The topic of audiophile USB cables seems to elicit endless debate from computer audio enthusiasts. Many heated arguments have taken place at internet audio forums arguing the merits of these cables. There are those that feel that the improvements heard by using an upgraded USB cable versus a standard Belkin printer cable are purely imaginary.
iFi is an outgrowth of Abbington Music Research (AMR) "with trickle-down technology licensed from AMR and aimed primarily at the future, Computer Audio generation". We have two components under review from their Micro line—a USB DAC/Headphone amp and a USB power supply. For a combined price of $500, the iFi pair offers a lot of musical muscle for your money. The rest of the Micro line includes the iCan headphone amp ($249), and iPhono MM/MC phono preamp ($399).
My desktop setup has evolved into an iMac running Audirvana, the Audioquest Dragonfly USB DAC, AudioQuest Victoria cable, into the ADAM A3X powered speakers. I listen to this setup every day more and less and I enjoy it every time I listen to it. While it's not perfect, nothing is in hi-fi except enjoyment and as I said, this setup works in that regard for me. So why mess with enjoyment?
Cables Categorically Matter
Just try playing music through a hi-fi without cables. Nothing. Nada. Silence. Now try connecting your amplifier to speakers with twine. Again nothing. Nada. Silence. Cables matter in the most fundamental way because you have to use the right cable for the right job. But what about the notion that a choice between two of the exact same kind of cable, Ethernet cables for today's tale, can matter? That two different Ethernet cables can make your network-connected file-based music playback sound different? Preposterous? Pernicious pandering? Have I sold my soul or lost my mind? Have I peed on the sacred altar of Science?
Thanks to John Marks of Stereophile for the heads up on this tiny app-O-controversy. The Cardas Clarifier has been sold in CD-form through Ayre Acoustics as the "Irrational But Efficacious" CD ($20) and from Cardas in LP-form as the "Cardas Frequency Sweep Record" ($28) for years. Decades even. Now computer audiophiles can delight in the Cardas Clarifier App for iOS devices for just $0.99. That's right for under a buck you can purportedly degauss your gear and listen while you do it to what my ears sounds exactly like the sound my spaceship makes when it takes off.
At the last CES, numerous visitors to the Synergistic Research room were commenting on a new base for computers and components that improved their sound when they were simply placed on the base. My curiosity was aroused with these reports. Could a computer’s sound that is fed to a DAC be significantly improved by simply placing the computer on a base? Given the number of audiophile tweaks that exist, I entered this testing with quite a bit of skepticism. After all, I have tried numerous stands including those from Symposium and Back Diamond Racing with limited success when used on my laptop. Toss in some Shakti stones and fancy footers with again, limited improvement, if any. But having previously met Ted Denney of Synergistic Research, I knew that he was not in the habit of exaggerating his products capabilities.
I saw this handy little item in a pre-CES Press Release from OWC and thought, cool. While I did not see one in person at the show, I still think it's cool. The Newer Technology Power2U AC/USB Wall Outlet ($27.99/ea) installs into any existing 16 cubic inch electrical box with a 15Amp circuit and its UL/CUL Listed (E339607) for use in United States & Canada.
This pocket-size (5.6" by 2.2" by 1.4"), 9.5-oz, Bluetooth-enabled powered stereo speaker with “subwoofer” is guaranteed to blow your mind. Even the usually deaf gadget writers for mainstream publications—the guys who go gaga for Bose—sat up and took notice when they heard the original foxL a few years ago. The Soundmatters publicist waited for the Platinum version to be released before contacting me for a possible review. I’ll take that as a compliment.