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Noob USB DAC choice advice please?
Noob USB DAC choice advice please?
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Old 9th May 2007, 02:37 PM   #1
OzMikeH is offline OzMikeH  Australia
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Default Noob USB DAC choice advice please?

I want to buy a DAC, or a DAC kit. I'm an electronics Tech, so I should be able to build an advanced kit without trouble, Hand soldering 20 pins per inch surface mount is no problem.

I've been ripping all of my CDs with Exactaudiocopy and storing as WAV files on a USB hard drive. First for portability but now I've found it convenient to play from hard disk at home too.
I've been travelling a lot with work lately so I bought a pair of Shure E3 in ear monitors which I'm quite happy with, I have listened to them on a friend's rather expensive DAC so I have been spoilt.

The sound card in my company laptop is really, really bad, so bad it's unlistenable.

To get to the point: I want the following features:
portable, smaller than a VHS video casette.
Very low noise headphone preamp.
Unbalanced (RCA) Line out
USB, Backward compatibility with USB1.1 a bonus
GOOD sound quality, better than the average CD player but nothing too OTT.

Nice to haves:
Ability to play 96kHz sample rate files.
cheaper than the Shure E3 earphones.
As small as a PC Mouse.

Has anyone got something similar? Good/bad points about it? Suggestions? Thread I should read?

Edit: I'm not specifically asking for a kit, mass produced product is fine. If it is a kit I don't want to have to stuff about ordering resistors, caps etc separately.
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Old 9th May 2007, 03:58 PM   #2
AdamThorne is offline AdamThorne  United States
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I picked up a Silverstone EB01 USB Dac. It was about $80 at newegg. It's a completed unit, not a kit.

It sounds pretty good, I'm happy with it. It was replacing my audio which had previously been put together on the thought 'computer audio sucks anyway, so who cares' so the bar that was set for it was pretty low. It does provide a much greater sense of insturment seperation, bass, dynamics, smoothness, and pretty much everything I would expect of a serious attempt at quality audio at the price point. It's good enough that I began thinking more seriously about making my source computer quieter.

The thing I don't really know is how it stacks up to the competition. Most of the research I did showed quality computer sound solutions to be more like $150-200. (except for the odd group buy thing here or there, none of which seemed to be running when I was in the market) I didn't run out and buy a bunch of these, and since most of them are mail order I didn't get a chance to listen to 'em either. I'd like to know more about the relative merits of the Silverstone and the other players for inexpensive computer 2-channel hi-fi audio.

The Silverstone will pretty much max out the current supplying capacity of your USB subsystem. I guess some laptops can't power it up. My WinXP box began throwing error windows up with messages something like "Your USB subsystem is being shut down due to an over current error." It didn't do any damage. I ended up getting a USB extender cable and splicing in a 5v 750mA wall wart. Remember to reconnect the USB cable shield if you do this. It's worked fine since. Mine runs to a SF T-amp, but I've read that people are running headphones off of it alright. It's stock outputs are RCA, but it comes with an RCA->headphone jack adapter.

I haven't actually opened mine, but I've seen pics of the inside on the web. It looks like through-hole stuff. Has anyone dreamed up mods to do on this device? I'm fairly satisfied with the sound of it, but you know... any chance to break stuff...

I haven't seen much discussion of this device on line. I'd like to know others impressions.
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Old 9th May 2007, 04:40 PM   #3
s_volkovoy is offline s_volkovoy  Ukraine
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Maybe you'll be interested in my device. It is USB1.1 soud card with the following features:
- separate AC sypply 210 - 250VAC;
- galvanic isolation from computer;
- USB ESD protection with suppressor;
- high quality DAC (BB PCM1793);
- good output op-amp (BB OPA2132 or OPA2134);
- bi-polar analog supply(+ and - 12V, 24V totaly) for high linerity;
- 4 voltage regulators;
- shottky rectifier diodes;
It sounds signigigaly better then Terratec Aureon 7.1 Space and all DVD players a heard.
I already made a second generation PCBs of qood quality and bug fixed. If you interested please contact me personaly.
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File Type: jpg usb2_small.jpg (94.6 KB, 984 views)
There is no miracles, just short circut and circut brake.
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Old 10th May 2007, 12:46 AM   #4
OzMikeH is offline OzMikeH  Australia
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Looks like an option s_volkovoy. I like the high speed diodes in the power supply, shows a good design philosophy, the mains power supply is something I would rather avoid but it doesn't rule your product out. Through hole electrolytics in the audio path means they can easily be replaced with better capacitors too. Do you have a website?

And Thanks to Adam too.
These little devices take a lot more power than I expected.
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Old 10th May 2007, 03:55 AM   #5
OzMikeH is offline OzMikeH  Australia
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A couple of devices that are looking pretty good so far:
Roland Edirol UA-1EX.
M-Audio Transit.

I had a look at the Silverstone: no headphone capability, only plays to 48kHz 16 bit, massive power consumption.

There's plenty of users of the M-audio around the forum. Not so many for the Roland which looks like a better device.
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Old 10th May 2007, 08:27 AM   #6
s_volkovoy is offline s_volkovoy  Ukraine
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Now my site is in plans for nearest future. But, unfortunetly, I'm very busy now at my main job and in production the first serie of USB DACs. Hope, I'll open my site soon.
There is no miracles, just short circut and circut brake.
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Old 10th May 2007, 03:53 PM   #7
nicoch58 is offline nicoch58  Europe
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tray dddac.de usb tda1543 nos dac kit ,works and sound very well ,replace maudio transit and onkyo se90........
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Old 11th May 2007, 06:32 AM   #8
alleycat is offline alleycat  Australia
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E-MU 0202 USB might be what you're looking for. I haven't tried it though.
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Old 11th May 2007, 10:18 AM   #9
OzMikeH is offline OzMikeH  Australia
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Having trouble finding an E-Mu for sale in Australia.
starting to get a but expensive but it sure is tempting.

Do any of these Upsample and re-clock the signal?
I have read the manuals and they don't clearly say.
Or is that only the High end gear worth 5 times the price?
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Old 12th May 2007, 02:06 AM   #10
OzMikeH is offline OzMikeH  Australia
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Also the Trends Audio UD-10. I have 4 options to consider now.

Trends UD-10:
Good: no pimping up required, very well respected, Has a high stability clock, very solidly built.
Bad: No recording (handy for speaker testing), only 16 bit 48kHz so no sample doubling possibility, but maybe I don't need it.
Pimping up: Hardware volume control. Might be able to change the DAC chip but unlikely, it has the USB interface in the chip

M-Audio Transit:
Good: Can record. Many sample rates up to 96kHz 24 bit, including 88.2kHz which is handy for sample doubled playback.
Bad: Not well loved, many driver difficulties, Unknown if it is a reclocking DAC or USB clocked, Looks very flimsy, pathetic and cheap little connectors. expensive at $200.
Pimping up: cleaner power supply, reboxing with RCA connectors and a hardware volume control.

Edirol UA-1ex:
Good: Cheap - $150 , solid construction, sturdy connectors, can record. 24 bit.
Bad: only 44.1, 48 and 96kHz. No 88.2kHz which means it loads the computer up when sample doubling.
Pimping up: cleaner power supply.

The Volkovoy special:
Good: certainly no pimping required. I expect very high sample rate. Proper audiophile device.
Bad: Price unknown, mains powered, very bulky.

Thanks everyone for your suggestions. If anyone has one of these devices please share your experiences.
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