• Musical Fidelity V-Link 192 USB to S/PDIF Converter Review

    Listening sessions around Computer Audiophile have been extremely enjoyable lately. The last two DACs reviewed, EMM Labs DAC2X ($15,500) and Chord QBD76HDSD ($8,500), both made the C.A.S.H. List and delivered great sonic performance. Next in line for review is the $399 Musical Fidelity V-Link 192 asynchronous USB to S/PDIF converter. The V-Link 192 doesn't cost nearly as much as the sales tax on the previously reviewed components let alone the retail prices. Fortunately, as computer audiophiles know, really good sound can come at really good prices. The V-Link 192 costs roughly 20% as much as the best USB to S/PDIF converter I've used (BADA Alpha USB) yet it delivers near 90% of the sonic performance. I highly recommend the V-Link 192 for the vast majority of users who don't feel the urge to spend vast amounts of money squeezing the remaining few percentage points of performance from their systems. At $399 the V-Link 192 is a uncomplicated device that plays a critical role and is a tremendous overachiever.







    Top of the V Series

    The Musical Fidelity V-Link 192 is the top USB to S/PDIF converter in the V Series. It is completely powered by the USB bus of the connected computer. No wall-wort external power adapters needed or even possible. Using the V-Link 192 is as simple as connecting a standard USB cable on one end and an AES or coaxial cable on the other. There are no settings or switches to mess with on the V-Link 192. Its asynchronous USB input, developed in-house using the XMOS chipset, supports all pertinent PCM sample rates from 44.1 kHz through 192 kHz. The "192" is a Class 2 USB audio device that requires drivers on Windows operating systems but not on newer versions of Linux and OS X. Connected to my MacBook Pro running 10.7.4, the Weiss Engineering MAN301, and the Aurender W10 the V-Link 192 worked flawlessly. On the Windows platform Musical Fidelity uses the very robust Thesycon software and drivers. Simple installation and flawless performance just like Linux and OS X servers.



    Internally the V-Link 192 has improved power supply regulation over the first generation of V Series converters. This power supply feeds the internal clock Musical Fidelity placed next to key components to shorten the signal path. The V-Link 192 has two fairly average fixed oscillators from the Shin Koln Cooperation. One 22.579 MHz for the 44.1 kHz family of sample rates and one 24.576 MHz for the 48 kHz family. As data enters the V-Link 192 it traverses an I2S bus to the S/PDIF converter. According to Musical Fidelity this reduces jitter. After conversion to S/PDIF data flows via transformer coupled galvanically isolated AES/EBU or coaxial S/PDIF outputs to one's DAC of choice. The 30T-2521NL transformers from Yuan Dean Scientific are used for isolation and ground loop prevention, a major issue in many audio systems, although the 30T-2521NL doesn't offer great high frequency isolation. I used the balanced AES output to connect to the EMM Labs DAC2X for the entire review period. Adjacent to the AES and coaxial outputs are LED indicators of power, lock, and sample rate. The sample rate indicators are a very nice feature. They don't indicate if the audio is bit perfect from the computer but they do provide feedback that can indicate something major has gone wrong. For example, if a user is playing CD quality content at 44.1 kHz but the V-Link 192 indicates the sample rate is 96 kHz the user immediately knows something isn't right.



    Playback

    Most playback during the review period was via my C.A.P.S. v2.0 server running Windows 7 and JRiver Media Center with WASAPI - Event Style as the output mode. During playback the V-Link 192 adjusted to new incoming sample rates immediately without pops, clicks, or hiccups. The major sonic differences between the V-Link 192, the Alpha USB, and a straight USB connection to the EMM Labs DAC2X were atmosphere, transients, resolution and focus. On Randi Tytingvaag's Red or Dead (24 bit / 44.1 kHz) her vocals were just a touch less focussed or defined and the edges of the bass were rounded just a tiny bit. Everything else on this track sounded great through the V-Link 192. On Antonio Forcione's Heart Beat (24 bit / 48 kHz) his guitar strings were a little less defined, crisp, clear and focussed compared to the Alpha USB and a direct USB connection into the DAC2X. Similar to Red or Dead, Take Five performed by Antonio Forcione and Sabina Sciubba (24 bit / 192) suffered a little loss of resolution and focus in the vocals. The acoustic guitar gem that is Ottmar Liebert's One Guitar (24 bit / 96 kHz) revealed the V-Link 192 doesn't quite reproduce the atmosphere of this live recording like the best interfaces and DACs. The sound was a bit closed down and the transients just weren't at the same level as I'm used to with the direct DAC2X USB connection. Most of the shortcomings identified were fairly small. The V-Link 192 is an overachiever as evidenced by great sonic performance of everything else on the aforementioned recordings. On Virtuoso from Joe Pass the entire album sounded great. I would be hard pressed to find major audible flaws that detract from the performance. Pop recordings like those from my favorite Christina Aguilera are nearly indistinguishable whether played back through the V-Link 192, the Alpha USB or a direct USB connection to the DAC2X. This is great news for computer audiophiles with mainly pop music collections at 16 bit / 44.1 kHz.




    Conclusion


    Readers contemplating the purchase of a USB to S/PDIF converter should start with the V-Link 192 for $399. Some users may find this is the last converter they'll ever need to buy while others may realize the V-Link 192 isn't going to eek out every ounce of performance from a high end system. Spending $399 on this converter will either leave one with plenty of cash for music downloads or be a small price to pay to realize one needs something better. Comparing the V-Link 192 to other interfaces and a direct USB connection was pretty easy in my Spectral Audio / TAD Labs CR1 / EMM Labs DAC2X system. This system is incredibly transparent and reveals the shortcomings of most connected components. It's hard to say what the sonic differences would be between the V-Link 192 and other converters on a different system. One item readers must consider is the ability of the DAC2X to reject jitter and noise coming into its AES/EBU input. Most DAC manufacturers say their products reject incoming jitter extremely well or something to that effect. In reality no DAC rejects all jitter and many DACs handle jitter differently. What I'm getting at is the V-Link 192 performance will likely vary from system to system and users should demo the unit if possible. Getting nearly 90% of the performance at a fraction of the price is a no-brainer for most computer audiophiles. I highly recommend walking before running and I highly recommend starting with the V-Link 192 before spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on another USB to S/PDIF converter.









    Product Information:

    • Product - Musical Fidelity V-Link 192
    • Price - $399
    • Product Page - Link
    • User Manual - Link (PDF)








    Specifications:

    • Input data: 24 Bit 192kHz USB stream (maximum)
    • Output Impedance: 50 Ohm SPDIF
    • Operating Systems: Apple Macintosh Apple OS X 10.6.4 and later, Windows XP (SP3), Vista, and 7, Linux Kernel 2.6.33 or later
    • Inputs: 1x USB 2.0 Type B
    • Outputs: 1x Coaxial SPDIF galvanically isolated, 1x XLR AES/EBU Balanced Digital, galvanically isolated
    • Dimensions - WxHxD (mm): 95 x 45 x 170
    • Weight (unpacked / packed): 350g / 400 g








    Associated Music:









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    Comments 38 Comments
    1. shum3s's Avatar
      shum3s -
      Chris I already use a Halide Bridge converter, which goes only up to 96. Did you get a chance to compare? Would getting a V-Link be an up grade or a lateral move? Thanks, Sam
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Sam - I wish there was a simple answer to your question. It's really hard to say what's going to work best in your system to your ears. If you have 24/192 content that you really want to play then that could be part of the answer. If you want to use different USB cables that can also be part of your answer.

      I didn't compare the two components directly during this review. Such a comparison would have made a lot of sense.
    1. John H. Darkø's Avatar
      John H. Darkø -
      Hey Chris - nice review. Did you have the MF unit plugged into the USB ports on the SoTM card of the CAPS v2?
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by John H. Darkø View Post
      Hey Chris - nice review. Did you have the MF unit plugged into the USB ports on the SoTM card of the CAPS v2?
      Hi John - Yes the 192 was connected to the SOtM USB card.
    1. John H. Darkø's Avatar
      John H. Darkø -
      ....and the MF 192 brought improvements over and above the SoTM USB card?
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by John H. Darkø View Post
      ....and the MF 192 brought improvements over and above the SoTM USB card?
      I don't understand your question. The 192 connects to the SOtM card.
    1. John H. Darkø's Avatar
      John H. Darkø -
      Apologies - probably not explaining myself too well (it's been a long day down under). A) SOtM --> MF 192 --> EMM DAC versus B) SOtM --> EMM DAC. Direct connection had the upper hand?
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Between setup A and B the direct connection from music server to DAC sounded better.
    1. RankStranger's Avatar
      RankStranger -
      Hi Chris,

      Thanks for that review. I have my mac mini connected via a Furutech USB cable direct to my Bel Canto DAC2.5 which you may remember is limited to 96 in the USB. From your time with the DAC1.5 would you expect to hear any improvement putting this MF box and a decent coaxial cable in between them or is it only going to give me benefits if I want to listen to 192 material?

      Thanks in advance.

      RS
    1. dmnc02's Avatar
      dmnc02 -
      Chris, in the review you mention three different setups: A) CAPS -> MF 192 -> DAC2X, B) CAPS -> DAC2X and C) CAPS -> BADA -> DAC2X. You state that you preferred both B and C to A. While I understand that the focus of the review is the MF 192, could you provide a complete ranking by indicating whether or not you have a preference between B and C? I asked the same question following your review of the DAC2X, but I did not get a clear answer.
    1. barrows's Avatar
      barrows -
      Nice review Chris, this should be a really option for those who do not want to spend truly big bucks on something lke the Alpha USB, but still want all sample rates and a well designed unit. I am glad to hear that MF has adopted the XMOS and is now using two oscillators, avoiding the compromises of their past design. The display leds are a really nice touch as well.
      A note to those who might be interested in pushing the performance of this converter to the next level: I made an adapter back when I was using the Wavelink converter (USB B-USB B) which allowed me to break out the power cable at the converter end of the USB cable, and then I applied an isolated, low noise linear power supply here. This mod really helped the Wavelink get even better, and I suspect it would allow for good performance improvement with the V-Link as well (without having to spend Alpha USB type coin).
    1. Novice2012's Avatar
      Novice2012 -
      Might be a sille question, but I recently set up a Musical Fidelity M1 DAC and M1 HPA in my system and was told that it was not necessary to get the V Link 192, as it would be redundant. Is this true, or might this 192 further help the cause towards better sound?
    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      Quote Originally Posted by Novice2012 View Post
      Might be a sille question, but I recently set up a Musical Fidelity M1 DAC and M1 HPA in my system and was told that it was not necessary to get the V Link 192, as it would be redundant. Is this true, or might this 192 further help the cause towards better sound?
      The V-Link 192 will allow you to play back 24/192 via USB as well as the 24/96 already supported (with the M1 DAC-A version).

      Will it improve sound quality over the built in USB... Maybe is the only answer I can give - you would need to demo.

      As an aside MF do have a new M1 DAC-S coming in the Autumn which combines the M1 DAC, Headphone amp and analogue input preamp and supports 24/192 via USB.

      Eloise
    1. John H. Darkø's Avatar
      John H. Darkø -
      Quote Originally Posted by The Computer Audiophile View Post
      Between setup A and B the direct connection from music server to DAC sounded better.
      Thanks Chris. I find that result very interesting because it suggests that the MF V-Link 192 is introducing something that compromises sound quality (jitter, EMI, unknown) into the chain (between music server and DAC). Either that, or the S/PDIF input on the EMM DAC isn't as good as its USB? I dunno as I've not played with the EMM unit. It does sound impressive though.

      I've done a whole bunch of listening with the Audiophilleo, JKSPDIF and KingRex UD384 (and the original MF V-Link). They ALL brought improvements to cheaper DACs (no question!) but none of them have made any of those DACs sound 'worse' than the stock USB (which is what you have found here, I think).

      I'm currently playing with the PSAudio PerfectWave MKII. It's a killer unit. Neither the Audiophilleo nor Empiricial Audio's Synchro-Mesh bring any improvement to its sound. That is, the PSAudio DAC sounds the same with or without each of these clocking devices in the chain.

      Thanks for the detailed review on the MF V-Link 192 though. It sounds like they nailed it with the addition of a second clock (over the original V-Link). Think I'll get one and give it a whirl....
    1. MikeJazz's Avatar
      MikeJazz -
      Hi Cris,

      thanks to work on my side of the budget from time to time! :-)
      Great review, assertive, clear.

      Someday maybe I experiment and build myself a kind of C.A.P.S server, (maybe based on linux and using MPD)...just for the fun...
      In that case, it seems that this V-Link 192 could be used.
    1. Vade_Forrester's Avatar
      Vade_Forrester -
      So the MF S/PDIF output impedance is 50 ohms? I thought S/PDIF coax was a 75 ohm impedance system. Or is it ok if the output impedance is lower than the load impedance?

      Vade Forrester
    1. Puma Cat's Avatar
      Puma Cat -
      Ho-hum.

      When are you going to review the Wadia 121 and Schiit Bifrost? Reviews of these two products are conspicuous by their absence.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by Puma Cat View Post
      Ho-hum.

      When are you going to review the Wadia 121 and Schiit Bifrost? Reviews of these two products are conspicuous by their absence.
      Next week.
    1. Puma Cat's Avatar
      Puma Cat -
      Quote Originally Posted by The Computer Audiophile View Post
      Next week.
      Excellent, thank you. I look forward to it.
    1. sk1's Avatar
      sk1 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Vade_Forrester View Post
      So the MF S/PDIF output impedance is 50 ohms? I thought S/PDIF coax was a 75 ohm impedance system. Or is it ok if the output impedance is lower than the load impedance?

      Vade Forrester
      That's exactly my question.
      Can a common 75 Ohm S/PDIF cable be used to connect V-Link's 50 Ohm S/PDIF Output to the S/PDIF input of a DAC (that is commonly specified at 75 Ohm)? Is there any potential loss in quality by doing so?

      Thanks in advance.