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Tascam US-366 for Computer Audio

Discussion in 'Computer Audio' started by jnorris, Dec 22, 2014.
  1. jnorris
    I'm thinking of taking the optical output from my motherboard and plugging it into a Tascam US-366 optical in. The specs on the Tascam say it's 192K/24 bit compatible. The outputs of the Tascam would then go to a Parasound PHP-850 preamp and then to the amp section of a Mac 1900 receiver which drives the headphones.

    Has anyone had experience with the Tascam when used in this manner, or perhaps can anyone suggest a better solution in the same price range? I am currently using the Radio Shack DAC for this purpose.
  2. sattech
    hi jnorris,
    I'll chuck in my 2 cents on the US-366, as I could find nothing on it when I bought mine.
    I've been using Tascam gear for 30 years and have a familiarity with it, from 8, 16 & 24 track analog recorders, professional headphone amplifiers and mixing consoles, to this new "domestic" sound card unit.
    About a year ago, I purchased a Tascam US-366 for home recording.
    I've ended up doing more listening than recording, due to the detail it provides.
    It does play 24/192k files, 24/196, 16/44 etc etc.
    Most of my commercially recorded stuff is in 24/96 for album playback purposes, I find that of most benefit, just a personal preference.
    But I record stringed instruments in 24/192. I've been an instrument maker and I do believe the higer sample rate and bit depth offer simply "more" of the tonal qualities that I spend so many hundreds of hours building into my instruments.
    Without geting into a HiRes debate here, I managed with the Tascam US-366, through poor archiving to blind test myself acorss the same album (Beck - Morning Phase 2014). I had HDTracks 24/96k download, a 2014 Vinyl rip at 24/96k and a 100MB MP3 file, all 3 files, of the same album. I thought I was going to be a HiRes devotee, given some of the stuff I heard. I questioned the validity of that after a fulfilling listen to the aforementioned album, only to check and find it had been the "lowest quality" version, the 100MB MP3 version. I think there are issues with the HDTracks recording, clipping and distorion in Bass. The vinyl rip was flat and uninspiring (due to the ripper's rig) but for some inexplicable reason the MP3 cuts it the best, go figure...
    I've repeated the blind experiment, with the same results, I can now pick which file is playing, by ear.
    As for other albums? No idea, yet. I record at 24/192 and master down to 16/44 for CD distribution, purley because that is the format people expect from me.
    The US-366 input preamps are nice, analogous even, like a JFET rather than opamp sound, up to about 9/10 gain, then they get fairly noisy and hissy. Mixing and matching gain structure into these preamps is key, with the right equipmet (in my case a Sunrise preamp with 2 X Burr Brown OPA2134s in the circuit, providing about +3db gain) I can achieve very clean and quiet low noise recordings of my instruments.
    Tascam do know how to make a preamp, or mixer strip, very well.
    Phantom power works OK.
    I run it from a WIndows 7 ACER PC, 64 bit, 4GB RAM etc
    Straight through the USB port and I've had no problems recording 4 tracks @ 24/192k simultaneously into cubase.
    The TASCAM software mixer interface is cumbersome for an analog console user, and Cubase frustrates me no end, but it all works fine. The TASCAM mixer interface has onboard effects, EQ, compression etc - ALL of which is applied at 16/44, which was a disappointment, but I am able to apply FX and VST plugins through my DAW software anyway, at 24/96.
    I've not tried the optical out, I have nowhere for it to go.
    I run mostly old amps, I like them.
    I've run the Stereo L & R output (2 X 1/4" jacks) into my Rotel RA-810, but prefer my NAD Model 140 amplifier.
    I've also tried my own Power Amplifer, based around the monolithic LM3886 IC, it's punchy, clear and present, but I still prefer the NAD over my own design.
    I can't comment on a dedicated DAC, or headphones as I've only a cheap pair of closed back Samson headphones and need some much better high quality reference headphones with closed back, for recording.
    (That's why I'm here, I'm looking to re-acquaint myself with some old Sennheisers I used to try occasionally).
    The DACs in the US-366, from what I've read are not highly regarded, the device number is unknown to me at this point. But they sure are not like a Sabre 32 bit DAC chips from an OPPO BDP95 or some such brilliant device.
    So my signal path is:
    ACER PC > USB > TASCAM US-366 > for monitoring (Headphone output to HP)
                                                           > for Stereo out > NAD Model 140 > all 1950/60s Fane, Altec Lansing, or ELAC speaker systems.
    I'm not sure it's that useful to you, but it's about 40 lines more than I could find out when I had to buy online, without testing it. The only disappointment is the onboard mixer software, IMO.
    Other than that, it does what it says it will, efficiently, reliably and cost-effectively.
    I have nothing to comapre it to except a friends monstrous Presonous/Logic Audio setup, hardly a fair comparison for the litle Tascam US-366.
    This is not very informative, but I hope it helps.
    When I locate a better set of headphones, I shall be beter equipped to go into more specific detail, if desired.
    Any other questions, or tests you wish me to carry out, just say the word and I'll do my best.
  3. jnorris
    Thanks, Sattech, for all that. It was very informative. After reading about the Tascam and other interfaces I purchased the Steinberg UR12, but it turned out to be kind of noisy in my system. It's probably more the fault of my system than the UR12, but nonetheless it's going back to the store today. The UR12 is a USB only device, no optical, which is probably the cause of all the noise. I'm currently using a cheap Radio Shack DAC that is dead silent. I compared the audio output of the Radio Shack with that of the Steinberg and heard no improvement. I may be tin-eared, but that's another reason it's going back.
  4. sattech
    My PC knowledge ends about 7 or 8 years ago, so ideas from me may be a bit dated...
    But whilst we still have many design artifacts of the X86 based PC layout, I suppose some of this is relevant.
    Somewhere I read that shared USB devices could cause noise across the serial bus.
    I think it was in the Tascam US366 manual, that said not to use any other USB devices at the same time as the US366.
    But,I broke all the rules anyway, just to see how far I could get away with it.
    It's not like I'm printing while I record or anything...
    I use a wireless desktop, via USB as the keyboard in my laptop is on the blink and I can't be bothered repairing it.
    If I move the mouse around whilst in record, I can hear a very quiet noise, but I don't use the mouse when recording, my hands are full with guitar.
    I've had no noise issues with noise with that US366 and a stock WIN 7, 4GB RAM, ACER laptop, no upgrades.
    Tascam/Teac have probably 40+ years experience in preamp design, so I have no issues with noise with the US366.
    I did mean to get around to ripping the optical DVD drive out of my laptop and putting in a 2nd HDD.
    (Possibly making C drive into SSHD and shifting the C drive into D position, in the old DVD slot)
    This would dedicate C:/ drive to run programs & DAW software duties, and leave D:/ drive as the target directory for recorded/recording audio data.
    This always worked well on the old IDE drive systems for me, designate the drives, take the load off the processor, with RAM, dedicated video & sound cards and leave it plenty of room, not to stress, but that was my knowledge from 1990s PC architecture.
    A standard laptop DVD drive can usually be removed and put into an external case for under $10 (on amazon) with a SATA to USB adapter, so one is not bereft of optical drives, if required. Then a 2nd HDD put in a carrier tray (again, on Amazon, for like $7) in it's place, giving the 2 HDD setup I like for recording audio.
    In the past, I've always found HDD noise through the system could be pretty loud, maybe not audibly, but measurably. certainly above any other specified noise floor for any one part of the signal path through a PC. Some of my more knowledgeable tech friends have shown me my noise issues on oscilloscopes before and helped work out where they came from.
    PCs are generally noisy anyway (relatively speaking), with switch-mode power supplies, which are renowned for their noise characteristics, unless manufactured to a much higher spec than domestic PC use. We used to make switch-mode PSU's for satellite amplifiers and we made those quiet, but it was not cheap.
    I use toroidal transformers in my PSUs of my amps, like ROTEL sometimes do, they can be really quiet.
    I did notice with differing brands and designs of PSU units for desktop PCs. that I got less noise from some of them.
    I've not yet tried a Solid State HDD, but rumor has it there is a lot less noise with no HDD motors to interfere.
    A lot of noise comes back to good old Earthing/Grounding checks and multimeter work.
    If there is an Earth loop, or a lifted Earth somewhere, it will dutifully act as an antenna and probably pickup any internal RF, from any number of places.
    I have a little RF probe tool left from telecom tech days (one half of an F-Set), I can position it on any part of a PC and hear from it's speaker, what each type of noise sounds like, coming from each component.
    I can hear HDD noise with it and trace it through cables, I can hear the RAM screaming away, and almost any other component that emits some kind of RF and most do.
    If I have a noise problem, I always check for solid Earthing, good connections to chassis, check the PCB rail around the outside edge, check (or mod) all the filter caps in the PSU, sometimes on the motherboard too and generally tidy up, sometimes I can rid a system of noise, sometimes not.
    It may be the Steinberg card is the problem, I have no familiarity with them, but as a general rule, when I buy electronics I buy from the few principal manufacturers that have experience in that area. I'm not sure if Steinberg have any credentials long term in the electronics manufacturing industry, or who makes their stuff, no idea, so I can't comment. I went for Tascam, because I knew that I would probably get low noise preamps and I did.
    I still use 2 preamps in the front end of a 1970s reel to reel tape machine sometimes, they are quiet and have a nice sound.
    I've heard far better preamps, but not for the $$$ of the US366, given it's ability to easily handle 4 incoming tracks and send them all to C drive, at 192K, with a 32 bit float.
    I've put it near tube amps, Variac, PSUs, wireless cards, mobile phone gprs, wcdma, 3g, 4g, anything short of a power drill and the US366 won't pick it up, even then it must be through the phantom power circuit, as it's pretty lightweight, running a cheap internal step up transformer from a 5VDC USB power feed and all...
    The power drill from a neighbours house does come out of my guitar amp. but that's an issue with pre-historic house wiring...
    I've never had even a single glitch or latency issue with the US 366, not one.
    Touch wood it stays that way...
  5. jnorris
    I moved to SSD on all of my machines, laptop and desktop, even my wife's machine, and I'm not going back. I did retain the old HDD for storage though.

    I'm currently using the Radio Shack DAC, fed by the optical out on the computer, with the outputs of the DAC going to a Parasound PHP-850 preamp and the amp section of a MacIntosh 1900 receiver. The speakers are Martin Logan Motion 2's or RHA MA750i headphones (among others).

    The Steinberg UR12 (which is made by Yamaha, by the way), was connected to the USB port for audio and it's outputs were connected to the same system as the Radio Shack DAC. It has the option of being powered either by the USB port itself or from an external power supply. When powered by the USB port the noise was unacceptable, but when externally powered the noise was evident only when the volume control on the preamp was raised above the 10:00 position. The noise level remained constant regardless of the volume control setting on the Steinberg or on the computer.

    I'm pretty sure it's a grounding issue, and might respond to more extraordinary measures along those lines, but after comparing the two interfaces via recordings I made (recorded into a Sony PCM-M10 at 96K/24) and hearing no difference, I didn't feel the effort was worth it.

    I cracked open both devices and found that the Radio Shack was built around the Cirrus Logic CS8416-CZZ chip (see the insides here http://www.dutchforce.com/~eforum/index.php?showtopic=39964&st=0&pid=351251&#entry351251), and the Steinberg uses the Cirrus Logic CS4270-CZZ. Neither are particularly well-regarded. The Steinberg also has a headphone output powered by the extremely average 4580 opamp.

    I might just have to save up for a better optical DAC...
  6. sattech
    I would eventually like to get an OPPO player, not so much for the Optical drive capability, but for just listening, it would be great to get rid of PC software, operating systems, intrusive updates and all that, just for listening. But this is an expensive hobby, indeed.
    The OPPO player is useless for recording, I know.
    But with an OPPO 95, 4 X 64GB USB sticks formatted in NTFS and shoved into a hub, one can listen to music at high resolution, through the Sabre 32 bit DACs, with no moving parts, all powered up by a far more conventional Toroidal transformer based PSU, made by Rotel, and they make nice PSUs, always have. I've never had a noisy Rotel, I actually gave my RA-810 to a mate, to eliminate some inherent mains power issues in his block of flats, as I knew the old Rotel had a comprehensive filter network of caps in the PSU section. That completely sorted out the clicks and buzzes coming in through the mains into whatever his previous amp was. It's also so damn loud, he can drown out the rest of the acoustical noise too, bonus!
    Tell me jnorris, any noise from SSHDs at all? I'm curious, read a lot but have not found many user experiences other than reliability ones.
    I think you might be right on the grounding issue, some USB circuits I look at defy belief, the metal USB socket surround is connected to -ve or ground on the DC motherboard but grounding should be done in a star configuration to avoid ground loops. I think they ignored this when they wired for serial bus. Maybe USB was never intended for audio so much. IMO, USB has been highly mis-used, I mean a USB powered kettle? Come on, from 5VDC @ 1 - 2A current MAX? They must be kidding...
    I assume you're talking about the external power supply being a "wallwart" transformer.
    There might be a way to filter it, but it would probably be more hassle than sourcing an alternative sound card.
    For the time being, I'm stuck with USB, but it works.
    The US-366 has coaxial and optical jacks, but I've nowhere to send them...
    I'm an analog kind of guy, coming from the 1970s and 1980s gear, but I suppose I'll have to bite the bullet and get a dedicated DAC.
    So much technology is duplicitous in what it does these days, I loathe to buy it for features I won't use, or to pay Rolls Royce money for a dedicated device that will be obsolete by the time I unbox it!
    Well, good luck with the DAC.
    I'm not sure what chips are used in the US366, but nobody had a kind word to say about them when I was sifting reviews before I bought it.
    It does what I need it to, so I'm happy with it.
    A poor person has to take what they can cobble together and learn to build the rest.
    I may pick up a Raspberry Pi and see if I can make it into a dedicated Hi Res player, it seems to have the power to do so, a few here have done similar things.

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