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Do we still need "audiophile" USB gadgets and bridges?
Do we still need "audiophile" USB gadgets and bridges?
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Old Yesterday, 04:35 PM   #1
soundcheck is offline soundcheck  Germany
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Default Do we still need "audiophile" USB gadgets and bridges?

Hi.

Recently I bought a Khadas Toneboard at around 89€!!.
There had been a review on AudioScienceReview which got me hooked. I was curious what the hype was all about.

It all turned out to be a really nice solution. Sideeffect: I got rid of IansReclocker, all kind of HAT DACs I had around, asf.

What a relief!

I'm now asking myself if we finally made it.

I always said. If the (USB) transport setup makes a difference on perceived soundquality, it's the DAC which is to blame.
Pretty much all USB DACs I had in the past made a difference, when changing stuff on the transport side. That's why I switched to the I2S-HATs and left the USB Audio world.

There seems to be progress!

We now get insane low noise,THD and jitter levels on USB DACs without using any kind of USB filter gadgets or any kind of audiophile USB transports.

Looking at e.g. the upcoming Soncoz products or products like a Topping D90 DAC all rather reasonably priced, the situation even gets better. Soncoz ( the Khadas Toneboard designer is behind that new company) plans to launch two USB DACs in February. The small one will hit the 200$ range if I'm not mistaken and supposedly outclasses the Khadas Toneboard.

To me it seems that USB DACs become commodity products soon. I'd love it.


Great times.

Enjoy.
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Old Yesterday, 07:07 PM   #2
analog_sa is online now analog_sa  Europe
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Do we still need "audiophile" USB gadgets and bridges?
As much as i enjoy believing in miracles i have a pretty good idea how sensitive is a MSB Select II to upstream components. And a simple XU208 into a 9038Q2M with a cheap clock and hardly any PS suddenly solves all issues? Colour me sceptical
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Old Today, 08:43 AM   #3
soundcheck is offline soundcheck  Germany
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Quote:
Originally Posted by analog_sa View Post
... Colour me sceptical ...
I'm a long time member of that club. And still am.

However.

The AudioScienceReview reviews - which are actually unified measurements - outline a very nice picture though.
And Amir - the guy running that blog/forum - uses top of the line AudioPrecision gear for the measurements.

I do not agree to all of his conclusion though.

Example:
He reviews the iFi USB filter. That one reduces noise by let say around 30dB - confirmed by his measurements.
Then he measures his high quality DAC with the iFi in and out and finds no impact.
He concludes the iFi filter is useless. You see the flaw in his logic?

The iFi 100% delivers to its promises - it filters noise. A 5* rating would be a fair verdict.
However. He uses a high quality DAC which copes with USB noise very well.
Basically the whole testcase leading to his conclusion doesn't make any sense.
The result just confirms the quality of the DAC he's been using and says pretty much nothing about the iFi device.

Anyhow.

To understand his measurements I recommend to read his "understanding digital measurements" article.

And it's IMO amazing that my 89€ Khadas - as USB DAC - equals the
Allo Katana - both @ 110dB Sinad and sits right beside a Benchmark DAC3 with 112dB Sinad.

These are both excellent performances.


The big Q is:
Is there anything that all these measurements won't cover properly? ""call me sceptical""

****

As I said. That Khadas DAC sounds extreme clean and right to me.
From that perspective I am pretty much in line with the shown measurements.

And the Soncoz LA-QXD1 pre-production unit seems to better the Toneboard on several aspects already.

Again. These are great times.

One thing we need to keep in mind though.

Many DIY efforts on these kind of devices will usually lead to degradation. I think it was the Toneboard/Soncoz designer who mentioned that you can't achieve extreme quality levels by
manually soldering parts to the board ( a comment about his pre-production board).
For us DIY geeks tweaking gets tough. Especially since pretty much non of us can really do the required measurements to confirm the tweak result. And the risk that you rather make things worse, than doing any good is a real risk.

Enjoy.

Last edited by soundcheck; Today at 08:51 AM.
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Old Today, 09:18 AM   #4
soundcheck is offline soundcheck  Germany
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This post tries to answer my earlier question "Is there anything that all these measurements won't cover properly?

One thing that becomes more prominent though are the digital filters and upsampling.
I havn't really looked into how much impact these features that pretty much every DAC has inside
would have on these standard measurements.
I do know that they can make quite some audible differences, see e.g. FilterBrewingThread, I saw poor rolloff behavior of minimum phase filters, asf. asf.

Gustard and many others did realize that there's more than just great standard measurements.

E.g.
The top of the line DACs from Gustard are marketed with 64bit DS processing, high quality custom filters and top of the line upsampling.


I am pretty sure that DAC devices using the DAC chips internal default filters might fall short on exactly that aspect.

IMO ASR falls short on looking more closely on that DSP aspect. (let me know if I simply missed it ).

Last edited by soundcheck; Today at 09:28 AM.
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Old Today, 01:26 PM   #5
CharlieLaub is offline CharlieLaub  United States
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The USB bus is just a means of moving data around. USB power is notoriously dirty, so don't power your DAC with it, or be prepared to filter, filter, filter as part of the design. Once USB gets the data to its destination, the DAC can do its thing. Look for a DAC that has external power, or one that is designed well to begin with vis a vis power and noise. There is no need to go the "HAT" route per se, although there are now some excellent options with that kind of hardware. I find USB devices to be more flexible, since I can move them to e.g. a desktop computer with no I2S/GPIOs exposed. I should probably add here that I am not interested in DSD or very high samples rate playback.

Case in point, I just spent a few days getting the new MOTU M4 to play nice with Ubuntu. I had to do a couple of kernel mods but it wasn't anything more than tedious (recompiling takes a couple of hours). The M4 is a USB bus powered pro audio interface that run at up to 32bits/192k. It has noise floor and distortion specs that are on par with e.g. the Focusrite Clarett product lineup, and inside, the DACs are ESS Sabre32 Ultra types. The M4 costs only US$220 for four outputs, and there is an M2 (two outputs) for around $170. This is an incredibly good deal, and I bought a pair for left/right PC processing/crossover work of up to a 4-way stereo system.

More info here:
MOTU M2 Info and Specs
MOTU M4 Info and Specs
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Last edited by CharlieLaub; Today at 01:31 PM.
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