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Sonicweld/Cryo-Parts Diverter 96/24 USB to SPDIF Review

post #1 of 310
Thread Starter 
Hello all. I have an audiogd DAC which only has BNC and RCA input, and I use my computer to listen to wav/aiff through Amarra so I needed a transport. The Diverter is a pricy item, for sure, but a lot of love goes into building one as we've established, it's definitely a well thought out product we can all agree, and I wanted something nice for my setup, so I went with it.

Updates - nearing week 2: Just very smooth, blissful sound with real musicality, no digital graininess/harshness, so natural. I am really happy with my HD800s now. Demo it if you don't believe me.

Updates - week 1: Truly delightful sound. Definitely the HD800s are missing that slightly confused sound they used to have, like almost a veil but not the muddy veil of HD650 so much as a harsh, cloudy sound with the soundstage a bit misaligned. I've purchased Amarra Mini, at $400 it's not cheap but is still a meaningful upgrade, I urge anyone with access to a Mac to do the 30 day trial, they'll give you your money back if you don't like it. Combined with the Diverter the sound is so much more pleasant and accurate-sounding. There's a lot of hubbub about how Amarra works, whether it's a DSP or not, I really believe people are overthinking it...Amarra is just a unique way with different math and programming to send the audio file to the USB port, using iTunes as a GUI to pick the songs. It's not for low end systems, you won't be able to hear the difference, but with the Diverter it is very obvious. Going back from the Diverter and Amarra to the Pop Pulse is unpleasant. I am 100% certain on this one, I am not simply defending my purchases to myself. I've tried plenty of tweaks that don't work, this is one that does.

Updates - 48 hour mark: I'm hearing a lot more detail in terms of things happening at the same time that are easily observable. You can really hear distortion in instruments and how vintage a lot of older music sounds, like precise instrumental nuances... 60s rock sounds badass.

Updates - 24 hour mark: The most noticeable thing is the bass increase. Very obvious increase in bass detail, it's finally there. The "pressure" thing I mentioned below, the bass you can feel deep in your head. This one is hard to miss, guys.

So, I just got my Diverter in the mail. It weighs about 3 pounds, and has a solid metal enclosure to keep out vibration and interference. The site for this unit has all the relevant specs, but long story short it was designed by a pretty obsessive and talented designer, the guy behind Sonicweld speakers which are pretty neat...it converts USB to BNC with a proprietary method that doesn't use codecs or typical means. Judging by the fact that there is no apparent way to open this tiny little beast up, it seems that this will be kept under wraps.

It's $1000. Lots of people have made fun of this gadget for costing this much when the competitors are cheaper. Well, lots of good DACs aren't USB, they have a BNC input or RCA (it includes a very nice custom machined adapter for RCA). So instead of having a cheapo internal USB section with whatever setup, this simply is doing that USB conversion outside of the chassis in its own happy little metal box. This could be 1/15th of a $15,000 DAC, say. This is one of few units that can handle 96/24 over USB which is nice. The Diverter's been out of a few months and this is the latest revision that incorporates BNC output and various other tweaks, the details of which I am unaware of. The build quality and design, if you have seen other Sonicweld boards is very scary, with medical grade 6 layer silver boards and SMD parts and whatnot, certainly every precaution has been taken with cost no object to do this seemingly simple job of USB conversion.

So, how does it sound? First off, this is day 1. I will update this with further impressions. I am using this with entirely OCC copper (OCC silver for the BNC and USB) self made cables connecting up a Monster Power HTS5000, an Audio-GD DAC8 (the very similar predecessor to the Ref1), an Audio-GD Phoenix, and an HD800. I'm not going to review this with other headphones as there is really no point, and the HD800s are the only really good headphones I have. The setup is balanced for the headphone cable and AGSS (currentmode) for the DAC-AMP connection.

Some initial listening notes covering a fair span of music...I'm not going to do that dippy thing where the reviewer says "With Billy Bob's 28th Symphony, the violins could clearly be heard to be slightly out of tune...". Just some general stuff for now:

huge, grand soundstage
not as dark
notes really hang in the air
midbass more authoritative
bass has real pressure
voices a little more focused/direct into the ears
extremely revealing…shows off your dirty recordings for what they are
instruments have more texture and realism, lots of weight to the sound

These comparisons were made by listening and swapping out quickly with a Pop Pulse digital converter, also from Cryoparts. It's a nice machine if you're on a budget.

In all, it's been a nice upgrade so far...just cleaner, bigger, less haze than the Pop Pulse. It's big money and I would spend on all of your other gear before turning to a product like this, it is not for low budget systems obviously...really balanced HD800s and a high end DAC or bust. Recordings that were questionable (try a few low res files then their higher quality counterparts) before are now clearly obvious to be bad - it isn't a coloration by any means, as clean songs sound their cleanest...but if you try with a lesser converter and pay close attention, then use the Diverter to magnify things a little you can see the flaws. This device could definitely be used in a professional setting. It's impressive that a small company like Sonicweld can do something difficult, a 96/24 USB machine, with even the BNC jacks handmade by them...the fun of CNC machining.

And the pix:

Click here for a huge pic!

Ha ha, I beat you Dave Clark...curious what you think of the Diverter you are soon to be reviewing. And I'll take any questions.
post #2 of 310
nice stuff!!!
post #3 of 310
The enclosure seems to take up most of it. So, it seems that the inside should be quite simple. Have you done the comparison with other usb-spdif solutions?
post #4 of 310
Thread Starter 
Read above, my previous was the Pop Pulse. Yes, the enclosure is mostly metal, it doesn't take a monstrous array of parts to convert USB, is this relevant?

Edit: see above. Apparently it does have a monstrous array of parts. I stand corrected.
post #5 of 310
Originally Posted by scootermafia View Post
Read above, my previous was the Pop Pulse. Yes, the enclosure is mostly metal, it doesn't take a monstrous array of parts to convert USB, is this relevant?
I was wondering if you have done the comparison against other 24/96 competitors..

off-ramp 3
Bel Canto USB Converter

and such.

I commented on metal enclosure because, if the inside is simple, what contributes to $999 cost. The R&D cost or actual component costs inside?

Don't get me wrong. I didn't audition these, so I am not commenting on the quality of sound or anything.
post #6 of 310
Thread Starter 
Someone should do a shootout between all of these converters, but it won't be me obviously; it is noticeably nicer than the Pop Pulse and that's about all I'm in any position to say for the time being. Even if someone did compare them all that's not a definitive statement of how well it would fit in with your particular DAC and system.

The Musiland is PC only, for now. The Bel Canto seems nice but I've heard some mixed reviews about it. The off-ramp is another expensive competitor, it can get some pretty crazy parts in it like $800 clocks...it's even more expensive in some situations and I'd be curious to see how they compare.

There are expensive and high quality parts in the Diverter, however you are also paying for the designer's time and effort and ingenuity...they're a small company, it's the work of Lee and a clever designer from Sonicweld. The cost of any electronics device is rarely made up mostly of parts though, it's the time invested. As I said before, if it contained 1/15th of the circuitry of an entire DCS brand DAC with the same quality, would the price thus be in the right place? I've seen inside some pretty expensive DACs and see the Sonicweld boards and their quality, and it could be that the construction of Sonicweld's stuff is the best in the world.
post #7 of 310
I have the offramp3 and makes the music better in every way. I havent heard the sonicweld version so I cant comment in its performance. Hopefully these two can be compared since the offramp3 has been better in every comparison Ive seen compared to the other converters. Competition is always good.
post #8 of 310
Are you suggesting algorithms burn in?

Could you tell us what specific expensive and high quality parts are being used? Not that I'm doubtful, I'd just like to know.
post #9 of 310
I wish there is a loaner program or try before buy type of program. I am not questioning your impressions per se, but like you said, it really depends on your system (dac, and every other parts). How would one know for certain that these converters will make a difference without trying themselves for some period of time?

With that said, is there anyone in Atlanta area with any of these converters and like to meet up for a comparison? :-)
post #10 of 310
Thread Starter 
Yeah, if Lee doesn't do auditions then he eventually will, I think you can return it if you are unhappy with it. Certainly the offramp is a totally different design, I believe it's using the TA1020 chipset for 96/24 USB, while the Sonicweld is using something that is not a standard licensed chip and cEntrance code. An Oklahoma meet would be nice.

CryoParts Presents Sonicweld 24/96 USB to S/PDIF Converter

You can read the audiocircle thread and see the thorough harassment from the goons over there regarding the construction of the Diverter. There's a few design tidbits there that aren't on the product page.

I missed out on the Fruity Pebbles colors, but a friend of mine and fellow head-fi-er is getting one too soon in black:

I suggest the black as it absorbs more photons from the sun, preventing UV-related signal distortion :-)

He has a very nice system, he's waiting on his Balancing Act to arrive then we'll get another opinion, plus Dave Clark soon.
post #11 of 310
Holy Jesus you got one. Try a soundcard 24/96 since the poppulse did 16/44 only right? might account for some improvements you heard.
post #12 of 310
Nevermind...continue on
post #13 of 310
I have one too. And like the OP, I'm just a customer, no connection with the company.

"A" is USB output from my PC to the Diverter, using foobar. Then S/PDIF to the built-in DAC of my Wadia 781i, at 96. Music is hi-res files downloaded, mostly vocals, some jazz. Alternative DAC is an older Benchmark without USB.

"B" is an MAUDIO 192 card in the same PC, modded by Drew at moon-audio to isolate the S/PDIF output with a transformer. S/PDIF goes directly in to one of the two DACs described above.

"A" vs "B" done by taking the balanced output of either DAC in to a KGSS (standard model) and listening thru Spritzer-mod Stax O2 Mk II 007a's. Alternative is taking the SE output from each DAC into a Senn HE90V/HE90 Orpheus.

This gives me 4 different A/B tests, each combo of DAC and HP/AMP.

Not much difference with the Wadia, probably due to the roll-off filter chosen by Wadia (I should try with that turned off, but haven't yet). On the Benchmark, clear preference by me for the Diverter, especially with the Stax. Could be placebo, but pretty obvious to me. I will have some friends listen blind later and will report again.

But I am keeping the Diverter. It installs and works flawlessly, and since none of my DACs have USB, it is very handy. Sounds great. I may now use the MAUDIO only for recording, which was my original intent.
post #14 of 310
Thread Starter 
Cool cool...my friend has a Wadia and he's going to use it with that. These crusty old DACs of awesomeness still have life in them yet. I found out that the PMD100 digital filter in the DAC8 can't handle 96/24 (although it's smoother than the other option, the DF1704 meant for the PCM1704UK DACs inside which can handle 96/24 according to Kingwa). He was a little vague on how I"d swap the chips out, that it would require some "Modification" so I'll probably not do that.

Dumb question, is anyone 100% certain that the Ref1 is 96/24? It doesn't explicitly say it's 96/24 on the audiogd site but the DSP-1 chipset inside can of course support it, as can the DAC chips. My digital filter is just one that specializes in CD audio.

I shouldn't have assumed the DAC8 could handle 96/24, I didn't even bother looking closely at the specs as I assumed it could due to the 96/24 capable PCM1704UK chips inside...stupid filter. But I have hardly any 96/24 (most 2-channel DVD-A is 24/48 anyway) and my main options would just be mountains of classical music and a few other things anyway.
post #15 of 310
Tooooo expensive, but if you have some extra $ and like nice looking stuff, then its ok.
80% of price is payed for case, but it looks great!
I will go with musiland, becouse the price/performance is unbeatable!

Nice toy, congrats
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