You are here

Log in or register to post comments
jazzfan
jazzfan's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 months 6 days ago
Joined: Sep 8 2005 - 8:55am
Musical Fidelity V-Link

I have a few questions regarding the various options available for connecting an external DAC to a computer. The first and most common option would be via USB and in that case an item like the Musical Fidelity V-Link is a great, if not essential, little piece of gear. The second option would be via an HDMI output, if the computer/laptop is equipped with this type of connection. Some questions regarding the use of an HDMI connection for digital audio: First are there any DACs, other than those within a A/V receiver/processor equipped with HDMI inputs, which have HDMI digital audio inputs? Are there any way to convert an HDMI to a S/PDIF connection? Second are there any advantages to using an HDMI digital audio output rather than a USB output? The third option would be via a S/PDIF digital audio connection on computers/laptops equipped with such a connection. My desktop computer has a S/PDIF digital audio connection which is built into the motherboard as part of the Realtek ALC888S Audio subsystem. The same question asked above for the HDMI connection also applies here, i.e. are there any advantages to using the S/PDIF digital audio output rather than a USB output? Since there appear to be several ways other than USB to connect a computer/laptop to an external DAC, except for MACs (which seem to live in Appleland all by themselves and have many, many issues regarding audio playback), why is Stereophile's main and only focus on the problematic USB output? I thank you (meaning whoever answers) for your insightful answer.

Taxonomy upgrade extras: 
RGibran
RGibran's picture
Offline
Last seen: 1 year 10 months ago
Joined: Oct 11 2005 - 5:50pm
Curious about HDMI out of computer

as well. I suspect the high end is once again way behind the curve regarding equipment that can accept this connection, cepting for perhaps Meridian and other makers of Pre/Pro devices.

Anyway, the home theater crowd is apparently hooking up this way for video and audio with one cable, so I'm curious how this stacks up from a operating system, jitter, ect standpoint for audio only.

Does Foobar, J River ect output through HDMI?

Love to hear from Kal and JA on this.

RG

John Atkinson
John Atkinson's picture
Offline
Last seen: 19 min 42 sec ago
Joined: Nov 7 2010 - 3:31pm
Re: HDMI
RGibran wrote:
the home theater crowd is apparently hooking up this way for video and audio with one cable, so I'm curious how this stacks up from a operating system, jitter, ect standpoint for audio only.

I haven't measured any HDMI devices but HFN's Paul Miller has and finds it has more - sometimes a lot more - jitter than an S/PDIF connection. The main advantage of HDMI is its video and multichannel audio capabilities. However, it requires handshaking at both ends of the connection, so a standalone HDMI DAC is difficult to implement. THere are HDMI-S/PDIF converters available - see, for example, http://www.monoprice.com/products/product.asp?c_id=101&cp_id=10110&cs_id=1011002&p_id=5557&seq=1&format=2 - but this still requires the HDMI output be connected to a TV or similar.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

RGibran
RGibran's picture
Offline
Last seen: 1 year 10 months ago
Joined: Oct 11 2005 - 5:50pm
Charles Hansen

of Ayre has stated HDMI is one of the worst protocals for audio, but then again he has that USB dog in the fight.

RG

jazzfan
jazzfan's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 months 6 days ago
Joined: Sep 8 2005 - 8:55am
That's part one

Thanks JA for answering the part of my original question regarding using HDMI digital audio output but what about using a dedicated S/PDIF digital audio connection versus a USB output?

And of course there are those of us who choose not to use any direct connection of a computer to our audio system by going the music server (e.g. a Squeezebox Touch or Transporter) route.

MagusOCM500
MagusOCM500's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 3 months ago
Joined: Feb 26 2011 - 4:49pm
Another viewpoint

I purchased a VDAC from Musical Fidelity, which sounds great to me, far better than old CD players as well as DVD players. I use it with a PC laptop and directly into the USB input, but feeding the same files through a PS3, via 1 TB external hard drive, then a Toslink connect to the same VDAC, sounds better and more focused. I suspect buying a VLINK and feeding that to the VDAC will sound better. It is worth a shot at $169, and if I can not hear a difference, one can send it back.

HELPFUL HINTS I have spent hours( acutally months) burning my cd collection to hard disk. I chose WAV files for max fidelity, and used Windows Media Player. All is well unless I try to move the external hard disk to another computer, and I essentially lose all the meta data( album art and track info). Looking back I would have gone with third party software, like J River, or Media Monkey, which deals with the album info, but I BELIEVE one needs to rip the cds Through the software to be able to clean up all the album info.

#2 The Play Station 3 is a fabulous value, even if one plays no games. But the Slim model is very weak in USB power design. I backed up my Music server to a portable hard drive and there is not enough power from the USB. This was confirmed by a phone tech at Western Digital. So I returned the portable and traded for a WD 1 TB Essential with its own wall wart. The PS3 would not acknowledge this drive either. Many forums later, I determined that a powered USB hub might work, AND IT DID. Older PS3's with 4 usb ports work as they should without a powered hub.

Also, if you buy a PS3, they will not recognize an external hard drive, unless it is formated to FAT32. And the Windows version for formating FAT32 will only give you a maximum of 40 Gig partitions. It is a BITCH to find the third party software that will format a large hard drive ( ie 1 TB in a single partition). So here is one from Seatgate( Seagate Disc Wizard). Note that at least one Seagate must be plugged in to the computer to be able to use their format software. I had one Seagate and one WD plugged into my laptop, and was able to format the Western Digital.

jazzfan
jazzfan's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 months 6 days ago
Joined: Sep 8 2005 - 8:55am
Helpful hint?????
MagusOCM500 wrote:

HELPFUL HINTS I have spent hours( acutally months) burning my cd collection to hard disk. I chose WAV files for max fidelity, and used Windows Media Player. All is well unless I try to move the external hard disk to another computer, and I essentially lose all the meta data( album art and track info). Looking back I would have gone with third party software, like J River, or Media Monkey, which deals with the album info, but I BELIEVE one needs to rip the cds Through the software to be able to clean up all the album info.

Here's a much, much better helpful hint:

When ripping CDs on to a hard drive don't use wav, use flac instead. There is absolutely no difference in fidelity between wav and flac (and anyone who says otherwise is just pissed off because they fell for the old "Magic Clock" nonsense and they want revenge). In addition flac files have these advantages over wav files:

1) flac files are about 40% to 45% smaller than wav files.

2) flac files can be tagged and this metadata will not be lost since it is embedded in the file itself.

3) flac file tags can be edited at any time, not just when the file is originally created.

4) flac file tags can be read by any media player or device which can play flac files.

In other words, you can rip your CDs to flac files using one program and play back the flac files using a different program. For example I rip my CDs to flac files using dbPowerAmp and play the flac files using my Squeezebox Transporter. The Transporter playing a ripped flac file sounds as good as the McCormack UDP-1 playing the original CD.

audiodog
audiodog's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 3 months ago
Joined: Apr 9 2011 - 1:55pm
PS3 vs Macbook Pro

The original PS3 measured <150ps jitter while the new PS3 Slim measured <500ps(What Hi-Fi) from the toslink output, both playing CD. The advantage is that a long ethernet cable can be used as well as wireless without impacting the sound due to the large buffer - you can actually unplug the ethernet cable and the music will continue for a couple of seconds. The PS3 Slim may measure similar to the original if streaming using a DLNA server, ie PS3 Media Server, instead of playing a CD.

My comparison of my Macbook Pro using toslink with PureMusic left me preferring the PS3 as a source to my DAC1 in many cases. I understand the toslink output on the Macbook has high jitter but using PureMusic in Memory Mode and Hog Mode does improve/change the sound over iTunes alone but overall the PS3 sounds cleaner. PureMusic without Hog Mode sounds similar to other Mac audio software, Hog Mod definitely adds mid bass warmth, maybe this is an increase in jitter or just a change in jitter spectrum, though Hog Mode in other audio software doesn't seem to have this effect?

Here are some questions maybe JA can answer:

1. Any chance of graphing the PS3 Slim and measuring the jitter?

2. Is is possible to measure the toslink jitter output of a Macbook with PureMusic vs PureMusic with Hog Mode vs iTunes?

3. Another option would be the MF V-Link but how much jitter would be added over a 50 foot 75 ohm coax?

*Also, the PS3 only plays 16/44 wave files by default, using PS3 Media Server allows streaming of Apple Lossless and FLAC files. High Resolution files can be accommodated with the PS3 Media Server by streaming as video files but this feature is currently broken on the OSX version.

John Atkinson
John Atkinson's picture
Offline
Last seen: 19 min 42 sec ago
Joined: Nov 7 2010 - 3:31pm
Re: PS3 vs Macbook Pro
audiodog wrote:
Here are some questions maybe JA can answer:
Okay.
Quote:
1. Any chance of graphing the PS3 Slim and measuring the jitter?
I'd have to try to sneak away my son's PS3.
Quote:
2. Is is possible to measure the toslink jitter output of a Macbook with PureMusic vs PureMusic with Hog Mode vs iTunes?
I'll add thes measurements to my "To Do" list.
Quote:
3. Another option would be the MF V-Link but how much jitter would be added over a 50 foot 75 ohm coax?
It depends on how close to 75 ohms the MF's output impedance, the DAC's input impedance, and the characteristic impedance of the datalink are. If they are all exactly 75 ohms, you should not have to worry about jitter.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

jazzfan
jazzfan's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 months 6 days ago
Joined: Sep 8 2005 - 8:55am
Chopped liver?

So what am I, chopped liver?

So far Mr. Atkinson has jumped into this thread twice:

first to answer a question about HDMI outputs and then to answer a question about the PS3.

All well and good and much appreciated but I'm still waiting for some kind of response regarding the use of an S/PDIF digital audio connection where one's computer is equipped with such a connection.

Again I thank you in advance for your response.

audiodog
audiodog's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 3 months ago
Joined: Apr 9 2011 - 1:55pm
chopped liver

First I want to thank JA for his interest in the PS3, here is a link to the PS3 Media Server for OSX that would be required for streaming audio to the PS3:
http://ps3mediaserver.googlecode.com/files/pms-macosx-1.20.409-BETA.dmg

In response to your questions:
First are there any DACs, other than those within a A/V receiver/processor equipped with HDMI inputs, which have HDMI digital audio inputs?

Not to my knowledge, typically the high jitter rate on HDMI (due to clock being based on video instead of the audio signal) and the copy protection discourages much high end interest in HDMI.

Are there any way to convert an HDMI to a S/PDIF connection?

Yes some converter exist, I believe somewhere around $400

Second are there any advantages to using an HDMI digital audio output rather than a USB output?

Depends on the implementation but generally I cant see the advantage of dealing with the higher jitter and copy protection inherent in HDMI.

The third option would be via a S/PDIF digital audio connection on computers/laptops equipped with such a connection. My desktop computer has a S/PDIF digital audio connection which is built into the motherboard as part of the Realtek ALC888S Audio subsystem. The same question asked above for the HDMI connection also applies here, i.e. are there any advantages to using the S/PDIF digital audio output rather than a USB output?

Depends on the quality of the USB output from the Realtek vs the quality of something link the MF V-link. USB historically has been problematic on both the Windows and Mac platform to some degree though it can be done right.

Since there appear to be several ways other than USB to connect a computer/laptop to an external DAC, except for MACs (which seem to live in Appleland all by themselves and have many, many issues regarding audio playback), why is Stereophile's main and only focus on the problematic USB output?

My opinion is that USB has the potential to do what firewire has done in the professional arena without having to deal with custom and often buggy system drivers. Overall though the Mac is easer to configure and consistently replicate the configuration necessary to setup low jitter and bit perfect audio playback compared to Windows.

I thank you (meaning whoever answers) for your insightful answer.

jazzfan
jazzfan's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 months 6 days ago
Joined: Sep 8 2005 - 8:55am
Rephrasing the question
audiodog wrote:

The third option would be via a S/PDIF digital audio connection on computers/laptops equipped with such a connection. My desktop computer has a S/PDIF digital audio connection which is built into the motherboard as part of the Realtek ALC888S Audio subsystem. The same question asked above for the HDMI connection also applies here, i.e. are there any advantages to using the S/PDIF digital audio output rather than a USB output?

Depends on the quality of the USB output from the Realtek vs the quality of something link the MF V-link. USB historically has been problematic on both the Windows and Mac platform to some degree though it can be done right.

I don't understand this response. The Realtek does not have a USB output, it has a S/PDIF digital audio output. I guess the real question should be do S/PDIF digital audio outputs have less jitter, and therefore less problems, than USB digital audio connections? And are the problems with an S/PDIF digital audio connection easier to resolve than the problems of a USB audio connection?

John Atkinson
John Atkinson's picture
Offline
Last seen: 19 min 42 sec ago
Joined: Nov 7 2010 - 3:31pm
Re: Optical vs USB
jazzfan wrote:
I'm still waiting for some kind of response regarding the use of an S/PDIF digital audio connection where one's computer is equipped with such a connection.

Apologies for the tardy response. In my V-Link review I did compare the jitter rejection of my MacBook's optical S/PDIF output with that via USB and the V-Link. The USB connection was slightly lower jitter overall but the noisefloor was very slightly less clean. I'd go with the V-LInk if only because the MacBook's optical output won't transmit bit-perfect data at 88.2kHz.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Ariel Bitran
Ariel Bitran's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 months 6 days ago
Joined: Jun 1 2007 - 2:14pm
To John Atkinson: Review Musical Fidelity V-Link USB
original post by forum user dawsonmackay moved from General Rants 'n' Raves

I read with intense interest your review in the April 2011 Stereophile and would like to report an anomaly that you may not be aware of. I believe that your Mac mini is outdated for this review. The reason I state this is because I recently made a couple of jumps in the iMac department from a 21inch/3.06 ghz intel i3 processor/DDR2, 12gb, 1067mhz memory to a 27inch/2.93ghz intel i7 quad core processor/DDR3 16gb 1333mhz.

I had recently sold my Wadia transport and started using the 21 inch iMac although listening with the stock DDR2 4gb. After reading various reports I installed 8gb of RAM and was amazed to hear so much more music, better bass etc. This led me to dump the 21 inch iMac and buy the top-of-the-line iMac and installed 16gb RAM. The difference was startling and surpassed the Wadia with AES/EBU connection.

With this set-up, I can easily discern various USB cables and DACs. When I first started the process, a dealer loaned me the Bel Canto 3.5 with VBS separate power supply and it sounded really bad compared to my Wadia 521. That tipped me off to a problem or what I say, an anomaly, which is, how can a new top-of-the-line DAC sound worse than a two year old DAC? After switching iMacs, I again compared the DACS and the 3.6/VBS stomped the Wadia.

Which brings me to you. How can there be no real distinction between a Halide Bridge and a V-Link? May I suggest that you borrow a newer iMac or MacPro? Also, on page 166, you state your associated equipment: " G4 Mac mini running OS 10.5.8." Are you kidding? In the same paragraph you list much newer equipment. I feel that you have done a disservice to your own review by using an inferior piece of equipment.

The iterations of Apple Macs are: G4, G5, Intel duo, Intel core duo, Intel i3, Intel i5, Intel i7 and in the Mac Pro line, well we won't go there. Your Mac mini is six iterations behind - close to 12 years of processing power and the current OS is 10.6.7. You don't even state the amount of RAM in your mini but it's probably a DDR, 667mhz with 1 gb RAM.

I hope that you will consider doing another review using the correct equipment.

John Atkinson
John Atkinson's picture
Offline
Last seen: 19 min 42 sec ago
Joined: Nov 7 2010 - 3:31pm
Re: Musical Fidelity V-Link review
dawsonmackay wrote:
I read with intense interest your review in the April 2011 Stereophile and would like to report an anomaly that you may not be aware of. I believe that your Mac mini is outdated for this review.

Sorry to hear that, though I must admit I am not sure why it should be outdated—at least for music-streaming duties.

Quote:
How can there be no real distinction between a Halide Bridge and a V-Link?

I was under the impression I clearly wrote that I thought the Halide Bridge was slightly better-sounding, though whether that was enough to justify the 3x price is going to be down to the individual user.

Quote:
on page 166, you state your associated equipment: " G4 Mac mini running OS 10.5.8." Are you kidding?

Nope. OS10.5.8 (Leopard) was the last version of OSX to run on a G4 Mac. I bought the Mac mini almost 5 years ago. True, it only has 1GB of RAM but it is only used as a music server and for my music production. I assume you would be horrified to learn that that same Mac mini was used for all the Stereophile and Cantus recordings I have done since I bought it, some of which have been highly praised for their sound quality.

Quote:
In the same paragraph you list much newer equipment. I feel that you have done a disservice to your own review by using an inferior piece of equipment. . . I hope that you will consider doing another review using the correct equipment.

Why? Streaming audio files is not a processor-intensive activity, so I have not yet felt my Mac mini obsolete. Running Pure Music in Memory Play mode on the Mac mini with the V-Link and the Halide doesn't sound any different from running it on my Intel MacBook running OS10.6.7 with 4GB of RAM. And please note that I also use in my computer-audio reviews a recent PC with a dual-core AMD Athlon processor and 4GB RAM running Windows 7 and Foobar 2000. IS that computer also not the "correct equipment"?

Look, I am not dissing your opinion or your right to express that opinion, but I do feel your reaction a little extreme.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

audiodog
audiodog's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 3 months ago
Joined: Apr 9 2011 - 1:55pm
I have a mid 2009 Macbook pro

I have a mid 2009 Macbook pro and the optical output transmits 44, 48, 88 and 96khz bit perfect.

philippe_belanger
philippe_belanger's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 3 months ago
Joined: Feb 4 2011 - 8:25am
More RAM, better sound???

I once heard a difference, not so subtle, between two listenings of a same CD on the same system but the second listening occured after the CD have been "demagnetized"...I never tought that I would ear a difference but I did! And my brain and/or ears had nothing to do with it because I did'nt even know what was done to the CD between the two spins...

But I think that this exemple of weird hi-fi trick is kinda the most esoteric thing (hi-fi wise...) I'm willing to accept! Adding a $%&!load of RAM in my computer to obtain better sound is like, in my opinion, replacing my amp's 350VA toroidal transformer by a 10KVA industrial monster. It dosn't make any sense to me but it's just my opinion!

The real problem is that this kind of ideas is not good for the audiophiles community. I love listening to music well reproduced and I tend to convince other people that they are missing something with their cheap stuff but comments like these, in particular when they are adressed to the chief editor of Stereophile Magasine who happens to be a recording engineer, can only do harm to hi-fi. Wake up and buy yourself a new pair of speakers instead of throwing away your computers!

MagusOCM500
MagusOCM500's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 3 months ago
Joined: Feb 26 2011 - 4:49pm
We may need Fremer to burn a CD testing RAM

First, I find this forum refreshing, with intellegnet input from John and many other Stereophile contributors.

I too doubt the night and day quality difference attributed to Pricessor speeds and/or RAM quantities. But this is not to piss on anyones shoes. The high end is what it is due to thinking and tweaking outside the box. Certainly the new world of computer audio is still a bit confusing. Don't I wish I had found better guidance 18 months ago when I thought ripping my entire CD library to .WAV files was the safest way to go!
And I now understand why so many audiophiles have adopted Apple for their server( I know that few Apple owners realize they have a tiny digital optical out buried down inside of the headphone jack, on all Macs.

Anyway, I had always wanted a copy of Fremers Phone Preamp comarison that he burned to CD and played to skeptics of disturbingly dear Phono Pre's or various cartridges. I would buy one if JA would/could reproduce one using music without copyright protection.

Back to Computer build differences. We could use a Fremer-like CD comparing the same music using an old PC, and Old Mac, and the newer versions, with modest to massive amounts of RAM. You would also have plenty of room to record a noisy USB vs. a product like the V-link.

good stuff

jazzfan
jazzfan's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 months 6 days ago
Joined: Sep 8 2005 - 8:55am
Why Apple?

As I have stated many times on this forum my computer audio system consists of a Windows 7 based computer running Squeezebox Server and four different Squeezebox devices located throughout my home. My music library is stored on external hard drives connected to the Windows 7 computer via USB. The music files are encoded into the flac format, are fully tagged and have cover art plus additional scans and information.

What puzzles me is why would anyone use a hard wired computer-to-stereo type of computer audio system, especially in light of the problems and drawbacks that I am always reading about. Problems such as harmful jitter when using a USB connection, non-automatic switching when listening to files with different sample rates (such as playing a file with a 44.1kHZ sample rate followed by a file with a 96kHZ sample rate). Then there are all of the various issues with music player and music library management software (iTunes is a complete disaster in this regard). Add in the fact that the hard wired computer-to-stereo type of computer audio system limits everything to one audio system as opposed to the streaming computer audio model which gives one access to one's entire music library, in full fidelity, at multiple locations and I'm truly left scratching my head.

I'm not writing this as critique of Stereophile's coverage of computer-to-stereo type of computer audio systems since Stereophile is just trying to serve the needs of its readership and therefore does its best to cover all bases. As a matter of fact I'm grateful for Stereophile's coverage and positive reviews of the many of the Squeezebox devices since it was their glowing review of the Squeezebox Transporter which set me on the path of a computer based audio system.

So perhaps now would be a good time for Stereophile to do a full blown feature on choosing (comparing the various methods currently available) and setting up (listing hardware and software needed along with the various options available) a computer based audio from the ground up. And hopefully in the process making an effort to dispel many of the myths and falsehoods which run rampant in this often very confusing field.

lohma004
lohma004's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 months 5 days ago
Joined: Apr 21 2011 - 8:06am
Even Less Jitter?

I've been looking at purchasing either the Benchmark DAC1 USB or the Centrance DACmini. Both are supposed to deal with jitter to the point that it is not an issue. Now comes along the V-Link. Will the V-Link really be an audible improvement? Or would I just be slipping hairs that have already been split. I'm willing to pay for audible improvement, but if Benchmark and Centrance claim to have mostly eliminated jitter (and Stereophile rates the Benchmark as a Class A device), is adding the V-Link going to reduce jitte even further - audibly? I'm also concerned about too many "links" in my system. This is adding another device to the chain.

Thanks.
Paul

poorchip
poorchip's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 years 2 months ago
Joined: Nov 25 2005 - 6:48am
V-Link - USB Hub for Isolation

One concern I had with the V-Link is its use of the host computer USB connection as a power source, and and the potential for introducing power supply noise into the down-stream DAC due to the lack of galvanic isolation when using the RCA S/PDIF connection. This concern was touched on in the April review, with the optical output being recommended for this reason (though I think JA used the RCA output with good results).

I have purchased (but not yet received) a V-Link to use with an HP laptop and I am wondering if using a separately-powered USB hub to interface the V-link to the laptop would provide any isolation and alleviate the above concern. Assuming the hub utilizes a high quality "wall wart" that is quieter than the laptop power supply (maybe a big assumption), could this potentially provde any audible improvement? I'm interested to know if anyone has experimented with this.

Thanks.

  • X
    Enter your Stereophile.com username.
    Enter the password that accompanies your username.
    Loading