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ESI U24XL or NUC with SPDIF Input as MiniDSP SHD Alternative

DDF

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#1
After a great deal of research, it seem's that there's a scarcity of user friendly options for a system that can handle different inputs (analog phono pre, coax, chromecast optical, USB HD, NAS, streaming) and run it through a single ultra high quality audio infrastructure for basic room EQ.

It seems to have come down to a couple of options.

Windows has provided a good experience with Tidal, Spotify, USB HD and a NAS (I use EqualizerAPO + Foobar but there are many options) but to support SPDIF and analog inputs on a (quiet) laptop, I've only found this after long hunting, which converts SPDIF to USB output for input to the PC: https://www.esi-audio.com/products/u24xl/. I've had great experience with the ESI Julia card in my old tower, so am hoping ESI has another winner here but the usb power and possible USB bus conflicts are possible concerns.

Question 1: hoping someone has had experience with the ESI unit and can share their thoughts.
Question 2: I've searched but had no luck: are there any fanless NUCs with coax and optical spdif input to build a Windows 10 audio system around? I'd consider buying an outboard A/D for the phone pre but an integrated A/D would be gravy.

MiniDSP SHD ticks all the boxes as well with the significant bonus of 4 channels for bass management and I may go that route if the ESI or NUC route flops. Drawback is it doesn't have a headphone amp (current DAC has a nice one), or the general purpose windows functionality which is handy for looking up music.

Question 3: hoping users can share their experiences with the UI and stability of the SHD. For example, are all Tidal and Spotify features supported like their curated lists (eg bubbleupnp doesn't)?

All other options seem like high effort. There are already multiple threads discussing pi, Volumio, brute FIR etc so request those options not be discussed in this thread.
 
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DDF

DDF

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Thread Starter #2
Quick update, found two additional options to get spdif (CD/chromecast) into a lap top for system/room EQ, thought others might be interested:
ESI looks like the only solution supporting coax (I'd be surprised if its performance was worse than the Mini DSP).

MiniDSP SHD users please chime in if you have any oddities to report. Just a few:
The HW architecture of the SHD hits a real sweet spot but the limitations of Volumio are hard to overlook, compared to Windows.

After a whole lot more searching, still no luck finding a turnkey quiet low to mid cost PC with SPDIF input, looks like that route requires a custom build. Argh, I promised myself I would never build another PC again!
 

pacdpm

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#3
DDF...just found your post....I am in the SAME dilemma////need a card (external) with ANALOGUE RCA inputs for TEAC reel & Nakamichi Cassette deck and a coaxial spdif for DATs,,,I mentioned in previous post HUGE collection of reels & cassettes & DATs to transfer...have ESI [email protected] but will no longer accept signals from either....worked great for 3 years till spring windows 10 update...it has all you (we) need analogue--spdif and great specs but NO ONE can get it to work....If I find ANY other alternatives I will let you know and please I ask the same of you..I'd like to discuss your 'custom' computers...thanks Paul
 
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DDF

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Thread Starter #4
DDF...just found your post....I am in the SAME dilemma////need a card (external) with ANALOGUE RCA inputs for TEAC reel & Nakamichi Cassette deck and a coaxial spdif for DATs,,,I mentioned in previous post HUGE collection of reels & cassettes & DATs to transfer...have ESI [email protected] but will no longer accept signals from either....worked great for 3 years till spring windows 10 update...it has all you (we) need analogue--spdif and great specs but NO ONE can get it to work....If I find ANY other alternatives I will let you know and please I ask the same of you..I'd like to discuss your 'custom' computers...thanks Paul
Hi Paul,
Just noticed your reply, thanks. I wiped my music laptop and put on win10 pro, letting it run for a while with eapo to see if its stable (so far perfect). I'll let you know if I make any more progress with spdif.
I have an esi Julia in my old windows 2000 machine, its a great card but not usable in the music laptop unfortunately.
 

TimW

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#5
I own an SHD and I'm happy with it. Unfortunately I can't comment on the usability of Volumio. I have Tidal but I never set it up on the SHD. I use Roon so that I don't have to mess with jenky solutions like Volumio. Initially I could only stream to the SHD through AirPlay, which popped up in Roon as soon as I connected the SHD to my network. Then the option to stream to the SHD with the Roon RAAT protocol was added so I switched to that method and enabled it in Volumio. Both streaming methods were completely stable, no drop outs or other issues.

According to the Volumio documentation, there are a couple of methods for streaming to it from Windows. If that works properly with the SHD then you could control and browse your music with your favorite OS without having to mess with the Volumio interface too much.

I got the SHD because like you, I wanted an all in one solution for connecting all of my sources, with DSP capabilities for room correction, and great performance to boot. My SHD is connected to my TV via toslink, a UDP via coax, my LAN, a tuner via RCA and a phono preamp via XLR. The only other thing that can provide all of that usability is a high end AV Pre/Pro like the Marantz AV7005 I used to own. Compared to the SHD, that thing had a worse display, a worse user interface and setup procedure, a far inferior ARC system with limited ability to tweak settings manually, and of course much worse measured performance. It did have a lot more features with the most obvious being surround sound capability, but I just want stereo so the SHD is the perfect solution for me.

The screen doesn't display a whole lot of info but as far as I'm concerned it shows enough and looks great doing it. The unit certainly isn't as flashy or luxurious looking as most HiFi gear but it is a very serious and solid looking black metal box. I own four different miniDSP products so I am well versed in their DSP plugin software. It can be a real pain to get installed and working but once it is I find the user interface to be straightforward and capable. On the other hand I could never get Dirac 2.0 to work with my SHD. No matter how many times I read through the manual or uninstalled and reinstalled drivers and software and firmware, I could not get it to work. Had to switch back to Dirac 1.0 and it works as expected. That really pissed me off but I'm still quite happy with the unit because in day to day use it is just a joy to use. The simple screen and remote and one knob control just make things feel simple and easy like vintage gear.
 

murraycamp

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#6
I'll echo @TimW in that I use an SHD as a dac/pre/dsp and am happy with the purchase. My digital sources are simple - a CCA (optical out) into the SHD streaming Qobuz, and a CD transport into the SHD using S/PDIF coax (plus vinyl rig). Cannot comment on Volumio, Roon, etc. HTH, IMHO, YMMV, etc.
 

bribur

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#7
Hi, first posting on ASR, great site. I have the SHD as well based on the review here. It works very well and I do have Dirac 2.0 running on it with no issues but I installed it from day one, maybe there are issues with going from version 1 to 2. Only issue I had was trying to use the separate wifi device WI-DG to run DIrac, that doesn't work. You can use it to play with the minidsp interface, but not Dirac. It took me a few hours and email to minidsp to figure that out. I use Roon which uses the SHD as an endpoint. That feature on the SHD is still beta I think but the only issue is Roon won't currently control the volume but I use the SHD remote so not a big deal. Volumio still works on the SHD even if the Roon endpoint is enabled, you can access Volumio from a phone or laptop which makes it easy for guests use the system directly. Regarding the headphone amp, the digital only version of the SHD has a headphone amp though I don't know how good it is, but you can use your current dac with either version, that's what I do, built in dacs drive my subs. Not cheap but a nice neat solution.
 

murraycamp

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#9
OP
DDF

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Thread Starter #11
@TimW , @murraycamp , @bribur thanks very much for the feedback!

My Yami home theater receiver (5.1 TV set up) has more modest performance but is dead simple UI for DLNA, streaming radio, external drive connection etc. Ditto the windows main rig laptop with the streaming apps and foobar and especially EAPO which is shockingly easy to use and sounds great. It sounds like Roon might be an important part of making the SHD UI user friendly from multiple network sources (DLNA, HD, tidal/spotify). Reading between the lines of your posts and elsewhere, Volumio seems to be a bit of an "enthusiast" platform.

I think I'll give the ESI a twirl and if the interface performance is crappy, look long and hard at the SHD again, especially to be able to give Dirac a spin given a PC version is still unobtanium.
 

murraycamp

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#12
@TimW , @murraycamp , @bribur

I think I'll give the ESI a twirl and if the interface performance is crappy, look long and hard at the SHD again, especially to be able to give Dirac a spin given a PC version is still unobtanium.
Sounds good. I still think the SHD gives very good value considering it includes Dirac 2.0, strong measurements, and good flexibility/feature set. I don' know of any other dac/pre/dsp with Dirac (or equivalent) and strong measurements for around this price.

BTW, I found Dirac to be a relatively easy set up and am happy with the results.

FWIW, YMMV, etc.
 
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DDF

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Thread Starter #13
Sounds good. I still think the SHD gives very good value considering it includes Dirac 2.0, strong measurements, and good flexibility/feature set. I don' know of any other dac/pre/dsp with Dirac (or equivalent) and strong measurements for around this price.
I agree with all those values, the hardware looks great. It's Volumio that's keeping me back since I'm not interested in Roon. Today's postings that it can't properly start playback in the middle of an album:
https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...ics-starting-part-way-through-an-album.10461/
Volumio doesn't seem ready for prime time.
 

pacdpm

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#15
Poorly..at least for me....not enough knowledge to build it myself and don't know any 20 year olds that can do it for me ALL suggestions welcomed
 
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DDF

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Thread Starter #16
Quick update, bought the U24XL.

Unfortunately it won't sense optical unless the electrical spdif is physically disconnected (turning off the source doesn't help).

I was able to route chromecast through EAPO (it appears to windows as a "microphone") and out to a different usb dac, but the unit would disappear from the device menu after a time and required disconnect/reconnect of USB.

Keeping it as a portable REW interface, but it's not practical as a multi-input general purpose PC interface.
 

dwkdnvr

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#17
I also ended up with the SHD for our living room system, largely due to the lack of an input handling solution that would have allowed using a PC based DSP appliance. I think something like the Meridian processors would be the ideal answer for this since they support remote control and look like audio components, but you have to go to the G series to get 96kHz+ and those are expensive. There are a lot of multi-input studio interfaces that you could probably make work, but generally the multi-input cards don't SRC the incoming digital inputs and instead expect you to slave to it meaning you have to switch clock sources and potentially deal with a different sample rate. The best idea I've come up with is to pair a Motu 8A and 8D together via AVB, giving you 8 analog inputs and 8 digital inputs (which have SRC), which you can hopefully switch between. I have no idea how they show up to EAPO though - probably not as 8 separate stereo inputs which would make switching tricky. And, of course very expensive for the 2 interfaces. (I don't believe the cheaper Motu interfaces have SRC on the digital inputs)

When I had the 'PC DSP Appliance' working well (almost a decade ago now. sheesh), I used an MR816 interface with word clock output, and a Behringer SRC2496 to handle inputs which was slaved to the word clock signal. This setup required manual switching of inputs, but did mean that everything was slaved to the interface clock at 96kHz meaning the DSP flow could remain fixed. This may still be viable, but might end up being a two-PC system with the 2nd serving as a source with digital output.

So, that's how I ended up with the SHD - the only obviously wife-friendly way to pull off a reasonably capable multi-channel dsp system. Quite happy with it, aside from the inputs being a bit more limited that would be ideal. Fortunately, running all the HDMI sources into the TV and having a single optical out from the TV is working OK. I use a Squeezebox as the music source though - not sure how Roon/Tidal would integrate to an SHD.
 
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