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Optical v. USB Revisited

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Hi Everybody.


Up until an hour ago, my stystem was:

Viper custom PC desktop; Wndows XP Home (SP3); ASIO4ALL; JRiver Jukebox >

> Belkin High Performance USB 2.0 cable

> Musiland MS10 USB DAC (OS)

> Transparent Link 100 RCAs

> Parasound 2100 preamp

> Link 100s

> Aragon 4004 MKII amp (2 x 200w)

> Audience Au24 speaker cables w/ cutom Cardas silver plated spades

> Dali Ikon 6 towers

> Sunfire True Sub (original 2001 version)


Just for fun, I disconnected the USB cable and substituted a Behringer U-Control to convert USB to optical. I ran a Sonic Wave glass optical from the U-Control to the DAC and WALLAH ! (or is it Voila?) The sound was better; not huge, but better.


Next, I substituted an entry level Monster plastic optical and the sound was the same as w/ USB.


Do any of youse have an explanation?




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Which USB chip does your Musiland use, the PCM270X? If so, this would explain it.


Also, if you have ANY ground-loops in your system between the computer power and the audio system power, the optical link will eliminate these. That will improve the sound usually. Try plugging everything into the same AC circuit.


Steve N.

Empirical Audio


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The spec sheet for the MD10 (on the Pacific Valve web site) doesn't state what the USB chip is. It does give the DAC chip: "Cirrus Flagship CS4398".


I use a PS Audio Duet line conditioner. The DAC and PC are plugged into one side and the preamp and amp the other side. The 2 sides of the Duet are shielded from each other.


The "entry level" Monster plastic optical cost about 60$ for 1.5m @ Circuit City. The Sonic Wave glass optical cost about $35 including shipping from Parts Express. The 6' Belkin USB cost $17 including shipping from J&R.


I am not claiming that, as genres, optical is better than USB or that glass optical is better than plastic optical. I'm just relating my experience. I would be amazed if the Van den Hul Opticoupler plastic didn't beat the glass Sonic Wave IN MY SYSTEM.


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I thought the VDH optocoupler was glass fiber. It doesn't say either way on the website. Do you have a solid source for the construction of this cable? I ask because I've been considering it to see how it compares to my current plastic fiber cable.


Cheers,[br] - Tim

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BTW - I should mention that I *think* I also prefer the optical out from my Mac Mini into my Classe SSP-800 prepro over the sound coming out of a Bel Canto USB Link coax converter that *does* use the latest USB conversion chip. The USB Link sounds etched and "digital" and the optical sounds more natural. However, the differences are very small if they exist at all. All components in my system are plugged into a PS Audio AC regenerator.


Cheers,[br] - Tim

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Tim, you may be right - it could be glass.


I read in one of the zines that the Opticoupler glass was the best toslink optical $$$ could buy. Then I went to the VDH website and the specs don't state what the construction is. Then I read on one of the Foums that its plastic.


The apparent consesus is that the Opticoupler is the best, don't matter whether is glass or plastic. Its also expensive as s__t!


Of course we don't need to get into ATI glass (w/ ATT connectors)since that is almost exclusively used nowadays for pro recording.


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I do recall reading somewheres that the glass Wireworld does compete sonically with the Opticoupler and is less expensive ($130/m direct from WWorld).


Nordost has glass @ $218 for 1.5m.


Harmonic Tech has glass for $79/m @ Needle Doctor


flagship AQ OptiLink 5 is glass - $450/m @ Needle Doctor.




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...so I ordered the 1M VDH Optocoupler with the optional mini-toslink connector for $85 (60 pounds) from www.highencable.co.uk. I'll report back here once I have it installed. Should be about a week.


Man that Nordost cable is a beauty though.


Cheers,[br] - Tim

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Hey tog


My glass optical sounds better than my plastic optical on my system, but I don't know why. There might be no improvement on someone else's system.


Could be that a better plastic fibre cable would beat my glass cable on my system. Don't have any money to find out. April 15 right around the corner.


See post above by Steve N on this thread.


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Tog -


I'm with you. Logic does not necessarily apply to my decision to try a glass fiber cable over the plastic one I have now. I'm am usually pragmatic in my choices, but sometimes I like to dabble in the audiophile fringe, just to see if there is any merit to all of this debate over cables, jitter, etc. Science doesn't have all of the answers and what was once thought to be the "truth" is later proven false with further investigation.


I'm not easily fooled or prone to placebo effect, so if there isn't a clear improvement in the sound with a change I make, I'll return or sell the product.


In the end, the speakers, the room and the recording will always remain the most important to me.





Cheers,[br] - Tim

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I railed about this to a computer engineer recently. Apparently it does make a difference in electrically noisy environments and where long runs are used. He designs for engine control systems. If it made a difference in the home, I'd look to re-routing cables somewhat.


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IME glass optical is better than plastic optical , but some glass is better than others.


I bought one of the those generic glass opticals cables from ebay and found that was better than my plastic one.


Then I found that generic coax was better than my generic glass optical cable.


Then i bought the nordost optical cable and found that trumped the generic glass cable. I find it almost indistinguishable with the hieend coax cables. Though i haven't really done extensive comparisons and couldn't tell you which is better.


Of course i'm sure a lot of this is dependant on system configuration.


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And there was me thinking, having been advised by the engineers that surround me, that optical digital cable, like most digital interfaces, are no error or gross error. They either work or you get drop outs or they don't.

The explanation below is sure to offend those who "believe the evidence of their ears" but it shouldn't, it ought to make them more circumspect because circumspect is what hi fi needs right now IMO.



Wine price test shows marketing at work in brain



Researchers in California have shown that you can increase a person's enjoyment of wine by just sticking a higher price on it.


In a demonstration of the power of marketing, researchers in California showed you can increase a person's enjoyment of wine by just sticking a higher price on it, according to a study released Monday.


Antonio Rangel, associate professor of economics at the California Institute of Technology, led a team to test how marketing shapes consumers' perceptions and whether it also enhances their enjoyment of a product. 


They asked 21 volunteers to sample five different bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon and rate their taste preferences. The taste test was run 15 times, with the wines presented in random order. 


The taste test was blind except for information on the price of the wine. Without telling the volunteers, the researchers presented two of the wines twice, once with the true price tag, and again with a fake one. 


They also passed off a 90 dollar bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon as a 10 dollar bottle, and presented a five dollar bottle as one worth 45 dollars. 


Aside from collecting the test subjects' impressions of the wines, the researchers scanned their brains to monitor the neural activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortex -- an area of the brain believed to encode pleasure related to taste, odors and music. 


The study found that inflating the price of a bottle of wine enhanced a person's experience of drinking it, as shown by the neural activity. 


The volunteers consistently gave higher ratings to the more "expensive" wines. 


Brain scans also showed greater neural activity in the pleasure center when they were sampling those "pricey" wines, indicating that the increased pleasure they reported was a real effect in the brain. 


"It's a common belief among scientists and economists that the quality of the experience depends on the properties of the product and the state of the consumer; for example, if a consumer is thirsty or not," said Rangel. 


"But what this study shows is that the brain's rewards center takes into account subjective beliefs about the quality of the experience. 


"If you believe that the experience is better, even though it's the same wine, the rewards center of the brain encodes it as feeling better." 


In other words, "people's beliefs about the quality of a wine affect how well it tastes for the brain," he concluded. 


The study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 


© 2008













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Ash - So then you'll be raising the prices of your products soon then? If that study is true, then you really owe it to your consumer to provide a better product, and by better, I mean more expensive. ;-P


In all seriousness, as with all general studies, the results stated do not apply to all of the people in the study and I'm sure that there were a few that weren't swayed by the price.


For instance, I recently purchased a Bel Canto USB Link digital signal converter for my Mac Mini. This $500 device is supposed to provide a cleaner signal from my Mac to my DAC. It uses the latest technology for converting USB to SPDIF; it comes in a fancy extruded aluminum box; and it includes the very well reviewed Stereovox brand coax digital cable. I put this in my system and compared it to the jitter-prone optical output of my Mac using a $30 plastic fiber toslink cable.


At best, the output of the Bel Canto sounds identical to the optical out, at worst the optical out sounds better to me.


So, if the Bel Canto and the standard optical out do in fact sound the same, if I were one of these people that prefer expensive wine, then my suggestable brain should have told me that the Bel Canto was clearly better.


Cheers,[br] - Tim

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Re-reading my friend's comments, I ought to go and ask for more detail. I can see why glass might be better for longer lengths but not that it would render an optical signal more immune to electrical interference. Hm.


BTW, if Ash would like to sell me a set of ADM9.1s at a 90% discount I promise to give them a fair evaluation and will come to love and appreciate them as much as if they were more expensive ...


(Worth a try.)


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The USB output on your Mini is limited to 16 Bit and the Optical is 24, so use the optical because optical is by far the most flexible, gives the widest choice of DACs and avoids electrical connection between the computer's chassis and the hi fi, which is good.


An M-Audio Transit ($89) is not only a stunning USB DAC but also provides 24/96 from its optical digital output. It can do this because it uses drivers to alter the USB output.


I've noticed one or two people discussing devices that deal with jitter from Optical outputs, which simply isn't possible any more than cleaning your car half way down a muddy track will prevent it from being dirty on arrival! Jitter is only an issue when you A to D or D to A, so can only be dealt with by the DAC. Jitter is not an issue with modern correctly implemented DACs anyway and hasn't been for years, but for the fastidious, an extra £2 or $3 will cover the cost of a Sample Rate Convertor as used in Pro Audio gear and by us for our inexpensive speakers, to eliminate it completely.


You're right! ADM9.1s are too bloody cheap , However it has paid off, sales are beginning to take off big time.


Have you, bearing in mind the wine price experiment, listened to the analogue output from your Mini, because there are well reviewed CD players that are not as good. The Mini is a wonderful little tool IMO. I've got one and love it. The build quality of Apple stuff is astonishingly good.







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So I have this optical cable from a company I trust Chord - "Optichord" - plugs right in to my Macbook Pro and thence to my costly by dependable Dac X - sounds wonderful but "lo! there is a great weeping and knashing of teeth" zounds I have forgotten to consider the dangerous levels of jitter that will undoubtedly plague my system for all eternity despite the brave toil of my trusty dual jitter resistant mono dacs from those good people at Cyrus.


But verily I say to you...I can solve all of my imaginary problems by purchasing an aluminium box from BelleView with "Jitterbox Destroyer USB Tosserlink Adapter" artistically screen printed across the front for $500. Of course I have spent all my cash on invisible clothes that only clever audiophiles can see... so I can't by the USB adapter....


After a particularly difficult day at work it is always good to get things off your chest -

1. You can't hear jitter

2. Optical cable transmits digital data - it either works or it doesn't

3. Unless you live in a parallel universe the glass in your cable has nothing to do with the sound that comes out of the dac

4. No amount of electronics will make Killers' tracks sound like the sound engineer knew what he was doing.

5. Bill Evans was a sublime pianist (not negotiable)

6. The rain in Spain can fall anywhere.


There now that it is all cleared ...now where was my wine...



Yours, after a "Hard Day's Evening", tog




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if they all sounded different. I find the most relaxing way to listen to music is arrive at a solution and not worry about all the alternatives. There will always be alternatives. And someone trying to sell you something.


Bottle of wine (cheap or expensive as long as it's decent) helps too.


(Apologies for the pun, it may be UK only.)


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