Improving sound from my setup

Running Roon Core on my MacBook Air, 2011 model, music out to Sonos One. Everything is on my desk in my study; this is my listening post.

This is my simple setup for now, until I start investing in a proper server, streamer/DAC, and some beefier speakers.

Meanwhile, is there a DAC/Streamer I can attach to the Mac USB port to improve the quality of the sound on the Sonos One?


Hi Richard

What’s your budget?

And do you want other Mac audio to be able to be sent to the DAC? Or happy with just Roon audio? I’m guessing it’s the former but just double checking.

Hi Sean,
Mac audio and Roon audio; sorry, don’t know the difference. Budget, a couple of hundred dollars. However, if it’s something I can migrate to a SonicTransporter i5 later, then I could spend a little more.

Roon only audio would be for Roon only. The “other Mac audio” I mentioned would be YouTube/Netflix/whatever else, from your Mac…

If you only wanted Roon audio, there are ethernet only input streaming DACs (Roon Bridge or Roon Ready)… but getting “other Mac audio” to these can be tricky…

if you want “other” Mac audio possible too, then maybe a USB DAC is more flexible.

I’m guessing you want the flexibility of having all Mac audio sent to the DAC, not just Roon?

Cool, this is good info.

Mac audio then.

Not sure if it will fit with wires but the Audioquest Dragonfly Red is a superb little USB DAC

It has a 3.5 mm jack output

I can vouch for Topping DX3, Dragonfly Red, Chord Mojo, and Schiit Fulla 2 all achieving what you need with that setup, and all sounding excellent on powered monitors and cans.

Under $1,000 it’s worth thinking more about features (portability, headphone out, digital volume knob) first. Then you’ll easily be able to find something quality that fits your needs.

Cheapest option is a Pi, you can install shairport-sync to get airplay as well. This will get you using RAAT, Roon’s native streaming protocol. USB output on Pis is somewhat crippled, so you may want to go with one of the daughter boards (either a DAC or one that will get you SPDIF out). However, USB should work just fine, it just shares a BUS with the ethernet port.

I’ve got the overkill version of this set up; a tiny fanless PC running Linux + Roon Server and I use the USB out.

Hi @Richard_Adjetey,

If you’re looking to upgrade and improve your setup, this is definitely the right place to ask! You’ll get a lot of great suggestions from our Community members here.

If you’re looking for something “official”, a great place to start is our KB about what audio devices are supported.

If you have any specific questions about this please let us know!

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To be clear this is the little Sonos speaker? That speaker only has ethernet in. There would be no way to use an external DAC with that speaker as it has no analog in. (please correct me if I’m wrong as I’m just looking at the product manual)

To get better sound you’ll need to start by replacing that speaker. This opens a ton of options as there are some very fine Roon Ready powered speakers out there (they include a built-in DAC) so you would only need to buy the speaker and send Roon audio to it exactly like you do with your Sonos today (look at the KEF LS50 wireless). Or, you’re looking at passive speakers plus maybe a small integrated amp, maybe something with a DAC built-in, and then you can plug the speakers into the integrated and hook the Mac up via USB. Something inexpensive like the PS Audio Sprout may be what you need if you go this route. There are much better integrated amp/pre-amp out there but the Sprout sits at a nice inexpensive price point and performs well for the money from what I’ve read (I do not own one). Other options are putting together a Schiit stack which a lot of people are very happy with and staying at the lower end of their range their boxes are small and fit on a desk very nicely.

But, until you replace that speaker, your options are to continue with the set-up you have now.

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Looks correct. Looks like these are the models supporting line-in but always best to check the actual manual (or the actual unit itself) like you’ve done:

Hello all,
Thanks to all for chipping in and educating me hugely. Special one to ipeverywhere (need to get pseudo like that). I’d been scratching my head to figure out how the improved sound gets from the usb dac attached to my mac get to my sonos speakers. Yes, they are the smallest of the sonos, and there’s no line-in. So that’s a dead end, or is it?

Spacecase posted something that sound like could work; but i Pis and Rasperries and co sound very techie to me; hi spacecase, and ready to use plug-and-play Pis that can send the sound wirelessly to the Sonos One?

Great fun with you all.

You won’t get anything to improve the sq of a Sonos speaker they are what they are. They are not designed to accept input other than from Sonos protocol so using any other external device won’t help. If you want better sq change them ti decent pair of active or powered speakers that can take a feed digitally from a DAC via usb or spdif. Or perhaps upgrade to Bluesound speakers as they are fully RAAT and possibly better quality than Sonos.

It’s mostly a dead end. Take a step back and think about the devices that “touch” the audio. You have things that touch it in the digital domain like Roon software, your Mac, the network, the DAC. Then there things in the analog domain which touch it like a pre-amp, power amp, speaker cross-overs and drivers.

In the digital domain it’s touching 1’s and 0’s or really the bits of the music. Anything considered “bit perfect” or “transparent” is passing the bits along unchanged and without jitter. Generally changing things in the digital domain will have subtle impact on the music unless you get into the higher-end gear.

In the analog domain it’s touching, essentially, voltage and phase changes. There is no such thing as “bit perfect” here but we can still use the term “transparent” by any bit of gear that doesn’t “color” or charge the way something should sound in some significant way. You’ll hear more of a difference when switching out components in the analog domain. For example, two pairs of similarly priced speakers will sound vastly different where two similarly priced DACs may sound very close to each other.

So, back to your Sonos speaker… Roon and your Mac are still touching the “bits” but everything else I list above is inside the Sonos speaker so you won’t be able to make any changes there. Whatever the Sonos digital and analog bits are doing to the audio is what they are going to do and that speaker owns a significant portion of the audio path; and you cannot change this. While convenient, it essentially prevents you from changing that sound as you cannot swap in different components like a new DAC or pre-amp etc.

The only thing you can do is run either EQ or upsampling in Roon. Now, you run into a further problem with the speaker because I believe it’s limited to 16/44 (CD quality) as it’s max bitrate. So, unless your playing back telephone calls (which are commonly 8/8) you won’t have anything to upsample as your entire collection is, probably, already at 16/44.

That leaves EQ… so in Roon you could bump the bass and/or the treble but that’s going to be personal taste and a whole large topic that’s been discussed elsewhere.

So total dead end? Not totally… but enough I’d focus on replacing those speakers so you have more options to play with.

In my 40 years experience, speakers and the room make the most significant difference/improvement, by far.

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Thank you greatly, ipeverywhere.

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