Saturday, 6 May 2017

PREVIEW: Oppo Sonica DAC (Thanks Oppo for making it right... On the rationale for technical perfection.)

Usually, I don't post many "preview" type articles, preferring to give you guys "the goods" when I've had an adequate amount of time with a device (usually at least a month or so) including measurements and such. I'll discuss why I'm posting this earlier as we go along...

Well, this is what showed up at my door last week:

That's of course the recently released Oppo Sonica DAC. A "hi-fi" USB, S/PDIF, ethernet, WiFi, Bluetooth digital player with DLNA streaming capability, part of the Oppo Sonica "family" of audio devices. The only other device with this moniker currently being the Sonica Wi-Fi Speaker, capable of 24/192 streaming. Coming later this year apparently is the larger Sonica Grand.

Let's have a peek inside the box...

Intro:
As you might be aware, my last major DAC upgrade which I have been using as a "reference" of sorts for many of the measurements here has been the TEAC UD-501 since 2013. I still think it's a fantastic sounding DAC with great flexibility! It has adjustable filters including turning filtering completely off for "Non-OverSampling" (NOS) operation. It can decode up to DSD128 using DoP and native drivers. And the PCM input goes to 32/384kHz. Truth be told, I really don't need an upgrade but what the hey, it has been 3+ years and I was curious about the latest DAC chips... One of the current "kind of the hill" devices being the ESS Sabre32 ES9038Pro. As you can see from the link, there are all kinds of technical details to be impressed by: -122dB THD+N, -140dB dynamic range, multichannel (8) capable, various filters, customizable filter parameters, DSD512 capable, PCM 768kHz, etc...

Being value-oriented, the Oppo Sonica DAC (~US$800) caught my eyes as an interesting device worth evaluating as one of the newest devices. Here she is outside of the box.

Included: DAC, instruction manual, generic stock IEC power cable.
Simple front controls with On/Off switch, whitish-colored OLED screen, left control knob with stop points and push-button selector, right continuous volume control knob. Other than the single On/Off switch, there is no remote controller. The Sonica smartphone/tablet app does allow putting the device into an "off" state but not turn it "on" (you will have to manually push the button). It weighs about 10 lbs, feels sturdy in the hand, and it's got a nice brush metal all black aluminum exterior. The form factor is "long" on length and narrower than my TEAC UD-501.

Setup with the left control knob allows you to go through a few selections like whether you activate the digital volume attenuation for the outputs. The OLED can be set to full brightness, an intermediate "Dim" setting, and an off setting where it will turn on for about 5 seconds when samplerates change or it detects a new signal. There's also selection for pairing the Bluetooth and network connections. There is currently no ability to change the digital filters used.

Looking at the back of the device, we see the "business" end with the various connectors:
As you can see, this device was "Manufactured December 2016".
Good selection of inputs - USB-B, S/PDIF coaxial and TosLink, ethernet, and interestingly the AUX analogue RCA input for devices like a phono pre-amp output. There is WiFi which was easy to set up with the Oppo Sonica app available on Android and iDevices. There's also a Bluetooth 4.1 setting to pair with your mobile devices for audio streaming as well. Convenient. Both front and rear USB-A 2.0 connector for USB sticks and presumably hard drives (not tried yet). A ground lug if needed as well (likely to help with analogue AUX input noise if present) and +12V triggers for synchronized turning equipment on/off (since it lacks a remote, I suppose this is one way to control with other devices in your system). Detachable IEC power cable - as usual, I just used the included stock cable.

The outputs consist of a single pair of RCA single-ended and XLR balanced connectors. Notice that it does not have any headphone output which might be significant for some folks. During playback both RCA and XLR are active at the same time so you could connect one of them to a headphone amp if desired. Connectors appear to be of high quality and gold plated.

Installation was not hard. The Sonica Android app worked well in searching and finding the WiFi network. Also the Sonica app can be used to update the firmware, currently the official firmware is: Sonica-33-0422 / MCU-09-0306 / USB-0110. I also installed the Windows 10 driver 3.34.0. The firmware update was done over WiFi and did not take long (of course, better to use ethernet for updates just due to signal stability, but my WiFi is strong).

Subjective Impressions:
Given that I just received the device last week, I haven't spent too much time listening yet but have put in a few hours (no, I'm no believer in "break-in" requiring tens or even hundreds of hours!)... No question it sounds excellent. Even before putting the device to any kind of objective measurements, it's clear that this thing has an excellent noise floor especially connected over the XLR cables to the rest of my system. The device itself produces no hum or buzz; the internal toroidal linear power supply was silent even with my ears against the device.

I put it through its paces with a few older and newer albums. This DAC can deliver the goods in terms of detail retrieval. For example, playback of the soundtrack from Whiplash (2014, DR10) was excellent. Tracks with percussion are always good to hear the "speed" of sonic reproduction and transients. You certainly get this in the album right from the first track with the "snare liftoff". The album has a collection of brief segments from the excellent movie, soundtrack moments, and jazz band pieces. A full-range system capable of low bass recommended.

While we're on the topic of soundtracks, for some good 'ol pop fun from the 70's, check out the Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 2 (2017, DR9) "mixtape". With a selection from ELO, George Harrison, Looking Glass, Cat Stevens, Fleetwood Mac, Sweet, Jay & The Americans... It really is about having fun and not worrying about audiophile minutiae. While it is a bit on the dynamically compressed side given that these are songs from back in the day, it's not extreme at least. Unfortunately, a song like "Brandy (You're A Fine Girl)" sounded a bit too "shouty" at parts. Oh BTW, there's David Hasselhoff doing a campy disco tune called "Guardians Inferno" - I dare someone to request this one at an audio show :-).

Going back into my oldies collection, I dragged out Santana's Abraxas (MFSL UDCD from 2008, DR11) which I had not listened to in awhile. Nice tonality from this classic rock album of 1970. The wind chimes on "Singing Winds, Crying Beasts" sound lovely through this DAC; lots of detail and spatial cues creates a nice "scattering" as if the chimes are placed all through the room. The iconic Santana guitar solos throughout the album sounded great placed front-and-center in the mix. Admittedly, although this mastering sounds good, there's no denying the limitations of the source recording with notable surface noise and a bit of the proverbial "veil" in the sound compared to modern digital recordings. For me, a good DAC should be able to faithfully render the album contents warts and all.

Finally, for some genuine "high resolution" listening, Rachel Podger & Brecon Baroque's Vivaldi: L'Estro Armonico (Channel Classics 24/96, 2016, DR13) was a treat. Twelve concertos that convey "musical rapture" with intensity, texture, pacing and most importantly energy. The various string instruments are beautifully overlaid and the DAC has no difficulty negotiating the complexity of the intermingling of instruments. I love the contrast with the slower tempo, more deliberate pacing of "Concerto No. 2 in G minor - Larghetto". There's a beautiful natural ambiance and decay of the notes in the recording space captured in the recording. As usual, well done Channel Classics!

I'll continue to listen of course. The subjective side sounds good... But let me get to why I'm publishing a preview this week.

Oppo... What are you doing?
I often start my measurements of any product with a look at the digital filters using a 16/44 impulse response and construct the "Digital Filter Composite" (DFC) graph based on Juergen Reis' work around the same time. It's all quite easy to do and literally takes a few minutes to grab the results. Usually, while I'm at it, I'll also have a look at the jitter measurements. Already, I have a basic idea of how this device functions objectively and can tell you that in many ways the performance is very impressive.

But before I get to the other stuff in a proper, full write up in the weeks ahead, I wanted to bring forth a couple of unexpected results.

The impulse response for the 44kHz filter they're using looks like this:

Looks like Oppo decided to go with a minimum phase steep digital filter setting... Fair enough. But here is the DFC:


Whoa Oppo, what is this!? The digital filter graph is obviously highly anomalous for a high-fidelity DAC. It's demonstrating some characteristics of intersample overload even with a -4dBFS signal. I have not seen this happen before in other DACs up to this point; even with inexpensive devices. As you can see there are also various ultrasonic distortions present especially what looks like a rather strong "reflection" of the 19 & 20kHz signal up around 63kHz for some reason.

Then there are the jitter test results:

That's unexpected for a high quality asynchronous USB DAC these days. We're seeing jitter sidebands in both the 16 and 24-bit versions of the J-Test. I also see the same kind of jitter anomaly in the 24/96 version of the 24-bit J-Test (ignore the 14kHz noise spike):

Ahem, Oppo... Considering the amazing performance of the BDP-105 posted recently which demonstrated excellent digital filter performance (although some intersample overload still present) and essentially perfect jitter test results, this is rather seriously underwhelming. Surely the ES9038Pro can objectively perform with much better jitter rejection that this! Even though the anomaly isn't necessarily all that audible, in principle, a new device released in late 2016/early 2017 in this price range should not have these issues after all these years of advancement in asynchronous USB playback.

My suspicion is that Oppo is not utilizing the standard filters for the ESS DAC chip and instead is doing some kind of low quality upsampling itself. Who knows, maybe it's borrowing the algorithm used in the Sonica Speaker which incorporates room compensation DSP? Very odd I must say. I presumed that this can be fully improved with a firmware update.

If they insist in using this type of filter and these measurements are actually "defective by design", then I would respectfully suggest that they incorporate the ability for us to change digital filter settings. They have already advertised this feature with the just released Oppo UDP-205 4K/UHD player based on the online manual. Considering the Sonica DAC's target audiophile audience willing to spend close to US$1K, I would have thought this feature would be a given and more of a benefit than for the video crowd! I would be much more happy with a standard, steep, linear phase filter like what the Oppo BDP-105 had than this current implementation.

With that, I sent a support request to Oppo on their website. Within an hour, I got a response and within a day, an updated E-mail with the pictures above was "sent to engineering" to be replicated in-house...

Oppo responds...
Within 5 days of the initial E-mail, Oppo made good on its investigation into this issue. They sent me a copy of their beta firmware (Sonica-33-0505B), and the machine was upgraded with a front USB stick:

With a 16/44 impulse signal, the filter is still minimum phase:

But look what has changed - here's the DFC:


Still a little bit of overload in the 0dBFS signal but I suspect that's inherent in the ESS DAC filters (and typical of essentially all DAC chips these days). And jitter?


Again, ignore the 14kHz spike there... It's an aberration from the ADC.
Ahhhhh... That's more like it!

Along with the new beta firmware, they sent me a package of 14 FFT measurements. Here are a few of them that I thought was particularly interesting comparing the Sonica DAC vs. Oppo BDP-105 jitter using Audio Precision gear:



Notice how little the jitter difference is comparing the ES9018 (BDP-105) with the ES9038Pro (Sonica DAC)! We basically see a tiny bit more low-level jitter at the base of the primary signal with the ES9018.

Thank you Oppo. Although preferably it would be better not having a customer bring the issue up, I am impressed by the quick customer service and engineering response including providing the beta firmware build and objective confirmatory testing! This is certainly the mark of professionalism with any good technology company. My faith has been restored in the Sonica DAC and ES9038Pro. Of course, it would still be nice to have the ability to select the various default ESS filters through the menu since many devices including the UDP-205 even has it!

We'll talk more about the Sonica DAC with more measurements in the next while.

Here's a question to the pure subjectivists out there... Assuming Oppo did not at some point issue a firmware update that addressed the jitter (let's not even mention the digital filter anomaly), do you think "Golden Eared" subjectivist reviewers would have noticed? I would very much doubt it despite all the lip service non-technical hardware reviewers give to the importance of jitter (and claims of being able to hear "immense" differences like this fellow).

----------------------

For the record, even if Oppo did not come through with the new firmware, I can still improve the performance of the jitter and DFC results by doing my own upsampling to 768kHz. Something like this...



Those results were from the DAC before the beta firmware was installed. We'll talk more about how to achieve the above results another time - it's really quite easy and you don't need expensive stuff...

-----------------------

Archimago, why do you care about technical perfection?
Finally, I thought I'd just address the question above for a bit. As you can see, I've said that the DAC subjectively sounds great already, but yet I'm obviously quite critical about the amount of jitter and the unusual "digital filter composite" graph.

The answer is simple. I believe that hardware should perform to an ideal technical standard from which I can take control to personally tweak the sound to my standards. IMO, philosophically, not only do audiophiles strive for "high fidelity", but I believe the ultimate goal of the audiophile is to be able to subjectively tweak the sound we want to hear to our own specifications, not just be a passive recipient of what we buy. Intuitively I think we all know this to some degree... We customize/optimize the system with speaker placement, maybe add our own acoustic room treatments, and in the old days when more equipment had them available, we played with our tone controls and EQ's. Of course some questionable manufacturers want us to believe tiny shirt-button sized "transducers", weird devices that neutralize "RF", and kilobuck cables will do the "tuning" job to capitalize on these customization cravings of passionate audiophiles.

I've often seen writers ascribe a special reverence to various "rock star" hardware designers and we somehow are supposed to trust the opinions of various (frequently aging and aged) audiophile reviewers with supposed "Golden Ears". Yes, I can respect some amazing hardware designers especially those who put their energies into the physics side such as speaker design. But what I truly respect in the end is how close the gear comes to the ideal standard with low noise floor, excellent dynamic range, excellent frequency response, time domain accuracy, and freedom from unwanted distortions.  It really doesn't matter who does the job and whether I have faith in what they hear. It is the unnamed and often unheralded engineering teams that are the "heroes" these days. For today's article, I appreciate the work of the unnamed Oppo hardware/software engineer(s) who put that beta firmware together. These properties (low noise, excellent frequency response, etc...) are already quite obtainable in DACs - which is why getting the technical measurements right with a modern high-fidelity device like the Sonica DAC is important to me.

When a DAC can perform up to ideal standards, it essentially becomes like a very high quality TV screen or monitor upon which the audiophile can not just project the music he/she enjoys with the quality of a transparent window into the music, but also apply whatever fine-tuning of the sound he/she wants to make. Complex DSP like digital room correction can be applied and even changes like amplitude attenuation will still be rendered with great detail because the device has excellent dynamic range to draw from. Time domain nuances will not be "blurred" by the device's inherent jitter. And in the case of an oversampling filter, to be free from intersample overload means that we won't prematurely run into ugly distortions as the signal approaches 0dBFS when antialiasing is applied. Arguably, we can already say that with reputable DACs, even with small anomalies, transparency has long been achieved due to the limitations of human hearing.

In sum, high fidelity hardware not only allows us to extract all the detail in our music, but also affords the freedom to go beyond the "stock" sound with retained accuracy of reproduction. The realm of customization is the ultimate expression of subjective preference! We can become the designer of the sound we're after and take into account variables which equipment designers cannot because they did not design for our rooms, do not have our speakers and downstream gear (like amplifiers), do not have our ears, and cannot know our subjective preferences.

Have a great week everyone... Hope you're all enjoying the music!

Addendum (May 12, 2017):
For those looking for the beta firmware, check this post for link and instructions.

Addendum (May 23, 2017):
Official firmware with the improved jitter and digital filter performance now up (33-0511).

35 comments:

  1. Thanks for the preview. I am very interested in the Sonica DAC but have not been able to find out if it supports gapless playback in it's streaming functionality, for both network files and online services. I would appreciate it if you would address its gapless capabilities in your full review.
    Thanks again
    Mark

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Mark - You've hit the nail on one of the limitations with the DLNA implementation. Currently it does not have gapless playback with that :-(. Although this is not a major limitation for me since I still use my Pi 3 setup mainly through piCorePlayer. It is nonetheless disappointing...

      Delete
  2. Very curious as to how this measures and sounds against the ES9018K2M in the Brooklyn. The Brooklyn is interesting but it is also nearly $3k CDN. I had not been taking the Oppo too seriously until I had seen your measurements, but now I can say it will be on my consideration list.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Right, that's the thing with the Brooklyn; it is about $3k here in Canada and tougher to come by.

      Considering the quality of the BDP-105's ES9018 already, I suspect the measurements and sound will be fantastic and this should show objectively. Considering the Sonica is less than 1/2 the price and easy to get here in Canada, I think it's worth considering.

      Delete
  3. Thanks for this early review and for holding Oppo's "feet to the fire".

    I was really looking forward to this DAC when it was announced. Very promising on paper.

    So far I'm disappointed by it's lack of a remote control and inability to do DLNA gapless playback. Even if you ignore it's pre-amp & streaming functionality and use it as an ordinary DAC over a USB connection (which solves the gapless issue) the early reviews are not entirely positive regarding sound quality.

    Buying a device with broken features doesn't seem like a good idea. I think I'd wait to see if Oppo can fix the gapless problem before giving the Sonica a try. Let's hope it doesn't turn into the fiasco PS Audio had to deal with when the chipset in their first Bridge network streamer would not support gapless. They tried various craptastic software fixes until they eventually gave up and made people upgrade to the Bridge II to get gapless to work.

    Actually, I'm kind of surprised you sprang for the Sonica instead of the Brooklyn (which you previously recommended).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi doc... Yup. Gapless. I'm not a big fan of DLNA if I don't have to use it. No problem with Pi3 piCorePlayer with gapless albums even 24/96 and 24/192 with DSP room correction applied which is my current playback setup.

      After all these years with DLNA, maybe what the world need is to standardize on something modern. Don't know how open it would be to implement Roon's RAAT or HQPlayer's NAA for example. There's of course also the good ol' Squeezebox protocol but that's missing DSD natively.

      Delete
  4. I am in the camp of those who don't believe there are sonic differences between such electronics - measurements suggest a performance well beyond the human hearing ability. What matters for me is functionality, and here I am disappointed by the small number of inputs. I really think one optical and one coaxial input is not enough for many people. Just think of a disc player, a television, an external streaming device like a Chromecast or an Apple TV, and a game console.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't disagree Willem :-).

      The measurements are showing such a level of precision these days that for high quality gear, the only way to "sound different" is to break from ideal which I believe is what has been happening in the last few years. For example, all the touted digital filtering variants with the most extreme ones like the Ayre/PonoPlayer filter having a potentially significant frequency response impact.

      As for S/PDIF inputs... Yeah, potentially, depending on one's set-up. I tend to use a receiver for my video stuff so if I had an AppleTV, it'd be plugged in there. Multichannel remains a very desirable feature for me in any event so anything that can transmit multichannel sound goes to my Yamaha receiver side of the system!

      Delete
  5. I would like to see the Reis test at 192 kHz sample rate. So far all ESS that I saw have a quite limited audio bandwidth at higher sampling rates (70 kHz). Curious if that is still the case...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Techland,
      Remember that the Reis (digital filter) test is to look at the quality of those oversampling filters. Therefore, it's the 44/48kHz samplerates which are the important ones due to the proximity with the hearing frequency threshold near 20kHz that can be impacted. At 192kHz, if the DAC oversamples that to 384kHz or 768kHz, any anomalies will be way beyond hearing! In fact, you could go NOS at 192kHz and not worry about filtering at all.

      Honestly, I'd be *very happy* with a 70kHz bandwidth :-). I don't know of any natural music that doesn't very substantially attenuate by 50kHz. Based on what I see, the -3dB point for this device is up at 71kHz on the 24/192 test which I'll write about later. Of course, this is also subject to the limits of the Focusrite ADC I'm using so it could be further out...

      Delete
    2. You are right about the Reis test, I just thought (without the high frequency test tones) that the white noise will give you the overall frequency response easily. Anyway, I will get an ESS938 Pro equipped unit soon (not the Sonica, I don't trust Oppo anymore when it comes to features added and firmware updates), so I can measure that myself. Thanks for your interesting blog!

      Delete
  6. Great write up, did you happen to give it an objective listening test? I've been somewhat underwhelmed by the Sonica but it presents a good value and the wireless option is by far the most flexible for my needs. I'm thinking of sending if off for modification but considering there is a firmware update that corrects some subjective issues, I may hold off for a bit.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes... Wait for the firmware upgrade before any kind of mods! It certainly did not sound bad to me before the beta firmware. The improvement is obvious objectively and I'm not going to claim there was an immediate or "obvious" difference afterwards since I don't have 2 DACs to switch between quickly for A/B listening.

      I can say that the limitations of Bluetooth 4.1 audio compared to high quality USB was *obvious* though with subjective listening :-).

      Delete
  7. Isn't it funny?

    Over 90 % of actual mastered songs will produce intersample overloads and nearly no DAC out there does take care of it? It is a shame. They all publish numbers of low noise, low THD, low jitter numbers but no words about the capability to withstand intersample overloads.

    I am aware that nicely mastered Channel Classics recordings, or "old" masterings like Santana Abraxas, they have probably DR over 11 and are not squeezed with the loudness war illness, but nearly all actual masterings are and they will produce tons of intersample clippings.

    Anyway. Good to see some "good" measurements.

    Juergen

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Juergen.

      Yeah, I'm surprised that in 2016/2017 the top-end DAC chips like this still can't give us automatic overload protection with the default filter settings. There's plenty of dynamic range with extremely low distortion already; so shaving off say 3-4dB of that overhead should not be a significant price to pay, right?

      Of course, I wish the recording industry would do the right thing and release music with "room to breathe" in the first place!

      Delete
  8. I know many DACs that will never have a problem with intersample overloads - simply because nobody uses them with a volume set to 0 dB. That is like max volume and unusable. Typical is at least -10 dB. As the volume control is digital this immediately takes care of the intersample problem (-3 would already be enough). Archimago could do a measurement of the Sonica with volume at -3 dB, pretty sure it fixes that as well.

    DACs that include processing (Benchmark, RME...) do have internal headroom (they must have, obviously), and don't suffer from that.

    Also I am pretty sure no one will ever be able to hear those intersample overloads. I know the TC papers and so on, but I also know that the majority of DAC-chips for many years have an internal 'analog' headroom of 2 to 3 dB. The higher distortion found by TC in various outdated consumer products seems to be limited to those exact devices. Most others will not produce drastic effects, leaving the intersample overload inaudible.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Indeed, that is how I fixed the digital filter overload issue with the upsampling at 768kHz with a good quality upsampler. Provide a few dB of attenuation; for this DAC about -4dB but somewhat variable between the devices.

      Delete
  9. Wow I could not believe my luck when I saw this "preview" - been an avid follower of your no non-sense approach to technical measurements and a TEAC UD-501 user myself. Just wanted your two cents on Sonica (yes I'm at the 3-year itch mark too!)

    1. Is the beta firmware available to public? Would be a shame to buy a new DAC with jitter worse than TEAC UD-501.

    2. I currently run the TEAC UD-501 with Pi3 and RuneAudio - is Sonica DAC supported? I know you use picoplayer (used to be in the LMS camp a few years prior to this too) but no literature on the net on such a new DAC.

    3. Quality of the volume control to run as a potential pre-amp replacement - is the pot analogue (ALPS) or is the volume adjustment in the digital range?

    4. The US$800 question - is it worth the upgrade from the TEAC UD-501 - I know it supports DSD256 but not much point to upgrade this just for it given the availability of media in this format (if anything maybe the Sony Receivers could be more fun given they support multichannel).

    Look forward to reading your response!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Koowat, okay... No non-sense response :-).

      1. I have not seen the beta firmware available to the public yet. But I suspect if you ask Oppo nicely...

      2. I have not tried RuneAudio but piCorePlayer is fine using USB and my Pi 3 can play 24/768 no problem. LMS isn't really built for DSD (I know there's some DoP support) so can't say about that. Since the device is UAC2 compatible, I suspect it will be fine.

      3. The volume control I believe is all digital. IMO this is good given the 32-bit architecture. I have some reservations about the AUX IN if you're planning to use this as an analogue pre-amp. Will talk more about this later.

      4. Yes, it does DSD256 AND DSD512 as well as 768kHz PCM if you're into that kind of thing :-). Yes, it measures better than the TEAC UD-501 in many ways. It sounds great (with beta firmware). But let me be frank, the TEAC sounds wonderful already. If you don't have multichannel already, *that* will be much more noticeable!

      Enjoy!


      Delete
    2. I can confirm that Oppo is releasing the beta firmware to those who ask nicely. Thanks for the efforts to improve this fantastic device...it fits a perfect niche for my needs...hoping for Roon and gapless DSD playback soon.

      Delete
  10. Thanks for the review. I updated the firmware, but haven't listened long enough to note any improvements.

    I asked Oppo about MQA and Roon support. This was their response:

    MQA is being investigated, but at this time we do not know if we will be able to support MQA through a future firmware release.

    Becoming Roon Ready is something that will likely occur in the future, but we do not have any eta as to when this will occur nor what products will receive this support. So you will just want to check back later for any support for the Sonica DAC.

    I also asked earlier about allowing the custom digital filters that are available on the UDP-205 Blu-Ray Player, which uses the same dac as the sonica. Their response:

    This is something that we can look into supporting, but there are no immediate plans to support it.

    And, regarding gapless playback from Tidal:

    For Tidal the application does not support gapless playback. We have been working with the engineers to make this available, but we do not know when we may be able to support this through a future update to the application.

    I think this is a limitation of the mediatek chip set, since my Bluesound Node 2 plays gapless.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Unknown. Looks like lots of unknowns ahead :-).

      Looking ahead, clearly the path forward for DACs is *feature integration*. Better DLNA streaming like gapless, more protocol compatibility, better wireless quality like Bluetooth CODECs.

      Delete
  11. To me, the lack of gapless is a deal-killer in any product that claims to do network audio. It's incomprehensible why and how a product in 2017 gets released with that flaw. Part of the problem is that most audio reviewers are incompetent (not our host!) and either won't notice or won't mention the problem. They sure didn't with the fabled PS Audio unit nor with others I'm aware of.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yup, if you're reliant on DLNA playback off this device, gapless is a problem.

      Delete
  12. Question: have you had any pops with DSD DACs like the Oppo and Teac after playing files with DoP? I have used both the Schiit Loki and Aune units, and have found that there might be a detectable sonic advantage with DSD, but the annoying pop after each track finishes rules it out as a practical medium. This is using J River from my i3 HTPC with both ASIO and WASAPI. Anybody

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Unknown.

      In my experience with the TEAC, there's a slight "tick" when switching between PCM to DSD and vice versa. Between tracks there's no problem if you're staying in the same PCM/DSD domain.

      I've been listening to the Sonica DAC this afternoon and went between standard 16/44 PCM, DSD64, and DSD128. No issue. I tested this with JRiver 22 through USB WASAPI and transitioning from a 16/44 PCM to DSD128 is completely seamless with no click or pop.

      I've heard some complaints about relay click between PCM and DSD with the new Oppo UDP-205 but since I don't have one, this is second hand info. Since it just came out, I hope this is something easily fixed if indeed an issue.

      Delete
    2. Thanks, Archimago, that's encouraging.
      The Aune has a really LOUD click after any end of file or stop, so it's good to know that other DACs don't have the same flaw. Maybe the Oppo will be a good upgrade in a year or so.
      I enjoy your blog immensely, btw: so refreshing after the bullshit from rampant subjectivists (or crooks selling snake oil.)
      Keep up the good fight.

      Delete
    3. Greetings Phil. A pleasure...

      Hmmm, that's really unfortunate to hear about the loud click on the Aune! Is this with both PCM and DSD playback when the music stops?!

      Needless to say, for those experiencing PCM-DSD switching noise, with a reasonably powerful computer and JRiver, one could just upsample everything to DSD256/DSD512 or PCM384/768 to a supported DAC. Just stay within the DSD/PCM domain if desired.

      Delete
    4. The click only occurs with DSD files, after play is finished, or I press stop, or jump to another file (DSD or PCM). It seems that the thing always returns to PCM when not actively playing DSD. The WASAPI setting to play silence after a track has no effect. I contacted customer support, who told me there was nothing I could do and that the click shouldn't be loud. I need to try another DAC in my system when I get back home in the summer: I suppose there's a chance that the noise comes from upstream (no idea where.) Will post if I have any news or enlightenment.

      Delete
    5. The click could be easily avoided if JRiver would do their homework. After finishing a DSD playback they should send out 'digital 0' as DSD stream, so the converter does not fall back to PCM. Onkyo is doing this exact workaround in their (cheap) app HF-Player for iOS. So you will only have a click when actively changing from a DSD file playback to a PCM file playback.

      This click on mode change is found in many hardware devices, and can not be suppressed by firmware updates.

      Delete
  13. I know you've mentioned in your last post that you'll be taking a bit of a break from your weekly schedule but a little bit more info on the Sonica's sound would be highly appreciated?

    Have you found any new problems?

    Also, have you had a chance to compare JRiver > USB > Sonica vs JRiver > DLNA/ethernet > RPi > USB > Sonica?

    I'd be willing to overlook lack of gapless support if the Sonica is a stellar USB DAC. To get gapless support over DLNA I could add the RPi streamer, assuming it sounds as good as a direct USB cable connection. What do you think?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Doc Nerdkiller,
      Yes, I have listened with both computer/JRiver --> USB Sonica and also JRiver --> DLNA Pi --> USB --> Sonica.

      As you suggested, getting the RPi streamer fixes the problem with gapless (it does mean an extra device of course) and it sounds great. I honestly cannot fault the sound of the Sonica DAC through the USB input from the Pi at all and just as good as from a laptop/HTPC directly to the DAC by USB.

      I know there are impressions and opinions out there but from an objective and personal listening perspective, this is really a very high quality "high fidelity" kind of sound I'm getting.

      Delete
  14. he sonic perfection of all such electronics makes me wonder two things. The first is why there still is this ongoing search for formats that are more perfect than perfect. If CD Red Book (or just a bit better like 24/48) is already perfect, why do we need higher resolutions, dsd, etc? The only consequence of this futile search for perfection beyond perfection is a stream of new format incompatibilities, and high prices for new gear that should be dirt cheap. The second thing is my interest in the quality that is achieved by such dirt cheap gear: how good is a $100 bluray player, how good is a Chromecast Audio (or Sonos electronics), or how good is a dirt cheap pre-amplifier/DAC like the Beresford TC 7520? Where is the base line for sonic perfection?
    Personally I have been unable to hear subjective differences between that Beresford DAC, a Chromecase Audio, and an Odac usb DAC. I must admit I was unable to control the comparison properly, however, given that switchover was less than instantaneous and that I could not accurately control for level. The rest of the system was revealing enough, however: Quad 33/606-2 amplification, Quad 2805 speakers and B&W PV1d sub plus Antimode 8033 equalization. Is there really any point in spending more than peanuts on this part of the chain?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Willem,
      Alas the standard Blogger comment system is limited. No worries about the little typos, etc...

      You've certainly touched on a very important part of the audiophile hobby and "inconvenient truth" about this topic of very inexpensive gear already delivering what's needed to high-fidelity reproduction. I've expanded on this slightly in the latest post put up on May 13th.

      Clearly from an objective perspective, we can say that the Chromecast Audio isn't as accurate as the Sonica DAC or TEAC UD-501 or Logitech Transporter. In the analogue output, noise floor is higher, frequency response is good but dips a bit on the higher end especially with hi-res output. For digital output, S/PDIF isn't the best for jitter... And from the usability perspective, not everyone is in love with "casting". We discussed this back in Feb 2016. All of this I would agree likely isn't a problem for the majority of folks with of course a little bit of interpersonal variation.

      I would certainly be very happy with what the CC Audio can do given a good system around it. In fact, I would even say that this is a perfect example of how technology has "trickled down" from expensive devices like CD players and DACs incapable of even accurate 16-bit performance until the late 1990's-early 2000's to this example of a $35 device that can do it all along with benefits when fed hi-res in stock at BestBuys and similar mainstream retail stores across the globe!

      Of course, for many audiophiles, the "non-utilitarian" value of audio gear isn't impressive with the CC Audio... Psychologically we might want something more impressive looking, more "elite", more "serious". And we can get that plus better objective performance with more expensive DACs. How we value these "benefits" I'll have to leave to each of us to decide!

      As for the search for formats. Remember, I am a PCM 24/96 advocate. While all kinds of folks may complain about 16/44 (bit-depth not refined enough, 22.05kHz Nyquist too close to 20kHz for filters, etc...), there's really no complaint about 24/96. And in PCM, there's no issue with DSD noise. Recordings can be judged on the need for 24-bit quantization and presence of high-frequency content. If these are met, then do 24/96 (or 24/88 for that matter) and be done with it. Otherwise, 16/44 is great for (most) recordings.

      Why the ongoing search then? Unless somebody has a logical and reasonable argument, it's for financial reasons and marketshare. Sony needed the "next gen" CD-Audio so SACD was born. Meridian got good income from MLP and Dolby TrueHD, so MQA looked like it could be the ticket. Some albums were truly poorly mastered and produced back in the old days with <16-bit ADCs so why not reissue and might as well use bigger bit-buckets like 24/48, 24/96, 24/192, DSD64, DSD128 etc...? We know there will be a segment of the audiophile crowd who will ALWAYS say how great *more bits* and "impressive" tech like MQA is based on psychological inertia rather than actual detectable differences. Such individuals never truly put themselves through blind testing nor ABX trials because they lack discipline and argue out of faith (it is what it is folks...).

      And there you have it. Fragmentation among the small group of audiophiles. No consensus. No direction. No foundation with which to unify behind especially for those with purely subjective mindsets with "knowledge", "perspective", and "experience" built on the shifting sand of their own psychological state.

      Time to be "more objective" and rational I think. :-)

      Delete
  15. Yes, we need more rationalism. That is why I raised the issue of how perfect is perfect enough. For me this is not about how close we should try to get to the original sound (I like very good sound), but how close we got to that, at various parts of the reproduction chain. Of course, measured results of electronics can probably always be improved, but that is unnecessary if we cannot hear the differences, even with the best/youngest ears, and with the best speakers. I don't mind spending big, but I do mind spending big if I cannot hear the improvement.
    This is all the more important because there is important part of the audio chain that is still far from perfect, and expensive to improve: speakers. The more we save on uselesslly expensive electronics, we can spend where it makes an audible difference (hence my choice for the Quad electrostats in the lounge and for the Harbeth P3ESR as my home office speaker).

    ReplyDelete