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Questions/observations about USB ports

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 

So I have been noticing some interesting things when I tried using each of my 3 total USB ports on my dell xps laptop from 2011. 2 of the ports are USB 3.0 and the other one is that USB 2.0/sata combo port. I use a schiit bifrost dac with the uber upgrade, and the rest of my chain is in my sig. Basically what I have been noticing is each port has like the tiniest of difference in sound. mainly when it comes to imaging/sound stage/layering; not so much with the tone or anything like that since its still the same data and USB ports should not have such differences. Yet every single time I switch to a different port, and listen to the same section of familiar music, I distincly notice the slight change. It is very slight though, I really want to make that clear, it took me a good week (since I got my set up running) to notice this. At first I used the farthest left USB 3.0 port, but everything I played through it started to seem like it was kinda distant for some reason, it felt and sounded slightly off or too smoothed over, yet still sharp and bright (because of my amp/dac). So I decided to experiment with the port perpendicular to it, and suddenly that sense of distance changed to the same kind of subtle sense of compression or layers playing over each other, instead of next to each other. Again all very subtle, but when I kept going between the two ports, I was able to keep confirming that each port had its own slight affect on the sound, and both ports just didnt sound right to me, like if I was told its all in my head and I should just get used to the sound, I would simply not enjoy the music over time. The subtle changes and "off" feeling is always there. So I figured maybe somehow it's a USB 3.0 thing, or at least the renesas drivers for them. I then switched to the far right USB 2.0/sata port, and now the sound is a third subtle varient, but thankfully as of me writing this, the closest to what I could consider correct sounding without feeling like something is off. I'll have to listen to it more to see if something different will start feeling off or if this will be the go to port from now on. The only real potential sonic annoyance that it seems to have is that the sound became very slightly more full, and busy/forward/in your face, but this may be due to my amp. I'll know for sure when I get my new amp in the coming weeks, as I'm selling my current one. If the sound doesnt change with the way the amp should roughly sound, then I'm back to being utterly confused as to why each USB port makes some slight modification to the overall sound.

And one last time, I want to be crystal clear that when I mean a difference in sound between the ports, I mean like you have to really listen to it with familiar music, and pay attention to how the overall sound feels, between the ports. There is enough change that I can tell that each port is definitely not identical to each other, if they were, then one port would'nt sound more right than another. I should also add I did not go into each port with an idea of what it should sound like, I expected them to be identical, so whatever I heard is purely out of objective observation to my best ability.

My main questions in regards to all this, is:

 

1. Does anyone else have a similar experience as myself, specifically with the same laptop I use (to potentially rule out, or conclude, that somehow this model laptop is the cause)

 

2. What port do you guys use, and why

 

3. Possible theories as to how it's actually even possible that different USB ports change the sound signature like that (since I'm using a self powered dac, so usb power issues are not to blame)

 

4. Any comments on the matter, other than saying its all placebo and I'm making it up, not that I don't respect that opinion, just that I swear to my best ability to unbiasdly observe that something is definitely different between each port.

 

(I should mention that I have made sure to also check the device manager so that nothing else is on the same port as the dac)

I'm very curious to see who else has noticed such a phenomena :)

post #2 of 15

What you are hearing is not a placebo. Most usb drivers supplied are written for usb 2. The software has not really caught up to the increasingly common use of usb 3 ports. Some of the latest motherboards only have usb 3. This is all part of the claim that it is backwards compatible, but as many have found, it is often not. Many existing usb interfaces won't even support usb 3 at all. You may also find that your choice of driver, asio, wasapi event or ks will effect the results differently between the usb 2 and 3 ports. I cannot speak for your specific devices as mine are different, but even on my system usb 3 gives worse results than my usb 2 ports. If you are using a dac with an xmos based usb system, you should be sure you have the latest Thesycon driver. Thesycon provides the driver support for nearly all xmos based systems. They only recently added usb 3 capability to their driver set. Based on my own experience I'm not certain they are a 100% there.

 

If your 2 usb 3 ports sound different then that is likely a result of your specific motherboard design.  

post #3 of 15
The noise is not the same depending which USB port you take.
USB 3 have a different circuit resulting a different noise pattern.

Your data remains the same on all USB port but not the noise. Noise is transmitted to your dac and result as jitter.

Different USB cable do the same ... Different sound because the noise pattern transmitted is not the same depending of your USB cable.

I have ifi iusb, ifi purifier and USB cable still do a difference. Those parts cut the 5 volts line and regenerate and offer filtration as we'll to the data line. We can't filter all because it will cut the data as we'll.

If you change your computer, you will notice change in the sound. Again, the noise pattern is not the same.
post #4 of 15
Thread Starter 

Interesting, I didn't realize how even if the drivers all work, and sound all plays without glitches, that just the circuit design of USB 3 vs 2 plus how it's implemented in my laptop, can all affect the sound overall.

 

I'm still experimenting with the 3 ports to see which one is technically best out of them, since I can't upgrade my laptop for a whilst. I know schiit just recently released wyrd, which seems like it could be a possible solution for this problem? But I dont know the pricing on products like that well, so is $99 reasonable for essentially a metal box that repowers the usb signal, and reclocks it, compared to like something else that can do that?

 

I'll update later on if I come to some kind of ultimate conclusion about all this lol. thank you for the replies and help so far :)

post #5 of 15
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by pompon View Post

The noise is not the same depending which USB port you take.
USB 3 have a different circuit resulting a different noise pattern.

Your data remains the same on all USB port but not the noise. Noise is transmitted to your dac and result as jitter.

Different USB cable do the same ... Different sound because the noise pattern transmitted is not the same depending of your USB cable.

I have ifi iusb, ifi purifier and USB cable still do a difference. Those parts cut the 5 volts line and regenerate and offer filtration as we'll to the data line. We can't filter all because it will cut the data as we'll.

If you change your computer, you will notice change in the sound. Again, the noise pattern is not the same.


I think I will get the ifi purifier, since my dac is powered so power isnt an issue with usb. So I'm curious what exact affect it had in terms of the sound itself, I understand what it does technically, but in terms of wht your sound was like prior, to how it is using it? Also did using different usb ports with it still make a change in the sound or does it not matter since it all goes through the purifier?

Also after more time with changing ports, and testing latency using the checker I see most commonly used (forget its name), I've come to the conclusion that my computer is not making audible noise in the signal, and has no issue with latency or the such, BUT the overall issue in sound between all three ports is the sense of muffledness, or lack of full dynamic sound. Like as if the whole sound is trapped between a narrower than supposed to be frequency range (of course in a very subtle way). The two USB 3.0 ports make the sound a bit less full and blacker/clearer, but only because they seperate the soundstage out incorrectly far and add almost like a veil/make everything softer in a bad way. Whilst the USB 2.0 port is more correct in imaging/soundstage but seems to make sounds linger slightly longer than they should, which gives it like this endless wall of sound effect, instead of nicely individual sounds with blackness in between.

Considering that information, will the ipurifier help me fix this issue, and make the sound more "normal" to me normal is based upon the sound coming from the headphone jack directly, because even though it is noticebly worse in quality it still sounds more correct than any of the 3 ports do. I always figured an upgrade in sound should just take that core "normal" foundation for correct audio reproduction and then make it better in the areas it wasn't good on before, a literal upgrade. whereas instead what I'm experiencing is more of a weird alternative sound signature, rather than a direct upgrade.

Thank you in advance for any help, I really appreciate it, I hope something fixes this other than requiring a new computer which I cant do for a whilst.

 

post #6 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by saxelrod92 View Post
 


I think I will get the ifi purifier, since my dac is powered so power isnt an issue with usb. So I'm curious what exact affect it had in terms of the sound itself, I understand what it does technically, but in terms of wht your sound was like prior, to how it is using it? Also did using different usb ports with it still make a change in the sound or does it not matter since it all goes through the purifier?

Also after more time with changing ports, and testing latency using the checker I see most commonly used (forget its name), I've come to the conclusion that my computer is not making audible noise in the signal, and has no issue with latency or the such, BUT the overall issue in sound between all three ports is the sense of muffledness, or lack of full dynamic sound. Like as if the whole sound is trapped between a narrower than supposed to be frequency range (of course in a very subtle way). The two USB 3.0 ports make the sound a bit less full and blacker/clearer, but only because they seperate the soundstage out incorrectly far and add almost like a veil/make everything softer in a bad way. Whilst the USB 2.0 port is more correct in imaging/soundstage but seems to make sounds linger slightly longer than they should, which gives it like this endless wall of sound effect, instead of nicely individual sounds with blackness in between.

Considering that information, will the ipurifier help me fix this issue, and make the sound more "normal" to me normal is based upon the sound coming from the headphone jack directly, because even though it is noticebly worse in quality it still sounds more correct than any of the 3 ports do. I always figured an upgrade in sound should just take that core "normal" foundation for correct audio reproduction and then make it better in the areas it wasn't good on before, a literal upgrade. whereas instead what I'm experiencing is more of a weird alternative sound signature, rather than a direct upgrade.

Thank you in advance for any help, I really appreciate it, I hope something fixes this other than requiring a new computer which I cant do for a whilst.

 

You will have better luck in the long run sticking with the usb 2 port. It would help if you mention what software player you are using and what driver you have selected?

post #7 of 15
Thread Starter 

Sure, I use foobar 2000 and have tried using both asio (native drivers) and wasapi event, and wasapi push, and even just direct sound for comparison sake. each port sounds a bit better or worse with different output options, example being the 2.0 port sounds better with wasapi event, and the 3.0 ports with asio. but the difference is small enough that both are fine. For all my testing Ive kept everything as consistant and unchanged when I switch ports, so that I only hear a difference in the port and nothing else. I even compared to just headphone jack output which is how I got my baseline for everything, even though it is worse quality (and its noticeable). The 2.0 port is a combo esata port btw, idk if that means anything in terms of sound when using as a normal usb port, but I'm assuming its better to stick with this than the two 3.0 ports on the other side of the laptop (they are both next to the fan and power supply input). Oh and the usb 3.0 internal drivers are the renesas drivers for windows 7, and the 2.0 port in device manager just says standard enhanced pci - usb host controller and its chain (I singled out the dac to give it full bandwidth)

I currently am sticking with 2.0 port, but there is a definite sense of veil, something like that, lack of edge especially in voices or depth separation, its like lacking clarity and your brain just struggles to search for that clarity in the sound because it knows it's supposed to be there. The headphone jack for instance has that clarity, but is worse in every other sonic aspect, so thats how I know it's missing/is not just the sound of the headphones tuning/changes to have slightly more clarity on the 3.0 ports but worse off as a whole compared to the 2.0 port. Thats why I'm wondering if the purifier will help maybe clarify it somehow, assuming this is the issue.

As well as the could potentially be the sound of my amp, since I have no real other output source to test it on, so I can only know how it sounds on this laptop and it's usb ports. but I am upgrading soon anyways, so if the new amp fixes this minor clarity issue, then it was simply the amp. Also by clarity I dont mean brightness, because the amp/dac and overall sound is still bright as its supposed to be, its just like looking through a translucent film instead of clear glass. very subtlely of course, just enough to be annoyed by it, and hurt your brain lol.


Edited by saxelrod92 - 7/3/14 at 7:54pm
post #8 of 15

If I were you I would take my laptop into the nearest headphone dealer showroom and experiment with different dacs and see if that veil gets lifted. You have good headphones and a reasonably good amp. Your notebook is most probably the cause of your problems. If you did that experiment at least you could narrow it down for certain. Most good dealers would be happy to help you. Could also just be your usb interface. There have been many threads on the difference between various usb converters.

post #9 of 15
Thread Starter 

yea, I just tried out the optical output with a lower end cable I had lying around, and it showed me that most likely half the cause is the amp (there is a review of it that goes into detail about this reasoning, which I now am seeing) and the other half is the sound of the usb port. I was able to confirm that the 2.0 port is closest to "correct" sound output, so definitely sticking with that one. but I was also able to see how much extra warmth and longer note decay and overall 'dirtiness' it added compared to optical. Optical was a bit too cold, and I could tell the lower quality of cable, compared to my better quality usb cable. But the 'veil' was still there with optical, just much much less annoying, and I could narrow it down to it being around the upper mids, to lower treble range. as if that area is just quieter than everything else, and someone in the review of my amp mentioned how he experienced a similar effect, he described it like an upside down triangle, if you consider the wide part full volume and presence, and the tip quiet and no presence, and just overlay the upside down triangle over literal height of sound, like a vertical line, where bass is bottom, and treble is top. thats what the veil sounds like, but the usb port sounded fuller, just with all the extra "dirt" or "mud" the details and clarity that should be there just get lost/overpowered.

So I'm thinking two possible solutions:

1. get the ifi ipurifier to clean up the usb sound. personal hopes is it basically makes it sound closer to what I got from my optical reference testing.

2. I'm currently selling my amp on ebay, 1 day to go, and getting a better amp, specifically the v200. In general for overall better sound, and in hopes it's signature does not have this upper mids/lower treble veil. (considering the reviews it has gotten over the years, I figure it does the job)

My question is moreso about the ifi purifier: would it actually do what I'm assuming it does? Or am I gonna end up spending 100 bucks and either get no change, or worse case scenario, end up with an even worse sound?
 

post #10 of 15

If it was me, I'd get a better optical cable and ditch the usb until I could isolate the problem. You could try the ifi purifier at a dealer for free before you throw away your money. As long as your source material is not more than 96hz the optical will be just fine. Most of us listen to redbook 44.1/16bit material anyway. You can still upsample to 96hz if that is your thing.

post #11 of 15

Or check out Schiit Wyrd to clean up USB as well. Many reports of USB being problematic particularly USB 3.0 ports.

post #12 of 15

Might it be that your current amp has a adaptive mode USB input instead of asynchronous?

post #13 of 15
Thread Starter 

I've seen the wyrd also but considering it's the same price as the ifi but requires me to have another usb cable, I would rather go with the ifi since it just plugs straight into the back of your dac, but yea they both do the same thing.

I currently use the bifrost with both the uber upgrades and obviously the usb add on. As far as I know it is asynchronous, I really don't see how it wouldn't be.

I dont have any near by music stores where I live, so I have to rely on the internet and a good return policy. Right now I really have two options to stick with, which is either get the ifi purifier and hope it fixes things in the way I want it to, OR spend that same money on a nice optical cable and just use that method (less ideal because it limits me to this laptop and all future source devices must have optical 3.5mm to toslink connections)

If anyone has used the ifi ipurifier and got good results when used with a self powered dac, like mine, I'd love to know. because overall between usb and optical, it just seems like usb sounds more muddy and dull, in a subtle but noticeable way.

post #14 of 15
Optical use a noisy optical decoding chip.
You have no clue if the result will be noisier or not.

Generally, optical is considered as the worst manner to link a dac. Coax is better generally.

Coax cable matter a lot ... And optical cable don't all give the same sound ...

It's very difficult to consider opinions while too much possibility.
You can conclude optical is better because you don't have a good coax and same in the other side.
post #15 of 15
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by pompon View Post

Optical use a noisy optical decoding chip.
You have no clue if the result will be noisier or not.

Generally, optical is considered as the worst manner to link a dac. Coax is better generally.

Coax cable matter a lot ... And optical cable don't all give the same sound ...

It's very difficult to consider opinions while too much possibility.
You can conclude optical is better because you don't have a good coax and same in the other side.


I fully agree with you, and if I had a coax output I would most likely be using that one. but being limited to just a laptop, I gotta work with the options it has, and the quality of sound that it can provide. I think context plays a huge role, one laptop or source may have a better overall output set up that makes usb or coax way better than optical, or it can be the opposite. it just takes working around your particular set up, and it's uniqueness.

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