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Sydney Audio Club Meeting - Sunday 14th February 2016 - digital source / file-based player comparison

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The February 2016 meeting of the Sydney Audio Club sees us once again gather for an afternoon of fine music, great sound and amicable company.

Each month, the Sydney Audio Club presents high end audio systems for our members and guests.  It's a bit like a private audio show once a month where you can hear and discuss equipment that you might not otherwise have the chance to audition.  And you can bring along your own music to test the capabilities of the system or to just share with like-minded music lovers in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.


For our February meeting we will be evaluating various ways to get a digital signal into your system.  Does a CD ripped to disc sound better than the CD itself?  Does a music server sound better than a computer audio solution (ie. music player software running on a PC or Mac)?   Does an inexpensive solution like the Popcorn Hour stack up against either of the above?   We’ll ensure the digital signal is sent to the same DAC in all setups, and that the rip to disc and the rip to flash are sourced from the same CD.  And we’ll try to ensure the volume levels are the same across all setups.  


The event is meant to be fun and entertaining as well as informative… but we won’t be drawing any indisputable conclusions from these evaluations!!  However, you may walk away with ideas you can then try at home.


These are the setups we’ll have available on the day:


Oppo BDP105 playing from a USB flash drive

Oppo BDP105 playing the CD layer

Wyred 4 Sound (W4S) Music Server

Mac Mini music player (playing Pure Music V3)

Popcorn Hour C300


That’s a lot of configuration changes and a lot of listening so we may not get through it all.  We’ll take hints from the audience and listen to what people are most interested in.  But we expect the preferences to be close to the order of the setups as shown above.



Details of the system….


Wyred 4 Sound (W4S) Music Server – Refer to http://www.deephzaudio.com/Wyred%204%20sound%20Price%20Page%20Australia.html


Oppo BDP-105 Universal player – The ubiquitous universal player with the excellent ESS Sabre 32 DACs.   Refer to https://www.oppodigital.com/blu-ray-bdp-105/ and http://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/oppo-bdp-105-universal-blu-ray-player-and-dac/


Mac Mini (late 2012 version) – with i7 processors, 16GB memory, SSD system disc.  Music files on 1TB SSD with Thunderbolt connectivity.  The computer is configured as a bare-bones dedicated music player with only essential services running.


Bricasti Design M1 – Refer to http://i.nextmedia.com.au/avhub/australian-hifi_reviews_2014_2014-07_bricasti_design_m1_dac_review_test_lores.pdf and http://www.audiostream.com/content/bricasti-design-m1-dac 


Audio-GD Master-10 integrated amp – “Fully balanced design, the gain stages and pre-driver stages working on class A , built by discrete analog stages without any OPA or coupling caps in the signal channels.† Refer to http://www.audio-gd.com/Master/Master102015/Master-102015EN.htm


Energy Veritas 1.8 Floorstander speakers – Older speakers now but still sounding good.  These were last at the club back in February 2015.  Refer to http://www.audioreview.com/cat/speakers/floorstanding-speakers/energy-speaker-systems/veritas-v1-8/prd_122534_1594crx.aspx and http://www.stereophile.com/floorloudspeakers/551/


Cabling will be by Nordost, Wireworld and Synergistic Research.



The second half of the music sessions will be our popular BYO.   Members and guests are welcome to offer music to share with us all.  So bring along your favourite music on CD/SACD or USB flash drive (sorry, no vinyl this month).  All we ask is that the music and recordings be interesting.  We'll ask you to tell us a little about the artist/recording before it is played.  Tracks over 6 minutes will be faded out, to give everyone a fair go.

Whether you are a novice or a seasoned veteran, you will have the opportunity to listen, learn and share your experiences with others of a similar mind.

Guests are always welcome – we are a very friendly club so you don't need to know anyone to join us for an afternoon of fine music and sound.  We will welcome you at the door.

Venue:  Epping Creative Centre, Dence Park
Address:  26 Stanley Road, Epping

When:  Sunday 14th February 2016


Doors open 1pm
Meeting starts at 2pm


Best regards,


Tom Waters


Sydney Audio Club




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I’ve had a few people ask me for the results from our club meeting last Sunday.  So I thought I’d write up a brief synopsis.  As an introduction for all, we had a session on evaluating the sound quality from different digital sources fed into the same DAC and system.   


We had these “sources†lined up:

Oppo BDP-105 playing CD  (via SPDIF)

Oppo BDP-105 playing USB flash  (via SPDIF)

Wyred for Sound (W4S) music server  (via SPDIF)

Mac Mini (running Roon/HQPlayer)  (via USB)

Popcorn Hour C300


We tested all the gear before people arrived of course.  We scrapped the Popcorn Hour very quickly… not because it sounded terrible (it didn’t actually), but because it starting smoking after a few minutes!!   Fortunately it didn’t take down anything else with it.  The Bricasti M1 DAC was sitting on top of it, but came out unscathed.


Since the comparison included CD that dictated that all music would need to be 16 x 44.1 regardless of the source.   All the music was ripped from the same source discs, to ensure a level playing field.   And the levels from each source were measured in advance as well, and set upon playback to ensure a level playing field. 


We initially listened to the Sara K track “I Can’t Stand The Rain†from “Hell or High Water†(Stockfisch).   We listened to each source in turn, in the order shown above. 


We then took a vote on what people thought sounded best – the vote results:  Oppo CD = 1, Oppo USB = 0, W4S = 8, Mac Mini = 7.  The total vote count might suggest a small audience – but actually only a small percentage of the audience chose to vote.


We then had an open discussion of the SQ differences.  It was clear from our discussions that another listen was in order!  We narrowed the competitors down to just the two top voted sources, and listened to another track.  This time we heard the Shawn Mullins track “The Great Unknown†from his album “My Stupid Heartâ€.   This time the vote was W4S = 8, Mac Mini = 4.  This track was a bit too harsh sounding through the Mac Mini, so no doubt the more “analogue†sounding W4S garnered more votes.  More discussions ensued.


A few people were perhaps surprized that CD collected so few votes.  They wished to hear CD compared to the W4S and the Mac Mini.   So we then listened to the Simone Kermes track “Lascia ch'io pianga†from her album “Dramma†(yes, with two “mâ€s!).  We listened to the entire 5+ minute track on CD, but only the first 3 minutes on the W4S and Mac Mini.  In this instance, the Oppo playing CD won 10 votes to the W4S winning 6 votes.  I neglected to write down the vote count for the Mac Mini (sorry!) but I recall it was less than the W4S.


This left people wondering if maybe the style of music made a difference to their preference of source.  In the end, it seemed that most still thought that the W4S and the Mac Mini sounded better, but by how much appeared to depend on the music.


Among the many discussions points, we touched upon why a dedicated music server like the W4S may have a SQ advantage over a computer audio solution.  We agreed it was likely due to the reduced noise emitted by a dedicated music server – after all, they are engineered for a specific purpose and hence the manufacturer has an interest in ensuring the noise is low.  Compare that to a Mac Mini or PC that is designed to run Word, email, surf the web, etc. - the manufacturer doesn’t really care how much noise their boxes emit.  That said, computer audio can still sound good when connected asynchronously via USB. 


Upon that note, we decided to leave it and we unanimously agreed to have a slightly early break to avoid the stifling heat in our room!!  Afterwards, we had our usual BYO music session.   And that is about it… a good meeting (I hope!) for all.

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