DACs: Improve your USB (break out PCI USB card with Unison)

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by purr1n, Jan 1, 2022.

  1. Degru

    Degru Facebook Friend

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    I agree with this as well. I thought I was hearing differences across a few DACs straight out of different PCs and even USB ports. I also had noise floor issues on some amps even with extra care taken to prevent ground loops over the power lines. After trying various solutions, I gave up and just bought the cheaper Intona USB 2.0 isolation box for $250, and now I can't even pretend to hear any differences at all between digital sources, be it noise or sound quality.

    Granted, it's a bit overkill since I was using a ZenDAC and now a Modi 3+, but I can now buy any USB DAC and be confident that it will work optimally in my setup without being affected by my crappy motherboard.

    It's also important that DACs that have an option for both USB power and wall power should be using wall power, with a decent quality power brick.
     
  2. dericchan1

    dericchan1 Facebook Friend

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    i have the old industrial version of intona and it works well for me dealing with usb ground noise issue and I keep my usb connection to 15cm from the dac.

    Deric
     
  3. Hjulbyhavn

    Hjulbyhavn New

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    I am enjoying reading the many good points and ideas In this thread. I will add a few more ideas.
    1. The Capacitors pictured were used to good effect back when I depended on my PCI CardDeLuxe 24/96 for decent digital sound - I used it with SP/DIF direct from the CD drive unit and got excellent balanced output and good RIPs. I have not tried them for a while but current power supplies with 20-50Amp on the rail can probably handle VERY big capacitors i.e over 100.000uF and it helps suppress HD and CD/DVD drive pulses as well as electronics noise.
    2. The excellent Vantec USB Hub pictured here has been superseded by newer models but it does everything you all are describing in you experiments - smoother, quieter, faster, blacker background - all to a very satisfying degree - in other words less hash. The hub is excellent by itself but the supplied Switching supply is also excellent - so much for LPS being necessary. The kicker is probably the 12V supply and a hub designed to supply +4A to what is plugged in.
    3. I have always understood that voltage regulators work better when the input Voltage is substantially higher that the target output (certainly for simple chips and LPS regulators). This means that it it easier getting good sound from a 12V power source driving a 5V device and so on. - This also means that someone with a soldering iron should volunteer to feed a USB device 10V and see if it helps (after making sure the circuit has an intermediate regulators).
    4. As I understand it USB is incapable of less than Bit Perfect transfers if you implement Cyclic Redundancy Check - when this is done it cannot add anything to the sound since it would be re-transmitted to correct errors. With USB 3 speeds available there is ZERO excuse for using transfer protocols that use connection-less protocols (streaming) - if the industry was not napping on the job all this good Schiit and bad Shit would not be happening. You would just send a Bit-Perfect signal to the final DAC.
    [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  4. tiberiantwilight

    tiberiantwilight New

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    i can confirm that a $20 pci-e usb expansion card has slightly improved the performance of my yggdrasil a1's lowly usb gen3 interface. better blackground with a less closed in sound. toslink is still clearer and more engaging tho.

    and yes...i've been waiting for my LIM and unison USB upgrades patiently for 2 months.

    happy CNY!
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2022
  5. Justin S

    Justin S Friend

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    This card turned things around for me here. Against my motherboard USB, it is more clear [SEE EDIT BELOW) with better focused images - the all-round engagement is greater with both my LIM and Geshelli J2 now. It weirdly closed the gap between the two (I like the G-J2 a lot). I would add the caveat that is not possible to do a quick A/B so I'm going on memory for USB to USB comparisons.

    The surprise for me is the difference with the Allo S/PDIF now. Here is is easy to flip back and forth. The USB from the PCI card is much better with the LIM. I had previously preferred the Allo with the HD600 and HD650s. I did like the Motherboard USB with the Elex. Now the contrast between the two is greater, with USB being my preferred with the Sennheisers and the Focal through both the LIM and G-J2. This difference is less pronounced with G-J2, but it's there - a richer, more substantial tone, and more relief in the presentation.

    The quick impression is that S/PDIF from the Allo sounds compressed and muffled in comparison to the PCI-E USB board which is more open and precise.

    EDIT: I had crossfeed on for the Allo - this always makes things a bit less clear in my experience. Correcting this issue, the Allo and USB are now similar in their clarity. The sense of space and imaging still goes to the USB, though.

    Best $25 (cad) ever.

    W10 Roon->PCI-E USB->Ghent shielded USB Cable-> Yggdrasil LIM (SE)/Geshelli J2 (BAL)-> Jot 2 -> BAL -> HD6xxM/HD600/Focal ELEX

    EDIT: My workstation PSU is an EVGA P2 Platinum 1200W. Not sure how clean or noisy it is.

    Pic! Woo. The Camera really pics up the dust - I've been working on some furniture and clearly not being good about it.

    PXL_20220208_161115303.jpg
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2022
  6. Baten

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    Cool, I like how you have low voltage inputs to the Jot 2 which probably maximizes useable volume pot range.
     
  7. Justin S

    Justin S Friend

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    Yes. The LIM is here temporarily while we are working on the basement. I will have a hard time giving it up in my office. I don't notice much difference between the BAL and SE output of the LIM or the BAL and SE in of the JOT2. The G-J2 constantly surprises me. Just when I think I should get a BF2 up here, the J2 proves me wrong. The switch to the better USB gave it another jump-up in quality. It seems to scale well. I used it for work, too, so its "neutrality" is a benefit when compared to the BF2.
     
  8. Akelu

    Akelu New

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    My motherboard (Gigabyte Z390 Aorus Master) has a special feature 'DAC-UP2', dedicated USB ports for running DAC off.

    According to the manufacturer, it provides "clean, isolated and low-noise power". It also comes with a driver that allows you to (from within windows), disable the power to the port all together on the fly, leaving just the data line active for even less noise. I'm looking to run my Bifrost 2 off of it when it arrives using a 1 meter Supra cable. I'd imagine the galvanic isolation should protect against most noise anyway? but this will take it just a bit further hopefully.

    I've heard the Bifrost 2 needs USB power to handshake. I wonder if a) After handshaking it still requires usb bus power to function? And b) Given the already low noise power from DAC-UP2 combined with galvanic isolation on Bifrost 2 unison end, if it would even be worth going to the trouble of disabling the power line each time i power up the computer.

    So while it looks like i've got power noise covered, the only other concern would be sharing the bus. How can i check what other devices/usb ports may share the DAC-UP2 ports bus'?

    [​IMG]
     
  9. AllanMarcus

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  10. internethandle

    internethandle Almost "Made"

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    USBView could be a bit easier, but you should also be able to figure out USB bus assignments via Device Manager.

    Impossible to say if that 5V-killing option on the mobo will allow BF2's Unison board to maintain connection or not without just giving it a try. I would be pessimistic it would work if the board required you to make the change in UEFI BIOS/reset, though.

    The only option I can think of as a good lead for these kinds of data-only USB tweaks and Unison would be rigging up a DIY 5V-killing cable with an on-off toggle physically on the cable, which is what Marv floated I think in the LIM thread. I've never heard of anyone successfully getting this kind of data only route to work with Unison (or previous gen Schiit USB boards), though, across forums. One of the things that does work, though, if the concern is the 5V from the PC itself being "noisy," is no 5V from the PC's card/port --> external USB hub/decrapifier that doesn't care about 5V input (normal hub/SOtM/whatever) --> same USB hub/decrapifier's USB A port with 5V out --> Unison. That's what I run with the SOtM decrapifier I have into LIM Unison (first gen JCAT card has jumpers to kill 5V out on its ports). I'd tell you to try and find a used Wyrd on the cheap to do this, but it needs 5V input, IIRC.

    Another option would be injecting 5V with an iDefender and a LPS: https://ifi-audio.com/products/idefender3-0/
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2022
  11. RestoredSparda

    RestoredSparda Friend

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    Huh...I was surprised to not agree with most statements that the cheap (separately powered) USB card outperforms PI2AES.

    I tried the card with Unison USB into Yiggy LiM, as well as a USB port direct out of my gaming motherboard that also takes a separate power line from the power supply.

    For both, compared to PI2AES ->AES, there was a noticeable (to me) loss of plankton, resolution and air. I lost a lot of the magic I find with LiM, such as the reproduction of the recording environment or avenue (for live performances). Greyer and less black background for those little details to shine.

    I'm happy that for me (with my particular PC and setup), that PI2AES -> AES was my preferred way to listen as it's wayyyyy smaller, quieter, takes less power and has a fun touchscreen display.

    I realize there are way too many variables involved with this and I may experiment further on another day. One difference was while using USB, my PC was the Roon core. On the other hand, PI2AES was just a Roon bridge, and my PC was the core. So, the PI2AES in this instance had to do less processing and just recieve data, while my PC had to do more. I could try my PC as a bridge only and use my Mac mini as the core to make it fair for USB. Who knows?!

    Swapping between USB and PI2AES for me was like swapping out my favorite tube with one that just gets the job done. Missing that magic I guess.
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2022
  12. dericchan1

    dericchan1 Facebook Friend

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    The PI2AES is a true gem!!! It just sounds great with anything, I have tried it with all three systems of mine, it just gets the job done. I have moved the PI2AES from my main system to my bedroom system now as it does not support anything over 24/192, DSD...... but it won't affect you as much with your DAC.
    With USB, it takes a bit of tinkering to get it sound right.
     
  13. androxylo

    androxylo Acquaintance

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    Nice to hear! However, I prefer to stream from Raspberry Pi. I suppose no way to pipe this card through?
     
  14. NightFlight

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    Thank you all for the boost in confidence that my nervosa / FOMO is in good check. I went from optical SPDIF for years from my workstation PC, only to switch to USB (hurray for amazon basics cable) when I got the BF2 earlier this year. I found it did not leave any negative impression. Prior to Unison I didn't even bother with USB. Still using the first gen BF2 DAC card and only now starting to think about considering the 2/64.

    My major changes this year have been DAC, preamps, amplifiers and speakers and room treatment. In this I keep finding that LIM is the key. Notably everything is AC power filtered through a Monster HTS1600 because you can get them for song on used markets. Does it make a difference? I don't know, but I feel better having it illuminate and display my wall voltage.
     
  15. Kernel Kurtz

    Kernel Kurtz Friend

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    I read the thread title here and thought wow that would be really cool if Schiit was selling PC boards with a Unison output. Then I realized that is not what it meant. Moving on (still a great idea though, assuming they have the output side of Unison worked out - still waiting for Urd though...)
     
  16. NightFlight

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    Point to Purr1n's original post regarding different OS scheduling, has anyone else tried Fidelizer? I used it for a bit under windows 7 (optical) and still have a lifetime pro license. But under windows 10 and now 11 and much improved Schiit USB is it still worth a try in the PC world?

    https://www.fidelizer-audio.com
     
  17. internethandle

    internethandle Almost "Made"

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    Only one way to find out -- if you already have a lifetime pro license, I don't see a problem with giving it a go. The worse you risk is nervosa, which it is.

    I'm a bit of a Windows OS nervosa obsessive, and I've always found Keetakawee (Fidelizer's developer) to be a bit opaque in describing what his utility does and/or not been very impressed when I've looked under the hood on previous versions (e.g. by running RegistryChangesView before and after applying its changes -- he's doing some pretty bog standard stuff if you poke around known audio "tweaks" for Windows that anyone could implement without paying for software). Still, many people would be glad to just have a program do the legwork for them and/or are not so comfortable altering the registry or playing around with BCDedit or what have you, so its value is pretty self-evident in those kinds of scenarios if you want to wade into this kind of thing.
     
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2022
  18. Greg121986

    Greg121986 Almost "Made"

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    Saw this thread a couple days ago and decided this was something I wanted to jump into. Not only does my server motherboard only have 2 USBs, I've always had nervosa that all of the fans and HDDs were injecting massive amounts of noise through my motherboard and into the USB. I am building a new server that will be even worse with more fans, more HDDs, and still 2 USB because server grade mobo. So, I just grabbed this USB card with the 2 USB outputs.

    It is working on my Linux system without issue. I am not using the SATA power connector either. It was unclear to me if this was necessary or not. I assume you will need it if you want more power going through the USB 3.0 bus to each device, but it is still unclear what this SATA power does. I'm using a long (30 feet probably) USB 3.0 extension cable to a Wireworld USB cable into my Holo Spring 3 KTE. Recognized right away after system reboot and playing back perfectly with MPD.

    At any rate, I ordered a long SATA-Molex power cable and some DC barrel connectors. Looking at the wire traces on the PCB, this SATA power connector is only using the 5V of the SATA. So, I am going to wire a SATA connector into an LPS just for S's and G's. This is another reason why I went with the 2 USB version. I plan to drill a hole into the PCI slot cover and install a panel mount DC barrel jack so I can have the SATA plug more permanently installed with an easy way to apply external power. My expectation is to function in a similar way to the Matrix Element H which is what I really want to be using right now, but I didn't feel like dumping $300 into this project. Alternatively, this thing is so cheap you might as well remove the SATA connector and solder 5V and ground directly to the PCB. I'm not going to go this far just yet, though.

    How does this $11 USB add on card sound? Well it sounds like music because it is working.

    Edit and a pic to make it real.

    I wired up the 5V LPS and found no difference. It's unclear, but reading about other cards and the little info I can find about this one, it seems that the IC is powered by the 3.3V from the PCIe bus and possibly the card is powered by 12V from the PCIe bus? I really cannot be sure. I hot swapped the SATA 5V power while MPD was playing through this card and there was no disruption of playback. So, it seems this SATA 5V power is not really doing anything for my purposes. I am not sure if the Holo Spring 3 requires USB power or not, so perhaps the USB output power is being disrupted and it is just not affecting the Holo? I'm not sure how I can be sure of this. At any rate, I did a thing and it was fun.

    The Matrix Element X has a switch to defeat or select the source of USB power. Obviously this cheap card doesn't, but I had hoped maybe it was auto select the USB power source. The last thing I may do with this cheap card is try to check the PCB traces and just eliminate the PCIe 12V+ traces to see if I can still get this to work.

    usb-card.jpg
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2022
  19. zottel

    zottel Friend

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    As the question came up earlier in the thread:

    There is no error correction in USB audio in the sense of retransmitting packets if an error is detected. The data is sent in a stream, i.e. order matters, it is not possible to send a corrected packet if something went wrong.

    So the usual notions of "this is like a network connection" or "if there were errors on USB, my external HD would be full of errors" don't fit here. In the mentioned cases, other protocols are used that are not streams. If the receiver detects an error in the data, it can ask for retransmission of the erroneous packet, thus the data will always be either bit-perfectly correct or not transmitted at all if the connection is too bad.

    In other words, it doesn't make sense to worry about the network connection to the streamer. It will either be bit-perfect or have dropouts, but there's no such thing as a better stage etc. due to changed network cables. (Unless the streamer has to work harder because it has to work on so many erroneous packets etc., but it gets really esoteric there.)

    USB audio, just like SPDIF, OTOH, is a streaming protocol. Errors can be detected, but no retransmission can be triggered, so there is inherently no guarantee that the transfer will always be bit-perfect. I don't know which error detection algorithm is used here, probably 1-2 erroneous bits per byte can be corrected on the receiving side using the checksum. More wrong bits can only be detected, not corrected.

    While I'm not a fan of "audiophile" USB cables, it does make sense to use a properly shielded cable which is as short as possible. Such cables are available for under 50$.

    I have no clue whatsoever how hard it is to get the timing and signal right between USB sender and receiver. This is where decrapifiers might make sense, or good hardware on both the sending and the receiving side to begin with.

    I'm not sure if stuff like linear power sources actually makes a difference; I'd guess that if they don't lead to computer chips flipping less bits unintendedly than without them, they shouldn't? I don't know.

    Some more about USB audio vs SPDIF: https://www.thewelltemperedcomputer.com/Intro/SQ/USB_SPDIF.htm
     
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2022
  20. tatsugiri

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    I tried switching my USB cable from the motherboard to a pci-e to USB card with the same controller chip purrin was talking about a few months ago, since it was coincidentally already in my PC, and it actually added jitter. I don't say this to "debunk" the notion or anything, but I speculate that it may be due to my motherboard having the bus tech amd calls "Infinity fabric"? I've noticed that it has radically lower jitter than the previous lga775 board I was using too.

    I objectively know when things add jitter to my system when going straight USB into the Auralic Vega, and setting its clock precision to exact, because the audio stops with more than minor jitter. On an old lga775 board it skips constantly, on a board with "Infinity fabric" it's stable like 95% off the time, and with the renesas USB card the stability dropped to like 75% -- there were new use cases where it would skip and it would do so more before getting back on track, if at all.

    This isn't taking other aspects of sq into account because I didn't try to listen beyond finding that there were more skips instead of less.

    In more normal use cases the added jitter on a modern mobo (I assume Intel has their own version of infinity fabric) is probably erased by the ddc -- Schiit unison Marv's case -- but I'm just saying I found it in a weird use case where it's the difference between working or not. The ddc I actually use now erases the Vega's issues, ftr. Ain't tried renesas to the new ddc
     
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2023

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