Music server with digital out + volume control?

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dburna

Music server with digital out + volume control?
« on: 17 Jul 2021, 07:18 pm »
I am giving serious consideration to deploying an active speaker system + sub(s). The subs I am eyeing (brands not important here) have DSP and D/A capability. They accept an RCA digital input. Not wanting to have two D/A conversions in the signal chain has brought me to look for a reasonably priced server (ideally around $1k or below) that could serve as the front end for said system. All my misic is digitized at this point.

I have looked around and haven't found too many music servers that have a digital out. Plus, ideally the server would be able to control the volume as well. I could probably control the volume within my music software, but a server-based volume control (with remote?) would be preferable.

Does anyone know any music servers with RCA digital out (must have) and volume control (not essential but really nice to have) in that $1k-ish price range? If you have experience with same, I'd like to know your impressions on performance, usability, etc.

Thanks in advance for your input everyone, -dGB

Jazzman53

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Re: Music server with digital out + volume control?
« Reply #1 on: 17 Jul 2021, 07:39 pm »
On most music servers, the digital out is merely a pass thru with no volume control.

The only music servers I know of that have volume-controlled digital outs are the Logitech Squeezebox and Transporter.  The Squeezebox has a Toslink optical out and the Transporter has both Toslink and AES digital outs.  The RCA outs on both units are analog only.   
 
I have a Transporter which is also the preamp in my system.  I'm feeding it's AES digital out into a DBX Driverack DSP crossover.  The downside is that Logitech no longer makes these units (out of production for over a decade) but I found a new old-stock unit on Ebay-- and I will NEVER part with it. 

You can still find used Squeezebox's and Transporters on Ebay.  The quality and performance are excellent, even in the cheaper Squeezebox sounds really nice.  Fortunately; the newer Logitech Media Server software will run on both units.



sunnydaze

Re: Music server with digital out + volume control?
« Reply #2 on: 17 Jul 2021, 07:59 pm »
Bluesound Node (just released current vesion)  or Node 2i (previous version).  I own the latter.  It costs half your budget, is super easy to use, offers just about every available streaming service (and tons of free music), and sounds excellent.  Stellar reviews all over the place, do the research. 

YT video reviews:

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=bluesound+node

The Node 2i will be getting cheaper as it's replaced by the Node.  From what I can gather, the SQ differences are subtle, if at all.  The Node has different built-in user controls.

dburna

Re: Music server with digital out + volume control?
« Reply #3 on: 17 Jul 2021, 10:17 pm »
So I think the Node 2i might work, but unless I read incorrectly, the new Node only has Toslink digital out, not RCA. I am aware this is a semi-odd duck situation - any other suggestions, folks?


sunnydaze

Re: Music server with digital out + volume control?
« Reply #5 on: 17 Jul 2021, 10:48 pm »
PS:   I enjoyed the Node 2i so much that I recently bought the PowerNode 2i for my 2nd system.   Connected to my JM Reynaud Twins, it sounds shockingly good. 

Check out Darko's YT reviews, he really likes it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0Bc7xWHaxA&t=912s

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NhRMWjDcEoU&t=637s

A black box and a pair of speakers....super simple and elegant solution that sounds great.  I'm happy!     :thumb:

dburna

Re: Music server with digital out + volume control?
« Reply #6 on: 17 Jul 2021, 10:49 pm »
I stand corrected. Looks like the new Node has RCA digital out as well.

Does anyone know if this is fixed output or variable? I'm kind of assuming it is fixed.
« Last Edit: 18 Jul 2021, 05:48 pm by dburna »

dburna

Re: Music server with digital out + volume control?
« Reply #7 on: 17 Jul 2021, 10:55 pm »
PS:   I enjoyed the Node 2i so much that I recently bought the PowerNode 2i for my 2nd system.   Connected to my JM Reynaud Twins, it sounds shockingly good.

Sunny, do you use the regular 2i in your main rig or a desktop? How would you compare sound quality versus other sultions you have tried?

sunnydaze

Re: Music server with digital out + volume control?
« Reply #8 on: 17 Jul 2021, 11:15 pm »
Sunny, do you use the regular 2i in your main rig or a desktop? How would you compare sound quality versus other sultions you have tried?

I have the Node 2i in my main rig.   The onboard DAC is good, but I run it into a Border Patrol DAC SE for further improvement.  I mainly use this system for late night serious listening to vinyl, but with a musical and organic outboard DAC (like BP, Denafrips, Musical Paradise, MHDT, etc)  I find the Node 2i quite satisfying and engaging.  And the convenience and ease of use can't be beat!

My simple 2nd rig I described above gets much heavier use.  Monitors are set up on the breakfast bar firing into the open layout DR / LR areas.  I run it all day just steaming the free stuff included (Radio Paradise, Internet Jazz stations, Amazon music, etc) and find it so satisfying that I haven't yet bought any music streaming subscriptions.   Sound quality varies but plenty of it is quite good, so I listen to those.  Overall this setup has exceeded my expectations.  I really like it.

The only other streamer I've ever owned is SB Touch w/Boulder upgrades (p/s and analog outputs).  I still use that one in the BR, but I much  prefer what the Node offers in terms of ease of use, app, operating system, and all the free included music.

But compared to others, I'm a novice when it comes to the digital streaming world, without much exposure to tons of different gear.  A deep dive into it doesn't interest me.  What I have satisfies me for now, and when it comes to serious listening, I tend to prefer vinyl.
« Last Edit: 30 Jul 2021, 09:07 pm by sunnydaze »

sunnydaze

Re: Music server with digital out + volume control?
« Reply #9 on: 17 Jul 2021, 11:29 pm »
I stand corrected. Looks like the bew Node has RCA digital out as well.

Does anyone know if this is fixed output or variable? I'm kind of assuming it is fixed.

It's variable.  I run it into an outboard DAC (via coax) and use the phone app to adjust volume from my seat.

sunnydaze

Re: Music server with digital out + volume control?
« Reply #10 on: 18 Jul 2021, 12:12 am »
Forgot to mention....
only other DACs I've owned are MHDT Paradisea and EE Minimax "Plus".

I still listen to my old CD players (Metronome and Raysonic), but never did computer audio.  Went straight to streaming.

So you see, I'm certainly no expert on the digital / computer / streaming end of things.  But I am familiar with decent sounding vinyl rigs, so if I can get my digital setup close to that, I'm happy.

dburna

Re: Music server with digital out + volume control?
« Reply #11 on: 18 Jul 2021, 03:02 am »
It's variable.  I run it into an outboard DAC (via coax) and use the phone app to adjust volume from my seat.

There's no remote with this correct? Just a phone app. Is it possible to use a universal remote with the Node?


JLM

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Re: Music server with digital out + volume control?
« Reply #13 on: 18 Jul 2021, 12:02 pm »
This is a purist approach I lusted after for some time but the primary problem with feeding digital signals to the subwoofers/monitors is the quality of the DAC in the subwoofers/monitors.  Have you ever read a review of those DAC's?  They are afterthoughts at best and each subwoofer/monitor would use it's own unmatched DAC.  Plus there is no way of volume matching or remote control.  You're in the studio world. 

Rusty Jefferson

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Re: Music server with digital out + volume control?
« Reply #14 on: 18 Jul 2021, 02:33 pm »
JLM, good to see you back and I largely agree.

You can use any music server/bridge you like, you'd just have to use a usb to s/pdif and AES converter. However, s/pdif is not a good method for sending signals with multiple long runs. Pro audio uses AES and like everything else there's likely a box that has 4 AES digital outputs on it. I can't imagine there's a similar s/pdif box, or if there was, that you'd want to use it.

Doing the d/a conversion outside the speakers is preferable with say a dac/balanced preamp. That opens the doors to so many more options and better sound quality, imo. :D

dburna

Re: Music server with digital out + volume control?
« Reply #15 on: 18 Jul 2021, 06:34 pm »
JLM, good to see you back and I largely agree.

You can use any music server/bridge you like, you'd just have to use a usb to s/pdif and AES converter. However, s/pdif is not a good method for sending signals with multiple long runs. Pro audio uses AES and like everything else there's likely a box that has 4 AES digital outputs on it. I can't imagine there's a similar s/pdif box, or if there was, that you'd want to use it.

Doing the d/a conversion outside the speakers is preferable with say a dac/balanced preamp. That opens the doors to so many more options and better sound quality, imo. :D

YAAAYYYY!! Jeff's back!   :hyper: :bounce: :beer:

dburna

Re: Music server with digital out + volume control?
« Reply #16 on: 20 Jul 2021, 11:12 pm »
This is a purist approach I lusted after for some time but the primary problem with feeding digital signals to the subwoofers/monitors is the quality of the DAC in the subwoofers/monitors.  Have you ever read a review of those DAC's?  They are afterthoughts at best and each subwoofer/monitor would use it's own unmatched DAC.  Plus there is no way of volume matching or remote control.  You're in the studio world.

So OK, I'll go into a little more detail: the sub I am considering is the Neumann KH750, using that to set up a 2.1 system with my existing Neumann KH120 monitors. The DAC implementation in the KH750 has an SNR of 123dB (supposedly a nice AKM DAC chip, thought that is not confirmed), not world-class but I'm not sure I have ears that can tell the difference between 123dB and 130+ dB. In fact, I'm not sure if many/any can. We're getting to the far end of the tail these days with DACs. And yes, I'm sure that Neumann's DAC implementation isn't as good as the ne plus ultra, but I'm not sure I care -- I think it'll be good enough for me.

You see, I am on the cusp of turning in my Audiophile Card (TM). Like many, the pandemic has resulted in many changes to my life and outlook on things. One thing where it has helped me is in gaining better life perspective, and that has helped me to hear more of my music....and care less about some of the details. I want more simplicity in my life....and less clutter. And I'm willing to give up some audiophile quality to do it. As besides, Neumann's engineers are no slouches -- they are one of the few audio companies that I "trust".

But what about setting up multiple subs, you say? I looked into it in some detail, and decided I want my audio listening to be a fun hobby and an escape, not more/extra work. What about measuring and DSP? I'll do some of that, but I'm not going to be obsessive about it. I never intended for audiophilia to become a solitary pursuit....it just ended up that way.

Downsizing is happening is every aspect of my life, including my expectations.  :wink:  I've decided to embrace that fact rather than fight it. I'm considering constraints on myself much more as a blessing than a curse. If I don't fight them, then they actually simplify my life.

We'll see what happens with this adventure. I am expecting that the sound quality of my rig will actually decrease -- hopefully minimally -- but my enjoyment will go up. And if the sound quality goes down precipitously? Well, I may not ramp back up anyway. Life's too short for (insert your own platitude here)....

Meanwhile, am strongly considering the new Node (I like having the top presets for my family's use), or I may wait until a better streamer (with variable digital output) comes along. It all comes down to timing. Topping has been doing some great engineering for some time now, may just be a matter of time before they introduce a new streamer. Who knows?

Thanks folks for helping me with my decision making,  -dGB
« Last Edit: 21 Jul 2021, 12:57 am by dburna »

Rusty Jefferson

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Re: Music server with digital out + volume control?
« Reply #17 on: 21 Jul 2021, 03:04 am »
Thanks for the updated info. After scanning over the manuals I think I'd still set these up on the analogue side with maybe a little Topping dac/preamp with balanced outputs (or something similar) if you're keeping the budget tight.  :D

JohnR

Re: Music server with digital out + volume control?
« Reply #18 on: 21 Jul 2021, 03:47 am »
You can use one of these: https://allo.com/sparky/digione-player.html

It has two digital outs. Install ROPIEEE on it and put Roon on your PC/Mac. Optional whether you set up a dedicated server or not.

mcgsxr

Re: Music server with digital out + volume control?
« Reply #19 on: 21 Jul 2021, 01:06 pm »
dburna I am with you on the recent simplification.  I went back to a Sugden integrated, Totem Model 1's, a DIY sub, and an Allo Boss DAC.  Not enjoying music any less, though perhaps the last 5% is missing. 

I own the Digione, and the Boss from Allo.  The Boss is simple to use (I run Logitech Media Server on the Boss as player and server with a hard drive hung off it - plus it can Airplay so I can also stream Apple Music to it simply, as can my kids if they want), inexpensive, lower power use, small and a 1 box streamer/DAC.  It CAN alter volume, but I don't use it that way.

I keep the Digione around in case the NEED for better audio returns and I want to explore a different DAC etc.