USB Ext Sound Card Vs. Squeebox

I need your opinion on the following setups. Which system will sound better?

1. Mac Mini with USB Sound Card + DAC
2. Mac Mini with Wifi Squeebox + same DAC

I am playing WAV as the music format.
I assume option 1 is better but option 2 is a cleaner setup for me. Has anyone tried both setups? And is there a noticeable difference?

I have never tried the USB option, but my boulder basic digital mod with a linear power supply sounds real good on my system...

Actually, I tried the USB option before and it sounded really good. I'm trying to setup my system again and want the convinience of the wifi option using the Squeezebox.

What is a boulder basic digital mod with a linear power supply?
This one is totally up to you. I don't think there is a black and white answer. If it were me I would go from the Mac Mini to a USB DAC like the Benchmark DAC1 USB or a Wavelength DAC.

- Chris
Computer Audiophile | Turn Down The Silence
I just purchase a Squeezebox. I will test to see if I hear a difference between the suqeezebox wifi versus an external usb sound card. Both of which will be using the same DAC (Ack).
Sqeezebox has a really good digital out, supposedly you will be hard pressed to find a difference between a good cd player as a transport versus the squeezebox + FLAC encoding
I guess most of you don't understand my question.

Anyhow, this is what I found. Using the same DAC and setup, the Squeezebox does not sound as good as the External USB sound card. The overall detail seems to be lacking a bit. I am guessing this is because the Squeezebox is through a wireless network where as the External sound card is using USB 2.0. I'm not sure if this make any sense to anyone but that is what I found.
The difference you hear has little to do with the different technologies. It's the implementation of the technology that makes the difference. By itself the Squeezbox is good to very good, but it has clearly defined (and well documented) shortcomings. There are various mods and upgrades that people claim significantly better the basic product. If you did a comparison of various USB devices you would also find that some sound better than others.
Of course in the interests of science you could run an Ethernet cable to the SB and see if any of what you are hearing is related to the wireless transmission...

As Onhwy61 points out, this is all about implementation. And at a certain point price...

One other thing to try is a different SPDIF cable to the DAC. SPDIF implementation is second only to transport jitter....
In my system...

MacBook Pro -> USB out -> Hagerman USB adapter -> SPDIF cable -> DAC

sounds far to superior to

MacBook Pro -> wireless -> SB3 -> SPDIF digital out -> DAC.

I don't know why, but it's not close. Would love to try a USB DAC sometime -- could be even better.

I have the same experience. USB is better than Wireless. I assume the wirless or even Ethernet will loose some sound quality. I'll try the Ethernet when I get a chance. Maybe USB has a bigger bandwidth. THanks for sharing.
Guys - no difference between USB and Ethernet in terms of bandwidth - at least not that is relevant to this discussion. Very little data is required for audio - remember USB1.1 works just fine.

Hardwired (ie USB, Ethernet, FireWire etc) is always going to be more reliable then WiFi (wireless). Being nothing more then a small radio, WiFi is subject to interference where wire is not.

Technically a USB DAC that skips SPDIF and works in I2S will trump any USB SPDIF implementation. For instance Gordon Rankin's Wavelength series - Brick, Cosecant and Crimson. Also see the Empirical Audio website for more tech.

In my own rigs I have found that the SPDIF cable makes a big difference in the kind of setup Drubin has. I have been very happy with SBs modded by Bolder running Ethernet, and run them using their own audio out (ie using their internal DAC). Cosecant (and I assume Crimson) are better, as is a USB>adapter implementation with a high end DAC. Have had equally good results with a glass Toslink directly from the Mac to the DAC.

Lots of ways to go.
Seanchau wrote:
"USB is better than Wireless"

This is not a sound conclusion. Certainly not the case. Your experience shows that the particular implementations of wireless servers you auditioned are not as good as the particular USB implementations you auditioned. No broad conclusions can be drawn from this.

I say this because the fundamental physics of networked/wireless servers is actually superior to most USB implementations. Bit-perfect and local master clock. This is superior to most USB implementations. There is one exception that will match the quality possible with networked, namely the Crimson DAC from Wavelength which uses Asynchronous USB protocol.

You just need to listen to the right networked system and you will change your mind.

I just dont want others reading your post and being deterred from buying squeezebox, Sonos or others. They can sound as good or even better than USB with appropriate ancillary hardware.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Interesting, Steve. So can you explain why USB is so superior to SB3 in my system (see post above) and what it would take to beat it with a wireless implementation (which would be my preference)? I'm not meaning to challenge you, just seeking your learned input.
Drubin - Probably because the SB3 jitter is worse than the HagUSB jitter. If both are playing back 16/44.1, the only difference should be jitter. However, depending on the software that you are using with the HAGUSB, such as ASIO and different players such as Foobar or Jriver, this can also have an effect, both positive or negative.

With networked players, either wired or wireless, there is only the bit-perfect data and the jitter. No software gets in the way.

If you want inaudible jitter with a SB3, Sonos or AirPort Express, then my Pace-Car reclocker can provide this:

I am giving one away this year with the promotion. If you join their mailing list, you are entered in the contest. There is no digital source available with lower jitter.

Steve N.
There were no sound difference between wireless and wired except for when my wireless router would drop (thanks to my neighbors cordless phones... changing my wireless channel away from stock and going to 5.8ghz phones solved this problem) Of Course having a Squeezebox without the wireless card will reduce contamination and that will probably make it sound better going wired, but the fact that TCP is a reliable transport that isn't colored by air or copper..(IT humor sorry)

The SB3 is thin sounding stock and not full unless you get a modified powersupply (not just cheap linear ($30-100) powersupply which I did not hear an upgrade) Once I went to my Bolder ultimate powersupply I had body again.

There were no other jitter changes or timing issues. in my if you have a better DAC and digital cable things are probably different...

I still have a stock SB2 and powersupply to do direct comparisions into my DAC on another input and both can be playing the same song at the same volume level for comparisons.

My Setup
Thecus N5200 Pro Nas (music in FLAC), XP PC running Slimserver and DVR software, Wireless SB3 Bolder Digital mod and Bolder Ultimate powersupply and Bolder power cable, connected via Transparent Reference digital cable to my Theta Gen VIII (which has a Jitter Jail built in for fixing incoming digital inputs) to Theta Citadel amps to Wilson Maxx speakers.

Steve we get the point that you make the Pace Car.. but is it really necessary to tell everyone on every thread that this will fix everything??? I think not... slow down your posts, people do search for answers.
Thanks for sharing.
I was thinking of upgrading the powersuply for the SB3. But I agree with your points.
Forgive my ignorance - i just got a Paradisea for Christmas and wanted to try it with a Squeezebox, Airport Express and straight from a Macbook Pro and was hoping to tap into your expertise - (1) how do you output from iTunes via the USB and (2) what are the best music players (Mac compatible) given the shortcomings of iTunes 7 for high bit rate files? i assume more sophisticated players probably make it easier to output via USB to DAC. thanks in advance.
Lww4k -

Just get a USB cable with the appropriate ends. (I recommend the Belkin Gold USB cable, but any good quality USB cable will work.)

Plug the two devices together. Make sure the DAC is on.
Go to the Audio MIDI SetUp (utility folder) - and select the Paradisea in the pull down menus.(The DAC needs to be on and connected for it to show up in the Setup choices)

Ho to the Wavelength Audio USB DAC site if you need a more detailed blow by blow

http://www.usbdacs dot com/

Push Play in iTunes and off you go.

Be sure you do all of your ripping using Apple Lossless with Error Correction On and the rest of the DSP functions Off. This is all in the Preferences.

Not sure what you mean by "shortcomings". I am not aware of any other Mac compatible music players. iTunes is a Redbook application - if you want to do upsampling it has to take place on your DAC.

If you are sufficiently technical you might take a look at Max which is an Open Source ripping app similar to EAC which is the PC standard and is an alternative to the iTunes ripping software. Do not expect much if any support on this board. There may be some users on the Audio Asylum PC Audio board.

My suggestion is to listen to what you have first. Chances are you will be very pleased once you get all the pieces broken in and dialed up.

Have fun!
Thank you - this is very helpful. I will try this.
I've heard FLAC files are the way to go but not supported by iTunes is major drawback.
If you are using iTunes on a Mac there is no reason to use FLAC. Use Apple Lossless.

FLAC is a preferred solution for PCs because for whatever reason iTunes does not work as consistently in Windows/Vista.

Both Apple Lossless and FLAC do the same thing.

Since you are a Mac guy, you have nothing to gain.
I followed your instructions and the USB connection to the Powerbook works - fantastically easy setup following your instructions. I then tried using a Toslink output from an Apple Airport Express I have been using to-date prior to the Paradisea. The Toslink connection did not work. Furthermore, on the back of the Paridisea is a small toggle switch that appears to be an input selector for the Paradisea, with one side pointing towards the toslink and one towards the USB/RCA inputs. The Toslink didn't work regardless of where the toggle was and the USB worked with the toggle on both options. This makes me wonder if the Toslink input works at all. Any suggestions?
Another question - does it matter how long a USB chord one uses is?
Final question - the Paradisea is picking up radio signals. I tried pulling the ground in the power chord by using an adapter but still picking up faint radio signals when the music is quiet/off in the Paradisea.
Many thanks for all the help.
The USB spec is 15' before you need to add a repeater. One reason for this is that USB carries 5v and one can assume that the voltage drops below spec at that distance.

I highly recommend the Opticis Fiber Optic USB cable to anyone who wants to run past 15'. It is easy to route and completely disconnects the PC from the DAC (since fiber does not carry voltage) For sure this eliminates ground loops, and may or may not eliminate radio stations....

You do need a power supply at the receiving end - most of us use a USB 5v battery instead of the provided switching power supply.