Yeah, computers are unavoidable when playing digital files. It’s funny, because that realization piqued my interest in two categories of streamer/bridge product: 1) devices that output a digital audio signal accessible to a DAC using custom, minimalist hardware (avoiding the noisy things that come with computers, such as USB); and 2) custom-built computers that go to great effort to minimize electronic noise, such as the Pink Faun products.
I am no engineer or expert in any way, so I can only speak from what I’ve read and heard. It is my understanding that digital audio in its native format is processed in the I2S context/format/whatever. It is also my understanding that, in order for USB to carry the digital signal, the signal has to be converted in some way (fit into) the USB “format.” According to most of the talk about digital audio one finds online, the USB format is an inherently compromised, electronically noisy thing.
The HDMI interface, as I understand it, is an effort to keep the signal in its native I2S format, thus avoiding (or at least minimizing) the electronic noise that comes from converting the signal into something that can be transmitted via USB.
Also, most of the folks in these here PS Audio forums (fora?) who claim to have compared the inputs of the DS Sr. (the DAC I’m rocking) report that the I2S interface (via HDMI) sounds better in general than the USB interface.
Given the low price of that Matrix device people here seem to like (including Ted, no?), I should just try it out. Thanks a ton, COVID-19.
In my own comparisons, the USB output from an i3 NUC (running Audiolinux and Roon) sounded better than ethernet feeding a Bridge II. I despaired at that observation, because it opened up the world of products that purport to clean up the sound of USB. I keep asking myself, why go down that route, if I’m probably going to end up spending about as much as the highly-regarded dCS Network Bridge ($4250), once you include the endless linear power supplies required to power all those USB bandaids. As I recall, dCS itself points to the XLR out of the Network Bridge as the preferred output?
It’s an endless cycle, friends…