USB 3.0

micheal848 -- Sat, 08/28/2010 - 22:07

Here's one for the technical bunch:  Are any manufacturers incorporating USB 3.0 connectivity to their DAC's ?  Will the reported 10x speed vs USB 2 yield superior audio quality?  How will USB 3.0 compare audibly to other high speed connections such as eSata, Firewire IEE1394, Toslink, AES/EBU etc.?

Josh Hill -- Fri, 10/08/2010 - 08:40

I'm afraid I can't answer most of your questions, but, as I understand it, the audio quality of USB is limited by the timebase instability introduced to reduce EMI. USB 3.0 will presumably suffer from the same spread-spectrum noise. However, as more and more DAC's go to asynchronous USB, the problem should go away. Firewire doesn't have that problem, it already runs in asynchronous mode (the failure of USB to do that reflects limitations in the drivers, not the specifications). Toslink is a messy, compromised signal. But, again, as DAC's get better, they should be able to eliminate the sonic effects of that.
IMO, it's shameful from an engineering perspective that we're still being affected by jitter years after the technology to remove it became available. If I were buying a DAC for use with USB, I'd definitely want one with a driver for asynchronous operation, doubly so since it seems that some slaved DAC jitter removal techniques can impair the sound.

gmgraves -- Thu, 03/24/2011 - 21:23

 While USB 3.0 MIGHT suffer from the same time-base instability-induced noise,  It's bandwidth is so wide that it need no longer be the digital bottleneck that USB 2.0 is. One thing that I have noticed, is that professional recording equipment still uses FireWire 400 (IEEE1394). While it's bandwidth is similar, on paper, to that of USB 2.0, it's sustained throughput is much faster allowing for ease of transfer of 24 or 32-bit/192 KHz multi-channel audio. Both FireWire 800 and USB3.0 promise to eliminate any bottlenecks in high-resolution digital audio transmission, but it seems that the launch of USB 3.0, so far, has been a non-event. While a few Windows-based computers do now come equipped with it, I, at least, have seen no pro audio equipment that takes advantage of it. Then of course, there's the new Intel developed transmission protocol dark horse called "Thunderbolt" with sustained transfer rates of 10Gbps. Apple has put their money here by releasing all of their new pro laptops with this interface included. Since much of the pro-recording world uses Macs rather than Windows, It's probably not an unsafe bet to assume that the pro audio world will adopt it over USB 3.0 to replace FireWire, if they replace it with anything anytime soon.

Josh Hill -- Fri, 03/25/2011 - 08:13

I suspect you're right about the Mac/pro standards connection, though I imagine that the fact that you need a custom driver to run USB 2.0 asynchronously, while Firewire did that out of the box, had an influence on manufacturer choices as well. We'll have to see what happens with Thunderbolt. As much as I hate to say it, Apple's adoption of a standard has not infrequently been a kiss of death as far as the wider world is concerned. OTOH, if Intel is behind it . . .

gmgraves -- Fri, 03/25/2011 - 14:50

 It's early days yet, for sure, but I don't see any rush by the pro and semi-pro recording world to adopt anything over either USB 2.0 or FireWire 400.

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