Musical Fidelity V-Link192 USB-S/PDIF Converter
Input: USB Audio Class 2.0 (Type B)
Output: Coax S/PDIF (RCA), Balanced XLR
Dimensions (W x H x D): 3¾” x 1⅔” x 6⅔” including terminals
Weight: 12¼ oz
Availability: online and through authorized dealers
The V-Link192 should appeal to anyone that wants to play up to 24/192 music files from their computer who own a DAC that does not have a USB input. It should also appeal to those people who have a DAC that does not support 192kHz files via USB but does support them via Coax or XLR, and even for those with an older adaptive USB DAC that does not have an asynchronous USB input. Out of these three options, the first two are, imo, no brainers whereas the efficacy of the last will be based on a case by case basis.
The Musical Fidelity V-Link192 differs from the original 24/96-capable V-Link (see John Atkinson's review) in a number of significant ways. First off and most obviously the V-Link192 can handle up to 24/192 data through its asynchronous USB input courtesy of its XMOS USB receiver chipset that has two crystal oscillators to handle its internal clock. Both the Coax and XLR outputs are now individually galvanically isolated from USBs potentially noise-inducing input and as you'll notice in the nudie picture below, the V-Link192 uses all surface mount components.
The other new feature is a reassuring visual treat—the V-Link192 offers 8 LEDs, 6 of which indicate the sample rate of the music file being played (44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192). The other 2 LEDs indicate Power and Lock status. The all-aluminum nice and solid and understated silver chassis is a constant in the rest of the Musical Fidelity V Series lineup that includes the V-DACII (see review) and V-LinkII for those interested in (only) up to 24/96 playback.
The basic idea with the V-Link192 being you connect your computer to the V-Link192's asynchronous USB input and connect to your DAC with either S/PDIF or XLR and play music. Since the V-Link192 is powered via USB, that's pretty much it in terms of connectivity. And if you own a Mac you don't have to load any drivers, whereas PC-users need to load the included drivers from Musical Fidelity to get 24/192 playback via USB.
Transparency is Beautiful
I mainly used the V-Link192 with the Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC since it includes both input types offered by the V-Link192's outputs. I know this is sort of a silly pairing seeing as the Mytek DAC only supports DSD through its USB or Firewire inputs but I do not have any non-USB legacy DACs. Why would I? Of the two connections, I found I preferred the XLR ever so slightly but this could be because of the Kimber Kable Select KS 1126 Balanced cable I was using as much as the connection itself. Besides the differences I noted were subtle at best.
Ideally, the V-Link192, or any USB-S/PDIF converter for that matter, will not color the sound in any way and leave the voice of your chosen DAC untouched. And while this was mostly the case, comparisons between the Resonessence Labs Concero (see review) used in its USB-S/PDIF mode and the Bel Canto uLink (review forthcoming) illustrated this was not entirely the case. I found the V-Link192 to be transparent yet full-bodied and rich-sounding as compared to the CONCERO which was a touch leaner. I certainly preferred the V-Link192's presentation and listening to all manner of music from CD-quality up to HD 24/192 files was musically engaging and without any sonic nits to pick.
The pricier Bel Canto uLink ($675) was a touch smoother than the V-Link192 sounding ever so slightly more fluid. This comparison was done using the Bel Canto's Coax S/PDIF output and the supplied BNC-RCA adapter since the Mytek does not have a BNC input (well there is a BNC input for an external WordClock if we want to be thorough to the point of distraction). Coax to Coax, V-Link192 compared to uLink I'd ultimately call it fairly close but not too close to call, the Bel Canto offering up a more relaxed presentation. But this is a case where comparisons can be misleading because I would not say that the V-Link192 was in any way fatiguing or hard-sounding. In fact I found it very smooth-sounding in its own right. This is just one reason why I think comparisons can be misleading seeing as we only listen to one given component at a time.
One of my digital torture tests is any of Bob Dylan's early recordings ripped from the regular-old CDs. To be even more specific, his harmonica is the real litmus test for hard, aggressive, digital, nasty edginess. Dylan's harmonica can sound like he's blowing glass shards instead of air and notes with some digital presentations but with both the V-Link192 and uLink, there was thankfully no glass to be found. Instead we have air, notes, as well as that sense of wood (and moisture) inside the harmonica's metal body. Again, the Bel Canto was even more round-edged sounding but I'd say the V-Link192 offered up a very pleasant, harmonically-rich harmonica.
Interestingly, I found both converters to be a touch smoother than the Mytek DAC's Firewire input but the difference is relative not dramatic and I would not for one minute give up the Mytek's DSD-capabilities for it. But if you own a Coax or XLR-enabled DAC that you find to be a bit too aggressive and edgy but otherwise a keeper, you may want to consider investing in a V-Link192 to smooth things over.
Conversion Done Right
The Musical Fidelity V-Link192 is, as I said up front, a no-brainer for those people looking to play back up to 24/192 files through DACs that do not have a 24/192-capable USB input. The V-Link192 provides the means of connecting to and enjoying the world of file-based playback for a relatively modest sum and it does so while handing off a clean and full-bodied sound to your DAC of choice.
Also on hand and in use during the V-Link192 review: Resonessence Labs Concero, Bel Canto uLink