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skullguise

USB Audio tweaks

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skullguise    2,152

I'm a bit loathe to post this, but I have had some interesting and positive experiences.  There's a lot of buzz around about various USB tweaks to extract better sound from PC or Mac audio.  It was cheap enough that I decided to jump into the fray.

I started with a Uptone Audio Regen, and immediately heard sonic benefits.  So I looked for various other devices, and ended up with an iFi iUSB 3.0 (used at work with my Chord Mojo), iFi iPurifier 2, Audioquest Jitterbug, and just tonight a previously-unknown-to-me product called the Intona USB Isolator.

A lot of marketing BS floats about, along with some science, pseudo- or not.  Everything I have tried so far, though, HAS had some improvement in at least some areas.  Not all improved enough to enjoy....the iPurifier 2 did some nice things, but sucked some air and life from the music.  I haven't yet really tried the Jitterbug enough to judge it fairly.

But I have had such positive experiences with two products that I wanted to mention them: The Uptone Audio USB Regen, and the Intona USB Isolator.  I believe the iFi iUSB 3.0 is doing good things at work, but hadn't tried the Mojo without it, so can't quantify.  And I'm not in the mood to sit there and try things mix and match.  Some people with a lot of time on their hands have been playing around with multiple devices, putting one before the other than switching sequence, etc. etc.  I just want more simplified plug and mostly play.

As of now, I have the Intona in my speaker system, and the USB Regen in my main headphone system.  In each place, they make a nice difference in clarity and things like soundstage and imaging.  More music just seems to come through.

Thankfully not so expensive; range from ~$50 to $300.  USB Regen was under $200, Intona USB Isolator $258 shipped from Germany.  Both have made, IMO, much more improvement than perhaps any other component that costs that little.  I've been reading about the USB Isolator's ability to work well with good basic USB cables, negating the need for the uber-expensive cables that don't make as much a difference.

Just wondering if anyone has played around with these types of tweaks.....or cares :D

Edited by skullguise
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jp11801    690

Was interested in these but have read the improvement is relative to the dac USB quality of implementation. I just picked up a Yggy so I'm not sure they'll provide much benefit but who knows. Other than the mojo have you had a chan e to try them on any other dacs? Thanks for the report out on these, I'd love to hear from the more technically inclined guys as to what benefit they could have. 

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skullguise    2,152

Both my systems (speaker and headphone) are currently using the Exogal Comet DAC.  I had also tried the iPurifier 2 with a NuPrime IDA-8 integrated that has USB DAC; not a great result as the amp is voiced a bit softer.  And I VERY briefly plugged the Jitterbug between desktop PC and an Auralic Gemini 2000; not enough listening to form an opinion.  I removed it because I think the cable was stressing the connections.

I first heard of the Intona through the Computer Audiophile forums.  They seem to be a nice and dedicated bunch of nuts, but don't have the crap and stupidity seen on HF many times.

A couple guys there reported that the Intona made noticeable improvements on the Yggy (one also mentioning the Jitterbug and Regen did not).  Some of the thread was taken up with trying to get incompatibilities working, but it sounded like no issues with the Yggy, and no issues with my DAC.

I think between the DAC's USB implementation, and the source implementation, a lot can be done, adding up in money.  I found the Regen and Intona to make some nice differences without going nuts in other areas, even USB cables.

Edited by skullguise

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nopants    117

I use the iusb supply and some of the associated cables because I assumed thorsten loesch cares enough to match impedances for USB data transfer.

I'm not sure what to think about the regen because something like what they're advertising requires some fancy re/clocking. I've read about the intona but I'm not really sure what needs to be isolated from what in this case. That being said I'm more interested in the intona than the regen ATM.

This all feeds a wavelink hs or legato ii to provide spdif to my Yggdrasil via bnc. I consider these tweaks more directly correlated to the digital performance, but there's too much going on in the regen to draw conclusions. I'm also too dumb and lazy to measure things myself so that doesn't help either.

I would be very careful of what you read on computer audiophile

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Jon L    89

I have the Regen, which does make a nice improvement especially when powered by Li battery.  However, the longer I use computer audio and especially USB audio, I am getting more and more "issues" over time, some of which are enough to drive one nuts.  All the software and hardware tweaks and variations make witches' brew seem like child's play.  I wish I could use a one-box CD player, which I still believe has best sound quality, that can play music files from my hard drive without sonic penalties or ergonomics nightmare...

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skullguise    2,152

I know what you mean Jon....I want things pretty simple too. This is why I like when one small thing makes a good difference.

Tom, I love the Exogal. I got two, and sold my Auralic Vega. Loved that too, but it's a different sound than the Exogal. More incisive while still being pretty musical. But for my taste, the Exogal is more musical....I just got into the music more....

Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk HD

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bozebuttons    146

I just picked up a demo on audiogon with upgraded p/s to try since it does dsd,I have a empirical overdrive se older unit but it doesn't do dsd.

Going to pair it with aurender N100h  I picked up from Moon Audio on a blackfriday deal.

Edited by bozebuttons

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jp11801    690

Tom what do you think of the surrender n100h? I'm thinking of going that direction but want to make sure it's a step up sonically from my upgraded mini (sad, 16gb ram. Optimization scripts...) thanks for any insight you could provide 

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skullguise    2,152

Hope you enjoy, Tom!  I've been toying with the idea to get their Ion amp when it comes out, but then I'd lose out on some analog inputs I'm using with my current integrated (I need at least 2, preferably 3; and the Exogal DAC has one analog input it digitizes).

JP, I haven't had experience with any of the higher end media servers, but I have to say that - with the tweaks like the Regen and Intona - my PC/laptop USB out sounds pretty damn good....  I HAVE tried lesser servers, Pioneer N-30 and Auralic Aries.  Both are good or great, but still ended up using the computer.

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bozebuttons    146

John,

    Still sitting in the box  I wanted to get away from using a computer in my speaker rig,I also have a 2009 mac mini sitting in a box upgraded with SSD drive & 16gb

I am just becoming a gear slut,Have to get some time to rearrange my system which is tough when you work 5 1/2 days a week.

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skullguise    2,152

Bit of a bump.  Now have two Intona USB Isolators, work well in both systems (one headphone-, one speaker-based).  USB Regen, Audioquest Jitterbug, & iFi iPurifier 2 off-line for now, and a Wyrd 4 Sound Recover goes between my PC and Auralic Gemini Amp/DAC.  All made noticable improvements.  Still haven't played around with piggybacking multiple products together.

John, any updates on yours, or did it become superfluous with your Melco?  Curious....

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Craig Sawyers    1,368

I haven't looked at USB in detail, but this piqued my interest.  Turns out that the characteristic impedance of USB cable, and termination resistance at send and receive end is surprisingly loosely defined, but nominally 90 ohms differential or 45 ohms single ended for USB2.  Depending on what web document you are looking at these can be +/- 15%.

The isolators provide galvanic isolation (using a pulse transformer), which is a good thing.  SPDIF links usually have galvanic isolation at both send and receive ends - usually poorly implemented, but that is another discussion.  Generally galvanic isolation reduces jitter through reducing common mode noise.  There are some interesting measurements of this here http://www.scientificonversion.com/

The regenerators try to compensate for poorly implemented send impedance by providing proper termination and send impedances, nicely implemented, and using a high(er) quality local clock.

That these make a difference (and I believe that they do) is really down to poor implementation (impedances and noise) at the send end - the computer - and potentially poorly implemented receive end at the audio system.  And poorly implemented cables.

There is another problem - usually manufacturers put inductors on both send and receive end in order to meet EMC requirements.  These really screw up the impedances - you can see the effect very clearly using Time Domain Reflectometry, see for example here http://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=45330.0 .

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nopants    117

Have you guys looked into the computer/OS side of things? I've gotten differing sound results using a beater windows computer and a raspberry pi loaded with moodeplayer- hard to say which I prefer. The web interface makes the rpi more intriguing to use, but I can't seem to get it to cleanly switch frequencies on my spdif transport. Lower power draw lets me mess with power supplies to a certain extent.

 

In both cases I'm serving up files from a NAS unit in another room, so I don't have to deal with fans nearby.

Re: Craig's post - I've been using ifi's USB cables with the ferrite beads for rx and tx sides, can't complain atm

On 2/22/2016 at 1:08 AM, Craig Sawyers said:

I haven't looked at USB in detail, but this piqued my interest.  Turns out that the characteristic impedance of USB cable, and termination resistance at send and receive end is surprisingly loosely defined, but nominally 90 ohms differential or 45 ohms single ended for USB2.  Depending on what web document you are looking at these can be +/- 15%.

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astrostar59    12
On 14 Jan 2016 at 6:58 PM, bozebuttons said:

John,

    Still sitting in the box  I wanted to get away from using a computer in my speaker rig,I also have a 2009 mac mini sitting in a box upgraded with SSD drive & 16gb

I am just becoming a gear slut,Have to get some time to rearrange my system which is tough when you work 5 1/2 days a week.

I run a Mac Mini tweaked up. The biggest upgrade I did to it was fitting the Uptone Audio MMK board, so I can run it on 12V DC from an external Linear Power Supply. I use the HDPlex 150 Watt unit. I would recommend this setup to anyone wanting a Mac based server. I use Audirvana+ which can now be controlled by an iPad if required.

I use ethernet to screen share with it, and turn everything else off that is not used inc Bluetooth and system software not critical. It is way better now than my CEC CDP unit.

The other thing on the USB subject, I use the TotalDAC D1 USB Filter which cleaned up the treble a lot, it sounds very noon digital now (better) yet is still as transparent.

Last tweak I can think of on this subject, a good USB/SPDIF convertor can sometimes surpass the built in USB input on many DACs unless they are very well designed and at a certain budget level. It proved to me that USB audio can sound as good or better than spinning the silver discs.

I have no experience with DSD or PCM streaming, my DAC doesn't support that, but I have heard a Lampizator 6 which was very nice, very similar in sound to my DAC.

Edited by astrostar59

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sbelyo    142

Has anyone tried just a high end USB cable Vs a cheap one?  I'm going to add an amanero to my buffalo III dac and I'll use their isolator/Chronos/Rhea combo to clean up and re-clock the Amenero.  To keep the back panel looking nice I was going to use a USB pass through from Neutrik.  So I'd need 2 cables.  One from the PC to the dac at 6' and one from the back panel to the Amenero at 6"  Should I be looking at buying something better than this? https://www.monoprice.com/Product?p_id=5437&gclid=CImX_aDH1NMCFdSNswodvecKMg

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spritzer    1,449

High end as in probably worse than the cheap shit?  Yeah no...

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sbelyo    142

That's what my gut tells me.  I figure I'll start with the cheap stuff, then pick up an audioquest forrest cable for like $30.  If I hear a difference great, if not I'll sell it on ebay.

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Dusty Chalk    4,193

Yeah, definitely do not waste a lot of money in that arena.  I am firmly of the belief that as long as it meets minimum requirements, expensive digital cables of any variety make no sense.  If you're getting errors, it's probably not due to the cable, unless you're using a really inferior cable.

That doesn't mean there isn't a difference -- I am engineer, so if there's an audible difference, please report, and I am all ears if there's a reasonable explanation.

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skullguise    2,152

Agreed with above, several of the posts.

I found that - once things like the USB interface are treated/isolated/re-clocked/whatever - the cables make less of a difference.  One of my favorites now is a used Wireworld Starlight 7.  Lists for maybe $100, got it for less than half that.  Well-made, and a step above a well-shielded "gold" cable.  The margin of return (sound for $) drops real fast for me....

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MLA    45
18 hours ago, skullguise said:

I found that - once things like the USB interface are treated/isolated/re-clocked/whatever - the cables make less of a difference.

Second that.

Some nice write-ups based on actual testing of different cable types, including USB: 

http://archimago.blogspot.se/2015/06/musings-audio-cables-summary-non.html

Summed up; if your DAC is asynchronous (i.e. the computer is not doing the clocking), every cable which meets USB2.0 requirements will perform identically.

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Craig Sawyers    1,368

Siegfried Linkwitz http://www.linkwitzlab.com/What_is_new_at_linkwitzlab.htm ended up with this pair of products http://www.artistic-fidelity.de/index.php/de/afi

Basically one of the pair connects to the PC/laptop's USB connection and produces three optical fiber outputs - clock plus differential data. The second unit takes these fibers and outputs RJ45. There are then a number of connection options to take RJ45 and interface it to typical DAC inputs http://www.artistic-fidelity.de/index.php/de/optionen . The idea is complete galvanic isolation to take the noisy stuff that comes out a computer's USB port and produce clean data to put into the DAC.

Haven't tried the product, but anything that Linkwitz says is worth serious consideration (My speakers are his design - the LX521).

 

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