Newbie question re: USB quality

Thanks to everyone who has guided me to this point that I'm able to even ask this question! I'm learning quickly about computer audio and right now using a USB thumb drive with DSD files plugged into an OPPO 105 (non-Darbee edition). I'm getting good quality sound that is certainly superior to rebook CDs.

However, I've seen it mentioned in various articles on audio websites that USB as the interface has various weaknesses. Usually, this is just stated without any mention of other options. What other ways would I be able to get audio files to my Oppo. I have a Macbook Air, but other than connection via USB from the computer, I don't know if any other way to get files to the Oppo.

Again, I appreciate your willingness to help a technophobic newbie.

The idea would be to use the s/pdif input rather than the usb.

You can use a usb to s/pdif converter, such as the m2tech Hiface ($225) or the audiophilio 1 or 2 ($550, $1,000). One of the best is the Empirical Audio Offramp, but it costs more than the Oppo.

Another option is a wireless to s/pdif converter. But they are harder to find and are usually expensive. Someone else may have a reasonable priced suggestion.

My guess is that you are going to have to pay quite a bit to do better than the Oppo usb.

You might also want to consider a device to clean up the usb signal (e.g. ifi Ipurifier, $99) or to clean up the usb power (e.g. ifi micro usb power supply ($299). Both available from Music Direct, no affiliation.
If you have a properly set up USB dac and a reasonably well set up USB server, you are fine. I have tried many if not all mentioned options on this site. I do have a sotm td-USBexp out with battery power supply but the difference is minor at best. Concentrate on down stream. My view at this point is that speakers and their set up make the biggest difference. Vinyl still RULES but HD digital has never sounded been better.

I think we need to make a distinction between USB Hosts and USB Clients.

A Host provides the "control" and is the master device controlling a USB Client.

To put it in simpler terms when you hook a PC to a printer using a USB cable - the PC is the USB host while the printer is a USB Client. The PC uses what's known as a USB Type A connector - signifying its role as a Host and the printer uses a USB Type B connector - used for USB Clients.

The USB problems we often talk about involve using the PC as the device controlling a DAC. The PC isn't a particularly good clock master and first generation USB-SPDIF devices/interfaces - ran in synchronous modes which sounded terrible. This has been addressed in a large part by asynchronous USB interfaces where the clock control is no longer in the hands of the PC.

Even then, you will find some USB-SPDIF devices perform better than others.

On the Oppo, this involves using the "SQUARE" Type B USB port on the back.

The Oppo is quite unique because it is also a media player (and CD/SACD/BDP etc). A media player is fundamentally a custom computer designed to playback media files. As such, you will also find Type A (flat/rectangular) USB ports on the Oppo. This allows the Oppo to work as a USB host controlling a USB device like a thumb drive.

In such a use case, the Oppo merely reads the DSD/PCM files on the USB drive and plays it back accordingly. There is no PC involved.
On the wireless option, the Oppo does support DLNA, which is a wireless protocol for streaming music. Your player needs to have the capability to stream to a DLNA device. I am a Windows guy, so cannot help much on DLNA with iTunes and I do not think Audivana supports DLNA. Also, I think DLNA on the Oppo only supports PCM and not DSD, although that should be confirmed.

The problems that people try to address regarding usb are jitter (timing errors), poorly formed waveforms and electrical noise from the PC. Async usb greatly helps with the timing issues, as Doogie pointed out. The timing and waveform issues are often addressed by the usb to s/pdif converters, although s/pdif has issues of its own. The wireless solution completely isolates the PC from the Oppo, so you do not have to worry about the electric issues. Some people are also concerned about RF noise effecting the usb input. The quality of the 5V signal on the usb is also an issue. I am not sure if the Oppo uses the usb 5V signal or not.

As Pkoegz says, most of these effects are second or third order once you get things set up correctly, unless you have a very highly resolving system which usually costs a lot.
What about AES/EBU I have found it far superior in my set up to any USB that I started with
Markus - AES/EBU is essentially a professional version of S/PDIF. It uses balanced cabling and XRL connectors. The OP has a Macbook Air and an Oppo. How can he use AES/EBU?
In line with comments above, USB is not likely to be an issue for sound quality in the OPs particular case..
a piece of string will sound better than USB!
>>a piece of string will sound better than USB!

And Fonzie just jumped a shark, 2 buses, a '73 Chevy Impala and a dozen llamas.
Do not know what Fonzie has to do with my trying to point out how poor the quality of the USB interface for audio is. Truth be told, the PC Audio industry is FINALLY progressing away from USB. USB was created for peripherialsice and printers, not music). It was embraced by the PC Audio crowd because users were unable to install a sound card and the drivers so they came up with the idiot proof way of USB! (way too much customer support required to install a sound card, drivers, adjust IRQ settings, etc). Problem is USB is horrible. If you spend the time to research it, you will see the power issue as well as the packet transmission issue, etc. It is the easiest interface but the one most subject to jitter and all the hideous effects of the inner workings of a computer. Get a $130 sound card and you will hear for yourself. Very easy to compare. Just dont use a Sound Blaster.
I don't know where Cerrot has been but welcome to the 21st Century.

USB-SPDIF devices have progressed tremendously. Do yourself a favour and try something like the Berkeley USB or the Wavelink HS or Steve's OffRamp 5 before you dismiss USB as an audio interface.

Guarantee it will beat most internal sound cards that are placed in close proximity to the EMI inside a PC.
There is always FireWire.

@Metralla I have a Weiss INT202 and it is rather good but if you have the software that can enable Integer mode, I've found that the Wavelink HS outperforms it.
I have tried ALL of them. I have found USB to be pretty poor and my $139 ESI Juli@ soundcard sounds better than the $1,600 Berkeley usb converter into my Esoteric K03 dac to my ears in my system.
As I have said in the past, USB done RIGHT sounds fantastic! If yours does not, it is not done RIGHT!.. No matter what "Fonzie" might jump over.
USB 'done right' is still inferior to everything else. The world has passed USB by, guys. USB is officialy a dinasour.
I find your choice of descriptive words interesting, "dinosaur". Hmmmm..............................
I find his alternative even more interesting :)
I think it's ironic that it's argued above that USB done right is context of converting it back to S/PDIF :)

To the OP, yeah, two paths - one would be a USB-SPDIF converter from Mac to Oppo (loads of them around now). Another would be to double-down on improving the USB from the Mac with stuff like iFi iUSB, iFi iPurifier, a better USB cable.

It still comes down to what the Oppo seems to do better with. Try to do some comparisons across the different inputs to see if you can detect the baseline preferences it may have between optical, coax and USB.
It's ironic but not illogical.

SPDIF isn't the most reliable way of transmission and all we are doing is making the conversion from PC to SPDIF in the best possible way. Most PCs and internal sound cards are prone to noise/jitter and other issues. Using the USB merely takes that conversion and handles it outside the box.
Ok, I'll open my mind and consider all possibilities, including Cerrot's. Let me tell you what I currently have, please tell me if there's a better way for me to transfer data:

- My listening room is my office, a room about 12x12.

- My PC is connected via Belden USB cable directly to a Peachtree Grand Integrated X-1 integrated amp with built in ESS9018 DAC, which powers a pair of Wilson Benesch Arcs. It sounds pretty incredible, though I've not tried Cerrot's suggestion to connect the components using a piece of string - that does seem like an inexpensive solution, as long as my cat doesn't try to run away with the string ;-)

- The Peachtree has the onboard X-1 update, with the XMOS chip, 24/192 capability, asynch, galvanic isolation, for what that's worth.

- My PC is not ancient, 2012 purchase I think, and it has USB, Optical toslink, Firewire and HDMI outputs. It does not currently have a coaxial/spdif orange connector, hence the reason I currently connect via USB.

- I was told by Peachtree that I need not bother with the optical output since it was limited to 24/96.

I confess to not being as technically inclined as many of you, though I think I know enough to be skeptical of using string, but given the equipment I have should I be trying to find a way to install an SPDIF PCI card in my computer to allow that connection, or are their better connections available using Firewire (or HDMI through a converter box?), or am I not likely to be able to improve upon USB given the capabilities of the particular Peachtree that I have?

All joking aside, thanks in advance.
And by the way, Scott I hope you don't mind my temporarily hijacking your thread - hopefully given that my question is similar to yours, regarding USB vs. other methods, there's value in the answers for you as well.
Bcgator, OK I looked at the Peachtree. It has Toslink, USB,
RCA and BNC coax inputs.

You need to determine which input kind of sounds best as-is,
and double-down on improving that.

From the PC, are you running JRiver in WASAPI/ASIO mode? Do
that first to setup bitperfect playback over USB direct.

Then see if you can compare that vs coax, say using a CDP or
DVD or Blu-Ray player with coaxial out.

On paper, the best inputs are likely USB or BNC.

To improve USB, consider the iFi iUSB device and better USB
cables (I use the iUSB with their Mercury and Gemini

One of the best BNC S/PDIF converters is meant to be the
Audiophileo, but it's not cheap. You should not buy a PCI-E
(sound) card. You want the conversion done outside the
computer for power noise reasons. Even if going S/PDIF, the
iFi iUSB is still a beneficial device, so maybe I'd start
there and you can get it from several places with
return/refund guarantees.
Hi Lofarasa, thanks for the help. Ok, here's some feedback on what you're asking:

- running JRiver 19, fully updated, WASAPI using the Peachtree X-1 24/192 driver. No enhancements running, EQ off, so the JRiver sound isn't being boosted in any way.

- connected an Onkyo DV-CP802 universal disc changer via coax to the Peachtree, with Journey "Escape" in the player. Queued up a song on the Onkyo, and the exact same song in JRiver (ripped AIFF lossless), started one then then started the other 10 seconds later. And the USB & Coax input buttons are side by side, so I can switch between the songs almost instantly to hear the difference. The difference is dramatic - it sounds dramatically better playing from JRiver on the computer, than the same song on the CD player via coax. More air, more delicacy, better instrument separation, pretty much better everything. Difference not subtle either - which honestly surprised me. I thought they'd be a lot closer, and if one was going to be better it would be the CD. But I know it's not quite an apples to apples comparison...maybe the transport in the Onkyo is just horrible, killing the comparison?

- my USB cable is just a $12 Belden Pro...nice cable, but nothing fancy, if that info helps.

Does this info help at all?
Thats not accurate at all guys. There ar some great sound cards. They brainwashed us in to using USB because they were spending too much money on customer service for people trying to install sound cards. Why would you spend $500 or $1,000 or $1,500 for a usb to spdif converter when you can just get a sound card that doesnt go through the horrible usb interface. Thats jitter alley.
Bcgator-yes. Invest $130 and get an ESI Juli@ sound card and install it and you will hear the difference.
Cerrot, have you actually spent time listening to a Peachtree X-1 Grand? I'm not asking to make you feel defensive, I'm genuinely asking to understand whether you're speaking in hypotheticals, or have actually listened to a system using an X-1 and then found that same system was improved by avoiding the X-1's USB? Can you provide any of the specifics with the Peachtree X-1 you listened to, i.e. was it running with a Mac or PC, which software they were using, what speakers, etc?

Because I am a tinkerer - I like to experiment, and I'd try an ESI sound card just for kicks, seriously. If I didn't like it, I could eBay it, so I'm not afraid to try things just for the sake of learning about different methods and equipment.

And what has caused you to come to the conclusion that Peachtree's X-1 XMOS-asynch implementation is unable to control jitter properly?

If you could hear my system, I don't think you'd find the sound objectionable, but we all hear things differently. What sounds wonderful to me may sound like bat guano to someone else.
Can't agree with Cerrot here, the juli@ is fine but it's embedded in the PC, via the motherboard, and all the crap that entails. I used to use a modded EMU1212M and the sound was good for its day but USB and SPDIF converters supercede it.

Regardless, if we've established that the Peachtree's USB is good, then again, Bcgator, look at optimizing that. And if you're happy with the sound you already have, why spend anymore!
Loftarasa, I do believe Peachtree's implementation of USB is good, and I agree that any attempts to improve upon it via an outboard converter will be expensive - I think I'd be chasing miniscule improvements for big dollars, and I've got better things to do with the money. I do appreciate everyone's input - it's all a learning experience.
Bcgator - I have heard the Peachtree Grand on both the USB and spdif inputs and found the spdif involving and emotional - two qualities I could not get with USB input. We used my gateway PC with the ESI card and then the USB output. My buddy also bought over the Ayre USB/Spdif converter which was much better than the USB out of my PC but still thin and uninvolving. I would love to have you try the ESI sound card. My issues with USB are well documented on these forums. Nice to see the new Ethernet to spdif converters coming out. USB's shortcomings are becoming more and more obvious. Within 2 more years, USB audio will be pretty much gone. The USB bus is just too prone to garbage.
I trust SPDIF 100% based on its designed purpose and usage and having used many such connections with various devices over the years.

I also trust Ethernet data conenctions, wired or wireless, 100% as well. IT handles moving audio file data just as reliably as any data type, so it is a safe bet as a means of getting data off the noisy general purpose computer, when needed, and to a remote network streaming receiver. From there, how things sound is largely a function of teh DAC and other common home audio success factors, not the digital source of the data.

I am not at that level with USB yet. Results to date have been more mixed and I cannot necessarily isolate the reason/cause. So the book is still out with USB for me. I am sure there are ways to do it well, but not sure yet how to identify that reliably. Asynchronous USB is said to be key. IS that it? Gotta be more to it than that.
Yeah Cerrot, something just isn't adding up. You bought a $4500 Integrated amp, listened to it through SPDIF and found it involving and emotional, and then you returned it? I assume this to be the case, because you no longer have it, and I'm doubting you carted your Gateway PC to a dealer. If it belonged to your friend, and he still had it, obviously something was working right for him - why didn't you judge it in his system, rather than cart all that equipment to your place in order to judge it on your computer, a component that can swing the results wildly in either direction if not setup properly? It just isn't making sense to me.

Maybe your issues with USB are an issue with either your computer, or the way you're outputting the audio from the computer. Even forgiving the inane hyperbole in saying that you can get better sound from a string than from USB, your anecdotal evidence just doesn't add up for me. And even if I accepted all of it, that you bought a $4500 integrated amp, found the sound involving and emotional through the input of your choice, yet returned it because you didn't like the input that you would never have used anyway, there are too many variables to account for why you're getting "garbage" and other people get great sound. You want to write off all USB implementations, and I'm not ready to go there yet.
Maybe asynch is it, Mapman. I don't know why music streamed from Jriver on my computer via USB sounds better than the exact same song played from CD into the same exact DAC via spdif, but it does. And in exchanging emails with Peachtree, they don't seem surprised that the USB performance is so good - I presume it's the reason they went to so much trouble to update units out in the field with the X-1 update that included the XMOS chip and asynch USB implementation. Of course, I wish I'd conducted this test before my original post regarding these connections - from everything I'd read, I thought I was missing the boat in connecting through USB, but my ears now tell me otherwise. And Loftarasa may be right, as well. If I dropped another $600 on an Audiophileo (if I'm looking at the right one), maybe the pendulum swings back in the other direction.

Does not surprise me that USB done well can beat CD/spdif.

It's the done well part that matters.
I didnt buy it Bcgator. My buddy brought it over so he could hear my Esoteric transport through it so he could really hear what it can do. He still has it and loves it and its hooked up to a Baetis server and a cd transport, forget which one. We both dismissed the USB as the most inferior. Now, question for you. You own one. Have you compared the spdif in from the usb in from a native spdif (and then usb) source? I suspect the answer is no and you are contesting I, you have listened to both - and dont own one.
Guys - just ask yourself the question - why do puters have USB? It AINT for audio!
Cerrot, I'm not sure I'm following your question. I'll do any comparisons I can, if I have the equipment to do them. Are you asking if I've done a comparison of SPDIF vs. USB from the SAME source? If that's the question, unfortunately my computer doesn't have SPDIF out, only toslink and USB. So I can compare toslink vs. USB from the same source (computer), but not SPDIF. Likewise, from my CDP I can compare SPDIF vs. toslink, but my CDP does not have USB out. I don't have any single source that has USB and SPDIF together.

The only SPDIF comparison vs. USB I can do is connecting a CDP into the Peachtree via SPDIF and the computer into the Peachtree via USB, and play the same exact song at the same exact time on the computer and on the CDP and switch back and forth between the two instantly by just hitting the input selector buttons. Is that what you're asking? Please clarify so I understand your wording, thanks.
>>>Guys - just ask yourself the question - why do puters have USB? It AINT for audio!

Cerrot, I'm not sure why you keep saying this. The idea behind USB was to improve connectivity while allowing for adequate bandwidth - the idea behind it wasn't based specifically around a particular kind of data, it was to improve connectivity and allow hot-swapping without rebooting, and the daisy-chaining of devices. The type of data wasn't the crux of USB, it was the allowance of easier connectivity, although of course bandwidth played a big role in the design of USB and the bandwidth of USB is more than enough for audio data from a computer. You keep intimating that USB was designed for mice, or printers - that isn't true. It was designed for better connectivity overall, of everything - it just so happened that mice, printers and keyboards benefited first because those were the devices that most people had connected. But it was just as beneficial for graphic designers connecting those $5000 Epson photo scanners as for the grandma with her $10 mouse.

USB was introduced while I was going through my computer-geek phase, building my own machines, and I've read the white papers on USB. I know exactly why it was designed and the problems it was made to alleviate. It wasn't designed for audio specifically, just as it wasn't designed for high-end photo scanners specifically. USB was not about limiting or accomodating any specific end use, it was about removing connectivity limitations.
Bcgator-that was pretty much what I meant with my spdif/usb comparison queston. I have heard both. I too have extensive USB knowledge and was building machines before the usb protocal was created so I am also aware of all its issues and have always found it poor for anything other than generic implementations, since thats exactly what its for. They had to dismiss the IRQ conflicts everyone was getting when they tried to install something. And, mice and keyboards and printers IS why USB was invented. (and to keep customer service low and your computer case CLOSED)No one ever wanted to use it for audio. I saw a post where you said that you did think there was a significent difference between spotify and HD Tracks so perhaps your rig may not be as revealing as mine. I am fortunate to have a reference for computer audio as I have the benefit of owning an Alesis Masterlink which is hooked up directly to my esoteric upsampler and into my esoteric K03. The masterlink has the minimal of a motherboard and processor and just a hard drive (and cd drawer). No usb, no sound card. No nothing else but aes/ebu out or digital out (it has a dac but I dont use it). And, so far throughout my life, there is no computer audio that I have found that sounds as good. I have a friend with the same masterlink into a Puccinni. It is a pure music source and just sounds like nothing, but the dac you hook up to it. That is what I compare pc audio to.
You're probably right, Cerrot, my "rig" may not be as revealing as yours. My system is still a virgin, doesn't keep a diary, and won't even consider its own Facebook account. I'm sure lots of other systems are much more revealing. My system chooses to remain private - it's very introverted, but I guess you just have to take the time to get to know it.
Alesis Masterlink into a good DAC is a nice alternative. I had one modified by TRL that worked nicely. Just wish the HD held more music.
Back in 2005 I had a recording gig where I recorded Jerome Harris for a live show. I used a computer based system running at 96/24 and a Masterlink running at 96/24. For the computer I ran a Grace Design converter and the Master link used the internal converters. I had a kludge spdif/firewire system set up for the computer system. The computer based system beat the Masterlink. I have used the Masterlink as a two track back up on occasions afterwards. I don't find its converters to be on part with other outboard gear.

Up until a year ago I always used firewire as an output from my computer, converted to spdif to my dac. This sounded best to me and when mixing large mult rack projects gave me the best idea of what I was doing. Async usb sounds very good to me, so much so I no longer go firewire spdif but just straight async usb. I also prefer async usb over a cdp. Howere, that wasn't true before async usb. Although my firewire spdif conversion bettered my cdp. Ymmv
Mapman, I don't see any reason why USB to S/Pdif converter couldn't do good job. Interface has nothing to do with it since it only delivers data and jitter does not apply (no timing yet). Converter buffers this data then outputs it in S/Pdif protocol creating timing from internal clock. It is only matter of quality of this clock/converter. Am I missing something?
Kijanki, it might work just fine if needed if one right,

Always preferable to avoid converting/adapting protocols up front in general I'd say, if possible, just in case it is not done well.

But sometimes you just do what you gotta do. Nothing inherently wrong with that.
Always preferable to avoid converting/adapting protocols

It is very desirable to convert in order to remove timing. Sending music as data and recreating timing on the other side of converter/bridge removes all the noise and timing on computer side. Playback program as well as computer speed don't matter with data transfers. Better yet, slower computer might be better producing less of electrical noise (computer power usage is proportional to speed).

Here is comparison of many USB to S/Pdif converters:

Some of converters (tested on DCs Scarlatti and Metrum Octave DACs) matched performance of DCs Scarlatti transport, suggesting that USB bus has nothing to do with it!
If I wanted to translate something from French to English I would not translate French to German to English. Unless I had no choice. As far as all the "grunge" they speak of, if you have a properly set up USB silent music server going into a dac that is PROPERLY SET UP FOR USB, there is no "grunge". If you don't have a properly set up server and you have "grunge" well maybe, except, instead, I would suggest you take those funds and do it right the first time eliminating the obvious extra step. To me simpler (less steps) is always better. Less to brake, less to connect and less clutter. Unless you are one of these audiophiles who likes a real long list of components on their virtual system. Another thing to consider is many companies make their living by solving problems that do not need solving when properly implemented. I will say, it made an interesting read.
Pkoegz, External converter is one of possible solutions. It is capable to
deliver results similar to asynch USB while providing more flexibility, since
only few DACs have asynch USB while all have S/Pdif input.

Also this solution is much better than synchronous USB where computer
with its jittery clock controls timing. Computer controlled clock will always
be jittery - no matter how "USB silent music server" you will

In addition you don't seem to understand benefits that clock separation
(timing removal) brings - you can use any computer, any playback
program etc and it won't affect sound quality.

As for the language analogy - Audio is a little bit more complicated than
that and require some understanding. For instance - the fact that I have
reclocker built into my DAC does not mean that it is the best solution.
Reclocker outside of the DAC most likely will give better performance and
will allow future upgrade at the lower cost.

You must be one of those audiophiles that have TV, Radio, Amplifier,
Speakers and Turntable built into big credenza - like in 70s. :)

I see your point in this specific case and cannot disagree. Non asynchronous USB in general would be the last approach I would bank on.
Actually while I can not speak in tech terms, I have spoken to a few designers of dac's, including emm labs and dcs, they would strongly disagree with your view. (I recently in my last system I owned the Paganini Master Clock and Debussy dac. I only bring this up because you mentioned I know nothing about clocking). In fact I spoke with an engineer from emm labs today and ask about your point. He laughed. Now since your brought up my system as way of criticizing my knowledge, I have temporally listed it. I will tell you that my digital front end, in my view, is unrivaled. I have had much more expensive systems but none I have enjoyed more. Now if you take that money, that in my view would have been thrown away and add it to your dac money, problem solved. Now I find these posts entertaining because I know better. Others may not. So if your going to attempt a take down of someone make sure you know what you know.