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Berkeley Alpha USB still relevant?

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Is the Berkeley Alpha USB / Asynchronous USB to SPDIF and AES Converter still relevant for newer DACs such as the new Ayre QX5-Twenty?

 

Or are they unnecessary?

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I think the answer here would depend on if you buy into the idea of a computer's inherent grunge can find its way into the DAC circuitry or not despite all the measures taken by the DAC maker to combat such issues.

 

Berkeley seems to be far more paranoid then most about avoiding such issues and seems to think these problems can't be avoided so they choose to not include any form of USB connection in there gear, even if it costs them sales.

 

I can't help but wonder why they seem to be the only ones who think this nowadays especially considering the competition who feel otherwise and are equally competent in terms of DAC design.

 

I've never used or heard the device they offer but I can't help but be skeptical in how it can sound superior to the other approaches given all the extra cabling and circuits involved in using it.

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...I can't help but wonder why they seem to be the only ones who think this nowadays especially considering the competition who feel otherwise and are equally competent in terms of DAC design.

 

I've never used or heard the device they offer but I can't help but be skeptical in how it can sound superior to the other approaches given all the extra cabling and circuits involved in using it.

 

Check out some of the threads here and on Head-Fi for Rednet devices and Audio Over IP(AOIP).

 

Some have found marked improvements in SQ by moving away from USB.



"Don't Believe Everything You Think"

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Is the Berkeley Alpha USB / Asynchronous USB to SPDIF and AES Converter still relevant for newer DACs such as the new Ayre QX5-Twenty?

 

Or are they unnecessary?

 

I previously owned a Bel Canto REFLink (which I assume is not as nice as the Berkeley Audio device) and thought it was great. I'm not sure if these devices are still "necessary", but I would bet they make most any DAC sound better.

 

I think the basic gist of your question is generally true: As DAC's continue to improve, it is increasingly difficult to cost justify these not-inexpensive devices. But, if one of these landed in my lap, I would definitely put it in the mix....

 

 

Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk

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My first post on this forum, woohoo! I've had a Berkeley Alpha USB for a couple of years now. I found it significantly improved the sound when placed between my laptop and my DAC which does have asynchronous USB input. I recently bought an Aurender N10 (amazing device!) which has an oven controlled master clock so you would think that an AES connection to the DAC would be best. Nope. The sound was still better going through the Berkeley USB. I hear a siginificant reduction in electronic haze and grain and more detail. I think the Berkeley USB is still relevant because it further reduces electronic noise getting into the DAC and has a master clock that's individually tested for accuracy.

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Agree with your post. Not only that, but getting away from any USB based source can bring even more benefits. I moved from an Aurender N10 to the microRendu/Sonore Signature LPS and significantly lowered the system noise floor. This brought out far more "information" from the data stream coming from my lowly MacMini. The Alpha USB isolates much of the USB grunge and has separated master clock and line drivers from the USB input processing. I did find that providing quality power and cables helps as well.


Steve Schaffer

Roon Nucleus/ WD USB Drive / dCS Vivaldi Upsampler  / dCS Vivaldi DAC / dCS Vivaldi Clock / Spectral DMC-30SV preamp / Spectral DMA-500 monoblocks / Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2 speakers / Shunyata Denali - DPC6 - Sigma Ethernet / Synergistic Research Galileo interconnects / Uptone EtherREGEN switch

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Have the new Audio Research DAC 9 and I compared going from my laptop directly to the on board usb card in the DAC 9 vs going through the Alpha USB then out to the dac via AES/EBU and all I can say is there was no way I was taking the Alpha USB back out of the system! :-)

 

Sounded much more open, 3-dimensional, and more detailed than when going through the usb section in the dac. That said I think it may vary based on how serious the vendor was about including a high quality usb section in the first place. It is an expensive add on but worth it in my setup for sure. Even my wife noticed the difference just walking by one day.

 

George

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I think this is very much DAC and server dependent.  

 

With my Chord DAVE, it incorporates a floating USB design with excellent galvanic isolation.  Its SPDIF BNC and AES inputs, on the other hand, are not.  DAVE's USB is synchronously tied to its clock whereas SPDIF and AES go through DPLL.

 

I had a RedNet 3 in house for testing for nearly 4 weeks and pitted against my best USB source at the time, a stock SOtM sMS-200 powered by my Paul Hynes SR7, USB sounded considerably better.  With my new sMS-200 Ultra, the gap has widened further.  

 

I have also compared straight USB against a variety of USB-to-SPDIF converters including the Berkeley Alpha USB as well as a modified Audiophilleo 1 powered by an LPS-1 and USB still sounded better with my DAC.  Not that SPDIF or AES sounded poorly, only that USB was noticeably better.

 

Regarding servers, some sound better via AES or SPDIF while some sound better via USB.  John Mingo of Baetis will tell you AES is king and USB is crap.  Mark Jenkins of Antipodes, however, will tell you the opposite with his servers.  Obviously, it has more to do with the quality of the implementation than the actual format because inherently, they both have flaws that have to be overcome.

 

Regarding AOIP, yes, this is legit and has some advantages over "straight USB."  Since Ethernet incorporates an error-correcting protocol, you are assured a bit-perfect stream and because it is transformer-coupled, it inherently incorporates some degree of galvanic isolation but with proper care and attention, USB can be made to sound just as good.  People seem to also assume that AOIP means only "ethernet in" and "SPDIF or AES out" (i.e. RedNet) when devices like the microRendu and sMS-200 are just as much AOIP devices and can sound just as good if not better in some systems.  

 

Bottom line, USB is not always bad and is sometimes superior.  I would suggest you use your ears to decide what sounds best in your system. 

Edited by romaz

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On 3/25/2017 at 3:11 AM, romaz said:

I think this is very much DAC and server dependent.  

 

With my Chord DAVE, it incorporates a floating USB design with excellent galvanic isolation.  Its SPDIF BNC and AES inputs, on the other hand, are not.  DAVE's USB is synchronously tied to its clock whereas SPDIF and AES go through DPLL.

 

I had a RedNet 3 in house for testing for nearly 4 weeks and pitted against my best USB source at the time, a stock SOtM sMS-200 powered by my Paul Hynes SR7, USB sounded considerably better.  With my new sMS-200 Ultra, the gap has widened further.  

 

I have also compared straight USB against a variety of USB-to-SPDIF converters including the Berkeley Alpha USB as well as a modified Audiophilleo 1 powered by an LPS-1 and USB still sounded better with my DAC.  Not that SPDIF or AES sounded poorly, only that USB was noticeably better.

 

Regarding servers, some sound better via AES or SPDIF while some sound better via USB.  John Mingo of Baetis will tell you AES is king and USB is crap.  Mark Jenkins of Antipodes, however, will tell you the opposite with his servers.  Obviously, it has more to do with the quality of the implementation than the actual format because inherently, they both have flaws that have to be overcome.

 

Regarding AOIP, yes, this is legit and has some advantages over "straight USB."  Since Ethernet incorporates an error-correcting protocol, you are assured a bit-perfect stream and because it is transformer-coupled, it inherently incorporates some degree of galvanic isolation but with proper care and attention, USB can be made to sound just as good.  People seem to also assume that AOIP means only "ethernet in" and "SPDIF or AES out" (i.e. RedNet) when devices like the microRendu and sMS-200 are just as much AOIP devices and can sound just as good if not better in some systems.  

 

Bottom line, USB is not always bad and is sometimes superior.  I would suggest you use your ears to decide what sounds best in your system. 

I believe that impartial blind tests with a bunch of experts would be the only way to resolve this once for all. The last expert discussion re blind tests was in Stereophile I believe in 2005. If one carefully reads it, he will see that with blind tests all assertions become relative. And JA found an expert way to get out these (unpleasant) discussions. And more than a decade after that still nobody is trying to do blind tests, the only feasible way to find out the real truth. Without blind tests, everything is futile (and costly!)

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Not sure why anyone thinks this needs to be "settled"? In my system the Berkeley device made a huge difference mostly I'm guessing because of a poor usb implementation by ARC. If the USB implementation had been really good maybe the differences would not be as noticeable but I feel no need to have my opinions validated by anyone much less a panel of experts. I think the market has "settled" this in fact because there are several companies that make a similar device and people are buying them otherwise they wouldn't be made. Mileage will vary by setup so the only thing that sounds reasonable to me is that we each evaluate the need for such a device on our own and of course share our experiences so others can at least be exposed to the options.

 

George

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On 3/26/2017 at 2:16 PM, romaz said:

 

What's to resolve?  This isn't a contest and those who suggest it is are misguided.  This has nothing to do with which format is more inherently flawed than the other but rather how one manufacturer has perhaps addressed such flaws to provide a product that sounds good in your system.  To have a panel of experts do blind testing won't conclude anything since these things, as always, are system and listener dependent.  There are very few absolutes in audio, only personal preference and those that march to the beat of another drummer are doomed to the personal preferences of that drummer.

 

I will reiterate the last sentence of my post:  "I would suggest you use your ears to decide what sounds best in your system."  By all means, don't let any panel of experts tell you what sounds best.

If what is at stake is, for example, a Starbucks coffee (smallest one) I would agree. But what we have here at stake are 1000s and 1000s of dollars. Almost a down payment for a house! Thus we better have some blind tests, sooner the better. So, if we have 20 experts in the same room, same everything, but two tests: one with USB, and the other XYZ. And ~ half of experts say that USB is better (and/or they thought in their mind it was USB, but actually it was XYZ, and vice versa), and the other half says XYZ is better (i.e. two questions for each listener: 1. which one was better and 2. what was it, USB or XYZ), then we would have the real truth. That would help us to determine what we should buy, objectively

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On 3/26/2017 at 1:36 PM, gadawg58 said:

Not sure why anyone thinks this needs to be "settled"? In my system the Berkeley device made a huge difference mostly I'm guessing because of a poor usb implementation by ARC. If the USB implementation had been really good maybe the differences would not be as noticeable but I feel no need to have my opinions validated by anyone much less a panel of experts. I think the market has "settled" this in fact because there are several companies that make a similar device and people are buying them otherwise they wouldn't be made. Mileage will vary by setup so the only thing that sounds reasonable to me is that we each evaluate the need for such a device on our own and of course share our experiences so others can at least be exposed to the options.

 

George

When I am paying 1000s of dollars, yes, I want to settle things. I want to find out the real truth. The same thing as in experimental vs theoretical physics. We need experiments, we need blind tests!

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35 minutes ago, navrsale said:

If what is at stake is, for example, a Starbucks coffee (smallest one) I would agree. But what we have here at stake are 1000s and 1000s of dollars. Almost a down payment for a house! Thus we better have some blind tests, sooner the better. So, if we have 20 experts in the same room, same everything, but two tests: one with USB, and the other XYZ. And ~ half of experts say that USB is better (and/or they thought in their mind it was USB, but actually it was XYZ, and vice versa), and the other half says XYZ is better (i.e. two questions for each listener: 1. which one was better and 2. what was it, USB or XYZ), then we would have the real truth. That would help us to determine what we should buy, objectively

 

 

If you need John Atkinson to decide for you what sounds good and how to spend your money because you can't decide for yourself, that's totally cool.  More power to you.  Last I checked, the enjoyment of audio has nothing to do with objective measurements but rather how it makes you feel.

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2 hours ago, navrsale said:

When I am paying 1000s of dollars, yes, I want to settle things. I want to find out the real truth. The same thing as in experimental vs theoretical physics. We need experiments, we need blind tests!

You should by all means conduct your own blind tests and buy whatever sounds best to you! :-)

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On 1/13/2017 at 6:15 AM, jd002200 said:

My first post on this forum, woohoo! I've had a Berkeley Alpha USB for a couple of years now. I found it significantly improved the sound when placed between my laptop and my DAC which does have asynchronous USB input. I recently bought an Aurender N10 (amazing device!) which has an oven controlled master clock so you would think that an AES connection to the DAC would be best. Nope. The sound was still better going through the Berkeley USB. I hear a siginificant reduction in electronic haze and grain and more detail. I think the Berkeley USB is still relevant because it further reduces electronic noise getting into the DAC and has a master clock that's individually tested for accuracy.

I agree you

BADA is good and i use it between pc and dac

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On 3/29/2017 at 3:52 AM, romaz said:

 

If you need John Atkinson to decide for you what sounds good and how to spend your money because you can't decide for yourself, that's totally cool.  More power to you.  Last I checked, the enjoyment of audio has nothing to do with objective measurements but rather how it makes you feel.

Romaz

you should pay 10000$ to me.

i have bought CAD GC3 ground control and ordered paul hynes SR7 upon your recommendation.

CAD GC3 sounds worse and paul hynes not refund my money after 8 month.

i think you should pay those lost money to me.

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18 hours ago, amir57bs said:

Romaz

you should pay 10000$ to me.

i have bought CAD GC3 ground control and ordered paul hynes SR7 upon your recommendation.

CAD GC3 sounds worse and paul hynes not refund my money after 8 month.

i think you should pay those lost money to me.

 

 

Hi Amir,

 

I believe you are probably a nice guy and so I will try and respond to you as a gentleman.

 

As I have indicated here on CA and other forums before, I am not a professional reviewer or tester.  I have no professional or financial affiliation with any forum, publication, audio company, or audio individual.  I have no blogs like you do and I make zero income from my online presence.  I have no sophisticated testing equipment.  Like you, what I post here on CA and other sites represent my observations and opinions based on my ears, my preferences and in my system.  As is commonly said in this hobby, YMMV (your mileage may vary).

 

To be clear, we have never spoken privately and so I have never given you any personal advice to buy any product.  If you have made purchases based on my public posts, I would like to think you are wise enough to understand that what works well in my system or what sounds good to my ears may not be applicable to you and your tastes.  Your claim that I should pay you "10000$" is quite absurd and doesn't deserve a response, however, as you've blamed me several times now, I felt I should respond to implore you to stop your nonsense.  If I told you I bought a pair of TAD speakers based on your recommendation and found that they made my system sound worse compared to my previous speakers, should I then demand money from you?  

 

Regarding the CAD GC3, I am a believer in signal grounding (which is different from chassis grounding) and so CAD's grounding box falls into this category but I have never owned CAD's GC3 nor have I even heard it and so, therefore, I have never specifically endorsed this product.  If this product didn't work well for you, my understanding is that CAD offers a 30-day return policy on all of their products and so why didn't you return it and request a refund?  I have personally tried (and even own) grounding products from Entreq, Synergistic Research, and Taiko Audio and they can and do work but their impact will vary from one component to another and some components are better grounded via one connector over another (i.e. RCA, XLR, BNC, USB, RJ45, spade).  For example, in my own setup, my Mac Mini grounds very poorly via USB (almost no effect) but grounds very well via the 3.5mm optical port.  Surprisingly, the Innuos Zenith SE server grounds very well via USB.  Also, with my TotalDAC, grounding made a very positive difference but with my Chord DAVE DAC, the difference has been quite small.  This is the challenge with signal grounding, great results aren't guaranteed and so you have to try it for yourself with each of your components and see what you get but I am not the only one making positive claims about signal grounding.  There's a reason why these devices are so popular.

 

Regarding your long wait for your SR7, I can empathize with you.  I have waited even longer than you have for each of my SR7s and while I don't like waiting so long, I have had no choice because I have yet to hear a power supply as good as the SR7.  What surprises me is that you knew Paul works slowly and is prone to delays.  Amir, here is your own post from last September:

 

I have ordered Custom SR7 to Paul and i guess delivery time is more than 4 month .

I think some guys are worry about the long delivery time but i think we should thanks Paul for accepting custom orders.

I am really happy because Paul build my order exactly upon my custom order.

4 month or 5 month or 6 month, delivery time is not important to me and i just like to get a good sound .

 

guys , please be patient and let Paul to be relax .

 

excuse me for off-topic.

 

Regards,

 

Amir

 

https://www.computeraudiophile.com/forums/topic/30376-a-novel-way-to-massively-improve-the-sq-of-computer-audio-streaming/?page=143&tab=comments#comment-721043

 

You couldn't have said it any better, Amir.  

 

Lastly, why would you post something so off-topic on this thread?  Never mind, don't bother answering my post because I won't answer you back.  Good luck.

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On 4/1/2018 at 8:20 AM, amir57bs said:

Romaz

you should pay 10000$ to me.

i have bought CAD GC3 ground control and ordered paul hynes SR7 upon your recommendation.

CAD GC3 sounds worse and paul hynes not refund my money after 8 month.

i think you should pay those lost money to me.

Please tell me you are joking. Seriously. If this wasn’t meant to be a joke, I have to ban your account. You were warned so many times not to keep talking about your SR7 that I’ve lost count. 


Founder of Audiophile Style

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On 3/25/2017 at 12:44 AM, gadawg58 said:

Have the new Audio Research DAC 9 and I compared going from my laptop directly to the on board usb card in the DAC 9 vs going through the Alpha USB then out to the dac via AES/EBU and all I can say is there was no way I was taking the Alpha USB back out of the system! :-)

 

Sounded much more open, 3-dimensional, and more detailed than when going through the usb section in the dac. That said I think it may vary based on how serious the vendor was about including a high quality usb section in the first place. It is an expensive add on but worth it in my setup for sure. Even my wife noticed the difference just walking by one day.

 

George

Yeah, I did the same A/B with my PC-DAC vs PC-DDC-DAC. Exact same result.  My Bryston BUC-1 kills the USB input on my DAC. And my DAC is relatively new too.


 

 

 

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16 hours ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

Please tell me you are joking. Seriously. If this wasn’t meant to be a joke, I have to ban your account. You were warned so many times not to keep talking about your SR7 that I’ve lost count. 

 

Chris 

please accept my apologize for my bad English writing.

I am kind and responsive , please change your view about me. my time is not free to spend it here just for bodering you or attacking Paul Hynes.

your forum is your forum and you can ban me but remember you like do that not because my posts are harmful to other members.

I have no idea why you are interested to ban my account!

I started a topic to warn audiophiles that the Paul will not deliver/refund but you closed it!

tell me why? 

 

about Romaz and Paul Hynes:

I should thanks Romaz if he try to help other members but I think most of his idea is not right about me and I am not trying to get my money from Romaz.

I just trying to tell him his recommendation is not valid to me and I am sure it is not valid for many audiophiles who think like me.

about Paul Hynes I should say he does not tell the truth to customers and he is a real crook.

 

I hope you be a better host for your members and let them speak about their idea.

 

Amir

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On 1/12/2017 at 5:54 AM, shaq said:

Is the Berkeley Alpha USB / Asynchronous USB to SPDIF and AES Converter still relevant for newer DACs such as the new Ayre QX5-Twenty?

 

Or are they unnecessary?

In the majority of cases, a good usb converter provide much better digital signals. At present, the likes of Singxer SU1 and Schiit Eitre are much less expensive while offer much the same quality as Berkeley Alpha.

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49 minutes ago, chauphuong said:

In the majority of cases, a good usb converter provide much better digital signals. At present, the likes of Singxer SU1 and Schiit Eitre are much less expensive while offer much the same quality as Berkeley Alpha.

 

A modified Singxer SU-1 with external LPS-1 /  LPS-1.2 set at 5V is probably the best converter available.

 

I haven’t heard the Alpha, but I find it way to expensive. Berkeley’s philosophy dividing the USB interface from the DAC i think is the correct way to do things. Many DAC’s have ( or had) a poor usb implementation. 

 

I tested the Sonore ultraDigital with LPS-1 as well. I found this to be equal to SU-1. 

Which may not is a big surprise since very similar design and clock is in use. 

 

What cables in use matters as well.  USPCB is recommended. 

 

OP @shaq: And of cause the Alpha Berkeley is still relevant ?

But you’re actually asking if the USB implementation is done well enough in (your ?) the Ayre-QX5 Twenty.  

According to this test, you should probably use the RJ45 interface. So for you the Alpha is probably unnecessary. 

 

Have you compared the different inputs simultaneously ?

Results should point you in the right direction, don’t you think so ?

 

 

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