Gustard X-16 DAC

I have lifetime ROON subscription. Recently I added TIDAL HiFi Plus, using ROON as the server. I currently stream music directly to a Pioneer Elite VSX-LX704, which ROON recognizes. I enjoy the sound quality, but the Pioneer uses Chromecast, which limits its ability to receive hi-res and in particular, MQA. I want to use a DAC that is recognized by ROON and has the capability to send hi-res and MQA files on to the receiver. My current wired server is the Logitech Duet (sadly out of date) and a Schitt Bifrost Multibit (no MQA). I saw in a review of the Gustard X-16 DAC a screenshot which seems to show ROON recognizing this DAC. My question concerns this: Is this true? Does my ROON subscription include RAAT, which is shown in the signal path? Does my ROON Core need to have a wired connection to the DAC, or can hi-res and MQA content be sent wirelessly? I realize my questions may seem inept but I sincerely need an expert’s help.

The Dac is connected via USB in your example. RAAT comes into play when you stream from your core to the endpoint (streaming DAC) via Ethernet or WiFi connection. RAAT works with Roon Ready devices only and I am not sure if the Gustard is one of them.

Looking at the manual for your receiver, it looks like it does have a “Pure Direct” mode that can provide an analog signal path. If you’re able to use that mode (eg., you don’t require DSP for bass management), you might be able to benefit by using a DAC like the Gustard X16. Other modes will convert analog signals to digital and pass them through the DAC internal to the receiver.

Whenever you have a DAC that is connected to a computer or endpoint that is running software from Roon labs, you’re using RAAT. It is included for free with your subscription.

You can connect a DAC like the Gustard X16 directly to Core or to a Control device (eg., an iPad running Roon Remote or laptop running the Roon desktop app). But, you may find that you get slightly better sound by using a dedicated endpoint device, like the ZEN Stream from iFi Audio. Many folks have also had great success using a Raspberry Pi running RoPieee. These endpoint devices typically run Roon Bridge. If you were open to a wired Ethernet connection (recommended for lots of reasons, including reliability), I would also suggest VitOS for RPi4.

I explain this in more detail in my two-part article on Copper Magazine:

Slight correction…RAAT is used anytime Roon software is running on the endpoint device. This includes Raspberry Pi’s running Roon Bridge, computers running any of the Roon apps, and tablets and smartphones running the Roon Remote app and enabled as an output. It may not be obvious, but this is the case even in first-install, all-in-one mode with the Roon desktop app.

David:
Wow, your knowledge of ROON is incredible. Honestly, it is difficult for me to fully understand some of your explanations for ROON’s many connectivity options. Let me see if I am even understanding a little: is it accurate that a Roon Ready device utilizes RAAT, which means a wireless connection between the ROON server and a ROON Ready device will permit hi-res and MQA audio to “flow” between them? Or is it impossible to get those higher quality streams without a wired connection? I see now why my Pioneer is only a ROON Tested device; its streaming options don’t allow files above 24/96 sampling rates via Chromecast, along with no MQA capability. I guess I’m hung up on “USB” connectivity. I can’t envision how to get a physical connection between my laptop i am using from my chair can be physically attached to a DAC in my entertainment center. I must sound extremely dense, but I dont mind if the end result is i figure out how to get better audio.

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The best solution is to use what I refer to as a network audio transport. Think of it as a device that’s like CD transports from the previous century. A CD transport is like a CD player but there are no analog outputs. It only has digital outputs…typically S/PDIF. You must have an external DAC or receiver with digital inputs to use a CD transport.

A network audio transport’s function is similar, but instead of reading the music from an optical disc, it receives it over the network from a media server, like Roon. In the Roon universe this sort of thing, when connected to an external DAC, is referred to as an Output or Zone. Examples include the aforementioned ZEN Stream ($399), SOtM sMS-200, Sonore microRendu, Pro-Ject Stream Box S2, Allo DigiOne Player and USBridge Signature, and many more.

What the products I’ve mentioned have in common is that they are pre-assembled and compatible with Roon. Purchase one, place it in your entertainment center, set up networking, and connect it to your DAC. Any of these will act as a “bridge” between your DAC and your network, enabling Roon Core to find it and stream music to it from the comfort of your listening chair. A wired connection to the Output will always be best, especially if you intend to stream high-rez formats, but you may have success with Wi-Fi if you have a robust and well-designed Wi-Fi network.

Note: if you’re only using your laptop as a Roon Control, it should work just fine on Wi-Fi. If it’s also acting as Core, it will probably need a wired network connection to work reliably.

I always recommend that people just pay $200 to have a low-voltage technician install a wired Ethernet connection near the audio rack rather than wasting time troubleshooting Wi-Fi, but the decision is up to you.

Folks who are handy with computers have had great success assembling their own network audio transport devices using the inexpensive Raspberry Pi or similar small computers. I walk through one example of how to do this in this video that I live-streamed over a year ago.

Hope this helps…

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Hi David,
You and the ROON community have really helped me with this issue. I am ordering the Ifi Zen Stream from Amazon and giving it a 30-day trial to see what all the fuss about MQA is about. Thanks again!!

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Hi David,
I will quit bothering you after this text. I just read your detailed review of the ZEN Stream on Amazon. I also read the 1-star reviews, which of course were horror stories. Since I am going with a wireless setup I can only hope that my Netgear Nighthawk is up to the challenge. It’s new and sends a 100% signal to my Pioneer Elite preamp, which is where the ZEN will be placed. I’ll let you know how things went in a month!
Sincerely,
Kim

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The Zen Stream doesn’t magically give you the ability to decode MQA. It’s just a way of pulling bits from the network and passing them along to your DAC. You will still need to get a separate MQA-capable DAC, like the Gustard X16.

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Hello Bill,
Please see screenshot and quote pulled from review of the ZEN. Am I reading these wrong?

“This circuitry operates over wired and wireless internet, with an external aerial to boost wireless reception and 802.11a/b/g/n/ac support. It makes its signal available to a pair of USB outputs and a single coaxial digital output. This latter connection is significant because it means that the iFi bridges the gap between the USB only SOtM and optical and coaxial only Lindemann. Sample rates up to 384kHz and DSD256 *as well as full MQA unpack) can be received and passed to the USB or SPDIF outputs.”

About this item

  • :white_check_mark: UPGRADE YOUR SYSTEM – Add Network streaming capabilities to your existing sound system and turn any DAC ROON Compatible.
  • :white_check_mark: EASY CONNECTIVITY – Connect the output to your system VIA USB3.0 (USB2.0 Compatible) or SPDIF.
  • :white_check_mark: HI-RES STREAMER – With it’s high quality components the ZEN Stream supports up to 384kHz PCM, DSD256 and MQA.
  • :white_check_mark: FUTURE PROOFED PERFORMANCE – Additional features and functionality can be added in the future VIA over the air updates keeping your transport up to date.
  • :white_check_mark: HUGE SUPPORT– You can use the ZEN stream with TIDAL, Spotify, Qobuz, YouTube Music

Is the ZEN does not decode MQA then what are these excerpts from two separate websites talking about in respect to MQA?
-Kim

Hi David,
Well I was just informed by a ROON community member that the Ifi Zen Stream doesnt do any decoding or unfolding of MQA files. I would still need an MQA-compatible DAC. Can you straighten me out?
Thanks,
Kim

Hello Kim,
Sorry to intervene. MQA playback basically has two parts. The first part can be done inside of the Roon core. There, the MQA stream can be upsampled to 96 kHz, and Roon can do its dsp magic with these data, such as volume leveling.
After this has happened, the core will send the data through the network, where it will be picked up by endpoints such as the Zen. The Zen will transform the data and send if further, via usb, to your dac. I believe the dac sits inside your Pioneer device. The Zen literature spreaks of dsd, MQA etc., with which they mean that the Zen will be able to pass the data through without fault.
But the final step for full MQA enjoyment will always, by design, happen inside the dac, where the digital signal becomes analogue. Perhaps the most important part of MQA technology is related to the specifics of the dac in use.
So if your dac is not capable of rendering MQA, it will receive a better signal after it has been decoded by Roon, but it will miss the final step.

It’s misleading all right! All it means is that it will pass the MQA bits through the streamer, just like any other bits it’s passing through. It won’t decode them for you, so you’ll get the same “experience” of MQA you would if you continued to use your Chromecast. For a full unfold, you need an MQA-capable DAC, which the Zen Stream is not.

Just to nitpick a little, but the Zen streamer shouldn’t do any transformation of the data. It should just receive the data (RAAT stream in the case of Roon) on a network interface (Ethernet or WiFi) and output it on USB or Coax to the DAC.

Yes, that’s right. With transformation I meant: from ethernet packages stream → usb stream.

Hello Bill,
Well you saved me $400 with your comments, so many thanks! I will have to be content with Chromecast for now and rely on the great ROON community to be on the lookout for a DAC that is within my budget, which is hundreds rather than thousands of $$$. Many thanks to all of you helpful folks in the Community!
-Kim

Hi Arlen,
I am thankful to have ROON community members like you to steer me in the direction of better audio. For now I am going to enjoy the Chromecast-quality audio I’m receiving thru my Pioneer Elite and it’s built-in twin ESS DACs. The search for hi-res bliss can be frustrating!
Thanks again,
Kim

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Looking at the digital inputs on your receiver, it looks like you have at least a couple of COAX S/PDIF inputs. You’ll get full Roon functionality, including the RAAT protocol, by using a network audio bridge with an S/PDIF output.

Besides the ZEN Stream (excellent, in my experience), you could consider the Allo DigiOne Player or building something with a HiFiBerry Digi+ Pro. Any of these solutions should work better than Chromecast…especially over a wired Ethernet connection.

I doubt if they’ll work significantly better, David. The way Roon works with Chromecast is already very similar to using RAAT. Roon apparently downloads their own code to the Chromecast device and runs it there to talk to the Roon Core. So why stream to another device, then “stream” from that, using S/PDIF, which essentially removes the RAAT-like capabilities of the Chromecast streaming and forces you to use source clocks (which using the Chromecast interface doesn’t)? Extra cost, extra components to go wrong, questionable (if any) improvement.

Similar to RAAT is not RAAT. RAAT has no bandwidth limitations. No inherent 4ps jitter from TOSLINK S/PDIF (consequential with some receivers and DACs). Is compatible and can be grouped with other RAAT zones.

If someone is happy with Chromecast Audio, no need to change. However, the OP was looking for a change. I made some recommendations and stand by them.