Music streaming via Airport Express

Discussion in 'Digital Sources' started by hjames, Jan 14, 2013.

  1. hjames

    hjames Nabbed ... Subscriber

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    Been sending music around the house with iTunes and Airport units for a couple years now. I started with an old mac G4 tower, upgraded to an mac mini, and later got a deal on a 2009 quad core macpro. For the Wifi I started with the old white saucer shaped Airport base station, and a few years later I grabbed a flat pan 802.11N style Airport Extreme off the DC craigslist. I wound up with a couple of the wallwart style Airport Express units, and have replaced them all so they are all 802.11N generation as well. Tho none are the latest hardware, they all work well in our multi-floor home.

    After the initial start with an internal drive in the G4 tower, I played with various configs of external drives, which make backups and upgrades much easier to deal with. I tried single and dual drive units, but I currently use a nice 4 drive unit from Amazon. I had a dedicated card and was using eSATA, but the chip vendor did not make a driver for OSX 10.8 - mountain lion, so I switched to USB, fast enough for lossless music.

    A few years back I decided to upgrade the music fidelity, and went through a long process of reloading all my CDs in Apple Lossless Audio Compression. we do have some tracks purchased from Amazon or iTunes that are lesser fidelity, but most of the 40k+ tracks on the drive are lossless.

    Apple lossless works great and it allows album art and such on our portable devices (iPod, iPad and iPhone) as well as in home, so I don't want to go to FLAC, WAV or AIFF.

    But this long intro brings me to the latest quest for the gear. Hadn't thought much about it but i had always run a standard mini-headphone to twin phono type audio cable from the Airport Express to my preamp.

    After some reading here I heard an easy upgrade was to pull optical from that Apple mini-jack and feed that to an external DAC

    So just before Christmas, I bought a very affordable gadget from Amazon, the $20 FIIO D3 DAC ... a tiny little thing with cables and power supply!
    Its the black gadget to the left in the picture below.

    [​IMG]

    Anyway, it was an amazing, eye opening upgrade.

    Bass tightened up, kick drums became more drum-like. i could hear shimmer on cymbals, breathiness on vocals - all kinds of detail just appeared.

    Best $20 I ever spent on Audio!

    The most amazing thing appeared when I played some old grateful Dead live recordings I had gotten from Archive.org
    a few years back and converted to Lossless from their default FLAC format.

    I had a soundstage. There was the audio image of the band front and center in the room.

    I'd heard imaging before with a pair of magneplanar speakers I owned,
    and with the DCM speakers I played with last year - but not with these heavily customized JBLs I now own.

    Not all albums do it, but for the ones that do play that way, its the way I always want to hear them now!

    So - if a $20 DAC can do this, what if I get serious and get something more upstream.
    I'm on a budget, so there won't be any thousand dollar DACs in my future ... I'm figuring under $500
    and under $400 is really more my comfort zone.

    I don't need a DAC with tubes as I am using a Jolida JB502 BRC integrated (tube) amp,
    no need for more tunes in the system, the Jolida is a great amp.

    Any DAC I get needs an optical in for the Airport signal, plus a second optical or Coaxial in would be nice
    when I play CDs and such in our OPPO 981HD disc player. I don't need USB in as we don't have a computer in that room -
    but its ok if it has one, systems change and you never know what you may want a year or so from now.

    One consideration - any DAC I test should be at LEAST as transparent and useful as the $20 FIIO D3 I tried at Christmas.
    I also expect the same kind of imaging I heard on those specific tracks I mentioned in the previous post.
    If I spend more money than the $20, I expect better results.


    More info as this thread progresses.
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2013
    oldgringo and Rockyhill like this.
  2. hjames

    hjames Nabbed ... Subscriber

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    Micromega MyDAC - Multiple inputs and small size

    I read all kinds of blogs and forums, learned about different brands and models, and since my budget was under $400, and I wanted multiple inputs
    (Optical, Coaxial and just in case, USB) I settled on the Micromega MyDac.
    Music Direct had them in stock with free shipping, so I plopped down my VISA card info Thurs, and it arrived early Saturday morning!


    It in a nice looking plastic case (I opted for the Black model to match my other gear in the rack, but you can also get it in white).
    I had read that it was like a macMini - but its quite small, smaller than my Airport Extreme, even with the power supply built in - no wallwart here!

    [​IMG][​IMG]


    Connections are nicely arranged on the back, with a switch to select USB 1 or USB2. I'm not using USB now, but I selected USB 2 for future use.

    I hooked up the optical cable from my Airport Express, hooked up a coaxial cable from the back of my old OPPO DV981HD (a pre Bluray disc player),
    and left the L-R audio interconnects from the Oppo connected to the CD-In jacks on the Jolida so I could do an A-B test later.
    I ran a quality pair of interconnects from MyDac out to the AUX in on the Jolida, and put the rack back in place.

    Now - I have read people in a number of place say that their DAC opened up after 100, 200 or more hours of use, but I don't really buy into all that with solid state gear. Tubes maybe, but I don't believe it from chips and transistors.

    Because a lot of my listening with this system is streamed music from my Mac, most of which were 'ripped" in Apple Lossless Audio Conversion,
    I tried a number of tracks via iTunes and the Remote App on my iPhone.

    The obligatory run through Steely Dan - AJA ... everything sounded great there. Boz Scaggs - Dig - "Thanks to You" - nice crisp bass, vocals warm and smooth. Janis Ian - Breaking Silence - "This House" and "Sacred Ground" - its all there, tight, clean, and - I can play it louder than usual without any faint distortions.

    Jennifer Warnes - The Hunter - "Way Down Deep" - The closely miced djembe in this is full, tight and right there with you! Good stuff.
    Jennifer's voice is quite nice as well.

    Again, this is just a quickie and I am no reviewer - but I hadn't read much about this unit elsewhere and thought it might fit my needs more than the other offerings I found.

    More info after more use ...

    MyDAC1.jpg MyDAC2.jpg MyDacStack.jpg





    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2017
    oldgringo likes this.
  3. mhedges

    mhedges AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    Cool.

    How does Airplay work for you. Is it reliable?
     
  4. uofmtiger

    uofmtiger Super Member

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    I use two Airport Express units and have them hooked up via Optical to DACs and couldn't be happier. My favorite is a PS Audio DLIII DAC, but I think it has been discontinued.

    I use Airplay quite a bit with MOG on my iPhone and find it to be very reliable.
     
  5. hjames

    hjames Nabbed ... Subscriber

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    Yeah - Airtunes is reliable - seems robust - using chan1 at 2.4gHz to feed 2 different Airport Express units. Got 2 other AE units in the house - one for WiFi for my TIVOHD, one as a spare if any guests drop in (troubleshooting, etc).

    That said, I'm boxing up the MyDAC to ship it back. Got home tonight, hooked up the FIIO D3 again, played maybe a half dozen songs, and - imaging is greatly improved, and sound quality is markedly better.

    I can't see buying a $370 DAC when a $20 DAC sounds better.
    The engineer in me questions it, can't quite get my head around it, but spouse and I can both tell the D3 sounds better.
     
  6. oscar09

    oscar09 DUCK!

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    I would of gone with the Schiit Bifrost if i was you... Its a whole lot better than that DAC you got to replace your Fio... I sometimes may sound like a Schiit Fanboy but ive heard the Bifrost and it is one great DAC all around. Its been know to make much more expensive DACs look bad. I didnt believe all this hype until i got their new introductory DAC, the Modi for $99. I put it up against my $170 HRT music streamer ii and it beat it by a long shot. The Modi has more soundstage, more detail, better imaging and sounds a whole lot better. A lot of people are putting it up to $200+ DACs and the results are even or the Modi losing by a bit, being only $99. I wonder how great the Schiit Bifrost sounds if the modi sounds this great. Im saving it up to buy their Schiit Gungnir ($800) or something in the $1000 to $1500 range. Read up on the Schiit bifrost to get a clue... If i was you, id send that DAC back.
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2013
  7. hjames

    hjames Nabbed ... Subscriber

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    My post right yours actually says "I'm boxing up the MyDAC to ship it back..." -
    so yes, I DID return it for a refund.
    Once I have my refund I may consider other options, but not right away.

    I actually DID go with the BiFrost - I ordered one of those first, on Thu Jan 3rd.
    It was backordered at the time - no big deal, they said they would not bill my VISA card until it shipped.
    But a few hours later they DID bill my VISA, and when it did not ship through that weekend,
    and didn't ship on Monday either, I cancelled the order Tues Jan 8th and got a full refund.
    I normally wouldn't have cared but Schiit actually said they didn't do that kind of thing,
    then went right ahead and did it anyway, it felt wrong and made me uncomfortable.
    I tend to take folks at their word the first time, and if they let me down, I am less inclined to trust them again.

    I read some more forums and magazine reviews and bought the MyDAC a few days later.
    It got praised in The Absolute Sound and in a number of forums - just like the Schiit did.
    But no pain there - it was free shipping to me, no handling fees for returns -
    all I will be out is the cost to mail it back, and stuff like that is light.

    I may try the Schiit again later - but for now, my $20 was well spent
    PLUS I have better imaging and sound than without it.
    I'm not inclined to spend any money if I don't have to.



     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2013
  8. mhedges

    mhedges AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    Do you have the airport express's set to "join network" or "extend network"?
     
  9. hjames

    hjames Nabbed ... Subscriber

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    I believe its set to Join Network - Its maybe 150ft MAX to the main Airport Extreme, perhaps 450 feet & a full floor down to the AE for Airtunes in the TV room. I also have an AE on my TIVOHD so its on the network for Netflix streaming, playing videos from my Mac, and such.

    I just swapped out the FIIO DAC for a DAC In The Box. a nearly 10 YO DAC - but nice! I tried it with the new Knopfler CD in my OPPO via the coaxial feed, and with Airtunes from Airport Express via the Optical Toslink feed. Quite nice and really enjoyable.
    Played some Railroad Earth, Grateful Dead, Aja, 1st Boston Album (Yeah!!) and quite a few other tracks and its really a pleasant sound.

    DEF a keeper!


    DITB-Fr_7143.jpg DITB-Rear_7145.jpg



    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2017
  10. tppc

    tppc Dogs know best

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    From what I've read the Audio Alchemy DITB (vintage early 90's) is still sought after by audio enthusiasts and modders.

    I could not find a teardown for the device but according to a cross section of forum posts DITB uses dual Analog Devices AD1860 DAC chips which are 18-bit all-PCM design :thmbsp:, a Yamaha YM3434 digital filter chip providing 8x oversampling and Analog Devices OP275 dual op-amp.

    Interestingly, AD1860 has integrated op-amps but Audio Alchemy implemented DITB with higher quality AD OP275 op-amp. Nice :)
     
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2013
  11. hjames

    hjames Nabbed ... Subscriber

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    Found this image of the DITB circuit board

    AA-DITB-Circuit.jpg AA-DITB-Schema1.png

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2017
  12. tppc

    tppc Dogs know best

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    Sort of a teardown :)

    Reading from right to left on the PCB image

    - CS8412 S/PDIF transceiver chip
    - YM3434 Yammy 8x oversampling digital filter chip
    - Dual AD1860 18-bit DAC's
    - AD OP275 dual op-amp
     
  13. hjames

    hjames Nabbed ... Subscriber

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    Was looking up something else and ran across this thread - thought I need to update it!

    I wound up buying an Audio Alchemy DDE DAC from hatrack ... it can decode HDCD discs and has multiple inputs - I connected my OPPO DV981 disc player to the coaxial port and have a toslink cable from my Airport Express for streaming audio from iTunes/Airtunes.

    I also wound up updating all the Airport devices to the newest generation - for a tower version of the Airport Extreme up in my office on the computer, and got two Airport Express units - one for the Jolida system here, and one on my surround system downstairs.

    They are stable, robust and the sound is quite good ...

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
     
  14. RShackleford

    RShackleford Active Member

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    Curious if any of you have done A/B testing using Airport Express streaming at 44.1KHz (native of lossless CD rips) versus Apple TV streaming at 48 KHz. I'm using the latter, and doubt the resampling is an issue, but it nags at me ...
     
  15. hjames

    hjames Nabbed ... Subscriber

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    I had a 1st gen Apple TV 160 on the downstairs system and didn't use the video feature enough to make it worthwhile (got plenty of media options via a TIVO and the OPPO BDP93) - and since my iTunes music is nearing 1TB, 160GB wasn't much help. Plus I found the iTunes interface awkward on that version of the AppleTV.
    So, just before the 3rd gen AppleTVs came out, I sold it off and replaced it with another Airport Express.
    Can't give you any current info on fidelity - but I have a friend who prefers the newer black AppleTVs - but he has video on 2 systems ...
     
  16. Rockyhill

    Rockyhill I've got a hanging filament.

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    Wondering if you are still using the FiiO D3? I have two systems that each have an Airport Express and CCA. I run them analog out. They sound pretty good as is. With that said, another thread has piqued my curiosity about the FiiO D3 (D03K). I have a DAC that can be used with each system but that requires turning it on and pointing it to the appropriate system. Such a chore! ;-) I'm considering one of these little DACs that would simply be inserted into the signal path - no muss, no fuss! Would appreciate your thoughts hjames.
     
  17. oldgringo

    oldgringo "Ehh, What's up, Doc"? Subscriber

    [DNU... ;) - Dropped on this, + one other thread, while 'idling' away an hour, today. They've been a help to me, maybe joining them up will help others... ].

    that there 'other thread'...

    Cheers, og
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2017
  18. hjames

    hjames Nabbed ... Subscriber

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    Still using the Audio Alchemy DDE DAC - its nice because it has both an optical in and a Coaxial in -
    so I can feed optical from the Airport Express and coaxial in from the (ancient) oppo DV971HD,
    and just toggle inputs depending on my source.
     
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2017
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  19. Rockyhill

    Rockyhill I've got a hanging filament.

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    I received the FiiO D3 (D03K) the other day. It's paired up with one of my CCA's. While I haven't done any critical listening yet I can say it doesn't make things worse! I'm on vacation starting in 38 minutes (but who's counting?!!) so I will have some time to play around with it.
     
  20. Markoneswift

    Markoneswift Quartz locked n ready to rock

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    Interesting thread, especially to someone who streams to an Airport Express as I do. I use the internal DAC and output to RCA via the 3.5mm jack. It's also interesting that an external DAC made a distinct improvement in sound for the OP, especially considering the quality of the DAC in the Airport. Here's a snippet of Ken Rockwells review of the Airport Express as an audio device - he seemed pretty impressed with it as is :)

    "
    The AirPort Express DAC is also very, very good. In some ways it's not quite as good as a $3,000 CD player, and in others it's even better. I'm very happy, this new AirPort Express has much better analog audio quality than the old AirPort Express.

    What's superb about this AirPort is that it has a full 2 Volt RMS output, not a whimpy 1 V or less output as we get from the jacks of iOS devices or many other and more expensive outboard DACs.

    It's more difficult to set up than Bluetooth, but has no coding loss to affect the audio that Bluetooth does.

    At any price, the Apple AirPort Express is a great DAC. It sounds great, with a completely silent background, full 2 V output, smooth detailed sound and full infrasonic bass response.

    For best results, leave your player's volume at its maximum for maximum output from the AirPort Express, and then vary the playback level with your Hi-Fi's volume control."
     

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