Computer audio newbie? Don't panic. Start here.
USB to S/PDIF Converters
If you're converting for convenience, the versatile KingRex UC192 and Vintage Audio Labs converters offer excellent value. If you're converting for excellence, linking to a DAC whose strong suit is coaxial input via BNC or RCA, Halide's 'The Bridge' (from the people that bought you the Devilsound DAC) and the all new Sonicweld Diverter II provide optimal, low-jitter SPDIF output as well as galvanic isolation.
USB and FireWire to S/PDIF Conversion Overview
One of the more interesting buzz products springing up like daisies in the first half of 2010 are USB to SPDIF converters. On the one hand, regardless of the limitations of RCA as a socket format, time and again D-A converters persist on sounding better via coaxial SPDIF. According to M2Tech, SPDIF receivers have inbuilt 'jitter rejection' that is capable of reducing input jitter by a factor of 20 or even 30. From the PC's perspective, however, there are numerous hardware and software issues to resolve to deliver a well clocked digital signal via coaxial SPDIF – issues that USB neatly sidesteps.
Nothwithstanding USB's own difficulties, as an exit route for audio data, asynchronous USB and FireWire are (in principle) ideal transmission protocols, even for long-run cables. Its ubiquity is also a major plus: for most Mac users (Mini, iMac, laptops) it remains the only out-of-the-box alternative to the jitter-plagued combi optical port.
Hence the demand for a box that accepts computer-friendly USB or FireWire on the one side and emits DAC-friendly SPDIF on the other. The past two years have witnessed a growing awareness that a computer designed for number-crunching duty is in some crucial respects ill-suited to service as a music player. The two-headed dragon of jitter and galvanic noise cannot be slain in software, or by add-on soundcards: isolation, rebuffering and re-clocking have therefore become the concepts du jour in computer audio.
In addition to the Pop Pulse USB > SPDIF converter we have offered customers for several years, we are embarking on a survey of similar products suitable for reference systems. Currently available products in this category include:
• Audiophileo 1 and 2 (Asynchronous USB at 24/192 | £350 / £600)
• Behringer U-Control UCA202 (USB to Optical at 16/48 | £45)
• Bel Canto USB Link (USB at 24/96 | £275)
• Hagerman HagUSB (USB at 16/48 | £95 / £140)
• Empirical Audio Off-Ramp (USB at 24/96 | £475-1100)
• EMU 0404 USB (USB at 24/192 via custom driver | £130)
• Focusrite Saffire Pro 24 (Firewire 24/96 | £210)
• Halide 'The Bridge' (Asynchronous USB at 24/96 (standard OS drivers) | £265)
• M2 Tech HiFace (USB at 24/192 via custom driver | £)
• M Audio Profire 610 (Firewire 24/192 | £195)
• Musiland Monitor 01 (USB at 24/192 via custom driver | £65)
• Pop Pulse PC-Link II (USB at 16/44.1 | £75)
• Pop Pulse PC-Link II Wireless (USB at 24/96 (Standard OS drivers) | £125)
• RME Fireface 400 (Firewire 24/192 | £595)
• RME Babyface (USB at 24/192 via custom driver | £460)
• Sonicweld Diverter (USB, 24/96 | £875)
• Stello & Lindeman DDC (USB, 24/96 | £250-450)
• TC Electronic Impact Twin (Firewire 24/192 | £295)
• Trends Audio UD 10.1 (USB at 16/48 | £70)
• Valab Teralink X2 (USB at 24/96 | £65)
• Wavelength Wavelink (Asynchronous USB at 24/192 | Price TBA)
• Weiss INT202 (Firewire, 24/192 | £950-1200)
All prices ex-VAT, but including approximate shipping costs to the UK and EU.
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