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View Full Version : New SB3 user, why does Airport Express sounds better?



minstrel
2007-11-22, 01:53
I recently purchased an SB3, largely upon the strength of discussion of this forum. I appreciate the modest origins of Slim Devices, and the audiophile community's support of the Squeeze Box.

Also, I had started with a Roku Soundbridge, and discovered that the sound was muffled, with a narrow dynamic range, compared to my old Airport Express.

So tonight, I'm wondering why I'm getting largely the same results with my SB3. Listening to either internet radio or streaming through slim server reveals the same results: my music sounds like a slightly muffled FM broadcast compared to the pleasant, full "CD-like" sound that I"m getting from my Airport Express for exactly the same music (Internet Radio, FLAC, MP3).

I've read the posts here -- no one has ever reported back that the sound on an AE is better than the SB3. I've tried both analog and digital out but the result is always the same. The AE provides the fullest sound (with better highs and deeper lows), followed by over-the-air FM, and finally, the SB3.

My only possible explanation is that broadcasting from my Apple G5 directly to the AE via Airtunes somehow provides a more unaldulterated sound compared to using the SB3 off of my 801.11g network.

I'm not an audiophile, nor do I own high-end equipment. But I detect clear differences between the SB3 and the AE. I really want to like this device, and I know how positive an experience you all have had with it -- so I'm just hoping I'm doing something wrong and there's an adjustment I can make to make this work.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions you might have.

dcote
2007-11-22, 02:24
is there a difference between the headphone jack and the RCA (cinch) connectors?

i find there is a tremendous one - on my equipment the RCA connectors definitely sound more powerful and fuller.

but apparently (according to other users) this differs depending on your audio equipment.

Fifer
2007-11-22, 02:24
I don't really think anyone will be able to comment without information on what the rest of your system is. Bear in mind that sound quality is a very subjective charactersitic and that 'better' and 'worse' are very personal judgements. One man's 'better' may be another man's much, much worse.

slimpy
2007-11-22, 02:46
My only possible explanation is that broadcasting from my Apple G5 directly to the AE via Airtunes somehow provides a more unaldulterated sound compared to using the SB3 off of my 801.11g network.
What you explain here is certainly not the cause.
The network protocol makes sure that the data arrives at its destination intact. It is almost impossible that the SB3 receives bad data because of the network connection used.
If the SB3 received corrupt data it wouldn't play any sound at all because the decoding of the audio stream would just fail.
Doesn't the AE rely on the same network anyway?
What makes you think that the connection G5 - AE is more direct than slimserver - SB3?

What kind of amp do you use?
Are you sure the AE doesn't artificially boost highs and lows?
The SB3 is quite neutral in its presentation but it isn't muffled in any way.
Does the AE boost highs and lows so much that you had to turn down treble and bass on your amp?
Do you use the same inputs on the amp with the SB that you used with the AE?
You don't use the phono inputs by any chance?

-s.

Robin Bowes
2007-11-22, 02:46
minstrel wrote:

> My only possible explanation is that broadcasting from my Apple G5
> directly to the AE via Airtunes somehow provides a more unaldulterated
> sound compared to using the SB3 off of my 801.11g network.

You might like to make sure you're not bit rate limiting to the SB3.
Looking under Player Settings|Audio - make sure "Bitrate Limiting" is
set to "No Limit".

Other than that, how are you connecting the SB3 to your audio system?

R.

amcluesent
2007-11-22, 02:55
>But I detect clear differences between the SB3 and the AE. <

On a blind test with levels matched?

peejay
2007-11-22, 02:57
I recently purchased an SB3, largely upon the strength of discussion of this forum. I appreciate the modest origins of Slim Devices, and the audiophile community's support of the Squeeze Box.

Also, I had started with a Roku Soundbridge, and discovered that the sound was muffled, with a narrow dynamic range, compared to my old Airport Express.

So tonight, I'm wondering why I'm getting largely the same results with my SB3. Listening to either internet radio or streaming through slim server reveals the same results: my music sounds like a slightly muffled FM broadcast compared to the pleasant, full "CD-like" sound that I"m getting from my Airport Express for exactly the same music (Internet Radio, FLAC, MP3).

I've read the posts here -- no one has ever reported back that the sound on an AE is better than the SB3. I've tried both analog and digital out but the result is always the same. The AE provides the fullest sound (with better highs and deeper lows), followed by over-the-air FM, and finally, the SB3.

My only possible explanation is that broadcasting from my Apple G5 directly to the AE via Airtunes somehow provides a more unaldulterated sound compared to using the SB3 off of my 801.11g network.

I'm not an audiophile, nor do I own high-end equipment. But I detect clear differences between the SB3 and the AE. I really want to like this device, and I know how positive an experience you all have had with it -- so I'm just hoping I'm doing something wrong and there's an adjustment I can make to make this work.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions you might have.

I'm also curious as to how internet radio can sound he same as Slimserver-based audio. Internet radio stations can be 'broadcasting' at 64 Kbps, which generaly sounds horrible, whereas you have the choice to listen to whatever bitrate you choose, and you have not disclosed any details about your own audio. You need to compare apples with apples, as they say....

seanadams
2007-11-22, 03:56
Are you using the "phono" input on your receiver?

msherman
2007-11-22, 05:38
dcote wrote:
> is there a difference between the headphone jack and the RCA (cinch)
> connectors?
>
> i find there is a tremendous one - on my equipment the RCA connectors
> definitely sound more powerful and fuller.
>
> but apparently (according to other users) this differs depending on
> your audio equipment.

Yes, there's a significant electrical difference. The RCA connectors are
line out -- straight from the DAC. The headphone jack has a (cheapo)
headphone amp on it. Always use the RCA line out to connect to anything
except headphones.

- Marc

mecouc
2007-11-22, 06:01
I had a terrible shock when I plugged my SB in. It sounded terrible. Only by accident did I discover that this was because I'd plugged it into the amp input designed for vinyl. I plugged it into 'video' instead and it's great.

minstrel
2007-11-22, 09:58
Thanks everyone for sounding off.

You're right, it could be a subjective opinion, and the SB3 is delivering, a flatter, more authentic signal.

I'm connecting the SB3 via a TOSLINK digital cable to an Onkyo CS-V720 system (a miniature consumer set, but highly rated for sound in small spaces). I've connected the Airport Express via analog to the same set (RCA Line In), and have the ability to switch the inputs back and forth while listening to the same station (using my Mac for the AE, the Squeeze Network for the SB3). Finally, I've also compared the two by using the AE on digital (Toslink) and the SB3 on analog (Line In RCA). In all tests, I've set my Onkyo to "direct" to turn off all sound enhancement.

I've dialed up KEXP and Radio Paradise (both at 128 kps), and I easily detect the difference. I also find that FM generally (I live in Seattle where KEXP is based), is brighter and more pleasant to listen to than the SB3. And I've got the bitrate settings set to "No Limit."

I'm an independent filmmaker, so am used to working with flat, neutral sound while editing. Still, it's possible that I expect something more enhanced as a consumer/listener. I guess I was just expecting a marked improvement over the Roku after everything I read about the two. Ultimately, my sound equipment may not be good enough to distinguish the two.

I'll give it a couple more days before I make a decision. This is a great community, and I really like the look and feel of this device, so I hope I can figure this out!

Mark Lanctot
2007-11-22, 10:19
Try:

- selecting DIRECT, SOURCE DIRECT, BYPASS, etc. modes that do not process the signal. On my receiver SOURCE DIRECT brightens the sound tremendously, so much I don't like it.

- connect the SB via analog and use one of the modes above

Also you may want to try listening via headphones to the SB3 headphone jack just as a test. That's nearly the purest analog method there is and you'll at least see if the Onkyo is messing with the signal.

amcluesent
2007-11-22, 10:25
>connecting the SB3 via a TOSLINK digital cable to an Onkyo CS-V720<

So...you're judging the SB3 but actually listening to the performance of the DAC in Onkyo?

minstrel
2007-11-22, 10:45
Alright, I took the advice of this forum to heart, and decided to properly assess the sound -- by putting on a set of professional headphones.

That made all the difference. The expansive, dynamic sound I thought the AE had, comes across as breathy, overly-enhanced, processed, and with audible compression artifacts on the highs.

The SB3 on the other hand plays clearly and evenly.

I suspect speaker placement and my listening environment (hardwood floors, lots of windows) might have given me the wrong impression of the AE sound. Headphones reveal the truth.

Thanks again for everyone's input. It's a keeper. One day I'll get a proper DAC, but this will have to do for now with a baby on the way.

Fifer
2007-11-22, 11:21
One day I'll get a proper DAC, but this will have to do for now with a baby on the way.

minstrel, amcluesent makes a good point. If (and only if) your Onkyo has a direct analogue path, try using the analogue output if the SB3 into the analogue input of your receiver. The SB3 has a pretty decent DAC and may well be better than the one in your receiver. Watch though, some receivers convert analogue inputs to digital for processing through their own DAC and three conversion processes isn't likely to enhance the audio experience.

Also, it's likely that all those hard surfaces in your listening environment are reflecting sound all over the place which isn't good either.

msherman
2007-11-22, 12:57
minstrel wrote:
>
> Thanks again for everyone's input. It's a keeper. One day I'll get a
> proper DAC, but this will have to do for now with a baby on the way.

You might be surprised to discover that you already own a proper DAC --
the DAC in the sb3 is rather impressive.

- Marc

mrfantasy
2007-11-22, 14:40
Alright, I took the advice of this forum to heart, and decided to properly assess the sound -- by putting on a set of professional headphones.

That made all the difference. The expansive, dynamic sound I thought the AE had, comes across as breathy, overly-enhanced, processed, and with audible compression artifacts on the highs.

The SB3 on the other hand plays clearly and evenly.

I suspect speaker placement and my listening environment (hardwood floors, lots of windows) might have given me the wrong impression of the AE sound. Headphones reveal the truth.

Thanks again for everyone's input. It's a keeper. One day I'll get a proper DAC, but this will have to do for now with a baby on the way.

I find this interesting. I'm not surprised that the Airport Express is tinkering with the sound more than the SB3, and I'm also not surprised that on a superficial listening, with a lossy source like Internet radio, that it sounded better. I'm not even going to be too critical here--for its market it's probably well-positioned and engineered.

Interestingly, the SB and my receiver (Denon AVR3805) actually have the same DACs, so I notice very little difference between analog and digital inputs. Just a great clean sound that's blown away any CD player I've owned (not being an audiophile.)

Rick B.
2007-11-23, 06:10
minstrel, I respect you for being so open-minded. Cheers!