A heated debate to be sure.
Who cares about USB vs firewire DAC’s right?
Plenty of us care. I should point out that I use firewire DAC’s exclusively.
To me it just never made much sense to use a bus as flawed as USB. There are ways around the limitations of a USB DAC, and there are now plenty of companies taking advantage of these new breakthroughs.
So does that mean I will be switching to USB? Hardly…
So what’s the big deal?
USB, the good and bad:
Developed primarily for data transmission, it works by transmitting packets of data over a bus. It was never meant to transmit audio as audio needs a constant transmission link/line.
However, I have to admit this technology is actually working pretty well now. But in my mind, its still a band-aid and one that (to me) made no sense to start using in the first place.
Berkely Audio, a professional company has made a USB converter that works very well indeed. I still don’t see the need to use USB transfer my precious audio signals from my HTPC or music computer. But I digress…
Firewire, the good and bad:
Firewire is understood to be the industry standard for audio playback; At least amongst professional recording engineers.
You won’t find a USB dac in a recording engineers mastering room. Mac has even picked up on this and offers firewire DAC connectors on its highest quality computers that are typically used for recording. The interface just works better.
But there are some problems with firewire.
Namely, the drivers have to be developed by the company manufacturing the interface or DAC. (this equals expensive, which explains why small tweaky audiophile companies don’t use Fire-wire)
Firewire intrinsically, has higher jitter, which is digital distortion. (although this is easily filtered out)
This is why on cheaper firewire interfaces the drivers are sometimes really buggy and can crash.
USB has a direct protocol for drivers.
Windows supports any USB device, as does Mac. So most small companies are limited to using the USB bus. Which is why the small companies that comprise the audiophile community use USB busses for their DAC products.
Firewire drivers designed and built in house
Firewire drivers have to be designed and built in house by the firewire device company itself.
This is very expensive. And it’s a primary reason that small audiophile companies don’t use the interface on their products.
So what are you left with?
Basically, you have to get a professional firewire device to use as a DAC if you want to truly use state of the art audio data transmission.
This doesn’t bode well for the audiophile crowd.
Of whom many feel any professional audio products must not sound as good as their audiophile counterparts. They would be wrong. But they don’t know any different, so we can poke fun at them and they will never even know it. (just kidding)
The professional recording industry has come a long way in the last few years and are starting to really understand what their clients are looking for.
They are building better products. Great products even. Just look at the company Berkely Audio, a professional company that is now getting into the audiophile community with its computer based DAC products.
Companies like Benchmark, also a professional company now markets many of its products to audiophiles. And now they have the reviews and proof both in measurement’s and customer satisfaction to back it up.
USB vs Firewire Conclusion
I’m not saying that the only way to go is with a firewire DAC. Like I said, there are some designs that are showing quite well such as the Berkeley Audio Design Alpha USB Asynchronous Interface, basically a USB DAC for short. It is getting very good press and shows that USB can be done right.
Remember though, that companies are marketing what the consumer is showing interest in. Consumers are only showing interest in USB DACs because they are not aware of the superiority of the firewire interface.
Most are not even aware that firewire DAC is a possible solution to the USB vs firewire problem.
Let alone that there are already good products on the market. But this is always the case.
The public often buys what is available, what they have heard of and are comfortable with.
Lets take an inferior bus technology and force it onto the public because it is easier. Great idea, now we are stuck with it…
Sure, companies will figure out a way to make it work (like Berkely), but that is hardly the point.
In the USB DAC vs Firewire debate, in my opinion firewire is still better.