The vast majority of today’s audio systems use digital content. However, just buying a DAC is not enough – you need to submit data to it. From a computer, external streamer, streaming over the Internet.
In this article we will look at the basic schemes for organizing such installations (in case your converter has only USB or optical / coaxial inputs) and answer frequently asked questions about “digital”. The list is sorted from simple (and expensive) solutions to more complex, but cost-saving.
1. Innuos Statement – the ultimate quality
Pros – Luxurious sound by any measure
Cons – extremely expensive
Suitable for owners of Ultra High End systems
“All at once”. Ripper, server, streamer, Roon core – this miracle machine is very expensive, but today it is the ideal solution for Ultra High End systems. InnuOS proprietary operating system (based on Linux), MQA and DSD support, Ethernet ports with proprietary OCXO clocks, up to 4TB of enterprise-grade SSD storage … And, of course, the sound is soulful, accurate, emotional and fantastically detailed.
2. Antipodes CX – digital High End
Pros – clearly demonstrates the benefits of working with the digital stream of an audiophile device
Cons – price
For whom it is suitable – for those who want to aim at the highest quality
Top class audiophile system Antipodes CX– powerful Intel Core i7 processor, work with PCM signals up to 32/768 and DSD512, I2S-output and the ability to amplify the system with Antipodes P2 femto-clocks. Linear power supply – built-in ODAPS2 Linear unit is used. High performance allows Antipodes CX to work with large Roon libraries using the maximum upsampling parameters, and the streamer sound quality literally captivates. The model is extremely simple and elegant to set up.
3. Roon Nucleus – set and forget option
Pros – ergonomics for “5+”
Cons – switching power supply
To fit – fans Roon
The proprietary module from Roon – Nucleus runs on the preinstalled Roon Rock OS and, when connected to an Ethernet network with Roon-certified equipment, guarantees the activation of the proprietary RATT data transfer protocol. Inside – specially optimized hardware (4 GB RAM, 64 GB SSD disk, expansion slot for 2.5 ‘SSD up to 4 TB), fanless and anti-resonant case. Roon Nucleus sounds very confident and powerful.
4. Sonore opticalRendu digital bridge – sky-high quality
Pros – High End for Hi-Fi Price
Cons – other elements of the path will be required
Who is it for – those who want the best for relatively little money
Here you will have to “dance with a tambourine” – you need an optical switch or a proprietary optical converter (another 20,000 dollars) for an Ethernet network, you will need a streaming UPnP server and a DAC with a USB input. But the work and investment will be worth it – the most advanced optical wiring to date guarantees stunning sound quality. The sound of Sonore opticalRendu has the same “diamond” that all lovers of high-end technology are after.
5. Apple Mac mini – always in service
Pros – a versatile machine for both work and sound
Cons – the audio output interface on the minijack is not very good
Suitable for – Apple fans and connoisseurs of everything elegant
The brand new Apple Mac mini on an M1 chip with an 8-core processor, a 16-core Neural Engine system and a 256GB SSD is a sample for building a dedicated server / streamer for audio. The operating system Mac OS X does not contain anything superfluous, and the possibility of completing the device with a linear power supply (of which there are abundant on the market) takes the assembly to a completely different level in terms of sound quality.
6. Bluesound Node 2i – available, but no ultimate options
Pros – one of the best ergonomic solutions, regardless of cost
Cons – only coaxial and optical digital outputs
Suitable for lovers of simple solutions
A chic and very inexpensive multi-room system. Bluesound Node 2i can work as a full streamer with a digital-to-analog converter; it can output a digital signal to an external DAC via coaxial or optics. Signal support up to 24-bit / 192 kHz, 32-bit converter, tons of built-in streaming clients (including TuneIn Radio, iHeartRadio, Calm Radio, Radio Paradise digital radio) and benchmark ergonomics included. Yes, in terms of sound, the player will not jump over its head, but in its price category the offer seems very “tasty”.
7. Own build of Intel NUC for Roon ROCK OS – savings without sacrificing quality
Pros – allows you to significantly save
Cons – Fan operation can be audible
Who is it for – those who are “familiar” with MS
An analogue of Roon Nucleus can be assembled by yourself – only with fans “on board”. Roon Rock OS can be installed on select models Intel NUC, and the resulting solution flaunts its simple and elegant. Of course, all the delights of the Roon RAAT will be in front of you – as well as the muscled, muscular sound.
8. Deeply Optimized Universal PC – Not Easy, But Angry
Pros – savings; flexibility and customization options
Cons – you have to work hard
Who is it for – fans of “iron”
Customizing a personal computer is not an easy task, but such a task is more than worth the sound quality. For a relatively small amount, you can assemble a modern PC based on Intel Core and an SSD disk and “shake out” everything unnecessary from the OS by installing special optimizers… For purists, the Linux build is fine.
9. Audioquest Dragonfly Cobalt – affordable quality
Pros – great sound without too much hassle
Cons – I would like options for working with signals of at least 24 bit / 192 kHz
Who is it for – zealous owners
A compact DAC that can be used in conjunction with a smartphone and headphones, or in a home system with a conventional PC source. Audioquest dragonfly cobalt based on the Saber ESS9038Q2M chip with a minimum-phase filter controlled by the Microchip PIC32MX274 processor (data processing speed has become 33% higher compared to the younger models of the series). All this is complemented by the Wavelength Audio monoClock precision clock generator. As a result, the DAC delivers sound that outperforms most budget digital players in all respects. You can only scold him for the lack of support for streams above 24 bit / 96 kHz.
10. Roon soft player – nowhere without a “magic wand”!
Pros – Best ergonomics and sound quality to date
Cons – subscription usage model
Suitable for all music lovers
The finishing touch to modern audio streaming is the Roon soft player. A universal cataloger for your media library that pulls up covers and puts all records “on the shelves”, has built-in clients for the main streaming services and works under its own Roon RAAT protocol in the case of using compatible hardware. The sound quality is fantastic and the system is already an industry standard.