USB Accessory Roundup: UpTone Audio USB REGEN, AudioQuest JitterBug, Schiit Wyrd

Why did the chicken cross the road? To see if it was different on the other side.

Unholy Bits Batman!
Let's begin with the easy part; if you've read my reviews of the UpTone Audio USB REGEN (review), AudioQuest JitterBug (review), and Schiit Wyrd (review), you'll have read that I heard a difference when each device was in and out of my systems. Generally, I would describe those differences as an improvement which is all well and good but inquiring minds want to know which device is best and what happens when you put them together. Let's see.

If I Just Want To Buy One, Which One Should I Buy?
In my systems and to my ears, the UpTone Audio REGEN is the device to buy. The improvements offered were greater than the JitterBug and the Wyrd. I found that the REGEN added weight, clarity, and ease to the presentation to a greater degree than the others. For me, this is simply the way it is. No ifs, ands or buts.

Best Bang For The Buck!
The AudioQuest Jitterbug wins this contest hands down. It costs 1/3 the price of the REGEN and 1/2 the price of the Wyrd while offering sonic improvements on the same scale as both. What does this mean, "On the same scale..."?

Sonic Accounting
I introduced a kinda new idea in my review of the REGEN, "If I were to rate these changes on a scale of sonic amount of 1 to 100, where 100 is buying a new pair of speakers, I'd rate the REGEN around a 20." Let's explore this in more detail.

While I'm still not sure this a good idea or approach, I'm going to go with it and see what you think. Let's stick with this scale of 1 to 100 where 100 is the greatest change you can make to your system's overall sound. In my experience, in terms of components, loudspeaker choice can make the most difference so I'd put their ability to change a system's sound at 100. Cables and accessories seem to max out at around the 20 mark. That's not say that all cables and accessories offer an improvement, let alone hitting that max of 20, it's just to say that in my experience their ability to impact a system's sound is much less than things like speakers, amplifiers, and DACS. As we near the 1 mark, my bookkeeping says we also approach the "It just ain't worth it" or the "It better be free" mark.

To my mind, this also translates nicely into how we may want to approach system buying. For example, spending more on a cable or accessory than you do on a DAC is not getting the most for your money.

Let's put our USB accessories into the 1 to 100 comparator and see how they come out.

I'd rate the UpTone Audio REGEN at top of heap with a sonic change of 15 (yes, I've already revised my numbering scheme). The Schiit Wyrd comes in at 13, while the JitterBug scores a solid 10. These results support my recommendations nicely, of course they do, since that's their purpose. Is the REGEN's 15 worth $100 more than the JitterBug's 10? Is it worth $50 more than the Wyrd's 13? That's completely up to you. For example, if you'd rather buy some beer and music with the $50 you'd save by buying the Wyrd instead of the REGEN, I wouldn't argue with your choice.

I will add that the degree to which these devices will improve the sound of your system will depend on your system. I appreciated the improvements offered by all three devices in my main system more than in my desktop system.

Best Combination
Here's where things get interesting. I found the best results were delivered by combining the REGEN and JitterBug with the Wyrd/JitterBug combo coming in a close second. In both cases, adding the JitterBug improved the sonic picture by making music sound more natural and full. It also flowed with more ease. The difference between these two combo's is small and subtle but I'd give the edge to the REGEN/JitterBug. Is that edge worth $50? Only you and your hairdresser know for sure.

If you already own the Schiit Wyrd and you want better, try adding a JitterBug. As far as any other combo goes, including multiple JitterBugs and the REGEN/Wyrd, my listening and bookkeeping says we approach the "It just ain't worth it" mark. I also tried the "all in" approach, with the JitterBug, Wyrd, and REGEN all standing in between my MacBook and Vega and the sound sounded too filtered—things closed in, bass recessed, and music sounded a bit lifeless.

Personality Quirks
I like simple. I hate the unnecessarily complex and I really, really, enjoy listening to music.

Along these lines, one thing I do not like about the Schiit Wyrd is you have to use two USB cables with it. One thing I do not like about the REGEN and the Wyrd is they are not passive devices. I know that's irrational but the basic notion of adding a powered accessory to my system just bugs me and I would not add two. In these terms, the JitterBug does not flip any switches; it's a simple, passive device.

The fact that combining two of these devices offers even greater improvement is just aggravating. It seems to suggest we're taking smaller steps than necessary to deal with the real issue. I've even read about people using two REGENS and hearing greater improvement compared to just one, and I experienced a noticeable improvement using two JitterBug's in my computer. It's worth noting that two REGENs at your DAC versus two JitterBugs in the same computer are addressing different issues. In the former case, the basic notion is adding a second REGEN makes the job of the first easier thus it produces less noise, while in the latter case the second JitterBug is helping to eliminate issues with an unused USB port.

With my personality quirks in full sway, I can deal with the Jitterbug/REGEN combo in my main system because my quirks do not outweigh the additional musical enjoyment they deliver. YMMV (Your Mood May Vary). For my desktop setup, I use the FireWire connection to the Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC so never mind. For reviews, I'll add a JitterBug to my desktop setup when reviewing USB DACs.

The last quirk I'll share is I find A/B'ing to be one of the most annoying things one can do with a hi-fi. While I did not need to rely on A/B'ing to enjoy what each of these devices offered on their own, these combo comparisons demanded lots of A/B'ing which is a clear indication to me that we're treading dangerously close to—It just ain't worth it. After all, no cable, USB add-on, or linear power supply will turn the Auralic Vega into a totaldac. Sigh.

Odds and Ends
I also happen to have the totaldac USB Cable/Filter (330euros excl VAT) here for use with the review totaldac d1-tube-mk2 DAC. From totaldac, "A shielded aluminium box embeds high performance filters to suppress digital pollutions coming from the computer or the music server." I connected the review Lampizator Lite-7 DAC to my MacBook Pro with the totaldac cable, sat, and listened. Nice. I then inserted the REGEN into the picture. Nice-er. The results were very similar to what we've talked already with the REGEN; improved weight, clarity, and space. One practical issue with this combo is if you use the REGEN's included A/B solid adapter plug, my preferred method, the totaldac USB cable/filter adds too much weight so it will need to be supported so it doesn't pull on the REGEN's connection to your DAC.

Adding the JitterBug to the totaldac cable added a smidgen of clarity and focus but let's hold our collective horses and take a big step back. With the Wyrd, REGEN, and JitterBug I'm assuming you'll be using your favorite USB cable(s). In my case, I've settled on the Light Harmonic LightSpeed USB cable ($999/0.8m). If I add the REGEN and JitterBug to that, we're looking at a $1,223 USB connectivity solution. Is this that much better than the roughly $542 totaldac USB cable/filter + REGEN solution? No, it's not, at least to my ears.

If you can deal with the REGEN/totaldac combo and the issue of supporting the totaldac's filter weight, I'd say you've got yourself a nice USB solution. If you want to shoot for even lower cost USB cable solutions, have at it. Cables and tweaks are system and listener dependent so I'd buy whatever makes you and your music happy. And remember, we're talking about incremental improvements, so too much time A/B'ing in the land of subtle changes leads to unhappy you and a move away from listening to music (that's the wrong direction).

Mixed Signals
This really isn't complicated stuff. Buy a hi-fi you enjoy listening to, take care with your listening room and speaker placement, and spend the rest of your time enjoying listening to it. If you use a USB DAC and want to squeeze more performance out of it, I found that adding any of these USB devices will do just that.

COMMENTS
ednaz's picture

As I read through the reviews, it seemed to me that an option often adopted by people to solve the server/DAC distance problem - using a USB to optical fiber to USB cable - would accomplish much the same thing as these devices. Much discussed on ComputerAudiophile. There's also a thread running on using fiber for ethernet, but those discussions get into the six to 10 component levels, and I'm a simpler is better unless otherwise proven person.

Would be interesting to see you test optical USB and compare.

DH's picture

Michael-
You connected the Regen and the Jitterbug in series, with the Regen directly on the DAC and the Jitterbug connected to the Regen?
Any trials with the Regen installed and the Jitterbug connected on unused USB ports? How did that compare?
It would be interesting to hear sometime how the Jitterbug effects SQ with your Mytek DAC, if you use USB instead of FW and connect the JB to the unused USB port on the Mytek.....possibilities are endless, I know.

BradleyP's picture

Michael--Thank you for this extremely insightful, helpful review. Before the dawn of these little devices, folks were improving computer audio with USB to SPDIF converters. In your experience, is that approach on the same sonic scale as these USB tweaks?

As for me, when the Jitterbug hits the market in a week or so, I'll buy one or two from a company that lets me have a 30-day no-risk trial and see if my computer is bad enough and my DAC and monitors are good enough to hear an appreciable difference. If I don't hear anything noteworthy, I'll buy Scotch instead with my birthday money. I'm not sure which outcome I desire.

ednaz's picture

I used a USB-SPDIF (coax) converter for years with several different dacs. My main music server just couldn't get placed near enough to the sound system, and coax is pretty much indifferent to distance (within reason.) Almost all the dacs I had also sounded better via the coax input than USB.

Now I have an Exasound e22. I tried it coax, and usb. For whatever reason, it sounded better USB, and I don't mean a little better. That makes for a hugely inconvenient problem... now I've got an old laptop on the audio rack, and I'm streaming files via my 5mhz network from my music server to the old laptop. Works fine up to 24/192, and DSD 64 and 128.

I'd like to have my main music server handle all the wireless streams (my home office, my wife's home office, my studio, the garage... and the occasional portable plus headphone listener) and have a PC on the audio rack that only serves the dac. Alternatively, have a high quality/long distance USB solution, since my music server is absurdly over-built, and the Exasound device does love USB - hence my question about USB/optical.

jgeffen's picture

I have a USB Regen in place and I ordered 3 JitterBugs. One for my iMac, one for my Apple Router and one for my NAS. Is this setup advisable, or should I make an other combination? It seems to me that preventing is a good thing too?

jgeffen's picture

To answer myself, based on the Jitterbug review, I have to put two in my iMac and one in my router. The one in the NAS seems to be not needed.

Bob Sherman's picture

Your comments make perfect sense. I hope this helps to give people some perspective, as many seem to get things like this rather twisted.

Regards
Bob

AllanMarcus's picture

One of your better articles. Thanks.
Do you have a comparison of USB vs. Optical from you MacBook to a DAC that you can share?

AllanMarcus's picture

Sorry, one more question. Why isn't this functionality built in to DAC, especially higher end DACs? Or is it? My PeachTree DAC-It has "USB isolation: Galvanic". Is that the same thing that these USB devices do?

DH's picture

The Regen is about improving signal integrity/impedence to the DAC receiving chip so it produces less noise inside the DAC and that then improves the analog performance of the DAC.

Galvanic isolation prevents outside noise from arriving at your DAC. It doesn't prevent the components upstream from the USB port inside your DAC from producing their own noise. The Regen does, or at least reduces the amount of noise you DAC itself produces.

grawhi80's picture

Have you tried these devices with a streamer/server like the Auralic Aries or Aurender?

Do yo still get the same sonic benefits?

DH's picture

Users at computeraudiophile have reported improvements with a variety of devices - YMMV.

Venere 2's picture

Thank you Michael for the well done and informative reviews on these 4 products!

I have 2 Jitterbugs on my Mac Mini since last week and I agree with your findings. Now that I have heard them in my system, there is no way I would want to live without them!

idigmingus's picture

Which USB ports on the Mini are you using for the Jitterbugs. I understand they're on different buses and I'm wondering if they should be be connected on the same or different bus?

labjr's picture

Okay, why can't a chicken lay a loaf of bread?

She ain't got the crust!

Gordon Cole's picture

As you mentioned, the REGEN and Wyrd are not passive devices. I'm just about out of available outlets on my power conditioner so I wondered if you had an opinion as to whether a device such as the REGEN would be a candidate for bypassing the PC. If not, which components might be better suited to not being plugged into a PC? Thanks!

Steven Plaskin's picture
Perhaps you could plug in a nice power strip to the power conditioner to add outlets.
Gordon Cole's picture

Thanks for the suggestion. It seems obvious and yet never occurred to me. I'll give it a try.

robin79's picture

... to read something about the iFi-Audio iPurifier within this review and/or in the comments. I would say that it is a predecessor of this newborn crowd of USB filters: I'm a really happy owner of it and I think it competes in the same league of the good gears mentioned above.
Just my 2 cents, FYI.
Thanks you for the interesting post.

abdolaziz6's picture

Hello Mr. Michael
I have one of the iusb power ifi You will need to own one of wyrd or up tone regen what is the best With dac mytek
Thank you

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