sonic.build Sonic DAC

Device Type: Roon Endpoint/Digital to Analog Converter
Input: Ethernet
Output: unbalanced RCA
Dimensions: 9 x 7 x 1.5 cm
Weight: not much
Availability: Direct Online
Price: $249.00
Website: www.sonic.build

Pre-Made Pi
The sonic.build Sonic DAC is put together from individual products you can buy and DIY. Here's the shopping list:

  • Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ $34.90
  • HiFiBerry DAC+ standard $34.90
  • Acrylic Case $14.90
  • SD Card $6.90
  • Power Supply $11.90
  • Accessories $2.90
  • Total: $106.40
The question is: Is saving about $140 worth your time? How much time? All told, I'd estimate roughly 1/2 hour (no soldering required) for the piecing together the hardware. Longer if you take a beer break, shorter if you're all business. Loading up the OS and Roon Bridge software on the micro SD-card takes some familiarity with Linux command line coding (or the ability to follow directions). How much time will depend on you but if you find this process is taking more than say 30 minutes, re-read the directions.

The HiFiBerry DAC+ standard is based on a 24-bit/192kHz Burr-Brown DAC and it receives its clock and power from the Raspberry Pi B+ on top of which it sits. There is a "Pro" version ($44.90) of the HiFiBerry DAC+ that includes its own dual-domain clocks (44.1 and 48kHz). The SD card in the Pi includes the lightweight OS and Roon Bridge software making the Sonic DAC a Roon endpoint/DAC.

As such, if you are already running Roon Server/Core on your network, I am, setup consists of connecting the Sonic DAC to your network via Ethernet, connecting its RCA outputs to your hi-fi, powering it on, and telling Roon to play through it. Total setup time = 5 minutes (unless you take a beer break).

That's about it. I connected the Sonic DAC to my Ayre AX-5 Twenty, kind of an odd couple in terms of cost, while the DeVore gibbon X speakers brought music into the barn.

He put in his thumb, And pulled out a plum
I would say that all things told, the core system in the barn, and let's not forget the importance of the room (or barn), is resolving.

"Highly resolving?"
"Is there any other kind?"

Well yes, there is. My desktop setup, which includes the ADAM A3X speakers, is not as resolving and I've had and heard many systems that are not as resolving. Why bring this up now? Because when listening to and talking about review gear, we cannot discount the environment they are used within. My best guess is someone looking at and considering the sonic.build Sonic DAC, or rolling their own, is not going to mate it with about $30k in associated gear in a dedicated listening room (barn).

My point being—I kinda wish I had something (very much) like a PS Audio Sprout and ELAC B6 speakers (total=$680) as the associated equipment for this review. But I don't so I'd say that my listening impressions are going to be hyper-critical because of the system/room context, which will not be a typical system/room where the Sonic DAC will typically live.

The sonic.build Sonic DAC sounds good, enjoyable, even, but it does not do what more costly DACs do. The best way I can describe its sound is to say that music has a sameness to it as if it's been colored with the small box of Crayolas where more costly DACs add more crayons and colors. On the plus side, music sounds bold and full like a big ball of sound and a bit generalized which can be heard as a kind of boldness.

I happen to have the ELAC Discovery Series DS-S101-G Music Server ($1099) here for review, which makes for more relevant comparison. In brief, the Discovery is an odd beast in that it runs Roon Essentials, which you can think of as a version of Roon Server and Roon Ready in one: One-box shopping. So if we add in the cost of Roon ($499) and my sonicTransporter i5 ($645), both needed for the Sonic DAC, we are talking apples to apples from a cost perspective.

Let's not beat around the bush; the ELAC is a better-sounding player. Tone colors are more varied and vibrant, strings pluck more brightly, voices sound richer and fuller, and the space of the recording is much more believable, open, and tactile. By comparison, the Sonic DAC bunches things up, darkens things down, and subtle details are glossed over. The Discovery takes that sense of sameness I heard with the Sonic DAC and adds a rainbow (I know, but that's the way I hear it). If build quality is important to you, the ELAC is about a hundred times nicer. More or less.

The Sonic DAC fared much better on my desktop. The ADAM A3X's ribbon tweeter is a sparkler which helps add some light to the Sonic DAC's darker sound while the nearfield setup makes less demands on spacial queues. While the overall sound is still on the darker side, and simply no match for the Mytek Brooklyn which normally resides here, I could certainly see someone enjoying this simple and relatively inexpensive system. That sense of sameness is also less apparent here, or perhaps just less bothersome in this system context.

System Pi
While I have been hard on the sonic.build Sonic DAC, that's my job. Within a complimentary system/room context, the Sonic DAC offers a nice option for people shopping for a Roon Endpoint/DAC that won't break the bank.


Also in-use during the Sonic DAC review: ELAC Discovery Series DS-S101-G Music Server

Associated Equipment

COMMENTS
jrhud's picture

Now I'm thirsty! :-)

dysonapr's picture

I already have 2 of these Pi-based devices, with parts for a 3rd on the way. A Pi3, plus an IQaudIO Pi-DAC+, running the current version of piCorePlayer, provides an option to create a tiny all-in-one unit.

The Pi3 will easily run the Logitech Media Server "optional" component included in piCorePlayer. Add a USB flash-drive of music files, and you're ready to have fun.

It really is not hard to assemble & configure one of these devices, and having done it yourself adds considerably to the pleasure of using it.

audio359's picture

For a European Alternative, check out http://audio359.eu - our player/streamer (https://audio359.eu/player-streamer.html) costs just EUR 179,- for comparable hardware (running Volumio) and an additional 64GB USB disk.

Sven

dysonapr's picture

That's very stylish. Congratulations!

stevew's picture

huh ?

dysonapr's picture

Audio 359 Player/Streamer - "That's very stylish" - (IMO)

Threading for comments is not the best.

JeffRogers's picture

For the money, I'm convinced this gets me into the Roon ecosystem at a reasonable price. Requirement is to stream lossless TIDAL and my local FLAC library in my multi-zone home environment. Plan to use a sonicTransporter for server as well. Now I just need to figure out if Airplay can be added to these endpoints and play nice with Roon Bridge.

skikirkwood's picture

The Raspberry Pi B+ refers to an improved version of the original Raspberry Pi 1. The most current model is the Raspberry Pi model B, which includes on-board WiFi, something missing from earlier models.

The specific DAC chip in the HiFiBerry DAC+ is the TI Burr Brown PCM5122, also used in the IQAudio PI-DAC+. The advantage of the IQAudio DAC is it includes an headphone amplifier.

It would be interesting to see a comparison to the Audiophonics RaspTouch player, which includes a 7" touch screen, aluminum case, and a choice of a Sabre 9018 or ES9023 DAC chip. Prices vary between $370 and $450, with some models including a linear power supply. No Roon support, but you can run piCorePlayer with your Logitech Media Server or use Rune. Great for Spotify fans.

skikirkwood's picture

Typo earlier, the current model is the Raspberry Pi 3 model B. There never was a model A.

philipjohnwright's picture

Michael

How does it work acting as just a Roon streamer, going from USB to an external DAC?

And have you got access to a better power supply? Others who have tried it say it (unsurprisingly) makes quite a difference.

If it's any good as a USB streamer that means you can get a Roon endpoint for $60 plus power supply, which is very attractive.

Regards, Phil

nb I promise not to ask for comments on other variants - you know - black case, metal case etc

sonic.build's picture

Thanks to Michael for the review, and to everyone for their comments.

Having been in the business for 15 years now, I'd guess that 50% of those looking at our products will say "Heck, I can build one of those myself", while the other 50% will say "Wow I don't understand any of this, but I would love to get into Roon". Our products are aimed for the latter category, and that's why our tagline is "Roon for All".

No doubt there are probably not many in that latter category perusing audiostream.com and Michael's blog - but that's a different topic . . .

P.S. I also wish Michael would have mentioned our Sonic Bitstream, which is designed for external DAC's. Maybe in a future review ;)

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...will be reviewed separately.
stevew's picture

As part of the review of the Sonic Bitstream and Sonore Sonicorbiter SE endpoints, I would like a discussion on recommendations on $200 (or less) DACs that fit in with the price point of using these affordable Roon endpoints. Thanks

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I have two recommendations I can share today: either AQ DragonFly (Red or Black) and the iFi nano iDSD DAC.
philipjohnwright's picture

......very similar to the Dragonflys, except it's Orange (which of course makes all the difference)

Price is £140 in the UK, I use mine into an Ayre Ax7e and Harbeth Compact 7s (Mk2). It holds its own well in this company (Mac Mini currently providing Roon duties).