Musical Fidelity V-Link 192 Review 
Home Theater Accessories Accessories
Written by Andre Marc   
Wednesday, 13 June 2012

A few years ago, a brand new product category appeared in high-end audio: the USB to S/PDIF converter. As a matter of fact, the explosive growth of computer audio has spawned multiple new product categories for audiophiles. These include the proliferation of USB DACs, “audiophile” grade USB cables, and high-end playback software.  The idea of using a consumer grade computer coupled with the products above as a source has taken foothold, and manufacturers have found a brand new market.

For those starting from scratch, and no other digital sources other than a computer, buying a USB DAC with a single input may make sense. The makers of USB-only DACs have probably maximized the USB input to its maximum potential and there are no additional parts needed to accommodate multiple inputs. However, if one is determined to use a computer as a USB source, but has a DAC with no suitable USB input, a converter is the answer. This is especially true if one has multiple digital sources besides a computer.  USB converters are a great choice in this context, as they generally cost well under $1000, and are very easy to integrate into a system.

Essentially, USB convertor translates your computer's USB digital output to the more common S/PDIF format. S/PDIF stands for Sony Philips Digital Interface Format. This can be in the form of coaxial RCA, optical, or BNC.  Some convertors also allow you to convert to AES/EBU, a common professional digital standard. USB converters can also be self-powered, or USB hub powered.  Most convertors on the market also operate in “asynchronous” mode, reducing jitter, and allowing the DAC to call the shots, so to speak.

Tempo, the esteemed US importer of Musical Fidelity products, sent along the brand new V-Link 192 for me to review. This is the third USB convertor Musical Fidelity has brought to market -- the first being the V-Link, then updated as the V-Link II, which handles up to 96 Khz sampling rates. The V-Link II accepted USB, and outputted either coaxial or optical S/PDIF.  The V-Link 192 accepts USB and outputs either to galvanically isolated AES/EBU via XLR or coaxial S/PDIF. The V-Link 192 is housed in the same sized, attractive minimalist chassis as the wonderful V-DAC II. The V-DAC II, by the way, is currently my budget reference DAC. The V-Link 192 retails for $399.

According to Musical Fidelity, “we designed the V-LINK family of USB to S/PDIF converters from the ground up, optimizing them for rock-solid consistency regardless of the computer or operating system involved. A low-jitter power supply feeds an ultra-high-precision clock, which is sited close to the V-LINK 192’s key components, ensuring the shortest, most accurate signal path possible.”  Does V-Link 192 live up to this billing? Read on.

 Musical Fidelity V-Link 192 USB input

Set Up & Listening:

The V- Link 192 is USB hub powered, so there is no accompanying wal wart power supply. At the end of the V-Link 192 that has the AES/EBU and coax outputs, LED lights indicate power, lock, and incoming sample rate from 48 Khz to 192 Khz.  I could make an argument that the LED indicators should be on the USB input side, as this is how I found myself naturally positioning the unit. I had to loop the cables in such a way as to have the DAC connections facing me so I could see the indicators.


Now for some particulars.  I used the V-Link 192 in my main system with a Mac Mini running Snow Leopard, using Audirvana Plus to playback FLAC files housed on an external drive. I used a six-foot Belkin Gold USB cable out from the Mini, and a DH Labs AES/EBU digital cable into my Bryston BDA-1 DAC.  I simply selected the V-Link 192 as the output devices in the settings panel and was ready to go. No drivers needed on a Mac. I used a variety of source material ranging from CD rips to 192 Khz downloads.

It occurred to me rather early in the review period that the V-Link 192 seemed to be me to be adding no sonic signature of its own, and was to for all intents and purposes, totally transparent. This is highly notable because that means it is doing exactly what a USB convertor should be doing: converting to S/PDIF without editorializing.  While this may seem obvious, I have read many reviews that highlighted various differences between various USB convertors.

The V-Link 192 successfully recognized and passed through sample rates ranging from 44.1, 88.2, 176.4, and 192 Khz. I especially liked the color-coding on the sample rate LED indicators. It was easy to verify what sample rate locked in. Through the entire review period, the V-Link 192 worked without a hitch.

Musical Fidelity V-Link 192 LED Lights and Outputs

Conclusion:

The Musical Fidelity V-Link 192 is a transparent, plug-and-play USB to S/PDIF and AES/EBU converter that did exactly what it was supposed to do. That is, it allows you to use your favorite DAC, which may not have a high fidelity USB input, with your personal computer. All you need, in addition, is a USB cable, playback software, and music files.  

As a value proposition, the V-Link 192 is a home run. It is nicely made and, at $399, passes 24 bit / 192 Khz music files flawlessly. There are a few converters on the market for less, but not with AES/EBU outputs and 192 Khz. If you are getting into computer audio and have no desire, or budget, to purchase a new DAC, the V-Link 192 is an amazingly easy and cost effective way to do it. Well done, Musical Fidelity.



Specifications



Musical Fidelity V-Link 192 USB to S/PDIF Converter: $399
                
●    Input data: 24 Bit 192kHz USB stream (maximum)
●    Output Impedance: 50 Ohm SPDIF
●    Operating Systems: Apple Macintosh Apple OS X 10.6.4 and later, Windows XP (SP3), Vista, and 7, Linux Kernel 2.6.33 or later

Inputs
●    1x USB 2.0 Type B

Outputs
●    1x Coaxial SPDIF galvanically isolated
●    1x XLR AES/EBU Balanced Digital, galvanically isolated

General
●    Dimensions - WxHxD (mm): 95 x 45 x 170

www.tempohighfidelity.com


Review System 1


CD Transport: Musical Fidelity M1 CDT
Server: Squeezebox Touch w/ CIA VDC-SB power supply
via Ethernet to MAC Mini w/ Western Digital & Seagate
external drives.
DAC: Bryston BDA-1
Headphone Amp: Pro-Ject Head Box II
Headphones: Grado SR60
Preamp: Audio Research SP16
Amplifier: Audio Research VS55, Rogue Hydra
Speaker: Thiel CS2.4
Cables:  Stager Silver Solids, Kimber KCTG (IC), Transparent  MM2 Super (IC), Transparent Plus (Speaker) Acoustic Zen Tsunami II (AC),Transparent (AC).Shunyata Venom (AC) Element Cable Red Storm (Digital AC), DH Labs TosLink, DH Labs AES/EBU, Belkin Gold (USB) DH Labs (USB)
Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks, Shakti Stone, Audience Adept Response aR6 power conditioner,Salamander rack

Review System 2


CD Player: Marantz 5003
Music Server: Squeezebox Touch via Ethernet to
MAC Mini w/ Western Digital & Seagate external drives.
DAC: Musical Fidelity V-DAC II, Lindemann USB 192 DAC
Integrated Amplifier: McIntosh  MA6600
Tape Deck: Revox A77
Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3
Cables: Kimber Hero HB,  DH Labs White Lightning (IC),QED Genisis Silver Spiral (Speaker),PS Audio (AC), Pangea Audio (AC), DH Labs TosLink, Audioquest Forest USB, Wireworld Ultraviolet USB
Accessories:Cable Pro Noisetrapper, Sound Anchors Stands, Wiremold AC Strip

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