USB DA recommendation needed

I have an apple G4 cube that i want to use as jukebox for my stereo. I am looking for an external soundcard that gives me good sound. I am getting a Linn Majik, which has only analogue inputs, so the soundcard should have rca jacks.

I tried the m-audio firewire audiophile, but it crashes the cube all the time, even though it sounds great. I also tries an imic and it sounds horrible, but works flawlessly.... so maybe usb is the way to go.

What other options are out there? not needing drivers is a plus.


When I was trying to do the same thing, there were a bunch of positive threads on the stereolink USB boxes:

I had one, but, ultimately, I ended up ditching the stereolink in favor of an MAudio Sonica, which is basically a USB to toslink converter. I run that into a Theta Pro Basic III and then into the pre. Sounds better to my ears...
Check this out:
Here's another one -- quite expensive:
You've got me a little worried. I have a 1.25 GHz G4 Powerbook and just got the M-Audio USB Audiophile. Hope it doesn't crash my computer. What do you mean when you say, "crash." You mean, like, have to re-boot, or do you mean, like, have to take it in for repair? You've also got me looking for other sound-cards just in case this thing causes problems. The Apogee sounds like a nice unit, but it costs $1,000+. I'll be curious to hear if others know of alternative USB or Firewire DA sound cards that are Mac compatible.
After reading up on the Apogee Mini-Dac, I am all but sold. It is expensive, but it sounds like the real deal for turning one's computer into a digital transport with a digital output via USB and converting the digital into high quality analogue. If the M-Audio USB Audiophile isn't all it is cracked up to be, the Apogee will be my next stop.

You can get the Apogee Mini-Dac for around $1,000, get the Mackie HR824's used for around $1,000, use your existing computer for a transport and have a great stounding system for less than the $2,500 you were going to spend.

The Apogee is extremely Mac Compatible. You don't even need to install a driver. I've read that the Mac will recognize the Apogee upon installation and away you go.

Thanks for the responses!

To clarify....
I have th firewire version of the audiophile and I am getting a lot of kernel panics. From the crash logs its pretty clear that its due to the m-audio drivers. I reinstalled the OS (10.3.2 and 10.3.3) and no change. I have nothing else installed.

Do you need drivers to use the USB version??

In addition, while it works with iTunes it doesnt work with some other apps (such as mplayer for watching movies).

Also, it often doen not work after sleep (and give kernel panics then...).
So its definetly not a card you can forget about.... maybe the drivers improve, but maybe not..

The apogee sounds great, but is a bit out of my range. i was looking at the <$300. My system is not that high end... :-)

I kind of like the idea of going 2 step (tos-links/spdif -> DAC) maybe if I can find a theta or another dac reasonably cheap.....

How do the stereolink and the sonica sound compared to the theta ? I guess I could live with the sonica for now until a "deal" on a theta pops up.

Anybody have any listening experience with the ESI waveterminal:
or the Edirols ?

To my ears, the combination of the Theta and the MAudio Sonica sounds better than the Stereolink. My setup is actually sounding a bit worse right now, b/c I just moved the stereo across the office, and with some other changes, now have PC -> MAudio Sonica USB to toslink converter -> 36' of toslink -> MAudio C02 toslink to digital coax converter -> Theta. I just posted a Q in another thread--I'm looking for insights into whether I'd be better off with 36' of USB or some other device that is USB->coax digital and a long coax digital run...
My M-Audio USB Audiophile came with a driver that had to be installed before the computer would recognize it.
The squeezebox from is worth a look. It doesn't have a USB input port but it does have both Ethernet and WLAN interfaces, which will allow for remote connectivity to your server-based jukebox. It can play a wide variety of digital formats including uncompressed PCM. The S/PDIF output will allow you to bypass the builtin DAC, and use one of your choice.

I don't have personal experience with this device. However, I'd guess that RFI and jitter might be the two main issues.
the squeezebox looks interesting!
However, since I use the screen of, my cube to watch DVD's I cannot ban it from the living room. Thus wirelss is not needed, but maybe I get one for the bedroom!
I am leaning towards the 2 step solution (sonica-dac) or waiting for deals on the apogee :-)
A couple questions:
Did you ahve problems before with short cables going into the DAC?
Does the Sonica work without drivers ?
I know nothing about DACs. what is preferred, coax (s/pdif is guess), optical ? What use one is good for the $?

I looked at the Slimp3 from Slim Devices for my other stereos, and ended up with a bunch of Audiotrons instead:

The Slimp3 (and the SQBX) are server push--means you have to have software running on a computer to push things out to the box. The Audiotron, on the other hand, indexes all the mp3s/wavs it finds in any public directories on the network and accesses them as you decide. Worked better for me. I do run one CD30 "server push" device in my bedroom hooked to a cheesy Nakamichi radio alarm clock. Might want to look at that too:

The ATron has ethernet, but no wireless (you could hook it to an 802.11 based bridge, however). There may be an issue w/wireless, however. For higher quality mp3s and wavs, the data rates of the 802.11 system may not be sufficient. Nominally, it should be good enough for most mp3s. The problem is that, in most cases, you aren't going to get ideal 802.11 rates in your house--depends on how many other 2.4 GHz appliances you have and how many floors/walls it has to go through.

The Sonica does require installation of drivers to, at least, reroute audio through USB rather than speaker output from the computer (it does on my WinXP box). My perception was that the sound quality was better with shorter runs of toslink, but the Q I asked was because it doesn't get to the quality of ATron-fed mp3 playback in my living room. There, the ATron feeds a Theta Casablanca via coax s/pdif, to a pair of ARC VT 100 Mk IIIs to a set of Proac RS 3.8s. The study system is Theta Pro Basic III (should be comparable to C/B as a DAC) into an ARC LS-16 pre into an ARC D240 Mk II into Proac RS2s. Should be comparable, but its not.

I think conventional wisdom is that coax sounds better than toslink, but I've heard contrary views expressed as well. I think its probably safe to say that on most systems, coax sounds better. The Sonica only has a toslink out, however. I've wondered about cracking the box open and wiring in an RCA plug--I think they use toslink b/c its cheaper to manufacture, but I've seen mods people have done to turn toslink into RCA... Heck, at worst I destroy a $50 box.
I'm having a similar problem with my M-Audio USB Audiophile DAC. It either crashes my computer and I have to reboot, or else it causes a condition where none of my other programs will open. I'm a tad frustrated. You said yours sounds great -- I haven't even been able to listen to mine. Arghh!!!
Thats bad to hear. I thought it was just the audio over firewire or the slowness of my cube (500MHz). But I guess m-audio just has bad drivers.
I actually just got an RMA to send mine back and am looking for a solution that works without drivers.
An additional rpoblem I encountered was that the audiophile seemed to only work with 44.1kHz sources (like itunes). Playign a movie with mplayer which has 48kHz audio would result in silence. I tried to change the sample rate in the control panel.. but guess what... it crashed.

Anyway, now I am looking at the edirol UA-1D or 1X. that would give me spdif and it does not seem to need drivers ! (coax+optical) (optical+rca)

- what are your experiences with the sonica ?
-what connection do I need for external "decent" dacs? coax or optical?
-what "decent" dacs can be had in the $300-500 range ?
I seem to recall seeing that there was some known issue with the Mac's audio USB interface. You might want to call M-Audio and see if they have any insight...
I actually don't think that it is a Mac core audio problem since my Griffin iMic works just fine in all applications. It just doesn't sound as good.

The m-audio I had was a firewire card. M-audio tech support was trying to be helpful, but besides "reinstall everything" they couldn't come up with much. The kernel logs clearly indicated that the m-audio driver was crashing.
That is strange, b/c I thought musicians favored the Mac environment, so I figure they would have given more attention to that context. My Sonica hasn't given me any issues on my XP system.

Lots of good DACs in the $300-$500 range--stuff changes so fast that you can pick up state-of-the-art digital gear from a couple years ago for peanuts. I like Theta, and picked up my Pro Basic III for about $500... I used to run it with a Chroma, which also sounded OK, but a bit thin. I'd stay away from the Progeny.
Don't know what I did, but I tried it again tonight and it is working beautifully.
Wow -- having a DAC outside the computer makes a really nice difference.
Increased dynamics, air, detail, musicality -- the works. Now, if it sounds THIS good with the M-Audio USB Audiophile DAC, I wonder how much better
the Apogee would sound......

I'm sick I tell you.

But seriously, with this kind of device, I'm more convinced than ever that
hard drive is THE solution for music storage. You can rip a huge collection of CD's to a hard drive uncompressed, play them through an external DAC and get CD quality music. This sounds better than my old Yamaha s2300 Universal player, which is a $1,000 player. It would take a pretty serious CD player to beat this set-up. And -- that's with this $175 DAC.

yes, the sound is superb!

Does it work with mplayer?

Also, I checked the m-audio website. The audiophile USB is supposed to work with core-audio in OS-X. Thus no drivers should be needed for USB audio out. Is that true ?
Any more crashes?

I installed the drivers, but I read in several places that the drivers were not needed. My next step was going to be to remove the drivers I had installed.
First I turned my computedr off. Next, I connected the M-Audio DAC and powered it up. Then, I turned the computer on and booted it up. Under system preferences -- sound -- output -- I select M-Audio. Then, under general system preferences, I also have an M-Audio logo. I clicked on that and chose Analogue output by checking the box next to it and taking the checks out of all the other boxes. Then, I checked the box marked 24 bit. Now, it works beautifully -- no more crashes. Not sure what I did that was different from before or if it just took turning the computer on and off a certain number of times before it straightened itself out. I'm not sure whether the driver was necessary, or not. It sounds really good. Big improvement.
Does it work after sleep?

Would you mind trying it without the drivers? I dont want to waste $ on shipping stuff back and forth again.
maybe m-audio has an answer...
Hi, I used a IBM laptop with 40GB HD and a M-audio Sonica theater for digital output. I compare it to Theta Data II transport (cost $2800 years ago) and Theta sounds way better. I would like to know if Audiophile USB or any other USB sound card digital output would be comparable to a good transport. I really want to use laptop + USB sound card as transport for digital source..

My system is Theta Pro Basic II DAC, ARC LS15 pre and Aragon 8008 Amp, NHT 3.3.

The M-Audio USB Audiophile sounds pretty good, but a little on the "dark"
side. I'm not satisfied -- I'm looking for better options. I think a good solution might be to use something like the M-Audio USB Audiophile to take the digital feed from the computer, then run a SPDIF from the M-Audio USB Audiophile to either a good DAC like your Theta or to a pre-amp with a good DAC. Haven't tried that yet. Otherwise, I am very curious about the Apogee Mini-Dac. If you could find a good USB DAC, you could skip having to use a pre-amp, you could go right from the DAC to the amplifier. The Mini-Dac has gotten great reviews, but I'd feel better if I could hear a review from it from someone here on the 'Gon. The M-Audio USB Audiophile goes for around $200, the Apogee Mini-Dac goes for around $1,000.

Very odd, M Audio is known in the pc music world as having the most stable drivers. That, and the sound, is what drew me in. I've been using the firewire audiophile for a few months now with no crashes (on a PC though--A REAL computer:) I would also like to experiment with a DAC. The sound is quite good and so far beyond my last internal soundcard that there's simply no comparison, but it seems slightly less full than my cdp. I haven't compared any other external cards. My only complaint is that the volume controls on the actual unit aren't even remotely linear. Sometimes half a turn will drop the volume to zero and then it can take as many as 10 full turns to get the sound back. (If using the software volume control or the processor volume control this is not a problem) This is a known bug and will be addressed in the next firmware release.
Update --- I connected the M-Audio USB Audiophile to my Mac G4 and then used the SPDiF output to feed the signal in digital to a Proceed AVP2, using the DAC is the Proceed -- this sounds way better. For a comparison, it beats the hell out of a $400 Denon CD/DVD player. For casual listening, I could live with this sound.
Just a note, USB 1.1 doesn't have the bandwidth to play more than 2 channels at 24bit/96khz. Companies are slowly coming out with USB2 and firewire devices that can play multi-channel audio at this resolution, but the original USB, a.k.a. USB 1/1.1 is too slow for more than 2 channels @ 24/96. It will play 16/48 (or 16/44.1) x 6 channels (5.1) Just something to keep in mind.

I have been using an Extigy for a few years, and it does well with DVDs because at 16/48 it compares very well even to the newer M-Audio line in SNR, Frequency Response and THD. It falls a little behind in 44.1 which is a major shortcoming of this device, in addition to the lack of multichannel higher resolution audio.

I'm waiting for M-Audio to release a USB2 Theater so I can have one device that does it all.
returned the audiophile and got a edirol ua-5.
sounds pretty damn sweet and needs no drivers for 16bit sound.
It is pretty universal since it has optical and coax as well.
Of course a week after i got it m-audio released new drivers for the audiphile to fix the crash problem in panther :-(

now i wouldn't mind borrowing somebody's theta to compare :-)
Update -- Bought an Apogee USB Mini-Dac. This is waaaay better than the M-Audio Audiophile! The M-Audio introduced time smear. Apogee has a better clock solution, smear is gone, full, rich, detailed sound, deep wide holographic sound stage -- I've found what I'm looking for! The Apogee cost $976, which is about five times what the M-Audio USB DAC cost, but I couldn't be happy with the M-Audio DAC -- I am really pleased with the sound of the Apogee. You can go from your computer, to the Apogee, to your amp or powered speakers --- no need for a pre-amp.
Rsbeck, does it have SPDIF out to connect to a standalone DAC?
Yes, the Apogee, like the M-Audio, has an SPDiF out. I tried using the SPDiF out on the M-Audio, plugging it into a digital input on my Proceed AVP2 and it did not sound good, which is surprising since the Proceed has very good DAC's and usually makes low end gear sound much better. I haven't tried the SPDiF out on the Apogee yet. I've been listening to it non-stop since I got it on Monday. Today, I plugged the balanced XLR outputs into my Levinson mono-blocks and into my Monitor Audio Studio 60's -- sounds great! The G4 and Apogee make a really satisfying front end. Musical as hell, the imaging is really delightful, I find myself glued to it. I am now going to rip my entire 1,000+ CD collection to an external hard drive, uncompressed, and use this for high quality casual listening in the family room. Convenience with very little compromise!
Hey Rsbeck, can you watch DVDs (Dolby Digital or DTS sound) through your Mac and Apogee Mini-DAC?
For DD and DTS, I believe you'll need a different type of sound card. You can connect a Mac G4 powerbook to some types of displays and watch DVD's and you can play the sound through the Apogee DAC in two-channel, but for multi-channel, DD, DTS, etc -- you'll need a different kind of DAC.
I got some emails about the current status....

So I ended up getting a Edirol UA-5. Setup way easier than the m-audio, basically plug and play.... and then I forgot about it :-)

Sounds great to and hasn't given me a crash once in 3+ months.
Works with DVDs etc., you forget that its not the internal sound.

The only negative is that i wish the box would be smaller, so i could hide it better. It has way more features than I need (mic inputs etc..) but maybe they come in handy some day.

i am now thinkign of gettign an airport express and hooking that up via toslink to the edirol :-)
Runner, I was looking at this unit to. You are probably following the other thread as well. The Waveterminal looks smaller, but I should probably see if I can track down some dimensions to verify this. It looks like a high quality unit that doesn't have all the extra features.
i think you are right, the wabeterminal seems smaller.
what i like about the ua5 is that it really works without any drivers, thus the next system update is not going to trash it.
This was one of my problems witht he audiophile:unstable drivers
actually, the manual volume adjuster is pretty handy in levelling the outputs to other sources.