|The rat's nest.|
Running separate components like multichannel processors/preamps to monoblock amplifiers are generally considered the ideal, "cost no object" approach to home theater. In the real world, cost and space are considerations and AV receivers become the "Jack-of-all trades" central device that most of us have in the home theater setup. But like the proverbial "Jack", it's useful to also consider the second part of that saying... Just how bad is he also "the master of none"?
In the last installment, we looked at passing an analogue audio signal through the Onkyo and found that noise can be an issue. Today, I want to demonstrate the quality if we were to just use this device as a DAC - a look at the digital portion. Some natural questions arise - how well did the designers shield noise from getting in (especially in light of the high analogue noise measured previously)? Is the jitter through the use of HDMI "bad" (compared to TosLink and coaxial S/PDIF)? How does it compare to other stereo DACs?
Based on the Onkyo specs sheet, the TX-NR1009 uses the TI PCM1690 6-channel + PCM1789 2-channel DAC chips. Both are rated as 113dB SNR. These DAC chips are often found in consumer AV receivers and are lower spec'ed than most stand-alone DACs like the TEAC UD-501's PCM1795 with >120dB SNR. Of course, you cannot just look at this specification and judge the quality of a DAC. Much depends on the analogue circuitry around that DAC so the measured results are more useful than just looking at the components individually.
Setup:As usual, for the sake of full disclosure and opportunity to repeat/verify, here is the setup for these measurements:
Win8 AMD A10 "Trinity" HTPC --> HDMI/TosLink/coaxial cable --> ONKYO TN-NR1009 front stereo "pre-out" --> shielded RCA --> E-MU 0404USB --> shielded USB --> Win8 laptop
CM6631A device used for asynchronous USB --> coaxial / TosLink conversion duties.
HDMI driver: default AMD WASAPI. I used JRiver for playback.
Since I want to check the performance in a more "naturalistic" fashion, I made sure the TV was connected and on as well as my Blu-ray player (Panasonic BMP-TD220). Remember that in my previous post, plugging in the HDMI TV cable added significant noise to the analogue pass-through. All results were made with the Onkyo in "Pure Audio" mode to defeat any audio DSP/bass management.
HDMI cable: A decent looking 6' length capable of high speed HDMI (officially rated as HDMI 1.3 but fine with my HDMI 1.4 3D TV), brand named "ION" that I purchased for something like $20 about 2 years back at a local computer/supplies store.
TosLink and coaxial SPDIF cables I'll be using for comparison are the "Acoustic Research" branded 6' lengths I measured previously (see links for details).
Results:As usual, I ran the output through my digital oscilloscope first to have a look:
THX reference level) and in "Pure Audio" mode, the peak voltage is around 2.3V.
Here's a 24/44 impulse response:
As usual, I used RightMark to look at the measured dynamic range, noise level, distortion levels; here's the summary for HDMI at the various bit depths and sample rates:
As you can see, I've also included for comparison the results at 24/96 for the Squeezebox Transporter and TEAC UD-501 (unbalanced outputs) - two of the best measuring DACs I've tested here with the same hardware/software.
Clearly the Onkyo is capable of hi-res with >16-bit dynamic range. With 24-bit data, it can do ~109dB dynamic range which equates to just over 18-bits! Not as good as the dedicated audio units like the Transporter or TEAC but pretty darn good for an AV receiver! This result is about equivalent to the AUNE X1 and ASUS Essence One using unbalanced RCA output - however, those DACs had better distortion numbers.
Some graphs to review from the 24/96 dataset:
Remember that this test is synthetic and stimulative. What you see measured is not something you're probably ever going to "hear" in real music! The noise floor is not going to be down to the last bit in 16-bit audio and essentially impossible with recorded 24-bit audio (unless it's purely computer synthesized music). Also, jitter is more pronounced in the higher frequencies (11kHz and 12kHz are used as the primary signals in the J-Test). Realize that the human hearing sensitivity is well on its way down by 5kHz (as can be seen by the Fletcher-Munson Curves). Furthermore, if we specifically look at the Onkyo's J-test spectrum, the most pronounced side bands are about -90dB below the primary signal. To make matter even less worrisome is that the tall sidebands are all +/-250Hz around the primary signal and the audibility would be masked even if one did have awesome auditory acuity at 11/12kHz and could hear a signal 90dB down! This is also why I feel adding up all those sideband peaks and calling it a number (whatever picosecond or nanosecond) is really not all that useful when it comes to audibility.
What I'm trying to say is this... Tests like the J-test can demonstrate that jitter is a real phenomenon. Engineers should pay attention to it when designing hi-fi equipment. A discerning audiophile should be aware of it and if able to, can measure it themselves and decide if the engineer did a good enough job. However, IMO, to say that jitter is somehow audible at these kinds of levels I think would be impossible. In fact, unless the jitter were ridiculously high (like Track 26 from Stereophile Test CD 2, where an insanely simulated 10ns sideband is inserted +/-4KHz around the 11kHz primary - again totally synthetic), the concept of jitter significantly deteriorating sound quality I believe is utter nonsense in the real world. That some companies would even consider using jitter as a reason for putative significant audible differences between passive "components" like cables is just not credible!
I had a listen to the Onkyo's output over the last few nights with some familiar music - Ella Fitzgerald "Sings The George & Ira Gershwin Song Book", Grateful Dead "American Beauty", and Keb' Mo' "Just Like You". Also had a listen to Sting's new album "The Last Ship". They all sounded nicely rendered as they should with a good DAC. Great details with my older Paradigm Reference Studio 80 v2's which will be my rear speakers in the new sound room. The wife and I both enjoyed Sting's "The Night The Pugilist Learned How To Dance" - cute.
So, even though the AV receiver might be the "Jack-of-all-trades", at least in this specific instance with the Onkyo TX-NR1009 as an HDMI DAC, he might not be a "master" at it, but I'd say he's a pretty decent tradesman :-).
Well, unless I dig up something else to report, I'm likely "going dark" for the next month as I head off overseas for some work and then the big move to the new home. I'll be sure to post some pictures in time... Enjoy the music everyone!