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Looking for suggestions on adding DAC with MQA support using FireTV as streamer

Beershaun

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#1
Hi All. "First time long time." :)

I'd like to get suggestions and input from the group on options for putting together the audio chain I'm looking to build.

What I am trying to do:
  1. I want to bring the experience of high quality music to my whole family in a convenient way for them by using what they already do today.
  2. I want to use my FireTV cube as my main single UI and streamer for Tidal, Plex, and Spotify. This platform has great support from the music service providers with native apps and is very convenient for my whole family to use and enjoy.
  3. I want to add a modern DAC with MQA and 24/192 support and improve the quality of all my music on my larger home stereo (CD quality from Tidal and Plex, streaming OggVorbis from Spotify, MQA from Tidal, Hi-Res 24bit FLAC from my Plex library). I enjoy the Tidal Master quality audio on my PC (dragonfly Red) and want to support these MQA files on my larger home stereo. I also have a collection of 24 bit FLAC files on my home media server I access through Plex.
  4. Budget is around $400-$500.
What I have today: (2 paths)

Path 1 (Tidal and Spotify):
  1. wired ethernet->FireTV cube HDMI->TV
  2. Panasonic TC-L55WT60 Optical-> OnkyoTXDS-787 (AVR)
Path 2 (Plex):
  1. wired ethernet->Raspberry Pi 3B+ I2S -> Hifiberry Dac+Pro
  2. Rasplex OS
  3. Hifiberry DAC+Pro RCA out-> Onkyo TXDS-787 (AVR)
Options I've considered:
  • Installing Volumio on my raspberry pi and USB out to a DAC. I can experiment with my Dragonfly Red but have concerns about the data rate and quality as the USB and ethernet share the same bus on the Raspberry Pi 3B+. I also don't want to use Volumio UI. It forces me to use UPnP on my smartphone as the interface and I want something the whole family can enjoy via the FireTV UI and native streaming service apps.
  • I am considering purchasing SMSL M500 as it has all the DAC features I am looking for in the price range, is recommended on this site, and is in the upper quartile performance range on this site. The gap is MQA on SMSL M500 is only supported via USB and I can only get Optical or HDMI ARC out from Panasonic TV. So it doesn't appear I have the interface I need.
Other existing equipment I have that I could bring to the table to experiment with:
  • Audioquest Dragonfly Red
  • Chromecast Audio
  • LGV10 unlocked smartphone
Things I am avoiding:
  • I am avoiding using HDMI as an audio interface. In my experience FireTV HDMI output of music sounds compressed and terrible.
  • I am avoiding discussions about whether or not MQA or 24bit audio is good or bad. I have it, I like it, I want to support full unfolding of MQA and full 24/192 in my audio chain.
  • I'm not ready to make the Roon jump yet. I know it's a powerful option but I want to find a solution that works for the whole family through the existing Fire TV UI they already know and use.
What I need help with:
  1. Suggestions and ideas on addressing my interface mis-match for SMSL M500. How could I get USB audio out of FireTV?
  2. Suggestions on an alternative DAC that supports MQA and 24/192 in my budget.
  3. Suggestions on Raspberry Pi solution that would support native Tidal, Spotify, and Plex apps. I could hook it to the TV via HDMI for video and USB out to DAC for audio.
  4. Other ideas?
Thank you all ahead of time for any ideas and suggestions.
Sincerely,
-Shaun
 
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#2
I use an original Roku Ultra with coaxial output, however, since it has dropped the SPDIF output the new ones would not work. My Roku goes to an ifi SPDIF regenerator which I think helps due to the device not being an audio product and the DAC is inside an older Marantz SR7008 receiver. YMMV, but newer DACs should already clean up the incoming signal. The receiver is pre the current 4k HDMI standard so it would not complete the "handshake" and pass through the 4K HDMI signal which has to go directly to the TV. I needed a way to get the sound out of the Roku box and this one had the coax output.

Another option I tried was to use the optical out of the TV which then effectively acts like a HDMI audio stripper. I have never felt as if this resulted in as high a quality sound as going straight out of the Roku (and before that guy chastises me for making a comment on subjective sound quality, please consider this solely a personal opinion and not done under any controlled a/b testing conditions). Your best bet is likely to buy a dedicated HDMI audio stripper and pass the signal into a good quality DAC. If the DAC is a newer spec, a regen device would be redundant since it should clean up the signal. Also, I see no technical reason for the HDMI audio signal to be more compressed that other formats, not as clean maybe.

For what its worth, using the Roku, or something like FireTV as a streamer, is a very convenient way to browse and serve music in a living room or other space. I like seeing the albums on the TV and being able to browse from your couch. Indeed, the Radio Paradise app, plays gorgeous imagery on the TV that appears related to the song title as the music plays and it now streams in flac format. The Roku has apps/channels for Amazon Music, Tidal, Deezer, Spotify, Tune-in, and you-tube to play music. No Qobuz yet.
 

Jimbob54

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#3
My advice- give it up on the M500/ fire TV route for full MQA. If you want full 24/192 MQA decoding, find a way to get a usb cable from your PC to SMSL M500 and use the Tidal PC app in Exclusive mode, bypassing software decode.

I doubt the Fire TV Tidal app will actually be 24/192 but even then, the TV will likely downsample if you try and take a digital out of it.
 
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#4
I used a Bluesound Node 2 for Tidal with its internal MQA DAC into the Marantz and I wasn't thrilled (I realize that the Node 2i's internal DAC did not measure well by Amir). I switched to the Node 2 coax output which is just the 1st MQA fold, to the receiver and felt it was similar or indistinguishable from the Roku coax out. Downsampling may explain why the TV out was unimpressive. I don't think an HDMI stripper would downsample.

Unless you have used a TV box this way, I think people underestimate the value of the experience and convenience of using music apps on a large screen TV. I had difficulty with Plex, but the roku media server channel lets me peruse all the albums by album cover for my CD collection ripped to a QNAP NAS.
 
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Beershaun

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Thread Starter #5
Thanks both of you for taking a look and responding.

@BobPM I am going down a similar road to you. I was searching for an audio extractor that I could plug the FireTV into and run USB audio out of with no luck. There are many that will run COAX or Optical digital audio out but I couldn't find one that did USB audio out. Yes the straightforward solution would be to skip the MQA requirement and the full 24/192 requirement and be content with a new external DAC with the existing optical output. It would at least get me to a more modern higher quality DAC than what's in the old Onkyo. I've hesitated on that because I first want to see if I can find a solution that meets all my needs and wants. If not I'll likely fall back to that.

"Unless you have used a TV box this way, I think people underestimate the value of the experience and convenience of using music apps on a large screen TV. I had difficulty with Plex, but the roku media server channel lets me peruse all the albums by album cover for my CD collection ripped to a QNAP NAS. "

I couldn't agree more. I wonder why there aren't more modern full featured audiophile solutions to plug into these streamers like the Roku and FireTV. They are the largest installed base of home music streaming hardware (smartphones not withstanding), they are cheap, they get native app support from the service providers so they have the most up to date features, and they provide a great living room UI for the whole family.

@Jimbob54 yes I could get a PC and plug it in to the TV. That would be an option in HTPC mode to make it convenient for remote control navigation. I haven't pursued that because it's adding a bunch of cost and complexity to just get a streaming box that the FireTV already does so well. So before I go that road I'd like to see if there is something simpler I can do so I can reserve my budget for the DAC.

Thanks again for taking a look at my project and providing your suggestions!
Shaun
 
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Beershaun

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Jimbob54

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Beershaun

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Thread Starter #8
OK. I'm going to try out one of these HDMI->I2S boards. I'll report back if it works or not. Delivery date is some time between may 15th and July 15th. :)
https://www.ebay.com/itm/123962902103
 
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Beershaun

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Thread Starter #9
Even if you can get 24/192 files through this route, you won't get the stream you need if you want the m500 to get and decode full MQA. I don't think so anyway
Very likely. I'm going to do the experiment with this board and my Dragonfly Red (supports MQA) and see what happens. I'll share my results with the community.
 
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Beershaun

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Beershaun

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Thread Starter #11
The board arrived today. I was able to split off the audio signal and output it via Toslink and play the music through my receiver. The Tidal app showed it was rendering MQA so it's doing the 1st unfold in software. The I2S output is HDMI type cable so I don't yet have a USB female interface to see if this board outputs the MQA signal to my Dragonfly Red. Time to buy a cable and report back.
 
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Beershaun

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Update for those still interested. I don't know why I didn't think of this early. I dug out my original firetv which has...an optical output! So I now have a music streamer with an optical output with all the native apps for my preferred services and my music library. Time to pivot to finding a dac that will do what I want with the optical interface.
 
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Beershaun

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So it looks like most options <$1000 require USB for MQA support. So I'm going to pivot my plan a bit and remove the MQA support requirement and just see how good a modern top quartile DAC sounds with a optical out from the gen1 FireTV. So I bought a Topping E30 to see how the sound compares to my current AVR/HDMI setup.
 

Laserjock

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#14
Do you have a “Smart” phone or Tablet?
I found using iPad mini with a “powered” USB camera adaptor was able to get Tidal MQA through the SMSL M500 with a USB A>B cable
 
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Beershaun

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Do you have a “Smart” phone or Tablet?
I found using iPad mini with a “powered” USB camera adaptor was able to get Tidal MQA through the SMSL M500 with a USB A>B cable
Hi, thanks for your idea. I want to use a Firetv as the streaming device instead of a phone so I can have a family room device the family can easily use and enjoy. The smartphone is a great idea but I want to see if I can specifically get this working for the firetv since that what the family uses today.
 
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Beershaun

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Thread Starter #16
Update: I received the Topping E30 and plugged it in. It works great. The new problem is the firetv resamples everything to 48khz. So I'm not getting bit perfect audio out of it.

Why do manufacturers make it so hard?

So I don't recommend using a Firetv for hifi audio as you can't get bit perfect audio out of it no matter what you are sending it to.

My next step is to see if there is a way I can root the device and find an audio driver that will send out bit perfect audio similar to usb audio pro on my Google Pixel.
 
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#17
You could use an MQA streamer with a DAC built in if MQA is important for you. I use the Bluesound node 2i. But you have to use their app.
 
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Beershaun

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Yeah it looks like the FireTV is a dead end if I can't root the device to get it to output bit perfect audio. I don't understand why they did that, even with the dedicated optical out. I may have to change my approach and try using an Echo device with my Harmony Hub to get the convenience required of a single streaming media solution that is abstracted away from my family so when they simply ask to play music they get the benefit of the equipment I've put together.
 
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Beershaun

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On a positive note I really like the performance of the Topping E30 compared to both my Hifiberry DAC+ pro and the 2000's vintage DAC in my old Onkyo receiver I was using previously. Definitely an improvement in detail, separation, and bringing out all the different sounds that artists mix into their music. It really shows off every single instrument in a song. So I really dig it.

I plugged it into the TV optical out and didn't tell my daughter. After watching her current favorite TV show she told me, unprompted, the end credits music was making her get up and dance and she couldn't fast forward through it like she normally does. That's is exactly the experience I am hoping to share with my family. :)
 
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