Are any manufacturers incorporating USB 3.0 connectivity? Will 3.0 offer potentially better sound?
Sure, eventually. Maybe...
Contributor to The Absolute Sound, EnjoytheMusic.com, Vintage Guitar Magazine, and other fine publications
Thanks for your reply, Steve, I was hoping you would respond to this query. I'm thinking about putting together a new computer and I'm wondering if I should include a USB 3.0 port. If 3.0 is too far away from being a current consideration, what would you recommend as the ideal way to link a computer to a DAC? I don't own a DAC, yet, either,so if you were starting from scratch and wanted to begin using a computer/hard drive music storage system and need to link to your audio system, what would be the highest resolution connection to utilize? Consideration A: laptop computer with outboard hard drive. Consideration B: desktop computer (which gives lots of flexibility with motherboard connections and the ability to plug in various cards). Due to cost considerations, I have to remain a PC guy, can't afford Apple stuff (yet).
It is going to be quite a while before 3.0 has the same level of support that 2.0 has right now.
So, if you are doing a dedicated computer I would steer you toward a Mac Mini configuration so you can go USB, FireWire, or Toslink. I have no experience (or need) to do it with a PC. Is $599 for an Apple refurb mini that much more than you'll pay for a properly configed PC?
Link to Apple: http://store.apple.com/us/product/FC270LL/A
As to which DAC, I would start inexpensive, such as with a MusicStreamer II+, and then work my way up till I couldn't hear a difference between two DACs.
Given the way the computer industry operates, USB 3.0 will be universal in all new designs within 3 to 6 months.
I'm not sure why Steven likes Apple for this application as much as he seems to. Having put together multiple different music servers on both PC and Apple platforms, I can't think of any reason I'd choose Apple again, even if the price was even. For a dedicated music server, the PC has many more choices in library management/playback software, and as a consequence, better support for some popular lossless formats like FLAC and WMA Lossless, as well as better support for high-resolution bit depths and sampling frequencies. And if it's a dedicated music server, the usability of the operating system is essentially a non-factor - it's your management/playback software you're worried about.
To answer your question about the "highest resolution connection", the highest resolution connection is an asynchronous data connection, like Firewire or USB 2.0 in asynchronous mode. These connections essentially eliminate the possibility of the music server contributing to digital transmission jitter. Unfortunately, there is a pretty limited selection of DACs which will accept either Firewire or asynchronous USB, and they don't tend to be cheap :) I use the Ayre QB-9 (async USB) in my headphone system, and it's excellent.
If you're experienced building a PC from the ground up, obviously you have the skill set to assemble a PC as a dedicated music server/renderer, and most likely that's what you will do. And as you expend more time trying different player apps and library schemes it will be come your hobby.
Most people lack that skill set.
The Music Streamer II+ I suggested is Asynchronous. And it IS cheap...
I'm actually not experienced building a PC from ground up - the most adventurous thing I've ever done, hardware-wise, is swapping in a new sound card. Which is no more or less complicated on a PC than a Mac ...
Here's what I would do for a starter system. Get a Dell Mini-10 netbook, which is fanless and therefore dead silent. If you need more disk space to store music, add an external USB hard drive; I strongly recommend the Seagate FreeAgent Go series, which is silent and reliable. You can currently get one of their 640 MB drives for $99.00. Then, download and install J River Media Center and try it out as your library manager/player. It's as simple to use as iTunes out of the box, but dramatically more functional and capable as you expand. FLAC, WMA, Apple lossless, and many other formats. Automatic switching of any bit depth and resolution. Much more advanced tagging/searching than iTunes. 30 day free trial, $50 to buy. Total cost of all of this is significantly less than a Mac Mini, with much greater functionality. I own all of these products personally, and use them in my daily life with superb results on very high-end playback systems.
Thanks Steven, I wasn't aware of the Music Streamer II+, but I'm happy to see the obvious advantages of async USB coming to more accessible price points.
http://www.dell.com/home/laptops#subcats=&navla=55846~0~5930678&navidc=LT: Laptop Screen Size&navValc=10.1"&a=55846~0~5930678