Computer output to DAC, which route?

I have disbanded my main system because I am using my computer system more and more. I am going to purchase an outboard DAC for my computer, but I want to know something:
My computer comes equipped with COAX and TOSLINK outputs on the motherboard. Should I use one of those or use a DAC with a USB connection? WHat are the pluses and minuses of each way if any? I am using typical Altec Lansing speakers (good for what they are) but will probably move up to active Dynaudio monitors in the future. All music is sourced from itunes in either AAC or apple lossless formats.

Thanks in advance!
Audio Asylum Computer Audio Forum
Toslink if you favor the upper freq. and coax if you favor the lows.
If you are sticking with iTunes then you have a couple of choices to achieve a high-quality result:

1) Use a MAC and USB converter such as the Off-Ramp, HAGUSB or Trends UD-10 (avoid USB with iTunes on a PC)

2) Use a PC or MAC and the AirPort Express driving a Pace-Car reclocker to get low-jitter

Avoid using the direct S/PDIF outputs from the laptop.

Both of these require an outboard DAC. A standard DAC with S/PDIF input will work, but a DAC with I2S input will work better. Depends on your budget and how good you want this to be. If you want it to rival Vinyl, then the I2S interface and a really good DAC are necessary.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
OK, thanks for the input. I am limited to using a PC, not a MAC. A MAC is not in the budget and I have a high performance PC already. I don't need to go wirless as I plan on doing my listening while in front of my computer, so everything can be wired right off the computer itself. I had a MHDT labs Paradisea at one point and was thinking of purchasing it again. I just want to know if I need to spring for the USB option. Thanks!
use Vista and USB. should be better than onboard digital outs.
Eandylee - iTunes should not be used with USB on a PC. Results are not great. Prefer MAC.
Well, he's saying "I am limited to using a PC"

There are constraints in life...
Besides, I heard that the Kmix problem is fixed in Vista?
Sooo, if I stick with Windows XP , digital out would be OK, or should I use USB? If i do use USB, what kind of audio driver do I use?
If you are using Windows XP, then dont use iTunes, unless wireless to a AirPort Express or Apple-TV. Then in order to get decent quality you need a glass Toslink cable. Superb quality is possible with a reclocker.

For non-networked playback, such as S/PDIF or USB, iTunes is good with MAC.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
What would you reccomend other than itunes? Windows media player?
No, not WMP. With a PC, either use Foobar2000 0.8.3 or Jriver. These deliver the best sound quality.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio

I am never one to argue with steve he is very knowledgeable.

I run my PC to my main rig as follows. Computer, Ethernet cable to a Roku, SPDIF out to a Musical Fidelity TriVista tube DAC. In this setup I use Itunes as the player. On my vista machine I can hear the difference between my transport, a WAV file and an apple lossless file. There are distinct differences between the three and IMHO the transport is the best. Now when I had an XP machine I could not tell the difference between between my transport and a WAV file. Keep in mind that Itunes was the player on both machines.

For my setup in the office I use a USB DAC. Musical Fidelity XDAC V8 tube output to a MF X-CAN V3 to Sennheiser cans. I use dbpoweramp for ripping FLAC files to an external drive and foobar2000 v0.9.4.3 for play back. IMHO this system rocks. I have Itunes with apple lossless on this machine also on the main drive. I have compared WAV and FLAC in foobar and apple lossless in Itunes briefly and found no difference between the three.

On my vista system I am assuming the operating system is getting in the way with my main rig. I need to do some research. With ethernet out it should not be but with microsoft who knows. There is a conversion from serial to packet IP at the ethernet card so that could be it.

IMHO keep the conversions to different types of protocals to a minimum. Definatly keep the D to A conversion out of the computer. Steve is the DAC expert but it seems to me that with the conversion from USB (universal serial Buss) to analog in the DAC it is one of the better ways to go.

Good luck,

P.S. I use accurate rip with dbpoweramp and have dbpoweramp set in ultra secure mode with my optical drive offset set.

I'd just like to share my experience with you. I own a Paradisea + DAC and it has a USB connection I can use straight from my PC. I use a Trends UD-10 USB converter from the PC with a modified power supply (that cost more than the unit! hehe) and run glass toslinks from the UD-10 to a MSB Digital Director, which re-clocks it and "de-jitters" the signal, then glass toslinks from the MSB to the Paradisea DAC. This opens the sounstage and just sounds more real. This is the same as using my transport, which took me forever to get to using a PC (sounds better than the transport if I don't run the transport to the MSB before the DAC too). It sounds better than the direct USB to the DAC, so I don't even use the direct USB anymore. This is true to my other DAC as well (MSB, but doesn't have a USB to compare with).

As far as your Vista experience... that is very strange. I can hear a huge difference with Vista being MUCH better sounding on my system. I have only been able to match my transport performance by using Vista and yes, I used ASIO drivers in XP. I use Media Center so I have a remote control and not have to use a mouse to get to my music. Media Center or Windows Media player sound just the same to me in Vista as Foobar. Far from the same as XP.

Just my two cents worth. It took me forever to figure this out, so hopefully it helps. It's amazing what difference glass toslinks and the MSB Digital Director does to the music. It's so clear and comfortable to listen to! I have no motivation to try to upgrade my front end anymore. Oh, and I do love the Vinyl too, just not nearly as convenient as Media Center and a PC! Oh, and the power supply upgrade to the Trends UD-10 was necessary to get it to sound as good as my transport.

Enjoy the tunes!

I agree that you should avoid the digital outputs on your computer. If you are thinking high end I would bypass the USB as well and stream to a Transporter although it does require ongoing computer tweaking to get the most out of it. I also have a Sonos which also bypasses USB, is great and much easier to use (my wife loves it but never once touched the TP) but not as high end.
Ben (Thesauce),

What power supply upgrade do use with your Trends UD-10? I just bought the trends but do not yet have a power supply.
Is Ethernet RJ45 better than USB conversion to optical or XLR coax? The Linn Klimax Ds chose it.
One of the best options for PC is the apogee rosetta 200 with X-firewire card,with its own drivers.
What is the sonic difference between Media Monkey and Foobar2000 media players (for PC's)

The user interface and the library functions for indexing your media look better in media monkey at first glance. Could you use Media Monkey to rip and organize your CD's and have Foobar2000 play the FLAC files from the Media Monkey database?

It seems that one should install an Asio driver but not all media players support this particular driver (Media monkey???).

I have no experience what's so ever with the software or the possible outputs from the PC.

(I have a Sonic Fronteirs DAC (older DAC) and a spare PC.... the simple cheap solution seems to be a hagUSB converter to my exiting coax digital cable.)

I use dBpoweramp for ripping and media monkey for playback. With Windows Vista, which I have, or a MAC you have no need for the ASIO driver anymore. That was a kernel mixer workaround for older versions of Windows.

A relatively cheap converter like the Hag or the Trends would turn you're non-USB DAC into a USB DAC so to speak. And theoretically this would be better than a direct coax connection to your computer's internal soundcard. Of course other much more expensive options, such as the above mentioned Apogee, also fit the bill.

So, with Windows XP, I need the Asio driver to avoid the kernel mixer. Off hand, have you tried the Asio driver in Media monkey.

Finally, is the advatage of the dbpoweramp for ripping simply the fidelity and proof reading aforded by that software which seems to reference your rip with some kind of a database
I have a similiar question. Currently, I use Vista/Album Player(Jukebox Software)/coax to a Yamaha receiver to play WAVs ripped via Windows Media Player. This system is listened to while playing pool. The touchscreen jukebox sofware is awesome for this application.

My problem is that I also would like to output the same signal to my distributed/whole house audio system and perhaps my dedicated HT rig via multi-room outputs. The Yamaha has multi-room analog outputs, but will not convert the coax input to an analog output required for this application.

The most cost-effective, best sounding solution to me is a DAC or USB DAC. I think the current set-up sounds pretty good for background/parties and I listen to my dedicated rig for more serious listening.

What would be the most value oriented solution? Coax to DAC or USB to DAC? Which product would you recommend?
Thanks for that input Thesauce! I am just now looking at the UD-10 as the interface between my laptop and the main system. My only concern is that the UD-10 is not a 2.0 USB. Maybe that's not an issue?? I'm having the laptop modified to handle my library - only . . .and was going to have them install a couple of 2.0 ports. Your thoughts? Puerto

No need for the USB 2.0. USB 1 has more than enough bandwidth to handle 2 channel audio.

Thesauce - USB 1.1 supports streaming audio, but most USB 1.1 interface chips (in the computer) will probably create more latency than USB 2.0 chips, so eliminating pops and ticks may be more difficult with USB 1.1.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Ok, going to place the question here. MacMini has no outputs except the mini RCA jacks it looks like. Have not bought one was thinking this might be one way to go. Was thinking of using a Mac Mini with itunes. But will I get decent sound out of the Mac/
Inwanw - why not use the USB outputs for audio? With a converter or USB DAC based on the TAS1020 the sound quality can be excellent.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Audioengr, thank you, I think that I am seeing how this comes together. Now just have to put a few more dimes aside to put the package together. Going to have more questions as I put this together.
Check out the Soundblaster lineup of outboard soundcards/DACs. They connect to the the PC by USB, most with USB 1.1 and do not require Asio driver. They do stereo, 5.1 and some do 7.1. 24 bit/92 Hz DACs. S/N ratios over 100 dB (cause its outside the internal crap from the PC). List prices range from $50 to over $200.

I am using the Soundblaster Live!, RCA analog connects into Sherwood 100w x 6.1 receiver, B & W LM1 desk top speakers and small Velodyne sub. I listen mostly to the online radio stations while working on my PC. The nearfield stereo sound is awesome. Almost like headphones.
I actually own an external $50 SoundBlaster X-Fi Surround 5.1, it sounds pretty good, but I suspect that it will sound even better if its optical out is connected to external DAC.

Does anyone have this experience, how good it works?

Actually another question - as the technology is progressing exponentially, do you think that the modern $300 DACs are actually sounding better than old $1000 DACs? Especially taking into account that Blaster output is 24/96.
In my humble opinion going USB DAC is the only quality way.

Several USB DACs are out there. I'd like to suggest a conversation with Larry Moore and trial of his designed and manufactured Ultra Fi iRoc USB DAC... so simple and simply amazing...

especially when coupled to a quality USB cable (YES...vital) such as Ted Denney's Synergistic Research USB cable or Robert Schultz's Poboeima!!! USB cable and of course quality single-ended cables to the preamp.

Dollar for dollar (like a boxer: pound for pound) with a MacMini I have found nothing that compares.The complete transformation of the system this setup is on is nearly confounding. My adult kid just shakes his head in wonder as do several of my friends. This combination is eroding my faith in CDPs regardless of price.

I have no commercial or otherwise interest in the above firms or persons other than being a very pleased and happy customer.

All the best & happy listening,


If you really want to hear PC Audio at it's best, go firewire. I just went to a firewire to spdif converter (M Audio Firewire Solo) and just couldn't believe how good it sounds. There's just no way the power supply in a PC can provide stable, clean power to a soundcard. I was thinking of going USB but thought best to just go with the fire wire.

Enjoy your rig.


Several USB DACs have their own independent power supply. For example, the Ultra Fi iRoc asych DAC takes care of the power supply "problem" you "identify" and its own power supply.

On the other hand,many serious technical and audio-experience problems are associated with spdif interfaces.

Happy listening!

I tend to agree with the external USB DAC as the route to quality. Howerver, there is a new product soon to be released that has some potential. Check out the Asus HDAV1.3 audio card.
depends on the budget,
depends on your ear/brain, if it likes more color sound or grey sound.
too many variables.
like jitter.
wordclock, the op-amps in the DAC., the circuit design in the DAC.
wordclock & s/pdif cable velosity propagation, and capacitance.

toslink vs. s/pdif,?

depends on the s/pdif cable used.
if its a good cable will have way lower jitter than toslink/adat/madi.
but if its a bad cable, will have lost data.
s/pdif with a verry nice cable will sound more detailed., less muddy, more transparent,
but that also depends on the wordclock you have also.
0.03ppb, <1ppm, 5ppm, 25ppm, 50ppm like alesis ai-2
, digital DDS or PLL, TTL, Crystal, TCXO, OCXO, etc..
some wordclocks allow to reclock, and resample. like drawmer m-clock, antelope DA, etc..

some DACs have jitter elimination mechanisms,
but none are better than a rubidium atomic clock.
if you plan to upgrade to an atomic clock, try to avoid DACs with a jitter removal mechanism that cant be turned off. "Wide lock"

some DACs have fixed SRC, and SRC creates distortions.
make shure you like the distortions.

3daudioinc c0m has a nice ADCD double cd comparing ADCs, but usually ADC has same sound as DACs, if done properly
becouse has the same analog circuit design, and same wordclock.

reb box rb-adda 96k sounds really nice to me,
lavry gold the best ive heard.
i dont like prism AD/-DA-2
i like black lion modifications on the digi002r

go USB with quality USB dac. My personal opinion prefer NOS dac. I am using mac. I now prefer mac and USB dac to my Cyrus cdp 8x. Not to mention the trouble of changing CDs. Just few click away w remote(iPhone). Also go with wav. I found them better than aif though aif support artwork with itune while wav not.
Happy listening
Milen007 - There is no difference in the actual data between WAV and AIF/AIFF hence there is no difference in sound qualty. They are both uncompressed formats.

AFF is big-endian and WAV is little-endian (although there are little-endian aiff's out there)
If you are using toslink/spdif out of the computer into a processor then you are using the DAC of the processor.

The signal to the processor is pure digital, the DAC of computer does not come into play.

With a good quality optical/coax cable there should be no loss.
Hey Audioengr.

So if you're using mac and itune. use the USB converter then add the dac..

quite hard concepts to swallow..


Use a firewire device. Firewire is the best connection protocol on the planet and their are lots of great DAC options available.

Weiss firewire DACs

Echo Audio firewire DACs

just to name a few. Excellent performance for the price from the ECHO firewire interfaces.
Grace Design m902b headphone amp and ASUS Xonar HDAV 1.3 soundcard. The HDAV 1.3 (several minor variants) is the only line licensed to decode and transmit the audio from Blu-ray at full resolution. You will need Arcsoft TotalMedia player to do this. The soundcard has an S/PDIF out and the amp has an S/PDIF (and an AES) input. The headphone amp also has USB input but USB is limited to 16 bit/48 kHz, which is just not good enough IMO. The 'b' in the headphone amp's model number is for balanced outputs to use with active speakers.
The one box solution:

I have been a pretty hardcore analog devotee, but loved the convenience of digital. Cut to the chase: If you have a Mac server with firewire, buy yourself a Metric Halo LIO-8. There is a learning curve associated with pro gear, but in this case it is worth it. IMHO playback at 44K is easily competitive with an Ayre QB-9, and you can do so much more. It has 8 channels of analog and digital IO, runs at 24/192 and will let you record whatever you want completely transparently (at least to my aging ears). Use Pure Vinyl with it to archive and play records better than direct feed from my (RHEA) phono pre. Sell your current (QB-9) DAC and use it to play back all your digital files. Grab some batteries and do some location recording (haven't done that, but am thinking about it). It is not cheap, but a totally amazing box that is a very good value and unlikely to be outclassed for quite some time. Just don't expect a fancy box to put on display.
I have a question. I have a REGA DAC and a Macbook. I would need either a USB-SPDIF converter or a good mini-toslink to toslink cable. Any suggestions for something not too terribly expensive?
I'm in a similar situation... I have a new Macbook Pro and the DAC from my Audio Aero Capitol with SPDIF inputs. I'm leaning towards getting the Halide Design USB-SPDIF Bridge ($450) along with Pure Music software that works with I-Tunes($129). I have not pulled the trigger yet, but like the idea of the Halide Bridge because it's a USB/SPDIF convertor and a digital cable all-in-one... so no extra digital cable is required, unlike most other SPDIF convertors.

Would appreciate input from users of the Halide Bridge.
is the Halide Bridge Asynchoronous ?
In the same shoes and looking for some advice.
Although at the moment, i'm not too keen on buying a USB Dac only. I would prefer to use my Dacs that i already have.
Nolitan - according to the review on Computer Audiophile, yes, the Halide Bridge is asynchoronous.

Let us know if you end up trying it and how you like it.
I see you are recom..wav files thru your mac mini..I just got a mac mini and had over 1 tb of lossless wav files that play thue itunes but i can not get the files organized thru artist song and album all mixed as one on itunes..tries to you us tuneup but that didnt work please !
I had to re rip everything into AIFF for my new Mac Mini......couldnt get the metadata to transfer from my original Windows Itunes to Macbook pro with windows via Parallels Itunes then finally to Mac Mini Lion Itunes (non windows)

The John Kenny MK3 USB to SPDIF is a stellar AP2 and Halide in reviews I beating it unless you plump for a Offramp with turboclocks......4x the price and only subjectively better.
Try USB output to Audophilleo converter leaving in SPDIF to dac.
Wow! Just about everything you've posted matches my own situation. Even the desktop speakers. Apart from the MB outs, though.

If a good, (read really good) USB or 1394 DAC is purchased, ala Wavelength; Weiss, etc, that route is definitely a solution whorthwhile.

I use a Bel Canto DAC 3.0.

I've tried each and every route to feed it likewise files as you described. Ultimately using the Lynx AES16 PCI eXPRESS CARD and AES connection in conjunction with Lynx own ASIO out & either Fubar or JR MC (current versions), to achieve my best sound thru a MAIN audio or HT system.

Many of my posts on PC audio point to my above comments if you care to peruse them, or if you can presently. I'm having issues with this new site upgrade personally.

Each link in that signal path from the cable, interface, and output device & DAC will help or hinder your ability to achieve a great solution.

For ex. I could upgrade my cable from the Lynx to the BC DAC3, as I feel it is my weakest link. Naturally upgrading the BC DAC3 to 3.5 status would likely be as well a fine move. Thereafter, all of the downstream components fall into line for consideration to replace or update.

The DAC IMHO is the true key.

That said, each segment thereafter really does matter.

Final note.... Multi interface DACs are in general better sounding using one of it's interfaces over another. Mine is limited to 16/44 on USB I think, so for me, USB out is not a solution. Coax sounded better than TOS, and AES better still than any others. So it behoves you to experiement for yourself.... unless of course you select a dedicated interfaced DAC. Then only the cable itself requires messin' around with.

Good luck.