AudioQuest JitterBug USB Data & Power Noise Filter

Device Type: USB Data & Power Noise Filter
Input: USB 2.0 Type-A female
Output: USB Type-A male
Dimensions (approximate): 2" L x 3/4" W x 1/2" D
Weight: not much
Availability: Online and through Authorized Dealers
Price: $49.00
Website: www.audioquest.com

Moving Beyond The Bits
While some people still want to argue that "bits are bits" when it comes to digital data transmission, other people are looking at real-world solutions to real-world problems. I have a number of devices in for review that take aim at cleaning up our USB connections. While each offers a different approach and even a different set of solutions to more than one problem, the JitterBug is a USB filter. What is it filtering? The company states, "JitterBug’s dual-circuitry measurably reduces unwanted noise currents and parasitic resonances. It also reduces jitter and packet errors (in some cases, packet errors are completely eliminated)."

In brief, a USB connection includes a 5V DC (VBUS) and supply ground as well as our data typically all in one cable. Some cable manufacturers offer dual lead USB cables separating power from data to avoid interference between the two. It's also worth noting that some DAC manufacturers do not use the incoming USB's 5V DC power. My reference Auralic Vega is one such DAC. Whether or not your DAC does or doesn't will depend on what USB receiver is in use and how it's implemented. For example the Vega uses the XMOS USB input chip but there are other DACs out there using the same XMOS chip that do use the power from your computer's USB bus. The best way to find out is to ask the person that made your DAC if you'd like to use a data-only USB cable.

One side of the little black plastic bodied JitterBug houses a female USB Type-A input while sticking out of the other end is a male Type-A USB plug. The JitterBug has a USB innie and outtie so it can sit between your USB cable of choice and your device of choice, typically a computer. AudioQuest recommends using two JitterBugs in parallel, not in series, in your computer (though AQ warns no more than two JitterBugs per computer). The company also recommends sticking a JitterBug in any unused USB input residing on your networked audio system. This includes any NAS, router, or network player/streamer that has an unused USB port. The reason for this, the company explains, is because these unused USB ports act as tiny antennas sucking in radiated EMI and RFI which can then hop a ride on your network-attached data cables causing the aforementioned unwanted noise currents, etc. The company adds, "...the bus itself is generating all of this noise, thus polluting the device."

AudioQuest is keeping mum regarding what's inside the little 'Bug so here's a pic of two prototypes I snapped at CES 2015. What we can see is a multi-layered printed circuit board with some resistors, capacitors, inductors, and chokes. I did ask for some further information and received this reply from AQ:

We had three primary design goals for JitterBug:
  1. Filter the noise on the VBUS between the host and the associated USB device
  2. Improve the data flow between the host and the associated USB device
  3. Shield the associated USB device from EMI, RFI, and other high-frequency noise
The first two goals are achieved through JitterBug’s discrete noise-dissipation circuits. The third goal is achieved by having designed JitterBug to be placed at the host (rather than at the DAC or destination), thereby directing noise back into the computer rather than allowing it into the associated USB device.
The design of Jitterbug involved a number of people including Gordon Rankin (who also designed the AudioQuest DragonFly DAC), and Steve Silberman, Garth Powell, Bill Low, and Joe Harley all from AudioQuest. Here's a bit more from AQ:
Gordon had been discussing ways to reduce the noise that plagues computing devices and it seemed clear to him that two distinct filters were needed: one to address the noise over the data line and a second to address the noise over the 5V power line. Additionally, Gordon had explored where such a device might be most effective and decided it should be at the host (computer), rather than at the client (DAC). Later, we learned that placing the filter at the host offered the additional benefit of using two filters (one in series and one in parallel) per bus, or of using USB filters on the unused ports of streaming devices.
For my listening comparisons, I employed a total of four JitterBugs; one between my Light Harmonic Lightspeed USB cable and my MacBook Pro, another is series in the MacBook's unused USB port, one in my Asus router, and one in my Synology NAS. I’ll also talk about a number of reductionist scenarios to see if all these JitterBugs are indeed necessary to make me dance.

My listening setup for putting the JitterBugs through their paces consists of the Auralic Vega, the review sample Lampizator Lite-7 DAC, and the review sample Audeze Deckard. The latter was used in my desktop system with the ADAM A3Xs while the former two DACs sat in my main system (details below in the "Associated Equipment" link).

Do The JitterBug
When the four JitterBugs first arrived, I put them all into my system in one shot. Two went in MacBook Pro, one in-line with the LightSpeed USB cable, one in the MacBook's unused USB port where I had to use a short USB extender cable since the JitterBug's body is too wide to allow them to be plugged in side-by-side, while two more went into the unused USB ports on my Synology NAS and router. The DAC in use was the Lampizator and I just went about listening to music for a few weeks.

When it came time to do the JitterBug proper, I removed all of them and went about listening to the Lampizator all by its lonesome. I was listening to the album Altre Follie, 1500 - 1750 by Hespèrion XXI & Jordi Savall (Alia Vox, CD rip) for a few reasons; it's absolutely lovely music, it offers a very nice number of varied acoustic voices, and it's a very good recording. I've also been listening to this album for years and have heard it on countless systems. To say that I know it well and enjoy the crap out of it would be an accurate statement.

What happened to Altre Follie, 1500 - 1750 sans JitterBugs? The first and most noticeable change is it became more difficult to physically differentiate the different musicians. It's as if their edges became more diffuse, bleeding out into the surrounding space. This also affected the overall space of the recording where everything sounded more bunched up and less distinct. Putting just one JitterBug back in, in-line with the LightSpeed cable feeding the Lampizator, brought back some clarity. If you'd like, think of looking through a camera where the little JitterBug provided improved focus, less blur.

There were additional improvements as well including better low frequency definition, Hespèrion XXI employs a very distinct sounding percussive instrument (about which I could not find details), and with the JitterBug in the picture it resounded more fully and had more weight and clarity. The voices of these period acoustic instruments also seemed to ring out more truly, sounding sweeter and more refined.

Adding a second JitterBug in parallel to my MacBook Pro delivered more of everything I just described. In terms of the most striking change, I would point again to greater image focus as well as more relaxed and natural sound. Altre Follie, 1500 - 1750 sounded more natural and relaxed, so I was more easily allowed to relax and enjoy the entire album. I tried measuring this, but my pleasure-O-meter is broken.

Adding another JitterBug to my NAS did not offer an appreciable difference but when I added the fourth JitterBug to my router I noticed another step up in clarity. A further refinement in focus. This was certainly a much more subtle step as compared to the difference between no JitterBug versus one JitterBug, and not as great an improvement compared to adding the second Jitterbug to my MacBook's unused USB port.

Switching to the Auralic Vega, I also switched to Miles' Kind of Blue (DSD64). I started out without 'Bugs and listened for a while. Nice. I then put in two JitterBugs; one in line with the same LightSpeed USB cable, and the other in the unused USB port on my MacBook. And boom! Immediate improvement in clarity. The 'Bug-less Kind of Blue sounded comparatively splashy and spatially a bit wild and wooly. Adding back the two 'Bugs brought things into sharper focus, the overall image felt more coherent and natural, and it was simply easier to relax and enjoy Kind of Blue.

I also have the LH Labs LightSpeed 2G USB Cable which separates the data and power legs into two separate terminations. So I connected just the data end to the Vega and went about JitterBug'ing again. The Vega has a number of clock setting options; Auto, Course, Fine, and Exact each offering increased clock precision. I always leave mine set to Exact. When I first connected the LightSpeed 2G USB Cable and hit "play", Miles stuttered. He skipped. Hmm. I've encountered this before when using other USB cables and the easy fix is to lower the clock setting. Instead I inserted the Jitterbug in between the cable and Mac and no more skipping. Interesting, no? I'll also share that I much prefer the LightSpeed cable since it makes everything sound more musical. So any sonic gains offered by eliminating the power leg from the USB equation were far outweighed by USB cable choice + JitterBug.

Finally I moved to my desktop and the Audeze Deckard Headphone Amp/DAC and the wonderful album Dysnomia from Dawn of Midi (see review) which also features a trio of acoustic instruments. What a great record. Anyway, I connected to the Deckard with a length of AudioQuest Diamond USB cable and I listened for a bit without the JitterBug and then inserted one in between my iMac and the Deckard and didn't hear much of a noticeable improvement. Hmm. Then I looked at my setup to make sure nothing was wrong and realized I still had the Schiit Wyrd in the loop. Duh. I'll be reviewing that as well in good time but in the mean time I took that Schiit out and went about my JitterBug'ing.

While not as great a difference as with the DACs in my main system, inserting one JitterBug into my desktop system listening through the ADAM A3Xs also resulted in increased focus, better bass definition, and a more relaxed sound. Adding another JitterBug to my iMac's unused USB port offered further improvements along the same lines. Fitting the Audeze LCD-X cans over my ears mated to the Audeze Deckard offered a more intimate look at these sonic proceedings. JitterBugs in = greater clarity, a more natural sound, and more color in the midrange. The Deckard is also a bass champ and the 'Bugs helped tighten things up. In other words, all good.

Should You JitterBug, Too?
Based on listening to three different DACs through two different systems, throwing in different USB cables and a pair of very revealing headphones, I heard consistent and sonically beneficial improvements with the JitterBug. In my systems, these improvements were easy to discern and of greater importance than A/B comparisons, longer term listening proved that the JitterBugs allow for a more engaging and musically satisfying sound.

I would recommend starting out with one JitterBug for the link between your computer and DAC and based on your experience, if your results are anything like mine, you'll want to try another if you have an unused port on your computer. Of course your system specifics will certainly come into play as will how you listen to your music, foreground/background, so there's no substitute for listening for yourself especially if you're concerned with value. If you're listening to music through a $16 pair of Best Buy Logitechs you may disagree on both the JitterBug's effectiveness and value. For me, they deliver tremendous bang for the buck and these little 'Bugs ain't goin' nowhere.

As far as more than two goes...As I mentioned, I also have the Schiit Wyrd ($99) here for review as well as the UpTone Audio USB Regen ($175) each addressing our USB connections. My plan is to review each of these devices individually, then do a roundup with a recommendation for one or some combination thereof. Initial listening impressions suggest that a combination of JitterBug/Regen and JitterBug/Wyrd offer additive improvements. I will dig into this further down the line.

Summing up, for $49 the AudioQuest JitterBug strikes me as a no-brainer choice for anyone looking to improve their experience of listening to music over USB.


Associated Equipment

COMMENTS
maelob's picture

Great review, I have a Wyrd in my desktop system but really interested to hear how it compares or how can I incorporate in my system. thanks

dmhenley's picture

Heh.

Affordable and effective - good news for us USB folk.

monetschemist's picture

USB is such a crap shoot. It's such a bad bad interface.

Neat to see AQ come up with a low cost product to try to help USB connections along.

CG's picture

Nah.

All interfaces are bad bad. Name one that isn't.

You're trying to connect a noisy signal source (computer) to a noise sensitive converter (DAC) where you hope to attain noise levels of better than -120 dB or so below the output level of 2 Volts. That's 2 micro Volts of noise. Not so easy.

On top of that, you're trying to maintain a very low phase noise environment. Also not so easy.

All the above for a reasonable sales price. (I know that audio gear can be very expensive, but relative to the sales volume it really does OK compared to sensitive communications equipment)

So, you do what you can given what's available.

AllanMarcus's picture

So, when using the JitterBug, does the USB cable matter as much? Will AQ cannibalize their USB cable sales?

Also, when you test the USB filters,m can you also test the HiFi Me DIY USB isolator?
http://hifimediy.com/usb-isolator?search=usb

Reed's picture

When I had a server, I used the Aqvox USB power supply. It has a power filter built into the cord that makes it a bit of a brick. Great improvements from replacing the power from the computer, though.

RichZ's picture

After reading reviews praising the "bug" I purchased one and installed in my system which uses a Teac UD-501 Dac. I was greeted with an error message on the Dac's USB input stating "Unconnected." Although the Dac connected after a few minutes of this flashing error message, I was definitely displeased. Fortunately, a rereading of the Dac's manual revealed that it came with the USB input set to "Auto" meaning the input was only powered when a signal is received. Changing the setting to powered at all times solved the "unconnected" error! Just thought I would share this fix with other owners of this Dac. By the way the "bug" definitely made an improvement! Thanks to Michael for his review.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Glad to hear you're enjoying your system 'Bug'd ;-)
larryincmh's picture

Bought one of the Jitterbugs today and installed it in my desktop system. My USB cable is a highly rated Belkin unit, and the DAC is an Audioengine D1, driving Audioengine N22 amp and P4 passive speakers. Definitely heard a difference, very much as you describe in your review (music more open and relaxed). It was interesting to me that the effect seemed more pronounced when listening to the speakers, rather than with my headphone test (Thinksound ON1 headphones). For $49 I figure this is money well spent.

I plan to now experiment with a second Jitterbug on my NAS (which sends my music to my main computer via Ethernet) although not sure about my router, as nothing is plugged into it but one Ethernet cable feeding a commercial grade switch, into which all of my devices are plugged into directly (no secondary hubs). So, will play with it a bit and see how this affects the sound of my main system which does not use the computer at all for producing sound, rather the AV Receiver pulls the music directly (can I plug the Jitterbug into the receiver's USB input I wonder - will try that too).

One last experiment will be to try this on my NAD PP3 Analog to Digital converter that I use to rip my vinyl. I will be curious to see if the device affects the recorded sound file with the input going from the cable toward the bus, rather than the other way around. Will report further on that.

Thank you for the review and all the great info.

jgeffen's picture

I have more or less the same setup with my Apple router somewhat separated from my switch. And my switch is having a linear power supply. However, I think there can be still some bad influences from the router. In my NAS I have two kinds of USB ports (3.0 and 2.0). I am asking myself to put one or two in. Perhaps someone know?

larryincmh's picture

jgeffen from what the AudioQuest tech support people told me, is that if I put one in an unused USB on my router, and then put on one an unused USB on the NAS, that this would give the most effectiveness. They said that I could use two per each device, but that the difference is not as great as none-vs-one. The key is to use one on each bus in your device, and I would have to think that the router and the NAS only have one bus each (with the NAS ports set to different protocols USB 2.0 and 3.0). I have ordered two more of the Jitterbugs (which are now backordered most places until September 19th) and plan to use them in this way. The Jitterbug operates at USB 2.0 regardless of which speed port it is connected to.

jgeffen's picture

Thank you for this information! It is just the information I needed to known, so I will order one extra JB for my NAS. By the way: I was reading in a review from the Absolute sound to place the Jitterbug on the backside of the NAS. The reviewer did not give a particular reason for doing so, but perhaps it is useful to know.

Thanks again!
Jos

dalethorn's picture

Got one - only one so far, but with my 2 systems (Macbook 12 inch USB-C with Dragonfly 1.2, and iPod Touch 128 gb with Apple adapter to FiiO E17k DAC/amp), only one USB port was available in each. I played a 44 khz CD rip in WAV format using the iTunes player on both systems (Chris Isaak - Wicked Game), and where the iPod/FiiO setup produced a much cleaner, clearer sound, but with essentially the same tonality, the laptop/Dragonfly produced only a subtle improvement in 'air', soundstage etc. using the Jitterbug. Some computer users are going to experience a bigger difference depending on the usual factors, but it was gratifying to hear two different types of improvement in two very different systems.

weirdo12's picture

I connected a Jitterbug to the USB port on my Furutech ADL GT40. When I tried recording audio with the Jitterbug in place the speed of the recorded audio was affected. It was sped up by about 1.5 times. Weird eh?

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