World Wide Stereo Gets Computer Audio

Last Wednesday I drove down to retailer World Wide Stereo (WWS) in Montgomerville, PA where I tagged along with AudioQuest's Steve Silberman as he computer-audio-enabled WWS. The back story: Bob Cole, the owner of WWS, got into a discussion regarding computer audio with Steve some months back and Steve shared how AudioQuest sees CA as one of the most vibrant growth areas of consumer electronics. Bob immediately said, "then we need to get serious and get into that space". And here we are.

The WWS store is not your father's hi-fi shop. Instead, it's set up like a home, a very nice home, with various rooms showing what you can do audio visually in each. From a study, to a kitchen, bathroom, family room, patio, and crazy-amazing home theater, WWS has so many eye wateringly tempting TVs, I had someone hide my wallet until I left.

Among the main lines represented by WWS on the audio front are McIntosh, B&W, Sonus Faber, PSB, NAD, Bluesound, Denon, Sony, Sonos, Audioengine, Audeze, and more. As you can imagine, WWS is also heavily into home automation, home theater, car audio, home networking, and installation of all of the above. Walk into most any room in the WWS store, and the lights will automatically come on, pick up a remote and open and close window shades, watch a painting scroll out of the way to reveal a TV or a mirror transform into TV. There's even a very nice selection of outdoor speakers, another temptation, turning our woods into a concert hall....

There's also an entire room dedicated to Bluetooth devices and headphones.

The day's mission, and Steve chose to accept it, was to bring computer audio to WWS. The plan:

  1. Install a hot-rodded Synology NAS into their extensive network
  2. Set up one the store's Mac Mini's as Roon Core/Server
  3. Set up another Mac Mini as a Roon Ready endpoint
  4. Demo the entire shebang and then some for the WWS staff
  5. Eat cheesesteaks and drink beer and listen to music

Steve would repeat this process for the other WWS store in Ardmore, PA the following day.

The setup was smooth and easy. With the help of Chris, WWS' very capable in-house IT guy, the NAS went into one of their comm. racks and onto their network, and the Roon Core Mac Mini went into the main 2-channel audio sound room. Since the entire store is already wired with Ethernet, this was pretty much plug and play.

Setting up the Mac Mini as a Roon Ready device took minutes and a Roon Ready Auralic Aries was set up to demonstrate Roon's ability to be incorporated into other manufacturer's hardware.

Once Steve downloaded and installed Roon Server, taking all of a few minutes, the real fun began. And that fun, at least for me, was when Steve launched Roon on his iPad and tapped his way in the Roon app to Settings > Audio where every single Roon Ready and Airplay-enabled device showed up, ready to play music from the newly installed NAS.

Do you remember that Bluetooth room? Well, many of those devices are also Airplay-enabled as are the Bluesound devices and many of the receivers scattered around the store. I did not bother to count them all but let's just say there were a shit-load of devices automatically discovered and listed by the Roon app which can all be controlled from a single, or multiple, iPads, iPhones, Android devices, or computers.

Steve also set WWS up with a Tidal HiFi account, adding Tidal's roughly 40 million tracks to the stores available music library. Let's take a moment to think about that: When a potential customer comes into WWS for a demo, they can sit down in the easy listening chair and play most any music they desire by tapping away on an iPad. And that music library can play to a Mac Mini, any of the scads of Airplay devices around the store, and any other Roon Ready devices from any number of manufacturers. This can also be done in their home with about as much effort and less complexity as today's setup.

For the big demo, Steve used his Roon'd MacBook Pro and a DragonFly Red DAC running into the McIntosh C2500 Tube Preamplifier's Tuner (analog) input with a length of AQ Angel interconnect cable. The CS2500 was strapped to a pair of McIntosh MC601 600W Monoblock Amplifiers driving a pair of B&W 802 D3 Diamond Series speakers. Nice.

Convergence. This was something Steve repeated throughout his demo and what he meant by convergence is the fact that with Roon, we're seeing manufacturers from our world of hi-fi as well as those from the Integrated Audio side go the Roon route (specific companies TBD). What this means is people looking to spread music around their home are no longer locked into one hardware provider's solution (sorry Sonos).

As more companies Roon-enable their DACs, servers, streamers, preamps, integrated amps, etc. (think any device with an Ethernet input), you can pick a DAC from company A, a server from company B, and a portable player from company C, spread them around your home, and control them all from the same device. The really cool part is they all automatically have access to the same music source(s) once you have Roon Server setup. Snap.

The proverbial icing on this cake is the fact that Roon offers by far the best interface into your music, and it sounds great. For those thinking about the details of this mixing and matching component approach, Roon also allows you send each device all of your music in the resolution it can handle. DSD in the big rig? No problem send it DSD. That portable speaker only does 24/96? Just let Roon know and it'll take care of the rest. Roon: Computer Audio that doesn't suck.

After Steve went through the ins and outs of Roon, he performed three A/B demos of AudioQuest products; their Diamond Ethernet cable versus a standard Ethernet cable, the new AQ Fire interconnects versus the old Columbia ICs, and finally their new Niagara 7000 Power Conditioner.

The Ethernet cable swap consisted of switching the short run from the MacBook Pro to a nearby NetGear Ethernet switch. Steve also inserted a StarTech Fiber to Ethernet Media Converter in between the Ethernet coming from the network/wall and the switch. There are two devices in play in the media converter; one with an Ethernet input and fiber output, and the other with a fiber input and Ethernet output. This effectively eliminates any ground-induced noise coming from the network getting into the audio side since the fiber cable running between each end does not have a ground for noise to ride on.

These changes were a snap to hear; a lower noise floor coupled with greater dynamics, micro detail, and a perceived increase in loudness. Wait what? Increased loudness? Did Steve up the volume when going to the AQ wire to fool us? Since the system's remote was sitting across the room, and there was no other way to change volume, only evangelically tilted minds would assume so.

The interconnect swap was also easy to hear and I'd categorize that change along similar lines as the Ethernet swap. Next up was the 81 lb. Niagara. The power amps went first and this change was, again, obvious to all. I'd call it increased presence as if the musicians took up a more obvious place in-room and as another listener pointed out, better bass performance. The preamp was next to move into the Niagara and again the music became more focused, with greater ease and definition. Someone noted that the cymbals were much better defined. In other words, better in every way.

The evening ended with Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" from the live Celebration Day film at which point one of the WWS guys reached over and upped the volume to concert-like levels. While it was a long day, and getting late, everyone perked up, nodded along, relishing in the music as a source of energy, inspiration, and perhaps its greatest trait, creating a sense of unity. Not to mention flat out fun.

While this day's focus was on the nuts and bolts, the real purpose of computer audio is to get us back into our music. Using Roon and Tidal HiFi eliminates everything that sucked about computer audio making music the focus, not the computer. Amen to that.

Bravo to Steve and everyone at World Wide Stereo for making this happen.

COMMENTS
Stephen Dupont's picture

I've shopped the Ardmore store- great place, with helpful, well-informed staff.

Stephen Dupont's picture

btw, which Synology NAS to you use, and how was it "hot rodded?"

Steve Silberman's picture

We installed a Synology DS 916+ Quad-Core and 8GB of RAM. The HHD's are the highest performance HGST (4TB each) drives listed on Synology's compatibility page. We went this route because we wanted to ensure there is enough processing power, memory and storage for today (there are several systems such as Roon, Sonos, Airplay and Blue Sound that will pull from this NAS - likely all at the same time), and in the future.
While we can't predict the future, its likely we'lll see more resource requirements as more streaming devices are added to the World Wide Stereo network and more streaming applications appear in the Synology app store.

Regards,

Steve Silberman

Stephen Dupont's picture

Thanks Steve.

Bill Leebens's picture

Good job, WWS and Stereo Steve!

ktracho's picture

Would the sound quality be improved if they had gone with a dedicated music storage server instead of the Synology NAS box? Perhaps the Bluesound Vault, which I assume they carry, would not be up to the task of handling so much I/O, but there are better music storage servers out there.

dipa276's picture

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rrwwss52's picture

Bought my Yamaha AVR from them a couple of years ago online. Nice people, helpful staff.

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