This Just In: Microsoft Launches Native Class 2 USB Audio Support. Wait, What?
It's a bummer that headline is from 2017. Apple released a good working version of class 2 USB audio support on June 15, 2010 with Snow Leopard 10.6.4. Linux has supported UAC2 for ages as well. I guess it isn't surprising though, given the word on the street about Microsoft's Windows audio team. Sometimes there's one guy on the team who really gets this stuff, other times the whole team has pretty much left, etc... Sorry to burst your bubble if you had visions of a well-oiled Windows audio team with vast knowledge and interest in ... audio.
This news is still nice to read, but is it too little too late? For the most part it's a good thing, but it won't change anyone's life like the same announcement would have back in the first decade of the 2000s.
What Is It, Do I Need It, and How Do I Get It
What is USB audio class 2 support? In the simplest terms, UAC2 support, as it's known to some, is what enables you to play high resolution audio to a USB DAC without the need for additional software / drivers. To be precise, class 1 USB audio support enables playback of PCM music up through 24 bit / 96 kHz. Class 2 support enables much higher sample rates such as PCM 24 bit / 384 kHz and DSD (DoP) up through DSD256. It may support higher sample rates, but I have no way of testing anything higher at the moment.
Windows has supported class 1 USB audio "forever." This is why early USB DACs were plug and play. Remember when CEntrance licensed its adaptive USB technology to several manufacturers back in the day? This enabled us to play up to 24/96 on Windows, and we didn't need to install any custom drivers.
When high speed USB audio came to the HiFi market, everyone using Windows had to install third party drivers. Many of these drivers were from Thesycon for XMOS based implementations or even M2Tech for all the companies that licensed its technology. With third party drivers also came the pains of keeping up with technology changes. HiFi companies had to keep drivers updated whenever new operating systems were released or even a minor update that caused something to stop working. Many members of the CA community are well aware of the pitfalls of third party drivers and waiting for a HiFi manufacturer to fix a software issue. I don't blame anyone here. HiFi manufacturers have always been hardware guys, so this is new territory.
Now, Windows 10 features native support for class 2 USB audio. Plug in a USB DAC, and you'll be able to play high resolution audio without installing anything. Of course this won't work for every DAC in the planet.
Do I Need It?
If you use Windows and your DAC is working, then no you don't need it. You may want it though. In the future, HiFI companies may elect to not release custom drivers and to depend on the native class 2 USB audio support from all major operating systems Windows, macOS, and Linux. At such time, you'll need it.
How Do I Get It?
Currently, you need the Windows 10 Creators Update. This is a free update. Microsoft has seen some issues with the update and has held off from pushing it to everyone through Windows Update. If you want to install this, manually go to the Windows 10 Creators Update download site here - link.
Again, this would have been big news back in 2009. Today many people have moved on to Linux based systems or network based systems. People using Windows 10 for playback should be happy that there is another option. They no longer have to depend on HiFi manufacturers to release updates to software (for the most part). Windows 10 UAC2 support is via WASAPI, not ASIO. Those of you who demand ASIO are out of luck.