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8086 23rd June 2008 01:30 PM

Are there *any* good premade USB sound cards?
I understand I might be stepping into enemy territory here, since the url quite clearly says this is a page for DIY-ers, but after searching, searching, searching for any good external sound cards without success I thought I might turn to you.

That is because this is one of very few places where people actually understand what is going on under the hood (I don't, by the way). Yesterday I bought a TerraTec DMX 6Fire USB capable of 192/24, which for my playback-only needs seemed good on paper.

That was until I read a post on the forum by user "peufeu" were it was given a JUNK rating. In short:
* lots of jitter
* proprietary, windows-only usb protocol
* not for Linux
* harsh, aggressive, digital-sounding
* expensive

And that was my best bet so far!
After reading around I can see that a lot of people are *not* very knowledgable, and thinks that any 96/24 combination will sound great, which I know isn't true. But I hope some of you have tried out any good sounding cards ("usb dacs"/"firewire dacs") and can give me some good info.

FireWire 400/800 or USB2.0
Native 44.1 (and up) because I have a large FLAC collection in 44.1/16
Work with Linux
Digital output should I ever buy a DAC (I am not a DIY person).

If this post is totally inappropriate, then could you direct me to some part of the forum where it is not?

OzMikeH 23rd June 2008 02:13 PM

Seems the most appropriate place to put your post to me.
There is a full spectrum of DIY, Some people make their own speaker drivers from scratch (even the voice coil), some people buy a cheap commercial amplifier (look up sonic impact T-amp) and just stick it in a new box.

I'm not going to say go buy the new XYZ DAC it's the best DAC ever. I don't even know if your amp takes balanced inputs.
I'm guessing you want to buy a plug and play device that goes between your Linux box and your amp and sounds great.

Don't get the Edirol UA-1EX. I found the treble very harsh and edgy. sort of untidy.
A bit of a pain with the fiddly little switches if you change bitrates, I didn't find this much of a problem because 99.9% of my stuff is 16/44.1

A few things you should look into and understand a little bit:
Non-oversampling, Usually abbreviated to NOS.
SP-DIF digital signal format and it's shortcomings.

USB never goes directly to the DAC chip, it usually gets converted a few times inside the "DAC" box. Usually from USB to SPDIF then into the DAC chip.

16 bit stereo at 44.1kHz is just over 1 megabit per second. USB 1.1 is plenty of speed.

At the moment I use: *.WAV -> Mac -> USB -> EIAJ -> TDA1545A DAC chip -> little transistor line amp -> Push-Pull EL34 tube amp in class A -> reasonably efficient 8 inch fullrange speakers.

Keeping digital supply noise out of the analog part is very important.
Up-sampling won't achieve much. I think you're better off with a better quality device that does 16/44.1 well if that is what your music is.

8086 23rd June 2008 02:16 PM

not only USB!
Just noticed that my headline just mentions usb sound cards, although I am very much interested in good-sounding Firewire/1394 cards as well! Just needed to mention that for the record :-)

weissi 23rd June 2008 02:36 PM

EMU 0404 USB maybe?

8086 23rd June 2008 03:34 PM

EM-U 0404 USB seems good!
EM-U 0404 USB seems like a good choice! Now I just need to sucker someone into buying my new-in-the-box sound card from TerraTec :)

I had seen it mentioned, although I had got the impression it was a bit old by now. The usb version seems great, altough the "ultra-low" delay of < 500ps is at 20 times to great to really be low :rolleyes:

Thanks for the replies, everyone!

phofman 23rd June 2008 09:37 PM

I am afraid linux alsa support for E-MU 0404 is still incomplete. Actually, writing a complete driver for that card is no easy task.

8086 23rd June 2008 10:33 PM

Man, this really isn't turning out too well. I mean, we are talking 2008, we have had USB since 1995 and usb sound cards for at least five years. Yet the search for a good not-too-fancy sound card seems impossible...

wakibaki 23rd June 2008 10:40 PM

Re: Are there *any* good premade USB sound cards?

Originally posted by 8086
Work with Linux

You should be able to find out which sound cards are supported under your distro. There's no point looking at anything else, 'cause they just won't work. Usually people who are into Linux are clued-in to how to find out this stuff through the Linux community. You may find that if you're not really into it that Windows actually suits you better in this case, certainly in terms of availability of drivers.

There are LOTs of good soundcards out there now. I haven't heard your card, but try not to put too much weight on a single review by a reviewer, who, on a quick scan, seems to have nothing good to say about any soundcard other than the one he is developing.

In my experience reviews of soundcards by people who use them for recording (and monitoring) are, on the whole, more reliable and informative than audiophile reviews, where people tend to obsess about issues which, though measurable, may well be inaudible or vice versa as is often claimed; rather than focussing on the music.


stevodude 23rd June 2008 10:54 PM

might be worth checking the "alsa" formums? or here is a quick link to alsa-usb

blumenco 23rd June 2008 11:04 PM

I personally use a 2001 echo mona out of the pci slot of my mac. I am not sure if there is linux though.

also the EMU and RME are pretty solid. looked at lynx?


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