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Orchard Audio ApplePi DAC and Volume+Clocker Reivew

amirm

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#1
I recently reviewed the Orchard Audio ApplePi DAC. In this review I will be testing the optional "Volume+Clocker" which adds hardware volume control and more precision clock. It retails for USD $99.99 plus shipping and is on loan from the company.

Here you see my test sandwich of Raspberry Pi, Volume+Clocker and ApplePi DAC:

Orchard Audio ApplePi DAC plus Volume-Clocker Balanced Review.jpg


You can see the volume control poking out on the side. Unless I missed it, there was no knob for the volume+clocker. This should be supplied as it costs very little and makes for a more professional and complete package.

For completeness, I will be testing the balanced output of the ApplePi DAC. As you can see in the above picture, the ApplePi DAC ships with mini-XLR balanced connectors. Company sent me a couple of XLR adapters which I used for this purpose. They were massive in size and so, I don't recommend using them. You should get a cable that adapts this to your XLR connector downstream.

For testing, I used my base board Pi with Volumio dedicated (Linux) audio operating system. Volumio is attractive and boots pretty fast (much faster than its competitor DietPi). Alas, as I have noted before, it only supports Apple Airplay for networked playback from my Roon player. Airplay limits samples to 16 bits which is not good. So as before, I tested the DAC using a thumb drive with a few test files on it. Complete testing is not possible since my Audio Precision analyzer cannot directly talk to Raspberry Pi (or any other) networked DACs like this.

Measurements
As usual, I start with my dashboard measurements of a 1 khz tone:
Orchard Audio ApplePi DAC plus Volume-Clocker Balanced Dashboard Measurements.png


This is very good performance. We see that we have gained a few dB in SINAD due to complete elimination of mains 60 Hz leakage and noise further up in the spectrum. Here is how it now stacks in our recently reviewed DACs:

Orchard Audio ApplePi DAC plus Volume-Clocker Balanced SINAD Measurements.png


Testing the jitter reduction ability of the volume+clocker board, we get:

Orchard Audio ApplePi DAC plus Volume-Clocker Balanced Jitter Measurements.png


The new setup eliminates some of the spikes (in blue) out of the bare ApplePi DAC. Some random clock jitter remains as we see in the widening of the base/skirt of our 12 kHz tone and tiny variations throughout. None are audible concerns fortunately.

Conclusions
Whether it is the better implementation of balanced output or inherent goodness of balanced output, the performance of Orchard Audio AppliePi is within hair's breadth of state of state-of-the-art DAC. The volume+clocker seems to improve jitter performance some and give you a volume control.

On the down side the whole package is getting quite expensive at $300 plus shipping and cost of the Pi computer. Lack of little niceties such as a volume control knob remains odd. We had the same (and more serious) issue with the original board not coming with the required connectors.

As always, questions, comments, corrections, etc. are welcome.

-----
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rajapruk

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#3
Why is it almost a 3dB difference in SINAD between left and right channel? That is a significant difference.
@orchardaudio do you expect the Gala dac to have this kind of difference between channels as well?
 
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#4
Why is it almost a 3dB difference in SINAD between left and right channel? That is a significant difference.
@orchardaudio do you expect the Gala dac to have this kind of difference between channels as well?
If you look at the Gala review it has an almost 4dB difference in SINAD between left and right channel.

It's interesting that this combination of products from Orchard Audio has what appears to be better performance, at least in these two measurements, then the Gala DAC. I would certainly rather own this Pi stack for it's usability.
 

restorer-john

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#5
This should be supplied as it costs very little and makes for a more professional and complete package.
Clearly (pun intended) the open-to-the-world laser cut acrylic 'case', missing brass spacer nuts (Amir?), the complete lack of mechanical securing (other than solder) of the balanced jacks, the RCAs and the volume pot, and the raw shaft are all indicators of a less than 'professional or complete package' aren't they?

Surely, it's not pretending to be anything other than another 'maker'-generation, project-style computer audio device, screwed to a piece of perspex is it? If so, it performs well enough and would be fun to play with.

Trouble is, it's priced at the same level as professionally produced, high quality, nicely finished, commercial offerings from respected manufacturers.

That said, it is a significant step up from this 'commercial offering' back in the day for Japanese one-man outfit, 47-Labs... :)

47 labs shigaraki 4715.JPG
 
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#6
It would be great and appreciated if anyone here could post an product that is capable of similar performance at the same price range with a volume knob, or even better with a fancy case. Thank you in advance.
 

Sythrix

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#7
Clearly (pun intended) the open-to-the-world laser cut acrylic 'case', missing brass spacer nuts (Amir?), the complete lack of mechanical securing (other than solder) of the balanced jacks, the RCAs and the volume pot, and the raw shaft are all indicators of a less than 'professional or complete package' aren't they?

Surely, it's not pretending to be anything other than another 'maker'-generation, project-style computer audio device, screwed to a piece of perspex is it? If so, it performs well enough and would be fun to play with.

Trouble is, it's priced at the same level as professionally produced, high quality, nicely finished, commercial offerings from respected manufacturers.

That said, it is a significant step up from this 'commercial offering' back in the day for Japanese one-man outfit, 47-Labs... :)

View attachment 16614
Holy crap. That thing looks like it would burst into flames if you looked at it wrong.
 

restorer-john

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#9
It would be great and appreciated if anyone here could post an product that is capable of similar performance at the same price range with a volume knob, or even better with a fancy case.
Surely Amir's company, Topping has something?
 

orchardaudio

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#10
These products are aimed at DYI market, therefore I do not offer certain accessories as everybody will have a different style, also you have to remember that for me to stock different spacers, knobs and other small pieces is expensive, so you would end up paying a lot more for those things then if you were to buy them yourself.

The installation instructions specify all required hardware so that you do not have to guess at what you need.

By the way the PCM1794A chip is specked at 0.0004% (-108dB) SINAD, so both channels are performing better then the datasheet spec, this is attributed to the really good output stage design using precision resistors, and very high quality OPA1612 operational amplifiers.

Capture.JPG
 

orchardaudio

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#11
Why is it almost a 3dB difference in SINAD between left and right channel? That is a significant difference.
@orchardaudio do you expect the Gala dac to have this kind of difference between channels as well?
The GALA unit that Amir used was defective so please ignore all GALA measurements that Amir has done to date. I will either repair the unit that he has or send him one that functions correctly.

Please keep all GALA related items in the GALA trhead.
 
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#12
Surely Amir's company, Topping has something?
I don't think Topping makes RPi HATs. While you could connect a Topping DAC to an RPi via USB it is really not fair to compare such a setup to an all in one "unit" like this. It is really a streamer so the closest comparisons would be to other streamers with analog outputs like a Chromecast Audio, Sonos Connect, or a Bluesound Node 2i.
 

orchardaudio

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#13
It would be great and appreciated if anyone here could post an product that is capable of similar performance at the same price range with a volume knob, or even better with a fancy case. Thank you in advance.
ApplePi DAC and Volume-Clocker is 300 + raspberry pi makes it $335.

Show me another system with the same level of performance that costs less and includes a pre-amplifier. Most high quality pre-amps alone will cost you more than $335.

Keep in mind that both ApplePi and GALA are essential two devices in one, DAC and Pre-Amplifier.
 
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#14
ApplePi DAC and Volume-Clocker is 300 + raspberry pi makes it $335.

Show me another system with the same level of performance that costs less and includes a pre-amplifier. Most high quality pre-amps alone will cost you more than $335.

Keep in mind that both ApplePi and GALA are essential two devices in one, DAC and Pre-Amplifier.
This Pre-Amplifier in your products is great for desktop studio monitor type setups but most high quality pre-amps I know of come with a remote control. Have you thought about creating a second version of the Volume-Clocker with a remote? I would find that much more useful.
 
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#15
Hi, I have been using the applepi dac for about a month and to me it sounds just dandy!, I use moode audio on the pi and use it as a headless unit from any Web browser so you don't really need a remote
 
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#16
Hi, I have been using the applepi dac for about a month and to me it sounds just dandy!, I use moode audio on the pi and use it as a headless unit from any Web browser so you don't really need a remote
Right, you don't need a remote to use the volume control built into music player software. But if you're not using the hardware volume control of the Volume-Clocker board then your wasting half of its functionality.
 

amirm

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#18
Holy crap. That thing looks like it would burst into flames if you looked at it wrong.
To be clear, what you get from Orchard Audio is just bare boards without the Pi board. The pictures shows me using a half-disassembled raspberry pi from Allo that I then connected the two boards to including some of the acrylic pieces. I did not bother to put it all back together seeing how I keep disassembling it to test things.
 

Sythrix

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#19
To be clear, what you get from Orchard Audio is just bare boards without the Pi board. The pictures shows me using a half-disassembled raspberry pi from Allo that I then connected the two boards to including some of the acrylic pieces. I did not bother to put it all back together seeing how I keep disassembling it to test things.
I should have been more clear, I was referring to the picture restorer-john posted, not this DAC you're reviewing.

This picture:
 
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