rdale

JBL LSR305/iFi iDSD Nano/BeagleBone Black computer audio system

5 posts in this topic

I'm using what I would call a 'purist' computer audio system. It has a pair of active speakers being driven directly be a DAC, with the DAC being driven in turn by a low cost ARM computer. You actually can't quite buy a system like this in most HiFi shops such as Richer Sounds. The JBLs are studio monitors for professional applications, and computers like the BeagleBone and Raspberry PI are for hobbyists, including audio hobbyists. So I thought I would write it up and show some pictures of what it is all about.

A couple of months ago I bought a pair of JBL LSR305 active monitors (238 pounds a pair on Amazon), and I thought they were incredibly good value for money. Initially I used them with a HRT Music Streamer II+ DAC and I thought they sounded great. I raved about the speakers in this post:

http://www.hifiwigwam.com/showthread.php?105570-JBL-LSR305-Studio-Monitors

Then I tried a Wolfson DAC card and Raspberry Pi combination and it sounded pretty good although slightly thinner and less dynamic than the BeagleBone Black/HRT II+, but still pretty good.

I wondered what the optimum amount of money to spend on a DAC to drive the speakers was. The JBLs seemed to just assume the character of whatever was driving them, and I feel they might sound even better with something really up market like a Chord Hugo. On the other hand, I didn't feel the Raspberry Pi/Wolfson combo was quite getting the best out of them. I had thought that the Audioquest Dragonfly could by the best price vs sound quality combination.

Then after reading a rave review of the iFi iDSD Nano on the Audiostream site, I thought I would give that a go. I don't actually really need another DAC, but at 165 pounds for the Nano, I thought 'what the hell'. It can play any digital format, it can be used as a portable headphone amplifier with my Sennheiser Momentum headphones, and from what I read in reviews it should sound slightly better than the HRT II+.

After listening to the iDSD for the past two or three weeks, I am incredibly impressed. It has a slightly sweeter, 'richer' sound than the HRT. It is very detailed without throwing the detail in your face - I find I can follow the words that people are singing very easily. The JBLs have a very solid stereo image and with the Nano, the image just sits there nicely in space. Acoustic instruments sound a lot like acoustic instruments - there is no artificial 'digital brightness', they are just detailed and rich, and yet powerful and dynamic.

Here is a picture of the main system:

IMG_0036_zps3ec23a0f.jpg

The BeagleBone Black is lined with Stillpoints ERS cloth, and I stuck squares of 3M EMI absorber sheet on the ICs, and put a sheet under the main board.

IMG_0044_zpse915ed63.jpg

i wrote up my experiences with the BeagleBone here:

http://www.hifiwigwam.com/showthread.php?89501-BeagleBone-Black-as-an-MPD-server

I bought a pair of Neutrik RCA socket to XLR male adapters for 18 pounds from Maplins. he speakers are sitting on MoPads which were 30 pounds on Amazon. They sound just fine on the MoPads, but I would love to hear them on a good pair of solid stands. The bass is mostly fine, but I feel it might be a bit clearer and more dynamic on stands. Every now and then things sound a little more muddle in the lower mid range and bass, than they might do. Without direct comparisons it is difficult to know how that would be improved.

IMG_0056_zpscde9c88d.jpg

The iDSD Nano comes with a RCA to RCA phono cable and you could use that with a pair of RCA to quarter inch TSR jack adapters instead. It also comes with a USB cable and so you've got everything you need to get started. The JBLs came with both UK 13 amp power cables and a pair of euro plug ones too.

I'm using a Raspberry Pi as a NAS with a 1 Tb USB portable driver holding over 2000 CDs in Apple Lossless format:

IMG_0041_zpscc8082cf.jpg

The entire system consists of 4 cigarette box sized components plus the speakers. You don't need any equipment rack, there are a pretty minimal number of cables needed. You can just put it all out of sight if you want to, while you control it with a tablet or smartphone.

I'm having great fun listening to different DACs and I'm about to try a IQAudio Pi-DAC to see how it compares with the Wolfson in particular, and also how close it can get to the iDSD Nano.

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Very nice. I love these simple little homebrew systems. Digital has come so far these days that a couple of hundred quid provides a streaming or replay source as good as anyone would ever really need, and you can spend the rest of your budget on active speakers of whatever size/price you prefer.

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Very nice. I love these simple little homebrew systems. Digital has come so far these days that a couple of hundred quid provides a streaming or replay source as good as anyone would ever really need, and you can spend the rest of your budget on active speakers of whatever size/price you prefer.

Yes, I agree. You could say that in addition to an iFi iDSD Nano or similar being a 'replay source as good as anyone would ever really need', the JBLs aren't far off being a 'speaker system as good as anyone would ever really need'. I don't quite believe those statements, but they are still closer to the truth than you might think in my opinion. I went to the Cranage Hall show this weekend, and there were certainly some systems which I preferred over my active JBL system. Then there were other systems which cost a small fortune, and even if had all the money in the world, I would still rather have the JBLs/iDSD/BeagleBone. I found it interesting that there were very few computer audio based systems at the HiFi show - people were mostly using CD players, and there were very few active speaker systems too.

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"I'm having great fun listening to different DACs and I'm about to try a IQAudio Pi-DAC to see how it compares with the Wolfson in particular, and also how close it can get to the iDSD Nano."

Hi,

Interested in how the comparison went particularly between the Pi-DAC and the iFi Nano DSD. Also I see you have hugo and if you have compared it to either the Pi-DAC or iFi Nano would be interest in the outcome.

Thanks

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