USB SQ, what can one expect

Have been trying out the USB connection on a Resolution Audio Cantata. The wire I've been using is generic (nothing fancy)and I've been using a Dell laptop using JRiver just to try this out. My problem is that my CD's played on the transport built into the Cantata just sound fantastic, three dimensional, everything and the same CD's ripped to the computer don't hold a candle to it played over the USB. I've also tried some high rez downloads. Is this to be expected or is the problem that I need to optimize the USB playback more. Thanks for any guidance that can be offered.
Red - if the Cantata utilizes the power provided via the USB cable then see this post...

USB power can be unstable and noisy and degrade the quality of data.

If it does not use the USB supplied power then this will not make any difference.

The quality of the USB cable can play a significant part in playback SQ, so get a half decent cable - like the one in the above link.

You also want to make sure that JRiver is configured to send the unaltered digital content without first processing it in some way.

Unfortunately I know nothing of JRiver, so I cannot help with this, but I use an iMac - and the internal Apple software is not great for streaming playback - I use Audirvana to bypass the Apple software.

Personally - I have compared streamed content via USB to the exact same CD content via spdif into the very same DAC and could not tell any difference, so you should be able to "tune" your streaming path to get CD quality sound

USB interface quality varies a lot. Most of them are poorly designed IME. Using power in the cable for the critical clocked part of the interface is a no-no.

However you can improve things a LOT by using a separate high-quality power supply for the USB power. The Power Block is such a USB power supply and the best one available using the Hynes regulation technology. You simply plug the USB cable into it and a short integral USB cable plugs to your DAC. It sits behind your DAC. Email for more details. See:

30-day unconditional money-back guarantee, less shipping.

Another option for you is to use a good USB converter like the Off-Ramp 5 and drive S/PDIF coax to your DAC, abandoning the built-in USB interface completely. This will match or beat your CD transport. More expensive though:

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
est. 1996
I believe I have a ways to go but I tried a "better" USB cable and this definitely made a very significant difference. So USB cable nay sayers, cables dooo matter. My journey into computer audio, to be continued.
Redcarrera, what usb cable did you go to and how much usd?
Um. I use the DH Labs Mirage USB cable. Beat the Wireworld platinum IMHO.
The USB cable was a modestly priced mapleshade one, but it certainly surpassed the generic cable by a good margin.

Is your Dell dedicated to playing audio? Having a dedicated computer can make a significant difference as you can get rid of multiple programs running in the background (including anti-virus).

Is it a 64-bit computer? If so, I've had very good results installing Windows Server 2012 as operating system, and once that was done, outstanding results using the Audiophile Optimizer (software) and turning WS2012 into core mode. All this with JRiver.

Then of course you can build a purpose-designed PC, but I would suggest you do that later.

I'm 100% PC based these days. I ended up selling my CD player as I was not using it anymore. Computer audio can sound very, very good.

Enjoy the journey!
Thanks Lew for the info. My Dell is far from optimized. I was just trying it out. Over the course of the next couple of months I will set up a "music" server and see how that works. Thanks.
Just to mention, USB cables behave differently between different components.. I recently auditioned several and none sounded to me the way reviewers and other users described them. Unless someone has the exact same output and input devices their opinion as it relates to your setup will be pretty much worlthless.
Red - just this week I've been ripping CD's with dbPoweramp.

The improvements were significant - then again I was using iTunes prior to this - won't ever do that again

You can get dbPoweramp for a free 21 day trial - just google them.

The improvements I noticed were a more believable spatial presentation, especially on live tracks, but even studio recordings were much more life-like. The high-end was also much better.

One of the audio stores I frequent gave me the tip. He swears by it

Give it a whirl and see what you think

Erikminer - USB cables will sound different in every system. The reason for this is the USB interfaces vary a lot, the USB ports on the computer vary a lot and each system has different ground-loop noise. All of these play into it.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio

I have a RA Cantata and use a fine usb cable my dealer provided me with (I don't even know who makes it but it's not fancy)...

But anyway I have a PC and Jriver as well and I have NO problems with USB audio and have compared files on my computer via USB to the actual CD and could not hear much of a difference at all. The CD MAYBE being a bit fuller..

Some folks have good suggestions already in this thread, of things for you to try. Your ears will be the final say of course. All I know is my system sounds great when using my Cantata's USB input. It's nice and simple and I have no desire to try any tweaks with it :)
My experience was the mirror image of the OP. I had a Wadia transport running coax to a Benchmark DAC. When I ripped the CD's to FLAC using JRiver, then to the same DAC using Wireworld Starlight, things sounded noticeably better. Maybe some DACs do USB better/worse than other inputs. There are some optimizations for JRiver, easily found with Google. I'm running the tracks out of memory.
I second the recommendation of dBpoweramp made above. made a "guide to ripping CDs", a 2 or 3 years ago which Is based on dBpoweramp and which I follow to a t. Takes away the learning curve and you do the setup work once and then forget about it and every time you start up the program it remembers the setting.

Since my server PC has no CD drawer - you don't want that in an optimized computer - I rip on another (general purpose) computer and move the ripped files.
USB is for your mouse, printer and keyboard - not music. How can good sound come out of such a utalitarian output? That is the anus of your computer and you really don't want to use that. Crap comes out of that.
I love it! Steve is the only engineer in the world who says "Another option for you is to use (his) Off-Ramp 5 ... This will match or beat your CD transport" without ever hearing the CD transport! Truly amazing. Steve, you can contribute, I know you can. I know you can add to these forums without trying to sell or promote your products. Why dont you look at Atmasphere's threads? he offers an incredible amount of info and you would NEVER know what he sells. EVER.
Cerrot - there are too many folks using USB with great results to make your claims credible. Give it up.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Cerrot - some might say - you are talking out of your USB port :-)

Perhaps you are correct if you are referring to USB 1.0 ports in both computer and DAC, but with asynchronous USB 2.0 in both - it's a whole different ball game.

Especially if the DAC is designed specifically to handle asynch USB 2.0 data transfers

Is it the best method? - who knows - but it is now so much better than it used to be and if you are that persnickety you'll take another approach.

Once ripped with DBPoweramp - I think anyone will be able to see just how good asynch USB 2.0 can be.

Willie, it has gotten better but no where near an spdif implementation.
Cerrot - please don't interprit this post as me being argumentative, since I am all about getting to the bottom of things and the USB vs S/PDIF debate has been ongoing for some time.

I just did some surfing on the web and found this article, which seems to indicate USB is quite capable of quite high resolution playback. It appears to take a little more "scientific" approach, rather than the "personal observations" posted on many forums, which can be "coloured" by many other factors in any given audio system

EXA's post on this forum supports the above

USB to DAC vs. USB to SPDIF then DAC

But then he made this comment...
Asynchronous USB interfaces are not sensitive to the quality of the USB cable.

I have personally experienced better USB cables do make a discernible difference i.e. in my system!

Since I'm no expert in this field it's always useful to get the opinion of others, so if you could take time to read it and provide some feedback, I for one would appreciate it.

If you know of other counter arguments on the web it would be most helpful

I tend NOT to believe everything I read on the web on first read, so feedback from others is crucial in order to arrive at a more informed conclusion.

If anyone else has "scientific proof" one way or the other, your feedback would also be appreciated - by me at least :-)

Many Thanks in advance
Willie wrote:

"Asynchronous USB interfaces are not sensitive to the quality of the USB cable.

I have personally experienced better USB cables do make a discernible difference i.e. in my system!"

It is true that Async eliminates the problem of jitter from the computer getting into the master clock of the Async interface, however there are other mechanisms that can still cause jitter due to the USB computer interface and the USB cable.

The main mechanism is common-mode noise. The USB interface is differential, so in theory all that matters in the signal is the difference between the two signal wires. However, in practice any noise on both signals (common-mode noise) is not rejected completely by the Async receiver. Because this noise is not completely rejected, it adds to jitter in the Async interface.

There are a couple of ways to eliminate or reduce this noise:

1) filter the USB interface
2) use a galvanically isolated USB interface

I have solutions for both of these:
1 Short Block

2 Power Block

Another mechanism that can cause USB cables to differ is the error rate. It is best to get a high-quality USB cable. Same for S/PDIF coax. Use a high-quality cable there too.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
One other way to reduce/eliminate noise on the USB cable is to use the dual USB cables such as the one I identified on my first post of this thread

And we come full circle :-)

Back to the tunes
Steves the man! He has all the solutions. You can put all
the lipstick you want on the usb pig that it is. Willie, I
will read through this. I have been posting my position
about usb on agon for years. I would just like for people
to take a peak at USB and how it works. The very basic
premise of it transmiting packets of data instead of a
stream is a big problem. The second is that is is just what
is is - a 'universal' seriel bus and you just dont want
your music going through this. All these implementations
to better usb are getting better but you are starting with
the inferior medium of usb. Just try a good soundcard
and you can easily hear what usb doesnt do. I will read
the links. Thanks,
Hi Willie, that took me two seconds. I have read both of
those in the past. It fails to illustrate the inherent
problem with USB. You can compare diffent systems. I am
talking about the poor music interface of USB due to its
design. You can see more and more with new designs that
USB is flawed (after ALL these years, now there is a dual
usb cable with separate power? How may understand that
USB, with all the problems, even has power going through
that cable - and some designs add more power and some
dont?) There is NO standard cause its, excuse the pun,
"wilie nillie". See, Willie, back when
computers started getting into everybodys house, customer
sevice was out of control and too big an expense because
users struggled with attaching printers, and whatnot.
So, that made it idiot proof and created USB. And now
all us idiots 'assume' thats the best place to hook our
$100k hifi to. me says no. Me says take a look at it
and make an intelligent decision based on science and
knowledge, not based on what Steve Nugent wants to sell
Cerrot - you are correct...

Simply put...
- USB does send data in packets
- each packet contains a CRC - Cyclic Redundancy Check
- the CRC tells the DAC whether the packet received was identical to the packet sent
- Asynch USB allows the DAC to request packet re-transmission
- if incomplete the DAC requests the same packet until the CRC indicates the packet is complete
- even if the CRC is corrupted the DAC simply requests the packet again
- the DAC then assembles the data stream once complete and plays it.

If this did not work the DAC would simply stop playing or skip - which in my case it does not.

This is the same technology used to transfer the spreadsheets and accounting info of Fortune 500 companies - and it works - otherwise computer systems in general would fail miserably - they don't

S/PDIF does not have CRC checks and balances and therefore you NEVER know if bits are getting dropped.

Yes - there may be other issues with USB, but transferring the correct data stream to an Asynch DAC is not one of them

Here's another link

Is it the perfect solution - maybe not

But it is NOT as bad as you are portraying it

I think it really depends on which USB approach a specific DAC manufacturer has implemented.

I have observed power issues with DAC's that power the USB circuitry via the USB cable, which most quality USB DAC's tend to avoid

Willie - a dual cable may help, but it does not eliminate the common-mode noise problem.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
XMOS provides a tool to record errors on the USB cable. Errors do happen occasionally.

Gordon Rankin believes that they occur often and are the cause of some SQ issues. I'm not so sure...

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Willie, you definitely know more about USB than I do. I can't stand the sound and can't stand how they shoved it down everybodys throat. The USB is a filthy, disgusting place. Iwill check the link.
Cerrot: "I can't stand the sound and can't stand how they shoved it down everybodys throat. The USB is a filthy, disgusting place. Iwill check the link."

Interesting choice of phrasing. What did USB ever do to you that you should harbor such anger toward it? It just seems like a disproportionate response for the subject at hand.
Rhanson, USB is a universal serial bus created to keep people from opening their computers. Audio, comes from a sound card, Unless you don't want to open up your computer. To me, good sound has no boundaries....
Cerrot: "To me, good sound has no boundaries...."

That makes little sense to me. You're clearly drawing a boundary, and it lies somewhere between the guts and the anus of your system.
Hahaha too funny!
The boundary being your being afraid to open up your computer, IE settling for that little usb opening to attach your hifi to. I prefer to look under the hood and not be limited by the limitation of others.
Cerrot: You're now making a number of assumptions that I don't feel are contributing to any meaningful conversations. Plus, your obstinance around your opinion of USB does a disservice to others who ARE looking for meaningful advice and superb sound.

First, I use USB for my sound. If I wasn't getting absolutely spectacular results -- almost too good to stand, actually -- then I might be prone to taking your "advice" while thinking, "Man, what a dumb cluck I've been." USB is an implementation found in many DACs and servers that stand at the highest level of praise, and while that implementation must be treated well and carefully for best results, thousands of other people are likely pretty darned happy with their choices.

The other ASSumption is that one must be "afraid to open up" one's computer. Gotcha there, too: I used to work for major computer vendors and later had a consulting practice, and could field-strip and rebuild a PC or Mac in record time... I wasn't at all afraid. So, your argument falls rather flat, no?

Perhaps you should read Ken Wilber's "No Boundary." One key premise in the book is that any boundary line represents a potential battle line. To so blithely stand by the premise that all USB implementations are crap is to stand on one side of your artificial and possibly baseless boundary and simply confuse other people who might not have quite the same outlook or experiences that you seem to have had. As always in these matters, YMMV, and your experience/opinion should be offered to others, but perhaps not so vehemently defended.

But, you do appear to have something to defend, some emotional investment in making sure that others don't make the same dastardly mistake that you seem to know so much about. Having said my piece, I'll leave you to it.
Cerrot, Try using the IFI USB power supply and IFI purifier/conditioner. It separates the power supply from the data, quite a remarkable little product.
I'm also using a Bryston BDP-2 for the player and now utilizing its USB output.
With the IFI unit, the USB is better than the SPIF outputs.
Rhanson, I have explained the shortcomings of USB many times over the past years. My postings do actually help as the entire world has embraced usb as if it is the only (and best) solution. It is not. FAR from it. I am pointing that out. I may be the only one pointing it out. You may be comfortable at opening up a PC but the rest of the PC audio world is not as comfortable, and has settled for the rediculous notion that USB is the way to go. (Many believe it is the ONLY way to go). I have nothing to defend. Science proves my position. Audio should not be transmitted in packets. pretty simple from where I sit. So, how do we get to a stream rather than packets??? THAT is the $64,000 question! and USB is NOT the answer.

Async USB is not a continuous stream, it is broken up due to handshaking. You have no concept of the science involved. Audio is a real-time process and requires isochronous connections.

Ethernet is explicitly packetized. I have Ethernet as well as USB interfaces and they both perform well. Ethernet can have drop-outs on the network due to its packetization and out-of order arrivals. I will argue that since Ethernet is not a particularly good medium for real-time that it is not well suited to audio, since it is a real-time process.

The main advantage of Ethernet has nothing to do with packetization. The advantage is that the computer OS treats the data no differently than other data. With USB and S/PDIF, the audio stack becomes involved which usually impacts sound quality and creates computer, app and OS dependence.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Cerrot: "I have nothing to defend. Science proves my position. Audio should not be transmitted in packets. pretty simple from where I sit."

Not to pick nits, sir, but you DO have something to defend: Your position, which is stated so clearly in the above quote. (I do have a tendency to notice conflicting or internally inconsistent statements.)

I understand you've evangelized against USB as an audio solution. Perhaps, as you say, you're the only one doing so. I would agree with that, as there seem to be so many USB-based solutions that I'm compelled to think that people aren't listening.

What I would suggest, however, is, "So what?"

Maybe it's not the *best* approach, but I and perhaps others would suggest to you that the sound is pretty darned good when approached properly. I couldn't give a rat's pitoot whether it's USB, or Ethernet, or sound card, or the next big thing to come along. I'm more than delighted with my sound, and there is a general feeling that, USB limitations notwithstanding, digital playback is approaching or has approached the vaunted vinyl, and only stands to get better as time goes on.

Most people say "YMMV." Perhaps USB is not for you, and that's cool. Don't use it, then. But throwing such a huge (and wet) blanket over anything-USB is to denigrate peoples' chosen systems, and to diminish the work and accomplishments of system designers who -- despite the limitations of USB -- have developed equipment that produces world-class audio.

My position is that since people are getting excellent results from USB, then perhaps it's not such a bad thing after all. For now, I'll run with it.
Dude, I agree with you. I wouldn't care if the best sound came out of a dixie cup with a piece of dental floss. No issue. Jeezzz.... BUT, dont be ignorant about it either. I trid the dixie cup with the piece of string. Im not sitting here saying usb is inferior by never hearing it. I was probably one ofthe first on the planet to hear sound out of that little hole. TRY a native spdif iplementation ...and then talk to me.
Interestingly, Cerrot, I recently moved off of an S/PDIF implementation in favor of USB. But, my DAC is different than most, and is considered "input agnostic."
Rhanson, I am certain threre are more favorable spdif installations that would better the staggering pulse of usb. SPDIF equals high customer service costs. USB equals no customer service costs. ANYBODY can plug somehithing into a usb port.
I strongly disagree with Cerrot on this subject! I have used both and USB has come a long way to now being not only included on all high-end dac's but the digital input that I and all reviewers feel produces the best overall sound reproduction in all respects of measurement. I will never go back to S/PDIF due to the conversion that takes place that produces jitter! USB is the future of computer audio in my opinion and can only improve as it continues to evolve. USB 3.0 will be the next generation. Windows 10 will not require a driver for 2.0 USB which will improve it's bandwidth all the more. USB audio is the future of High-End audio!


Far from it, audiofile. The new servers and technologies are omitting USB. USB is on the way out, buddy. The spdif you tried must not have been very good. I don't hear any details of it. USB is for the masses. I choose to be a little more 'unique'.

Cerrot - I'm assuming the spdif output you are using is on a seperate sound card - which one are you using?

What others have you tried?

As with each audio type component, USB can be expected to be: poor-to-good-to-absolute-state-of-the-art depending upon the component designer's: expertise, capabilities, priorities, and voicing. Anything more specific is a generalization that doesn't befit many of the knowledgeable posters in this forum who through many decades of trial and error, fully recognize that there is absolutely no component type, nor one way to achieve the goal of very highly resolved audio playback!

There are far too many combinations and permutations and hence variables, to make anything but closed minded, belief/faith driven sweeping statements about equipment types as a whole and their overall negative or positive merits etc.....

I've been surprised, blind-sided, and simply blown away by far too many equipment types to be simplistically misguided by previously held theorems! Keep an open mind as much as you can....the rewards are always worth the effort! In fact, you might learn something new and find something that's better than you could have ever imagined or believed!
+1 Mrmb
USB can sound as good as vinyl:

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Willie, I have been using the ESI Juli@ for a while now. I have had a few; off the mobo (Intel, forget the chipset); I've tried RME, Universal Audio, Maudio, the usual asus and creative nonsense, pretty much all I could get my hands on. Firewire was much better than USB but I have found the ESI Juii@ ($150!) is the best for my ears/system - and ironically - the cheapest.
USB can sound as good as vinyl? I think I just peed a little. Steve, do you even have a turntable? Unplug that USB phonoplayer and see if you can borrow a VPI Traveler. I will lend you a grado gold and you will blow away your synchro mess. Hear that? Its a guitar string!
I'm beginning to sense why Cerrot thinks that no one listens to him. I can only speak for myself, of course.