USB Isolator.

USB Isolator

[ Update ] I now have bare PCBs and parts kits of this design for sale in store, as well as assembled and tested boards.

We all love USB. It is well supported across many platforms, easy to work with, and even able to provide a little power to the peripheral. However, the quirk of USB is that peripheral must share ground line with the host. The host is usually a PC and very often a desktop, which means it’s USB ground is electrically connected to earth ground in the wall outlet. With PC-based test instruments, like oscilloscopes, logic analyzers and such, It works fine most of the time, but not always.

There are situations when we prefer our ground separate. It happens when PC/earth ground is too “dirty” and we don’t want our circuit to pick up this dirt. Sometimes our device’s ground is not too good or even dangerous if connected to earth ground. Sometimes we are trying to overcome ground loops. Sometimes, we want our oscilloscope to behave like a multimeter, i.e. being able to show voltage drop between any two arbitrary points of the circuit. In any of this cases we want our USB data and ground isolated from the host.

Isolation improves common-mode voltage, enhances noise rejection, and permits two circuits to operate at different voltage levels. It also tends to save test equipment, as well as PC itself. It is also very useful in industrial setting, that probably why industrial USB isolator devices cost between $200 and $400. While looking for a solution for my lab, I found interesting USB isolator part, recently released by Analog Devices, and decided to give it a try.

ADuM4160 works at full/low speed and uses built-in transformers. The uplink (host) side of it is powered by USB bus, the downlink (peripheral) side uses external supply. The speed of the peripheral has to be manually set with jumpers on both sides of the isolator; if automatic speed detection is desired, a hub can be connected to the peripheral side and isolator configured for full speed.

The PCB also contains a 5V switch mode regulator with wide input range. It supplies downlink side of AdUM4160 and bus-powered device connected to it, if necessary. It is built around Linear Technology’s LT1376 buck converter IC. Input range 6-25V, output 5V 600ma. The power connector is usual center-positive barrel type.

I tested this circuit with my Bitscope DSO and Logicport logical analyzer; both work flawlessly. I also made an extensive data integrity test by moving and zipping/unzipping large file archives to and from USB flash drive, connected to a PC via this isolator; I haven’t seen a single error over more than 100Gb transferred.

Project files, including Eagle schematic and board layout, as well as Gerbers, are available from downloads section. Additionally, PDF of the schematic is available in case you don’t have Eagle installed. The board can be easily made at home. It was designed using SOIC IC packages and 1206 capacitors and resistors. It is routed almost entirely over top side with two ground planes at the bottom side.


76 comments to USB Isolator.

  • […] over at Circuits@Home has made a USB isolator for his hacking needs. This isolator separates the signal, ground, and power lines of a USB host […]

  • Odin84gk

    This is a great reference design, but it does not provide mains isolation. The PCB layout clearance is only 1.63 mm, which means it can only isolate 150 volts DC at less than 1 watt of current.

    The board should be redone with at least a 5.5mm between the primary and secondary side of the isolation to provide the isolation specified in the datasheet.

    Here is a rule of thumb: If you are working with a component that provides isolation, do not create copper traces that are closer together than the footprints for the part.

    • Thanks for catching that. I’ll get the layout changed in the next batch.

      On the other hand, I did not claim this board as providing mains isolation in the first place.

  • PocketBrain

    Mains isolation not required for my purposes! I don’t even need 100V for my app. Nice work, now I don’t have to do it.

  • Interesting device, could this be used to isolate the ground hum you get on a USB sound card? For example, on my laptop I get a hum which is quite noticeable when amplified however when the laptop is run on batteries or has the earth pin disconnected it disappears, would this provide a suitable alternative?


  • Nick,
    it WOULD likely remove the hum you hear if the card is powered by the USB bus. Obviously if it’s powered by a separate power supply then separating the USB power supply will not do you any good (unless that bus power is bleeding in to your other source). Most of the time that hum comes from the switching power supplies either in the brick or on the main board itself. Find a clean power supply away from those and you can get much higher quality audio.

  • Steve

    I’m not nitpicking but pointing this out. Generally a “Hum” is 50/60hz. Considering that it is not likely to be caused by a switched mode supply (which operate in the KHZ/MHZ range).

  • […] over at Circuits@Home has made a USB isolator for his hacking needs. This isolator separates the signal, ground, and power lines of a USB host […]

  • TheFallen

    Personally I’d make it entirely USB powered. The MAX256 is a switch mode isolation power converter. That’d save for the need for a barrel jack. But otherwise VERY neat.

  • jkeny

    I ordered and one of these & hopefully will receive it shortly. While I’m waiting I have a question – I see on the schematic a jumper, JP6 which seems to connect USB GND to AGND – what’s this for as it negates the purpose of the chip. I don’t, however see this jumper on the pics of the board – maybe not implemented?

    I will be supplying an external 5V DC to Vin, where does my Gnd-in connect to?

    I’m sure some of these questions would be resolved with the board in front of me but it isn’t so …….

    • This jumper is mislabeled on the schematic – thank you for catching that! It is labeled correctly on the board though – it’s just spare ground connection on the host side.

      External power for the peripheral side can be applied several ways. Straight answer to your question is “connection marked AGND” on the right side of the board next to “SHDN”. It also can be soldered to either of two groung moles of the barrel connector if left unpopulated. My original idea was to solder barrel connector, then run a wire from VIN to VBUS, then supply 5V through the barrel connector – I have so many 5V wall warts that this seems logical.

      I shipped your kit two weeks ago, on Oct.1 – you should have received it by now. If you won’t get it this week, let me know, I’ll send you another one.

  • jkeny

    Sorry, I see that I should be connecting my external regulated 5V DC supply to VBus & AGND

  • Max

    Thanks for the info.

  • Henno Täht

    I’m having the ground loop problem with my USB audio headset. For that reason, I ordered this USB Isolator (prebuilt). As the USB Isolator is traveling towards me, I was wondering what kind of power adapter I should buy for it to get the best audio quality (i.e. eliminate the possibility of USB Isolators power supply generating the 50/60Hz hum). Anyone?

    • The power supply for the peripheral side has to be 7-25V 500ma center-positive barrel connector type. It is further stabilized on the isolator board with 500khz DC-DC type converter; you won’t hear any hum from it, the frequency is too high for the human ear.

      To connect it to the computer, you will need standard A to B USB cable, not the extension cable.

  • Henno Täht

    Also, I suppose I will need a small USB cable to connect the computer and the isolator together, right? If so, what kind? I have some regular USB extension cords like this one:

    Will one of those do?

  • Ivan

    Hi Oleg,

    I would like to ask you whether both sides of IC ADuM4160 can be powered (i.e. also wired) in the same way. Each part powered by USB bus (+5V). One part is the +5V power supply of PC (USB port) the other one is the +5V power supply from the pheripheral device (USB port). Thanks for the info. Ivan

    • Yes this is possible. The host side is powered from the host connector in the standard configuration. The peripheral side can’t be powered from the connector since peripherals don’t provide 5V on the VBus pin but if a peripheral is self-powered, you can use this power (3.3-5V) to power peripheral side of ADuM4160.

  • bryman79

    Has anyone found an enclosure that will nicely fit this board? I’d like to find one (e.g., a plastic enclosure) with the inside walls dimensioned so that the board just drops in. That way, I can just cut a hole on either side to accept the USB connectors. Board mounting lugs on the bottom would be ideal, but not required. Any suggestions?

  • Brian

    Is the isolator IC still out of stock?

    If so, I want to try requesting samples, but I’d still like to purchase everything except the chip from you.

    How should I go about doing that?

    • I shall have ADuM4160s first week of May; don’t know if you can get samples any faster so just wait. Otherwise, buy whatever kit you need and e-mail me that you don’t need the isolator chip – I will refund you the cost ( $6.00 ).

  • Bill

    Oleg, how did you come up with the 1M values for the pull-ups? Just wondering because I read the following in the ADuM4160 datasheet:

    6. Pull-up and pull-down resistors are implemented inside the coupler. Only external series resistors and bypass capacitors are required for operation.


  • Tom

    Does your current batch of boards incorporate the correction suggested in comment #1? I like the concept here, but need more than 150V isolation.

  • Oleg,

    I need RS232 isolation as well as USB, could I use a RS232 to USB adaptor and then isolate the USB side?


  • If I purchased them in 100 lots or more would you be willing to make a board with RS232 to USB with the isolation on the USB side built in.

    • I can make this design – let me figure out lead time and cost, I’ll contact you off–list next week with numbers. Also, do you have a preference for USB-to-serial converter chip – my favorite is FTDI?


  • The FTDI is great, the RS232 side shound be able to communicate with TTL and RS232 levels.

    You can contact me directly here


  • Greg Shay

    Hi Oleg,
    Nice little board…!

    Does the ‘Parts kit, isolator only $25″ include the bare PCB and the USB connectors?
    Everything except the DC/DC chip and its support components, right?


  • Bubu

    should be a nice thing!
    I believe the external power supply is not necessary, provided the current needed is under 400ma, one can use an isolated DC-DC converter. Something like P10AU-0505ELF. If I buy the USB isolator I would either use that or one of increasingly popular mobile chargers, perhaps with an LDO regulator for cleaner 5V.
    Is there a payment option through https?

    • You can use portable charger but since they boost 5V from 3.7V battery, you can get switcher noise.

      All payment options are configured to use https.

  • jeff m

    I managed to most of my hum issues from my usb sound card thats buss powered thats connected to my laptop, but im getting this crackling sound still that happens whenever my laptops power connecter is plugged in, and is reduce considerable when i unplug it. The cracklinng i more severe when i move windows etc. Will this remove these issues, from my audio stream.

  • josh

    I really like that there are many options for powering this board! Do you think I can disconnect the host side USB +5V and then power both sides from the same regulated external 5VDC?

  • Steve

    Could something like this be used to remove audio static from this setup?

    At work, I have a docking station for my cell phone, and I’m able to control my cell phone through the usb interface. I also tend to listen to music, and take calls through the cell phones headset. I run the line out from the cellphone, to the line in on my computer, and then plug the headphones into the computer.. that way, all sound from my cellphone as well as my computer end up through the headphones.

    Problem is there is too much static when I make that usb connection. I bought a powered usb hub, and cut away the usb power lines coming from the computer to the hub. That got rid of a lot of the static, although I can still hear it when it sends data to or from the cellphone. The fun part about that is that I can now only get a data connection to the phone when I plug in the headphones and sometimes that doesn’t even work. 🙂

    I’d like something a little more reliable, but I have no idea if usb isolation is the solution.

  • Zoran Obradovic

    It looks awsome,but as I have 24/192 computer digital source can this kit support it?

    • This kit is an USB isolator, not an audio device. It supports full/low USB speeds and whatever information you can transmit at these speeds, including audio.

  • Amzee

    Hi There,

    I’m getting noise through my USB soundcard. It’s not a low hum that I would associate with a ground loop but more the whizzing and popping of my hard drive / fans / when I move the mouse etc.

    The USB soundcard is not bus powered and has it’s own PSU.

    Would an isolator fix this problem?


  • amzee

    That’s great. Thanks oleg. K

  • Alex

    Dear Oleg,
    if I would power the peripheral side through the usb connector do I need to disable (cut) some existing power lines on the board to bypass dc-dc regulator and if yes then where? I plan to connect rechargeable battery block of 4x AA to feed the ADuM periphery.
    thank you

  • Alex

    again one question: if I still would feed the vbus and ground through the usb connector from a self powered device (usb/spdif converter), would the dc-dc onboard regulator bypassed by such connection or not? The reason I ask, I can’t solder but I have custom usb connector through which I can connect an extra psu or battery.

  • Zakie Mashiah

    Hi Oleg,
    One of the things I am looking to do besides isolation is to have current meter for the peripherals. I want a granular current meter (I want 5 or 6 digits), as the intention is to see power requirements pull off the bus while in the design phase and testing.
    If I understand correctly, then I should cut the line leading from the coil to Vbus jumper and measure the current through that cut, right?
    Think of this as a feature suggestion too.

  • Yang Zhou

    Are the 1Mohm necessary? – in this application note:
    it seems that they’ve tied SPD and SPU directly to VDD1 and VDD2 rather than with pull-up resistors.

  • Jared

    Any recommended AC power supply that fits the power connector?

  • BillyCorgan

    Sir, I have a final project. I want my own USB to be voice activated by connecting Voice Recognition kit to a USB, but i don’t know how. Would it help to use USB isolator without changing or re-interfacing whats inside(hardware) my USB?

  • jules

    sir with regards to @BIllyCorgans problem. we are partner in this said project. our problem is that we are trying to make a voice activated usb, a usb that will only be enabled with the owners correct voice password. so we are trying to interface a voice recognition system into a usb.. the only possible solution we see is to separate the supply of the usb with the use of the usb isolator, and then we will make the voice recognition kit/system as our sole supply for the isolator with the kit having its own supply of 9v battery. if the voice recognition system recognizes the correct voice password it sends a voltage output of possibly 6v that will be directed to the usb isolator, thus making the usb activated and will be used in a normal pc or computer, will this kind of process works sir?

  • Hi,

    I recently purchased this to cut out some EMI generated by my video card.

    The device works great, no more oscillating whine in my speakers, but I do have a problem.

    My external sound card only works for about 8 hours at a time through the isolator. After that time, it still shows up fine to the system with no errors, but either the buffers on it lock up, or the whole device locks up and I cannot send audio to it. Only solution seems to be disconnecting the soundcard from the isolator and then plugging it back in. Either disconnecting the isolator from the host or disconnecting the sound card from the isolator fixes the issue.

    This does not happen with the sound card directly attached to the PC.

    Thoughts? Soundcard is just a cheap Behringer UCA-202, I’ll try with one of my others in the mean time and see if the behavior continues.


    — Dave

    • Hmm… I can’t seem to get it to sync with my Audio 4 DJ soundcard… won’t seem to negotiate full USB 2.0.

      • Ahh, it’s not full USB 2.0, the card wants high-speed 2.0 which the isolator doesn’t do…

        I’d still like to know why the UCA-202 drops out after 8-ish hours though.


        — Dave

        • Many things can happen – hard to say without measurements. I will start with checking the voltage on the output of isolator’s power supply.

  • Monica

    Hi Oleg!
    I have a TI development board and I’m trying to use the USB isolator between the PC USB and the USB plug on the board. I always get a ‘USB device not recognized’ error. I have no idea what to check anymore. I’ve tried the PIN to GND trick but it doesn’t seem to help… Maybe there’s something wrong in my schematic, but I don’t have Eagle installed and in the PDF I can only see something that looks like a layer in a gerber file.
    What else could I try?
    Thanks a lot,

  • Modi

    Hello, I was wondering if you could confirm if this product would help/solve my problem. I’m experiencing high pitched squeal noise from my Schiit Modi DAC just when listening to low frequency sounds such as the heart beat on the opening track of Dark Side of the Moon. This is a bass sample I use to test:
    I’ve tried the DAC on 5 different computers spread out over 2 different locations. PCs, Macs, and a laptop running on battery and plugged in. All sources have some variation of this noise in this test.

    The only thing I have found to make a difference is plugging the DAC into my monitor’s USB hub (Dell u3011). The squeal is less evident and much lower frequency. I’d like to eliminate it altogether if possible. I don’t know much about electronics but I gather this isn’t a ground loop issue because it exhibited the same distortion when it was running off of a laptop powered by a battery and not being plugged into a wall socket.

    Do you think this isolator would solve the problem? I honestly think the Schiit Modi product has a flawed design. I’ve tried 2 samples and they both exhibit the same symptoms…

  • Tom Powers

    If I use this isolator with a high speed capable PC and a high speed capable device, the host and device will negotiate to high speed and then not communicate because the isolator is not high speed capable. How do I prevent the host from negotiating to high speed?

  • Tom Powers

    I an trying to understand how it gets to full-speed. Initially it will negotiate to high-speed and then fail. It must then back down to full-speed. I didn’t see anything in the spec to indicate that it needs to back down to full-speed after high-speed fails.

    • High/full speed switch occurs during reset, see section of USB 2.0 spec. ADum4160 won’t pass high-speed “chirps” from the device so a device will be in full-speed after reset. There is no speed switch during normal operation. High-speed device must be operational at full speed but there could be speed-specific descriptors, see section This is likely what happens – the device gets enumerated at full speed as usual then the driver requests a descriptor available for hs only and fails.

  • karl


    can you please explain what added value does this USB-isolator have over a regular USB cable whose shield has been disconnected from its connectors?