• Berkeley Audio Design Announces The Alpha USB Asynchronous Interface

    The long awaited asynchronous USB to AES / S/PDIF converter has been officially announced by Berkeley Audio Design. The US retail price will be $1,695 and will ship in about four weeks. The Alpha USB interface uses the industry leading Streamlength Asynchronous USB implementation. The following information is directly from Berkeley Audio Design. I'll have more information in the not-to-distant further including a full review of the Alpha USB.



    Berkeley Audio Design® Alpha USB®
    The Alpha USB is an asynchronous High Speed USB to digital audio interface that provides the highest possible audio quality from computer audio sources.

    Alpha USB Front Panel

    Alpha USB Rear Panel

    The Alpha USB features a High Speed USB 2.0 input data connection and selectable audio output signal type – either coaxial SPDIF using a BNC connector or balanced AES using an XLR connector. Sampling rates up to 192 kHz and word lengths up to 24 bit are supported.
    Great care has been taken in the design of the Alpha USB to isolate the noisy computer/USB environment from the digital audio output. The USB receiver and processing are powered by the computer, while the output master clocks and line drivers are powered by a separate linear power supply.

    Two key factors account for the amazing audio performance of the Alpha USB: the unprecedented electrical isolation between USB input and audio output and the ultra low noise/low jitter performance of the custom audio output master clocks.

    The Alpha USB is designed to work with both Apple Macintosh and Windows PC computers and also works with some versions of Linux.

    Apple Macintosh computers using Snow Leopard or later operating systems have a High Speed USB Audio Driver that interfaces directly with the Alpha USB.

    It is not necessary to install a special driver. For optimum audio quality, use of high resolution music server software such as Pure Music® is highly recommended.

    Microsoft Windows PC’s require the included Alpha USB Windows driver which works with Windows XP, Vista and 7.
    A User Guide, Windows driver CD and 6’ power cord are included with the Alpha USB. A USB cable is not included.


    • Output Select: switch selects SPDIF or AES type output

    • Status LED: Green indicates USB Lock, Amber indicates Standby


    • Input: High Speed USB 2.0 connection - type B receptacle

    • Output: switch selectable, coaxial SPDIF - BNC, 75? or balanced AES type - XLR, 110?

    • Supported sampling rates: 44.1kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, 192kHz

    • Supported word lengths: up to 24 bit

    • Supported operating systems: Apple Macintosh and Microsoft Windows

    • Enclosure dimensions: 2.3”H X 10.5”W x 5”D, 2.55”H including feet

    • Mains power: 100 or 120 or 240VAC, 50/60Hz, IEC power input connector

    • Power consumption: 3 Watts line, 1.5 Watts USB, designed for continuous operation

    Comments 245 Comments
    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      Chris<br />
      <br />
      Was the text of that from a press release or written by yourself?<br />
      <br />
    1. AudioDoctor's Avatar
      AudioDoctor -
      Why would someone want to buy this instead of an Asynch USB DAC?
    1. michael123's Avatar
      michael123 -
      1) What is it?<br />
      2) To the best of knowledge, the leading one today is of M2Tech, which is also OEM provider for few others like Esoteric and Empirical Audio.<br />
    1. Paul R's Avatar
      Paul R -
      Because almost all our DACs today, given a clean input signal, produce really wonderful sound. On the other hand, very few DACS today get that clean input signal from a USB connection. Wavelength excepted. <br />
      <br />
      V-Link, Halide Bridge, etc. all do this, for significantly less money, and the impact they can have on even a modest system is stunning. It's like a kick in the face. <br />
      <br />
      This is supposed to be the best of the best - and depending upon Chris' review, I'll either be saving up nickels to buy one, or in the event of a non-favorable review, waiting for a better one to show up. <br />
      <br />
      At 10X the cost of a V-Link, I'm not super willing to jump till I see a review, but expect the performance and sound from this guy to be absolutely stellar. <br />
      <br />
      -Paul<br />
    1. ted_b's Avatar
      ted_b -
      providers. Gordon Rankin, Wavelength founder, is the creator of this leading aysnch implementation that is used by all his DACs, Ayre QB-9, Legato, Halide Bridge, Grace, etc. It was one of the first, if not the first, to offer the better asynch USB driver capabilities. Yes, M2tech is up there too, but it's a losing argument to nitpick Chris on his use of "leading" when talking about Gordon's well-used code.
    1. AudioDoctor's Avatar
      AudioDoctor -
      I bet you could get really close to the price of a Wavelength DAC, and you could probably get a really good price on a used one, if you were ever lucky enough to find one for sale, and eliminate one more step in the chain.
    1. PeterSt's Avatar
      PeterSt -
      There's always something to whine about ...<br />
      <br />
      <cite>A User Guide, Windows driver CD and 6’ power cord are included with the Alpha USB. A USB cable is not included.</cite><br />
      <br />
      There you go with your USB Interface Device.<br />
      No, not all that much important. But still ...<br />
      Haha, I couldn't help my eye fell on it.<br />
      <br />
    1. rgbyhkr's Avatar
      rgbyhkr -
      My gut feeling is that this will be extremely close to what you can already get from the WaveLink HS at $900. The AES output would certainly be of use for some folks. I can understand the power supply separation for the input side vs. output, but I wonder how problematic the noise issue is on the bus powered WaveLink HS?<br />
      <br />
    1. eggers's Avatar
      eggers -
      People who already own the Berkeley Alpha DAC would be interested in this device – I know I am. I'm running 5m of Toslink from my Mac Pro to the Alpha as things are now. I'm sure a short USB cable to the box, and then a long AES/EBU to the DAC would be better. If it's $1600 better I don't know. The M2Tech Hi-face Evo is considerably cheaper and might do the job well enough. I hope some reviews will shed some light on this. What I'm missing from the Alpha + Toslink combination is some 'granite'. Transient details are are a bit smudged.
    1. drewant's Avatar
      drewant -
      I'm also a Berkeley owner who might be interested in this. They recommend the AES/EBU as the best input for the Alpha DAC, which has no usb input. This is their solution to allow the Alpha to be used with usb inputs.<br />
      <br />
      I got started with an Apple TV a couple of years ago and am looking to upgrade this year. I'm considering:<br />
      <br />
      -Mac Mini + Berkeley USB Interface ($2,300 assuming $600 for the Mini, higher cost if upgrading the Mini, e.g. Mach2 Music; adding Amarra; etc.)<br />
      <br />
      -Bryston BDP-1 ($2,200)<br />
      <br />
      -Auraliti L1000 (anticipated to be $3,000)<br />
      <br />
      -Music Vault Diamond ($3,300)<br />
      <br />
      From that perspective, the cost seems to be reasonable - with the x factor being the relative performance of the above. Based on Chris' thinly veiled enthusiasm leading up to this announcement, I anticipate a glowing review. Stereophile will have a review of the Bryston in June. However, I'm very much hoping to see reviews comparing some of the above units - or others I might be overlooking.<br />
      <br />
    1. vortecjr's Avatar
      vortecjr -
      I think I can fit a server inside that case<br />
      <br />
      Anyway, sounds like it will have Linux support after all...music to ears!<br />
      <br />
      Jesus R<br />
    1. jerry_rig's Avatar
      jerry_rig -
      I too have the Berkeley Audio Alpha Dac and I am using the Audiophileo1 USB to SPDIF converter. The Alpha replaces a Bryston BDA-1 I was using for about 4 months. And I use a Mac Mini as a source with my music stored on a 1T firewire drive.<br />
      <br />
      The nice thing about the Audiophileo is that I can check to see that I am getting a bit perfect stream. Also, the levels are nice to see when "watching" music play.<br />
      <br />
      As for sound, the Berkeley wins over the Bryston. Slightly more air and space to the music. It's not night and day, but I can hear a difference. My digital music never sounded so good!<br />
      <br />
      The only reason I could see moving to the Alpha USB is if the AES/EBU input on the Alpha DAC proves to be leagues above the SPDIF input. Even then, I would hesitate to lose the other features of the Audiophileo1.<br />
      <br />
      Used Alpha DACs are currently fetching around $3500 and used Brystons just over $1500. So the difference is not small, but not the end of the world.<br />
    1. all300b's Avatar
      all300b -
      While Berkley is an interesting and innovative company this is a poor customer service move. They are charging an outrageous price for existing Berkley DAC owners to get USB out of their computer and are then crippling the solution by sending the signal through SPDIF, which adds jitter and will drive audiophile Berkley owners crazy trying to find the perfect $$$ SPDIF cable, which all sound a bit different due to the imperfect nature of SPDIF. They instead could have offered an upgrade to existing owners that converts USB to I2S internally, bypassing SPDIF as the top DACs are already doing. There will be few, if any, non-Berkley DAC customers for this because many other available boxes already pull in asynchronous USB, convert it to SPDIF using a high quality clock, and galvanically isolate the computer for less than half the money. Teardowns will show that the most abundant component inside this large $1700 box is (hot) air.<br />
      <br />
      <br />
      <br />
      <br />
      <br />
    1. firedog's Avatar
      firedog -
      Chris-<br />
      <br />
      Since there are so many devices that do essentially this already on the market, I think any worthwhile review should include a listening comparison to some of the other "audiophile" converters such as the Empirical OffRamp, M2Tech Evo, or Audiopillia. Especially as the Alpha USB is certainly "up there" in price.<br />
      <br />
      Just my 2 cents
    1. Elprior's Avatar
      Elprior -
      What about reviewing the Diverter 24/192 too ?<br />
      <br />
      Somehow the same price tag.<br />
      But a whole different code, and approach...<br />
      <br />
      That would really look like an alternative (in terms of implementation) instead of comparing to one of the clones out there (although this would be a valuable information in terms of price tag alone).<br />
      <br />
    1. Purite Audio's Avatar
      Purite Audio -
      Is this going to be built in,to the new Alpha units?<br />
    1. Jud's Avatar
      Jud -
      <i>"A USB cable is not included."</i><br />
      <br />
      <i>There you go with your USB Interface Device.<br />
      No, not all that much important. But still ...</i><br />
      <br />
      My assumption (dangerous to assume, I know) is that they did this on grounds of customer choice and pricing.<br />
      <br />
      Wonder if they would have recommendations if you called and asked? It worked 20 years ago when I called Richard Vandersteen for cable recommendations for his speakers and Mike Moffat at Theta for digital cable recommendations.<br />
      <br />
      OTOH that was 20 years ago.<br />
      <br />
    1. peteAllen's Avatar
      peteAllen -
      Michael Ritter: "We deliberately do not have a USB or FireWire input on the Alpha DAC due to the noise it would potentially introduce from the computer.<br />
      D to A converters are both digital and analog devices, and for the best possible audio quality it is very important to keep the electrical environment inside the DAC enclosure as isolated and quiet as possible.<br />
      We feel the best way for a DAC to accept a USB signal is to convert it to a balanced AES3 digital audio signal in an external device and only connect the isolated AES signal to the DAC.<br />
      Since the external USB2 to AES3 converter will be designed to work with the current Alpha DAC there will be no upgrade required and no product obsolescence."
    1. peteAllen's Avatar
      peteAllen -
      What I don't understand is why they have apparently abandoned the idea of using the BADA interface - I believe this was supposed to be a better alternative to spdif. I'm disappointed because this means there are only 3 inputs left (optical, aes, coaxial) and I already use these inputs for satellite/bluray/transport.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      <i>"Was the text of that from a press release or written by yourself?"</i><br />
      <br />
      <br />
      Hi Eloise - This text is from a PDF sent by Berkeley Audio Design. I can't remember the last time, if ever, that I published manufacturer supplied content like this on the front page. However, I received the information while at New York's JFK airport on layover returning from vacation and I wanted to get something up as soon as possible. <br />
      <br />