iFi Audio Micro iUSB3.0
USB audio, an interface that should intrinsically be plus-n-play, seem to be fraught with problems. For some, the iFi Audio micro iUSB3.0 is a controversial device. Enjoy the Music.com reviewer Clive Meakins feels it is not controversial at all. Yes USB is wonderful for transferring files to a printer and I don't see people saying that files are corrupted when transferred over USB, but playing music is not like printing a document. There is scope for electrically noisy computers infecting the ground plane of the downstream DAC, not only is the ground noisy but the +5V supply will be quite unpleasant too. Noise on the DAC ground plane may not impact the digital section of the DAC but DACs have an analogue section too; this is not somewhere we want to inject noise. Even if your DAC is not USB powered or does not use USB power for its USB card, there's a good chance the DAC ground will still connect with the USB ground.
iFi Audio's Micro iUSB3.0 'box of tricks' implements their IsoGround, which can be selected to be Off or On, this is optionally breaks the ground connection to the computer in a way that is USB standard compliant. Talking about standards, iFi are embracing USB3, this device is fully USB3 compliant and well as being fully backwards compatible with USB2. A short USB3 cable is provided with the unit, this again will work with USB2 as well.
There is also a power mode switch, this controls the power from the iUSB3.0 such that it can switch power on/off in synchronization with the PC or it can permanently powering its USB port so for example a battery powered DAC can be left on charge. The outputs of the USB3.0 follow iFi's previous practice, there is an output with just the power lines connected and another with data + power, this allows cables such as the iFi Gemini to used where the power lines are in a physically separated cable to the data cables, this Clive Meakins finds has benefits presumably due to reduced transfer of noise between power and data lines. Not only are there a pair of power and data ports, there are two of each so you can connect network attached storage and your DAC via the USB3.0. You could even run two DACs or a DAC and charge your phone.
The REGEN was my baseline for auditioning the iFi Audio iUSB3.0. Clive tried all three DACs – iDAC2, Octave and Ciúnas with both REGEN and iUSB3.0. The result as the same each time though to differing degrees. The iFi Audio USB3.0 gave a richer and smoother sound with fine detail presented in a less forced manner. Bass with the iFi was mostly more powerful, there was also slightly better central focus. Listening to Wynton Marsalis' trumpet on his album with Eric Clapton I found Wynton's trumpet a trace sharp with the REGEN whereas the iFi made this difficult instrument sound more balanced. The REGEN gives a slightly "etched" sound versus the iFi iUSB3.0. The REGEN certainly brings improvements but the iFi offers further improvements.
"If you use a USB connection with your DAC then you need to try the iFi Audio iUSB3.0," says Clive Meakins. "I'm sure there are computers or streamers which are so well sorted in terms of noise that re-clocking may not help much, if at all. Most of us using USB probably use a standard desktop or laptop, invariably this will benefit from re-clocking unless you have a very expensive and special DAC which makes itself immune to external noise. I say give the iFi iUSB3.0 a try. Well done iFi!"
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