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Using a streamer to decouple my audio source from the pc (Opinions wanted)

square.

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Hello ASR,

I recently visited a hifi dealership near me to demo the meze elite's. In which the resulting 3 hours I spent there led to a few conclusions made by the sales manager which I will be discussing here. I require assistance from others as I feel his statements directly oppose the opinions of others on this site.
One thing he told me was to not trust people on the internet for audio, but I NEED another source of opinion/guidance as he effectively is telling me to buy an expensive streamer for my setup such that in the future this setup would be able to support everything.
We mention 'future' as I'm a young audiophile, 19 and currently do not own any CD's and listen exclusively through Amazon Music.

To sum up my great learning experience, the sales manager arrived to a list of products to buy in order, that would allow me to have a complete hifi setup.
For reference here's my current setup (Which he is informed of) : Tower PC with gpu and the like, in which I use the fiio k3 (2021 version with ESS dac) powered via usb.
From this dac I power three things :
-Mackie MR624 Studio monitors via a 3.5mm to dual-rca adapter at the rear of the dac (They also need a £130 iDefender+ and iPower2 from iFi to break the ground loop they have)
-Audeze LCD-1 via a custom balanced cable from OIDIO
-Ikko OH10 iems via 2.5mm output, same as LCD-1

He did say "if you said to me 'this is a load of crap, I don't believe you and I am happy with my system' then that's fine too."
But what reason is there not to trust a guy who has sold and listened to hifi for 25 years of his life?

Heres the conclusion he arrived to in-store, after reminding me he is a *massive snob* when it comes to audio.
-First, get a source that is decoupled from the pc. For this, he suggested the Bluesound Roon however via email I have informed him that the roon has no channel balance which is crucial for my headphones, iems and speakers to sound centred. In light of this, he said the next step would be a novafidelity X35.
-He then listed various things to get after a streamer, but this would be years down the line. He said "upgrading is part of the fun"
-One of those was a NAS system, which I, as a student, am not currently interested in. Remember we're talking *years* here, but I thought it was good to mention.

Side note - I can justify the roon due to the fact it packs in everything a streamer has for £550 - I've watched some Darko Audio videos on streamers and they seem really neat! But no channel imbalance so its literally pointless :/

On the contrary, many people say that dac's + amp's are good when used on pc. So how can I possibly justify £1700 novafidelity x35, regardless of the fact it has *loads* of features? I could buy some really good stuff with that money for the pc itself.
Also- I don't think his business makes money from upselling or selling anything in general. Correct me if I'm wrong, because then his opinions are of-course business bias. (Then again, how else would the business make money...?)

"The PC is the greatest block to good sound. PCs are for email not for hi-fi audio. Any DAC, head amp etc. system will work better with physical formats. If you can't/won't use physical formats then a NAS drive on a wired network to a wired streamer that is then connected to the system is the best source. 'Garbage in, garbage out', a PC is a garbage source. Get the source right first, the system you have is OK for now. Just decouple the PC. " -Quote from the sales guy from our email discussion

Further,
"One of the NOVAFiDELITY options seems to me to be the sensible route. The X35 is probably your best bet, I know it's £1695, but it does all you need it to and should comfortably be an upgrade on what you have. I think part of the length of your email comes from having too much information and not enough understanding of the fundamentals. Worrying about DAC spec sheet comparisons and DATA transfer rates is, for me, a waste of energy. My advice is save a budget, be clear about what you want from the system and listen to the options. Let your eyes and ears be the judge. First and before everything else, remove the PC from the audio chain. Garbage in, garbage out. " Another quote from the email

Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to blindly buy the novafidelity without first doing the following : Bringing my fiio dac to the store and plugging it into the mac pc they have then Listening to the x35 via a LAN connection through ethernet, which is what I would be achieving first with a streamer since I would not buy a NAS system with the streamer. Simply too much upfront cost

"To recap, I think a NOVAFIDELITY X35 will give you all the functionality you require and is such a large upgrade on the items you have as to make a demo a waste of your time. It then has all the inputs and outputs you require to build up a complete 'separates' hi-fi system. By this I mean you could add a turntable, phono stage, CD player, power amp and speakers. This would be completed over time and would eventually leave the X35 as a preamp in your system and an upgrade to a dedicated preamp would be the last step on the road to hi-fi nirvana and leave you with a £2k per item system. " Another quote from the email

One more email quote then I'm done.
"I am happy to have met you and had the chat we did, I think it was useful for you and hopefully has shown you that you can't believe the forums or the data sheets. I do understand that as a young audiophile it can be difficult to get to hear the products you want to and that old audiophiles like me write off entry level gear as rubbish, but hopefully you have now heard why? "
This problem I have with this is that , well, I haven't explicitly heard the difference between *my* pc setup and a server setup due to the fact I was listening to Meze Elites (£3700) on a £3000 solid state amp through a £1000 streamer...
"shown you that you can't believe the forums or the data sheets" - In regards to this, I am still posting here because I need opinions on what he's told me. It does show *my ears* that frequency response opinions are a load of rubbish. The elites sounded completely fine. This is probably also influenced by the source though.

Interestingly he also told me that spending money on the source is more important than the headphones itself, which does make sense, but Joshua Valour (if i recall correctly) said that you should spend ~30% of your headphones on a dac/amp.
So a £1700 streamer paired with £400 headphones, £200 iems and £320 speakers?
Don't get me wrong the streamer is extremely "future-fi" with all its various outputs.

So to conclude, can people please tell me their thoughts on this very short summary of the experience I have had and whether I should invest my money into a super nice dac/amp plugged into the pc or delve into the world of streamers?? (I spent 3 hours in the store - we talked about A LOT.)
 
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BlackTalon

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I just read your post while using my PC to stream Tidal via USB to a Topping/ Shenzhenaudio EX5 DAC/ headphone amp to HiFiMan Ananda headphones (using EQ running on the PC thanks to recommendations developed by Amir and others here at ASR). Frankly it is a nicer experience than sitting on the sofa listening to CDs or albums played through my 'main rig'. In fact I haven't played my main system in about 2 months.

Desktop setup -- ~$800. Main system -- >$10k.
 

Doodski

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Also- I don't think his business makes money from upselling or selling anything in general. Correct me if I'm wrong, because then his opinions are of-course business bias. (Then again, how else would the business make money...?)
After retailing for some years i realized a few things. First thing is to operate a average audio store the store needs about 22%-27% profit margin just to pay overhead. So anything less and the store is actually paying for you to buy your gear.

"The PC is the greatest block to good sound. PCs are for email not for hi-fi audio. Any DAC, head amp etc. system will work better with physical formats. If you can't/won't use physical formats then a NAS drive on a wired network to a wired streamer that is then connected to the system is the best source. 'Garbage in, garbage out', a PC is a garbage source. Get the source right first, the system you have is OK for now. Just decouple the PC. " -Quote from the sales guy from our email discussion
That's a load of malarky.
 

hex168

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I'll second the malarkey. There may have been some useful advice buried in there somewhere about streamer features, I'm not sure.

A few points that you can learn more about on this site:

"Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to blindly buy the novafidelity without first doing the following : Bringing my fiio dac to the store and plugging it into the mac pc they have then Listening to the x35 via a LAN connection through ethernet."

Search this site for "sighted" listening tests. Humans are spectacularly good at fooling ourselves; without a blind, level-matched test we are unable to reliably find what we prefer. Once a test is controlled, things like DACs better than what you already have do not matter. Amplifiers, once capable of supplying enough power for your speakers and listening conditions and of low enough noise also do not matter. Speakers matter, rooms matter, speaker placement matters and headphones matter.

There are enough inaccurate speakers and headphones out there that it pays to stick with tested, known good speakers. Headphones are harder to measure but good measurements should still be weighted heavily to help avoid junk, of which there is a plentiful supply. Reviews at this site and at erinsaudiocorner.com can help you find known good speakers. In doing this, you are not "trusting people on the internet for audio," you are trusting the measurements.

Your Mackies appear well-designed and very well may be excellent, but I am not aware of reputable measurements of them. I'm sure someone will post such if they are out there. Here are the only measurements I found:
Amir and Erin have detailed explanations of loudspeaker measurements if you are not used to on and off-axis measurements, Note that the measurement conditions prevented measurement of frequencies below 300 or 400 Hz, which also means the resolution is limited to around 400 Hz.

Another advantage to speakers measured and recommended on this site is that the measurements can be used, along with in-room measurements, to correct both the speakers and the room. That is the path to audio nirvana. To do that, you need a calibrated measurement microphone and REW, for which there are tutorials on this site. One advantage to using your PC, which is 100% as good as any other digital source, is it can run software like Equalizer APO, which will give you the control you need to perfect your system. There are databases of EQ settings for many headphones, too.

You are in the right place to read and learn (or if you prefer, listen to Amir's videos and learn). Good luck!
 

Taddpole

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"One thing he told me was to not trust people on the internet for audio"

Well of course. It's easier to part people from their money if they stay ill informed.

"But what reason is there not to trust a guy who has sold and listened to hifi for 25 years of his life?"

Same reason as to not trust any salesperson. They aren't there for your benefit. Plenty I've known in retail would recommend things solely on which company was giving them biggest incentive that month.

"Also- I don't think his business makes money from upselling or selling anything in general."

If their business is retail then yeah it does.
 

Joe Smith

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I've tried to talk myself into some form of streamer, but so far it just seems like a lot of money for not much more audio quality or convenience. Quite happy here with a PC-based system going into a basic 24/196 dac, from there to amp. For me, the convenience of accessing a full PC screen when using Spotify or Tidal trumps all.
 

ZolaIII

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@square. you have further as novelist that's fur sure. But what do you really want to improve and how much can you afford? PC (X64) is a prime platform for music creation (DAW) in this day and age where you can for literally get for free what hollow point salesman wants to charge you more and you get a lifetime of extras (EQ's, DSP's, room corrections, emulators...) to play with. And when ever something new came up it will be (present) there and all you can utilise any past or present interface in doing so there but let's get back to the important part (one with question mark).
 
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Jimbob54

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You've broken the ground loop to monitors already so thats not an issue using the PC as source . If you dont have similar issues on your headphones, dont worry about it. Streamers are great for those that dont want or have a PC as source or want their kit far away from the PC but if you can run a 2m USB cable to a good DAC and dont get ground loops affecting the end result, stick with PC- especially as amazon music doesnt play well with many streaming interfaces.

The other massive advantage of PC as source is the ability to use digital EQ at source for room/ headphone correction. Free software like EAPO and Peace thats easy to set up and use and is non destructive to your set up. Far harder to EQ from a streamer and many here would say EQ is essential for better sound. Give it a try.

Dont listen to salesmen!
 
OP
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square.

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Hello all,

Firstly I would like to thank you all for your responses. There are a few things I will quote, but if I don't quote what you've said all you need to know is your input to this discussion has been processed by my brain and has given me good insight into the world of pc audio
Your Mackies appear well-designed and very well may be excellent, but I am not aware of reputable measurements of them. I'm sure someone will post such if they are out there. Here are the only measurements I found:
The measurements you found are for the Mackie HR624 mkII, which is not my speaker. I'm not sure how mine compare to them, but I have the (MR)624's.
Another advantage to speakers measured and recommended on this site is that the measurements can be used, along with in-room measurements, to correct both the speakers and the room. That is the path to audio nirvana. To do that, you need a calibrated measurement microphone and REW, for which there are tutorials on this site.
Could you (or someone else) please give me a link to these discussions, or point me in the right direction. Thanks.

I use equalizer APO for my Mackies at the moment, as they experience a "null" and "peak" in the bass response due to their positioning in my room.
1642884447003.png

With this, bass is *so much more linear* and the difference is honestly astonishing. I would like to delve into the world of room correction via measurement microphones as this seems better than doing it by ear, and would also allow me to adjust for treble. Could someone point me in the right direction for this?
"One thing he told me was to not trust people on the internet for audio"

Well of course. It's easier to part people from their money if they stay ill informed.
I really appreciate this input. It makes so much sense. Same goes for your entire response
listen to Amir's videos and learn
Could someone refer me to these also?
you have further as novelist that's fur sure. But what do you really want to improve and how much can you afford?
I appreciate your comment on my writing skills. I am however studying Mathematical Physics at uni, as maths is actually my strong suit. English, whilst good, I dislike very much as an intellectual subject.
What I want to improve from my current Fiio K3s (2021 edition) is : build quality and feature set. Its nice being able to run speakers and headphones from a DAC, but I want something better. (Better where functionality is concerned)

I really would love a RME ADI-2 FS dac for the following reasons:
-Built in balance control (vital for headphones and iems as my right ear doesnt hear as great when eardrums are very close to drivers)
-Built in EQ
-Display screen
-Higher quality dac (nice to have, regardless of audibility)
-Iem port !! This is sick! (I own iems so it would be used.)
-Balanced 3-pin XLR outputs to stop my RCA cable from picking up interference from my computer monitor
-Remote control

The most im willing to spend at the moment is £1000. This can be on a dac + amp stack, or a combo.
The RME ADI-2 FS (who names these things?) is ideal since it has an amp for the headphone ports
If you dont have similar issues on your headphones, dont worry about it.
When running unbalanced 3.5mm for the *headphones and iems* there is very minor interference and I think this is due to the fact the dac itself is not perfectly isolated. A shame.



I cannot stress enough how much of a game changer everyones responses has been. You all seem like genuine, decent people who have prevented me from wasting my money!
Sure, nothing wrong with a streamer, but it just isn't right for a 19 year old who uses his pc literally every day to do almost everything he does in his bedroom.

So, to conclude my response,
What other dacs have a feature set such as the features I want the RME ADI-2 FS dac for?
Any better options? Better sounding? Better value for money?
Granted they have balance control built in. Cannot stress this enough. I just love the idea of it

Oh, also, I have audeze LCD-1. Built in EQ is gonna be good for these as opposed to eq'ing via windows. Bass boost and lower mid range boost for male vocals. I presume built-in EQ is better than digital EQ on windows? Please can someone comment their thoughts and opinions on this statement?
I did read on headphones.com that this dac doesn't go well with planars? Idk though.

Thanks,
Square
 
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ZolaIII

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Take a look at the Tooping EX5 if it suits you. Some of limitations are narrow IR remote (and you need remote for most of operations) and BT works as receiver only and as most it doesn't have bilt in balance or EQ.
It won't have problems driving LCD-1.

Do the integer to FP conversion then EQ-ing (balance and other things you may like) in player on Windows (or some other OS aka Linux - Android). For example I use JRiver. At least I don't need to explain to you the benefit of FP precision and it's rounding back to integer.
How good is something (amp) with planars depends how it handles lo impedance loads and how much power it provides doing so.
Put rest of the money in laptop which would be reasonably quiet and reasonably powerful to help you both in your studies and for music listening as tower PC and GPU can be noisy (loud while opening) if you wish something like that of course.
Regarding streamer build one when you have time from Pi board (pet project) and have fun doing so.
My best man has a doctorate in computional algebra (in Edinburgh), I never whose in math to much (have master in Logic).
 
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Eetu

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A Raspberry Pi 4 running RoPiee would work great as an easy-to-setup, inexpensive Roon endpoint. But I agree with previous posters that a PC is NOT a SQ compromised source (see this thread btw).

You can adjust gain for individual channels (L/R) in Roon, which achieves the same as 'channel balance'.

I'm using Equalizer APO myself, so I can apply room correction for both Spotify and the flac files sitting on my NAS.
 
OP
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square.

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Do the integer to FP conversion then EQ-ing (balance and other things you may like) in player on Windows
I can't do EQ or channel balance through my music player : Amazon music.

Related question 1 : Wouldn't doing the balance control on the dac be more precise than on windows?

Related question 2 : Even though the EQ is 7-band on the dac as opposed to eAPO's higher band limit, the dac's eq is much easier to use for a beginner like me , so would it be ok to use the dac?
At least I don't need to explain to you the benefit of FP precision and it's rounding back to integer.
I'm sorry I dont understand what you mean.
Namely, what is FP? What is the benefit of FP precision rounding to integers?

Related question 3 : does the RME ADI 2 FS do this as well?
tower PC and GPU can be noisy (loud while opening) if you wish something like that of course.
I can just set my fans to run at low speeds when idle. I dont listen to music while playing games and i've also had zero issues playing games through speakers or headphones where audio quality is concerned.


You can adjust gain for individual channels (L/R) in Roon, which achieves the same as 'channel balance
I am aware of this, but I am not paying £600 for roon and I have no reason to. (Young audiophile, no music collection.)
This is simply because its not right for me, at least right now. Its a fantastic software and I would happily buy it if I would actually get the use out of it that others do.
Such as the hifi salesman I met.


If the PC would be a garbage source, no modern music studio would work.
Makes sense.

Thanks again everyone!
Square
 

ZolaIII

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1) Seams I do need to explain it. Digital is always better (for any kind of signal manipulation) and at this day and age you have general purpose core's with FPU (couple of them and SIMD~more) for pity cash and pretty much all around you. However most granulated control and legacy support you will find under X86 stuck (up to from when basterds trow down the shinny knight). FP has a significantly higher precision than integer and it square back to integer as perfectly as possible (rounding). So you do integer source to 64 bit FP (on cheap and near as most of the even newer stuff won't be SIMD made or optimised also called as duble or scientific precision), add processing elements and when finished rounded back to integer in some more meaningful format (21 bit, 24 bit or zeroed 32 bit really depending if architecture supports the format). I won't talk about vector word packaging (SIMD optimisations).

2) It's not really how much band's you have but with which control regarding impact, waight, position pre defined single and multi purpose filters anyway you end with PEQ (having a 1000 points one is ridiculous and you can plot [scan a graph] in even higher resolution back). You can even make a smoothie at the end of full processing chain (creating convolution kernel) if you wish just don't ask me for a cherry.

3). Don't really know but I believe it's also in digital domain.

I proposed laptop more as if you find it handy towards your educational needs (at home nothing beats good old tower).
Actually if you get interested in such wait a bit and let us see how new announced i3 (9W DTP 32W burst) will work (and how Raja is serious regarding computing).
 
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ZolaIII

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You are asking questions to fast for me to process, brrrrk.
All depends on software implementation, player and it's chain when it comes to end (service providers being just one).
 
OP
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square.

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Do you think its okay to buy this dac and use its EQ and channel balance?

I really would like to buy it
 

tomtoo

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I can't do EQ or channel balance through my music player : Amazon music.

Related question 1 : Wouldn't doing the balance control on the dac be more precise than on windows?

Related question 2 : Even though the EQ is 7-band on the dac as opposed to eAPO's higher band limit, the dac's eq is much easier to use for a beginner like me , so would it be ok to use the dac?

I'm sorry I dont understand what you mean.
Namely, what is FP? What is the benefit of FP precision rounding to integers?

Related question 3 : does the RME ADI 2 FS do this as well?

I can just set my fans to run at low speeds when idle. I dont listen to music while playing games and i've also had zero issues playing games through speakers or headphones where audio quality is concerned.



I am aware of this, but I am not paying £600 for roon and I have no reason to. (Young audiophile, no music collection.)
This is simply because its not right for me, at least right now. Its a fantastic software and I would happily buy it if I would actually get the use out of it that others do.
Such as the hifi salesman I met.



Makes sense.

Thanks again everyone!
Square

To be honest your dealer talks a lot of BS. There are a lot of good pro audio interfaces, like RME or Motu that work perfect over usb. For you as a gamer latency can be importend, and some hifi dacs have higher latency couse for just music playback latency is not importend.
 

ZolaIII

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Do you think its okay to buy this dac and use its EQ and channel balance?

I really would like to buy it
I don't even know which one but it seems to have developed feelings for it (presume ADI) and who am the I to stand between that?
 
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OP
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square.

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To be honest your dealer talks a lot of BS. There are a lot of good pro audio interfaces, like RME or Motu that work perfect over usb. For you as a gamer latency can be importend, and some hifi dacs have higher latency couse for just music playback latency is not importend.
To be honest, my competitive gaming days are behind me. Haven't touched counter strike in a while. I enjoy single player games mostly that range from casual to challenging. Only game where audio latency (in my library) is important would be csgo which I don't play anymore.

I don't even know which one but it seems to have developed feelings for it (peesume ADI) and who am the I to stand between that?
I think that settles it. I can't see a problem with buying a high end dac that would last me for a lifetime and has a feature set that I desperately want and also need.

Thanks for your help everyone,
I hope this thread is useful to others too.
 
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