PC Audio Gets Another Boost

Some long-time Stereophile readers were outraged when the magazine put a photo of a computer soundcard on its cover in September of 2000 (click here for the review and controversy). And then, John Atkinson added insult to injury by doing another soundcard review last November. Some readers may have been scratching their heads about why we did it, but at least one manufacturer is getting the message.

Onkyo announced that it has launched a new Multimedia Division by introducing what it hopes will be perceived as better-sounding and more versatile alternatives to typical PC and Macintosh sound cards. By placing the soundcard digital audio functions outside the computer chassis, Onkyo says its two new USB Digital Audio Processors will offer "superior sound quality and improved connectivity with a wide range of audio components."

Onkyo's Paul Tamberelli explains that "the interior of a personal computer, with all its high-speed digital ICs, switch-mode power supplies, cooling fan motors, and other sources of electromagnetic radiation, is a bad environment for the sensitive analog audio circuits needed to achieve audiophile quality sound. We have learned that these soundcard functions are best performed outside the computer chassis."

The new soundcards, the SE-U55 for Windows and Macintosh and the MSE-U33HB for Macintosh only, connect to a computer via a USB cable. According to Onkyo, these processors provide digital-to-analog and analog-to-digital processing that allows users to record onto computers and then play music from their computers using standard CD audio WAVE files, MP3s, RealAudio, Shockwave, or other computer audio formats. The company adds that both models include software for processing audio signals.

Onkyo says that the SE-U55 can connect up to three separate audio components to a personal computer and sports a microphone input, a stereo RCA analog input, and one digital audio input with fiber-optic and coaxial connectors. There are also matching digital and analog outputs and a headphone output. The MSE-U33HB is described as a digital audio processor and USB hub for Macintosh computers, with a microphone input for those USB Macs that lack audio input jacks, stereo analog inputs and outputs, and three additional USB ports.