iFi iUSB 3 Review

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Tyson

iFi iUSB 3 Review
« on: 23 Apr 2016, 08:24 pm »
It’s pretty rare that I review something anymore nowadays, but I wanted to do a quick review of a pretty remarkable component that’s made it’s way into my system lately.  Right now my system consists of:

PC based music server
Jriver
Regen Green and Amber (in series)
iFi Micro iDSD
Custom DIY 6sn7/6bl7 tube preamp
First Watt BA-3 (completely tricked out with premium parts)
VH Audio CHeLA OCC Copper speaker cable
VH Audio V-Twist Cu24 OCC interconnects
Serenity Acoustic Super 7 speakers

Background
For the record, I’m trying to get my digital front end to sound better.  I really like the iFi, but my reference for USB DACs is the Auralic Vega at the $3k range, and the MSB Analog DAC at the $10k range.  To be more precise, I like the tonal balance of the iFi the best, but it just doesn’t pass the level of detail or have the black background of the Vega or the MSB. 

Enter the Regen
I started with a single Amber Regen when they first came out because I knew my PC music server was spewing a ton of grime into my audio system.  Sure enough, it made things nicer and sweeter.  When the Green Amber came out, I ordered one of those too, because I wanted to compare them.  It was a bit better but not hugely better.  Since I had them both, I figured “why not try them both at the same time?”  So the Amber got put next to the PC server and the Green got put next to my iFi iDSD micro.  Now we are talking!  Big step up – the extra clarity the green brought to the table, plus the superior tone the Amber had combined to make my system sound very, very nice. 

The Game Changer
As nice as my system sounded (and it sounded awesome), I knew I wanted to get things even quieter, with a deeper black background, and especially greater dynamics.  So I decided to try out the iFi iUSB 3 because it was getting a lot of buzz.  So I yanked my Regen’s out, dropped the iUSB 3 in, hit play and…. Holy crap that’s some crazy dynamics!  And super quiet.  The most quiet and clean I’d ever heard my system.  Only one problem.  I lost the nice tube-like tonality of the Regens.  Shit.  So I figure no problem, I’ll just put one of the Regen’s back in.  So I did.  And it was terrible.  The worst of both units – bad tone with no dynamics.  WTF? 

So I pulled the iUSB 3, put the 2 Regens back in, and got back the awesome tonality.  But I really missed the amazing dynamics and clarity of the iUSB.  So it hit me – why not use all 3?  Sure, why not?  In for a penny, in for  a pound, as they say.  I tried all the units in different spots and different combos, and ended up with the order of Amber Regen at the PC, with the iUSB and the Green Regen at the DAC.  Ahh, that’s just about perfect.  Great dynamics, super soundstage, amazing tonality and super clean sound, all at once.  Man it was a PITA to get to this point, but totally worth it. 

PS, as I’ve continued to use the iUSB 3 it’s mellowed quite a bit as far as tonal balance.  If someone put a gun to my head and forced me to go with one box only, it’d be the iUSB – I think it does the best job of actually cleaning up the dirty signal coming from my PC.  Kudos to the people at iFi!

mr_bill

Re: iFi iUSB 3 Review
« Reply #1 on: 23 Apr 2016, 09:31 pm »
Tyson great review
Does the iUSB3 plus Micro get you the black and detail and performance of the Vega?

Tyson

Re: iFi iUSB 3 Review
« Reply #2 on: 23 Apr 2016, 11:45 pm »
It does.  Black background, detail, and sound staging.  And maybe even better dynamics.  But the Vega still wins with beautiful tonal balance.

jparkhur

Re: iFi iUSB 3 Review
« Reply #3 on: 24 Apr 2016, 02:15 am »
Tyson what about putting the ifi or others on batter power. Those ps are limited and hooking them up to clean 12 v might be super. I used Pi audio s ( Dave) buss b and others to get done very black quiet sound.   It was very apparent.   

jparkhur

Re: iFi iUSB 3 Review
« Reply #4 on: 24 Apr 2016, 02:16 am »
Also a dual head sub helps

Tyson

Re: iFi iUSB 3 Review
« Reply #5 on: 24 Apr 2016, 02:55 am »
Tyson what about putting the ifi or others on batter power. Those ps are limited and hooking them up to clean 12 v might be super. I used Pi audio s ( Dave) buss b and others to get done very black quiet sound.   It was very apparent.   

iFi iDSD is battery powered already.  It was specifically the USB input from my PC that was causing problems.

Odal3

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Re: iFi iUSB 3 Review
« Reply #6 on: 24 Apr 2016, 02:58 am »
Interesting! Thanks for sharing. How does this tripple effect really work?

What kind of pc server do you have, and have you done any internal tweaks to it as well?