I have received this review unit of iFi iUSB from Vince few weeks back, and I used it extensively with my rigs. It is indeed a sin for me to enjoy the iUSB so much but delayed the review for so long, in fact, I intentionally delayed this review because lately I have bunch of DAC and Amp arrive at Earmass, so I think this is a good chance for me to truly test the iUSB, after some extensive use, I can say I am positive with what iUSB have achieved in sound.
Why you need a ‘regulator’ for USB?
iUSB is selling for 199USD and I am sure most of you are questioning, why should we need a external regulator or power conditioner for our USB port? And is this all matter?
If you are an audiophile and you have some room for your budget, I will says good sound is not only about how good or expensive is your audio equipment, synergy or matching, but every components and process in your audio equipment do count, they are all equally important in role playing to me. You can’t expect a good spaghetti with a bad sauce mixed with good ingredients, or with a bad cook. Same thing goes to audio equipment, a good power supply/source is very important, this is something that we often overlooked when setting up our audio system.
I can’t provide any technical data for you nor frequency chart, but a cleaner and stable power source is every important. For home audio/theatre system, they often used a AVR (Automatic Voltage Regulator) for generate a clean and stable power. Nothing is difference for the headphone system, our DAC and amplifier need a clean and lean power source as well.
Unfortunately our USB power supply from computers is always unstable and dirty. This is why iUSB exist in the market. I have been long time searching for something like this, a truly good regulator for USB. Yes it is quite true that our computer USB provide a 5v output for devices, but have we ever think that is this real? I have read from some place that our computer (Especially the budget one) is not cannot constantly provide the 5V for u, and there is another section (Sorry can’t provide you more as there are too many scientific terms that I don’t understand) that straight USB from computers are bad to.
Description and Operation
You will get a good quality PSU adapter along with this iUSB and you needed that to supply the power for iUSB, and a USB cable to iUSB for sending information.
Means, in order to make iUSB work, you have to:
1) Plug USB cable from your computer to USB input of iUSB.
2) Plug power supply unit from included PSU adapter/ USB power supply (Also included in the package).
Then you can connect your devices to output of iUSB. I am sure that you have seen there is 2 types of output on iUSB which is output for Power only and output for Power + Audio. Let me explained these in layman term.
1) Power Only : means you can plugged in the device that require no interaction with computer, such as USB phone Charger, Charging your music player (But cannot transfer file, just charging), mainly just for anything that require power to charge/power up them but require no interaction/information transfer with your computer.
2) Power + Audio : These will be used for DAC, file transfer (Thumbdrive, Hardisk, Mouse and keyboard), and it can also function as like ‘Power Only mode’.
What I wished and praying for are 2 Power + Audio output, as this will work way more versatile and convenience. However this is considered reasonable though. It is just that if iFi Audio made both of the output that can communicate/transfer file with computer, it will surely better, especially when I connected my DAC and Hardisk together to my computer.
Well, the most important and decisive factor is still sound quality, and is iUSB helping DAC to sound great. For short answer, YES and improved by a big scale.
How often am I pairing my devices with iUSB? To be frank, I am using this iUSB all the time since I got it. For me sound differences are just obvious, and I wish just the best from my system. Every time when I want to plugged in my DAC to computer, I always find iUSB as my companion, not a single time missed.
Tried iUSB with iFi iDAC and iCAN
I have tried the iUSB with iCAN and iDAC, forming the team that I called ‘Triad’, I played La Campanella (Diabulous in Musica by Aerpr), with iUSB added into the combo, I can heard more details and also seems to have more energy. Instrument are sounding more real, for example violin sound lean and textured, triangle sounded crisp. The differences are quite obvious if you noted how the instrument sounded, with iUSB instrument sounded leaner and cleaner, and much more real in comparison with better body.
When I listened to vocal in some songs, the ending nuance of vocal is much more present and expressive when I paired with iUSB. The piano sounded muddy without iUSB in comparison. Adding in the iUSB do improved sound further.
Tried with Audinst HUD-mx2, XDuoo XD-01 and JDS Labs Objective DAC
Sound is definitely cleaner, leaner and fuller with iUSB. I played Hotel California (Hell Freeze Over by The Eagles), I can hear every nuance and plucking of guitar fuller.
I tested with some vocal tracks, same as the ‘Triad’, vocal has more space to breath, expressive and fuller (Nuance) than without iUSB, everything has better clarity and richness. Bass is filled with texture.
How about Yulong Audio U100 and D100 II?
U100 and D100 II are different device, becaused they are powered by external PSU or power source, unlike those power supply is directly from USB port, however I have noticed some improvement although not as subtle as previous setup but differences are definitely there.
I can’t say just go and buy this now as everyone has different perception regarding the sound that one is after, but for me I will just get it, because I seek clean power source as an important factor that can definitely improving the sound, and a constant power supply do prolonged your audio devices too.
If there is anything that I wished can be improved it must be adding one more Power + Audio output, this will make iFi iUSB a better bargain.
Anyway, the improvement is subtle, you will get better high, mid, low, space and speed with iFi iUSB, this is a good thing and when you have clear power for your DAC, then you just should start to look at a better DAC, if you love how your DAC sounded, then get an iUSB instead, you will love your DAC more.