Intona Technology USB 2.0 High-Speed Isolator

Standard Version (top) Industrial Version (bottom)

Device Type: USB Filter
Dimensions (L x W x H): 135mm x 90mm x 46mm
Weight: 136g (0.3 lbs)
Availability: Sold Direct
Price: Standard Version $258.00 with shipping, Industrial Version $348.00 with shipping (review unit)
Website: intona.eu

The Intona Technology USB 2.0 High-Speed Isolator is the product of a German firm that specializes in electronics engineering for professional signal processing solutions that are sold worldwide. Interestingly enough, the USB 2.0 High-Speed Isolator was not originally designed for the audiophile market, but for all applications requiring clean and stable USB connections with separate grounds. The applications of this product are quite varied as indicated at Intona’s web site:

  • Industrial Automation Systems
  • Measurement Devices
  • Environments Requiring Safety Insulation
  • Machine Protection
  • Broadcast and Studio
  • Audiophile-Grade Home Systems
The use of the High-Speed Isolator is extremely simple; just plug one end into your computer, and the other end into your DAC. There are LEDs on the High-Speed Isolator that indicate the current state of the device. The Isolator can be ordered with the NF option that eliminates blinking of the LED while listening to music. The High Speed blinking operation is swapped for a Failure indication. High speed is displayed as constantly on with the NF option.

Unlike most of the USB enhancement devices I have evaluated, there is no external power supply.

I asked Daniel Staemmler of Intona to discuss the High-Speed Isolator’s lack of an external power supply:

“In fact, we did not focus on audiophile customers when designing the isolator. We had a technical outline to overcome the needs in laboratories and industrial environments. Customers complained about noise issued by the computer when trying to measure something in the nanovolts area. So, we decided to not trust any external switching wall-wart, but designed our own proprietary galvanic isolated supply. This has the benefit to control noise and to characterize this - independent of the computer's noise. The result is an always really low noise output independent of the environment. Because we have a strong background in professional audio (e.g., we have done components for large mixing consoles), we were able to measure and tune this with full attention to the audio frequency range.”
The USB 2.0 High-Speed Isolator comes in two models; a Standard version and an Industrial version.

Daniel provided the following information concerning the Industrial version:

“The intention behind the Industrial version was not only the stronger isolation barrier, but also higher product quality. In the Standard version most parts are sourced from multiple brands. Whereas, the Industrial version has a strict BOM (bill-of-materials), with substitutions not allowed. All those parts are fully specified by us and all sources are verified and trusted.”
The Industrial version has the following features:
  • 2.5kV isolation, thus higher isolation resistance
  • Specified isolation working voltage
  • Extended temperature grade
  • High retention connectors
  • Full specified and characterized parts, no substitutions allowed
  • Industrial-grade FPGAs with slightly better timing margin at room temperature and each unit has to pass a safety isolation test with 2500Vrms for 2s

What is the USB 2.0 High-Speed Isolator Performing?
The High-Speed Isolator essentially provides galvanic isolation to the USB bus, repacketizes and provides clean power to the USB DAC. Complete isolation of both the data and power lines are achieved resulting in the blocking of noise coming from the host computer.

From the Intona web site:

The 7054-based USB Hi-Speed Isolator is a phy-level receiver/isolator/reclocker/repacketizer working at a bidirectional bandwidth of 480 MBit/s.

It receives and transmits USB data using a dedicated ULPI-transceiver, buffers and translates by our proprietary logic using FPGA technology and isolates using industry-leading RF-type isolators by Silicon Labs with least possible capacitance.

It does not translate or distort data packets like a hub but does reproduce and reclock the original data by 100%.

The circuit is a 50 ohms impedance controlled design. USB traces are matched to 90 ohms differential / 30 ohms single ended. The RMS jitter of the isolated downstream has been measured at 12.5ps.

By using a technology well known in digital communication systems called Spread Spectrum, any harmonics produced through periodic packet transmission (like 8kHz packet noise) could be eliminated.

The isolated side is supplied by our own proprietary and very carefully designed DC/DC converter followed by linear regulators. The USB output voltage is generated by the Analog Devices ADP125 linear regulator.

Intona sent me the Industrial version for evaluation as they have received feedback from customers preferring this version’s acoustic results even though both versions are performing the same tasks.

Products Used In the Evaluation
I used my Asus G501 JW laptop running Windows 10 Pro 64 bit for the evaluation of the High-Speed Isolator. The Asus G501 JW possesses an Intel Core i7 4720HQ 2.6 GHz processor with 16 GB RAM and a very fast PCE Express X4 SSD. This laptop has 3 USB 3.0 ports as well as a Thunderbolt port. The Asus laptop was plugged into a Shunyata Research Hydra DPC-6 v2 distribution center to firewall the noise generated by this computer from contaminating my AC line.

The Asus was placed on a Synergistic Research Tranquility Base UEF grounded with the Synergistic Research High Definition Ground Cable / Grounding Block as was the computer. Two 8 TB GRAID Thunderbolt drives were connected; one for PCM and the other for DSD files. The GRAID Thunderbolt drives were powered by HDPlex 100w linear power supplies plugged into the Shunyata Hydra DPC-6 ver 2.

Music software included the use of Roon 1.2. I also ran Roon with the HQPlayer given the task of processing the music files. Fidelizer Pro 7.1 was also used to enhance the operation of Windows 10 for music playback.

I decided to use the MSB Technology Analog DAC with Analog Power Base with the new Premium Quad USB2 Module for this review. The Premium Quad Module represents MSB Technology’s most advanced implementation of USB for their DAC with superior isolation compared to their previous efforts. I was very interested to see if the High-Speed Isolator had an effect with this excellent USB interface. The Analog DAC was plugged into a Shunyata Research Triton v2 / Typhon using Shunyata’s Sigma Digital AC cable.

USB cables utilized in this review were the Wireworld Platinum Starlight 7 USB 2.0 cable and the Kubala-Sosna Realization USB cable. Both of these USB cables are excellent sounding. The Realization has the additional benefit of being the most neutral sounding of all the USB cables I have evaluated and possibly the most analog-like in its sound qualities.

Listening Impressions
The High-Speed Isolator’s effect on the sound quality of my MSB Technology Analog DAC was not difficult to identify. I immediately recognized a drop in the noise floor with a deeper black background. Voices and instruments emerged more clearly with superior definition from top to bottom. The music appeared to be slightly more dynamic and engaging with the High-Speed Isolator. There was improvement in the ultimate focus of voices and instruments in the soundstage. And speaking of soundstage, the High-Speed isolator made a major improvement in the perceived depth and width of the soundstage when playing well-recorded acoustic music. The bass was tighter and better defined with more impact and palpability to the sound. Music played through the High-Speed Isolator just seemed to be more alive and less veiled sounding.

I encountered no issues with the High-Speed Isolator confirming its ability to play any file I presented to it including DSD256.

For those of you that aren’t aware, the High-Speed Isolator does not come with a USB 2.0 cable for connection to the computer. I tried a number of different USB cables including a simple generic, the iFi Audio Gemini, and several expensive audiophile USB cables on hand. In each case, I failed to hear a noticeable difference in sound quality with any of these cables. The output of the High-Speed Isolator was a different matter. The USB cable selected by this listener had a noticeable influence on the sound heard from the Analog DAC.

Comparisons
Given that I recently reviewed the iFi Audio micro-iUSB3.0, the sonic comparison with this product was not difficult to perform. If we first look at the iUSB3.0 in its stock from with the USB 3.0 cable provided and the iPower AC/DC power supply, there were noticeable differences in sound between the High-Speed Isolator and the iUSB3.0. The iUSB3.0 was warmer sounding with a fuller midbass. The High-Speed Isolator sounded a little cleaner and better defined with a slightly larger soundstage. Musical crescendos were less overloaded sounding and veiled with the High-Speed Isolator. Both products made positive improvements to the sound of my Analog DAC, but I did prefer what I heard with the Intona.

Changing the supplied USB 3.0 cable with a .5 meter Wireworld Starlight USB 3.0 cable to feed the iUSB3.0 and the HDPlex liner power supply to power the iUSB3.0, the tables were turned in favor of the iUSB3.0. The iUSB3.0 now had the superior definition and focus. The bass was tighter with more impact. Also, the soundstage was slightly wider with superior depth reproduction. I also perceived less stridency in the sound of horns with the iUSB3.0 when used with the upgraded USB 3.0 cable and HDPlex linear power supply.

Another very effective USB product is the UpTone Audio USB REGEN. If using the supplied SMPS and the solid USB connector, the USB REGEN had a lighter sound with less bass impact compared to the High-Speed Isolator. Both products improved the background silence and the soundstage, with the High Speed Isolator having the larger soundstage and a fuller analog-like sound to the midrange. Upgrading the power supply with the HDPlex improved the general sound of the USB REGEN. The over-all clarity of the REGEN could be heard compared to the High-Speed Isolator using the linear power supply. Combing both the High-Speed Isolator and the USB REGEN powered by the linear power supply had a synergistic sonic effect that seemed to combine both of the strong points of each USB device.

The Music
I just had to mention some of the new music I have been listening to that was used in the evaluation of the High-Speed Isolator.

Esperanza Spalding’s new release Emily’s D+Evolution (24/96) really took off listening with the High-Speed Isolator. This progressive-rock jazz influenced title grew on me the more I listened to it. Esperanza’s voice was open sounding and defined, as was the rhythmic drive of the music. Transient quickness and bass impact was superior with the Intona.

Reference Recording’s new release Dawn to Dust with the Utah Symphony Orchestra / Thierry Fisher conducting (DSD256) showed off the positive contributions of the High Speed Isolator. This DSD recording was part of the 75th anniversary season of the Utah Symphony that featured world premiers of orchestral works commissioned from three leading American composers. Resolution and transparency of the percussion instruments were enhanced, as was the inner detail of these instruments. The instruments emerged from a deep back background with a superior soundstage of great width and depth.

The Very Thought of You performed by jazz vocalist Emilie-Claire Barlow (DSD64) sounded terrific with the Intona High-Speed Isolator added to my Analog DAC. The background silence was excellent as was the tonal naturalness of this recording. Barlow’s voice was more expressive and involving when listening with the High-Speed Isolator. I also noticed an improvement to the lifelike sense of instrumental body and weight of this recording.

The Unending Quest for USB Audio Nirvana
In my unending quest for the best USB enhancement device, I found the Intona Technology USB 2.0 High-Speed Isolator to be a very effective product in its ability to elevate the sonic performance of my USB DAC. The product has one advantage in that it doesn't need an expensive USB cable to feed it. As most of you are starting to realize with the many reviews of these USB devices, the concept of a "best" device might be quite elusive to obtain. But for those willing to try the Intona USB 2.0 High-Speed Isolator, they might just find the sonic satisfaction that they are looking for.


Associated Equipment

COMMENTS
Patster11's picture

Hi Steve,
Interesting product. I'm always trying to provide the cleanest digital stream from my laptop to my Asynch DAC on the back of my Oppo 105D. I bought a jitterbug device and attached before the input to the DAC. It caused all kinds of havoc, sputters, drop-outs - finally removed it as it made things worse. I asked Oppo about this and they wrote back:

"The re-clocking of the Asynchronous USB DAC can be affected by this kind of device as the jitter and clock may be altered, which can prevent the DAC from properly locking into the signal."

With this said, and my Jitterbug removed...how does a product like this one fit into the picture? Is it just my particular set-up that makes this unnecessary? Your feedback appreciated.

Steven Plaskin's picture

Perhaps this product would work well for you. The problem with all of these devices that I have reviewed is that they are DAC specific in terms of sound and function.

firedog55's picture

Interesting to note that Itona themselves said for audio purposes their is no advantage to the industrial model.This was at a three on the device at computer audiophile.com.

Alex Halberstadt's picture

Hi Steve, I really enjoyed your review.

Quick question. I recently installed an UpTone Regen (and one AQ Jitterbug) between my MacBook Pro and Ayre Codex. The improvement in the *sound* was obvious and undeniable—a layer of grunge scraped away (though the balance, as you suggested, became lighter). But for me, the effect on the *music* was not entirely positive—its rhythmic drive sounded impeded, and excitement that comes from dynamic swings seemed dialed back, too. It felt like there was now a subtle barrier to the music's flow, and my foot didn't move as much as with the Jitterbug alone or without any USB filtration. In your experience, are the Intona or iFi products you reviewed better than the Regen at letting the music flow and engaging the listener?

Thanks much,
Alex

Steven Plaskin's picture

My favorite as of this date, is the iFi iUSB3.0 if a high quality USB 3.0 cable is used to drive it like the Wireworld and an upgraded linear power supply is used. But this gets crazy expensive. As I previously mentioned, the ultimate sonic outcome might differ from one DAC to another.

I guess I would prefer the Intona over the REGEN if I could only use one. But remember, the REGEN sounds much better with an upgraded power supply. UpTone Audio is bringing out a new supply for the REGEN.

I did find the combination of the Intona and REGEN to be very nice sounding.

I wish I could be more helpful, but without having a Codex on hand, I can only guess.

Alex Halberstadt's picture

Thanks much, Steven. Can the iFi 3.0 be used with an older laptop without USB3 ports?

Steven Plaskin's picture
It should work fine
joneill's picture

Thanks Steve.

Glad to see you are "on it" in the restless pursuit of the best PC audio sound! Like all things digital, what's good for one rig not necessarily so for another. Appreciate your willingness to experience and share those with all of us.

We look forward to your next adventure.

Jim

Steven Plaskin's picture

Thanks Jim.

There will be lots of fun stuff coming in the near future. Thanks for visiting us!

naidiver's picture

I've just received my Intona this morning. After connected (my PC > JPLAY twin cable > Intona > AQ forest (JPLAY will be replaced it soon) > NAD M51
, It worked fine for a minute then music stopped, my DAC loss connection.
I saw flashing light around 2hz.

I unpluged and pluged it again, restarted. over and over but it still be the same.

Could you please help me out. I'm waiting for Intona mail me back but until now they don't.

Thanks

Steven Plaskin's picture
For the heck of it, try a standard USB cable from the PC to the Intona and see what happens.
naidiver's picture

I tried it but it sill be the same. I mailed to Daniel and he replied me back that he will send me a new one next week. ^^...

louisxiawei's picture

Hi Steven,

Thanks to your recommendation, I'm currently using both Intona and Uptone regen in my system chain and very happy about the sounding.

But what if adding another audio grade PCIe card like SOtM tX-USBexp?

what do you think a combination of an aduiophile PCIe card (e.g. SOtM's hub/PCIe card) and Uptone regen or Intona will have any significantly big difference from using Uptone regen and Intona alone from the stock motherboard? Since Uptone aims to minimize the difference between different PC configurations. I might assume that the merit of your PCIe card or USB hub will be somehow diminished if using together with Uptone regen like product.

Is it worthwhile by upgrading the upstream source even having uptone regen and Intona two beasts?

Any help would be appreciated,
Louis

Steven Plaskin's picture
It seems that every new component in the USB chain can alter the sound; but not necessarily for the better. Unless you try the board, there is no way to know for sure. It's tough to predict how all of this will play out with a specific DAC.
louisxiawei's picture

Thanks for the previous reply. But where did you put Intona in the chain if I want to connect with Uptone regen, I find if I connect the Uptone regen 1st, the Intona light was displaying double flashing indacting:Suspend, USB connection established and suspended by host.

My chain right now is: PC- Curious usb- Intona - Uptone regen - DAC

Can you help me out here? Any help would be appreciated,

Regards,
Wei

Steven Plaskin's picture

The Intona has to go first. PC - USB cable- Intona-USB cable-REGEN into DAC with solid connector or USB cable.

louisxiawei's picture

Thanks Steven,thanks for the reply.

I don't know which part is wrong in my chain. But putting uptone regen first and Intona the second will make the system recognize the DAC.

Otherwise, the Intona will just double flash.

Painfully struggling.

Steven Plaskin's picture

The REGAN was designed to be placed as close to the DAC as possible. Unfortunately, not all DACs will be able to function with both devices.

louisxiawei's picture

I think I find the problem, the Intona needs quite a power to send the signal out, and I was using long curious cable (0.8m)connecting between Intona and Regen, after I changed the 0.8 m cable into a shorter curious cable (20cm), it works again.

You are right, Intona before Regen is the correct match-up. I've listened to the combination other way around, sounds so digital and edgy.

Thanks again Steven.

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