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Usb Soundcard Questions

I have a laptop and am thinking of getting a USB soundcard.  My budget is ~$150.  I will be using the soundcard with both my headphone system (via headphone amp - RCA) and stereo system (RCA or S/PDIF).  I play MP3s EAC/Lame –APS.

Based on a review of the posts here it seems the top 2 contenders are the Stereolink SL-1200 and Sonica.  I have enclosed some brief specs for each card below.  I have some questions I’d like to ask in trying to make my decision?

1) Sound quality:  If I understand correctly, MP3s are 44kHz, 16 bit.  If that is true is there any advantage of Sonica’s DAC running at 24 bit?  Besides that are there are any other reasons that the StereoLink might provide better “sound quality”?

2) Stereo connection:  For connecting my computer to the stereo I assume that S/PDIF is a better alternative, because then it will allow my receiver (Bose) to perform to DAC, which should be higher quality than the sound card, right?  Also the distance from my computer to stereo is about 15 ft, so if I keep the card by computer (so I can easily hookup my headphone) does long distance S/PDIF cabling provide less distortion than RCA?

3) Headphone connection:  I assume that the Stereolink will provide better performance to drive my headphone system because I can use the direct RCA out, while with the Sonica I will have to use the 1/8” out and a RCA converter?

4) Lastly, if anyone has another suggestion for a different product that I may have overlooked let me know.

Thanks, Zin


_______________StereoLink___________Sonica
               
Price__________$159_________________$90
DAC____________20 bit / 5-55kHz_____24 bit / 96kHz
THD____________-90 dB_______________-87dB
Connections____RCA & 1/8____________S/PDIF & 1/8
SNR____________n/a__________________97dB

Usb Soundcard Questions

Reply #1
I use both the Sonica and the Stereo Link.  In fact, you may have read my previous posts to get the assumption that these are the top two contenders.  Well, my suggestion would be to research more, as I am NO expert.

However, I can tell you that the Stereo Link sounds MUCH MUCH better than the Sonica.  So much so that my Sonica is for sale (anyone interested can email me to purchase my Sonica) and I'll be ordering another Stereo Link as I need one for my living room system and one for my bedroom system.

The sonica has digital out, but it's not SPIDF, it's optical TOSLink.

The headphone amp on the Stereo Link 1200 is alright, but it's not great.  Depending on what type of headphones you're using (I have Grado SR80s) you may want an amp.

The Sonica's sound is good, but it is really "midrangy" on my system and not nearly as clear as the Stereo Link in my opinion.

The Sonica works great on my laptop, but for some reason, on my Dual P3-800, it pops and clicks occassionally... which is very annoying when listening to music.

For reference, I'm using Diva Swans M200 speakers in the bedroom and a mid-end stereo system in my living room consisting of Parasound PreAmp/Amp and Monitor Audio Silver 5i speakers.  My MP3s are encoded with LAME using the extreme setting.

Any more questions?

Usb Soundcard Questions

Reply #2
Quote
The sonica has digital out, but it's not SPIDF, it's optical TOSLink.


Optical TOSlink is also S/PDIF. S/PDIF is the name of the protocol. (It stands for Sony/Phillips Digital InterFace or something like that) Optical or electrical are only the means of transportation.

Usb Soundcard Questions

Reply #3
Quote
However, I can tell you that the Stereo Link sounds MUCH MUCH better than the Sonica.  So much so that my Sonica is for sale

Oeff...and to think I was just about to other 3 Sonica's for our group...
Thanx for the info

Usb Soundcard Questions

Reply #4
Quote
The Sonica's sound is good, but it is really "midrangy" on my system and not nearly as clear as the Stereo Link in my opinion.

What are you comparing here... From the SL specs I gathered that there's only analog (RCA) out, but the Sonica has SPDIF. So does this concentrate on the analog outs or did you compare the Sonica SPDIF vs. SL analog as well?

Usb Soundcard Questions

Reply #5
Check out usbaudio.com where you will find links to many USB sound cards. I went with an Audiotrak (search this forum for 2 threads) which I find excellent.  This thing is smaller than a USB repeater cable and does 24bit 96KHz analogue and opto out.


Usb Soundcard Questions

Reply #7
For your $150 dollar budget, I definately recommend the Stereo-Link. Great sound (it'll be head-and-shoulders above your laptop's internal card) and easy setup. The only negative thing that I can say about it is the power switch (at least on mine) has a tendency to stick. It seems to go away with use though.

 

Usb Soundcard Questions

Reply #8
I bought a Stereo-link unit about two weeks ago and I'm well pleased with it. I was upgrading from the SantaCruz/Videologic card (which I liked a lot) and the sound quality improved dramatically. So much so that I started hearing things in Ogg -q6 and had to switch over to mpc -quality 6.

There are a couple of points I would mention though. The Stereo-link unit buffers sound but if I'm ripping a CD while playing music I sometimes get a 'dropout' as a new track starts ripping. This is definately an I/O problem as I could be doing much more CPU intensive stuff with no dropout at all. I comfort myself with the fact that once I've ripped my collection it'll be the end of the issue.

The other point worth mentioning is that I'm using Linux (2.4.19) and if I power down the Stereo-link (which I don't do anymore) I have to reboot to get the 'audio' module to work. It's not enough to rmmod/modprobe, it needs a reboot. I can't imagine it draws a lot of power when not in use though  so I leave it on.

All said, I'm really pleased that I bought the card (it cost £180 here in the UK!) and I'd definately recommend it to anyone with a half decent soundsystem.

 
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