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Advice to improve my current system (moved to amazon music hd service)

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#1
Hi,

My main installation is based upon KEF speakers + Cambridge 650A + Cambridge 740c (CD Player with DAC included)

Currently, I stream via my NVIDIA Shield, combined with a usb to spdif converter with a TI chipset (which limit sound to 20bit/48khz).
Initially, I was mainly using Spotify source (and still using my already bought CDs), through Spotify connect integration mainly (managed directly through Spotify app on any device).
With Amazon Music HD arrival in France, I tried their service and was surprised of the improvement (even if my installation is old).
However, to make it work, I only can use it through android cast function (Don’t know the impact on the sound). In any case, even with this integration, audio experience is really better (wider, more details).

So it motivates me to see how can I improve it with:
- Amazon Music HD service will be main source
- I will keep my amp + speakers (+ the CD player I won’t put to trash but maybe I have to admit that I could remove it with all my old CD as well)
- I have iOS and Android devices at home, as well as MacBook pro laptops
- investment must be scaled to my existing (a 2000 euro DAC is not consistant with my installation)
I read that the NVIDIA shield USB output upsamples / changes the PCM data so it can’t work in bitperfect mode.

At the time being, my main orientation is to move to a Topping E30 DAC + BlueSound Node 2i.
Option 2/ find a Chromecast audio on ebay and combine with a Topping E30 DAC.
Is it a good idea or would it be better to buy a better / more expensive all-in-one digital player like a Cambridge CX2N? Twice the price of a BlueSound + Topping E30. I’m not sure that I would get extreme improvement : I saw that the DAC chipset seems to be similar to what I have on my cambridge 740c, equivalent to Camdridge DAC Magic, even if probably the power supply is nice.

Option 3 (the cheapest) : Chromecast audio + connect to Cambridge 740c stuff (Wolfson DAC)

I try to find the right compromise between app integration / musicality / price.
For those who could propose RaspPI stuff, I don’t want to spend too much time to configure it / fight with app integration. (Prefers something easier to use but working for everybody at home including my kids)
 

Cahudson42

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#2
For something easy to use, keep in mind that if you use an Amazon Alexa recognizable device as the Amazon Music source with, say an E30, you will be able to easily cast to it from any other Alexa enabled device. Example:

Amazon Fire 8" tablet, "Show" mode>3 wire charging OTG cable>E30>power amp

(You can also use a non-show 7" tablet, but need to check 'screen always on' in Developer options).

For minimum cost, you could skip the E30, and use the internal Fire tablet DAC (or Echo/Echo input) via 3.5mm to RCA cable to amp. (This is my current BR setup: echo input>Old Yamaha RX-396 CD in>Infinity R162).

Given that the endpoint amp SINAD (for me, anyway) is likely 20db or more worse than an E30, you may not experience any audible difference simply using the built-in echo/tablet DAC. Try that first.

PS - just to note: I have decided I'm perfectly happy with Amazon Music HD 16/44. It's Sooo much better than mp3 streaming, that's enough for me:)
 
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OP
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Thread Starter #3
For something easy to use, keep in mind that if you use an Amazon Alexa recognizable device as the Amazon Music source with, say an E30, you will be able to easily cast to it from any other Alexa enabled device. Example:

Amazon Fire 8" tablet, "Show" mode>3 wire charging OTG cable>E30>power amp

(You can also use a non-show 7" tablet, but need to check 'screen always on' in Developer options).

For minimum cost, you could skip the E30, and use the internal Fire tablet DAC (or Echo/Echo input) via 3.5mm to RCA cable to amp. (This is my current BR setup: echo input>Old Yamaha RX-396 CD in>Infinity R162).

Given that the endpoint amp SINAD (for me, anyway) is likely 20db or more worse than an E30, you may not experience any audible difference simply using the built-in echo/tablet DAC. Try that first.

PS - just to note: I have decided I'm perfectly happy with Amazon Music HD 16/44. It's Sooo much better than mp3 streaming, that's enough for me:)

First I don’t want to use any Alexa device for security reasons. (And please respect my opinion)
I’m not convinced by your proposal with using the internal fire tablet DAC.
Maybe I missed something and the DAC in these tablet are really good (I know that some LG smartphone have good DACs)

and by the way, if I accept to stay with Amazon music HD 16/44 or 16/48, it’s already what I have with my current system (already better than Spotify flow)

Saying that, maybe I would have to try :
- to connect my macbook to my Cambridge 740c and sees how does it sound with the app,
- to connect an iPad with amazon music app directly to the amp and compare
 
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Boris Badinov

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#4
I am using the Node 2 to my Cambridge AXR 100 for Amazon Music and happy with the sound. I use either a laptop or an older tablet for control.
 
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Thread Starter #5
I made additional test with Gregory porter - Phoenix Ultra HD file (if you have another track to suggest, don’t hesitate)
so as I expected, direct connection to the amp with an iPad Air (indeed not a fire tablet one) is catastrophic. Heavy loss in gain and details ...

Then I tested :
Direct connection toslink to the cambridge DAC from MacBook Pro (older one which has the toslink)
indirect connection to spdif converter to the Cambridge DAC from a recent Macbook pro

Both using exclusive mode on Amazon Music mac app.

First thing: I noticed that with a 16 bit output , 20 bit output or 24 bit output, my old cambridge displays 20bit as an input (maybe a bug?). Frequency is at maximum 96 khz as input...good news: my test music track is 24 bit/96khz!

1st test:
Both MacBook configured in 20 bit / 48khz outputs
Path 1 (the direct toslink): render is better but honestly difficult to catch. I had to go to the 3min30 to 4min when there are many instruments + voice to see there was better details. Seems logical because I have a more direct connection.
Path 2 (through USB SPDIF) : The volume was a little bit more higher with indirect one so maybe something in the chain amplifies a little bit. (Or the new MacBook Pro just delivers higher signal through usb?)

2nd test:
20 bit / 96khz setting aligned with the source on the toslink macbook pro.
Not a surprise, the render seems wider (even if I suspect that there are flow retreatment somewhere (24 bit > 20 bits).

I did the same tests again with a sennheiser HD598 headphone connected to the amp and I confirmed my feelings.
So maybe it’s in my head but that seems consistant to me.
It seems logical that files are downsampled have an audible impact.

So even the main question now is: Blue Sound node 2i with or without E30 in my system?
Indeed, maybe my amp is the limitation and E30 could be useless?
 
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Thread Starter #6
I am using the Node 2 to my Cambridge AXR 100 for Amazon Music and happy with the sound. I use either a laptop or an older tablet for control.
thank you, I’m pretty sure that it‘s a better combo than using a fire tablet or Alexa device
 
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Thread Starter #7
Last test done on the same track
Nvidia shield with USB-SPDIF DAC (burr brown) > Cambridge 740C vs MBP usb-c adaptor to USB-SPDIF DAC usb / Cambridge 740c (Settings at 20 bit / 48khz )
at the end at 4min30 when Gregory shouts Rise, with Nvidia shield output, there is a kind of saturation that I don’t hear with the MBP.

Conclusion: it’s the NVIDIA shield output that degradates the signal.
I tried then twice on it in nvidia config panel: with stereo output (48khz max) / with high res output (192khz upsampling) and the situation is even worse with high res output.

Consequently: NVIDIA shield is the main flaw in my current system and not the chinese USB SPDIF DAC... but it’s still better rendering than with a direct connection from an iPad on my amp
 
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Thread Starter #9
As a new member, just in case you have not seen Amir's review of the Blue sound:
https://audiosciencereview.com/foru...surements-of-bluesound-node-2i-streamer.6631/

By today's standards, DAC performance leaves something to be desired, certainly compared to the E30, and even LG phones with the ESS Quad DAC (G7, V20, 30 etc.)
Yes I read it, that’s why my main idea was to use a blue sound node 2i + a E30 DAC
however , you made me think that maybe the Rest of my installation maybe cannot show the difference with or without E30 (that’s my question now)
 

Bamyasi

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#10
thank you, I’m pretty sure that it‘s a better combo than using a fire tablet or Alexa device
Whenever you use Alexa Cast on an Alexa supporting device it streams in SD (lossy) quality, i.e. 320 kbps MP3 at best. Alexa Cast protocol currently does not support HD/UHD quality streaming and there are no plans with the Amazon to add such support. I have spent hours with Amazon user support some time ago to get this definitive answer and then confirmed it by my own measurements using network traffic metering.

Note however that you do not need to compromise your home security to use Alexa Cast streaming. Alexa Cast is a separate service, unrelated to Alexa voice control. You do not need at all enabling Alexa hands-free voice control and microphone in your device in order to use Alexa Cast. And Amazon SD streaming quality is very good, so good in fact that you will have hard time telling the difference with HD version of the same track.

After lots of experimenting, I've just decided to buy 4-meter long, good quality USB cable to connect my Amazon HD 8 tablet (2019 model) to my USB DAC and use it as a source for all Amazon Music playback. This is still not a bitperfect solution and the cable connection, although it works 100% reliably with my DAC, is not very convenient, I admit. Also, if your room is larger than mine you will need a USB extender.
 
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Thread Starter #11
Whenever you use Alexa Cast on an Alexa supporting device it streams in SD (lossy) quality, i.e. 320 kbps MP3 at best. Alexa Cast protocol currently does not support HD/UHD quality streaming and there are no plans with the Amazon to add such support. I have spent hours with Amazon user support some time ago to get this definitive answer and then confirmed it by my own measurements using network traffic metering.

Note however that you do not need to compromise your home security to use Alexa Cast streaming. Alexa Cast is a separate service, unrelated to Alexa voice control. You do not need at all enabling Alexa hands-free voice control and microphone in your device in order to use Alexa Cast. And Amazon SD streaming quality is very good, so good in fact that you will have hard time telling the difference with HD version of the same track.

After lots of experimenting, I've just decided to buy 4-meter long, good quality USB cable to connect my Amazon HD 8 tablet (2019 model) to my USB DAC and use it as a source for all Amazon Music playback. This is still not a bitperfect solution and the cable connection, although it works 100% reliably with my DAC, is not very convenient, I admit. Also, if your room is larger than mine you will need a USB extender.
It seems that google cast works in HD/UHD (or if not, it’s surprising because the quality I got is better than a spotify connect flow... blind test with my kids who confirmed and have younger ears than me)
I understand your option with the cable but it’s not safe enough in a house with kids :)
 

Cahudson42

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#12
To open a completely new can of worms, you 'could' use a Qudelix 5k ($109) as a bt front end to your main amp via it's 3.5mm analog out, and, say, LDAC bt to a control device that ' may' support it. (Say an LG G7/V20/V30 phone used as a DAP).

You then run Amazon Music, at resolution received on the LG/DAP, to the Qudelix via LDAC codec.

A side benefit is you get a 10-entry PEQ for DSP profiling of your speakers/room.

You could also just use the LG via it's 3.5mm with a long audio cable, similar to what @Bamyasi does with his Fire 8 USB cable.

Disadvantage: the performance of the Qudelix DAC is as yet untested by ASR. (Guessing it's likely high 90s SINAD..just a guess from what I've read)
 
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Thread Starter #13
To open a completely new can of worms, you 'could' use a Qudelix 5k ($109) as a bt front end to your main amp via it's 3.5mm analog out, and, say, LDAC bt to a control device that ' may' support it. (Say an LG G7/V20/V30 phone used as a DAP).

You then run Amazon Music, at resolution received on the LG/DAP, to the Qudelix via LDAC codec.

A side benefit is you get a 10-entry PEQ for DSP profiling of your speakers/room.

You could also just use the LG via it's 3.5mm with a long audio cable, similar to what @Bamyasi does with his Fire 8 USB cable.

Disadvantage: the performance of the Qudelix DAC is as yet untested by ASR. (Guessing it's likely high 90s SINAD..just a guess from what I've read)
Your proposal is indeed disrupting but too far to my concerns :)
(software integration, not wiring a smartphone or a tablet to the system for kids acceptance)

In parallel, I read most of the BlueSound node thread and it seems that :
- it’s sure that the combination of a BlueSound node with a E30 will provide me HiRes rendering on the paper,
- maybe, I won’t be able to hear the difference with and without the E30,
- it’s expensive to use the BlueSound just for streaming transport (but if it works...)
 
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Bamyasi

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#14
It seems that google cast works in HD/UHD (or if not, it’s surprising because the quality I got is better than a spotify connect flow... blind test with my kids who confirmed and have younger ears than me)
I understand your option with the cable but it’s not safe enough in a house with kids :)
Unfortunately, Google Chromecast also does not support Amazon Music streaming in HD/UHD quality. Moreover, my understanding Amazon uses AAC codec insted of MP3 when streaming to Chromecast devices, which I find inferior in sound quality. As usual, your mileage may vary, of course. It's a total mess and Amazon apparently has no intention or plans to fix it.

Bluesound Node 2i is way too expensive to be used as a network player only and also its BlueOS software is rather crude and does not provide all of the features of the native Amazon Music app.
 
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#15
I would consider a quality Bluetooth or Wifi DAC. Something like the iFi Zen Blue (which I use, supports AptX-HD, LDAC) or Audioengine B-Fi. Both have good DACs and digital out you can use in the future.
 
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Thread Starter #16
Unfortunately, Google Chromecast also does not support Amazon Music streaming in HD/UHD quality. Moreover, my understanding Amazon uses AAC codec insted of MP3 when streaming to Chromecast devices, which I find inferior in sound quality. As usual, your mileage may vary, of course. It's a total mess and Amazon apparently has no intention or plans to fix it.

Bluesound Node 2i is way too expensive to be used as a network player only and also its BlueOS software is rather crude and does not provide all of the features of the native Amazon Music app.
Ok understood
I read on amazon forum that we have a cast, in reality the NVIDIA shield goes directly on amazon servers but gets a non HD/UHD file.
So even if it appeared me as better than Spotify connect stream, the degradation of signal and difference of quality I imputed to the NVIDIA shield software.... is in reality probably linked to CAST protocol !!

consequently, that’s why it was saturated in extreme cases and narrower compared with my MBP connection tests.
maybe, I don’t have the ears to find it obvious all the time and need to do A/B tests to notice it. (And maybe also, I have to do the same tests again in better conditions)
 
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Thread Starter #17
I would consider a quality Bluetooth or Wifi DAC. Something like the iFi Zen Blue (which I use, supports AptX-HD, LDAC) or Audioengine B-Fi. Both have good DACs and digital out you can use in the future.
It’s indeed another good orientation.
Bluetooth and/or airplay... however, it seems that I have to continue to explore other possibilities

B-FI supports maximum 16bit/44khz
But iFi zen blue up to 24 bit/96khz which is better!

So why not a Topping d50s? In this case, android smartphone devices as an input.
option B would also be to find a airplay compatible device to feed it with iPad or MacBook pro

or maybe I change my mind and don’t use amazon music HD services and move to another hifi service? (To rely on a raspPI with VOLUMIO?)
 
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Thread Starter #18
At the end, I made an impulsive purchase of a Node 2i because I could get one at a very good price (and I took also the opportunity of getting a pair of QED Performance 40i RCA cable to connect it to my amp)

In parallel, I wanted to evaluate my ears and also my ability to hear it from my current devices.
I made ABX tests and saw that I was quite good with frequencies, not so good for timing perception, and confirmed ability to hear the difference between 256 kbit and lossless content. (with blind tests)
I clearly heard, that my Galaxy S10e was not so bad (plugged with a Sennheiser HD598 headphone), iPAD was awful (very difficult to hear the difference between lossless and 256 kbit content), my new Macbook Pro was also fine

Then I got the Node 2i and plugged it on my system.

So let's start by good news.
The integration with amazon music HD is quite ok. The main pb is that you cannot write on your playlist from BluOS app but it's not very blocking because when I use it, it's mainly from my smartphone so I can add / modify in the amazon music app.
It's really easy to use it.
First impression: sound is fine through RCA .... but after a few hours, I felt some kind of strange feeling (sound lacking of "space" and a stereophony balance issue... voices were not perfectly "in the middle")
I saw that I set fixed volume output and I unchecked the "audio trim clock option"... sound improved but the stereophony is still a little bit weird

However, the global improvement of sound was there, and mainly by the music source improvement (lossless vs compressed). No debate on that.

Today I tried another option: why not plugging it to my old 740C digital input to see how it sounds?
as the node 2i sends output in the same time on RCA and digital, ABX test is really easy to do!

not even necessary... the sound is far better through the old cambridge CD player....(powered by 2 x Dac WM 8740)
The stereophony is now perfect! The soundstage is also ... like I always liked with my Cambridge 740C when playing CDs... even if I had feelings that bass was better through the node 2i...

Then I remembered that I was connected with the QED perf 40i cables on the Node 2i!
Final switch: QED perf 40i cables connected between the 740C and the amp. Wow! I got even more details in the bass now! My previous old QED cables went to retirement. Decisive test with Erykah Badu Rim Shot (Intro). Incredible rendering!

Conclusion: The feeling can be consistant with technical facts
Indeed, I confirm the blue sound node 2i is a nice player , really plug and play but a nice DAC will do the job even better.
it was fine also for my kids because they were able to send their (Disney style) music from Airplay or Bluetooth and keep MY playlists / amazon account "clean".
Sometimes, even on an old but well running system, cable replacement can make miracle for acceptable price.

Question: do you think that I can even improve by getting a good coaxial cable (instead of a Belkin toslink spdif cable I currently use )?
If yes, do you have some suggestions? I like QED manufacturer but I'm opened to other options.

Maybe in a further step, I will buy a topping E30 but I'm used to the Cambridge british sound so maybe I will just keep this combination!
 
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Thread Starter #19
I just noticed that my Cambridge refuses 24bit/192Khz with Starman Bowie, whereas it is supported in the manual.
is it a limitation of the cable or a bug on my Cambridge?
 

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