6-5-2015



PinkFaun I2S Bridge ST
Review

by Maarten van Druten


 

Introduction "PinkFaun"


"Pink Faun" is an Dutch High-End brand consisting out a small group of enthusiastic audiophile engineers that also have an driven passion for music.
Pink Faun was created from electronic parts and vacuum tubes trading, Do-It-Yourself (DIY) kits, custom designs, repairs and modifications. The modifications and DIY kits were in the past so well received by customers, that soon the question arose to design complete crafted audio products.

PinkFaun is not going for high volume or high profits.
They sell directly to the customer, so that prices of their products are more competitive than a brand that use a distributors system.

Pink Faun wants to make a very good, natural sounding high-end products for a normal price.
Pink Faun supplies only on a small scale and in-house developed and hand-crafted products.
Designed and handmade in the Netherlands.
The great advantage of this is that they can use special components, which are not to be found on a large scale.
Their main product designer is a very good and renowned engineer, his designs are very good sounding high-end products.
 
 

What is an "I2S Bridge" ? and how does it work?

The "Pink Faun I2S Bridge" is an PCI-E card for the Audiophile that want to build his/her own High-End audio streamer.
This card connects your streamer to your DAC of choice with the best possible sound quality.
The "Pink Faun I2S Bridge" uses the "I2S" protocol (that is specially designed for connecting two digital devices together)
Of course your DAC should also have an "I2S" input, normally this is an RJ45 or HDMI connector.
My DAC has an HDMI "I2S" input (Audio-gd Master 7)
The "I2S" signal is transported over the HDMI cable from the Pink Faun I2S Bridge to your DAC.

But first I shall explain how an modern audiophile streamer set-up looks like.
Since the computer made his introduction into the Audiophile market a lot of things have been changed;
The DAC chip that was normally integrated inside the CD/SACD player, became later a independed audiophile product called a "DAC"
(digital-to-analog converter)
This device is very important because it translates the digital data to analogue so it can be amplified by the amplifier.
The way how the audio data was stored (normally on a optical disk like CD or SACD) also changed during the last years.
Now the audio data doesn't have to be distributed on a optical disk any more, the audio data files can also be transported over the
internet, and be downloaded straight on your home computer.
The choice is yours were you want to keep these audio data files, you can place them locally on the internal hard-disk or SSD of your audio-streamer or place them on a external NAS device so that multiple users can access it from many other (mobile) audio devices.
The following diagram explains how the audio streaming work flow is now:


 



 

The total audio path is : NAS -> AUDIO STREAMER -> DAC -> AMPLIFIER -> LOUDSPEAKERS

The NAS (Network Attached Storage) is a external computer with multiple hard-disks that is connected to your network
It stores all your audio and video files, and sent it over an RJ45 network cable to your switch.

The Audio streamer is in fact an computer that is also connected to your switch/network and it is optimized to transport the audio and video files bit-perfect to your DAC. (therefore the Pink Faun "I2S Bridge" card is going to be installed in the audio streamer so that the best possible connection will be possible)
The audio streamer also has software to control which audio (and video) files you want to play, for example by an remote control app on your mobile tablet.


Topview of the Audio Dandy AV Streamer:
The PinkFaun I2S Bridge has it's own power connector


The back side of the Audio Dandy AV Streamer:

From left to right:
- The Pink Faun I2S Bridge connected with (flat black) HDMI cable to the Master 7 DAC.
- Intel Ethernet Gigabit Server adapter (NIC)
- S/PDIF break-out card (directly connected to motherboard)
- Sapphire passively cooled Radeon HD videocard (connected to HDTV)



The Pink Faun HDMI cable goes to "I2S" input of the Master 7 DAC. (IN 5)
the Master 7 DAC is connected with "ACSS" cables with the Master 10 Amplifier.



The streamer has to be:

"powerful" - so it can handle the large audiophile music files without any problems
"quiet" -  so you not will be distracted by it during listening to music and
"capable of transporting your audio files bit perfect to your DAC with the best possible quality."

The NAS works with an RJ45 cable, for transporting the digital data over the network.
The Audio Streamer can be connected on several different ways with your DAC.
It depends on two aspects.

- What are your DAC inputs?
- What are your Audio Streamer outputs?

Currently there are more than 27 different DAC manufactures that are compatible with I2S and have a I2S input.
You can find a complete list on the Pink Faun's website to check if your DAC is compatible with the I2S Bridge
http://triplemaudioshop.nl/index.php?option=com_zoo&task=item&item_id=1585&Itemid=116

 

What is the best connection? USB, S/PDIF or I2S?

Most modern DAC's available today have an (asynchronous) USB input, older DAC's have S/PDIF optical and coaxial digital inputs,
and some newer DAC's have an "I2S" input.
"I2S" doesn't have a standardized connector, some DAC companies are using the "RJ45" connector, and other companies
are using the standard "HDMI" connector for the "I2S" input.

But what is now the best way to connect your audio(video) streamer to your DAC?

It all depends on your DAC (which inputs do you have available?) and of course the quality of your own ears.
But if you are lucky, your DAC has multiple inputs to choose from.
In my case (Audio-GD Master 7 DAC) I can choose between USB, S/PDIF and I2S (over HDMI)
Because of this possibility, I could make a comparison between these connection on the same product.
Here are my personal findings:


S/PDIF

S/PDIF is an older connection type that comes from the 80's (CD and DAT period) 16 bit 44.1 - 48 kHz.
This connection can be found on many DAC's but it's an older method to transport digital data and it has his limitations
There are two versions: optical (toslink) and coaxial digital (with RCA connectors)

S/PDIF is designed for two channels only and can transport samples of 20 bit Max (24 bit is optional and doesn't always work)
Because of this limitation High Resolution audio files like SACD and PCM HD music files of 24bit/32bit 192 kHz or higher cannot be transported over S/PDIF.
Optical S/PDIF doesn't go higher then 16/20/24bit - 96 kHz Max.
and Coaxial S/PDIF can transport 16/20/24bit - 192 kHz Max.
So if your music collection consists of older 16bit - 48 kHz material only, then S/PDIF is a fine choice, but if you also want to playback High-Resolution music files then you should better read on...

 

(Asynchronous) USB

I'm not going to spend a lot of words over USB
Why?
USB is designed to connect computer  peripheral equipment like keyboards, mouse, printers to computers
It's NOT designed to transport high quality audio or video data between two devices!
If you have followed the IT security news recently, you also will know that all USB connectors probably will have a
spy chip inside!
That makes it even worse...
USB Asynchronous protocol doesn't even check what data samples are transported!
it's just a "trick"  from companies to get the most out of the (old) USB cable so that High Resolution files can be transported.
When I listened to USB I found the music annoying, harsh, full of digital noise, and tiresome to listen to on the long term
Even the older S/PDIF connection sounds more musical than USB!
All together: USB is probably the worst connection type your can choose to connect your audio streamer to your DAC.

Why have so many DAC's USB inputs?
Because they are cheap to implement and therefore popular by companies that want your hard earned money!
So don't be a naive sheep walking after all the other sheeps, but first make your own research and examine carefully before your buy something!
Quality costs money and if you have done your homework right you probably have found out that there is even a much better way
to connect two digital devices together

 

I2S

 

"i2s" is not new, but is new for maybe many of us, it's a Philips/Sony invention from 1986 called "Integrated Interchip Sound"
and it's a interface standard designed especially for connecting two digital devices together.

The "PinkFaun I2S Bridge ST" is specially for stereo PCM encoded material.
The best part of this I2S interface system is that it separates the clock and serial data from each other.
Which results in a very low jitter.
This gives also a better sound quality because the data is transported directly to the DAC.
For example If you use USB to connect to the DAC; the digital signal has first to be encoded to USB protocol then the data will be transported, and at the other side (DAC) then the data has to be de-coded back from USB to the original data again.

This USB encoding en decoding can result in little faults that can cause "jitter".
So "on paper" I think that "i2s" is the best way to connect your HTPC to your DAC because it's has two encoding/decoding steps less
than USB, and the separation of the data and clock signal will result in less "jitter"which will give a cleaner and more pleasant sound.
 



"PinkFaun I2S Bridge ST"
 

To use "i2S" in your system you need a "i2S" compatible DAC, that has an "i2s" input,
and you need the "Pink Faun  I2S Bridge ST"
PCI-E card (for your HTPC) that transports the data and clock signals to the DAC.

The
"Pink Faun  I2S Bridge ST" PCI-E card is designed for PCM encoded stereo material only (32bit-192 kHz max). and the card is designed for the Windows operating system.
Of course it's possible to playback SACD, DSD, and DXD encoded material, but then you have to make use of the DSD to PCM conversion capabilities of the JRiver media center software.

More technical information about "i2s" can be found on "Pink Faunís website:
http://www.pinkfaun.nl/portal/images/stories/pinkfaun/Products/I2S/I2S_Bridge_UK.pdf



 

If you want multichannel I2S Pink Faun also has another product in their portfolio called "Pink Faun I2S Bridge MC" (Multichannel)
This MC version can handle 6 channels of audio, and computers are modular so more than one card can be placed in a computer
so even more channels are possible! with three MC "I2S" cards you will have a total of 18 channels!



The best operating system for the I2S Bridge:

Back to the two channel ST version:
during the test I listened mainly music through the Pink Faun I2S Bridge, which I had placed in my
HTPC (i7 Passive Cooled)

In the beginning I used the Windows 7 Ultimate 64bit operating system on my HTPC, but soon I ran into some problems
First of all: Windows 7 is NOT a reliable operating system and after 1 year of use, it advisable to re-install the whole operating system!
Why?
Microsoft Windows desktop operating systems is collecting personal data all the time, and therefore the system gets "polluted" during it's daily use.
So after one year of use your Windows system will be a lot slower than in the beginning!
Because of this reason It's advisable to NOT connect your Windows based audio video streamer to the internet,
also because Windows is extremely sensitive for viruses and other malware.
Later I will explain more about you can put your Windows audio video streamer in "quarantine" so that it will operate for a long time without problems ;-)

Another disadvantage of Windows 7 is that the PinkFaun I2S Bridge PCI-E card doesn't go higher than 24bit !
Only on Windows 8 and higher (8.1, 10) and Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 you will get 32 bit!

Recently I did a lot of research what is the best operating system for the Pink Faun I2S Bridge, because I wanted to get the maximum out of this card.
Because I'm a experienced IT professional with more than 10 years experience, I also tried to install Windows Storage Server 2012 R2
on my audio video streamer computer, and it worked perfectly!

Click here to read all about it! "Windows Server is best operating system for your high-end streamer!"

Pink Faun recommends Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 as the preferred operating system, personally I think that that Windows Server 2012 R2
is far more stable, reliable operating system for an Audiophile Audio/Video Streamer also because it sounds better!

During the test was the "Pink Faun I2S Bridge" connected with a HDMI cable to the Audio-GD Master 7 DAC.
The Audio-GD Master 7 DAC was connected by two ACSS cables to my Audio-GD Master 10 amplifier.
Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 automatically detected the Pink Faun I2S Bridge I didn't had to install any drivers!

 

Listening tests

After the DAC was set-up with HDMI with my HTPC, It was time to listen to music!
I was very exited how my DAC connected with "i2S" should sound.

My current set-up:

Loudspeakers:    Lyric Audio LS-V
Amplifier:          Audio-gd Master 10 (2014) (connected with "ACSS" to the Master 7 DAC)
DAC:                 Audio-gd Master 7 (connected with "I2S" (HDMI) to the Pink Faun I2S Bridge)
Audio streamer: Audio Dany AV Streamer
Software:         JRiver Media Center 20
Source:             SACD-ISO (JRiver automatically converts the SACD-ISO files to 32bit 192 KHz) and High resolution WAV, FLAC files.



 

First I listened to the CD of James Vincent McMorrow - Post Tropical with the song "Cavalier"
Music is always very personal but this song gives me goose bumps, the voice of
James Vincent McMorrow
goes very high on this song.
The music is very original and sounds very clear. the music is rendered very transparent and it's
definitely a promising start of the capabilities of the I2S Bridge!
 



Than I listened to Lee Ritenour & Larry Carlton - Larry & Lee
This smooth jazz albums sound very relaxed and pleasant to my ears.
The bass is well balanced and sounds deep but controlled.
I like the music of Larry Carlton very much, it's friendly but also energetic
Smooth jazz at it's best!

 

Propaganda - A secret wish (2010 2CD Deluxe "Element Series" Edition)
 

This was one of my first CD's I ever bought, when I was a teenager
but this "Deluxe 2CD version" was completely new for me.
I had never heard this version of "Dream Within A Dream" (Analogue Variation) before!
This version is very different than the original version.
The changes are subtle and the song sounds very clear and dynamic.
Despite that this is an studio recording/mix the music sounds very pleasant and has an "analogue" feel to it.
The details are never sharp or piercing, the Pink Faun "I2S" Bridge has the quality to present
all details without any unwanted attributes.
 

The Pink Faun "I2S" Bridge has also a lot of control over the music, personal I think that this is because of
the fact that the digital data and the clock signals are separated from each other.
This gives the music a quieter more balanced character and makes the music more pleasant to the ears.

Personally I think that the biggest benefit for choosing for I2S above USB is the fact the "music sounds more like music".
I know it's strange to say this, but you have to experience this yourself.
For me listening to an USB DAC connection for a longer period get's a tiresome experience, with "I2S" the music
sounds more real, it also sounds more stable and convincingly.

But this card also has a lot of dynamic and drive! many times I got surprised by music details and percussion sounds.
This card let you hear it all, very precise and well balanced.

After listening many months to several 24bit 192 kHz music files one thing became quickly clear, this I2S card sounds very clean,
smooth and relaxed!

 

And how does "I2S" compare to the rest?

I think "i2S" is more important for a DAC than the capability to play native DSD files.
The differences between 24bit 192 kHz WAV, FLAC and DSD music files are very small, but the "i2S"
connection gave my DAC a very stable, relaxed and more controlled sound.
Because of this controlled and stable sound, it also becomes more enjoyable for the long term!

When I switched to USB the sound became more sharp, harsh and more tiresome.
If you really want to enjoy your music than there is no way back, after having listened to "I2S", USB doesn't
impress you any-more, it sounds almost "mechanical" compared to "I2S"...



Conclusion:

The Dutch are well know of their original, pragmatic but effective approach towards designing.
The "Pink Faun I2S Bridge is a good example of this, it's a unique product (currently the only one in the world!)
While the rest of the world is still using the "inferior" USB connector for connecting streamers to their DAC's,
Pink Faun takes a completely different route...

I think it takes courage to NOT follow the big majority, and I am glad that I discovered them, and that I could
experience this product myself.
I have tested this card now for several months, so I had lot of time to listen to many different kinds of music.

I personally think that this I2S Bridge delivers the best possible digital connection from your streamer to you dac, period!
After you have experienced this card, there is no way back any-more, the difference is too big, and you will only feel sorry
that you didn't bought this card earlier...

I'm very satisfied and happy with this card, and I use it all of the time when I'm listening to my music.
I disconnected all my other connections cables (USB) from my DAC because this card delivers the music more realistic, more transparent and
has more detail than the other connections I have tried before.

I highly recommend this card when you have a computer based audio streamer!
Note that this card is designed for PCM stereo music with 32bit 192 kHz Max.

I found the sound quality of 32 bit 192 kHz over I2S on the Master 7 better, than the sound quality of a native DSD DAC connected with USB.
The I2S sounded more relaxed, it was more neutral, and it had a better definition.
It sounded just more musical!
So don't think by forehand that DSD with USB is better choice (because of the theoretical specs)
Always first extensively test it yourself before making a decision! and dare to research your prejudices!
I did! and I have absolutely no regret of it!

For 275 euro (309 dollars) this device is a certainly a "must buy" for anybody that is serious about high resolution audio streaming.
Don't believe my word for it, but test it yourself, and than enjoy your music, because that's were it's all about!


 

 

 

 



Link to "Pink Faun" website:
http://www.pinkfaun.nl/portal/

Their products are sold via the "Triple M audioshop: only, http://triplemaudioshop.nl/
(Besides Dutch they also speak and write fluent English)
 


 

 


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