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Please help me bypass the S/PDIF-port on my PC:s motherboard

SoundDude89

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Hi there,

This problem has been consuming a lot of my time the recent week, and I found out about this forum through googling reviews on various external DAC's, and so I registered here and hope that some of you fine audiophiles might be able to help me out with this problem of mine!

You see, I recently upgraded most of the components of my stationary computer. I got a new chassis, a new motherboard, a new CPU, and new CPU cooler, new RAM and a new PSU. The motherboard is fantastic, save for one thing: the S/PDIF-port is faulty, and occasionally cuts off the audio completely. Other sound devices, such as headphones connected through the 3.5mm jack, works fine. The motherboard in question is MSI MAG Z790 Tomahawk WIFI DDR4. I contacted MSI and the local retailer I bought the motherboard from, and asked them for help in resolving the issue, but no dice.

My setup is this:
2 Bowers & Wilkins 606 speakers
1 NAD C 328 Hybrid Digital DAC Amplifier
These are connected to the motherboard via an optical cable from the S/PDIF-port of the NAD C 328 to the S/PDIF-port on the motherboard.

I think it sounds great, but as mentioned, the motherboard spontaneously cuts off the audio, and only by rebooting the computer is the problem temporarily solved. The version of BIOS and all the drivers are the most recent one.

Apparently this is a common problem with the soundcard on the motherboard, the Realtek ALC4080.

I really like the motherboard, and would like to keep it. I have to bypass the S/PDIF-port on the motherboard in particular to do this though. This would have been easy, if the NAD C 328 had a USB-port, but alas, it does not.

I've gotten the recommendation of buying an internal sound card for the motherboard that I plug into one of its PCI Express ports, though some people claim that these are more or less useless, since they also often seem to have great problems with functioning properly. Others recommend an external, dedicated DAC, which would connect to the computer through USB, and then to the NAD C 328 either through TOSLINK (and thus using the DAC of the NAD C 328), or through RCI.

The last option is what I was going to test out, but I really, really don't want to pay the sum required to fix this solution. What I was recommended by swedish retailer Hifi-klubben was to buy this external headphones amp/dac: PRO-JECT HEAD BOX S2 DIGITAL. I would then connect the HEAD BOX S2 to the computer via USB, and then connect the HEAD BOX S2 to the NAD C 328 through RCA, thus bypassing the sound card of the motherboard and the DAC of the NAD C 328. This will be very expensive for me though, and would cost me a little more than 4000 SEK, or roughly 365 dollars. I'm not to keen on it either, since the DAC of the NAD C 328 may well be better than the DAC of the HEAD BOX S2.

The best, or at least the cheapest solution whilst I keep the current sound quality of my setup, was recommended by a user on MSI:s forum, was to simply to buy a HDMI to optical link converter.

This kind of converter sound great! I can't find any from any retailer I usually buy audio-equipment from though, and so I would like to ask you guys what you think of this solution, and if so, where I can buy a HDMI to optical link converter which you think is a worthy investment.

If this isn't a feasible option, then what would you recommend I do to fix the issue? Sadly, no other motherboard is on the menu. I really like the Z790 Tomahawk, and this problem won't be resolved by simply buying a more expensive motherboard, since they all seem to use Realtek's latest version of their lineup of sound cards, and they all seem to have problems with them functioning properly. If I buy a cheaper motherboard, I miss out on features which I would really like, and for those features the Z790 Tomahawk is a very sweet deal, save for the abysmal functioning of its sound.

Thank you in advance! :)

Kind regards

EDIT: I guess this is the kind of converter we're talking about? :/
 
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SoundDude89

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I would buy a Hifime UT23 and be done with it.
Thank you all very much for your recommendations! :)

I noticed at the description of the Douk Audio U2 on its website that it says:
"Warm Tips:
Please note that U2 only supports 2.0 channel stereo audio."


My amplifier/dac, the NAD C 328, does support the connection of a subwoofer, which I'd like to add to the setup sometime in the coming years. I take it the Douk Audio U2 would not be able to handle that? To be frank, would any of these soultions?

Cheers!
 

staticV3

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My amplifier/dac, the NAD C 328, does support the connection of a subwoofer, which I'd like to add to the setup sometime in the coming years. I take it the Douk Audio U2 would not be able to handle that? To be frank, would any of these soultions?
The NAD takes stereo signals, splits the bass content, and send that out to a subwoofer. All of these stereo adapters will therefore work.
 

Killingbeans

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My amplifier/dac, the NAD C 328, does support the connection of a subwoofer, which I'd like to add to the setup sometime in the coming years. I take it the Douk Audio U2 would not be able to handle that? To be frank, would any of these soultions?

Looks like the subwoofer output on the C328 is simply the stereo audio combined to mono and low-passed at 100Hz.

Like @staticV3 says, all of the proposed solutions should work just fine.
 
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SoundDude89

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The NAD takes stereo signals, splits the bass content, and send that out to a subwoofer. All of these stereo adapters will therefore work.
Looks like the subwoofer output on the C328 is simply the stereo audio combined to mono and low-passed at 100Hz.

Like @staticV3 says, all of the proposed solutions should work just fine.
Once again, I have to send to you my most heartfelt thanks! Your recommendations are exactly what I've been searching for the last two weeks! :)
On a swedish forum a user recommended this device:
I see that it's been favorably reviewed by the residential Pink Panther:
Would this be an option as well, do you think?

Lastly, I'd like to ask you guys about the role of each DAC in the "chain of events", so to speak. If I were to use, say, the Douk Audio U2, and connected that to the NAD C 328 through TOSLINK, then which of the DAC's would "win" over the other? Would the DAC in the Douk Audio U2 be the prevailing one, or would the DAC in the NAD C 328 be the one that has "the final say" in which signal is finally being sent out to the speakers?
Cheers!
 

staticV3

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Lastly, I'd like to ask you guys about the role of each DAC in the "chain of events", so to speak. If I were to use, say, the Douk Audio U2, and connected that to the NAD C 328 through TOSLINK, then which of the DAC's would "win" over the other? Would the DAC in the Douk Audio U2 be the prevailing one, or would the DAC in the NAD C 328 be the one that has "the final say" in which signal is finally being sent out to the speakers?
A DAC turns digital into analog. The Douk U2 has entirely digital I/O. It does not contain a DAC. If it did, then it would have an analog output.

If you do PC->Douk U2->NAD C 328, then the only DAC that is in your signal chain is the one inside the NAD.
Same deal with the Hifime UT23.
 

Killingbeans

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Would this be an option as well, do you think?

Yes. Or any other cheap high performing USB DAC.

Your motherboard has a couple of USB-C outputs, so a good smartphone dongle would probably work just fine as well*.

* Assuming you don't get a nasty ground loop going.

Lastly, I'd like to ask you guys about the role of each DAC in the "chain of events", so to speak. If I were to use, say, the Douk Audio U2, and connected that to the NAD C 328 through TOSLINK, then which of the DAC's would "win" over the other? Would the DAC in the Douk Audio U2 be the prevailing one, or would the DAC in the NAD C 328 be the one that has "the final say" in which signal is finally being sent out to the speakers?

Douk Audio U2 is not a DAC. DAC means Digital to Analogue Converter. The U2 is a digital-to-digital interface. It translates one digital signal to another type of digital signal. No conversion to analogue. The DAC in the NAD "wins" in the sense that it's the only actual DAC in the chain.
 
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SoundDude89

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A DAC turns digital into analog. The Douk U2 has entirely digital I/O. It does not contain a DAC. If it did, then it would have an analog output.

If you do PC->Douk U2->NAD C 328, then the only DAC that is in your signal chain is the one inside the NAD.
Same deal with the Hifime UT23.
Yes. Or any other cheap high performing USB DAC.

Your motherboard has a couple of USB-C outputs, so a good smartphone dongle would probably work just fine as well*.

* Assuming you don't get a nasty ground loop going.



Douk Audio U2 is not a DAC. DAC means Digital to Analogue Converter. The U2 is a digital-to-digital interface. It translates one digital signal to another type of digital signal. No conversion to analogue. The DAC in the NAD "wins" in the sense that it's the only actual DAC in the chain.
Aha, I see! That settles it then! :)

Of the products you've proposed, the SMSL PO100PRO AK4493S DAC Chip (I guess it's not a DAC despite what it says on the website, but rather a device with an entirely digital input/output, like what @staticV3 describes) and the Douk Audio U2 looks the most appealing. They're definitely the most economical products for me as well!

You know, I do get curious though. I have put an order on the PRO-JECT HEAD BOX S2 DIGITAL, as I stated in my OP, and even though it's very expensive I would still like to try it out and then return it, only so that I can get a taste of the kind of DAC that it houses (the retailer don't mind — they've been offering these generous conditions at least since I bought my current setup).

I suppose I will get the answer in due time, but I also thought to ask you guys this, since you're the audiophile experts: do you believe the DAC in the NAD C 328 is of higher quality than that of the HEAD BOX S2, or of those USB DAC:s that comes with the SMSL SU-1, the Topic DX1 and the FiiO K3? I mean, I know that higher pricepoints does not necessarily equal "better audio" (which I suppose is subjective to some degree), but the NAD C 328 did cost roughly 650-680 dollars when I bought it, and I just kind of think its integrated DAC has to count for something, right? ;)

On the website, it says the HEAD BOX S2 uses ESS Sabre 9038 DAC. I contacted NAD about what kind of DAC audio chip it uses last week, but have yet to hear from them.
I guess it's impossible for you to say, since sound quality is dependent on so very many factors, but I thought to ask anyway!

Cheers!
 

staticV3

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Of the products you've proposed, the SMSL PO100PRO AK4493S DAC Chip (I guess it's not a DAC despite what it says on the website, but rather a device with an entirely digital input/output
The SMSL PO100Pro is a DDC without any DAC inside.
The SMSL PO100 AK is a DDC+DAC with an AK4493S inside.
 
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SoundDude89

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The SMSL PO100Pro is a DDC without any DAC inside.
The SMSL PO100 AK is a DDC+DAC with an AK4493S inside.
I see! Thank you for clarifying!

I just got the reply from NAD as I'm having this conversation with you fine people. Here's what they say:

Thank you for contacting the NAD Electronics Support Crew.
The DAC used in the NAD C328 is a Texas Instruments PCM 1796
It's difficult for me to say is the project box will give a better sound.
The best thing to do would be to actually audition the units in person.


Do any of you have an opinion on the Texas Instruments PCM 1796? Do you think it's better or worse than the ESS Sabre 9038 DAC, or the AK4493S DAC? :)
 

Killingbeans

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I guess it's impossible for you to say, since sound quality is dependent on so very many factors, but I thought to ask anyway!

One thing is for sure, DACs are hardly ever a bottleneck.

The one in your NAD is most likely perfecly ample. The audible differences between a good cheap implementation and SOTA are minute at best. Not something that will become a nuisance, and definitely not any of the breathtaking night-and-day revelations that the industry would like you to believe in.
 
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SoundDude89

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One thing is for sure, DACs are hardly ever a bottleneck.

The one in your NAD is most likely perfecly ample. The audible differences between a good cheap implementation and SOTA are minute at best. Not something that will become a nuisance, and definitely not any of the breathtaking night-and-day revelations that the industry would like you to believe in.
Thank you for taking me to school, mr/ms beans! :)

Alright, last few questions (really!):

So as far as DDC:s go, I think I will go with either the:
Hifime UT23 (the cheapest but also least stylish)
Douk Audio U2 (the red one is very charming)
This audio extractor splitter converter (it has a nice, conveniently placed port for headphones, though I would miss out on the DAC of the NAD C 328 for the headphones)

Question:
This review mentions that the Douk Audio U2 supports up to 24 Bits / 96Khz. What does this mean? The NAD C 328 supports up to 24 bit/192 kHz. Since I'm a dunce, and I don't know what this mean (I mean, I guess that the more bits per frequency means better audio?), I'd like to ask you if this means that the Douk Audio U2 doesn't support the full range of information that the NAD C 328 can process? The same applies for the Hifime UT23.

Now, as far as external USB DDC:s+DAC:s go, these are the ones I've gotten recommended:
S.M.S.L SU-1 (probably won't buy this, since I'm fairly confident that the DAC in the NAD C 328 is good, based on what mr/ms beans said and what I've managed to find online about the Texas Instruments PCM 1796)
Topping DX1 (looks stellar, doesn't cost much more than the aforementioned DDC:s, and has a convenient headphone jack)
FiiO K3 (same reasons as the Topping DX1)

Question:
If I were to connect these DDC:s+DAC:s to the NAD C 328 through TOSLINK or coaxial, which DAC would "win"? Since the DAC in the NAD C 328 is "the last one" in the music chain, I figure the NAD:s DAC would "win", but perhaps there will be distortions instead, with a DAC in the motherboard, a DAC in the external USB DDC+DAC and a DAC in the NAD C 328?

I think I would only go for one of the DDC:s+DAC:s if the NAD:s DAC "wins", although I understand of course that the DAC the headphones would use would be the DAC in one of those external USB DAC:s.

Final question:
Which one of these would you choose? Mr/ms @staticV3 would go for the Hifime UT23 and call it a day, but perhaps the rest of you feel different? I think the Hifime UT23 seems to be an excellent choice, but I have to admit that I would rather have something a bit more stylish. I'm vain, I suppose.

Cheers! :)
 

AnalogSteph

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Hifime UT23 (the cheapest but also least stylish)
It's dangling somewhere behind the PC, how stylish does it have to be?

This audio extractor splitter converter (it has a nice, conveniently placed port for headphones, though I would miss out on the DAC of the NAD C 328 for the headphones)
I would rather avoid using an HDMI audio extractor... jitter levels with HDMI generally are not pretty.

Question:
This review mentions that the Douk Audio U2 supports up to 24 Bits / 96Khz. What does this mean? The NAD C 328 supports up to 24 bit/192 kHz. Since I'm a dunce, and I don't know what this mean (I mean, I guess that the more bits per frequency means better audio?), I'd like to ask you if this means that the Douk Audio U2 doesn't support the full range of information that the NAD C 328 can process? The same applies for the Hifime UT23.
Well... do you even have any source material with sample rates past 96 kHz?

Even if you do, resampling to a "lowly" 96 kHz is not a real biggie. It is enough to comfortably cover twice the audio bandwidth. Unless of course you were planning to operate a pirate FM radio station with software stereo encoding, which needs comfortable coverage of 38 kHz + 15 kHz = 53 kHz (or more than 57 kHz if you want RDS / RBDS subcarriers), and Nyquist says that fs = 96 kHz isn't good for more than 48 kHz at most. ;)

Please note, resampling requires that you have enough processing headroom. This should typically be the case if volume normalization is being used (e.g. ReplayGain). Modern players generally have plenty of internal headroom but very few audio devices support float32 samples, so it has to be converted to integer somewhere... plus there's the hard limiter APO that's in the shared mode audio chain on Windows.

Topping DX1 (looks stellar, doesn't cost much more than the aforementioned DDC:s, and has a convenient headphone jack)
Note, the DX1 is not a DDC - it doesn't have any digital out and is purely a DAC + amp. Their D10s would, however.

Question:
If I were to connect these DDC:s+DAC:s to the NAD C 328 through TOSLINK or coaxial, which DAC would "win"? Since the DAC in the NAD C 328 is "the last one" in the music chain, I figure the NAD:s DAC would "win", but perhaps there will be distortions instead, with a DAC in the motherboard, a DAC in the external USB DDC+DAC and a DAC in the NAD C 328?
The only DAC actually being used would be the NAD's, the others are just sitting idle. There may still be some measurable influence of jitter levels, but that's about it. Your setup on the software side is a lot more important.
 
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sam_adams

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I noticed at the description of the Douk Audio U2

Douk Audio U2 Pro on a Macbook Pro 5,4, USB out to SPDIF in:

997Hz, 96KHz, 24 bit, 512K FFT, Cosine Sum 9-235 window, 87.5% overlap, 32 averages:
Douk U2 Pro 997.png


32 Multi-tone, 96KHz, 24 bit, 512K FFT, Cosine Sum 9-235 window, 87.5% overlap, 32 averages:
Douk U2 Pro Multi.png


SMPTE 60Hz/7KHz, 96KHz, 24 bit, 512K FFT, Cosine Sum 9-235 window, 87.5% overlap, 32 averages:
Douk U2 Pro SMPTE60Hz7KHz.png


SMPTE 19KHz/20KHz, 96KHz, 24 bit, 512K FFT, Cosine Sum 9-235 window, 87.5% overlap, 32 averages:
Douk U2 Pro 19K20K.png
 
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SoundDude89

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It's dangling somewhere behind the PC, how stylish does it have to be?
Very!
:O
I would rather avoid using an HDMI audio extractor... jitter levels with HDMI generally are not pretty.
Noted! I'll avoid such a device, then.
It's dangling somewhere behind the PC, how stylish does it have to be?


I would rather avoid using an HDMI audio extractor... jitter levels with HDMI generally are not pretty.


Well... do you even have any source material with sample rates past 96 kHz?

Even if you do, resampling to a "lowly" 96 kHz is not a real biggie. It is enough to comfortably cover twice the audio bandwidth. Unless of course you were planning to operate a pirate FM radio station with software stereo encoding, which needs comfortable coverage of 38 kHz + 15 kHz = 53 kHz (or more than 57 kHz if you want RDS / RBDS subcarriers), and Nyquist says that fs = 96 kHz isn't good for more than 48 kHz at most. ;)

Please note, resampling requires that you have enough processing headroom. This should typically be the case if volume normalization is being used (e.g. ReplayGain). Modern players generally have plenty of internal headroom but very few audio devices support float32 samples, so it has to be converted to integer somewhere... plus there's the hard limiter APO that's in the shared mode audio chain on Windows.


Note, the DX1 is not a DDC - it doesn't have any digital out and is purely a DAC + amp. Their D10s would, however.


The only DAC actually being used would be the NAD's, the others are just sitting idle. There may still be some measurable influence of jitter levels, but that's about it. Your setup on the software side is a lot more important.
Well, you forced me to go to school. I've read up a little bit about the absolute basics of digital audio from this article:

I was still a bit confused, so I googled about bitrates and samplerates for lossless audio files (I have a lot of them!), and found this thread on a forum:
https://www.reddit.com/r/audiophile/comments/t24e8f
There's a lot to read about!

But say I do have audio files with a sample rate of 192 kHz, then wouldn't it be much better do be able to play that directly? I'm still confused about what all the intricacies of this means. Noise floor, aliasing, quantization, harmonic relationships, dithering, low-pass filtering, downsampling and whatnot are all an intangible mess to me! :)

When you say that 96 kHz comfortably covers twive the audio bandwidth, what do you compare this to?

In the article linked above, the author says:

"However, if this audio were recorded at 192 kHz, for example, frequencies of up to 96 kHz in the original audio would be recorded. This is obviously way outside of what humans can hear, but pitching the audio down causes these inaudible frequencies to become audible. As a result, you can greatly drop a recording’s pitch while preserving high-frequency content. For more information on audio sample rate, be sure to check out the video below."

I guess it's all about the process of recording the original, analoge audio and then converting it (thus compressing it, as in compressing reality to binary digital?) to a digital file of lesser bit- and sample rates?
Note, the DX1 is not a DDC - it doesn't have any digital out and is purely a DAC + amp. Their D10s would, however.
Thank you for clarifying.
The only DAC actually being used would be the NAD's, the others are just sitting idle. There may still be some measurable influence of jitter levels, but that's about it. Your setup on the software side is a lot more important.
Thanks for prodiving me with the thread. I'll be sure to check out what the author of the post recommends! :)
Douk Audio U2 Pro on a Macbook Pro 5,4, USB out to SPDIF in:
Since I'm a dunce, could you explain what all of this means without overly technical vernacular, haha? :)
If not already done, I would insist on having an optical link somewhere between the PC and the analog conversion. These machines are very good at generating ground loops. So better use an USB to spdif converter than a DAC.
It's a good thing I posted this thread, since I get to learn about the different pros and cons of the solutions proposed. I'll be happy with an external USB DDC only, then!

EDIT:
Put it this way: which of these two should I choose?
S.M.S.L PO100 Pro (it says it supports 44.1 ~ 192kHz sampling rate and 1 bit, 16 ~ 24 bit depth)
Douk Audio U2 (it says it supports 44.1K - 192KHz/16-24 bit sampling rate)
 
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tcli

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Since I'm a dunce, could you explain what all of this means without overly technical vernacular, haha? :)
Douk Audio U2 works flawlessly with a MAC
Put it this way: which of these two should I choose?
S.M.S.L PO100 Pro (it says it supports 44.1 ~ 192kHz sampling rate and 1 bit, 16 ~ 24 bit depth)
Douk Audio U2 (it says it supports 44.1K - 192KHz/16-24 bit sampling rate)
The two are OK.
S.M.S.L PO100 Pro do more things that you will never need. Perhaps useful if you want to use it with a game console too (and no, don't ask about MQA or I2s :eek: )
 
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