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How to Setup USB Audio in Windows XP

USB Audio Windows XPAre you looking for the best sound quality for your USB audio, this guide shows you how to setup USB audio in Windows XP and the settings we've found that optimise the sound quality of USB audio equipped DACs, preamplifiers and amplifiers.

Even though this guide shows you how to setup USB audio specifically for Windows XP, many of the concepts are still applicable to Windows Vista and Windows 7 although the settings are accessed via different menus.

Audio Player Software

At Perreaux, we prefer to use foobar2000 audio player as our audio playback software because it supports almost every audio format known to man, is highly customisable using readily available components and best of all – it doesn't cost a cent.

Download foobar2000 audio player and install it once the download is complete.

Bypassing Windows KMixer

The next thing you'll need to do is bypass Windows KMixer. KMixer is the system driver that Windows uses to mix audio streams from different applications, as well as convert sample rates and bit depths, and to control volume levels.

By its very nature KMixer modifies the audio stream and therefore the digital output may not be an exact replication of the source material, i.e. the output is not bit perfect. That's not to say that bit perfect playback is not possible with KMixer, it is possible when setup correctly but the results can be a little hit and miss. A more reliable option for bit perfect playback is to bypass KMixer altogether using ASIO.

ASIO (Audio Stream Input/Output) allows you to bypass Windows KMixer and lets Foobar audio player connect directly to your USB DAC or USB equipped amplifier, improving latency and allowing for a transparent path between the audio player and the hardware.

Note: Your USB DAC or amplifier must support ASIO to use it to bypass Windows KMixer.

Download ASIO4ALL Universal ASIO Driver and install it once the download is complete.

To use ASIO with Foobar audio player you must also download Foobar's ASIO Support component. To install the ASIO Support component copy it to the Foobar "Components" folder (default location C:\Program Files\foobar2000\components).

Setting up Foobar for Best Audio Playback

Start Foobar audio player and open 'Preferences' (File->Preferences). Select the 'ASIO Virtual Devices' pane (Playback->Output->ASIO Virtual Devices) and click Add New.

Setup USB Audio Windows XP : Foobar ASIO Virtual Devices

The ASIO Virtual Device Editor dialog will open, make sure 'ASIO4ALL' is selected in the 'Driver' drop-down menu and map USB Audio Device Channel 1 to 'Left' and USB Audio Device Channel 2 to 'Right'. Click OK to save the settings.

Setup USB Audio Windows XP : Foobar ASIO Virtual Devices Editor

You'll return back to the 'Preferences' window. Select the 'Output' pane (Playback->Output) and from the 'Device' drop-down menu choose 'ASIO : ASIO4ALL'.

Setup USB Audio Windows XP : Foobar Output Device

That's it for setting ASIO to bypass Windows KMixer. Now to change a couple of Foobar settings to improve your playback experience.

Still in the 'Preferences' window, select the 'Fading' settings (Advanced->Playback->Fading) and click on 'Fade on seek', 'Fade out' and 'Fade on pause' and set each to '0' milliseconds.

Setup USB Audio Windows XP : Foobar Fading

Finally, select 'Playback' in the 'Preferences' window. In the 'ReplayGain' section, set both the 'Source mode' and 'Processing' drop-down menus to 'none'.

Setup USB Audio Windows XP : Foobar ReplayGain

Click OK to save all the Foobar settings. That does it for setting up Foobar and ASIO4ALL, now we look at optimising Windows XP settings.

Setting up Windows XP for Best Audio Playback

To setup Windows XP for best audio performance, we'll configure Windows so the system sounds, such as new mail alerts, playback via the built-in speakers or the on-board sound card. While only the bit perfect music files from Foobar audio player will play through your USB DAC or amplifier.

Open 'Sounds and Audio Devices Properties' (Start->Control Panel->Sounds and Audio Devices), select the 'Audio' tab and from the 'Sound playback' drop-down menu select the on-board sound card. Also, set the 'Use only default devices' checkbox so that Windows doesn't automatically select another audio device when it is connected. Click OK to save the settings.

Setup USB Audio Windows XP : Audio Sound Playback Device

It is important that your USB DAC or amplifier is connected to a USB 2.0 (Hi-Speed) USB port on your computer. This is mandatory with an asynchronous USB DAC using Class 2 Audio, such as the Perreaux Audiant DP32 USB DAC preamp or 80i integrated amp, since USB 1.1 (Full Speed) doesn't support Class 2 Audio. USB DACs with Class 1 Audio can use either USB 1.1 or USB 2.0 ports, although the increased data rate of USB 2.0 ports (480Mbps vs. 12Mbps) will provide a more reliable interface.

Avoid using the USB ports located on the front of your desktop computer, in our experience the performance can be sketchy and in some cases the front USB ports didn't even support USB 2.0. Ideally your USB DAC should also be running on its own dedicated USB controller and not shared by any other devices or peripherals. To check the DAC is connected a USB 2.0 port and the USB controller is not shared by other devices, open 'System Properties' (Start->Control Panel->System) and in the 'Hardware' tab click 'Device Manager'.

Setup USB Audio Windows XP : Hardware Properties

The 'Device Manager' window will open, in the Menu change the view to 'Devices by connection' (View->Devices by connection). Expand all the 'USB Host Controller' entries to see which devices are connected to each controller.

Setup USB Audio Windows XP : USB Controller

Look for your USB DAC in the list and make sure it is connected to an 'Enhanced' USB controller, this verifies it is connected to a USB 2.0 port. At the same time check that your USB DAC is the only device connected to the 'Enhanced' USB controller, you don't want to share the USB controller with other devices, such as external hard drives, etc.

In the example above you will see that the USB DAC equipped Perreaux Audiant 80i integrated amplifier is connected to a 'Standard Enhanced PCI to USB Host Controller' and it is the only device connected to that USB controller.

Also we do not recommend connecting your USB DAC to the computer via a USB hub as it may result in unreliable performance and cause clicks and dropouts.

While you're in 'Device Manager', open 'Properties' (right-click->Properties) of the 'USB Root Hub' that your USB DAC is connected to. Select the 'Power Management' tab and un-check the 'Allow the computer to turn off this device to save power' checkbox. Click OK to save the settings.

Setup USB Audio Windows XP : USB Root Hub Power Management

With the Foobar audio player and Windows XP settings optimised, your computer is now setup for the best audio playback with your USB DAC or amplifier. All that's left is a little about audio file formats.

Which Audio File Format?

The best performance and sound quality is achieved using an uncompressed file format, such as WAV, which is an exact representation of the original source and doesn't compromise sound quality. The drawbacks with uncompressed audio files are file size and limited support for metadata tagging.

In saying that, the price of storage is so cheap these days, a 1TB HDD costs a smidge over NZ$100 and is capable of holding over 1200 CDs (74 min. @ 16-bit/44.1kHz) or over 190 high resolution albums (74 min. @ 24-bit/192kHz) in uncompressed WAV format. The file size of uncompressed audio formats is really becoming a non-issue as the cost of storage reduces over time.

Tagging on the other hand is a little more problematic, audio players tagging uncompressed audio files is often hit and miss. Many players, including Foobar2000, support tagging uncompressed files, but it's cumbersome and cross-player compatibility is sketchy. For most, this is what kills using uncompressed audio formats – it's just too much of a pain in the butt.

This is where lossless audio compression formats, such as FLAC, come into the mix. Lossless audio files are compressed and the file size is typically 50-55% of the uncompressed files original size. When decompressed during playback, lossless audio files are identical to the original uncompressed file, resulting in no loss of sound quality. Lossless audio formats also have much better support for metadata tagging and album cover art.

If you must use a lossy audio compression format, such as MP3 or AAC, please encode files at the maximum bit rate possible to minimise the impact on sound quality. Lossy compression can achieve significant reductions in file size and does so by discarding information then compressing what remains. When decompressed during playback, information is missing when compared with the original uncompressed file and results in a loss of sound quality.

Due to their smaller file sizes, and excellent support for metadata tagging and cover art, lossy audio formats are perfect to use with portable media players. In our experience, the AAC audio format has better sound quality for a given file size than MP3. Although, outside the context of portable audio, we do not recommend using lossy audio formats for good sound quality.

Setup USB Audio Windows XP : FLAC Lossless AudioThe FLAC audio file format is our audio format of choice – the file size is smaller than uncompressed, it supports metadata tagging, the lossless compression doesn't compromise sound quality and it is supported natively by foobar2000 audio player.

So there you have it, our view on computer audio and how to setup Windows XP so you get the best sound quality from your USB audio system. USB audio on computer-based systems isn't as scary as it looks; a little effort to set it up reaps massive reward, especially with today's high resolution USB DACs.

Please share your USB audio experiences with us below. Also, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask, we'd be happy to help if we can.

Comments (Comment Moderation is enabled. Your comment will not appear until approved.)
Many thanks for this informative document. Do you have a similar guide for Mac?
# Posted By HB | 9/08/12 1:30 PM
We intend to do a guide for Mac in the future. Stay tuned.
# Posted By Perreaux | 9/08/12 1:55 PM
Linux would be great too!
# Posted By Petux | 9/08/12 3:31 PM
Absolutely! We'd like to do a Linux guide too, although our experience with Linux is limited so we would need to spend a bit of time with it. Any suggestions of a starting point with Linux?
# Posted By Perreaux | 9/08/12 3:34 PM
But with USB probably you are not able to listen 24bit music!
Is it wrong?
# Posted By Matteo | 10/08/12 11:19 AM
Matteo, it depends on your USB DAC or amplifier, if it supports 24-bit then you can listen to 24-bit music using USB audio.
# Posted By Perreaux | 10/08/12 1:45 PM
Many thanks for some really useful info on maximising digital sound quality. I am sure the foobar2000/Lossless FLAC combination produces an excellent outcome. However I have found iTunes/Apple lossless also gives excellent results. I have compared Apple Lossless to WAV playback and there is no difference to my ear. iTunes also supports WAV, AIFF, MP3, AAC, and of course Apple Lossless. For me, that covers all the bases I need. And I use the 160gig Apple Classic iPod, so I can carry high quality portable music all over the place. It is all very straightforward. So if there are Perreauphyles out there wanting digital quality, don't overlook Apple Lossless. Cheers, Warren.
# Posted By Warren Searell | 22/08/12 3:43 AM
Warren, I'm glad you found the info useful. The iTunes/Apple Lossless combination works well and it's difficult to look past the convenience and seamless integration with iPad, iPhone, Apple TV, etc.

Although using a program like Amarra HiFi (http://www.sonicstudio.com/amarra/amarra_hifi.html...) takes the performance of iTunes to another level on a Mac.

Does anybody know of a similar program for iTunes on Windows?
# Posted By Perreaux | 22/08/12 12:56 PM
I tried to setup USB audio in windows Vista and
had to give up as vista uses WASAPI not the KMixer d
which can't be bypassed ?Love the 250i must buy your balanced cd player although im hoping blue ray
audio will be the winner of the format war the Neil young box set quality is amazing cheers
# Posted By Owen | 8/01/13 7:34 PM
I am also looking for your info on how best to use a Mac to feed or should I say stream great sound through USB to a DAC/Preamp/integrated amp. Does the new Thunderbolt connection have potential to be better than USB?
# Posted By Kevin Price | 14/01/13 2:05 PM
Good article and comments. I am in the Mac and iTunes camp and although the the best usb solution is interesting my real interest is the most effective way to wirelesly stream from my Mac to my DAC/Perreaux. The reality is I don't want a seperate music server as my Mac carry carry out this function well, and I don't want a long cable, my office is not my principal listening room. For a couple of years I've been streaming via an airport express using the optical out to get the digital signal to my DAC but there are compromises with this. I saw with interest theAdioengine D2 wireless DAC but the DAC is probably not as good as my stand alone and if I just use the optical out function on the receiver to my DAC I may as well stick with the airport Express. I don't want to spend a fortune but a wireless Silhouette DAC would be nice :-)
# Posted By Cameron Cowan | 16/03/13 4:03 PM
i am using Toshiba laptop, having FLAC & 32 bit MP3 music files. Presently, i play using Philips stereo amp & speakers(wood housing tweeter/woofer). I want to buy USB DAC for bypassing laptop soundcard. Please give your opinion which USB DAC is suitable. Thanks for your time.
# Posted By akjglobal | 7/10/13 11:34 PM
Nice guide! Foobar is definitely the way to go on Windows. If you're going to do a guide for Linux, I'd recommend having a look at MPD and ALSA.
# Posted By Peter | 9/10/13 10:01 PM

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