22-8-2015



Audio-GD Master 7
Amanero Combo 384 upgrade
Review

by Maarten van Druten


Introduction

When I first reviewed the Master 7 I was so impressed by it's sound quality that I bought this dac myself.
I enjoy listening to this fine dac, I'm very happy with it.
One of the other reasons I bought this dac, is because it's modular (DIY) design.
That means that the technology and parts are freely attainable and that all of the components can be easily replaced or upgraded by the right person.
So you don't have to buy a new device every year, your precious equipment can be upgraded!

But one of the side effects of being a audiophile is that it always can sound better...
And also technology is constantly advancing...
Mr Kingwa the designer of this dac, recently has upgraded the USB section of the Master 7.
The very good sounding "USB-32" module has now been replaced by the "Amanero Combo 384 module"
Which is an "USB class 2 to I2S 32bit and DSD output Adapter"

 

Amanero Combo 384 module

The Amanero Combo 384 module is an so called: "USB to I2S" module which is new technology.
To tell you the truth it's so new that I cannot explain you how exactly how the module functions technically works.
I can see it differs from most of the USB interfaces on the market because this module has 2 dedicated low-jitter audio clocks. Besides this the module includes a ultra fast FPGA (Field programmable gate array) chip. This chip is programmed to do calculations at amazingly high speed. This concept is not commonly and the result proves how good it actually is. If you ask me Kingwa took a wise decision to integrate this technology in his outstanding performing products.

from the website of the manufacturer:
"The combo384 is an USB audio device adapter for OEM applications.
The USB PCM audio data (2 Channels ) accepted in input are converted in an "I2S" stream or DSD
native stream. The PCM sample rates supported are 44.1 Khz, 48 Khz, 88,2 Khz, 96 Khz,
176,4 Khz, 192 Khz, 352,8 Khz, 384 Khz.
"
The Amanero Cobo 384 module has also 2 Low Phase Noise TCXO Oscillators that gives this module a very low jitter.
This is very important because "low jitter" gives a more precise and cleaner sound.
The Amanero USB module has an USB 2.0 input.

USB 2.0 is currently the facto standard  for connecting computers, laptops and streamers to dac's.
"I2S" is maybe the better protocol for transporting digital audio dac, but in reallife there a very little dac manufacturers that make dac's with an "I2S" input, and even fewer manufacturers make a audio streamer with an "I2S" output...

Because of this I decided to made my own Audiophile Audio Video streamer because I wanted to have an "I2S" output for my dac.
My self made PC based audio/streamer with an Intel i7 processor is passively cooled and is 100% silent.
Therefore this Audio Video streamer became very big and is ugly looking...
But it sounds very, very good.
I'm very curious how this "USB to I2S" module will sound compaired to my current Pink Faun "I2S" Bridge.
Because if this Amanero Combo 384 module works better than my current "I2S" bridge it will open a totally new
perspective for me, and I will be able to use smaller audiostreamers with "only" an USB 2.0 connector.
But first I have to upgrade my Master 7 dac, so I called my offical Audio-gd distributor: "Magna Hifi"



The Master 7 Amanero Combo 384 upgrade

Jos of "Magna Hifi" told me that that they were certified by Mr Kingwa to make modifications on Audio-gd equipment so that the quality and also warranty will be maintained.

So I asked if it was possible to upgrade my Master 7 with the "Amanero Combo 384 module"
No problem he said, just sent the dac to me.
I asked Jos of "Magna Hifi" to make photos for me of the upgrade proces, and he did.
So here we go!


First of all, good tools are half the job. the soldering iron is antistatic and has a very accurate temperature control
 


The work is carried out on an anti-static mat and also the technician has a antistatic strap to . ( In the Master -7  has multiple FETs , and they can be affected by static electricity)
 


The Amanero USB module and some other components that also have to be installed next to the USB module.

 


Photo left: the "old" USB-32 module in the Master 7          Photo right: the Amanero USB module in the Master 7

 


More photos of the Amanero module installed in the Master 7


The Amanero USB module installed in the Master - 7
 


We are not ready yet, the display and control logic in the Master 7 needs also to be adjusted

 


Display and control logic dismantled and the new MCU (PIC - Programmable Interface Circuit) with new operating software.

 


Display and control logic dismantled

 


Right and the new components installed in the middle of the new PIC. Some of the wires are at installed
on the motherboard in the Master 7.

 


Test set-up after installation. All sample rates are accurately tested and remains fully at least
10 hours test run prior to delivery to the customer



Great work!

After only a few days I received my Master 7 with the new "Amanero Combo 384 module"
A lot of people that are technical skillfull can of course order the "Amanero Combo 384 module"
on the Audio-gd website and try to build it in themselves.
But building this module into your dac is not so simple, some soldering has to be done
and everything together will takes almost 2 hours.
For less technical skilled people I advice to let your certified Audio-gd dealer do it for you

I wanted to thank Rob & Jos of Magna Hifi very much for sharing this info! and very good work
I couldn't wait to listen to this new "I2S over USB" module

So after receiving my dac back home, it was time to listen to music

My Audio-GD Master 7 dac save back home with the Amanero USB module.

For this review I connected the Master-7 dac with a cheap standard USB 2.0 cable to a USB 2.0 connector on my HTPC.
And I connecterd the Master-7 dac with two balanced "ACSS" cables to my Audio-GD "Master 10" amplifier.


The Audio-GD Master 7 has a lot of in and outputs (Coaxial, Optical, I2S over HDMI and...




of course the new "Amanero Combo 384" USB module (IN 6)

 

Rectification

Being a Audiophile also means that you are in constant learning process.
So you will learn every day new things! also my opinion have changed about certain things, so it's time to rectify:

Lately my Audio Dandy AV streamer has been modified a lot.
The motherboard in my AV streamer had an EUFI bios.
And this EUFI bios has only one purpose, to make it for the customer difficult as possible to install other operating systems on this hardware than Microsoft Windows...
(It's also a "backdoor" if you didn't know this already...)  this EUFI bios gave me a lot of problems...

In my earlier reviews I wrote that "Windows Storage server 2012 R2" was the best operating system for the Audio Dandy Audio Video streamer.
What I didn't know at that time, is that Microsoft don't sell this version separately, so you cannot buy it.
It's just a desperate attempt of Microsoft to compete against QNAP and Synology.
"Windows Storage server 2012 R2" is an OEM product and can only be sold together with an expensive NAS...

I used "Windows Storage server 2012 R2" because I wanted to use the "Pink Faun I2S Bridge"
which only works with Windows drivers...
So I was "forced" to use Windows because the "I2S" bridge couldn't work with Linux.

When Windows 10 came out I wanted to test it, and then it happend....


 

Warning! Windows 10 corrupts your other DATA disks!

When I installed Windows 10 on my dual boot AV streamer (with shared NTFS harddisk for music data)
Windows 10 sabotages all my other harddisks! in fact it did something with the harddisks (also my FAT32 disks)
so that Ubuntu cannot read them anymore! it got the following error on all harddisks:


So be warned! if you don't want to loose your entire music collection don't upgrade to Windows 10!

For best Audio results:

1) Don't use a motherboard with EUFI bios (EUFI bios is not only spyware, it's designed to keep Linux out)
2) Use a motherboard certified for Ubuntu 14.04 LTS with USB 2.0 connections.
3) Use Ubuntu 14.04 LTS as operating system for your Audio streamer (with JRiver mediaplayer)

Other reasons to switch over to Linux:
 

After five years, Windows still has NO native USB Audio Class 2.0 support

It's ridicilous! but true,
Windows (7, 8.1, and 10) do NOT have native support (without third party drivers) for USB Audio Class 2.0 - UAC2.
Windows 10 only has native support for USB Audio 1.0 audio devices, NOT for for USB Audio Class 2.0...
Apple also has a bad sound architecture by design, you even have to bypass the Sound Core to get better results...
Linux operating system has also not an optimal sound architecture but at least it
supports USB Audio Class 2.0
And that makes a big difference and therefore it supports the Amanero Combo 384 USB module without any drivers straight from the kernel
It bypasses the operating system sound architecture and the digital audio signals are transferred straight to the Amanero Combo module.

Currently I'm using Ubuntu 14.04 LTS as my main Audiophile operating system on my Audio Dandy Audio Video streamer.


Proprietary drivers in a Audiophile streamer are a bad thing

The Pink Faun I2S Bridge uses "proprietary drivers" to make the I2S Bridge work. (these drivers work only in Windows...)
And that is just the problem, Windows is NOT an ideal operating system for listening to High Resolution music, in fact Windows alone is blocking wide adoption of High-res format higher than 24/96
It took more than 15 years to get FLAC support in Windows :-)

Windows works with proprietary drivers, and they are closed source, and therefore you don't know what this drivers is actually doing, and this driver is also extra software on top of the operating system! this gives a extra layer, extra load which is not preferred. it makes the "digital audio route" longer and more troublesome.

We want the shortest path possible, and Ubuntu 14.04 LTS support the Amanero Combo 384 module from it's kernel! without the use of any drivers
Ubuntu doesn't do, or add anything with the digital signal, it sees the Amanero Combo 384 module as a seperate audio device and sends the digital music straight to it





Another nice effect is that Ubuntu (like all other Linux versions) is not only free, Linux is also immune for Windows virusses, maleware and spyware
My advice don't switch to Windows 10 go for Ubuntu instead.



Ubuntu rocks! it's perfect for Audiophiles!

Ubuntu 14.04 LTS is really an Audiophile "out of the box" solution
Just connect your Master 7 dac with an USB cable to your streamer, and off you go! no drivers, It just works from the box

To listen to nice music with Ubuntu 14.04 LTS you first have to select the "Amanero Combo 384" with the builtin tool called "Sound"

After starting this tool, select: "Digital Output (S/PDIF) Combo384 Amanero" to fully enjoy the quality of the Master 7 dac.


Ubuntu detects the Amanero384 module automatically without any drivers

Important:
First you will have to turn on your Master 7 dac, and then your amplifier and then your computer/streamer with Ubuntu 14.04 LTS (your computer has to have a USB 2.0 connector)
When you turn off your set, first turn of the amplifier, then the dac, and as last the audio streamer
Remember the opposite direction (when you turn on your set) works a little bit different
The dac has to be turned on first, before the audio streamer (with Ubuntu) is turned on, otherwise it can not "detect" the Amanero 384 Combo module.

For this test I just used a standard (cheap) USB 2.0 cable, and my Master 7 dac is connected with
“ACSS” (Audio-GD Current Signal System) to my Audio-gd Master 10 amplifier.
This gives the shortest signal path possible.
Resulting in a very detailed and dynamic sound
I first wanted to know if a more expensiver USB cable will give a real improvement over the sound quality.
Therefore I started the listening test with a standard USB 2.0 cable (High Speed certified) to have a baseline experience.

How did it sound?

 

Listening to High Resolution Audio

In my Audio-Video streamer I had a Pink Faun "I2S" Bridge (PCI-E card) which sounded very good, and till now
It was the reference to connect my streamer to my Master 7.
When I first reviewed it, I was very happy with it, and it sounded very nice, stabile, and musical.

In my earlier reviews I was not very possitive about USB, because USB is not designed for High Resolution audio transport from the beginning.
But after listening to the Amanero USB module I have to admit that USB can also sound very, very good!

When I listened to the Amanero Combo 384 module upgrade, one thing became very clear...
This sounded much better than everything I have heard before!


Birds Requiem of Dhafer Youssef sound amazing!

I  have listened many different music albums, from Jazz to Classical and they all sound very impressive.
In fact the Amanero USB module is far more three dimensional then anything I have heard before.
The space between the musical instruments is huge, and you will hear details that you have never have heard before.
I had not expected that the difference would be this great, the most impressive part of this module is it's low
jitter. or better said it has no jitter

This exterme low jitter gives an very wide and solid soundscape were all the instruments are seperated
from each other.
The 3D projection is also very precise, so precise that you can pinpoint the location of all the musicans.
So these very precise audio clocks really work, and are a big improvement!

The bass is also very deep, tight and fast. play the "Daft Punk Random Access Memories Album" than you now know what i mean.
I really recommend this Amanero Combo 384 USB module.
It will greatly improve you sound quality of your Master 7 dac, and the best part it not so expensive



Final thoughts

I'm very statisfied and thrilled about this product, I will definitely make another more indepth review about this amazing product.
Well done Mr Kingwa! the Master 7 is sounding better than ever before

If you want to know...The Pink Faun I2S Bridge was my favourite for a long time and compaired with the "old"
Master 7 USB input it performed simply better.
But after listening to the Amanero there is no need anymore for this I2S card, and therefore I sended the Pink Faun I2S Bridge back to the distributor...
There is a new sheriff in town, and it's name is Amanero!
 

Maarten van Druten (Audio Dandy)

 


But there is more...

Jos of Magna Hifi recommended to play with some settings in the Master 7
Especially the "NOS" could work very well with the Amanero USB input.

The Master 7 in NOS bypass will also bypass the digital filter, this requires a very low-jitter source though.
The Amanero USB module has very low jitter and reported by HiFiDuino phase Jitter is between 0.04~2.41ps (10Hz~1MHz),
And a total phase Jitter (RMS) of 2.42ps . so the Amanero USB module will also work perfectly fine in NOS mode"
Just bridge jumper IPS0 and IPS1 with a jumper

Of course I will try this, but I will make a seperate review for this Master 7 in bypass mode with the Amanero Combo module

What a dac! it keeps amazing me every time!


 

Special thanks to Rob & Jos from Magna Hifi for
excellent support and service!


http://www.Magna Hifi.com/




 


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