by Karl Sigman
As the digital audio revolution marches ahead at an exponential rate, audiophiles sometimes have to deal with the fact that many high-end audio devices one wishes to use or test by directly sending it digital audio files (such as to a DAC or a device with its own internal DAC) do not support a USB input from a computer as server. This is because the device in question is an old model (understandable) or it is a new device that is just not yet up to speed or up to the task (not understandable). Whatever the reason, one must decide on a solution, which in turn led me to the new WYRED4SOUND μLINK USB to S/PDIF Converter.
Although there are other converters on the market, what attracted me to the μLINK is its adaptability, its size, it does not require a separate power source, requires no special software/driver for Apple Computers (or for Linux on a PC), and at $299, is considerably less expensive than other high-quality alternatives (some of which are as expensive as a high-end DAC itself).
WYRED4SOUND has already made a name for itself for its remarkably small/compact Class D amplifiers of superior sound quality and at a very reasonable price (my review of their tiny W4S mono block mAmps is here), thus supplying further motivation for me to try out their new μLINK.
The basics of what one really needs from a USB to S/PDIF Converter: Asynchronous XMOS 24 bit 192kHz USB input, compatibility with both Integer and Direct mode, and a variety (not just one) of low-jitter digital outputs (all three of BNC, Toslink, and Coaxial for example); exactly what the μLINK offers. Also cool about the μLINK is the illuminated ‘lightning bolt’ ID on top of the unit. Power up, and when the ID is lit, you’re ready to go.
For my serious testing, since my DAC already has its own outstanding asynchronous XMOS 24 bit 192kHz USB input, I replaced a direct USB connection from my Mac Mini to the DAC with the μLINK using the BNC output on the μLINK and the Coaxial input on the DAC. After listening to an extensive variety of music over several days switching back and forth between USB direct versus using the μLINK as an intermediary, I concluded that the difference in sound quality was essentially non-existent. Even my 10-year old son helped me to come to this conclusion (he has a great ear; I played pieces he is familiar with and likes). I repeated the experiment using an equivalent cable with Coaxial on both ends; same result. Very impressive.
Hats off for Wyred4sound. They have once again shown that it is possible to get outstanding sound quality from a tiny, simple-to-use, energy-efficient unit that does not cost an arm and a leg. The μLINK gets my highest recommendation.
[We are proud to award the WYRED4SOUND μLINK USB to S/PDIF Converter an Audiophilia Star Component Award. Congratulations! - Ed]
WYRED4SOUND μLINK USB to S/PDIF Converter
Manufactured by WYRED4SOUND LLC
4235 Traffic Way, Atascadero, CA 93422
Asynchronous 24 bit 192kHz USB input
Driverless for Mac and Linux systems
Compatible with Integer/Direct mode
Low jitter BNC, Toslink, and Coaxial outputs
Covered by a 5 Year Warranty (Original Purchaser)
Computer (as server) : Apple Mac Mini.
DAC: PS Audio PerfectWave MKII
USB cable: Wireworld Platinum USB cable
Digital interconnect cables: Acoustic Zen Absolute Digital 75 Digital Cables, 1 Meter.