where next to go?

Loosing track now of how long I've been dabbling with computer audio... something like 12-18 months of constant experimentation and tweaking. Many problems solved but one problem just doesn't seem to resolve; to wit, the human voice on many recordings sounds grainy/raspy, like an old black and white photograph shot with fast film at the compromise of fine detail. My LP's still best digital side by side where singing comes into play.

So my question; given that this is a digital only problem in a system where PC audio betters digital disc, has anyone else experienced/resolved this with upgrading their D-A chain? Trying to decide what should I target next.. the async USB converter or the DAC?

Current D-A chain
Vlink Async USB converter (96khz version)
PS Audio Dlink III

Using JRiver player with JPlay add on (JPlay actually works!!)
PC built from scratch as music server.
All uncompressed wav files for playback.
I tried for quite some time to get digital that rivals vinyl. I could never do it using PC audio playing software. I finally bought a Sonos system and now stream lossless (FLAC) encoded files from a PC. I run the Sonos direct into Audio Note monoblocks with a full horn system.
I have tried many DACS in the 1 to 2k price range, being fed by the Sonos, but in the end, the Sonos direct has the most natural and organic sound, that I ended up keeping it and selling the DACS. Its almost embarrassing that the Sonos beat out the rest of the DAC's, but it really is that good.
Have you been over to Computer Audiophile?
David - the most important thing in ANY digital audio system is the master clock(s), whether it is Squeezebox, CD transport or USB interface, even more important than the DAC design. If you are ever to eliminate this grainy, raspy sound, you will need a better master clock. Just buying another DAC will probably not cut it. The DAC you have is probably fine if it is driven from a low-jitter source.

It is possible to get analog sound from digital:

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
David, both your USB converter and DAC are not cream of the crop. You should either upgrade your USB converter (which will provide the all important clock to the DAC), or get a stellar asynchronous USB DAC.I would personally go the USB Dac route. Some of the top contenders are (bit there are many more):

Wyred4 sound DAC2
Ayre DB9
PS audio Perfectwave MKII (MKI need not apply for USB source)
Emprical Audio overdrive

David, I second your thought on the vocals reproduced by the DLIII-- its NOT that good. To be fair, I only have the DLIII for a week so its not really conclusive.. I decided to go ADD a transport feeding via coax, we'll see what happens.. My impression with USB input-- NOT that good, with TOSLINK- I think it favors more on highs leaving the midrange lean sounding..

Steve, I thought DAC's suppose to clean out jitter or re-clocks them? CAn you please elaborate.. Sorry I'm a newbie.

Thanks in advance

Jason, here is how it works. The vast majority of DACs operate in sychronous mode on all inputs except for USB. This means the source/transport provides the masterclock, and makes sound quality highly sensitive to the quality of this clock.

There are some exceptions to this, in which the DAC buffers and reclocks ALL inputs (asynchronous DACs), most notably the PS audio perfectwave MKII in native X mode.

Since computers provide very crappy clocks, USB converters and most USB DACs are asynchronous, meaning the DAC / converter buffers and reclocks the signal.

What does this mean? Since you're only concerned with computer audio you can do two things:
1 - Get a USB converter that provides a very low jitter clock to your DLink III. You can spend between say $500 for a good (e.g. JKSPDIF Mk III ($460), to $3500 (offramp 5 + Turboclock + power supply) for a SOTA USB converter, or any amount in between (Audiophilleo 2 with Pure Power ($999), Wavelength Audio WaveLink ($900), Offramp 5 base model ($1200))

2 - Alternatively, you can get a very good USB DAC, which really is the asynchronous USB converter and DAC in one box. I listed a few options in my previous post, but these DAC run between say $1,500 for the Wyred4Sound to $4000 for the PS audio Perfectwave and Empirical Audio overdrive. The Ayre is somewhere in between.

Again, in my estimation the USB dac route is more cost effective has fewer boxes, and I suspect will give you better results than keeping the DLink III.

You can easily rotate a few USB converters through your system, since most manufacturers offer 30 day trial. If this solves your problem for $1000 or less, you could keep the Dlink III. If not, move up the food chain with a better USB DAC (some of which probably can also be had on 30 day trial).
"Steve, I thought DAC's suppose to clean out jitter or re-clocks them?"

This is only a relatively recent development. In the past, most DACs did no reclocking whatsoever. Like Edorr said, only a handful try to do this right now. Most use asynchronous hardware resampling to accomplish this, which generally results in sonic coloration and jitter from the clock they choose. None of them actually accomplish the goal of making the DAC jitter immune IME. I have modded a LOT of DACs in the past.

"There are some exceptions to this, in which the DAC buffers and reclocks ALL inputs (asynchronous DACs), most notably the PS audio perfectwave MKII in native X mode."

Pretty good, but several customers are still using Off-Ramp 5 to drive PWD even in NativeX mode. The dCS is probably the best at minimizing input jitter effects.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio

thanks for the info.

of the bunch of USB listed which is more 'analog' & musical sounding?
Are you using the stock Sonos or the Wyred 4 Sound modded Sonos unit?
Ok, so while I don't have "better" components to A-B at home, I do have "different" components. After comparing my old HRT Musicstreamer II and a Sony blue ray player feeding SACD to the DLink III, I'm in agreement that its the Vlink at fault.. these other options aren't as good overall but they have none of the wrongness on human voice. So looks like a JKSPDIF or Audiophilleo 2 purchase is on the horizon. Thanks for everyones input... it was tempting to buy a newer DAC like the Metrum Octave first.
Feeding SACD to the DlinkIII is probably DSD converted to 88/14 PCM. This is obviously not apples to apples with your Vlink source. Try playing a redbook CD with the Sony and see of voices are OK.
I believe the blue ray player downsamples SACD to 48khz/24 bit for coax out. Since I have 96khz/24bit hd recordings, these should sound better, but they don't in that narrow arena of the human voice when comparing Sony blue ray into the Dlink III vs. PC and Vlink into the Dlink III. And since the Vlink I have only does 96khz, its easy to get motivated to buy a better converter that does 192khz... Jplay bombs when I hit the few recordings I have at higher bit rate than the Vlink supports, can't downsample.
ok, did a little more testing just to be sure. resurrected the idle Asus Essence STX card I have and set it up for A/B comparison to the Vlink for coax digital. Before Jplay the Vlink clobbered the Essence for more life like reproduction. With Jplay the Essence digital out is sweet and life like, better bass than the Vlink and most of the fatigue causing edge on upper register voices is gone. So I've pulled the trigger and ordered the JK MKIII with every hope that will put to rest for the present my PC digital to DAC aggravations.
The JK MKIII arrived yesterday, immediate success. Tight low bass wth substance, authority on details and pitch.