Early Experience with Music Streamers

My first CD player was Marantz CD-63SE, long long time ago. Then I upgraded to Audiolab 8000CDM and 8000DAC followed by Audiolab 8000CD. The last CD-only player I bought was Ayon CD-07.

My first experience with music streamer was with Sony HAP-Z1ES. I use laptop and desktop computers for work day and night, hence for hi-fi, I prefer not seeing another computer or having to use one. The Z1ES is also not overly expensive, getting good reviews, and performs well given its price point. It also looks good.

Picture of Sony HAP-Z1ES taken from Sony Malaysia website

The price of Z1ES has not changed since I bought it a few years ago. The product is heavy, with a few EI-core transformers (made in Malaysia) inside for powering digital and analog boards separately. The remote control was a disappointment, but it does not matter since a phone or a tablet is used most of the time for controlling music playback. The XLR audio output was another problem with its output voltage similar to RCA, causing it to be about 6dB lower volume compared to other XLR sources.

Sony HAP-Z1ES stacked above Denafrips Terminator DAC

Then I bought an external DAC, Denafrips Terminator, the first version. I tried using Z1ES as a digital transport, using USB output into Terminator. I don’t think I am getting the best sound yet from Terminator when Z1ES is used as digital transport. There were issues with Terminator USB interface (software side) which made me think I should get another pure digital transport with I2S interface. Most Terminator users’ sharing in forums indicate that the I2S should be used to get the best sound quality from Terminator.

Overall components after the addition of Terminator

I purchased Aune S5 before it was launched, directly from China. The specs look good on paper. Wow, what a disaster. the software was so unstable as it was an uncompleted product. It could not communicate properly with Terminator. I tried to make both companies which are based in China talk to resolve the issues, but they were not keen, only try to blame each other, like how I2S pinouts were used since it was never standardized.

Aune S5 digital transport from China
Aune S5 stacked above Terminator DAC for a very short I2S connection

In the end, I gave up, and Aune in China agreed for return. I packed properly using the original box and all the packing material. When the S5 arrived in China, Aune claimed there were scratches on the chassis, which I know they were lying. Most likely the pictures were from another chassis, not mine. They reduced the refund amount so I lost money due to dealing with this Chinese company.

Marantz SA-10 under the turntable

Then I ordered Marantz SA-10 while still keeping Terminator. It took a while before I get it due to good demand worldwide. SA-10 needs long break in, but out of box it sounds good, musical and accurate. Using SA-10 as the digital transport with coax into Terminator gives the best sound ever from Terminator, but the SA-10 itself already has a good FPGA-based DSD DAC. There is no DAC chip used inside; all audio formats upsampled to DSD 4x and then sent straight to the analog output stage with some filters.

After having SA-10, only then I know how stable USB Audio interface should be, which the Terminator was never able to do. The Terminator went through a few firmware upgrades before I completely gave up. Afraid of having me share my bad experience on audio forums, Alvin Chee offered a full refund. I took the offer immediately. After Terminator was shipped back to Kluang, Johor, Alvin provided full refund. Salute to you Alvin!

Marantz SA-10 stacked above Terminator
Very short digital coaxial cable between SA10 and Terminator, resulting in the best sound I ever get from Terminator

While SA-10 is a good CD /SACD player and also capable of playing hires music from its USB 2.0 type A port (USB drive must be formatted as FAT32), navigating music files through its remote control is not easy. Also, the max bitrate supported when playing from USB drive is half of the maximum bitrate through its USB DAC input (type B).

I tried playing from laptop, but cannot get good sound. Then I started the Intel NUC journey. I purchased NUC7i5BNH, M.2 drive for O/S, and 2.5″ SSD for music storage. More on this in the next post.

For music playback and control from tablet, I purchased Euphony software based on Linux, not cheap, but no other free Linux software like Daphile and a few others I have tried come close to Euphony.

By Anwar

Dr. Anwar Ali is a consultant in the area of Operations Research / Decision Science. During his free time and as a side business, he builds high-performance and moderate-cost music streamer.