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  1. #1
    Junior Member Elberoth's Avatar
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    15 USB/SPDIF converters shootout

    For the past year, I had a chance to try and compare over 15 different USB/SPDIF converters.

    It was a fascinating journey into the world of computer audio, which eventually, made me sell my CD spinner and join The Dark Side of the Force – something I thought would never happen just 2 or 3 years ago.

    I have already shared some details of my converter shootout in some other threads, most recently in State-of-the-art CD transports vs USB/SPDIF converter shootout thread, but since people kept me asking for the complete USB converter story, I promised to start a separate thread, dedicated exclusively to the USB/SPDIF converters.



    Here is the complete list of converters I tried (from the cheapest to the most expensive one):

    Matrix USB 24/96 - $59
    Musical Fidelity V-Link II - $199
    Hegel HD2 - $350 (this primarly an USB DAC but can be also used as standalone USB/SPDIF converter)
    Halide Design The Bridge - $399
    JK SPDIF Mk3 - $436 (335 EURO)
    Stello U3 - $495
    M2Tech HiFace Evo - $499
    Audiophilleo 1/2 -$579/$979
    M2Tech HiFace Evo + Evo Supply - $990
    M2Tech HiFace Evo + Evo Supply + Evo Clock - $1485
    Berkeley Alpha USB - $1890
    Empirical Audio Off Ramp Turbo 5 - $2249 (as tested, with $700 Dual Turboclock and $250 S/PDIF Hynes regulator options installed)
    Soulution 590 - $3000
    dCS U-Clock mk1 (24/96) - $4990

    All the converters were tested on my dCS Scarlatti and Metrum Octave DACs. In the ‘second round’ of the shootout, I have also tested them with Accuphase DC-801, Metrum HEX, Berkeley Alpha Series II and McIntosh MDA-1000 DACs.

    On the computer side, I was using my hi-man PC server (equipped with powerful i5 processor, fast RAM, SSD, Seasonic fanless PSU, various SOtM bits including PCI/USB SOtM card), running Win 7/64, JRMC 17 and JPlay v4.1.



    The cables I used for the shootout were the excellent AudioQuest Diamond USB, Kimber D-60 RCA->BNC, dCS generic BNC to BNC cable and later on, also the Stealth Varidig Sextet AES/EBU.

    As a point of reference, I have used the dCS Scarlatti CD/SACD transport, with the external clocking feature disconnected (to level the playing field between the USB converters and dCS transport). Enabling the external clocking and slaving the dCS transport to the dCS DAC (or an external dCS clock) further improved the performance of the dCS transport, but for this shootout, I was interested in its SPDIF performance only.



    Further references included Stello CDT-100 CD transport and Bryston BDP-1 digital transport.



    To give you a better perspective on the magnitude of differences between all of those converters, I have chosen to give every converter a simple numeric score. I’m not a big fan of any numeric scoring systems, even though German magazines like AUDIO and STEREO have been using them for years, since in my opinion, the sonic signature is just too complex to describe it using a single score. Two components may have an identical score, but have a completely different sonic flavor, and as a result – appeal to completely different people. It is not difficult to imagine a situation, where a component with a lower score, may actually be a better fit in our system, because of our preferences and/or system synergy, than a component with a higher score.

    However, in case of USB/SPDIF converters, where most of the changes are down to the difference in level of resolution, smoothness (where by smoothness, I mean a lack of digital glare, grain and artificial edge) and instruments layering, I thought that the numeric score could actually give you a much better idea of the differences between the respective converters.

    The dCS Scarlatti transport, which was used as a point of reference, was given a base score of 100 points.

    One of the recordings I used most often during those tests, was 'La Spagna' by Atrium Musicć de Madrid and Gregorio Paniagua (BIS-CD-163) - a fabulous recording of XV century music. This recording has lots of percussive instruments - triangles, hi-hats etc and was recorded in a very lively acoustics and makes spotting for differences much easier.

    The results of the 'first round' of the shootout were as follows:

    Matrix 24/96 - 60
    Hegel HD2 - 65
    Musical Fidelity V-Link II - 75
    Stello CDT-100 - 75
    Bryston BDP-1 - 80
    Halide Design The Bridge - 80 (+5 when powered from SOtM USB card)
    M2Tech HiFace Evo - 80
    Stello U3 - 85
    JK SPDIF Mk3 - 90
    M2Tech HiFace Evo + Evo Supply - 90
    Audiophilleo 1/2 - 95
    Empirical Audio Off Ramp Turbo 5 - 95
    M2Tech HiFace Evo + Evo Supply + Evo Clock - 100
    dCS Scarlatti CD/SACD transport - 100 (+5 when used with dCS DAC and the Clock Link feature enabled)

    Not surprisingly, the cheapest Matrix converter was also the poorest performing of the lot. It was the most 'digital sounding', with a lot of digital glare and grain, and the poorest rendition of space - as if the whole air just got sucked out.

    The full Evo stack on the other hand was clearly the best, having the best resolution and HF extension, great layering of instruments and sounding very refined, ultra smooth and fluid. It was even better than Scarlatti CD/SACD transport in terms of resolution, articulation and lack of grain. It lacked a bit in terms of tonal color and texture, sounding at times a little bit lightweight and 'ethereal', but in general, they were both on the same level. Of course, the Scarlatti transport could be further improved by adding a clock link to the DAC or an external clock, but that only shows how flawed S/PDIF interface is to begin with.

    Other converters had fallen in between those two.

    Even though some of the converters got equal score, it doesn't mean they sounded exactly the same. Case in point are the ORT 5 and AP1/2 converters. Both scored 95 points, and yet, they sound a bit different.

    ORT5 is a bit dark sounding. You will not get the vast sound stage that AP1/2 will throw, you will miss some spatial clues and decay trails. On the positive side, ORT5 had the best texture out of all converters I tried up to that point, and was the only converter that fully matched my Scarlatti CD/SACD transport in that regard.

    AP has superior resolution and better microdynamics than the ORT5. If you voice your system around the AP, ORT5 will most likely sound a bit muted.

    That being said, in some systems AP may be too much of a good thing. Some people reported that AP sounded a bit bright in their systems. I believe this is may be computer dependent (since AP is USB powered, it relies heavily on the quality of USB power, so cards like SOtM USB with their own ultra low noise voltage regulators can help here).

    Both converters can be improved by adding a dedicated PSU.

    A friend of mine - Marcin of JPLAY fame - who borrowed ORT5 from me, reported what he called 10% improvement in SQ by substituting the supplied switch-mode wall wart PSU with his KingRex linear PSU (please note that the 10% he stated have no direct relation to my scale). Aparently, Empirical even makes their own battery PSU, called Monolitic, but it adds another $1k to the hefty price of ORT5.

    AP recently introduced what they call a PurePower battery PSU. This is a $449 option for both AP1 and AP2. I recently tried one, and recommend it.

    I felt the AP+PurePower could now rival the M2Tech 3-box solution sound wise, but it is cheaper and much less hassle - M2Tech full Evo stack comes in three boxes, a lot of extra cables, manual sample rate switching is necessary. On top of that - the battery depletes in just under 3.5h, which means that most users will need a separate power supply for the clock and the converter for any extended listening sessions, which further adds for the system cost and complexity. AP PurePower PSU lets you listen for like 15h straight, and then recharges itself via USB when you stop listening.

    After the ‘first round’ of my shootout, I decided to keep the Audiophilleo 1 and return/sell the rest of the converters, including the Halide Bridge, which was my old reference. As much as I wanted to go with the M2Tech full stack, the lack of userfrendliness of that setup was a show stopper for me. Plus, the AP1 offered a host of additional features, making it completely unique among USB/SPDIF converters - full function digital preamp, remote control, display showing sample rates, to name only a few.

    *****

    A few weeks after completing the ‘first round’ of my shootout, I managed to borrow two very expensive USB/SPDIF converters that I always wanted to try, but wasn't able to secure on time for the shootout - dCS Puccini U-Clock and Soulution 590. At $4990 and $3000 respectively, they are one of the most expensive converters available on the market today. They were not bad, but M2Tech stack was still better – and much cheaper (if pita to use).



    Around the same time, Peter from Audiophilleo sent me a Pure Power battery PSU for my AP1. It made the AP sound smoother, with slightly better color density and even better soundstaging that the plain vanilla AP.

    If I was asked to expend the ranking to include those 3 new converters, I would award them with the following score:

    Matrix 24/96 - 60
    Hegel HD2 - 65
    Musical Fidelity V-Link II - 75
    Stello CDT-100 - 75
    Bryston BDP-1 - 80
    Halide Design The Bridge – 80 (+5 when powered from SOtM USB card)
    M2Tech HiFace Evo - 80
    Stello U3 - 85
    JK SPDIF Mk3 - 90
    M2Tech HiFace Evo + Evo Supply - 90
    Soulution 590 – 90 (+5 when powered from SOtM USB card)
    Audiophilleo 1/2 - 95
    dCS U-Clock - 95 (+5 when used with dCS DAC and the Clock Link feature enabled)
    Empirical Audio Off Ramp Turbo 5 - 95
    AP1 with the PurePower battery PSU - 95 (borderline 100)
    M2Tech HiFace Evo + Evo Supply + Evo Clock - 100
    dCS Scarlatti CD/SACD transport - 100 (+5 when used with dCS DAC and the Clock Link feature enabled)

    At that point, I decided to stop the search for the ultimate USB/SPDIF converter. After trying 14 different designs from all price points, I simply felt that there is nothing that could surprise me anymore. As it later turned out - I was wrong !

    During a dinner I had with Chris on his trip to Europe in November, Chris suggested me to try the Berkeley Alpha USB he reviewed for Computer Audio. He also offered me a help in contacting Berkeley people, as my first attempts a few months earlier were unsuccessful (there is no Berkeley distributor in Poland).



    Berkeley Alpha USB showed up a few weeks later at my doorsteps, and literally – had blown me away, both with its sonics and quality of engineering behind this product.

    Let’s start with the engineering part first. I haven’t seen another USB/SPDIF converter, designed with this level of attention to details.

    The whole converter is divided into two parts - 'dirty' part (on the right) fed from the USB power, containing the XMOS USB receiver chip, and 'clean' part, fed from the onboard linear PSU, containing the clocks and SPDIF out.


    Alpha USB is based on the the XMOS chip. The little 24M crystal oscillator above it (X101) is there just to make USB work.


    The 'dirty' and 'clean' sides are both isolated by a chip. The lettering on the chip was removed, but I’m pretty sure this is the ADuM* chip, isolating the I2S lines between the XMOS chip and the SPDIF output.

    *The ADuM chips are digital isolators based on the Analog Devices, Inc., iCoupler® technology. Combining high speed CMOS and monolithic transformer technologies, these isolation components provide outstanding performance characteristics superior to alternatives, such as optocouplers.


    The chip is screened by an unusual ferrite 'gate' - this is the first time I see such an arrangement in any hifi product. The 'gate' forms a 'ring' that screens the chip 360' (over and below the PCB):


    A metal screen further improves the isolation by dividing the internal volume into two compartments:


    Clocks used come from Crystek - this is an ultra low phase noise design, one of the best - if not the best - currently available. From the outside they look like CCHD-957 model (also used in the Off Ramp Turbo 5, with the $700 Ultraclock option), but the markings say otherwise. They may be custom made for BADA, who knows.


    Digital output transformers have the word quality written all over them:


    BNC socket is a precision 75 Ohm design (you can tell from the white 'collar' around the center pin) from connector specialist Bonar:


    One of the coolest design details of Alpha USB is the way the USB input is mounted. 99.99% manufacturers make a suitable hole in the metal enclosure and mount there the USB input. Not the Berkeley. They made the 1 by 1 inch cutout in the metal enclosure, and surrounded the USB input by plastic in order to reduce the possible capacitive coupling between the two. How clever !



    Sound wise – this is by far the best sounding USB/SPDIF converter I tried, better than the dCS Scarlatti transport.

    The other top converters were very, very good, but still not perfect.

    M2Tech stack for example, has a very distinctive sound. I would describe it as ethereal - great resolution, smoothness and vast soundstaging, but at the same time it is a bit light on its feet, lacking some substance and midrange texture.

    ORT5 on the other hand sounds warmer, fuller with more texture, but at the same time, lacks the top end resolution and extension that Evo (and to lesser extent the Scarlatti transport) is capable of.

    You can say that BADA is best of both worlds, and then some. Alpha USB has all the texture of the ORT5 and Scarlatti transport, but combines that with the outstanding resolution, smoothness and soundstaging of the Evo stack. In fact, it even goes one step further that the Evo in that department - with BADA not only you can hear all the detail, but you can actually feel a sound wave developing and moving the air, which makes the instrument outlines more 3D. Quite frankly, I was stunned when I first heard this.

    The BADA Alpha USB made the sound smoother, with ZERO artificial edge, grain or digital glare.

    There was also much better layering of instruments, and air around the outlines. The instruments sounded not only better separated in space, but also much more 3-dimensional.

    The resolution also improved quite a bit. You could hear the sounds that you were not aware are on the recording, the HF decays had much longer trails and hung in space much longer.

    The most fascinating thing was that sound had better resolution, but at the same time, was so much smoother and fluid. Usually, it is another way round. Very often we try a new component or a cable and at first are fascinated by improved resolution, only to find out a few days later (after we had X-rayed all our recordings), that the increased resolution brings listener fatigue and makes the listening far less enjoyable.

    Not this time. BADA pulls this incredible trick of sounding both more resolute, more transparent, and much smoother at the same time.

    To me Berkeley Audio Designs Alpha USB defines the current state of the art in USB/SPDIF converters design.

    The final shootout score is as follows:

    Matrix 24/96 - 60
    Hegel HD2 - 65
    Musical Fidelity V-Link II - 75
    Stello CDT-100 - 75
    Bryston BDP-1 - 80
    Halide Design The Bridge – 80 (+5 when powered from SOtM USB card)
    M2Tech HiFace Evo - 80
    Stello U3 - 85
    JK SPDIF Mk3 - 90
    M2Tech HiFace Evo + Evo Supply - 90
    Soulution 590 – 90 (+5 when powered from SOtM USB card)
    Audiophilleo 1/2 - 95
    dCS U-Clock - 95 (+5 when used with dCS DAC and the Clock Link feature enabled)
    Empirical Audio Off Ramp Turbo 5 - 95
    AP1 with the PurePower battery PSU - 95 (borderline 100)
    M2Tech HiFace Evo + Evo Supply + Evo Clock - 100
    dCS Scarlatti CD/SACD transport - 100 (+5 when used with dCS DAC and the Clock Link feature enabled)
    Berkeley Audio Designs Alpha USB – 110
    Adam

    PC: CAPS v4 Pipeline + Teradak full ATX linear PSU
    Digital: Lampizator Golden Gate DSD only
    Amp: MSB M202
    Speakers: Magico S5 mk 2
    Cables: AudioQuest WEL Signature IC / Shunyata Anaconda Z-Tron SC

  2. #2
    Junior Member Elberoth's Avatar
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    Some final thoughts:

    The value for money for each converter will depend on the fact if it needs USB and SPDIF cables or not. Halide Bridge converter for example, apart from the fact that it was the most bullet-proof design of all converters tested, comes with a built in USB cable and doesn't need a SPDIF one - that is easily a $200 saving. Same for the AP1. On the other hand, the BADA Alpha USB needs both cables, and in the setup I tested it with ($600 AQ Diamond USB + $600 D-60 SPDIF cable) is over $3k. This is 3x as much as the AP2 + PP (AP2 is the same as AP1, but with less features) which can be had for $1k.

    Please take this ranking with a grain of salt though. First of all, the converters were tested with my Metrum Ocatve and dCS Scarlatti DAC, and my hi-man music server. Since converters are a bit system dependent, you may come to different conclusions (although I doubt the differences would be greater than +/- 5 marks). Secondly, the converters can sound very different to each other (I already explained that in case of ORT5 and AP1, which both scored 95 but sound very different; the other pair that sounded slightly different were M2Tech stack and Scarlatti transport), so sometimes a converter with a slightly lower score may be a better fit in your system.
    Adam

    PC: CAPS v4 Pipeline + Teradak full ATX linear PSU
    Digital: Lampizator Golden Gate DSD only
    Amp: MSB M202
    Speakers: Magico S5 mk 2
    Cables: AudioQuest WEL Signature IC / Shunyata Anaconda Z-Tron SC

  3. #3
    What a fantastic thread, thanks for the read. I'm really happy with my AP, and I'm glad it performed well in your test.

  4. #4
    Great thread!

    It's a pity my Belcanto mlink isn't part of the impressive list of gear, but it confirms well the importance of ths device group, which made a big difference in my system.
    Main: iMac late 2009 8GB SSD / Qobuz Sublime > Audirvana+/JRiverMac/AmarraSQ > Audioquest Forest USB > BelCanto mlink > Atlas Ascent BNC > Exposure 2010S2 Dac > Audioquest King Cobra > Exposure 3010S2 Integrated > Chord Carnival Classic > B&W CM8
    HP system: > Audioquest Golden Gate > Sennheiser HDVA600 > Sennheiser HD800
    Mobile: Iphone 6 > Ultrasone Tio or B&W P5II

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  5. #5
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    Great stuff Adam!

    Quick thought on system "synergy" and architecture. I believe your Scarlatti over S/PDIF (or AES/EBU) operates in synchronous more, meaning the source provides the masterclock to the DAC. This makes the system very sensitive to the Jitter performance of the source (i.e. USB converter). In my experience, switching from synchronous to asynchronous (i.e. the DAC buffers and reclocks the signal) AES/EBU or S/PDIF yields dramatic improvements, and dramatic difference between the impact of the source on final sound quality. My first data point to support this claim is upgrading the PS audio perfectwave DAC to MKII level, which basically makes the DAC fully asynchronous, and the second is switching between reclocking on/off on my MSB DAC. In both cases no comparison! Asynchronous wins hands down. I'm not even sure exactly how the dCS clocking works with an S/PDIFor AES/EBU source, but I'm simply bringing this up because I suspect outcome of your shootout are highly DAC and architecture dependent (as you mentioned yourself).

    I am also of the opinion that ultimately losing the USB converter completely, putting a very high grade clock on the DAC motherboard, feeding the DAC very low noise USB source, and buffering and reclocking the signal in the DAC, is the most direct signal path and will yield the best achievable sound if implemented well.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Blake's Avatar
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    Adam:

    If CA had a contest for "Computer Audiophile Forum Member Post of the Year" your USB-SPDIF converter posts would be up for consideration in my view. Great work!
    Home: microRendu (Roon) | Berkeley Alpha USB | LH Labs Geek Pulse Xfi+LPS | Jeff Rowland Capri | Blue Circle Audio BC202 | Revel Ultima Gem ​speakers | 2 x Revel Performa3 B112 subwoofers (other stuff: Sablon/Siltech/MG Audio/GIK Panels/Stillpoints). Headphones: Cavalli Liquid Carbon amp > Sennheiser HD800

    Desktop at Work: PC > Lightspeed > Intona > Curious Link > W4S Recovery > Schiit Bimby | Luminous Audio Axiom II pre | Job/Goldmund 225 amp | Gallo Strada 2 | Elac S10 sub

  7. #7
    Junior Member Elberoth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blake View Post
    Adam:

    If CA had a contest for "Computer Audiophile Forum Member Post of the Year" your USB-SPDIF converter posts would be up for consideration in my view. Great work!
    Thanks ! Took me a better part of the day to write.
    Adam

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  8. #8
    Junior Member Elberoth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by edorr View Post
    Quick thought on system "synergy" and architecture. I believe your Scarlatti over S/PDIF (or AES/EBU) operates in synchronous more, meaning the source provides the masterclock to the DAC. This makes the system very sensitive to the Jitter performance of the source (i.e. USB converter). In my experience, switching from synchronous to asynchronous (i.e. the DAC buffers and reclocks the signal) AES/EBU or S/PDIF yields dramatic improvements, and dramatic difference between the impact of the source on final sound quality. My first data point to support this claim is upgrading the PS audio perfectwave DAC to MKII level, which basically makes the DAC fully asynchronous, and the second is switching between reclocking on/off on my MSB DAC. In both cases no comparison! Asynchronous wins hands down. I'm not even sure exactly how the dCS clocking works with an S/PDIFor AES/EBU source, but I'm simply bringing this up because I suspect outcome of your shootout are highly DAC and architecture dependent (as you mentioned yourself).
    Both dCS Scarlatti and Metrum DAC work the same way, as 99,99% of the DACs available on the market - they extract the clock from the SPDIF signal in the PLL loop.

    Both of your DACs are actually unique with their reclocking features. But even with full reclocking, the DAC will still be suspectible to the RFI grunge coming from the computer, so a converter offering a higher level of isolation could still sound better than lesser designs.
    Adam

    PC: CAPS v4 Pipeline + Teradak full ATX linear PSU
    Digital: Lampizator Golden Gate DSD only
    Amp: MSB M202
    Speakers: Magico S5 mk 2
    Cables: AudioQuest WEL Signature IC / Shunyata Anaconda Z-Tron SC

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elberoth View Post
    Both dCS Scarlatti and Metrum DAC work the same way, as 99,99% of the DACs available on the market - they extract the clock from the SPDIF signal in the PLL loop.

    Both of your DACs are actually unique with their reclocking features. But even with full reclocking, the DAC will still be suspectible to the RFI grunge coming from the computer, so a converter offering a higher level of isolation could still sound better than lesser designs.
    Sure, but if the two main USB converter performance parameters that impact sound quality are jitter and noise, than using a DAC that is fully asynchronous on its S/PDIF input will change the relative performance of the USB converters with that DAC (probably quite dramatically so).

    You would expect it to move the ranking of relatively low noise converters up the list and diminish the weight of jitter performance of the converter (theoretically, jitter performance should become irrelevant).

  10. #10
    Great Thread!!!

    Unfortunately you couldn't test the Audio-gd DI-V3...

    Keep on going!

  11. #11
    Freshman Member guydebord's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rdsu View Post
    Great Thread!!!

    Unfortunately you couldn't test the Audio-gd DI-V3...

    Keep on going!
    Im Jealous, what a great opportunity to be able to test all these equipment, especially on a Scarlatti. I too have been searching for a USB/SPIDF converter and have managed to audition at my home the:
    - AP+PP, which was my first.
    - Stello U3
    - M2Tech hiFace Evo
    - Musical Fidelity V192
    - BelCanto Ulink
    - Wavelenght WaveLink HS

    I still want to listen to the BADA and BelCanto Reflink, but until today, the biggest surprise has been the Chinese designed and made Audio GD DI-V3 TCXO+PSU, an exclusive design based on a 32bit VIA usb chip. In my system and to my ears, it bested the AP+PP which was my previous preference, mostly on soundstage and analogue like presence (not clinical). IMO its really worth a listen, especially for the price, its a true bargain!

  12. #12
    Freshman Member guydebord's Avatar
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    Here are some pics of the Audio GD DI-V3 TCXO interior, very, very unique.
    photo1.jpgphoto2.jpgphoto3.jpgphoto4.jpgphoto5.jpgphoto6.jpg

  13. #13
    Senior Member Blake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by guydebord View Post
    I still want to listen to the BADA and BelCanto Reflink
    I have had a demo unit of the Bel Canto Reflink at home for the last few weeks and it is a great device. The Reflink is a definite step up from the Bel Canto uLink (which is a nice converter in its own right). The TAS reviewer found the Reflink to perform better in most aspects compared to his Offramp 5 reference converter.


    I too would enjoy being able to demo the BADA USB.
    Home: microRendu (Roon) | Berkeley Alpha USB | LH Labs Geek Pulse Xfi+LPS | Jeff Rowland Capri | Blue Circle Audio BC202 | Revel Ultima Gem ​speakers | 2 x Revel Performa3 B112 subwoofers (other stuff: Sablon/Siltech/MG Audio/GIK Panels/Stillpoints). Headphones: Cavalli Liquid Carbon amp > Sennheiser HD800

    Desktop at Work: PC > Lightspeed > Intona > Curious Link > W4S Recovery > Schiit Bimby | Luminous Audio Axiom II pre | Job/Goldmund 225 amp | Gallo Strada 2 | Elac S10 sub

  14. #14
    Junior Member Elberoth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by edorr View Post
    Sure, but if the two main USB converter performance parameters that impact sound quality are jitter and noise, than using a DAC that is fully asynchronous on its S/PDIF input will change the relative performance of the USB converters with that DAC (probably quite dramatically so).

    You would expect it to move the ranking of relatively low noise converters up the list and diminish the weight of jitter performance of the converter (theoretically, jitter performance should become irrelevant).
    True, but I do not know any other - as you call it - fully asynchronous DACs other than the PSA and MSB you mentioned.

    Quote Originally Posted by Blake View Post
    I have had a demo unit of the Bel Canto Reflink at home for the last few weeks and it is a great device.
    Yes, as I already commented in another thread, on paper the new BelCanto models look very interesting, and the first reports I've read are encouraging.

    What seems to be missing in BelCanto designs are the heroic efforts the BADA team has made to isolate the dirty USB side from the clean SPDIF output. BADA not only uses the galvanic isolation on SPDIF outputs (as most manufacturers do) but they also use what seems to be the ADUM chips (those are digital isolators based on Analog Devices, Inc., iCoupler® technology - they combine high speed CMOS and monolithic air core transformer technology) which they put on I2s lines - in the junction between the dirty and a clean side. This, plus some other clever tricks they made, gives the Berkeley Alpha USB converter an unprecedented level of isolation from computer grunge, and IMO is one of the reasons behind its extraordinary performance.
    Adam

    PC: CAPS v4 Pipeline + Teradak full ATX linear PSU
    Digital: Lampizator Golden Gate DSD only
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  15. #15
    Newbie Vpitnt's Avatar
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    Nice review!

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    Calyx Femto Matias's Avatar
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    Very nice. Actually I was expecting Chris to do such a review for CA, but it is great to see other people doing this too.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Elberoth View Post
    True, but I do not know any other - as you call it - fully asynchronous DACs other than the PSA and MSB you mentioned.
    This is a subject shrouded in mystery, and no one know what really goes on inside these DACs. But this is from the EMM Labs DAC2X specs:

    MFAST™ vs. conventional PLLs

    Most converters utilize PLL (Phase Locked Loop) circuits. MFAST™ has two distinct advantages. It's a high-speed asynchronous system that locks almost instantaneously to any data stream. Moreover, unlike PLLs which merely attenuate jitter, MFAST™ strips jitter out of the audio stream completely.

    So I guess you can add the DAC2X to the list of asynchrous (an all inputs) DACs, and if the Meitner uses MFAST this would be included as well.

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by Blake View Post
    I have had a demo unit of the Bel Canto Reflink at home for the last few weeks and it is a great device. The Reflink is a definite step up from the Bel Canto uLink (which is a nice converter in its own right). The TAS reviewer found the Reflink to perform better in most aspects compared to his Offramp 5 reference converter.
    How did uLink+iUSB compare to REFLink?

  19. #19
    There is only one way to describe this post - AWESOME - no other word will do it justice.

    I too have had the opportunity to compare many of the converters you did with an extra one - the Wavelength.

    My results generally mirror yours (eg I give the AP the edge over the JK) with a few exceptions.

    I have demoed the OR compared to the AP2 on quite a few occasions in a number of systems - on every occasion without exception everyone preferred the OR - no contest. But it was split 50-50 whether the difference was worth the price difference. Value for money nothing touches the AP2 in my experience and its what I generally recommend to others if money is an issue.

    The other is the Berkeley. Sorry couldn't rank it as high as you did - very good - but only third on my list behind the Wavelength and Off-Ramp (OR) although it was so close to the Wavelength you could reasonably call it a tie. That said though I have been told with direct mode in Audirvana the Berkeley pulls ahead and even the AP2 is excruciatingly close to the OR.

    But again - AWESOME post.

    Thanks
    Bill

  20. #20
    Senior Member Blake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tubesound View Post
    How did uLink+iUSB compare to REFLink?
    If I were to assign a score of 10 to the REFLink (merely as a guide for comparison to the uLink), then....

    REFLink: 10
    uLink: 6.5 - 7

    uLink + iUSB: 8.5 (using a twin-head USB cable with separate power/data lines, which does improve performance vs. a single strand 'traditional' USB cable)
    Home: microRendu (Roon) | Berkeley Alpha USB | LH Labs Geek Pulse Xfi+LPS | Jeff Rowland Capri | Blue Circle Audio BC202 | Revel Ultima Gem ​speakers | 2 x Revel Performa3 B112 subwoofers (other stuff: Sablon/Siltech/MG Audio/GIK Panels/Stillpoints). Headphones: Cavalli Liquid Carbon amp > Sennheiser HD800

    Desktop at Work: PC > Lightspeed > Intona > Curious Link > W4S Recovery > Schiit Bimby | Luminous Audio Axiom II pre | Job/Goldmund 225 amp | Gallo Strada 2 | Elac S10 sub

  21. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by rdsu View Post
    Unfortunately you couldn't test the Audio-gd DI-V3
    I have - the AP2 and OR blew it out of the water, and while it is very cheap and certainly worth the difference it makes for such a pittance, I really can't recommend it compared to the other converters I have heard.

    Thanks
    Bill

  22. #22
    Quote Originally Posted by guydebord View Post
    Im Jealous, what a great opportunity to be able to test all these equipment, especially on a Scarlatti. I too have been searching for a USB/SPIDF converter and have managed to audition at my home the:
    - AP+PP, which was my first.
    - Stello U3
    - M2Tech hiFace Evo
    - Musical Fidelity V192
    - BelCanto Ulink
    - Wavelenght WaveLink HS

    I still want to listen to the BADA and BelCanto Reflink, but until today, the biggest surprise has been the Chinese designed and made Audio GD DI-V3 TCXO+PSU, an exclusive design based on a 32bit VIA usb chip. In my system and to my ears, it bested the AP+PP which was my previous preference, mostly on soundstage and analogue like presence (not clinical). IMO its really worth a listen, especially for the price, its a true bargain!

    I have the MF V192. So far it's the only one I've tried. How much better in % would you say the Audio GD is.

    BTW - I have my eyes on the new Naim DAC which, from what I gather, uses an Audiophilleo based USB input.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Emcee View Post
    BTW - I have my eyes on the new Naim DAC which, from what I gather, uses an Audiophilleo based USB input.
    This appears to make so much more sense architecturally. Build the equivalent of a top notch converter into the DAC, and feed I2S directly to digital input board. Shorter signal path, fewer conversions. Cheaper and better....

  24. #24
    Freshman Member guydebord's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Emcee View Post
    I have the MF V192. So far it's the only one I've tried. How much better in % would you say the Audio GD is.

    BTW - I have my eyes on the new Naim DAC which, from what I gather, uses an Audiophilleo based USB input.
    For what I can remember, I would categorize them in the following order, using the GD as reference:

    100 - Audio GD DI-V3 TCXO + DI-PSU. As I said, to my ears and in my system (with a pair of ultra revealing pro-monitors), it had a slightly less clinical presence than AP, more liquid, soundstage was also slightly better. For those of you that think that spending more = better, if your translate Chinese R&D + costs of production into dollars, if this unit was made in the USA or any western city, it would easily cost above $1k. I have been more than 20 years in this hobby to understand that in hi-end, price is very relative and many times misleading. Audio GD is a genuine hi-fi lab with a very creative Engineer/Designer in charge and it just happens to be in China.

    99 - AP1+PP. Great if you like a more clinical/technical sound without the usual harshness, I can understand why many would prefer this, especially at the first listen.
    90 - BelCanto Ulink
    85 - Stello U3

    85 - M2Tech hiFace Evo (no PSU)
    85 - Wavelenght WaveLink HS
    80 - Musical Fidelity V192


    I had the chance to audition Audio GD's top DAC as part of the summit group from HeadFi, at that time (2 years ago) I compared it with the Naim DAC, Lyndorf DPA-1, Transporter and MBL 1611F, all of them were better than the Audio GD. Saying this, Im not claiming that the Audio GD DI-V3 is the best there is, Im sure it can be bested, plus we all have different systems and hear differently. I already spoke to a Bel Canto and BADA dealer and Im arranging to audition both soon, can't wait! I have a good feeling about the REFLink.

  25. #25
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    S/PDIF, and why it should be avoided if possible

    Just wanted to chime in on this by saying the only real reason to go with S/PDIF is when a better alternative simply isn't available, which happens to be only too often the case with DAC products still even today IMO. Since S/PDIF will typically be converted to I2S before the digital data is passed on to the DAC chip, one might legitimately ask oneself why even bother converting from USB to S/PDIF at all, especially when USB can be converted directly to I2S. The answer to that IMO is not because S/PDIF is in any way better, but just because it's so incredibly popular ("THE choice", as the M2Tech official website effectively labels it towards the end of this page).

    This quote (see below) sums up the problem inherent to S/PDIF rather nicely, I would think.

    It must be noted, however, that a straight comparison with the other standard is not fair, as these latter standards use separate wires for data and clocks, whereas the former ones have one single wire on which data and clocks travel together.
    If you had the memory of a goldfish, maybe it would work.

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