After many years messing around with digital audio, I’m confident to have found the perfect setup. But it’s not an easy setup. The thing is, digital audio is not easy. In the analog world, you connect some equipment and then turn up the volume and put your ear next to the speaker. Hum, noise? Too much? Left and right the same? Depending on volume setting? All easy measurements we have made for decades. Let’s “Fourier Transform” these measurements and start listening for … jitter? harsh sounding music?
I bought this beautiful second hand piece of mechanical engineering from Technics some time ago. It’s called a turntable. Added a preamp and replaced the cartridge. Now I could measure again like in the old days. Easy to detect a bad cable. And the sound? Even from bad records it sounded very different. Like real music, direct, aligned, and so on. Now I had to get my CD player and iTunes library to sound like that.
Well, images say more than words, so I’ve drawn up an image in Powerpoint. From SMSL M8 back to the Apogee MiniDAC, now with AES in and XLR out, so pretty isolated. USB from a standalone BeagleBone Black (better USB than Raspi) through SU-1, optimal isolation again.
Cyrus amps are very revealing. At first, only the Technics sounded good, everything else was too digital. Now digital sounds like analog and streaming via LMS as good as my CD transport. Amazing how good the Apogee can sound, if connected properly.
For me, isolation is key in digital audio. Since you cannot “hear” interference coming in (like noise in analog), better make sure the isolation is good. The Apogee output goes through a Jensen ISO-MAX. Are transformers bad? Well all turntable cartridges are transformers, even the ones over 10k. So I like my Jensen.
One final remark, forget OSX as an USB audio source. The LMS and Squeezelite combo sounds better than everything else and is my biggest improvement, coming from Amarra and friends. And integration with iTunes using the XML file preserves all my playlists. But beware, you cannot do that anymore on Catalina..