Multichannel AES/EBU from PC to Genelec monitors

Update 24.6.2021:

I got a few comments and also the following devices could be interesting if you are setting up something similar.

  • Dante AVIO AES3/EBU, 2 channel device, maybe it is possible to combine multiple of these to achieve multichannel setup, requires additional software, requires PoE capable switch?
  • Lynx AES16e, Sixteen channel AES/EBU PCI Express Card

I have been listening to my 2.0 Genelec 8351A system for almost half a year now. As I described earlier, I initially aimed having this living room setup without a computer. After some iterations, I ended up having computer after all to able to change the GLM profiles.

With this background I have started building up capabilities towards a multichannel setup. My original setup was built using a Yamaha WXC-50. That is nice and cost effective player for a stereo set but is lacking multichannel capabilities. Since I had already added a Windows based computer, it was an obvious alternative as my new source. It was time for my absolute favorite task, finding a suitable setup. Requirements:

  • All digital with XLR AES/EBU outputs
  • Multichannel
  • Reasonable price point

I came up with multiple options including:

  1. Motu 112d, I saw this one having been sold second hand at local forum for a very attempting price. I was too slow and missed this one.
  2. miniDSP UIO-8, attractively priced, I’m not familiar with the brand and availability from local distributors was quite limited when I was looking for this.
  3. RME Digiface USB, I initially saw one being sold second hand. I was too slow with this one as well.

RME got my attention. It doesn’t have a separate licensing and it has a compact footprint. Connectivity is more than enough for my setup with 32 channels (ADAT, 44.0 or 48.0 kHz), in and out. It features eight optical ports each supporting SPDIF and ADAT. Unfortunately, there is no AES/EBU output. Luckily, I managed to find the MUTEC MC-4 second hand for that task. This setup fulfills my requirements and allows:

  • Digital connection to my Genelecs & SPDIF PCM input from TV
  • Works as a player for Spotify & Tidal with ADAT SMUX2, meaning 96 kHz output
  • Netflix etc. with 5.1 (my setup supports actually up to 7.1) output
  • Since I currently have only 2.0 speaker set, I’m now capable of doing a multichannel to 2.0 downmix with RME TotalMix Fx. Not by following any standard, not recommended, but possible.
DSub to XLR digital breakout cable, perhaps not the most mainstream cable for home audio?
RME Totalmix FX while playing a 5.1 movie from Netflix – 5.1 to 2.0 downmix

The user experience running Spotify and TIDAL from computer makes an unpleasant surprise though. I would have wanted to go with TIDAL, but it’s lacking remote control capability from mobile app. So, it would require accessing the PC desktop for listening. When I compare this with the Spotify, where I can use the mobile app to control the Windows application, it’s an easy choice between these two. With Spotify, I can even use my smart watch to control the music, even volume (on the application). This makes the setup easy to use, even for relaxed background listening.

Now that I have used this setup for a couple of weeks, can I hear the difference? I made a brief test side by side with the Yamaha. I used GLM microphone trying to calibrate the volume level between the sources. Changing between the audio sources required plugging the cable every time. I didn’t bother to even try going blinded. With so many changing factors I’m not going to make a judgement on the difference. Much easier would be to answer “how does it sound with this setup” – it sounds marvelous! And how about “was it interesting to design and implement this” – totally, once again excellent example of my motto “Just Because I/1 can”!

Mutec MC-4 while playing ADAT SMUX2 (96 kHz) to AES/EBU XLR
My current audio source and control setup

The audio source path is now what I’m expecting it to be, maybe it would a time for blinded ABX-test between Spotify and TIDAL Masters to find out if it would justify the extra hassle for the listening sessions…?