Brian Kahn is the longest tenured writer on staff at HomeTheaterReview.com. His specialties include everything from speakers to whole-home audio systems to high-end audiophile and home theater gear, as well as room acoustics. By day, Brian is a partner at a West Los Angeles law firm.
One of the pressing problems with computer audio has been how to successfully integrate it into our stereo rigs. Some music enthusiasts use closed-ended music servers such as those from Sooloos, K-Scape, Squeezebox, Sonos and/or Apple, with each of these systems having their own notable strengths and weaknesses. Another option is to use an actual computer itself as the player and output the signal directly into your stereo system, which is the route being explored by many audiophiles. As you might guess, utilizing the computer's internal soundcard as DAC and analog output will not get you the best sound and a common complaint with many of the USB equipped DACs that have recently populated the market is that the USB inputs are not up to the same performance levels as the SPDIF inputs. This brings us to the category of USB to SPDIF converters such as the Sonicweld Diverter available from CryoParts.
The Sonicweld Diverter at $1,300 is designed as an integral part of your audio system and not merely an adapter or converter to make things work. The seemingly simple process of converting a digital audio signal from USB to SPDIF turns out to be fairly complex and difficult. Sure it can be done by many devices that are plunging in price but only with a serious performance hit. The Sonicweld Diverter tackles the problem of converting the signal while minimizing artifacts, principally those from the time domain. The device itself is not the rough, utilitarian enclosure that many other converters have utilized but, fittingly, more akin to a piece of high end audio gear. The Diverter measures roughly six inches square and a little over an inch thick. The multi-layer chassis has a roughly square shape with rounded corners and insets on the left and right sides for the USB input and SPDIF output. In each of the four corners there is a large hole through the chassis which could be for cooling, lightening or simple aesthetic purposes. As far as aesthetics, this piece of equipment is beautifully made out of multiple layers of aluminum in Utah and is available in a variety of colors. My review sample is a racy red with silver accents.
The vast majority of the technical information that is provided for the unit focuses on jitter reduction. This is performed by a variety of means including an advanced low noise, USB-driven power supply with extensive filtration. Precision clocking is provided by a low-jitter master oscillator with optimized path. Inside the enclosure milled from a solid billet of 60601-T6 aluminum and stainless steel damping plates, there are silver-plated six layer circuit boards, with multiple ground and power planes. While the component makeup appears formidable, I am lead to believe that the real magic of the piece involves its implementation and software.
Using the Sonicweld Diverter was simple. I tried it with several computers, both of the Windows and Apple varieties. Installation was as simple as plugging one end of a Kimber Silver USB cable into the computer and the other end into the Diverter. I then plugged the output of the Diverter into a 24/96 capable DAC. No special drivers or software were needed and the Sonicweld simply showed up on the computer as an available output device.
Read about the high points and the low points of the Diverter on Page 2.