Integrated DAC or external?

Hi All,

Darren, new user here.

I’m having pretty good results with Justboom DAC zero / Pi zero combo.

I’m looking to switch over to a Pi3 for a more responsive interface. I have a couple lying around.

My question is, should I go with an onboard DAC such as an Allo boss?
Or should I run a digital signal to an external DAC? Something along the lines of a Topping D30 or Schitt Modi…

I don’t know whether I will be able to hear any difference…

I can’t imagine that my simple home amplifier / speaker combo is going to be particularly revealing.
I’m pretty happy with the sound from the zero gear. I’m going to use it as a wireless portable setup with a battery for my headphones.

With all Raspberry Pi models below the 4 it is a mistake to try and use an external DAC.
The USB ports are compromised and not suitable for high quality audio use.
Get a DAC hat for the best value solution. The Allo Boss V1.2 is very good and is well regarded.

If you really want an external DAC, you need to get something like the Allo DigiOne hat and use a coaxial S/PDIF connection to the external DAC.

I have played a bit with a hat and other options. Most I2S dacs will do so no need for a hat. I concluded on a Ak4497 based module behind a reclocked Kali. On my second system I use a Es9032pro connecting to the PI via I2S with small coax wires. All have dedicated linear PSU’s

This is what I cant decide on.
DigiOne HAT and external DAC.
Or Allo Boss HAT. The Boss would certainly work out cheaper.

Would there be a detectible difference in the sound? I don’t know.
I guess I can run other devices through the external DAC by switching inputs… but… what would sound better when using the Pi3 as the source…

I guess I’ve gotta put some money down to see…

If you choose the DigiOne you have S/PDIF output, that has limited high definition options, it tops out at 24 bits and 192 kHz, and you need to use the coaxial (not optical) for best sound.

But it does allow you to use a variety of external DACs.

If you opt for a raspberry pi 4 you can use the usb O/P to an external DAC without the use of a HAT. So could be less expensive if you haven’t already bought the pi3. Pi4 runs a little warm so the use of a FLIRC heatsink case is a good idea

Well I believe everybody will give you a different opinion. I believe first of all, you should consider what and how you will be playing using RPi and volumio. If you are looking to play MQA, then obviously you will hardly find an option for an internal DAC supporting it. Bear in mind Volumio is NOT a MQA decoder as opposite to Roon or Audirvana. Then, you should consider whether RPi will be the only one source you would have. You might have other players you would like to us the DAC with then, again very difficult to find an internal DAC supporting that setup.
Addressing the SQ, internal DAC or Digi HAT w/o own clock and separate power supply will not provide SQ any better than the USB port on RPi 4. In contrast, it will introduce limits in bitrate, so if looking to a HAT or internal DAC you should bear this in mind so you do not get “the worst of two worlds” (no better signal but other limitations).
I believe it is overseen by most of the people that it is possible to “clean” the USB signal with simple (passive filter e.g. iFi iSilencer) or more complex solutions (e.g. iFi iPurifier, or Matrix Audio X-SPDIF 2, both reclockers, rebalances and active noise filters) so you technically have low jitter, cloned signal similar to the Allo Signature Player but still the benefit of using USB w/o bitrates limits or even I2S for external DACs supporting it.
I have tested many combinations (excl.Allo Signature, unfortunately) and ended up in my simple setup with a RPi board running Volumio (or Roon sometimes, I admit) USB connected to the Topping e30 via the iFi iPurifier, both independently powered by Allo Nirvana PSU. This setup is quite affordable and has produced excellent results with respect to jitter and SQ, very comparable with my other setup with AURALiC Aries. As a matter of fact it sounds by far better than any other HAT setup I have tested (excl. Allo SIganture or Boss and Kali, which I have not had the opportunity to test, but I recon will be very comparable in terms of SQ, but with bitrate limitations). I also admit, I do prefer an external DAC for that setup anyway since I am using it also to connect a CD player…

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Thanks a lot for this great overview. I also pan to buy a topping e30 for my rpi4, should I buy a ifi I silencer or a separate psu for e30 or both :slight_smile:

Navodar recommends an excellent DAC with the Topping E30. Four years ago this level of performance was hard to achieve regardless of cost. Check out this review - made with the DAC powered directly from a regular PC

Reading down the page you see that Topping claim very slightly improved performance with a separate power supply which is entirely believable. If you decide to initially run without a separate power supply the only issue might just be the current demand from the shared supply to the pi4 but I’d thought it would be OK with stock RPI4 3A supply, providing there were no other loads on the USBs such as a large SSD drive with your music on it.

I would certainly buy a audiophile-grade PSU for both RPi and e30. Allo has very recently released a the Nirvana, with is a good option for that setup because it has 2 ports (1 of them being USB) so you can power both, RPi and e30 from one of them and is quite affordable. There are other options certainly, incl. the iFi iPower or Allo Shanti, but that one is more expensive. I would certainly not recommend power the e30 thru the RPi USB port (e30 disconnects the power supply from the USB input when it detects an external PSU connected).
With regards to jitter elimination, I would recommend buying at least the iSilencer, however there is a significant step up in SQ if you go for the iPurifier 3 (though iPurifier cost approx the same as the e30).
All together (excl. case for RPi and cabling, we are talking here about 350 Eur for RPi, Nirvana, iPurifier and e30).
You need to keep in mind this setup (RPi, e30, Volumio) will not play MQA without an external MQA Player/Decoder (Such as Roon or Audirvana).

I have tested the powering thru the RPi USB port and it works. e30 consumes only about 0,5-0,7A and even the Raspberry stock PSU is capable to source that and the RPi 4. However, as explained I would not recommend doing that.

I am not planning to use tidal or mqa files.
You said something about the price 350, so you mean that it is better to buy for example a bluesound?

Bluesound offers a neat packaged solution broadly comparable to a middle of the range HAT on a RPI. Some folks have discussed upgrading their Bluesound by adding a topping e30!
So even without an external power supply and precautions against digital noise recommended by Navodar, the RPI+topping e30 standalone should substantially outperform a Bluesound. With better power arrangements (I’ d certainly recommend as a worthwhile minimum) plus filtering of digital noise further sound improvements would be apparent, and this arrangement would not be inappropriate connected to a high end stereo costing a few thousand dollars. We are talking about levels of performance only a step or two away from the state of the art.

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So to fully understand, rpi +topping e30 outperforms the bluesound and if I will add a separet psu and noise cancelling filters it will be 1 or 2 levebel below state of the art systems?
If this is the case then it is perfect :slight_smile:
BTW the nirvana psu is a liniar or switching power supply?

Nirvana is switched mode power supply. If you opt for a linear PSU with the same/better level of performance (e.g. Shanti) it would increase the total cost by 100 Eur.

My bet is that the Nirvana powering the e30 would be totally indistinguishable in terms of sound quality from the best linear power supply.
But you will only really notice the difference from Bluesound if you are driving a good stereo system.

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For stereo system I am having a marantz 6004 and wharfdale 9.1 currently using chromecast audio and rpi4 audio output… But I really like volumio, and the possibility to add a display and so on :),

Well, I believe I’m sold on the idea of an external DAC.
With an upgrade path in place (low noise PSU) I can see the law of diminishing returns applies here…
Good info, thanks Navodar

Both the Marantz amp and the Wharfedale speakers are well reviewed products. The e30 would be a step above their quality and would allow you to upgrade these if you wanted. But I think that with your setup you would notice a difference between the Bluesound audio source and the e30. As with many sound quality judgements these things can be quite subtle though, perhaps a little less artificially bright and tiring to listen to.
Enjoy your music.

Well technically e30 allows you to connect the TV via Toslink on top of connecting the Volumio on USB and enjoy TV sound in HQ via your Maratnz…

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