A Collection of USB Audio Enhancement Products
Device Type: USB Filter
Input: USB (Type B)
Output: USB (Type B)
Dimensions (L x W x H): 62 x 19 x 18mm
Weight: 32g (0.0705 lbs)
Availability: through Authorized Dealers
Ultra Fi Aubisque USB Filter
Device Type: USB Filter
Input: USB (Type B)
Output: USB (Type B)
Dimensions (L x W x H): 58 x 14 x 12mm
Weight: 9.07g (0.02 lbs)
Availability: Direct Sales
Schiit Wyrd USB Decrapifier
Device Type: USB Power Isolator
Input: USB (Type B)
Output: USB (Type A)
Dimensions (L x D x H): 5 x 3.5 x 1.25 inches
Weight: 1.0 pound
Availability: Direct Sales
Other components used in the review:
iFi Micro USB Power $199.00
iFi Mercury USB Cable .5 meter $99.00
iFi Gemini USB Cable 1.5 meter $249.00
The 3 products under review all deal with common issues encountered in USB computer audio. Most USB DACs require a 5 volt line (VBUS) in the USB cable to supply power to the USB controller in one’s DAC. Unfortunately, this power line from the computer brings with it noise that can contaminate the audio data leading to degradation of the sound one hears from the DAC. The idea behind the Schiit Wyrd USB Decrapifier is that supplying clean power to your USB DAC, or better-quality USB port power management, can result in improvements in sound and performance. Schiit believes that glitches and dropouts can be prevented using the Wyred USB Decrapifier.
Another issue one faces in using USB audio is EMF noise from the computer. The EMF noise can also serve as another source of contamination of the audio signal and have a negative effect on the music heard from one’s DAC. The iPurifier and Ultra Fi Aubisque are filters that deal with this issue by inserting themselves between the USB cable and the DAC to filter EMF noise. In addition, the Aubisque has additional ground filtering.
Michael Lavorgna did a wonderful job reviewing the iFi Audio Micro USB Power for AudioStream. I decided not to repeat the work Michael has done, but instead, offer a sonic comparison of the Schiit Wyrd USB Decrapifier with the iFi Micro USB Power.
As I started work on this review project, I quickly realized that results could vary with the DAC and computer used. The strategy a DAC manufacturer uses for isolating the audio circuitry from USB computer noise varies with each audio designer. Some of the isolation techniques are quite involved. Interesting enough, some of the DAC manufacturers asked me not to release the specifics of their isolation designs. I also found that different USB cables can influence how these products work further complicating the issue. A third issue is that the computer used and its USB port management can influence the performance of the USB cable / DAC interface.
In this evaluation I used my early 2011 MacBook Pro running OSX Mavericks and Boot Camp Windows 8.1 Pro 64. The USB cables employed were the Audioquest Diamond, the iFi Mercury, iFi Gemini, and the Synergistic Research Galileo LE USB cables. The DAC used for my listening evaluation was the MSB Technology Analog DAC with Analog Power Base.
The Schiit Wyrd USB Decrapifier
Schiit states that the Wyrd USB Decrapifier eliminates noise and glitches caused by “crappy” USB power. The Wyrd can be used with any USB DAC as it supports all USB audio standards and up to 32/384. Above and beyond that, Schiit makes no claims as to the amount of noise reduction you will get or the sonic benefits, if any, to be obtained with its use.
Technical Description from Schiit
“Wyrd does two things: it replaces the noisy USB power from your computer with a low-noise linear power supply (no switchers here!) with precision regulators rated at 2.5uV RMS noise. This is literally 100,000X better than some of the USB ports we’ve measured, which have up to 500mv of hi-frequency noise. It also uses a tightly spec’d crystal oscillator on its own filtered power supply for the USB repeater chip for best possible stability.”The Wyrd can supply over 500mA and consumes 6W maximum; less than 1W typical. An AC power 9VA 6VAC wall-wart is supplied with the Wyrd.
The Wyrd has an attractive aluminum case with two power indicators and a power switch. One light indicates that the power is on, the second that a USB destination device like a DAC is attached to the Wyrd. Unlike the iFi Micro USB Power, the Wyrd has only one USB A output so no split double A end USB cables can be used directly with this device.
iFi Mercury .5 meter USB Cable
The Wyred was connected to my computer with an iFi Mercury .5 meter USB cable. The quality of this USB cable was very apparent upon visual examination. The machined aluminum connectors with gold plated ends are quite impressive looking for a cable at this price. The Gemini has 3 custom-made metal oxide ceramic RF noise silencers. One is placed at each end of the cable; the middle filter can be moved to fine-tune the sound of the cable. I did find that movement of the center filter resulted in a slight, but perceptible difference to the sound. iFi claims that the Mercury cable adheres to the 90 ohm specification of the USB transmission protocol with just a 1% deviation from the 90 ohm impedance including the connectors and the cable.
I found this cable to be quite neutral sounding and very competitive with more expensive USB cables.
Does the Wyrd USB Decrapifier Improve the Sound?
I first evaluated the Wyrd with the Audioquest Diamond USB cable. I definitely heard positive sonic results using the MSB Technology Analog DAC. In general, the soundstage was larger with enhanced air and depth. There was less congealing of multiple voices and instruments when played with the Wyrd. The silence was improved with a deeper black background. Voices and instruments were smoother with a slight edginess removed. The bass had better definition and slightly more impact. I am happy to say that the Wyrd did no harm to the sound. Transients were not softened nor was there a brightening of the sound.
The new release of West Side Story with the San Francisco Symphony (PCM 24/96 and dsf 64) allowed me to easily hear the effect of the Wyrd on the sound of my DAC. Not only were the voices of the singers better focused, but the percussion was better defined with the Wyrd. The soundstage opened up significantly with the Wyrd when connected to the Analog DAC.
I also had a ripped SACD of the Mobile Fidelity release of Patricia Barber’s A Distortion of Love. The track "My Girl" presents Barber’s voice with reverb added in the studio. Using the Wyrd, the reverb was far more apparent to me with better focus of her voice along with a larger soundstage.
The Netherlands Chamber Choir recording of Bach Motets (Channel Classics 24/192) proved to be another good test for the Wyrd. With the Wyrd there was a reduction of subtle distortion or hardness heard with multiple voices in the choir along with a deeper and wider soundstage. The ambience of the recording venue was more easily discerned when using the Wyrd.
My findings using the Synergistic Research Galileo LE USB cable with the Wyrd were similar to that obtained with the Audioquest Diamond.
Sonic Comparisons with the iFi Micro USB Power
The iFi Micro USB Power is another very well made product housed in a very attractive aluminum case. iFi’s description of the Micro USB Power:
“To create a USB power supply that is ultra-quiet is an engineering feat in its own right. We went several steps further. The Super Regulator technology encompasses multi-stage and multi-order power purifying with filtering. We even commissioned a special, audio-grade USB power supply unit. The iUSB, with an excellent voltage accuracy of 0.5%, is even quieter than a 9V dry cell battery.”Using the Audioquest Diamond and the iFI Mercury, I noted a number of similar findings as those obtained using the Wyred. But there were some differences that were readily apparent to me in my listening sessions. The iFi Micro USB Power had a slightly brighter sound quality with the Analog DAC. I also noticed that there was less reverberation and focus to Patricia Barber’s voice when she was singing the song "My Girl". The iPower had a bit more presence to the midrange and highs when listening to West Side Story. The Wyred had a slightly bigger soundstage and slightly more depth than that heard with the Micro USB Power.
“The iFi Micro USB Power is supplied with a high quality SMP wall wart and the device supports High Speed USB 2.0.”
Substituting the double A ended iFi Gemini USB cable for the Audioquest Diamond with the Micro USB Power resulted in a deeper black background and a bit less presence to the midrange and high end. The Gemini shares the basic construction of the Mercury, but has dual-headed A ends that totally separates the power lead from the audio lead until recombined at the B end. Unfortunately, I was unable to test the Gemini with the Wyrd as it has only one USB A output.
Some of you will prefer the midrange and high end presence of the iFi Micro USB Power as compared to the slightly more neutral sounding, at least to my ear, Wyrd. Using a filter or line conditioner with the power supply of the iFi Micro USB Power did diminish this slight presence. Perhaps the SMPS of the Micro USB Power is adding some noise to my AC power line and affecting the overall sound of my system.
The iFi iPurifier
This beautifully machined aluminum filter was inserted into the end of the Audioquest Diamond and the other end directly into the Analog DAC. The iPurifier cleans and filters the audio and power output of the USB cable just before it enters the DAC.
iFi claims that the iPurifier reduces the typical EMI noise of 39 dB at the computer to 34 dB. The iPower uses the same connector design as that found in the Mercury USB cable matching the 90 ohm impedance standard. The USB connectors in the iPurifier are gold plated and housed in a machined solid aluminum design that provides enhanced RF shielding. The iPurifier also removes DC offset and rebalances the USB audio. The iPurifier supports High-Speed USB Audio Class 2.0 to 384 kHZ and beyond.
The Sound with the iPurifier
I noticed obvious differences using the iPurifier with the Audioquest Diamond USB cable. In general, the soundstage was slightly wider with more apparent detail to the highs. There was a small improvement made to the bass definition and dynamic qualities of the bass. Focus and resolution of multiple voices were improved with the iPurifier.
Transients seemed to be a little clearer and sharper with the iPurifier.
Listening to the Netherland Chamber Choir Bach Motets, I noticed that the voices of the choir were more easily identified with less hardness to the sound. The soundstage was wider and deeper with the iPurifier. I also observed that the ambience of the hall was improved using the iPurifier.
I heard the same improvements to bass dynamics, better defined highs, and improved presence and focus of the piano listening to Monty Alexander’s Calypso Blues (Chesky 24/192). Background silence was a little darker with the iPurifier.
I did feel that there was a definite sonic signature to this device that added a small amount of highlight to the midrange and highs. Some might call it coloration, but I did not find it objectionable.
Substituting the Synergistic Research Galileo USB cable for the Audioquest Diamond resulted in quite startling results. I heard a softening of transients with slightly diminished dynamics from the bass and percussion. The presentation was smoother at the expense of detail. The dynamic quality of the entire presentation seemed to be compressed. I did hear a slightly wider soundstage using the iPurifier with the Galileo LE. The Galileo LE has its own UEF filter and it appears that adding the iPurifier to the Galileo results in too much filtering. If you don’t hear positive results with the iPurifier, it just might be the result of a less than ideal match with your USB cable.
The Ultra Fi Aubisque USB Filter
Ultra Fi states that their Aubisque USB Filter reduces computer noise passed down the USB cable when installed in-line with the USB cable at the type B end and directly plugged into your DAC. The Aubisque is made of molded plastic and of similar size to the iPurifier. It appears to be very well built. The Aubisque has a 2 layer circuit board with essentially 3 filters. A 1st order filter is used on the Ground, a 1st order filter on the VBUS 5 volt line, and a filter on the 2 data lines that deals with common mode noise rejection. Another aspect of the design of the Aubisque is that different gauges of wire are used in its construction that seems to have a significant effect on the resultant sound. Larry Moore, designer of the Aubisque, stated that his filter can reduce USB noise by 5 dB.
The Sound with the Aubisque
I heard a very slight enhancement of the soundstage using the Aubisque with the Audioquest Diamond. I did hear a reduction in overall hardness of the sound with enhanced clarity. Transients sounded cleaner and slightly more dynamic with the Aubisque. The background silence seemed to be slightly improved when I listened to music with the Aubisque. As I played the Netherland Chamber Choir Bach Motets, I noticed that there was a noticeable improvement in the sound of the choir with less edginess to the sound. The soundstage seemed slightly wider and deeper.
Listening to Calpyso Blues, the cymbals were better defined and cleaner sounding. The entire presentation seemed more dynamic with the Aubisque.
The Aubisque is very neutral and does no harm to the music. It doesn’t seem to add any presence to the sound, but appears to enhance DAC resolution.
As with the iPurifier, the Aubisque was not a good match with the Synergistic Research Galileo USB cable.
Comparison of the Aubisque with the iPurifier
The iPurifier presents a bigger soundstage and more presence at the high end than the Aubisque. Some will prefer the sound of one over the other depending on your DAC and system. I would say that the Aubisque has less personality than the iPurifier, but does not seem to have as great an overall effect on the music as the iPurifier.
The iPurifier, Aubisque, and the Wyrd USB Decrapifier all demonstrated a positive improvement to the sound of my system under certain component selections. Just how all of this plays out for you will depend on your DAC, cables, and even the computer utilized in your system. I often used the adjective “slight” to describe what I was hearing with these devices as these changes are not earth shaking, but could be perceived on my system. Perhaps the effects of these devices would have been larger had I used a less expensive DAC than the MSB Technology Analog DAC. While I feel that most computer audiophiles will benefit and enjoy using one or more of these devices, auditioning them in your particular system prior to purchase is most definitely recommended.