NEW!
11-8-2019

HiFiBerry DAC+ XLR
Review




After having very good experiences with the "HiFiBerry DAC+ Pro" version with RCA connectors
I was curious how the XLR version of this same DAC would sound.
So I decided to order the "HiFiBerry DAC+ XLR bundle".
This version has XLR output connectors and delivers a fully balanced output stage.

For those who doesn't know this product yet: the "HiFiBerry DAC+" is an unique product,
I'ts unique because this little device is two things in one; a certified "ROON Endpoint"
also called "RoonBridge") and  High Quality "I2S DAC" .
This means that this device it acts as network streamer for your ROON server.
And this is not all, there is another great sellingpoint: it's also cheap!
this complete ROON certified endpoint/DAC solution costs only 150 euro!

The HiFiBerry DAC+ XLR Bundle, is a complete DIY kit .
It comes with the Raspberry Pi 3B+, HiFiBerry DAC+ module, a metal case and power supply.
It's very easy to build, you can just click the parts together without any soldering, and all the tools are included.
Then you have to download the program "RoPieee" https://www.ropieee.org/
and exctract it with the program "etcher"on your SD card,
Then place this SD card in your HiFiBerry DAC+ XLR and you are ready to go!


I2S DAC

While almost all other DAC's that you can buy today are using "USB" for transporting the music from the "ROON Endpoint"
(also called: "RoonBridge") to the DAC,
this HiFiBerry DAC+ XLR device does is differently.

While USB is capable of transporting high resolution audio, itīs never designed for this purpose in the first place...
There are  other protocols that can do this much better I think, like the "I2S" protocol.
The main advantage of I2S over USB is that I2S has a separate word clock, this will allow for lower transmission jitter.
The HiFiBerry DAC+ XLR has even two (!) clocks, one for 44.1/88.2/176.4 kHz sample rates and another for 48/96/192kHz.

It's a fact that currently there is NO standard for transporting high resolution audio between two devices...
That's the reason why there are so many different solutions available...
There are audio companies that are using "USB" while other companies are using "I2S over HDMI" (LVDS), or even "I2S over RJ45"
to connect a Roon Endpoint to the DAC.

"I2S" is a old protocol designed by Philips for transporting digital audio, for example from the optical CD ROM drive unit to the DAC inside a CD-Player.
"I2S" works best when the signal path is very short.

In the HiFiBerry DAC+ XLR the "I2S" signal path is also very short, because the HiFiBerry DAC module is directly attached on-top
of the RaspberryPi.
The I2S signals are transfered by the I/O pins to the DAC chip.


In my earlier reviews I wrote that I found out that I2S is a better way of transporting digital signals from a music server to a dac.
Compaired to USB DAC's, I2S DAC's sound more relaxed, more realistic, there is also more space between quiet music passages.
This because the I2S protocol handles the clock signal better, there are less digital errors resulting in a more balanced sound


You don't need Native DSD DAC to enjoy
your DSD audio files


The HiFiBerry DAC+ XLR has a high-quality Burr-Brown PCM DAC inside that has a max resolution of 24bit - 192kHz
But what about DSD audio playback? do I need a special DSD DAC for playing back DSD audio files?

No, what a lot of people don't understand is that you don't need a DSD compatible DAC to listen to DSD encoded music.
ROON automatically  converts all the music you have (including DSD and even DXD audio files) to the highest possible quality audio stream that your DAC can handle!
All this happens in almost realtime so you don't have to do anything for it.
ROON converts it during playback, you just listen en enjoy your music.

Currently procent-wise my music collection consists out of the following music files:

DXD                0,02 %
DSD 512          0,01 %
DSD 256          0,09%
DSD 128          3 %
DSD 64            5 %
PCM 192 kHz    6%
PCM 176 kHz    0,2%
PCM 96 kHz      14 %
PCM 48 kHz      20%
PCM 44.1 kHz   51.68%

My collection consists for more than 80% out of PCM audio files.
And not only by me, PCM is still the post populair audio file format availble in the world
Did you know that procentwise  99% of all audio recordings in the world are recorded in PCM?
Even DSD music files that you can buy on the High Resolution audio webshops are originally recorded in DXD?
And DXD is a PCM format...

So we still live in a PCM world, were most of our music is in the PCM format (Flac, WAV or other)
PCM 96 kHz is also getting populair, and of course CD quality (44.1 khz)
is by far still the most used PCM music file format in my music collection.

So the HiFiBerry DAC+ XLR can playback more than 80% of my music collection "natively"
And what about those DSD files?
When I play in ROON a DSD128 music file it will down converted to a 176.4 kHz PCM audio file which is still very high
and can be played with HiFiBerry DAC+ XLR without any problems.

I could even playback DXD audio files perfectly on the HiFiBerry DAC+ XLR!
What is very important to understand is this point:
The technical audio format doesn't give you a quaranty that the music is also well recorded and good sounding...
I have 44.1 kHz WAV files that are much better sounding than DSD64 audio recordings.
Why? because it's all about the recording itself, the quality of the microphones, the technician, the ecuipment, mixing, etc

So don't focus yourself blind on technical terms like "Quad DSD" and "Native DSD" playback
They are just marketing terms to let you buy new equipment, new audio files, etc it's all about $$$$$$$...
You don't need Native DSD DAC to enjoy your DSD audio files
.
Fact: you better can listen to a good quality PCM 192 kHz only DAC, and let ROON convert your DSD files
then buy a new Native DSD DAC that has a synthetic, unrealistic and flat audio quality....

Luckily the HiFiBerry DAC+ XLR DAC has a very good Burr-Brown  DAC chip set inside, so you
don't have to worry about anything, just listen and enjoy your music!

This version has XLR output connectors and delivers a fully balanced output stage to connect to your amplifier




Only a shame that the Raspberry Pi 3B+ doesn't have a real "Gigabit" ethernet port, like
the Olimex Lime 2 developer board...
Although the ethernet port of the 3B+ is a bit faster then the older RaspberryPi 3B (without the + sign)
that had only a fast ethernet port


A real ROON certfied Endpoint and a high quality I2S DAC

in one small box!


First Install RoPieee

After building your HiFiBerry DAC+ XLR you have to install Ropieee first
You can download it here: https://www.ropieee.org/


It's free, and it is a Dutch product!

Here is great manual written by Nathan Wilkes:
https://codexwilkes.com/downloads/ropieee-guide-for-beginners.pdf
Now go to ROON...




Of course the HiFiBerry DAC+ XLR has been detected by ROON, because
it's a official certified ROON product
Now it's time to listen to some music



Listening tests

The most important question is how does the HiFiBerry DAC+ XLR sound?
I have listened many months to this little DAC+network streamer and I can say
it sounds very good, it sounds even a bit better than the RCA version of the HifiBerry DAC+

The music sounds on the XLR version a bit more relaxed, has better definition, and compared to my Audio-gd Master 7 dac that costs 10 times more this little dac does a very good job!
Of course the Audio-gd Master 7 sounds better, it has more details, and also the lower frequencies
are much better presented.
But overall the quality of the HiFiBerry DAC+ XLR is top notch, if this would to be my only
DAC in my live, I would be very happy.

The question is how much more are you willing to pay for that last little bit more quality?
If you are an attentive listener that really wants to hear every detail out of your music records
than a high-end dac as the Audio-gd Master 7 will be a better choice.
But then you must be willing to pay ten times more.

But how many times are we listening to our music attentive?
Personally I'm mostly listening to my music while doing other things, like reading, cooking or surfing the internet.
For me personally the quality of the Hifiberry DAC+ XLR is more than enough for enjoying my music during my day. Another big benefit is that the Hifiberry DAC+ XLR (in combination with the Raspberry Pi 3B+) is consuming very little electricity
So the HifiBerry DAC+ XLR is also a green en energy friendly solution!
Because the Hifiberry DAC+ XLR is a DAC and network streaming in one little device, you only need an amplifier and two loudspeakers to enjoy music.



Wait there is more!

I found out that the HiFiBerry DAC+ XLR can be used in two ways
The first way is that you use the DAC functionality of the HiFiBerry DAC+ XLR itself.

The other way is that you
don't use the DAC functionality of the HiFiBerry DAC+ XLR,
but that you use the device as a "ROON Bridge" only.
Meaning that the internal DAC functionality of the HiFiBerry DAC+ XLR is not used anymore.
The music that you stream will first go now first to the HiFiBerry DAC+ XLR (containing Ropieee image) and from there the music will be digitally transported over USB to your own USB DAC of choice!
Note: your DAC should have a "Amanero Combo 384 USB" input interface to make this work.













To do this you first open your webbrowser and connect to your HiFiBerry DAC+ XLR
containing the Ropieee image typing the ip of your device.
Then configure your HiFiBerry DAC+ XLR with the settings bellow



Save the changes, reboot the device, and finished
This functionality is really very welcome and this way your can transform any High End DAC containing an Amanero Combo 384 USB input interface into a ROON endpoint!
So this is how I listen to my music lately:
During the work days I listen the HifiBerry DAC+ XLR acting like a DAC and network streamer, also to save some electricity but also  because the sound of the HifiBerry DAC+ is very, very good.

And in the weekends, when I am listening to my music more attentively I configure my HifiBerry DAC+ XLR acting like a ROON Endpoint only, that is connected with USB to my Audio-gd Master 7 DAC



My "Audio-gd Master 7" Amanero DAC detected by ROON, thanks to the HiFiBerry DAC+ XLR

acting as a "ROON Bridge" only!


Conclusion

In my earlier review about the RCA version of the HiFiBerry DAC+
I was very excited about the product, I liked it so much that I gave it my
"AudioDandy Approved seal"

The XLR version of the HiFiBerry DAC+ is even better, and in combination with the "Ropieee" image, this product should be "a must buy" for every audio streaming enthousiast that is using ROON

I decided to give also the HiFiBerry DAC+ XLR & Ropieee the seal of recommodation:
"Audio Dandy Approved"




Well done HifiBerry & Ropieee!

Audio Dandy  ©2019


         






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