Sangean DDR-66BT: a multisource Internet radio with streamer that includes Qobuz in CD quality!
The Qobuz ecosystem is enriched day by day and, if among the brand including our application, some are clearly elitist, others opt to address as many people as possible by offering attractive products, easy to use, and playing music. This is the case of Sangean, which uses the UNDOK application that includes Qobuz, and the bulky radio appearance of the DDR-66BT from the brand hides an advanced device that’s interesting even for Hi-Fi aficionados!
Sangean is an American manufacturer, and most of their production consists in more or less compact devices giving access to broadcast, FM, AM and also DAB radios, docks for iPod, Bluetooth speakers, Internet radios, and also network players that can be included in an Hi-Fi system (of which we intend to review a model), etc.
They offer a lot of small audio equipment, but the devices from the brand have always enjoyed a good reputation, especially regarding their sound quality, if we ignore of course the demands of hardcore amateurs swearing by Hi-Fi only—and we do not deny belonging to this crowd—but you sometimes have to think “never mind the bottle, let's just drink it”!
Using Ethernet modules from the English manufacturer Frontier Silicon, Sangean models that possess a network section can be used with the UNDOK application, which is multiroom compatible and gives access to Qobuz.
However, when we read the specifications of the device we received—the DDR-66BT model (also called Smartlink 9)—it saddened us to realize that on the Sangean website, the technical specifications regarding network playback only indicated MP3, AAC and WMA, that is to say three lossy compressed formats. It’s a little annoying for Qobuz, and not great news by itself.
However, as we’d noticed an optical digital output at the back of the DDR-66BT, we thought to ourselves, why not plug it on the optical input of our Sony amplifier, as the playback would probably be better than the one provided by the acoustic system of this device, as we had listened to it before and realized that we weren’t in our usual world of sound.
Much to our surprise, the sound restitution provided by our Sony amplifier and Triangle Antal Anniversary set from the S/PDIF signal of the DDR-66BT streaming Qobuz was rather good, and we had difficulty believing that this was a decoding of lossy compressed files, as the media section was only announced to be compatible with MP3, AAC and WMA, and moreover, in these conditions, the network section should have been unable to stream Qobuz in 16-Bit/44.1 kHz FLAC.
With this, our curiosity led us to click several times on the “Info” key located on the device’s facade to make the following information appear:
We felt reassured by this, our ears hadn’t betrayed us, but the specifications displayed on the manufacturer’s website were misleading and this seems to us like a prejudicial error, even if this type of device isn’t intended for high-end sound restitution fans.
Therefore, despite the initial reluctance of this writer and even if this Sangean DDR-66BT is meant more to be listened while doing your accounting at your office rather than religiously, sitting in your chair without moving an inch, we made the decision to present you this device that can reproduce Qobuz (and many other things) without external help in a sound quality that didn’t make us wince and also act as a digital source for a more advanced sound reproduction system.
There, you know everything about the moral dilemma that we faced and that ended up leading to a happy outcome!
We’ll also note that, in compliance with the specifications provided in the user manual, we managed to play 24-bit/48 kHz FLAC files from our NAS server.
As for the rest, the Sangean DDR-66BT allows for CD playback, receives broadcast and DAB radios, possesses Wi-Fi and aptX Bluetooth connections, is equipped with a SDHC card player, a USB A port to plug a USB stick or a self-powered hard drive (this two types of media can be used to record, but in 128 kbps MP3…), analog input and output as well as a 3.5mm headphone Jack and an optical S/PDIF digital output that we’ve already mentioned, the file formats that you can play depending on the digital input that you use.
The connectivity of the rear panel can be seen by clicking on this link.
Let’s also take some time to applaud the professionalism displayed in the user manual, very well designed and containing no less than 116 pages!
We also tested the headphone output, in aptX Bluetooth, thus killing two birds with one stone. You’ll need high-efficiency headphones, as power doesn’t seem to be running high, but we’ve enjoyed a restitution of great quality, Hi-Fi to be clear, of Brahms’ Song of Destiny in the beautiful and recent interpretation from Philippe Herreweghe’s album, where he conducts the Orchestre des Champs-Elysées and the Collegium Vocale Gent
The Sangean DDR-66T is a device that looks modern, serious and pleasant, with the micro-perforated steel grates protecting the speakers (8 cm full range paper cone models) located on both sides of a plastic central section imitating the titanium brushed anodized aluminum and where are gathered all the commands and the CD slot.
Thanks to the presence of all necessary commands and of a legible display, you can use the DDR-66BT without using the remote or calling upon the UNDOK application, Qobuz being also accessible with the Radio key on the facade, and you can even log into it thanks to a virtual keyboard—which is easier to use with the remote’s directional pad than with the up and down keys located on the facade.
Taking the Sangean DDR-66BT apart is like dismantling a radio set where you discover an internal structure in MDF panels, after removing the cast resin front and back sides, structure on which is fixed an interdependent block including the CD player and the entirety of the electronics, among which the network card, that you can see below.
This network card is a Venice 6.5 FS2026-5 model from the British manufacturer Frontier Silicon. This card handles the Wi-Fi and FM/DAB connections, the USB 2.0 port, as well as a digitized auxiliary analog audio input, the keyboard, the display, the infrared receiver, in short it orchestrates everything.
It includes a digital-to-analog converter (a Cirrus Logic CS4344, a very good chip) and thus provides the decoded audio to the amplifier from any source and delivers S/PDIF digital audio signals towards the outside. Once you remove the network card, you’ll discover among the hidden elements the HL801THMD microcontroller, as well as an Asahi Kasei AK5357 digital-to-analog converter that will digitize the analog signals from the auxiliary input.
At the top right, you can see the aptX Bluetooth module, then an ET2314 (Etek Microelectronics) processor handling the volume, the bass, the treble, the balance, etc. and a NJM2706 "3D Surround Audio Processor with Dynamic Bass Boost" manufactured by JRC. On the far left is located the switching power amplifier, a Texas Instruments TPA3100D2 model delivering up to 20W per channel into an 8Ω load from an 18V supply.
The UNDOK application
- The (nice) UNDOK application’s start-up page.
- The application is looking for drives on the network.
- The Smartlink 9 system (the other name of the DDR-66BT) has been detected by the application.
- The connection with the DDR-66BT has been established.
- Loading phase.
- The sources, among which Qobuz.
- Qobuz has been selected; the application requires you to log-in.
- Keying of the user name and password.
- Transmitting the Qobuz identifiers.
- The connection with Qobuz has been established; the menu is displayed.
- You can choose the audio quality in the settings (the small gearwheel in the top right corner).
- No CD quality or Hi-Res here, but choosing High Quality allows for CD quality playback and even Hi-Res 24-Bit/48 kHz playback!
- Choosing the Qobuz discoveries.
- The Qobuz news.
- The Qobuz playlists.
- Your paid albums.
- Your favorite albums.
- Playing the selected album.
- Information regarding the album.
- Choosing Music Player in the sources.
- The servers present on the network are listed.
- DiskStation, our NAS server, has been selected and its three partitions are displayed.
- After choosing Music, some display options are offered.
- The By File option has been chosen.
- The ##24 bits 48 kHz folder has been selected.
- Playing the 24-Bit/48 kHz file.
To conclude, here’s a device which, if it’s not inherently Hi-Fi, will allow you to listen to CDs and Qobuz, and also to music stored on your network up to 24-Bit/48 kHz, while delivering a sound quality that will make you enjoy the tracks you listen to without setting your teeth on edge, far from it, and in Hi-Fi quality on its headphone output. Furthermore, its optical output enables its use with a Hi-Fi system.
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