USB OR DIGITAL OUTPUT FROM A SOUND CARD?

audboatski -- Tue, 04/19/2011 - 21:46

I HAVE BEEN USING A EARLY USB TO S/PDIF CONVERTER(2007) WITH GOOD RESULTS BUT FEEL ITS TIME TO UPGRADE, THERE ARE MANY OF THEM ON THE MARKET(HALIDE, MUSICAL FIDELITY,BEL CANTO, ETC.). AFTER READING ISSUE 213 I AM NOT SO SURE ABOUT THE USB INTERFACE. THE SOUND CARD SURVEY WRITEN BY KARL SCHUSTER GAVE IN THIS ISSUE SOME GLOWING REVIEWS ON SOUND CARDS USING THE DIGITAL OUTPUTS INTO AN OUTBOARD DAC. HE SEEMED TO BE SAYING THAT THIS MAY BE A BETTER WAY TO FEED A SIGNAL TO A DAC THEN THE USB INTERFACE, STATEING THAT THE INTERNAL PCI AUDIO INTERFACE IS MATURE,ROBUST AND PROVEN. HE ALSO SAYS "THE BEST SOUND CARDS SET A BENCHMARK AGAINST WHICH ALTERNATIVE TECHNOLOGIES MUST ULTIMATELY BE JUDGED". HE MAY HAVE A POINT! HIS REVIEWS OF SOME OF THESE SOUNDCARDS USING THEIR DIGITAL OUTPUTS REALLY GETS YOU THINKING.
MAYBE HE CAN RESPOND TO THIS POST, AND I WOULD APPRECIATE ANYONE ELSE THAT HAS SOME EXPERIENCE OR OPINION ON THIS TO RESPOND.

rossop -- Thu, 04/21/2011 - 22:51

No need to shout... I use an Asus Xonar Essence PCI card and found it best to use the co-axial output to my Peachtree Nova (DAC/Amp). There is not a huge difference compared to USB but it is noticable. If optimum sound quality is your goal this is the way to go, in my opinion.

mjmonjure -- Thu, 02/23/2012 - 08:38

Audboatski
I did this exact test on a high end windows based machine.  The sound card was a creative X-Fi Fatal1ty, which by the way I thought was supurb.  I then purchased a Burson DA160 DAC.  I initially disabled the X-Fi and used the burson exclusivly (J River interface/processor).  Keep in mind the burson was brand new had maybe 20 or 30 hrs of run time.
 
I started with the Burson supplied USB 2.0 cable as well as their IEC to Standard AC Plug.  I then ran a mini 3.5mm audioquest cable to the powered 2.1 Bose speaker set and waited for ground to move beneath my feet.  Did't happen.  The Burson was better in some areas, but in my opinion, after having dropped $900 on a new external DAC with discreet analog sections and 2 transformers, it should have been a dramtic difference, but was not.  The sound cardnot quite as tight in the bass, mids had a tad less detail, highs were about the same  
 
After reading mutiple forums and speaking with one of the guys over at Benchmark,  he suggested using M2Tech Hiface SP/DIF to USB convertor and use J Rivers Kernel streaming and bypass the Burson's USB altogether.  I ordered the Hi Face,.  In the meantime I logged about another 150 hours on the Burson and by now, it had supassed the X-FI in all ways, sound stage, tighter bass, midrange volumes that sound like the vocalist is standing right next to you.  All better, but still, it was not a dramtic "Knock your socks off" improvement.. 
Once the Hi - Face arrived, I plugged into the PC's USB port and from there ran a fairly high end COAX into one of the DAC's coax inputs,  Now that little addition, was a noticible improvement.  Sound soundstage opened up, monsterous bass, very, very mucsial and not the squeeky clean studio sound, I might say it had a slight warmth, but just blew the USB input out of the water.  The Burson USB could only process 24bit/96K sample rate on the USB source.   The miniute I put the Hi Face in between the DAC and USB port using j River (not changing any setings except  player, It was a dramtic difference and I cannot go back to the USD port on the Burson. 
Just for kicks when I had the sound card in the machine, I tried a few experments.  The XF-i has an optical out which I fed into my Burson Optical in .  This was the worst of the 3 scenerios. It works, but not very impressivly. 
 
Not very scientific, but a little insight.

Steven Stone -- Thu, 02/23/2012 - 10:07

mjmonjure, You have found out what many of us have also concluded - that your USB interface is critical. A better USB implementation (such as M2Tech's) makes ANY DAC sound better...

Steven Stone
Contributor to The Absolute Sound, EnjoytheMusic.com, Vintage Guitar Magazine, and other fine publications

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