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Need Help: DAC, USB-SPDIF Converter, or something else to connect a computer to an old receiver?

  1. TyTB
    Hello everyone,

    I'm struggling with something way over my head here and could really use some help.

    My father and I are both fans of good audio quality, but we're not crazy audiophiles. My father's 2.1 sound system is worth, at the very most, 2500-3000 (Tower speakers, woofer, receiver, CD player, and the rest). His receiver, though, is getting outdated. It's the Yamaha HTR-5960. This system DOES have digital input in the form of SPDIF or Optical, with the accompanying built-in DAC. The thing is, my father's desktop does not have an SPDIF or Optical output, so to listen to music, he has to burn CD's and use a 6-disk CD changer.

    For Christmas, I'd like to simplify this workflow for him, by allowing him to play music directly from his PC. Question is, what's the best way to go about this?

    I can either buy a DAC, such as the Modi 2, or Modi 3 from Schiit, or I can buy a USB-to-SPDIF or USB-to-Optical converter. To me, being a non-audiophile, i figure hey, since the Yamaha receiver has what I assume to be a good DAC built in it already, there's no point wasting the money on a second DAC, right? Might as well just convert the USB to Coaxial and plug it in and let the receiver do its thing.... but I could be missing something - I mean, after all, I was surprised to find that a USB-SPDIF converter was an actual device with circuitry to begin with... I thought it would just be a simple adapter, like a Micro USB to USB type A sort of thing.. given that they're both digital formats.Goes to show how little I know about this sort of thing.

    My budget is around 100-120 Canadian Pesos, so around 90 US Freedom Dollars, if possible. This places the Modi 3 at the very edge of my budget, but makes the Modi 2 (at 59 dollars) a very attractive option.... I just don't know what would be best for a non-audiophile.

    Any help and suggestions are greatly appreciated.
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2018
  2. PurpleAngel Contributor
  3. TyTB
    oh yeah, should have mentioned. Its a 2.1 system. Two tower speakers and a woofer.
  4. PurpleAngel Contributor
    Ok, 2.1 speaker setup.
    If you had a 5.1 speaker setup, then it might have been worth it to get a sound card with an optical output.
    But as your 2.1, a external USB DAC will work fine.

    The DAC chips used in your Yamaha are at least 10 years old in design.
    So the DAC chips used in the Hifimediy should easily equal, if not be better, then the ones used in the Yamaha.
  5. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    I'd stick with a USB to coax converter. Not because it's a lot cheaper, much less because the DAC or any part of the HTR receiver is actually that good (the RX-Vxxx series is a tier higher and the HTR series is kind of like what they'd either bundle with their own speakers or have their dealers bundle with something else with cut down features; and even the RX-Vxxx series' amp circuits used to be ho-hum next to Marantz and Denon receivers, and sometimes even Onkyo's) but in case its features were cut down an analogue input might not work with the subwoofer output (unless you've tested that it does using the analogue output from the CD player into the receiver and you're sure that works).

  6. PurpleAngel Contributor
    I'm far from an expert, but I would really be surprised if the Yamaha receiver can not take in an analog 2.0 signal and make it into a 2.1 (but still a guess).
    But of course the Thread Starter should test out that feature, on the Yamaha, if deciding on a USB DAC.
  7. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    My friend had one before that had such limitations. Not a Yamaha HTR-xxxx but the Onkyo equivalent that isn't among the TX-SRxxx line. Full size chassis but came as part of an HTiB (ie not the Bose-like modules that come from Samsung and LG that sometimes comes free with huge TVs). Zone2 also doesn't work with digital inputs. Pretty old, these limitations might not be true for current lines that might be a lot more than just dressed up competitors to lifestyle look HTiB, but OP himself mentioned it's his dad's and it's pretty old.

    Which is why I have the caveat about whether he's tested it working using the analogue output from the CDP. If it works on there then it can work on a USB DAC (or a TT for that matter).
  8. TyTB
    Thank you both for your continued commentary. I can confirm that the receiver will turn a 2.0 into a 2.1, as both the CD player and record turntable are connected through RCA, and output bass just fine.

    The thing is, I have a bit of an idea how to choose a DAC, as there are lots of reviews available, and I can pull the general public perception of a specific DAC out of the internet rather easily. This is what led me to the Schiit Modi line.

    When it comes to USB-Coax converters though, once I found out that it's not just a 1:1 passive adapter but is an actual unit with actual circuitry in it... well i have no idea how to pick a decent one. There's not a lot of average-person reviews out there, and the few that I do find, are too technical for me to really glean anything from it. I mean, don't get me wrong Protege, I appreciate your linked suggestion but.. a brand I've never heard of, with no reviews, and an inconspicuous silver box... i don't know what to base my decision-making on. Does it even matter though? I've heard some people say that since USB and SPDIF are both digital, even the cheapest adapter won't affect the audio quality, but then I hear others swear that you need to get a good one to avoid losing detail and whatnot.
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2018
  9. audiobomber
    IME, yes the DAC matters. If you go too cheap now, you will probably end up buying twice.
  10. PurpleAngel Contributor
    A DAC that supports Asynchronous USB input, is a plus for audio, so if the DAC does not support Asynchronous USB input, audio quality might suffer (if noticeable).
    But I believe Asynchronous USB has become fairly common, on USB DACs.
  11. TyTB
    But see, that's just it: Audiobomber, you said "DAC" while quoting me talking about the USB to SPDIF converter, but that wouldn't be a DAC, it would be a DDC, right? Im not trying to be semantic here though, i know that, for some reason, the converters are often called DAC's but I don't get why, both USB and SPDIF are digital so there shouldn't be any analog conversion, only a digital circuit that accounts for the USB clock speed and adjusts it (The Asynchronicity Purple mentioned). What am I missing? I don't understand why a digital to digital converter would be called a DAC.

    The Modi2 and 3 are both asynchronous DACs. True digital-to-analogue converters, whose RCA outputs I'd feed into the receiver, and have it just act as an amplifier and 2.0 to 2.1 splitter.


    I can get an asynchronous DDC in the form of a USB to SPDIF converter, whose digital SPDIF output i'd feed into the receiver, and have it act as both a DAC and an amp, along with the 2.0 to 2.1 splitting.

    Which would be better for a sub-100$ expenditure?
  12. PurpleAngel Contributor
    A Digital Converter (Digital to Digital) is not a DAC, but some DACs do also come with a built in Digital Converter function.

    A USB to S/PDIF converter, converts the USB digital signal in to S/PDIF (optical or coaxial).
    S/PDIF Coaxial cable transmits an electrical digital signal (different type of electrical signal, from a USB digital signal)
    Optical S/PDIF transmits an optical (light) digital signal.
  13. TyTB
    I didnt realize that S/PDIF was both coax AND optical, i thought it referred specifically to the coax, RCA-looking connector, not the communication protocol. That clears that up, the only question that remains is which would i be better off buying. A Digital-Digital converter there are no reviews for, or a brand-name DAC that's a bit more expensive?
  14. ProtegeManiac Contributor

    Then given the narrow price margin you probably should just get the DAC.

    There are too many variables and too many generalizations about certain DAC digital stage designs but in the end the analogue output stage has a lot of influence on it. Buying a cheap DAC with the latest "it" thing like the latest DAC chip or whatever digital receiver comes before it can sometimes mean an analogue output stage that just hinders any gains (if they were even audible; and in some cases the influence of the analogue stage is the most audible anyway).

    In short, just get whatever specific product is highly regarded and works with whatever source you have, taking into account variances in price and shipping. Or even matching the color of the chassis to the rest of your equipment. An all-black ODAC that only has USB costs more than a silver Modi3 for example, but in Europe, the price of imported Schiit vs the Swiss ODAC/O2 builder has a narrower difference.

    It has to actually have a circuit since this isn't a matter of changing an RCA socket to connect to a TRS socket, whether analogue or 75mm coaxial SPDIF. SPDIF is not the same as USB digital even if the resolution is the same and all are just 1's and 0's. You also don't just see a converter cable with HDMI on one end and SPDIF coax much less optical on the other for the same reason (the other being the higher bandwidth of HDMI and USB2.0 vs SPDIF).
  15. audiobomber
    Sorry for the confusion, I was referencing the linked HifiMeDIY components, which are DAC's. My iFi Audio iOne DAC can be used as a DAC or a DDC. It sounds better as a DAC than a DDC, probably because S/PDIF is compromised compared to USB.

    Running my Oppo DVD player via HDMI into the DAC of my Visio TV, then via optical cable to a higher quality DAC negatively impacts the sound. Bypassing the TV and running coax from the Oppo directly to the DAC sounds considerably better. So IME, a DDC does affect sound quality.

    But this is audiophile stuff that likely won't matter to your father. Have you considered getting a Chromecast Audio streamer? As long as you have wi-fi, that would allow streaming from the computer with no connecting wires. You could either use the internal CCA DAC, or connect via optical cable of the AVR DAC is better.
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2018

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