Empirical Audio, based in the Pacific Northwest, has a reputation for making excellent digital source components and accessories. They were early pioneers of USB and computer audio as well. Their USB to SPDIF converters and USB DACs are often cited as being among the very best. The flagship Overdrive USB DAC/preamp is considered state of the art by many.
Industry veteran Steve Nugent heads up Empirical and has very definite views on high performance audio. I've had the pleasure of communicating with Nugent on occasion, and he is a great believer in computer optimization with USB DACs. He thinks an active preamp is a system's weakest link (I strongly agree).
Nugent also believes sound quality, for most digital devices, revolves around the digital clocks, which are crucial for accuracy. Nugent developed a rather unique product called the Synchro-Mesh Reclocker to address this weakness in many source components. Jitter is the issue. This refers to timing inaccuracies, and virtually all experts agree, these timing variations can be audible. The accuracy of data timing depends upon an oscillator, or master clock.
Empirical says "Audio quality is improved by reclocking or logically replacing the source clock with the clock inside the Synchro-Mesh. The Synchro-Mesh provides a method to improve the sound quality of virtually any 2-channel digital audio source without needing modifications to the source device. It inserts between the source device and the DAC, SS processor or SS Receiver."
Devices that can benefit include:
- Squeezebox, all versions
- CD Transports
- Apple TV
- Music Servers
- AirPort Express
- Mac computers with Toslink output
- PCs with S/PDIF or Toslink output
- iPod/Wadia iTransport
- PC PCI cards