UPDATED(#16, 25/Feb) USB Group Test (JB, Regen, iUSB3.0, iPurifier2, Intona etc)

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DigitalMana

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Group Test: USB gadgets (AQ Jitterbug, Uptone Regen, iFi iUSB3.0, iPurifier, iPurifier2, Intona, w4s Recovery any more …)


Disclaimer: For people who knew me, they all knew that I can be a bit critical, if you don’t like what you are reading, please simply ignore my reviews and enjoy the music 8).

My original post is on CA and Pez draw my attention to AC, so now I cross post it here. :D


Background:

The title may be a little misleading, a few years ago, these groups of USB gears are surely classified as gadgets, but nowadays, I would say they are indispensable in a computer audio system, mainly because:

1. USB audio device is one of the primary music sources now; and
2. USB connection is horrible for transmission audio,

so something has to be done.

A couple years ago, I did a small group test of the USB DACs, with those I started racking up different USB gadgets over time (man needs new toys). Again, I tested those with my Macbook, Shure 535 and Sennheiser HD 800, also with a pair of QMS active speakers. I also included some noise measurements result I took with a friend at his office lab (with a EMU0404).

1. Computer USB port



Lab (Power Noise Measurement)



This is a measurement taken on the computer USB port with loading. In an idea world, the noise line should be around -140dB (~a few uV, the green line), but in reality, the computer USB port is a lot worst. In fact, the computer USB port is ~1000 times (60dB) worse than the ideal.

Sound

When directly connected to the computer, all the DACs had the hallmark of the “digital sound”, dry, edgy, flat, boring and basically horrible :x.

2. Audioquest Jitterbug ($49) and iFi iPurifier ($99, discontinued)



The discontinued original iFi iPurifier probably was the first of its kind filtering both the USB Data and Power, later came the Jitterbug which did a Chinese copy (minus the Aluminum case) at half the price. As those two are so similar I lump those two reviews in one.

Lab (Power Noise Measurement)



Both of the iPurifier and Jitterbug’s graphs were so close, they basically overlap with each other, so I only posted one graph. they have almost no measurable effect on power supply noise in the range below 96kHz, above that they did reduce the noise spikes a little.

Sound

Put is simply, they work, but the overall effect is subtle (but any improvement on USB audio is nice). The sound is slightly more coherent and has a bit more depth, jazz vocal is reproduced with a bit more clarity. I found that the iFi iPurifier might have a slightly darker background than the Jitterbug, but it’s very close call.

Adding one more jitter bug into the system (one on the used port, one on the unused port), improve things a little but really not worth the extra effort :(.

Conclusion:

Overall, I will rate the Audioquest Jitterbug a score of 49 and the iFi iPurifier 50 out of 100, so so for the money and don’t expect miracle, they both had their days but it’s time to move on. I would not recommend getting any of them nowadays :nono:.

(Updated 09 Feb 2017)

3. iFi iPurifier2 (USB2.0, US$109)



This is iFi second generation iPurifiers, which belongs to a group of USB gadgets that all regenerate the USB in one way or the other, basically they all are glorified USB hubs. The aluminum chassis of the iPurifier2 has a very solid feel, it is quite a statement to have this kind of build quality at this price, also quite amazing is how did they able to pack an USB regeneration device in such a small footprint. It doesn’t use any external power so it is the easiest to use, just plug and forget. 8)

Lab



As it does not use any external power, it instead uses what iFi calls Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) on the power lines. We can see the improvement of at least 20dB noise reduction from the computer port alone, so the ANC works as advertised. However, as the overall power supply quality is depends on what you feed it in, this ultimately will vary system from system, but what we can see here is it does reduce overall power noise.

Sound

The overall sound improvement for most of the DACs I connected after gave improved bass and dynamic and had a more nondigital, transparent, 3D and musicians were both more precise and more expressive. It is definitely in a different league when compare to the first-generation gadgets (Jitterbug/original iPurifier). I think the main reason is the iPurifier2 (and all other glorified USB hubs) improves upon the 1st generation is twofold:

1. Better quality USB data
2. Better quality USB power

Conclusion

Overall, I will rate the iPurifier2 with a score of 70. So for the price, I think the price is justified by the significant improvement it brings and the build quality it has. If one wants an inexpensive USB gadget that actually works quite well and easy to use, recommended. :wink:

4. Uptone Regen (USB2.0, US$175)



The Regen comes in a small nice metal case, a generic SMPS power supply. There are 2 things puzzling me a bit: (1) for this price, Uptone really can throw in a nice power supply and not a generic SMPS one, (2) for this price, can they not glorify a USB3.0 one rather than the ancient USB2.0 one. Having say that, let the performance doing the talking, shall we?

Lab



A very nice noise graph, actually I think the graph is now limited by our test gear (EMU 0404), as you can see later also for both iFi iUSB3.0 (nano and micro), they achieved very similar graph. So I would say the Regen does measure very well and provides a clean power supply. :)

Sound

Actually, the sound signature is very similar to the iFi iPurifier2, improved bass, dynamic, blacker background and improved space; guitar drums had more realistic impact and sax solos were cleaner. :thumb: The Regen does give a darker background and a tag smoother than the iPurifier2, the difference is not huge.

Conclusion

For the nice improvements brought by the Regen, I would give it 75 out of 100. I would say if without the rest of the USB gadgets in this group test, Regen will surely rule the party performance wise. Whether it justified nearly doubling the price of the iPurifier2? may be ... but just I would say, cost/performance index here is not as high as other members of this group test.


Scores:
75 Uptone regen
70 iFi iPurifier2
50 iFi iPurifier (discontinued)
49 Audioquest Jitterbug
« Last Edit: 25 Feb 2017, 02:26 am by DigitalMana »

I.Greyhound Fan

Nice review, I am looking forward to your results.  I own a JB and Regen and have tried a purifier 2.  My experience differs a bit.  The JB made a very noticeable difference with an AQ Dragonfly and an Emotiva Big Ego DAC.  More detail, blacker background, tighter bass. cleaner and more clear sound.  However, when I tried it with my Luxman DAC, it made it bright sounding.  The IFI did not really make a noticeable difference though for some strange reason.  My Regen beats them all.

I think that all these products are system dependent.

bacobits1

All of these are system/equipment dependent. I read a lot of CA and what people were using with specifics. All the rage for almost 2 years.
When I had the Chord HD/ LPS the Regen/LPS there was a noticeable difference in clarity.
Then I  switched out the Chord for the Yggdrasil and the Regen didn't do anything, tried 2 on different occasions sold them both. Geeze a $1K Linear power supply? Give me a break! Not here! For the cost of the Chord there should have been a better PS, then they voided warranties if you used one. Not impressed with Chord.
I went with the Itona IndV (used $ all out there used) Curious Link and it did make a difference. I had a borrowed  AQ JB here too it did not do anything period in any position I tried it.
Frankly got sick of all this and the BS  boxes etc. stuck with the Itona it works.
I do stream though USB Spotify and NOT Tidal MQA etc. more BS.
My system sounds excellent and beyond............

Non of this being a reflection on iFi AMR.


I.Greyhound Fan

Bacobits, your experience just solidify's the fact that these products are all system dependent.  One thing that the Regen does is make most usb cables sound the same.  We did a usb cable shoot out in my system ( Pass X250 amp, BAT VK51se preamp, Luxman DA-06 DAC) with 2 $600 cables, a $150 cable and a cheap pangea cable.  They all sounded remarkably different without the Regen.  With the Regen, they sounded very similar (there were still differences but the gap between the cables closed) with the exception of the Pangea which still sounded thin and bright but did improve some with the Regen.  It was an eye opening experience for the people involved.

I forgot to mention, we did try an IFI usb 3.0 and it made a similar improvement as the Regen with only minor differences between the usb 3.0 and Regen.

bacobits1

It does which is probably a good thing unless you spent $700+ on a USB cable.
And you shouldn't have to. Everything was used with a Curious link $120 for an 8" cable bad enough but works in this case and a Supra USB 3Meter cable. "works" is the key word here you have to evaluate.
Not about to flip stuff for really small differences anymore. I know.... get a CAPS server.
Don't need no stinkin' monitor in my listening room.  I'm old.

DigitalMana

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6. Wyred 4 Sound Recovery
« Reply #5 on: 10 Feb 2017, 03:23 am »
6. Wyred 4 Sound Recovery (USB2.0, US$199)



I do like Wyred 4 Sound as they often have some interesting and original stuff, not one trick pony like many others. However the Recovery’s plastic endplates does let down the build quality somewhat, it feels a bit cheap next to the others. The small issue I had during the test was that the Recovery didn’t provide USB power, so most of my DACs didn’t work at all. Only the big AMR DP-777 which doesn’t draw power from USB worked. Also the Recovery is USB2.0 only.

Lab



Sorry, no lab result here as the Recovery does not provide USB power.

Sound

When it worked, the improvements are very similar to the iPurifier2, fuller body, wide, open soundstage with improved image focus. I would put them neck to neck. However, at times, drum patterns could sound a little sloppy and loose when compare to the Regen.

Conclusion

I would give it 2 scores, 0 or 70. 0 if the DAC draws power from the USB, because the Recovery won’t work in that situation; 70 in a situation when it actually worked. The Recovery is currently in a bit of uncomfortable place, as for value for money, iPurifier2 at half the price with nearly the same performance; for pure performance, so far the Regen is a better choice.


Scores:
75 Uptone Regen
70/0 W4S Recovery
70 iFi iPurifier2
50 iFi iPurifier (discontinued)
49 Audioquest Jitterbug

DigitalMana

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7. iFi nano iUSB3.0, micro iUSB3.0 (USB3.0, US$199/US$399)
« Reply #6 on: 13 Feb 2017, 03:41 am »
7. iFi nano iUSB3.0, micro iUSB3.0 (USB3.0, US$199/US$399)



The iUSB3.0 from iFi, one is from the nano series, the other is from the micro series, those two are very similar so I concentrated two reviews into one. Not sure about others, I do get bloody confused with the iFi offerings as they have very similar names and looks!

The micro is the bigger brother with 2 USB outputs and the nano the smaller one with one USB output; the nano has a very respectable 0.5uV noise, while the micro claimed an amazing 0.1uV noise. The micro does has the IsoGround system build-in, for me that didn’t do much, but in one of my friend’s system, it totally eliminated the persistent hum that was always presented in his system.

Both in full aluminum chassis with heavy metal toggle switches and gold-plated USB sockets, they both are fully USB3.0 products and both can use dual-header USB cables. This does make the other entries look a little dated, like comparing an Intel Core i7 to Pentiums. They both come with the very quite iFi iPower (1uV) power supply.

Lab



(upper one is nano, lower one is micro iUSB3.0)

We have seen similar graph with the Regen, nice and clean. Again, I think we were hitting the capability of our measurement rig (EMU0404). If one really want to look hard, the noise spikes of the iFi ones may be just a tag lower than Regen, say 1-2dB, but I can’t reliable tell them apart. So if the Lab test are nearly identical, do they sound identical?

Sound

The overall sound signature of the improvements was the same, sound was more smooth and flowing, enhanced immediacy and details, the dynamic transients were larger and cleaner. The difference was that the nano iUSB3.0 had more of them when compared to the Regen, the micro iUSB3.0 not only had more of them, but had an extra sense of muscularity, weight, and solidity that were not really presented in the rest of the group.

Put it in another way, both the Regen and nano iUSB3.0 is Mercedes-Benz C-Class machines, the Regen is a C200, while the nano iUSB3.0 is a C300, both very nice indeed. Having said that, the micro iUSB3.0 is an E-Class machine, it is in a different league.

Conclusion

The nano iUSB3.0 just seems to have more refinement than the Regen, may be it is the USB3.0 chipset iFi is using compares to the USB2.0 chipset used in the Regen.

I would give nano iUSB3.0 a score of 77 and 83 for the micro iFi iUSB3.0, both excellent value for the money and both recommended. For most people, I think the nano iUSB3.0 will be more than sufficient; if you do want the best, go for the micro.

A side note about the IsoGround function, my friend has a Chord Hugo and he always had hum in his system, we called his system the “Hummer” . By switching on the IsoGround function, the hum was gone! BTW, the Intona also killed this hum.

Score:
83 micro iFi iUSB3.0
77 nano iFi iUSB3.0
74 Uptone Regen
70/0 W4S Recovery
68 iFi iPurifier2
50 iFi iPurifier (discontinued)
49 Audioquest Jitterbug

DigitalMana

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8. Intona High Speed USB Isolator (USB2.0, US$348)
« Reply #7 on: 13 Feb 2017, 03:46 am »
8. Intona High Speed USB Isolator (USB2.0, US$348)



This is a little gem that does things slightly differently, it is a regeneration device with galvanic isolation. We audiophiles just love the word “Galvanic”, don’t we?  It was designed for industrial use (that’s why the 2.5kV voltage rating), but picked up by the audiophiles.

It is a USB2.0 design again, why everyone in audio is still stuck in USB2.0? I do understand that most audio gear is still USB2.0, but nowadays most computers have more USB3.0 ports than USB2.0 ports…

Together with the micro iUSB3.0, they two are the most expensive items in the group. Well, US$300ish is actually penny money in an audiophile world, just look at what an audiophile cable will cost. I guess the plastic is necessary for the 2.5kV industrial rating but it is really ugly, my friend said it looks like a US$19.99 cable TV isolator from Bestbuy. Well, looks aside, it is the performance does the talking.

Lab



We were a little bit surprised of the findings, the Intona noise was as good as the computer USB port! Which means it was bad … even the cheap iPurifier2 beat it hands down. Also during testing, we encountered a few operational issues:

(1) it could only provide around 300mA of juice, if we up the load to 400mA, the intona drops to 4.57V (should be 5V), so if the DAC need a bit of juice (e.g. LH Lab Geek Out), it just didn't work.

(2) sometimes the intona just won’t to connect to the system at all, need a good few retries to get it working. In one of my friend’s system, it still won’t connect as of now. But in my system, it sometimes refuse connection on a rainy day, but normal use is largely fine.

So in the Lab department, the intona is probably the worst one, it is obviously a product design for industrial use and not for home audio use. Will the woeful lab result translate 100% into the sound?

Sound

This is why audio is so much fun, although Intona failed quite miserable in the lab department, it actual sounded very good in the right system! We have tried the Intona is a few different systems, in some systems, it’s effect was similar to Regen/nano iUSB but a bit worse; in other systems, it could be as good as the iFi micro iUSB3.0 but in a very different way.

For the few systems (including mine) that Intona sounded similar to a lower grade Regen/nano iUSB3, it improved the sound to a smaller degree, sound was smoother but still have some rough edges, details enhanced but still a bit haze.

However, in a couple other systems, the improvement brought by the Intona was quite significant, similar level to the micro iFi iUSB3.0 but in a different way, I would say it is an Audi A6 vs the E-Class. The Intona achieve a slightly darker background, the iFi iUSB3.0 has a more real and musical presentation, there was a trace of “haze” or “whitening” still left in the system with Intona.

Conclusion

For systems don’t need galvanic isolation, the Intona is just an inferior Regen/nano iUSB3.0, a score of 70.

For system benefit from galvanic isolation, the iFi micro iUSB3.0 has the IsoGround function, which also provide ground isolation, it seems the Intona is doing a slightly better job in this regard, may be 15-20% better I would say. So the Intona has better ground isolation, the iUSB3.0 has much better power supply. In those particular systems where isolation is of benefit, I would give Intona 81, only let down by the poor power implementation.

Overall the micro iUSB3 is ultimately a better device (better performance, more useful features, better built), but the Intona will shine better in a system that is suffer for grounding/isolation issue.

To prove our theory further, we added the iFi micro iUSB3.0 after the Intona… Bingo! We had the best system config ever, super dark background, musical and sensual, no trace of “haze” nor “whitening”, I will give this system 90!

Score:
90 Intona + iFi micro iUSB3.0
83 iFi micro iUSB3.0
81/70 Intona
77 iFi nano iUSB3.0
74 Uptone Regen
70/0 Wyred 4 Sound Recovery
68 iFi iPurifier2
50 iFi iPurifier (discontinued)
49 Audioquest Jitterbug

DigitalMana

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Group Test Summary
« Reply #8 on: 13 Feb 2017, 03:47 am »
Group Test Summary

After the group test, seems that the following 3 items affect USB audio quality significantly:

1. Clean Power
2. Regenerated Data
3. Isolation


The one item in the group test that dealt with all 3 is the iFi micro iUSB3.0 (with the IsoGround function ON), although the Intona did a slightly better job at isolation.

Of course, one can also mix and match the system to get all 3, for example:

Regen/nano iUSB3.0/Recovery + Intona

So here is my suggestion (as of now):

Cost no object system:
Intona + iFi micro iUSB3.0

Highend System:
iFi micro iUSB3.0

General use:
Regen or iFi nano iUSB3.0

Value for money:
iFi iPurifier2

System (hummer) needs isolation
Intona or iFi micro iUSB3.0

Scores:
90 Intona + iFi micro iUSB3.0
83 iFi micro iUSB3.0
81/70 Intona
77 iFi nano iUSB3.0
75 Uptone Regen
70/0 Wyred 4 Sound Recovery
68 iFi iPurifier2
50 iFi iPurifier (discontinued)
49 Audioquest Jitterbug

I.Greyhound Fan

Nice write review. 

Thanks!

Larry

charmerci

The graph for the USB port and for the Jitterbug/iFi purifier (2) in the original post look exactly the same.

DigitalMana

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If look closely, at the high freq, there is a small difference. 8)

charmerci

If look closely, at the high freq, there is a small difference. 8)


Wow - when you say small, you mean small!

WGH

Great write up! As a member of the Tucson Audiophiles we have had the pleasure of listening to the Audioquest Jitterbug, Uptone Regen and Intona in different homes and the results are all system dependent, some good, some bad.

In our audiophile adventures I have discovered that the farther up the food chain you go regarding clean power the more harm these devices do. I have 3 linear regulated power supplies plugged into homemade Felix's http://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=25757.0 powering my music server and the devices I have heard make the sound much worse. As my friends upgrade their power supplies they end up selling their filters.

If your USB/SPDIF converter or DAC doesn't require 5 volts then a data only cable will eliminate another potential source of noise.
I use the JMaxwell USB cable with excellent results, it's very affordable too. JMaxwell makes both powered and data only cables.
http://www.jmaxwellusb.com/

Wayne

Pez

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  • The dispenser of Truth.
Wonderful information here, thank you for the thorough work. I wish I could say I was surprised the iUSB3.0 did so well in your review, but I'm not. As far as I'm concerned it is essential for any computer setup.  :thumb:

DigitalMana

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Re: UPDATED(17/Feb/17) Side Bar: Dual header USB cable
« Reply #15 on: 17 Feb 2017, 02:39 am »
Side Bar: Dual header USB cable



In my experience, using a twin headed USB cable brings decent improvement. :D

I have tried both the iFi Gemini and Acoustic Revive twin headed USB cables, they both bring similar improvements to the system, there is more separation between the instruments and the overall image and background is cleaner. Bryan Ferry's vocals on the Roxy cut becomes fully and more 3D. Robert Silverman's performances of Beethoven's piano sonatas sound more open.

So if you can, go dual header USB! :thumb:

DigitalMana

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Side Bar: iPower ... the dark side of the force
« Reply #16 on: 25 Feb 2017, 02:24 am »
Side Bar: iPower ... the dark side of the force

When I first saw the power supply (iPower) that came with the iUSB3.0, I had the following feeling:

Gee, a SMPS? By the laws of nature, all SMPS must be inherently bad! I have to swap it out for an audiophile approved LPS.

Since then, I have bought a couple and borrowed a few LPS too. At the end of the day, I always come back to the iPower reluctantly. The iPower was just simply better, darker background, more dynamic presentation, higher resolution, more analogue and more musical. iFi must have done something very different in the iPower.

Now, every time my audiophile friends come to my house, when they saw the iPower, they would always give me “the look”, I knew what they were thinking, “Gee, how can we still be friends with you if you are using a SMPS as an audiophile?”

But every time when they audition the iPower vs LPS, jaws just keep hitting the floor  :icon_twisted:

Now a few of them are iPower converted, one of them changed everything in his house to iPowers, including USB hubs, routers, fibre modem, cable set-top box, internet streamer etc… he said the effect was well worth it (he said even video image was improved). I haven’t been to his house lately, I will surely report back once I got a chance to evaluate his “iPower Optimized House” and experience the dark side of the force  :lol:


DigitalMana

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maty

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Intona USB Isolator vs Uptone Regen vs TotalDAC D1

Review and Measurements of Intona USB Isolator for Audio DACs

https://audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/review-and-measurements-of-intona-usb-isolator-for-audio-dacs.2616/





HAL

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Are there graphs or pictures in the discussion and measurements?  I am not seeing any in IE11 or Chrome when I view it even though I see were the icon is for the file.

I do see Maty's graph.

Edit: Found the original thread on CA and see the graphs.