How important is the quality of a digital sound card in a i2s / coaxial configuration?

I have a Raspberry Pi 3b+ with a Kuman SC07 digi card. The card is a sort of HiFiBerry DAC+ clone, equipped with a Wolfson WM8804G chip.
My Raspberry (with Volumio 3) is wired with a coaxial cable to my amplifier Marantz Pm6005.
I configured the Kuman card in Volumio 3 as I2S DAC/HiFi Berry Digi and it’s correctly recognized and working as expected.

Using a coaxial cable I get the Marantz DAC to work, so I’ve never worried about the quality of the digital sound card mounted on the rp since I am very happy with how my system sounds.

But now, I wonder, is this a correct assumption? Could I expect an improvement in sound quality using a good quality digital sound card such as the Allo Digione?
And if so, how relevant could the improvement be in your opinion?

Thank you in advance!

If you want to stay with your 6005 and you are happy with it: Leave it as it is!
The DACs in the small Marantz integrated amps are quite good for this budget.
But: The digital signal from your Pi DAC hat goes to a second DAC in your Marantz. For me this makes no sence.
What I would recommend and what will immediately lead to a better sound will be an external DAC, such as a Topping D10s or an IFi ZEN DAC V2 and then use an analog input in your Marantz.
My 5ct only…

My 2 cents:

  • Do not use clones of audio cards. For the simple reason that some company spent time, effort and money to do research and development on this technology. Then somebody else comes and just copies it. By buying a clone, you are not rewarding the original company’s work and somehow discourage innovation: why should someone spend time, money and effort doing something new if they can just copy? Then of course, there’s ethics, but this is up to you :wink:

  • I think that quality matters also with digital transports, albeit less noticeable than an analog solution. So yes, you might have a noticeable improvement, depending on the DAC you use with it.

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Besides what already has been mentioned before.
Allo is one on the brands that active built there boards to reduce SNR and Jitter in every possible way and is active on forums to improve their products. This comes with a more expensive price tag.
The Marantz is equipped with a CS4398 and Marantz did a good job hiding the specifications on the DAC part. Only found some details on the V2 (24/192)
So technical speaking there should be differences in audio quality. If you’ll notice it with the Marantz, no clue.

What you write makes a lot of sense and I had already thought of such a solution previously. I had aimed precisely at the IFi ZEN DAC V2 but it seems pretty hard to find it now (in Italy, at least).
I might go for a Topping D10s or a E30… I’ll think about it. Thanks in the meantime!

@volumio you’re right about the ethic question on buying clone cards. Stupidly I didn’t even ask myself the question when I bought it, I eagerly only thought about saving something :-/

And keep in mind that the clone card is a clone, which means it will has some disadvantages. like cheap or no balanced components etc.
Even though you pay more, by buying the original, your covered by warranty and support them to make new developments and improve their products.

This conversation whetted my appetite and the idea of buying a Topping D50s is teasing me more and more :smiley:

One question: if I buy it, how should I connect it to the RPi to get the highest quality?
I was thinking to connect the RPi to the Topping via USB (so I don’t have to use Kuman sound card anymore). But, it makes sense to go the long way: RPi → USB Serial Bus → USB Cable → Topping D50s → i2s → Marantz PM6005 analog input?

You’ve lost me. USB to Serial? i2s to analog???

The topping D50’s is real bang for the buck. It’s equipped with it’s own clock and PLL, that should be capable to deal with the rPi’s jitter.
On the other hand I haven’t seen any negative reviews on the Marantz, so I assume the DAC is more than capable. Since it only has a COAX input, I would save 200 euro and get a Allo Digione, COAX cable and connect it to the Marantz.

That’s what I was hoping to read in response to save some money! ahaha!
I also have a good quality coaxial cable so it makes sense to keep using it.

P.S. yeah I made a bit of a mess designing the “long way” chain, but you got me :sweat_smile:

Yep. It’s always the balance. If you go for an more expensive route. Is the difference in sound worth the money. And yes that’s a very personal thing.

And this one I’ve stated before. I can hear difference between different audio components on tracks I know by heart. But if you put me in front of setup, play a track I don’t know, I am pretty sure I won’t even recognize if they play a 320kb MP3 or FLAC.

I agree, most people can’t hear difference between a 320kbs mp3 and a flac. Blind tests prove it.
I don’t even know if I’ll be able to hear differences between the Kuman cheap sound card and the Allo Digione. But I think you know it better than me: we, “audiophiles”, are always looking for improvements on our systems.
I prefer to know that I have “the best” rather than a cheap copy, even if I barely hear any differences.

Yeah, I want the best, if possible diamond and golden knobs on things where it doesn’t make sense. Until the “boss” asks me How hard I bumped my head.
Then the audio room, became a place for a little human thingy. My Dali’s became a magical box, as the youngest discovers he could make things disappear via the woofer tube. Food Lego,… you name it.

Now I’m stuffed at the attic, Spinx project 9 + 10 became NAD’s and my main sources are rPi’s and the most expensive 3 meters that I kept are not even visible.
So yeah I stopped chasing the best of the best. I will buy what sounds the best when I visit the store.

I live on my own but I get what you mean :grin:

Just to be clear: my concept of “best” is to be intended as it in a low budget range…
I can’t afford more expensive components and, indeed, I really like to hear how these low-budget products can sound (sometimes wonderfully).
I’m really happy with my relatively low-budget system (Marantz Pm 6005, Rpi with Volumio 3, Project Debut Carbon and a pair of Q Acoustics 3050i). We’ll see if the Allo Digione will be part of it :smiley:

indeed, buy it from a proper reseller, so you can always return it when you hear no improvement.

EMa82,
Your posts were very interesting. I have a question please. You mention i2s in your post above regarding
the DAC communication. I have a DAC with i2s jack, but it is an HDMI type plug not a toslink plug.
Can i2s ALSO be Toslink??
The reason I ask is because, I have an OPPO 105 multi disk player. When I play SACD disks, and run HDMI > out, I have that into a special box which allow SACD DIGITAL signals into my Dac, so the DAC reads DSD 24/192. That special box also uses HDMI cable out> inot the i2s of the DAC. The sound is remarkable compared to the analog out that Sony locks most players.

I am actually waiting for a delivery of a rasberryPi 4 8gig board, which I plan to use with a 7 inch Rasberry Pi branded touch screen, to create a VOLUMIO based Music Server. Are you saying that I can use i2s for my Music Server ??
Thank you very much for any help or advice you might be.
KInd regards,
Mike S>

Hello @mikesiegel1 ,
as far as I know, the HDMI standard offers 4 high-speed data channels, and the I2S needs 2 of them. Each manufacturer chooses of their own free will which 2 channels to use, there is no standard.
So if the choices on the channels of the source and the receiver do not coincide, the i2s will not work.
In your case, the Oppo i2s HDMI configuration and that of your DAC match. And that’s why they work.

However, if I understand correctly, you will want to use the Rpi4 by connecting it via HDMI to your DAC. To do this, I think you need a board like this.

Would also recommend to use external DAC. I also run Raspberry PI 3B+ together with Allo Digione HAT for coaxial output. You can check Darko Audio’s youtube channel for review and opinion, it improves hugely sound quality. If you look for a good external DAC, I use the Schiit Modi 3 DAC. Excellent value for money at only USD99,00. You can buy it directly fromo Schiit Audio’s webpage. Analog Output to your amplifier via RCA cables. In my setup it sounds great. I usa an Onkyo amplifier.

Thank you for your answer @Ferrero14.
I think I’ll buy the Allo Digione soon and see if I can improve the audio with it.
For the external DAC I’m undecided because I don’t know how much better could perform it in comparison to the internal dac of my Marantz.
I think I’ll start with the Allo Digione alone, for the moment. We’ll see if in the future I want to test everything with an external dac as well.

Hi @Ema82. Good decision. Normallly internal DAC’s are not the best, but better to first try with the Digione and see what the sound improvement is.

Depends to whom you speak. hat or external DAC manufacturer.