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View Full Version : USB gets all the attention!



earwaxer
2009-08-04, 17:19
I dont know about the rest of the wireless/ethernet PC based music server folks out there, but I am definitely feeling a huge bias in the audiophile community toward wired PC as music server connections, and by far the most popular being USB! I'm not big on conspiracy stuff, but for sure USB technologies are getting the add bucks on the various hi-fi sites and in mags. Possibly it is cheaper and easier to utilize. I'm not sure.

It just seems to me that wireless has so many advantages, I cant help but see any wired protocol as a first step in the PC as digital front end trend, with wireless digital transmission being the goal.

Wires have always been an overall better choice for analog transmission. Digital lends itself to being transmitted in bit perfect fashion over wifi. Forget about the jitter issue, and clocking/re-clocking that plagues wired protocols.

If I am missing something please let me know! I know wifi protocols are "hard to get right", as has been discussed by USB DAC engineers on other sites.

I have had the transporter now for about 2 months. I couldnt be happier! The convenience is huge. The sound is fantastic. Maybe a little analytical, but nothing that cant be cured with a bit more of the euphonics on the other end (replaced the 1st order cap in my maggies with an obligatto cap from China - and use t-amp for amplification.

Cheers

radish
2009-08-04, 18:24
Wires have always been an overall better choice for analog transmission. Digital lends itself to being transmitted in bit perfect fashion over wifi. Forget about the jitter issue, and clocking/re-clocking that plagues wired protocols.

I think what you're talking about is sync vs async protocols, rather than wired vs wireless. Ethernet is jitter & reclocking free regardless of whether it's over a cable or not.

But I do agree that USB seems to me a strangely sub-optimal choice.

dsdreamer
2009-08-04, 19:07
USB is Easy to Adopt

USB is now ubiquitous on computers as a wired technology, and most people already manage electronic music collections on the PCs already, whether using iTunes, Windows Media Player, WinAmp, XMMS, Foobar2k, Songbird or whatever.

Given that as a starting point, people wanting improved fidelity will often take the path of least resistance and add a USB DAC and a USB cable. It's a technology people are used to using for plugging in a mouse, a digital camera or an MP3 player. People have the confidence to adopt it, even if they are technically challenged. Better still, they can keep using the same software to mange their library and avoid any new learning curve there as well.

USB Audio Excellence is Much More Difficult

When you dig a bit deeper though, you find that most PC operating systems mess with digital audio in no-so-benign ways, and make it very hard to achieve bit-perfect reproduction to the DAC. The main issue is that of resampling of digital audio by the OS to allow many different sources of audio to mixed together in a combined audio feed to the sound card.

So while USB audio is a simple proposition on the surface, audiophile USB gets to be a much more complex proposition with (Otachan's) ASIO DLLs, WASAPI for Vista, tuning the Core Audio sample rate for the MAC to the source material or application etc.

Which Clock is the Master Here?

And if you care enough to avoid sample rate conversion by the PC operating system, you will also want to avoid trying to slave a good quality DAC clock to a poor quality PC clock source, which may lead to spending serious money one of Gordon Rankin's DACs that can do asynchronous-mode transfers and so avoid that pitfall.

But Squeezeboxes also do asynchronous mode transfers to fill their internal buffers, and if you've invested in a Transporter you've been able to preserve the merits of that architecture all the way through the system to the analog domain (not so much if you use SPDIF output from a cheaper SB client).

Asynchronous Transfer, Bit Perfect and Wireless

Added to all this you get the convenience of wireless and can keep that noisy computing equipment out of the listening room!

JJZolx
2009-08-04, 19:19
I think there are several reasons for this.

The USB DAC concept is much easier for them to grasp. Much of that crowd is over 50, 60 years old and computers are a mystery to them. Setting up a home network scares the hell out of them. These are guys who quite honestly ask whether defragmenting their hard drives will make the music sound better and believe it 100% when somebody answers 'yes'. USB DACs are much closer to their comfort level. The computer sends the DAC a signal and the DAC makes sound. It's a simple diagram.

The other big reason is that USB DACs are relatively simple to implement by the manufacturer, and require minimal or no software development. This point is critical. Development costs rise exponentially once you have to develop all the software for the device. Just ask Logitech about this and see whether they had any idea what they were getting into when they bought Slim Devices. For the typical boutique audio company consisting of a half dozen employees, this is one of only a handful of avenues into the world of computer based music. The other is the standalone system, with internal sound card, and it too is being beaten to death by a lot of characters packaging off the shelf consumer components and making grandiose claims about the sonics.

Goodsounds
2009-08-04, 21:57
I think there are several reasons for this.

The USB DAC concept is much easier for them to grasp. Much of that crowd is over 50, 60 years old and computers are a mystery to them. Setting up a home network scares the hell out of them. These are guys who quite honestly ask whether defragmenting their hard drives will make the music sound better and believe it 100% when somebody answers 'yes'. USB DACs are much closer to their comfort level. The computer sends the DAC a signal and the DAC makes sound. It's a simple diagram.

I'll offer a different point of view, from the vantage point of someone who I suspect is closer to the cited age range than you are ;-).

I think USB DACS are purchased by people who know more about computers than about music/sound. Someone who "knows nothing" about PCs just uses it as is, and doesn't tinker, add or subtract. People of my generation who are "afraid of computers" don't use them to play music, and rarely listen to music when using one.

They can buy music from the itunes store and take those tracks, together with CDs ripped by itunes, and put them on an ipod. Listen to that music in the house? Buy a radio with an ipod dock. Done.

Want to listen to music on your home entertainment system? Use your CD player, or use the audio channels that come on the TV cable. The TV guy set that up when the installation was done.

Most whole-house sound systems I encounter (in houses of people older than 30-something) are usually playing the residential equivalent of Muzak, off the TV cable.

I've run across plenty of 20-30-40 somethings who asked for my help with a home network. And no, I'm not a techie-type. I think that is less age related than you think.

JJZolx
2009-08-04, 22:20
I think USB DACS are purchased by people who know more about computers than about music/sound. Someone who "knows nothing" about PCs just uses it as is, and doesn't tinker, add or subtract. People of my generation who are "afraid of computers" don't use them to play music, and rarely listen to music when using one.

I disagree. I see _many_ threads in audiophile forums that begin something like: "Ok, I'm ready to try out this computer audio thing, where do I start?" These aren't people who will be downloading MP3s from the Apple Store. These are people looking #1 for good sound. Many of them are genuinely surprised by the other aspects of computer-based music: the convenience, random play, smart playlists, online music services that let them discover new artists and music.

These people are often directed to the Squeezebox, Sonos, or some high end servers like those from Linn or Cambridge, but many are directed by other audiophiles toward USB DACs. A Mac Mini and a USB DAC is a common setup. The Mac Mini can be quiet enough to reside in the listening room. Use iTunes, which is simple enough for almost anyone, attach some audiophile-recommended USB DAC and you're off and running.

JJZolx
2009-08-04, 22:39
It just seems to me that wireless has so many advantages, I cant help but see any wired protocol as a first step in the PC as digital front end trend, with wireless digital transmission being the goal.

Wires have always been an overall better choice for analog transmission. Digital lends itself to being transmitted in bit perfect fashion over wifi. Forget about the jitter issue, and clocking/re-clocking that plagues wired protocols.

If I am missing something please let me know! I know wifi protocols are "hard to get right", as has been discussed by USB DAC engineers on other sites.

Even with a Squeezebox or Transporter that can connect both wirelessly or via wired ethernet, the wired ethernet connection is sometimes the only one that many people can use due to wireless interference and/or a weak signal from their wifi router. Someone experiencing dropouts is usually directed to try a wired connection before doing anything else. This is maybe wireless music streaming's biggest drawback and is something that many people just don't ever want to deal with, so they avoid going wireless at all costs. That reason alone erases many of the advantages of running a networked player vs. a USB DAC.

The other thing often mentioned is concern about RFI and it's negative impact on sound quality. I think if you're the typical audiophile and you read just one or two respected manufacturers deriding the use of wifi because of the RFI produced, then you would never even consider using it.

Goodsounds
2009-08-04, 22:56
I disagree. I see _many_ threads in audiophile forums that begin something like..

I'll defer to you, but I don't think I know too many computer-phobic baby boomers who spend time in any internet forum. Or who would buy something like a Mac mini that (I think) is neither a laptop nor a desktop with screen and keyboard.

We may just each be generalizing about different "groups" of people.