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.
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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.
• The Sonicweld Diverter enabled the best USB audio experience I have been able to create in my home.
• The power supply did not require any external power other than that of the USB bus.
• While not vital for audio quality, the industrial design and build quality garnered as much interest (most of it positive) from my guest listeners as any other piece of recent gear.
• The 24 bit / 96 kHz limit may inhibit future use. Right now my music catalog has very, very few files that cannot be handled by the Sonicweld Diverter but as more high resolution files become available, this may become a problem. If you do not need this capability now, this may not be a big issue, as the folks at Sonicweld assure me that the Diverter chassis will be capable of being upgraded to 24/192 in the future.
• The Sonicweld Diverter is sensitive to USB cables. There was a notable improvement with the Kimber USB cables over the stock, computer variety cables. Although one of the reasons to use and outboard a USB to SPDIF converter is to minimize upstream jitter and other USB problems, the converters have not yet reached a point where they can be completely eliminated. This issue is common to all USB devices I have used, not just the Diverter.
While I do not know the technical details of how the Sonicweld Diverter extracts more performance out of USB audio signals over any other USB music device I have used - suffice to say it works. The best that I can ascertain is that it is a combination of hardware and software that separates the audio data from everything else on the USB line and then addresses that audio data to minimize any errors in the signal that seem to be so rampant in the USB world.
I used the Diverter in my system with several different DACs, including the Cambridge Audio Dacmagic; Logitech Transporter, and the DAC sections of the McIntosh MCD-500 and Cary Audio CD 303T SACD Pro through their digital inputs. Only the Cary and Cambridge had their own USB inputs to allow for direct comparison. The Cambridge is limited to 44.1 or 448 kHz via USB and the Cary could take it all the way up to 23/192. To keep the playing field even I used Redbook CD files. With the Dacmagic, using the Diverter to do the conversion from USB to SPDIF rather than run USB directly into the DAC made a dramatic difference. The sound through the Diverter was much more natural. Not only was the soundstage better formed, the individual components were better formed. Using the Cary as a DAC the differences between USB direct and using the Diverter were less pronounced which I surmise is due to the Cary's USB implementation being of higher quality than the Dacmagic. Nonetheless, I found that the sound quality improved when the Diverter was in the signal chain. Placing the Diverter in the signal path brought the level of the USB input up to SPDIF. It was as though you were looking through a camera lens and getting the fine focus from very good to excellent.
If you are using, or are planning to use a computer as your main music source in a high end audio system, it will be necessary for you to convert your digital music signal from USB to SPDIF. Whether this is done in a DAC or in a standalone device, this process is vital to sound quality. The CryoParts Sonicweld Diverter accomplishes this process extremely well, allowing you to combine a computer-based music server with your favorite DAC without taking a hit on absolute sound quality.
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