Beyond USB? What are your experiences with alternative digital cables?

musicfirst1

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I know that USB D2D connections were at one time the interface choice of many here on WBF, I have never been a fan, regardless of the quality of the USB cable, and still prefer AES/EBU in every Server/DAC combo I have tried.

What alternatives have you tried? I2S, I2S balanced, Etherrnet or??

Are there any who have moved on from USB? If, so what brand of cabling, source and DAC are you using?

Kerry
 

Mike Lavigne

Member Sponsor & WBF Founding Member
Apr 25, 2010
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obviously the Wadax Reference level dac and server, uses it's own proprietary Akasa Optical Link. not sure this is on topic for this thread. but it does show how significant the server<->dac interface is, as well as how significant possibly having the server and dac being made to fundamentally work together might also be.

i did compare both the Taiko Extreme, and Wadax Ref Server both using USB to the Wadax Ref Server using the Akasa optical link. game over in terms of the improvement in realism.

unfortunately the Akasa Optical link is $17k.
 
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Lee

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I know that USB D2D connections were at one time the interface choice of many here on WBF, I have never been a fan, regardless of the quality of the USB cable, and still prefer AES/EBU in every Server/DAC combo I have tried.

What alternatives have you tried? I2S, I2S balanced, Etherrnet or??

Are there any who have moved on from USB? If, so what brand of cabling, source and DAC are you using?

Kerry

I have had some success with I2S in the past but the dCS really has taught me how good AES is between the transport and DAC.

USB has noise issues due to the power leg. It’s really not a great interface imho. Peter McGrath used to carry around the Berkeley USB to SPDIF converter and combine it with a nice Transparent SPDIF cable into the DAC. The converter is $1,900 or so when I last looked at it but based on a few demos from Peter, it worked much better.
 

Kal Rubinson

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USB has noise issues due to the power leg.
Or course, that is avoidable in many (most?) cases.
Peter McGrath used to carry around the Berkeley USB to SPDIF converter and combine it with a nice Transparent SPDIF cable into the DAC. The converter is $1,900 or so when I last looked at it but based on a few demos from Peter, it worked much better.
And now he is using the miniDSP U-DIO8 ($399) I gave him for multichannel with great satisfaction. Not sure what it proves.
 
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sbo6

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USB starts out with a detriment since it was never designed with audio quality in mind as opposed to I2S and AES. It's used in high - end audio more for convenience than quality. Also, it seems to not be the preferred method of data transfer for many high - end DACs (Wadax, MSB?, TotalDAC, etc.).

Net and all things being equal - USB can be excellent but seems to need more attention to implementation to be on par with other data transfer methods like AES and I2S.
 
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RaChiK

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It depends on the DAC and streamer (and how they are built to sound with each), at least in my experience. Aurender N20 and N30 claims to have best output with digital RCA/XLR compared to USB out. I used digital RCA out from aurender N20 to esoteric K-01XD and loved it more than USB. On the other hand Aries Cerat DAC sounds much better with USB in from aurender N20 and I cannot go back to RCA/XLR.
I have no experience with I2S or ethernet in. I have heard similar things from people using EMM labs DA2/DV2 claiming to have better sound from optical out of EMM labs NS streamer. Similarly Rockna wavedream DAC sounds better with Rockna wavestream streamer via I2S.
 

Calvinj

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I will be sending demos out of the Infigo Signature Sparkle series of USB and interconnect cables. Feel free to reach out fellas.
 

Ron Resnick

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I will be sending demos out of the Infigo Signature Sparkle series of USB and interconnect cables. Feel free to reach out fellas.
Hi Calvin!

Please feel free to start a new thread and tell us what’s unique about your interconnect cables.
 

cjf

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Nov 19, 2012
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I'm using Ethernet these days as the main Input to my DAC. I've never had a more stable pairing to date.

Its hard to say whether the ETH transport itself is contributing to the sound heard out of the speakers or if its the DAC or if its a combination of both. I'd lean more towards the belief that its a combination of both but more importantly for me is that the setup just works, every time, over multiple channels at high Bit/Sample rates.

I've had my share of dealings with picky/buggy USB drivers in the past and their sensitivity to other processes (sometimes critical and necessary processes) running on the music server or measurement computer the DAC is connected to. From what I've seen, when the USB driver and DAC/PC don't play perfectly together you get a bunch of latency that occurs and this latency results in pops/clicks/stuttering and other nasty things heard out of the speakers. This is of course with a Windows Computer so keep that in mind. Linux done right is way better IMO when using USB but in my case I cant run the applications I need on a Linux computer so it doesn't work for me.

Up until the ETH based DAC I own today I used mostly USB (due to its ability to pipe thru multiple channels with one cable and one port at above average Bit/Sample Rates..at least 24/192).

I have also used AES/EBU in the past. Comparing the two, I preferred the "sound" of the AES/EBU connection but I couldn't really use it for my own purposes due to the devices I had on hand. This meaning your typical "Audiophile" DAC (ie..One AES/EBU Input). The problem there is a single AES XLR Cable gives you two channels max and I need more than that.

The ETH based DAC that I am using today is the Merging HAPI and I can highly recommend it.
 

matthias

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Mar 14, 2019
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The ETH based DAC that I am using today is the Merging HAPI and I can highly recommend it.
Thanks for sharing.
IIUC your DAC is Ravenna based.
Which software do you need for it and on which platform do you run it?
Thx again

Matt
 

DasguteOhr

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Sep 26, 2013
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I know that USB D2D connections were at one time the interface choice of many here on WBF, I have never been a fan, regardless of the quality of the USB cable, and still prefer AES/EBU in every Server/DAC combo I have tried.

What alternatives have you tried? I2S, I2S balanced, Etherrnet or??

Are there any who have moved on from USB? If, so what brand of cabling, source and DAC are you using?

Kerry
Same here, i use usb from pc to mutec3+usb reclocker after that aes/ebu to dac.
Every dac i have or had here profit from reclocker and my silver aes/ ebu cable.
The cable have a smoothness in the heights, rich colourful midrange and deep tight bass. For me the best i ever heard in in my room.
Cable is from Ebay seller in lithuania i assembled it with neutrik pro goldpin. 20220827_135339.jpg
today buyable here
 
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cjf

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Nov 19, 2012
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Thanks for sharing.
IIUC your DAC is Ravenna based.
Which software do you need for it and on which platform do you run it?
Thx again

Matt
Hello,

I am using a Windows 10 Pro based server. The HAPI uses two Merging programs for its own functionality and you are correct that it uses Ravenna but you can also do AES67 for better compatibility with other non Merging devices:

1. Aneman ( Channel Routing/Grouping ) - Here you can set Sample Rate groups, enable/disable DAC Outputs/Inputs and point them to other physical Inputs/Outputs within the HAPI's chassis (ie..routing and or format conversion..etc)

2. MAD (Merging Audio Driver) - This is the program that presents itself as an Audio output destination to Roon/JRiver..etc. In Roon it looks like an ASIO Output. This program also handles the Ethernet connection details from the server NIC to the HAPI NIC. Latency values and Channel count/mapping/bridging can be handled here as well between the MAD Driver and Windows WDM.

It gets pretty deep and there are no lack of options. I haven't found anything it cant do for my own purposes..that is unless I wanted to try and connect a USB cable to it...there are no USB ports available.

So in summary, the music server running Windows has the two programs above installed and Roon all running locally. My server has two onboard NIC Cards. One connects to a common switch that allows the server to see the Music on my NAS or get out to the Internet for Streaming services. The second NIC Card is a "Home Run" connection straight to the HAPI's ETH Input. No switch is used here in my case.
 
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matthias

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Mar 14, 2019
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Hello,

I am using a Windows 10 Pro based server. The HAPI uses two Merging programs for its own functionality and you are correct that it uses Ravenna but you can also do AES67 for better compatibility with other non Merging devices:

1. Aneman ( Channel Routing/Grouping ) - Here you can set Sample Rate groups, enable/disable DAC Outputs/Inputs and point them to other physical Inputs/Outputs within the HAPI's chassis (ie..routing and or format conversion..etc)

2. MAD (Merging Audio Driver) - This is the program that presents itself as an Audio output destination to Roon/JRiver..etc. In Roon it looks like an ASIO Output. This program also handles the Ethernet connection details from the server NIC to the HAPI NIC. Latency values and Channel count/mapping/bridging can be handled here as well between the MAD Driver and Windows WDM.

It gets pretty deep and there are no lack of options. I haven't found anything it cant do for my own purposes..that is unless I wanted to try and connect a USB cable to it...there are no USB ports available.

So in summary, the music server running Windows has the two programs above installed and Roon all running locally. My server has two onboard NIC Cards. One connects to a common switch that allows the server to see the Music on my NAS or get out to the Internet for Streaming services. The second NIC Card is a "Home Run" connection straight to the HAPI's ETH Input. No switch is used here in my case.
Great answer :)
May I ask three additional questions?
Is Aneman and MAD also available for Mac?
As I use music from streaming services only (no Roon, no NAS) can I directly connect my Mac to HAPI (no switch)?
How big is the influence of the server on the SQ with the direct connection to HAPI?
Thx again

Matt
 
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geetee1972

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Feb 12, 2021
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I have limited experience but have compared reasonably high end USB cables (£1-2k range) with SPDIF cables cost about the same. USB offered more detail but SPDIF offered more music; hard to pin down exactly what that means and it's a relatively trite phrase but one that does point to the difference. I found USB cables more analytical and while SPDIF lost some of the detail, the music feels more natural and I have a greater emotional connection as a result.

My LDMS Mini can also play DSD files, up to 256k (I think) over SPDIF.
 

lordcloud

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Jul 5, 2016
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I have limited experience but have compared reasonably high end USB cables (£1-2k range) with SPDIF cables cost about the same. USB offered more detail but SPDIF offered more music; hard to pin down exactly what that means and it's a relatively trite phrase but one that does point to the difference. I found USB cables more analytical and while SPDIF lost some of the detail, the music feels more natural and I have a greater emotional connection as a result.

My LDMS Mini can also play DSD files, up to 256k (I think) over SPDIF.
This is interesting. I'm not sure I've ever heard this take on the differences.
 

cjf

Well-Known Member
Nov 19, 2012
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Great answer :)
May I ask three additional questions?
Is Aneman and MAD also available for Mac?
As I use music from streaming services only (no Roon, no NAS) can I directly connect my Mac to HAPI (no switch)?
How big is the influence of the server on the SQ with the direct connection to HAPI?
Thx again

Matt
Sure no problem

Yes Aneman and "VAD" are available for Mac. They named the Mac version VAD compared to MAD for Windows. There are also Linux flavors but I have not tried it:


Honestly I don't own anything Mac and have not tried doing so via a Mac but if I were to take a guess I don't see why you couldn't connect directly from Mac to HAPI like I do today via Windows. Probably best to call Merging on it if you are considering a purchase in the future.

Based on what I see in a Windows environment, I'm pretty sure I could use pretty much any source I wanted but my day to day source (90% of the time) is Roon.

The way the MAD Driver presents itself to Windows (as an example) via WDM makes it very easy to use various other sources as long as the OS "see's" the Audio Input/Outputs provided by the driver. (Youtube for example, or likely any stream source that uses the Default Audio device assigned to the OS.

I say likely because I cant claim to have tried every option but all the ones I've tried thus far work just fine. I would be surprised if most of the same didn't also apply to Mac.

I've never noticed any audible difference between the 3 music server types I have tried in the past. I've used a NUC, A Lenovo Laptop and my current, primary home brew server. All are/were Windows 10 Pro as an FYI and all had a physical NIC ports available. This of course is becoming more rare these days (ie..built-in physical NIC ports) but there are USB derived NIC's as well which I've never tried.
 
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