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  1. #1

    Best USB to SPDIF converter

    Could not find a thread on this.

    I'm now in the market for a USB to SPDIF converter and am curious about any opinions of anyone who has done tests among these few suspects:

    - Berkeley Alpha USB
    - Empirical Audio Off-ramp
    - dCS Puccini U-clock
    - Soulution USB 590
    - Art Legato for redbook?
    - Audiophilleo2?

    Now I know Chris has said the Alpha is the best he has heard (which I guess means it's better than wavelink). I've also tried the Weiss which isn't to my liking, so I've knocked off those two off the list. Off-ramp is also repeatedly said to be one of the best by a few parties, but I've never seen any comparisons.

    I might be able to try the Berkeley but the rest are abit more difficult. Has anyone done AB with some of these?

    I've not heard anything about the dCS or Soulution at all - I guess the cost is high enough that I would probably change DAC to something like the emmlabs before I consider this, but am curious about the differences.

  2. #2
    The best USB/s/pdif converter is not to have one at all, just buy a well designed and implemented async dac, either USB or FireWire.
    There is no point adding another layer of conversion.
    Keith.

  3. #3
    Best I've heard is not on your list: Sonicweld Diverter.

  4. #4
    Best I have heard is the Off-Ramp - and I have heave heard quite few.

    Thanks
    Bill

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Purite Audio View Post
    The best USB/s/pdif converter is not to have one at all, just buy a well designed and implemented async dac, either USB or FireWire. There is no point adding another layer of conversion.
    With a couple of exceptions, the PDX and Playback Deigns, the usb converters in DAC's are easily beatable by a good quality external converter.

    Thanks
    Bill

  6. #6
    What about factors like compatibility with A+ direct, integer modes etc?
    macmini (16gb ram-ssd-mavericks-clones ext psu-various ext hd-aqvox psu / sd card)>pcm cuinas converter/ dsd>chord usb silver plus>mytek dsd dac>cawsey cables>naquadria v2 passive pre>naquadria lucien+zpm power>elac fs249be

  7. #7
    Purite: Thanks for your advice. I own the Chord QBD76HD which has async usb input, but when I tested a $200 usb/spdif converter, it literally blew away the async usb. This is why I decided to hunt for a good one.

    harrypt: I did try the original Diverter.. maybe I should put it in the list too. Thanks.

    bhobba: I read your view that the Off-ramp is the best, followed by wavelink then berkeley. I found this to be pretty interesting as I have friends who have upgraded from wavelink to berkeley with good effect. Guess it depends if the isolation is required..

    jamesg11: I use a PC so integer mode does not apply. Obviously more features would be good (I don't see any usb/spdif converters with dsd yet for instance) but if it can play my 16/44.1 and the occasional 24/192 file well, that's good enough for me.

  8. #8
    Quest
    With a few USB/S/PDIF converters you are going to get a lot of opinions, since system synergy and a level of isolation will make quite a bit of difference.

    Maybe that's all the Chord needs is some partial layer that prevents USB noise from getting through. USB-USB isolation is tricky, the methods to isolate are complex and varied. I wouldn't go so far as it affects the SQ, but certainly the cost of the DAC increases. Barrows had an interesting comment on that issue here.

    If I connect an Audiophilleo 2 to the DACs I have the veil lifts and the noise floor just drops into an abyss. My friends tell me the Pure Power option is one more level where noise is meaningless. The price on the A2 with Pure Power is some USD1200 something, the Alpha Dac is higher, but not much. I haven't heard the Alpha USB, Off Ramp or the others so can't comment. If a company just manufactures the A1 and A2, and are still around, they must be doing something right.

    Having drivers for an audio device is a stumbling block with added complexity and is OS dependent to a degree where often drivers are broken with an OS update. Much as I like Windows for regular work, OSX excels in audio and the A2 requires just the native built in drivers supplied by OSX, same as Linux. So I use OSX for music, while I work on Windows.

    Good luck with your auditions.

  9. #9
    One and a half, thanks for your inputs.
    I did try using usb isolators, usb hubs, linear psus to some effect with the Chord, but somehow I think it's also partially to do with isolating the USB from the DAC - much like the way separate transport/dac combo can sound better than a integrated CDP.

    Audiophilleo 2 captured my attention just for enabling a direct input, which I was wondering why usb to spdif converters like m2tech did not, but some aspects of the Berkeley and higher brands appeal to me more.

    I have different experiences with Windows, which I feel sounds better than OSX with a little bit of work, but we all have different opinions here. I am not disturbed my the addition of another driver. If you read it from another angle, it just means OSX comes with it installed. This can be left to another thread.

  10. #10
    Senior Member barrows's Avatar
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    An SOtM USB output card in the computer/server will help most (if not all) USB-SPDIF converters sound their best, or USB DACs for that matter. Another converter to consider is the Sonore, their converter will also convert DSD to 24/176.4 (or 24/88.2 if you need that) PCM on fly. The Sonore model does not use USB power at all, and has an onboard dual linear power supply.

    Of course, I still believe a good USB DAC which avoids using SPDIF at all is ultimately the better way to go. There are actually quite a few good DACs with excellent async USB interfaces onboard these days.

    A lot of the better converters are going to be pretty close in technical performance, with slight diferences in jitter spectrum: with the good ones, there will be differences in sound, but those differences will be system dependent, and the only way to decide between most of the ones mentioned here woudl be by an audition in your system.

    disclaimer: I do some part time consulting with Sonore.
    EVERYTHING MATTERS

    Custom Sonore Server, Vortexbox/mpd w SOtM USB w LiFePO4 Battery Power--Twisted Pear Buffalo IIIse/Legato 3/Async USB-Pass Labs X-150.5-Focus Audio FS888 cap mod-DIY Parallel AC Filter-DIY Power Cables-Nordost Frey Audio Cables-Nordost Blue Heaven USB Cable

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Quest View Post
    Purite: Thanks for your advice. I own the Chord QBD76HD which has async usb input, but when I tested a $200 usb/spdif converter, it literally blew away the async usb. This is why I decided to hunt for a good one.

    harrypt: I did try the original Diverter.. maybe I should put it in the list too. Thanks.

    bhobba: I read your view that the Off-ramp is the best, followed by wavelink then berkeley. I found this to be pretty interesting as I have friends who have upgraded from wavelink to berkeley with good effect. Guess it depends if the isolation is required..

    jamesg11: I use a PC so integer mode does not apply. Obviously more features would be good (I don't see any usb/spdif converters with dsd yet for instance) but if it can play my 16/44.1 and the occasional 24/192 file well, that's good enough for me.
    I am sorry ot hear the Chord USB input is so poorly designed and implemented, I would always buy dacs from manufacturers that know what they are doing!
    Not always easy to tell from the marketing BS I know.
    Keith.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Purite Audio View Post
    I am sorry ot hear the Chord USB input is so poorly designed and implemented, I would always buy dacs from manufacturers that know what they are doing!
    Not always easy to tell from the marketing BS I know.
    Keith.
    I wouldn't say it is so poorly designed and implemented, but rather that the spdif just sounds better. Chris did give the QBD76HD a nod as well, and I personally was happy until I heard a usb/spdif converter to it.

    I had believed in getting a direct USB connection is always better, and most of the DACs I have heard at home give similar performance. So I'd say Chord's implementation is up there with equivalently priced products.

    While CD transport still sound better to those DACs, I always thought it was limitation of the PC and not the USB.

    I guess now there is something else I need to explore.

  13. #13
    There should be absolutely no difference in sq between inputs, in a properly designed and implemented dac, technically the best method of transferring timed data is async , with the usual caveat of properly designed and implemented.
    Keith.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by barrows View Post
    An SOtM USB output card in the computer/server will help most (if not all) USB-SPDIF converters sound their best, or USB DACs for that matter. Another converter to consider is the Sonore, their converter will also convert DSD to 24/176.4 (or 24/88.2 if you need that) PCM on fly. The Sonore model does not use USB power at all, and has an onboard dual linear power supply.

    Of course, I still believe a good USB DAC which avoids using SPDIF at all is ultimately the better way to go. There are actually quite a few good DACs with excellent async USB interfaces onboard these days.

    A lot of the better converters are going to be pretty close in technical performance, with slight diferences in jitter spectrum: with the good ones, there will be differences in sound, but those differences will be system dependent, and the only way to decide between most of the ones mentioned here woudl be by an audition in your system.

    disclaimer: I do some part time consulting with Sonore.
    Sorry must have missed your response. Thanks for highlighting the Sonore. I didn't know a DSD USB/SPDIF converter exists.

    I'm somewhat wary of changing DACs as my system tonality is good now, don't feel like upsetting the balance and this is a quick fix. Getting a new DAC is possible, but I'd have to spend quite a bit more to get better performance than the Chord. I had heard most DACs close to <$10k range already and selected this one - based on comparing async usb/firewire inputs on each. Even if I buy the new DAC, I'd still be curious if the performance could be bettered via a USB/SPDIF converter.

    With a good DAC, a PC via usb/firewire can reach very good performance. But I think it's hard to say (for me at least) that even a good DAC like the EMMLabs DAC2X sounds equivalent through a PC than versus through the TSD1X.

    There will always be exceptions but personally from my experience, even with 'excellent async usb interfaces', many DACs can probably be improved by being fed a good spdif signal (whether from CDP or a USB/SPDIF converter). I repeat - this is not to say that the DACs are not good! Just that they can potentially sound better! I've now learnt not to take this for granted. Just my 2 cents.

  15. #15
    Senior Member barrows's Avatar
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    "There will always be exceptions but personally from my experience, even with 'excellent async usb interfaces', many DACs can probably be improved by being fed a good spdif signal (whether from CDP or a USB/SPDIF converter). I repeat - this is not to say that the DACs are not good! Just that they can potentially sound better! I've now learnt not to take this for granted. Just my 2 cents."

    I totally disagree with the above, for both technical, and experiential reasons. There is zero technical rational for an external USB-SPDIF converter performing better than a properly implemented internal USB reciver which avoids the technical pitfalls of SPDIF. Perhaps you have not heard DACs with really good USB implementations though, also, for any USB to sound great things have to be well sorted on the computer side (like an SOtM card, good software, and clean power supplies).

    In any case, by all means if you really love the Chord, then you should spend some time auditioning the best USB-SPDIF converters out there. As you can see from answers in this thread, you will not find a valid consensus on which converter is "best" (note Bill's preference for the Wavelink over the Alpha USB, it seems contrary to popular belief), and this is why you will need to hear them in your system. USB cables will matter, and SPDIF cables will matter even more as well.
    EVERYTHING MATTERS

    Custom Sonore Server, Vortexbox/mpd w SOtM USB w LiFePO4 Battery Power--Twisted Pear Buffalo IIIse/Legato 3/Async USB-Pass Labs X-150.5-Focus Audio FS888 cap mod-DIY Parallel AC Filter-DIY Power Cables-Nordost Frey Audio Cables-Nordost Blue Heaven USB Cable

  16. #16
    barrows, I think we will just have to differ in opinion here as our experiences are just different. On the PC end, I assure you that I do pay attention to those things, including the sound of different HDD, RAM, SATA cables.

    Anyway, I am aware I have to audition the usb/spdif converter to decide by myself, but as per starting thread, some items like the Off-ramp and Soulution are just not readily available to home trial in my country. Items like the Soulution are just not stocked by the local dealer unless on order. Was hoping someone here has some opinions on them, if anyone has heard more than one at their place.

    If there is nobody who can provide any guidance, that's fine too, but I felt no harm asking to a wider audience. Thanks for your time.

  17. #17
    The dacs I use here sound identical through every input ( as they should) to spend nearly as much as the value of the dac on a converter seems well perverse, at least borrow something like the HiFace2 and compare it to more expensive converters before you buy.
    Keith.

  18. #18
    I have the Wavelength Audio WaveLink HS 24/192 USB to SPDIF converter. I would say that everything makes a difference.

    With the Wavelink I have found that you have to have really good USB cable. I use Cardas Clear Serial Buss (USB). I have tested it against Audioquest Cinnamon and Belkin Gold cable. The difference is night and day. Cardas is much better. Also COAX cable makes difference. I have tested my Audioquest VDM-1 against Crystal Cable and Cardas Lightning. Audioquest VDM-1 beats them easily. I think Cardas Neutral Reference Digital would sound best but I haven't have change to test it.

    I think that the computer makes a biggest difference. I have found that Macbook Air with SSD drive or Thinkpad T400 with SSD drive have best sound. I would make a conclusion that avoiding noise in computer is really important.

    I have compared WaveLink with Musical Fidelity V-Link 192 USB to S/PDIF Converter and I have to say that WaveLink is much better, but you need good computer, USB-cable and COAX-cable to make a difference.
    Levono T400 2.93Ghz T9800 128GB SSD --> Own player programmed against event style WASAPI driver / Mac Pro 2008 8 core 20GB with Sonnet Tango USB FireWire --> Own player programmed against the lowest level HAL / iPhone 5s --> Own player programmed against the HAL -->Cardas Clear Serial Buss (USB) 3m --> Wavelength WaveLink HS 24/192 USB to SPDIF converter --> Audioquest VDM-1 1m --> Densen B-410XS (Cardas Golden Reference Power 1.5m) --> Cardas Neutral Reference interconnect 1m --> Densen B-110 Plus (Cardas Golden Reference Power 1.5m) --> Cardas Neutral Reference speaker 3m --> Dynaudio Contour 1.1

  19. #19
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    Usb spdif

    Quote Originally Posted by Quest View Post
    Could not find a thread on this.

    - Berkeley Alpha USB
    - Empirical Audio Off-ramp
    - dCS Puccini U-clock
    - Soulution USB 590
    - Art Legato for redbook?
    - Audiophilleo2?
    I have heard all of these converters but the dCS and the Solution in my system, although I did not have them all at the same time, so it was not a head to head comparison. The Legato and the Off-Ramp were the best with my Berkeley DAC. I can only think the Berkeley USB I had was defective. It was awful. I should have stayed with Legato, which I used for about a year. The Off-Ramp sounds marginally better, but so little of the music that interests me is available in high-rez formats that it wasn't worth the substantial cost difference. The high-rez offerings are nice for showing off equipment, but I am interested in New York downtown jazz, which Matthew Shipp defined only half-jokingly as music heard below 14th St in Manhattan, and literally none of the music I typically listen to is available in high-rez.

  20. #20
    As I understand it, an ideal DAC will have a USB input that is so well designed it is impervious to USB cables and computer configurations. Such a mythical machine will instantly make all CAP's redundant. Back in the real world DAC USB inputs are often so poor that an AP SPDIF input is a major improvement, despite the ridiculous design of SPDIF with no dedicated clock. The Audial Model S USB DAC looks to have the USB design implementation well sorted. Has anyone heard such a machine?

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by barrows View Post
    An SOtM USB output card in the computer/server will help most (if not all) USB-SPDIF converters sound their best, or USB DACs for that matter. Another converter to consider is the Sonore, their converter will also convert DSD to 24/176.4 (or 24/88.2 if you need that) PCM on fly. The Sonore model does not use USB power at all, and has an onboard dual linear power supply.

    Of course, I still believe a good USB DAC which avoids using SPDIF at all is ultimately the better way to go. There are actually quite a few good DACs with excellent async USB interfaces onboard these days.

    A lot of the better converters are going to be pretty close in technical performance, with slight diferences in jitter spectrum: with the good ones, there will be differences in sound, but those differences will be system dependent, and the only way to decide between most of the ones mentioned here woudl be by an audition in your system.

    disclaimer: I do some part time consulting with Sonore.
    +1 on the Sonore recommendation. However, I do not provide consulting services to them, unless you count offering advice and volunteering as a test subject! :-)
    BPT 3.5 Ultra/Daedalus Ulysses/Atma-Sphere MA-1 Mk 3.2 Silver Edition/Atma-Sphere MP-1 Mk 3.2//VALabs NOS DAC/Custom Sonore Classic with Upsampling/Artisan Fidelity Technics SP10 MK II/Kuzma 4Point/VDH Frog Gold/BMC MCCI

  22. #22
    Thanks guys - since we don't have enough experience on actual listening, what do you think is really important for usb to spdif conversion?

    If it's the clock, wouldn't something like the dcs puccini u-clock trounce the rest? Just thinking out loud.

  23. #23
    Senior Member barrows's Avatar
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    this...

    Quote Originally Posted by Quest View Post
    Thanks guys - since we don't have enough experience on actual listening, what do you think is really important for usb to spdif conversion?

    If it's the clock, wouldn't something like the dcs puccini u-clock trounce the rest? Just thinking out loud.
    is one of those cases where everything matters. Critical to a USB-SPDIF converter will be: the design of the converter chip itself, how its onboard protocals are handled, how the clock is handled, how the the design of the PCB layout attempts to reduce the influence of noise on the ground line from the computer. Power supplies are going to be critical: are there dedicated, isolated, low noise, low output impedance supplies specific to each section: The USB receiver chip, the audio processing chip, the two clock oscillators for the digital audio. Is there a separate re-clocking step which re-aligns the data stream with the masterclock, separate from that which is done in the audio processing chip. Are the clock oscillators themselves isolated from the computer ground section of the USB receiver. Is the SPDIF output robust and fast enough to make reflections on the SPDIF cable a non-issue. Are the SPDIF output transformers the best available and implemented in the best possible way for the highest badwidth signal possible. Etc, etc...

    I am no digital engineer, and I am sure a good digital engineer could come up with many more details which would effect the performance of a USB-SPDIF converter.

    Just suggesting that the clock is what matters is avoiding all the myriad of details which could make the difference between an excellent converter and an also ran... Even a really fantastic oscillator circuit will output crap if the power supply feeding it is not clean DC...
    EVERYTHING MATTERS

    Custom Sonore Server, Vortexbox/mpd w SOtM USB w LiFePO4 Battery Power--Twisted Pear Buffalo IIIse/Legato 3/Async USB-Pass Labs X-150.5-Focus Audio FS888 cap mod-DIY Parallel AC Filter-DIY Power Cables-Nordost Frey Audio Cables-Nordost Blue Heaven USB Cable

  24. #24
    Senior Member sandyk's Avatar
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    [QUOTE]Just suggesting that the clock is what matters is avoiding all the myriad of details which could make the difference between an excellent converter and an also ran... Even a really fantastic oscillator circuit will output crap if the power supply feeding it is not clean DC... [QUOTE]

    EVERYTHING MATTERS !
    Even the Sabre DAC manufacturers now appear to be achknowledging that squeaky clean , highly stable and low impedance DC supplies are VERY important, and that separate supplies are needed for different areas, even at the same supply rail voltage.

  25. #25
    Hi barrows, sandyk,

    Sure everything matters.. but I am assuming at the higher tier of usb/spdif converters, these concerns would largely be looked into and the differences that come about would be in aspects that some companies may have more expertise in (e.g. the clock).

    Personally I wouldn't have minded just buying a dcs or soulution blind if I were more sure of the quality, but I'm not. Does not help that not much internals or details of these items.

    Anyway, have borrowed a wavelink to start my listening comparisons first.

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