality, I have gushed about it in these pages. But the issues are widespread, it isn’t just about Chord.

Three issues that conspire to create the mess

  1. No network input

It is still rare in high end equipment to find integrated network input — not as rare as it was, but too rare. This has created the product category of external streamers that translate from a network connection to USB or SPDIF. But I have used only network since I got my Sooloos (and then it’s successor Roon) over ten years ago, near the turn of the century. I use USB only to connect to the streamer (!), and I haven’t used any of the many SPDIF variants since I got networked.

Today, network should be the first consideration. Advanced systems today are beginning to support optical network (Linn Klimax DSM). And of course WiFi.

You wouldn’t buy a printer with SCSI (look it up). Or a TV with S-Video.

The need for an external streamer box feeds into the next issue:

  1. External power supplies, too many boxes

The Chord DAC is already two boxes, the DAC itself and the upscaler. But it does need the external streamer. So there are three boxes, the two Chords and a MicroRendu.

And all three have an external power supply. In fact, the MicroRendu has an external power supply that needs an additional power supply!

And of course these need cables.

Two Chord boxes and a MicroRendu, plus four power supplies — counting the Ethernet in and the two interconnects to the amp, seven boxes and thirteen cables! It’s a rat’s nest.

  1. IR remotes instead of WiFi

And the Chord has IR remote controls (two!). I already have an iPad in my lap, I don’t want to have to rummage around for other gadgets. The world is networked. Everything else in the house is on WiFi, the thermostat and the lighting and the alarm system and the garage door openers. And the alarm clock and the camera the shades. And the fridge and the washer and dryer.

And IR is line of sight, so the whole rat’s nest can’t be tucked away out of sight.

In summary, this is an architectural problem, these devices are stuck in a previous generation of technologies, and the result is an unsightly mess.

And it forces us into tweaks and remediations. Which streamer has the best sound quality? Which power supply is the best upgrade for the streamer or upsampler or DAC from a sound quality and noise perspective? Which is the best USB cable between the streamer and the upsampler or DAC? If I use Roon DSP volume control I get iPad remote instead of WiFi, but that’s digital domain, is it as good as what’s built into the DAC or preamp, is Roon’s dithering algorithm good enough? All these have been discussed here.

There are lower end products that solve these problems. Why are the higher end products more old fashioned?


Can’t solve most of your complaints. Who could?

For this there are all sorts of IR extenders. I used to control my 7.1 receiver hidden in the cellar using a IR repeater.

Sure, there are remediations.

But I don’t want to. Why do I have to?

To lift yourself out of your existential despair?


I guess the simple answer is it’s like that because of the way you designed it. It’s all hardware how can it adapt?

Simple answer is hide the boxes in an enclosed media unit, or buy yourself a one box solution.

I only see my amp, the streamer , DAC , network hub are all hid in a media unit.

Ah, I wasn’t thinking big enough.


Very happy with my Devialet Expert Pro, integrated, and networked in one box. I think manufacturer’s want to keep it all separate so you’re in a permanent upgrade cycle in search of audio nirvana.


Ok, I guess I wasn’t being clear.

  1. I wasn’t asking for help with my own situation, I was making an observation about the state of our hobby and the industry.
  2. I wasn’t talking about legacy gear, of course old hardware can’t adapt to the new world. One either replaces it or does kludgy workarounds.

But this isn’t legacy gear. The Chord stack is being sold today, and so is a lot of high-end gear that has the same problems.

At the same time, some companies across the whole price range understand the shifts, from Bluesound to Linn and dCS.

I am concerned about companies that have blinders on and miss the architectural shifts in the industry. We are going to miss them.

The vast majority of people buying hifi, as opposed to Alexa, are old and expect lots of boxes. Can’t see it changing until the demographic does.
Personally I downsized from loads of boxes to one (plus speakers :slightly_smiling_face:)

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The thing that drives me crazy is the rat’s nest of power cords.

The dream of wireless power transmission died with Tesla.

I guess the answer is networked speakers, but how many audiophiles would accept them, I know at some point I would.

Just my thoughts having been in this hobby for a few decades now. Actually, in spite of the changing landscape of audio (too much extreme high-end, less mid-budget, and emerging really good low-budget), I do see an extremely active move into including network functions into new equipment, and very innovative moves into active electronics to meet the needs of high quality sound with less complex systems for the younger generation.

I also see another area of innovation, partly based on this transition to network-aware devices, is the wide variety of equipment, everything from Chromecast Audio and AirPort Express (RIP to both, but I have my stash of AEs) to Zen Streamers and MicroRendus, that allow us to continue to use absolutely great gear, with a little of work, in this new network-aware environment Think about all the legacy video equipment and TVs and VCRs that basically are worthless, while I have 40-year old amplifiers, speakers, and preamps (as well as active speakers and network-aware amps) that work beautifully with a connected streamer and DAC.


Well, I am old, but I still don’t like a mess.

And I was until recently doing only one box, but Meridian felt limiting.
I still use them in one room, but my main system moved on.
And in fact will move on from the Chord stack too, because of the problems discussed.

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  1. How would having IP connectivity on more devices change anything (other than needing to manage more devices and burning more switch ports/WiFi bandwidth and IP addresses)? If the device isn’t a stand alone streamer or doesn’t have a streamer built-in it doesn’t need network connectivity. I think what you are looking for here is more devices (like DACs) with streamers built-in?

  2. I prefer having a traditional remote with real buttons that you hold in your hand. The last thing I want to do is rely on another buggy app on a device with a screen just to change the volume or inputs. IR also allows for universal remotes. I use a Harmony Hub and Home Assistant to control everything. I also have some voice commands (like turning on my listen to music activity or skipping tracks) setup for use via voice (Alexa). Almost all of this is done via IR.

  1. Yes, all audio devices should stream over IP, both input (e.g. DAC) and output (e.g. my YouTube player). Other devices should have IP for whatever purpose suits, printers and scanners and cameras and thermostats. IP network us the way modern devices communicate.

  2. To each his own. I already use an app with a screen to select music (Roon), don’t have to find it, and it’s not buggy. And that device can search for other music by this artist whether I have it or not. It can read the PDF pamphlet of the album. It can create and enjoy playlists. It can send movie sound or YouTube music or Spotify to the DAC. It can send a photograph of my grandkid that just arrived in a text to the photo printer.

Aside from personal taste, I think comes back to the issue of legacy equipment that uses IR and not network. Each of has to decide how to handle that situation, cost is a factor. I’m not suggesting that we should all replace all our gear.

What I am suggesting is that a gear manufacturer that wants to survive should build and sell such devices. This is not forward-looking, this is playing catch-up.

That’s why both my speaker systems are Linn Klimax with active speakers: ethernet in, two wires out to two speakers, done. Music from my server or Qobuz, controlled by Roon. I also have two headphone systems for my work areas, those have a bunch of separate boxes, they are where I geek out on exotic combinations with a bunch of boxes.

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  1. This is already how things work. To use Roon with your DAC you buy a compatible streamer (Zen Stream or RPi) or a DAC with a built-in streamer. Sonos or AirPlay works similarly (you buy a Sonos or AirPlay capable device).

  2. I never said anything about Roon’s software and I don’t even use their software on my phone (I use my mac as a remote). I don’t know what you mean by “movie sound” or what YouTube Music and Spotify have to do with Roon (neither are supported by Roon).

What you are proposing (as far as replacing IR with IP) would require every device in the playback chain to have a WiFi chip or NIC along with its own app for control. You would then have to open an app per device each time you wanted to change settings (open the DAC app to change inputs, open the pre-amp app to change volume, etc.). This might be ok if you only ever use all-in-one/integrated devices but how is this any better than each device coming with it’s own IR-based remote? At least with IR you can consolidate with a universal remote. You are essentially asking mfgs to recreate a current issue (too many remotes) that a lot of folks have only in a way that would be more expensive and cumbersome than it is now.


Except I wouldn’t call it “more expensive and cumbersome”.
If a refrigerator and washer/dryer and garage door opener can afford such technology, and a $100 printer/scanner, why can’t our audiophile gear?
Cars are replacing their complex internal wiring with IP. It’s a common story that a modern car contains hundreds of computers, but that’s the old way, nowadays cars have one or a few computers, installed in a space protected in case of accident. They communicate with subsystems over IP: a friend of mine ran a company making wiring harnesses for cars, he told me the door of a Volvo had 56 cables going into it, imagine the weight and volt of all that copoet, now there is one 12 V power line and one IP line. Why did they use IP? It’s a big industry, why didn’t they invent their own technology? The question answers itself.

What would you call the added cost of hiring app developers to create an app then? What would you call having to open multiple apps just to power on different devices in your playback chain (that’s a lot like reaching for different IR remotes isn’t it)? There’s a reason why most A/V devices are still IR-based.

Apples to oranges comparisons are pointless. All the stuff you are mentioning is networked for reasons other than a human wanting to listen to music on their HiFi system without having to leave the couch.

Went from multiple boxes like yourself to NAD M10 and NAD 658. (Active speakers) In different rooms. All in one and DIRAC. Never looked back.