System Change: SOtM PCI-e USB card
Thanks to Tasso, I’m now in possession of 2 SOtM USB cards - one PCI edition and one PCI-e edition:
My existing Paul Pang USB card will be replaced by the SOtM PCI-e edition. So what will I be expecting with this change? Read on to find out more.
Apologies for the lame pictures, don’t really have the time to take pretty pictures today.
There are some operational differences with this swap:
- Paul Pang USB was powered externally (5V via the JS-2 power supply)
- SOtM PCI-e USB is now powered internally via Molex. Not exactly too game to power externally as it requires 6.5V to 9.0V input
- My player now only has one USB 3.0 input instead of two (so I cannot find a “better” USB input, or turn surpluses ports off)
Goes without saying USB is a good tweak to do. Digital music playback is not as straightforward as it seems. If you’re using Snakeoil for a while now you’ll already be sold that digital music playback is much deeper than simply 1s and 0s.
Do not hold off on after market USB cards. They can and do make a difference, the question is whether you will like this difference or not.
Such is the case when comparing the differences between Paul Pang vs the SOtM. Here are some of my thoughts with Squeezelite 1.6.4 and LMS:
- There is a darker blackness to the background
- Separation of voices/instruments is better
- I love to localise music when listening. Picturing where everything is along a X/Y/Z plane where X is the width of the sound stage (Left and right walls), Y is the height of the sound stage(floor to ceiling) and Z is the depth (back wall to me). The SOtM card expanded the sound stage across all 3 axis. Which is pretty impressive if not outright amazing.
- There is an improvement in clarity
- Better definition to the bass response
- Because of the darker background and improvement in clarity, I can manage to hear more minute details and background noises now. This alters the timbre (how natural a sound is), but at this stage I’m not sure if timbre is more accurate or less.
Overall the sound is more focused, with improved resolution and details. The SOtM PCI-e card is more resolving, sounds can “pop out” at you better on the SOtM when compared to the Paul Pang.
The improved bass response is all quality, it reinforces the backbone, adding more ‘meat’ and ‘weight’ to the playback. There is an improvement in the physical presence, and some may find it hard to resist not dialling up the volume.
While everything is good on the technical level, be warned that your music choices may well be reduced if you decide to use the SOtM.
Modern highly compressed pop music will not fare well on the SOtM PCI-e. It will be the typical audiophile music that’ll shine here: Classical music, percussions and Jazz. The better the masterings, the more you’ll enjoy the experience.
The executive summary would be this:
SOtM is more analytical while Paul Pang is more forgiving
I’m not sure how true my next opinion is, but I have this distinct feeling SOtM is super focused on cleaning the power input to the USB, while Paul Pang is more focused on musical pleasures. I’m surprised all the power filtering on the SOtM did not dull the sound. The end result is really impressive in my books. The SOtM sits more on the extreme end of the spectrum while PP is more balanced and forgiving with poor masterings.
While both cards are an improvement over on board USB on my mITX motherboard, they are sonically different in their presentation. It’s more a matter of taste which brand you want to go with.
I’m ordering in a new PC case to test out the PCI version.
Not sure what to expect so stay tuned.
Comment from: Uncola Visitor
Comment from: traver02 Visitor
the SotM tx-USbexp is great! i power it externally using an HD-Plex PSU. not sure it makes any difference compared to the Molex +5/12V powering
I tested I2S as well…..not happy at all…i am still investigating so far BNC/SPDIF is a lot better…… complete background darkness real 3D soundstage Crispy and lively sound
Comment from: Agent Kith Member
I’m blown away by the quality of S/PDIF port on my DC-37 too. Was depressed when I broke the USB input on the DC-37, but that sadness went away when I’m just blown away by how much I’m enjoying PCM music via the S/PDIF.
Still, USB has an edge with DSD. While S/PDIF is better with redbook and higher res PCMs, quality of DSD converted to PCM isn’t as good for my tastes.
I guess moral of the story is, do not discount BNC or S/PDIF.
Comment from: traver02 Visitor
Hi Ak i am very very happy to understand you have just discovered the SPDIF/BNC output !!!!! it is really a joy
but i will carefully consider your opinions regarding USB and DSD we are testing and improving USB cables…with very good results outperforming AQ Diamond and others with a very good reputation
Which BNC option are you using as PC output???? i am still forced to use the super expensive Pink Faun bridge
I was considering a usb to coax i2s etc device but thinking about the extra shelf space and power cable was giving me a headache. Since I use a desktop pc as my source I realized it’s much more convenient to clean up the usb output.. I got the matrix usb pci-e card.. it uses a Sata power input.. results are good so far, I just got it today!