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macOS USB quirks and issues

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Hello everyone,

 

For the past year I have been experiencing issues with macOS USB Audio implementation.

 

Ocassionally, when using a USB DAC (in this case a Wadia di122) if there is a track change and the sampling rate is different to the previous track or idle state, there is a sudden burst of distorted audio and white noise coming out of the speakers. It sounds very similar to when one does process little--endian data as if it were big-endian data. You somehow hear the music behind that big mask of white static noise.

 

I have to say this does not happen every time the sampling rate switches from one frequency to another but it does happen and when it happens it always follows the same pattern. 

 

Originally I thought it was the DAC, so I spoke to the dealer and I was offered a brand new replacement, which I gladly accepted. After a few days the issue appeared again, so I decided to look further into it.

 

Whenever this happens, the DAC shows the correct sampling rate, the music software (roon, audirvana and hqplayer) they all show the right track info, and appear to be playing the track correctly. There are no messages in console and not a single error or warning anywhere in OS.

 

I contacted Wadia (McInstosh Labs) and they pretty much didn’t know what to tell me. They suggested replacing the USB cable (something I had already tried), unplugging all other equipment (tried that too) and as a last resort, up sample everything to 192K or 384k (which didn't work).

 

I have tried many things, reinstalling different macOS versions from El Capitan to Mojave, disk repairs, SMC and NVRAM resets but the issue will eventually occur at some point again. I even tried it on both, my Mac mini 2012 and my MacBook Pro 2015 (Plugged and battery only) and the same thing happened.

 

Then I decided to go the Windows 10 route and I was surprised after weeks of intensive testing no loud bursts of noise were to be heard, (using the Wadia drivers for Windows). I then installed Linux on that old windows laptop and the DAC has had no problems with it for the past month. 

 

In the meantime I had also tried with a couple of DACs. An old Arcam rDAC I had lying around had not problems at all but I guess it is due to the fact that it works under the USB 1 protocol.

 

I also had the chance to try with a Rega DAC-R (revised versión) and it did not show the loud white noise issue) but macOS had trouble recognising it under midi settings, had restart and reset SMC so that it would appear listed as a connected audio device.

 

On some internet searches I did, I noticed that there are quite a few USB Audio-related entries about people having sporadic and sometimes weird issues for which there are no proper resolutions yet.

 

Perhaps, in my case, the issue could be solved by having Wadia look at the firmware and see if there is something that needs to be revised in order to make this wonderful sounding DAC more compatible with macOS. I just doubt there is anybody at McIntosh Labs interested in looking into it.

 

Same goes for Apple. I’ve used Apple products for more than a decade and there is certainly a change in the way their products are presented.They are still very functional in many aspects but very mainstreamed in the sense that they might no longer cater for the audiophile end corner of the market.

 

If anybody has had similar experiences with macOS USB audio implementation, please post.

 

Audirvana - Wadia di122 noise.m4a

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an OS "upgrade" can totally eff up USB implementation; cables or extensions can cause problems as well

 

or it can take many minutes for the USB port to recognize devices - maybe the change is sampling rate causes the same problem??

 

I dunno if any of that might explain your problems, but I am starting to hate CrApple

 

anyway, this is your bump...

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I agree with you on the fact that upgrading an OS can lead you to unknown territory. the thing I have experienced with Apple over the past five-four years is that everything gets simplified in a sort of a one-for-all approach. Regarding the USB Audio implementation, I think they were just happy enough to get USB working for most mainstream purposes, like connecting your iPad, external hard drive or an extension hub. I don't think Audio is or was a priority.

 

If you ask around, people who work in the audio and video field have had to make difficult choices. Staying with an old OS and loose support/security updates in order to keep your trusty external gear up and running or take the plunge and upgrade / invest in newly certified and compatible gear while getting support for it.

 

I remember using my old PowerMac G5, circa 2004. Sold it only a few years ago (think 3 or so). It was a solid power-hungry machine and I just worked, but I had to let it go as I no longer had any use for it apart from toying around.

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I grew tired of Apple's updates breaking something audio related and purchased a streamer a while back. (USB was particularly problematic at the time.) After many years using Apple products I've decided to give up on them completely and have been slowly replacing the old ones with alternatives. Honestly, I don't think Apple was ever audiophile-centric but their Mac mini's were a great option for the computer audiophile. I'm sure they're still great for some folks who want a general-purpose computer on their rack. I do not.

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My computer-based HiFi setup is on a Mac (2017 iMac). I spent a few weeks last year trying to eliminate interference noise and replaced cables, DACs and speakers until the noise went away. In the end, one particular USB cable (Fisual Havana USB 2.0 0.6m A-B cable) worked for me and it was quite a cheap cable.

 

Something else worth looking into: one of the DACs that I tried, but sent back due to its upsampling being always active, was that it required a startup sequence to put it into USB 2.0 mode, as out of the box it ran in USB 1.0 mode.

 

The bottom line for me is that one particular, low-cost USB cable fixed the noise issues with my Mac. I thought my Mac was faulty until I tried that cable. YMMV.

 

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I am new to Computer Audio.

 

I recently upgraded to a new SACD player (from an Allen Wright-modified SONY of old). The player has a very high quality DAC, so I ventured to rip all my RBCDs to an SSD and 'drove' that from my MacBook using Audirvana+, to see if computer audio could cut the mustard.

 

It was, and is, on the whole excellent, which surprised me as I expected "USB audio" to be fraught with the endless hassle that anything IT usually is (and I work in and around IT...).

 

The ONE problem I had was that DSD256 files would not play without an occasional, but guaranteed, drop-out - when I heard the relays in the DAC click in and out. I did try various USB cables, and hubs (due to the MacBook single USB-C port - which I thought may be the issue).

 

Aside that it proved concept for me and I have now migrated to a dedicated Mac Mini, sound out on USB3.1. This exhibited the same one issue, so I cannot blame the MacBook ('yes' it could be Apple or Audirvana+, but read on)..

 

I have solved it with an iFi nano Galvanic3 isolation unit in the USB chain. With appropriate switch position ("DC-RF"), the drop-outs stop, but are reliably reproduced in the other two positions).

 

So, I would add my vote that USB audio isn't without issues, but they appear solvable. 

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