Hello again everyone!
A follow up report to my previous post regarding a "Network DAC". After some trial and error I believe I have discovered an alternate and superior method of adding an audiophile quality DAC to a hardwired or wireless network. The limitation of the former Apple Airplay / Optical / DAC setup is Airplay's inherent limited 44.1 kHz 16-Bit Standard CD quality resolution -my Meridian DAC and many others are capable of resolving much higher resolution rates and bit-depths; the difference in sound quality on a good Hi-Fi system being quite significant.
There exist a multitude of so called "USB Server" devices on the market, all of which theoretically extend a USB input on your computer to a small box with a LAN Ethernet Port. Most of these were designed to add a USB printer or scanner to a network. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these interfaces do not have sufficient processors to support Asynchronous or even Isochronous communications with a USB DAC or Sound Card, but the few that do could theoretically be used to connect a higher end external D/A convertor to a LAN. Through some online research and a little trial and error, I have discovered a number of products manufactured by Silex Technology (http://www.silexamerica.com/
) may have this capability. Since these are premium priced interfaces and I'm still in the experimental phase of my research, I looked for more budget minded products. I tried several Chinese made "USB Device Servers" which claimed to work with sound cards ...... one would not work at all, the other worked intermittently; both I deemed a failure. Then I read that Silex software was known to recognize and connect with a Japanese manufactured device made for a few years by Belkin, the F5L009 "Network USB Hub" (http://www.belkin.com/networkusbhub/
). As Silex builds a number of "drop in" USB Server boards to allow various manufacturers to incorporate in their design, it wasn't a far stretch to imagine Belkin utilizing this technology in their product, and the fact that Silex software detects them on a network, is an indication the products have something in common. I picked one up for peanuts on eBay, downloaded the latest software and drivers from the net and Viola! It works like a charm! Ah ...... but there is a catch in regards to using my Meridian Director DAC, and more than likely any other DAC which is not UPNP and requires proprietary drivers for their device (I am still researching and experimenting on this point); please read on:
I have a wonderful little USB DAC / Headphone amp made in South Korea by Gyrocom / Audiotrak called the Pridigy Cube (http://audiotrack.net/en/usb/528
) -it is built with many audiophile quality components and capable of 24Bit/96 kHz resolution. It is a plug n play device with it's own built in drivers, has standard 1/4 " + 3.5mm headphone out jacks with an Alps volume control, one pair Standard RCA Analogue outputs, one digital coaxial output and one Toslink Optical Digital Output -all to be had brand new with priority shipping direct from the manufacturer for less than $100.00. On it's own it is a mighty fine DAC, and once plugged into my wired / wireless network via LAN cable and Belkin USB Network Hub, works flawlessly running wireless from Music Bee on my laptop, playing high resolution files including 24 bit HDCD. I also ran a few 24-Bit/96kHz files without a hitch. This arrangement offers much better sound quality than the Apple Airplay setup, and the Prodigy DAC is available to any computer on my network.
Now to my Meridian Director DAC -unfortunately, this premium priced DAC will not run directly from the Belkin Network USB Hub -the root cause of this is still under investigation, but I suspect that the Meridian being an Asynchronous device utilizing it's own internal clock to minimize jitter on a USB link, requires a USB Server with a more powerful processor than the 5 year old, long discontinued Belkin USB Hub. Silex Technology does manufacture a device which they claim is compatible with Asynchronous USB devices and sound cards .... I have yet to try one in my system. For the time being I have found a work around which functions equally well -taking the optical output from the Audiotrak Prodigy DAC, and feeding it into the Meridian Director DAC ...... this works and sounds fantastic, with no further financial investment required!
One last detail however - the inability to bypass Windows sound drivers and use Wasapi and Asio drivers for either of the above mentioned DACs while connected as a network device -selecting them from the drop down list of devices and drivers in MB player's settings, result in immediate blue screen errors on both Windows Vista and 7 64-Bit the moment the next file is played. This is not a problem specific to Music Bee, as attempts with other Music Players including native Windows Media Player result in the same tragic crash of the OS. I suspect this is an issue that someone with a little more knowledge of windows protocols might be able to solve -any thoughts or suggestions regarding this would be greatly appreciated. For the time being I will have to continue to use the Direct Sound Output / Primary Sound Driver option which despite it's shortcomings, is 100 % stable and still sounds great on my system. The premium priced Silex Technology device ( http://www.silexamerica.com/products/connectivity-solutions/device-networking/usb-parallel-connectivity/sx-ds-4000u2/
) may also offer a solution to this problem -will keep you posted on that as one is on it's way to me now. This detail will be the final challenge in the pursuit of a high resolution "Network DAC" that can offer the best of all worlds and run with direct connect audio drivers.
In conclusion I think it is safe to say that a Universal High-End Networked DAC is no longer a "dream of unicorns" as members of another audio forum have coined the expression ..... this dream is very much alive and real. Hope other members and guests of this forum will find this information useful.