Stop the press: Archphile is back! Codename: “corona”

Archphile used to be the RPi audio distribution of choice for the most hard-core RPi-lovin’ audiophiles around until last June when Michael (tuxx) decided to drop it.

Then in January he hinted to it coming back at some point.

Well, it appears that that moment has come. Head over here for more:

And not a moment too soon.. My Audio Pi is pretty much ready and it is in desperate need of a proper audio distribution. This should be interesting.

Allo DigiOne S/PDIF HAT

First off, I’m ashamed to admit that I had this little gem in my possession for about 2 years before I finally got the chance to put it through its paces.

After all, it’s just a s/pdif output device for a Raspberry Pi, right? I mean, it’s just s/pdif, how good could it be?

It turns out it can be pretty damned good! But I’m getting ahead of myself.. Let’s start at the beginning.

The DigiOne is a HAT compatible with most if not all RPis and supported by most if not all audio distributions. It is intended to be plugged-in directly on top of the RPi, with no need for an isolator HAT. Plus, it is designed to be powered by the RPi via the GPIO header, so no need (or provision) for an external power source.

The DigiOne utilizes a WM8805 to convert the RPi’s I2S signal into s/pdif. The WM8805 is run in master mode, so as to minimize jitter due to the RPi’s problematic I2S clocking scheme. The WM8805 is clocked by the same oscillators that are used to reclock the s/pdif signal.

The WM8805’s s/pdif output goes through an Si8641 150MHz galvanic isolator and is passed to the “clean” side of the board.

There the signal is reclocked by a high quality flip-flop clocked by high quality NDK oscillators (housed inside a metal box, used for shielding against EMI/RFI). There exist two oscillators, one for the 44.1K family and one for the 48K family of sampling rates. The output of the oscillators is put through NB3L553s for buffering and isolation.

The entire isolated part of the board is powered by a DC-to-DC converter that offers galvanic isolation. Following this converter there exist a large number of LDO regulators and filter components. An LT3042 regulator is used to power one of the most critical parts of the circuit: the flip-flops that do the final reclocking.

So, very solid engineering all around. But how well does it sound?

The answer is, surprisingly well for the money.

My RPi stack included an RPi 3 with the DigiOne, powered by Salas’ new L-Adapter power supply and running Archphile. The music was coming from my NAS. No audiophile ethernet switches were employed. 😛
Pitted against that I had my Logitech Squeezebox Touch running the EDO plugin for up to 192K s/pdif from its coax output and my relatively pricey Pioneer DV-LX50 Universal Player (using its coax s/pdif output).

The music used was Dire Straits’ SACD album (having selected its CD (and not SACD) layer) which was also accurately ripped to my NAS.

Output from the s/pdif transports went into an AK4118-based s/pdif receiver of my own design which in turn feeds my dual mono AK4493 DAC. The DAC’s output goes through a Salas DCG3 preamp into my Hypex amp.

First up was the Pioneer. It had been a while since I had listened to it through its s/pdif output so I was in for a bit of a shock. Its output sounded coarse, strained, tiring. For a moment I thought that it was due to the SACD’s mastering (the CD layers of SACDs are rumored to be mastered intentionally bad so as to give the impression that the SACD layers sound even better than they actually do), but that changed when I switched to the Squeezebox. Things got noticeably better, actually listenable. Not exactly close to what I had been accustomed to using the Squeezebox’s USB port, but closer.
Then I switched to the DigiOne. Wow! All of the “coldness” of the music was gone, the stage gained depth and width, the music became more detailed and lifelike. This was definitely a step up.

I would dare say that this s/pdif setup came in fact close in SQ to my USB setup. This was a very pleasant surprise.

Now I need to do some A-B testing between the DigiOne and the USB output of the RPi. So to-be-continued..