Sound Quality running Volumio 3 on different HW devices?

My question is whether people experience systematic differences in SQ when running Volumio on different HW.

I am aware that there are two schools of thought regarding SQ of digital sources:

  • Bits are bits and hence SQ does not vary between different digital streamers
  • There is more going on than the transfer of bits. There are potentially noise, EMI and other issues that influence SQ. In consequence some digital sources sound better than others

There does not seem to be any disagreements that SQ via AES / SPDIF is partly determined by the jitter of the source. USB being async, the jitter performance of the source should not matter.

Having said that, using USB, I experience significant differences in SQ between different HW running Volumio 3. In my setup USB cables also influence SQ. Using the same USB cable, I experience the relative ranking between different source HW as identical, although with a different sound character depending on the USB cable.

I would rate according to decreasing SQ:

  • Melco N1A 2EX (obviously not running Volumio). This is my reference
  • Volumio Rivo
  • Odroid N2
  • RP4
  • ProJect StreamBox Ultra S2
  • “audiophile” PC using Intel Server HW and JCat USB Femto card with LPS
  • NUC6i5SYK
  • DELL Wyse 3040

In my experience there is a significant gap between Intel based sources and the Raspberry. The Intel sources sound somewhat dull and less detailed.

I use the following system for these comparisons. This system should have sufficient resolution to reveal even small differences:

  • Melco S100 Ethernet Switch with optical isolation using Trendnet TFC-1000MGA
  • Streaming device
  • Absolue Creations USB-TIM cable, Habst USB Ultra 3 cable
  • Neukomm CDA126SE USB DAC / Preamp
  • Neukomm PA135S Monoblocks
  • Stenheim Alumine THREE SE Speakers

My questions:

  • do others experience differences in SQ depending on the HW used?
  • How would you rank the different HW platforms?

My question regards only playback via Volumio 3. I will not open the can of worms of RoonBridge playback at this point.

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Yes this is not a new thing, I was using external dacs to CD and DVD players long time ago and they sounded different.
Transports sound difference.
Righ now I’m using Volumio on a RPI4 with ifi power X supply and iFi USB purifier 3 connecting with Supra Excalibur to a Topping D90 MQA dac.
This setup crushed my old Nuc totally.
And yes my old Nuc sounds dull and boring in comparison.


Thanks @Palle That seems to register with my observation about Intel sources sounding less detailed than other architectures.
I am wondering if anyone has encountered an Intel source that sounds really good over USB. I am aware of the excellent sounding Grimm MU1, but that one has an AES output and no USB.

My two cents: there are definitively some products on the market that are so bad in quality, that you indeed need to fix any problems by adding special power adapters, USB purifiers, expensive interlinks and speaker cables etc.etc.

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Dont the speakers and amps make a difference as well? I have three different instances of Volumio and sound is different but different amps and speakers as well as DACs. One thing I can say is that it is all good?