Will a music streamer help me?

bobcornelis

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My current system is Qobuz to an iPad Air (using it's AAC codec) to Sony WF-1000xm4 earbuds.

Would replacing the iPad with a music streamer make much of a difference in your opinion?

The Sony earbuds only support AAC not aptX so are a good pairing with my iPad. But I'm open to getting earbuds that support aptX if that and a streamer supporting aptX would really help. I've been looking at the Bluesound Node with Shure Aonic Free earbuds for aptX.

Opinions?
 
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bryans

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My current system is Qobuz to an iPad Air (using it's AAC codec) to Sony WF-1000xm4 earbuds.

Would replacing the iPad with a music streamer make much of a difference in your opinion?

The Sony earbuds only support AAC not aptX so are a good pairing with my iPad. But I'm open to getting earbuds that support aptX if that and a streamer supporting aptX would really help. I've been looking at the Bluesound Node with Shure Aonic Free earbuds for aptX.

Opinions?
My advice is to reach out to your Bluesound dealer and get a unit to demo. You will know for sure if a streamer will improve on your setup.
 
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ecwl

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I think this topic is much more complicated than people realize.

We’d like to simplify things by saying say LDAC is better than AptX HD is better than AptX which is better than AAC which is better than SBC. And this is all because of the compressed music’s bit rate. But I have found that this is actually not totally true. First technically, SBC can sometimes transfer more data than AAC but I think almost everyone would agree that AAC sounds better than SBC. So clearly the compression algorithm matters.

The second challenge to a comparison is that not every bluetooth headphone has say AptX and AAC so you can’t really compare directly.

But the real problem that comes into play here is this:
If you’re streaming Qobuz lossless, your iPad Air is taking the lossless data and converting into AAC. You can read tons of online reviews that talk about how different Android phones actually convert the same lossless audio to AAC differently and also all inferiorly compared to an iOS device.

What that means is that even if you’re to get a streamer and bluetooth headphone that support AptX or AptX HD, you may or may not get better sound depending on how the streamer compresses the lossless Qobuz stream into AptX or AptX HD. It probably won’t vary as much from device to device for AptX compared to AAC since compressing to AAC is more complex.

Finally, even if you do get less lossy compression than AAC from AptX/AptX HD/LDAC, once you start running at a higher bitrate, you can potentially get more dropouts. Or alternatively, if the connection between your bluetooth headphones and the streaming device is weak, the higher bit rate LDAC/AptX HD would drop down to lower bit rate LDAC/AptX. So essentially, you may end up with the same or worse sound than AAC.

So my personal take on this is:
1) If you really care about lossless sound, just use wired headphones
2) If you want wireless headphones, start with the device/streamer you actually want to use first. And then get the best sounding wireless headphones that’s compatible with that device

I wouldn’t start off by choosing the best bluetooth CODEC and basing your streamer and headphone decision on the CODEC. To me, there is a lot of marketing involved with the CODECs. I think the people who developed the CODEC genuinely wanted to offer us better wireless sound. But once a CODEC is out in the wild, actual implementation in various products actually alters the sound quality the CODEC can produce. So to assume that a CODEC would theoretically sound better is probably not a good way to decide how to play your music and what headphones and streamers to choose.
 

bobcornelis

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My advice is to reach out to your Bluesound dealer and get a unit to demo. You will know for sure if a streamer will improve on your setup.
Thanks for this reply! I moved to Olympia WA last year and, despite it being the capital of Olympia, it is a very small city and often limited in what it offers. I've looked for decent audio dealers here and they don't exist. But I did look up the nearest Bluesound dealer and found an audio/video integrator nearby that looks like they carry some pretty good pure audio equipment. So I'll be visiting them soon! I know I can also order a Bluesound unit from Amazon and return it within 30 days. Hearing is believing, but I thought I'd see if anyone told me I was crazy even without hearing it!
 

bobcornelis

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I think this topic is much more complicated than people realize.

We’d like to simplify things by saying say LDAC is better than AptX HD is better than AptX which is better than AAC which is better than SBC. And this is all because of the compressed music’s bit rate. But I have found that this is actually not totally true. First technically, SBC can sometimes transfer more data than AAC but I think almost everyone would agree that AAC sounds better than SBC. So clearly the compression algorithm matters.

The second challenge to a comparison is that not every bluetooth headphone has say AptX and AAC so you can’t really compare directly.

But the real problem that comes into play here is this:
If you’re streaming Qobuz lossless, your iPad Air is taking the lossless data and converting into AAC. You can read tons of online reviews that talk about how different Android phones actually convert the same lossless audio to AAC differently and also all inferiorly compared to an iOS device.

What that means is that even if you’re to get a streamer and bluetooth headphone that support AptX or AptX HD, you may or may not get better sound depending on how the streamer compresses the lossless Qobuz stream into AptX or AptX HD. It probably won’t vary as much from device to device for AptX compared to AAC since compressing to AAC is more complex.

Finally, even if you do get less lossy compression than AAC from AptX/AptX HD/LDAC, once you start running at a higher bitrate, you can potentially get more dropouts. Or alternatively, if the connection between your bluetooth headphones and the streaming device is weak, the higher bit rate LDAC/AptX HD would drop down to lower bit rate LDAC/AptX. So essentially, you may end up with the same or worse sound than AAC.

So my personal take on this is:
1) If you really care about lossless sound, just use wired headphones
2) If you want wireless headphones, start with the device/streamer you actually want to use first. And then get the best sounding wireless headphones that’s compatible with that device

I wouldn’t start off by choosing the best bluetooth CODEC and basing your streamer and headphone decision on the CODEC. To me, there is a lot of marketing involved with the CODECs. I think the people who developed the CODEC genuinely wanted to offer us better wireless sound. But once a CODEC is out in the wild, actual implementation in various products actually alters the sound quality the CODEC can produce. So to assume that a CODEC would theoretically sound better is probably not a good way to decide how to play your music and what headphones and streamers to choose.
Thanks for the thoughtful reply - makes a lot of sense to me. So much of the information out there relies on specs and marketing claims and someone new to a lot of this, like me, starts by relying on a lot of that. I think your suggestion of starting with the streamer I want and then figuring out the headphones makes a lot of sense.
 

bryans

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I know I can also order a Bluesound unit from Amazon and return it within 30 days.
That is a great idea given you don't have a dealer near you.
Hearing is believing, but I thought I'd see if anyone told me I was crazy even without hearing it!
I personally don't believe you are crazy. If you try a streamer like Bluesound and like then awesome.
 

jabbaman73

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I agree with the comment above regarding wired headphones.

I use Spotify from a Pixel6a to a pair of JBL ANC headphones at the gym and that's just great as it blocks the rest of the world out. But for hi-fi quality listening I have Tidal Premium, a Zen Stream connected to a Zen DAC v2 and then a Zen Can with a pair of Grado SR80x open-backed wired headphones. There are many ways to skin the cat but Bluetooth cannot yet handle high-resolution audio.

Therefore if you want to improve the sound you can tinker with a streamer and better wireless headphones but you will still be dropping in quality once Bluetooth gets involved in which case I would personally say, save your money and stick with what you've got.

But, if you want to listen to high-resolution music from Tidal or Qobuz then you will want some wires! Be warned, this is a rabbit hole and once you set foot into Hi-Fi you may never be the same again! :)
 

bobcornelis

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I agree with the comment above regarding wired headphones.

I use Spotify from a Pixel6a to a pair of JBL ANC headphones at the gym and that's just great as it blocks the rest of the world out. But for hi-fi quality listening I have Tidal Premium, a Zen Stream connected to a Zen DAC v2 and then a Zen Can with a pair of Grado SR80x open-backed wired headphones. There are many ways to skin the cat but Bluetooth cannot yet handle high-resolution audio.

Therefore if you want to improve the sound you can tinker with a streamer and better wireless headphones but you will still be dropping in quality once Bluetooth gets involved in which case I would personally say, save your money and stick with what you've got.

But, if you want to listen to high-resolution music from Tidal or Qobuz then you will want some wires! Be warned, this is a rabbit hole and once you set foot into Hi-Fi you may never be the same again! :)
Thanks for the reply, I definitely understand the compromise with Bluetooth vs wired, and agree with your assessment 100%. I also own the Audio Technica ATHM50XBT headphones that can play both wired and wireless. Unfortunately I find wearing headphones extremely uncomfortable - I'm in the process of getting some replacement earpads that are supposed to be more comfortable. But I may be stuck with getting the best quality possible using Bluetooth, at least for listening when I need to be more mobile than sitting down facing speakers. Unless I get lucky and find decent headphones I can stand to wear!
 

jabbaman73

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Aug 24, 2022
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Thanks for the reply, I definitely understand the compromise with Bluetooth vs wired, and agree with your assessment 100%. I also own the Audio Technica ATHM50XBT headphones that can play both wired and wireless. Unfortunately I find wearing headphones extremely uncomfortable - I'm in the process of getting some replacement earpads that are supposed to be more comfortable. But I may be stuck with getting the best quality possible using Bluetooth, at least for listening when I need to be more mobile than sitting down facing speakers. Unless I get lucky and find decent headphones I can stand to wear!
I hear you. I wear glasses and I've been through more headphones and earphones than I can shake a stick at. Whilst not as "audiophile" as over-ear open-backed headphones there are plenty of well-reviewed IEM's out there at various price points that are wired and pretty darned good. Personally, I can't get along with in-ear headphones but lots of people do.

The SoundMagic E11C's are well-reviewed and also staggeringly affordable as are the Klipsch T5M. There's also the Shure Aonic 5 if you are feeling flush, or various IEM's by Sennheiser if you want top quality.
 

bobcornelis

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I hear you. I wear glasses and I've been through more headphones and earphones than I can shake a stick at. Whilst not as "audiophile" as over-ear open-backed headphones there are plenty of well-reviewed IEM's out there at various price points that are wired and pretty darned good. Personally, I can't get along with in-ear headphones but lots of people do.

The SoundMagic E11C's are well-reviewed and also staggeringly affordable as are the Klipsch T5M. There's also the Shure Aonic 5 if you are feeling flush, or various IEM's by Sennheiser if you want top quality.
I like your suggestion of IEMs, I hadn't been considering those too much. The Shure Aonic 5 looks intriguing, especially since you can add their Bluetooth add-on (which supports aptX) for $189 more and use it or not depending on circumstances - pricey, though, as you say.

I do have a newbie question about what's happening to the source material as it travels from the cloud to my ears. I want to understand this better so I know what might be weak links in my chain that I'm not aware of. If I'm streaming a CD quality or better file from Qobuz to my iPad and then out it's USB-C port through a dongle with a 3.5mm adapter to my new, for example, Shure Aonic 5s via their wire, is that file being degraded anywhere along the way before it hits the DAC in the IEM? Part of that question is whether I'd benefit from using a music streamer instead of the iPad or be penalized if I used an iPhone. Is there some important transformation going on in the streaming device or is it just passing the file through?
 

jabbaman73

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Aug 24, 2022
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I like your suggestion of IEMs, I hadn't been considering those too much. The Shure Aonic 5 looks intriguing, especially since you can add their Bluetooth add-on (which supports aptX) for $189 more and use it or not depending on circumstances - pricey, though, as you say.

I do have a newbie question about what's happening to the source material as it travels from the cloud to my ears. I want to understand this better so I know what might be weak links in my chain that I'm not aware of. If I'm streaming a CD quality or better file from Qobuz to my iPad and then out it's USB-C port through a dongle with a 3.5mm adapter to my new, for example, Shure Aonic 5s via their wire, is that file being degraded anywhere along the way before it hits the DAC in the IEM? Part of that question is whether I'd benefit from using a music streamer instead of the iPad or be penalized if I used an iPhone. Is there some important transformation going on in the streaming device or is it just passing the file through?
Some great questions in there.

The data stream from the Qobuz or Tidal servers via the Internet will be via many hops (routers and switches) in the path to your own ISP router. There is nothing we can do to optimise that path, above having a reliable ISP connection with sufficient bandwidth. Surprisingly, high-resolution audio doesn't use a lot of bandwidth so provided your own bandwidth isn't fully congested you should be fine there. A good router helps and most modern routers are "good enough" but can be improved upon in several ways. Firstly adding a better supply or using a mains conditioner on the router can help. If you are using Wi-Fi then a better router can also make an improvement however once you start looking at buying dedicated streamers and or streamer/DAC's then Ethernet is the way to go (which comes with its own set of tweaks and changes). Once the data hits your iPad and then passes out of the USB-C port you are using the built-in iPad DAC.

I believe the iPad doesn't downsample the USB-C out so the quality may be OK however at this point you will likely want to add a dedicated DAC into the chain and connect that to the USB-C port. Even something as simple as the HELM DAC can have a significant impact on sound quality. The iPhone definitely downsamples the audio from hi-res to something less pleasant on the ears and a USB-C DAC will really help. As well as HELM, look at iFi USB-C DACs. Some USB-C DAC's also support Bluetooth and whilst Bluetooth does reduce SQ the external DAC will still help.

If it were me I'd buy an iFi DAC for wired listening and just use Bluetooth from the phone for mobile listening (as mobile typically means your data connection might be spotty so quality is going to be compromised from the get go).
 

bobcornelis

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Some great questions in there.

The data stream from the Qobuz or Tidal servers via the Internet will be via many hops (routers and switches) in the path to your own ISP router. There is nothing we can do to optimise that path, above having a reliable ISP connection with sufficient bandwidth. Surprisingly, high-resolution audio doesn't use a lot of bandwidth so provided your own bandwidth isn't fully congested you should be fine there. A good router helps and most modern routers are "good enough" but can be improved upon in several ways. Firstly adding a better supply or using a mains conditioner on the router can help. If you are using Wi-Fi then a better router can also make an improvement however once you start looking at buying dedicated streamers and or streamer/DAC's then Ethernet is the way to go (which comes with its own set of tweaks and changes). Once the data hits your iPad and then passes out of the USB-C port you are using the built-in iPad DAC.

I believe the iPad doesn't downsample the USB-C out so the quality may be OK however at this point you will likely want to add a dedicated DAC into the chain and connect that to the USB-C port. Even something as simple as the HELM DAC can have a significant impact on sound quality. The iPhone definitely downsamples the audio from hi-res to something less pleasant on the ears and a USB-C DAC will really help. As well as HELM, look at iFi USB-C DACs. Some USB-C DAC's also support Bluetooth and whilst Bluetooth does reduce SQ the external DAC will still help.

If it were me I'd buy an iFi DAC for wired listening and just use Bluetooth from the phone for mobile listening (as mobile typically means your data connection might be spotty so quality is going to be compromised from the get go).
Thanks again for the very useful information! I feel like I'm getting to the point where I have a conceptual understanding of the chain. I really appreciate your patience and willingness to explain! I do have a couple of lingering question marks in my mind:

- If the iPad DAC has converted digital to audio on it's way out, how would an external DAC taking that output work/help? If the iPad scenario, the signal is already analog now, no? What does the external DAC do with that signal? If the iPhone scenario where it's DAC has deteriorated the signal, in addition to not understanding what the external DAC does, how can it improve things once the damage has been done by the iPhone?

- I understand that virtually all earbuds, headphones have their own DACs - are those also used if there is an external DAC? Seems like the signal has already gone through 2 DACs. If the embedded DACs in the phone/buds are inferior to the external DAC, if they do another conversion isn't that bad?

- how do I know if I need a headphone amp in the chain? Products like the Topping DX3+ have a builtin headphone preamp with their DAC. Also aptX and LDAC Bluetooth if I need it. Only $200. Would this be something to consider that would serve all potential scenarios? Reviews seem to like this box a lot.

- Finally, if I use an external DAC, even something like the Topping, is there any reason to get a music streamer such as the Bluesound Node? Does it do anything functionally different or is the potential benefit just that the integrated components might be higher quality?

Thanks again!
 

ecwl

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Mar 20, 2021
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- If the iPad DAC has converted digital to audio on it's way out, how would an external DAC taking that output work/help? If the iPad scenario, the signal is already analog now, no? What does the external DAC do with that signal? If the iPhone scenario where it's DAC has deteriorated the signal, in addition to not understanding what the external DAC does, how can it improve things once the damage has been done by the iPhone?

- I understand that virtually all earbuds, headphones have their own DACs - are those also used if there is an external DAC? Seems like the signal has already gone through 2 DACs. If the embedded DACs in the phone/buds are inferior to the external DAC, if they do another conversion isn't that bad?

- how do I know if I need a headphone amp in the chain? Products like the Topping DX3+ have a builtin headphone preamp with their DAC. Also aptX and LDAC Bluetooth if I need it. Only $200. Would this be something to consider that would serve all potential scenarios? Reviews seem to like this box a lot.

- Finally, if I use an external DAC, even something like the Topping, is there any reason to get a music streamer such as the Bluesound Node? Does it do anything functionally different or is the potential benefit just that the integrated components might be higher quality?

Thanks again!
Just as there are different quality in streamers, there are different qualities in DACs. Even though mathematically it sounds like it's "easy" to convert the digital signal into analog waveform, there are many ways for distortions to be introduced into the analog waveform so the higher quality DACs tend to have less distortion, higher signal-to-noise ratio than the DAC built into the headphone jack of the iPhone/iPad.

Most earbuds and headphones don't have their own DACs. Only wireless ones do because the wireless headphones don't receive the analog waveform, they receive the compressed lossy digital signal from Bluetooth so they need an internal DAC to convert the Bluetooth signal into analog sound.

If you use Topping DX3+ as a Bluetooth receiver (instead of wiring your iPhone/iPad/streamer to the Topping), then you're sending lossy signal via Bluetooth to the Topping, instead of sending lossless signal from the iPad/streamer to Topping which would degrade the sound quality. But once the Topping has received the digital signal (be it Bluetooth or wired), its DAC would convert the sound into analog (which should be better than the internal iPad DAC) and its headphone amp would drive the headphones (which should be better than the internal iPad headphone amp).

There are many reasons to get a streamer. The primary one is whether you prefer the user interface (that's the digital user interface on your iPad but also the physical user interface as in where you put them and whether they're always on, etc.) The second reason is sound quality. If you use the streamer to send Bluetooth signal to your wireless headphones, it shouldn't affect sound quality. But the moment you physically wire your streamer to a DAC/amp to drive your headphones, then whether the streamer has noise can affect the sound quality coming out of your DAC/amp.

But like I originally suggested, I think it's fun and interesting to learn these things, the more information you get, the more it feels like walking through fog. You can go to the Head-Fi forums and read all about headphones. And all you get is just more information and more opinions.

To me, it's much better to define how much you want to spend and how you want to listen and then buy the system that works for you and offers the best sound within the confines of your budget and listening needs. I find most of your questions to ultimately revolve around wanting to listen wirelessly but buying more gadgets to serve that need. I think if you want wireless headphones, you're limited by Bluetooth technology and no streamer is going to improve the sound of Bluetooth. So you might as well buy the best wireless headphones you can afford and just enjoy the music. If you want to listen beyond the best wireless headphone sound quality, you need to go wired so an iPad wired to a Topping DX3+ to a wired headphones (e.g. Dan Clark Audio) would give you really good sound within your budget. And you would save money on a streamer.
 

Gregadd

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My current system is Qobuz to an iPad Air (using it's AAC codec) to Sony WF-1000xm4 earbuds.

Would replacing the iPad with a music streamer make much of a difference in your opinion?

The Sony earbuds only support AAC not aptX so are a good pairing with my iPad. But I'm open to getting earbuds that support aptX if that and a streamer supporting aptX would really help. I've been looking at the Bluesound Node with Shure Aonic Free earbuds for aptX.
no imo. a streamer is redundant. Go to outboard dac. If you have not already done so.
Also switch too Tidal. Smile
 

jabbaman73

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Agree with Gregadd.

Basically Tidal is great and Qobuz "might" have better quality music (debatable) but actually streaming Qobuz in high resolution is tricky and often requires additional third-party software. Tidal connect just works and the Tidal app can bypass the internal DAC of a smartphone and output directly to an external DAC.

If you don't want to break the bank try a Tidal Free Trial and buy and HELM BOLT DAC which connects directly via USB-C and then wired to a set of IEM's or headphones. You will notice the difference immediately. Buy the HELM from somewhere that lets you evaluate such as Amazon or many online retailers.

I personally like dedicated streamers and this will become something for you to experiment with based on budget, functionality and requirements. But you can start for "free" and then pay for what you want and like.
 

bobcornelis

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Just as there are different quality in streamers, there are different qualities in DACs. Even though mathematically it sounds like it's "easy" to convert the digital signal into analog waveform, there are many ways for distortions to be introduced into the analog waveform so the higher quality DACs tend to have less distortion, higher signal-to-noise ratio than the DAC built into the headphone jack of the iPhone/iPad.

Most earbuds and headphones don't have their own DACs. Only wireless ones do because the wireless headphones don't receive the analog waveform, they receive the compressed lossy digital signal from Bluetooth so they need an internal DAC to convert the Bluetooth signal into analog sound.

If you use Topping DX3+ as a Bluetooth receiver (instead of wiring your iPhone/iPad/streamer to the Topping), then you're sending lossy signal via Bluetooth to the Topping, instead of sending lossless signal from the iPad/streamer to Topping which would degrade the sound quality. But once the Topping has received the digital signal (be it Bluetooth or wired), its DAC would convert the sound into analog (which should be better than the internal iPad DAC) and its headphone amp would drive the headphones (which should be better than the internal iPad headphone amp).

There are many reasons to get a streamer. The primary one is whether you prefer the user interface (that's the digital user interface on your iPad but also the physical user interface as in where you put them and whether they're always on, etc.) The second reason is sound quality. If you use the streamer to send Bluetooth signal to your wireless headphones, it shouldn't affect sound quality. But the moment you physically wire your streamer to a DAC/amp to drive your headphones, then whether the streamer has noise can affect the sound quality coming out of your DAC/amp.

But like I originally suggested, I think it's fun and interesting to learn these things, the more information you get, the more it feels like walking through fog. You can go to the Head-Fi forums and read all about headphones. And all you get is just more information and more opinions.

To me, it's much better to define how much you want to spend and how you want to listen and then buy the system that works for you and offers the best sound within the confines of your budget and listening needs. I find most of your questions to ultimately revolve around wanting to listen wirelessly but buying more gadgets to serve that need. I think if you want wireless headphones, you're limited by Bluetooth technology and no streamer is going to improve the sound of Bluetooth. So you might as well buy the best wireless headphones you can afford and just enjoy the music. If you want to listen beyond the best wireless headphone sound quality, you need to go wired so an iPad wired to a Topping DX3+ to a wired headphones (e.g. Dan Clark Audio) would give you really good sound within your budget. And you would save money on a streamer.
ecwl:

I think you've responded to me on both posts I made, so I'm hoping to consolidate to further exchanges here to avoid too much confusion! My apologies. And thank you for all the good and thorough information! I'm getting there...

Makes sense that only wireless phones/buds have dacs. Only reason I was thinking of Topping DX3+ for bluetooth is that is supports more codecs than the iPad. Seems there is a lot of disagreement over the difference codecs like aptX/LDAC make over AAC so maybe that aspect of the Topping is irrelevant.

I may have overstated the focus on wireless as I have 2 locations in my home where I listen and their requirements are quite different. In one space, wireless is primary, though I can also sometimes use iPad wired to headphones or IEMs. In the other space I don't need wireless at all and sound quality is more important. My main source in both places will remain streaming, though I could see adding a turntable, integrated amp and speakers to that space.

I think I'm happy with my Qobuz/iPad/Sony WF-1000XM4 combo for wireless in the first space.

So now I'm focused on my wired head/earphone solution for the other space. I will definitely get a box to wire up to my iPad, Topping DX30+ (or something better if I want to think ahead to perhaps adding a turntable/amp/speakers). I think I'm going to first try the Sennheiser HD 660 S open back headphones as they are supposed to be very comfortable, great sounding and not wildly expensive. If I give up on headphones, I'll probably next try IEMs - Linsoul 7HZ Timeless, Shure Aonic 5 or Shure SE425-CL are current candidates.

Conceptually I think I still don't quite understand how different DACs interact. In your previous post you say "once the Topping has received the digital signal (be it Bluetooth or wired)" - does that mean that if I wire the Topping to the iPad, the iPad will not use it's DAC before it sends the signal to the Topping so that the data the Topping gets from iPad is still in digital form? Does the iPad's DAC only get used if it is communicating via Bluetooth? That would make sense to me but somehow I feel like I've heard something different elsewhere.
 

ecwl

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Mar 20, 2021
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I think I'm happy with my Qobuz/iPad/Sony WF-1000XM4 combo for wireless in the first space.

So now I'm focused on my wired head/earphone solution for the other space. I will definitely get a box to wire up to my iPad, Topping DX30+ (or something better if I want to think ahead to perhaps adding a turntable/amp/speakers). I think I'm going to first try the Sennheiser HD 660 S open back headphones as they are supposed to be very comfortable, great sounding and not wildly expensive. If I give up on headphones, I'll probably next try IEMs - Linsoul 7HZ Timeless, Shure Aonic 5 or Shure SE425-CL are current candidates.

Conceptually I think I still don't quite understand how different DACs interact. In your previous post you say "once the Topping has received the digital signal (be it Bluetooth or wired)" - does that mean that if I wire the Topping to the iPad, the iPad will not use it's DAC before it sends the signal to the Topping so that the data the Topping gets from iPad is still in digital form? Does the iPad's DAC only get used if it is communicating via Bluetooth? That would make sense to me but somehow I feel like I've heard something different elsewhere.
Thanks for the response. Because now that you have a clearer vision of how you want to setup your space, it is easier for us to give you even better and clearer advice.
Because you are okay in the second space to listen wired and you might hook up a speaker system in the longer run, then your decision for the second space should actually be very different.
First, it makes more sense to start off with having an external DAC/amp to drive wired headphones simply because you'll get much better sound.
Second, most people would not want to run Bluetooth into their integrated amplifier, it also makes sense to have an external DAC/amp to eventually connect to the integrated amplifier to drive the speakers.
Now to start off with, when you don't have a speaker system, you can still connect the iPad wired to the external DAC/amp to headphones. But in the longer run, because you might eventually connect the DAC to an integrated amp to drive speakers, you really don't want to have to wire your iPad to the DAC every time you want to listen to music. To me, this is the primary reason to even own a streamer in the first place. It is not for sound quality but for ease of use. But if you're looking into the longer horizon, your purchasing order should still be wired headphones then DAC/amp then speakers+integrated amplifier then maybe streamer so you don't have to hook up the iPad all the time.

Back to your question, so most DAC would allow for USB input. If you have a newer iPad, then you can connect USB-C (via adaptor usually) to the USB input of the DAC so that the Topping is receiving lossless digital signal from the iPad which also means that iPad is no longer using its DAC as iPad is just sending the digital audio signal to the Topping and is using the Topping DAC. If you use an older iPad, you would need a LIghtning to USB adaptor to connect to a USB DAC.

But even when you're playing music from the iPad via Bluetooth to your Sony, you're not using the iPad DAC. You're using Sony's DAC inside the headphones. What you're using from the iPad is slightly different though. If you're streaming AAC files from Apple Music, then the iPad would just send the AAC files via Bluetooth to your Sony. If you're streaming Spotify, then the iPad would have to convert your mp3 files from Spotify into full-bandwidth audio signals and then re-compress it into AAC files to send via Bluetooth to your Sony. If you're listening to Qobuz, your iPad is taking the lossless files from Qobuz and converting them into lossy AAC files to send to your Sony. But your iPad DAC is never in use.

The only time you would ever use your iPad DAC is if you plug in a wired headphone into the iPad headphone jack.
 

bobcornelis

New Member
Sep 9, 2022
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Thanks for the response. Because now that you have a clearer vision of how you want to setup your space, it is easier for us to give you even better and clearer advice.
Because you are okay in the second space to listen wired and you might hook up a speaker system in the longer run, then your decision for the second space should actually be very different.
First, it makes more sense to start off with having an external DAC/amp to drive wired headphones simply because you'll get much better sound.
Second, most people would not want to run Bluetooth into their integrated amplifier, it also makes sense to have an external DAC/amp to eventually connect to the integrated amplifier to drive the speakers.
Now to start off with, when you don't have a speaker system, you can still connect the iPad wired to the external DAC/amp to headphones. But in the longer run, because you might eventually connect the DAC to an integrated amp to drive speakers, you really don't want to have to wire your iPad to the DAC every time you want to listen to music. To me, this is the primary reason to even own a streamer in the first place. It is not for sound quality but for ease of use. But if you're looking into the longer horizon, your purchasing order should still be wired headphones then DAC/amp then speakers+integrated amplifier then maybe streamer so you don't have to hook up the iPad all the time.

Back to your question, so most DAC would allow for USB input. If you have a newer iPad, then you can connect USB-C (via adaptor usually) to the USB input of the DAC so that the Topping is receiving lossless digital signal from the iPad which also means that iPad is no longer using its DAC as iPad is just sending the digital audio signal to the Topping and is using the Topping DAC. If you use an older iPad, you would need a LIghtning to USB adaptor to connect to a USB DAC.

But even when you're playing music from the iPad via Bluetooth to your Sony, you're not using the iPad DAC. You're using Sony's DAC inside the headphones. What you're using from the iPad is slightly different though. If you're streaming AAC files from Apple Music, then the iPad would just send the AAC files via Bluetooth to your Sony. If you're streaming Spotify, then the iPad would have to convert your mp3 files from Spotify into full-bandwidth audio signals and then re-compress it into AAC files to send via Bluetooth to your Sony. If you're listening to Qobuz, your iPad is taking the lossless files from Qobuz and converting them into lossy AAC files to send to your Sony. But your iPad DAC is never in use.

The only time you would ever use your iPad DAC is if you plug in a wired headphone into the iPad headphone jack.
Yes, it's been a process for me to come to terms with what I want and where and in what order. And I've concluded just what you suggest - just ordered the Sennheisers and the Topping DAC. This (or something instead of the Sennheisers) should give me high quality music in both places. Once I've lived with that for awhile I can think about whether I want to be able to have the experience of listening in a room to speakers vs headphones.

Thanks for the explanation about when the DAC is used and what the iPad is doing in the different scenarios. Very helpful!

Again, thanks for the all the patience and assistance!!
 

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