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Audiophilleo 2, IFI IUSB, Audiobyte Hydra-X impressions

post #1 of 49
Thread Starter 
Hi Folks,
 
I've been keeping myself very busy in the last couple of days with a lot of comparative listening using Audiophilleo 2 and IFI IUSB power (and some nice USB cables) with my Burson Conductor. The aim of this was to try to detect any improvements the additions have brought forward, or therefore the lack of.
 
Let's start with the setup:
Windows 7 x64 PC
Burson Conductor (USB 24/192 async Tenor8802)
Audiophilleo 2 USB
IFI IUSB
 
Cables:
Several stock black USB cables were used for this assessment to keep the playing field leveled. They look and sound similar to me.
I also have a few nice cables, but I decided this should be part of a separate review and assessment.
 
Headphones:
Sennheiser HD800 w. DIY rectangular UP-OCC copper cable 
Audeze LCD-3 w. Toxic Cables Silver Widow
I think the HD800s are better technical headphones than the LCD-3s, but I've cross checked some of the findings on the LCD-3s.
 
Software used:
Foobar with ASIO4ALL/WASAPI
AIMP3 with ASIO4ALL/WASAPI
 
Test tracks:
Infected Mushrooms (love how good the mastering and SQ is on their latest albums)
Lana Del Rey (female vocals)
Leonard Cohen (male vocals)
Bozzio Levin Stevens (instruments)
 
 
1. Audiophilleo 2 (USB powered) vs Burson USB
 
I will keep this short as there are plenty of more in depth reviews on the AP2 itself.
 
Positives:
You will notice that Audiophilleo 2 adds resolution (detail) and digs deeper into the music. The overall sound image is presented with a soundstage that is more holographic in both width and depth, everything flows better, more musically, with better impact as if coming from a blacker background. Pretty much everything is on a different level quality: imaging, more refined yet fuller vocals, deeper and more extended, yet better defined bass, better treble details and extension. If I was to compare some of this in video display terms, think of: better black levels, contrast, resolution, color accuracy.
 
Negatives:
Improved detail will allow you to hear recording flaws more clearly. But what AP2 manages is to bring through additional detail while remaining smooth and in no way harsh.
 
Further comment:
I know some people have commented on sibilance with the Audiophilleo. I thus looked up this point in particular. I have not found Audiophilleo any more sibilant than the stock USB interface, which is well balanced in this respect and never been an issue. Yes, if you have sibilant record it goes without saying the AP2 won't hide any of that. There's no treble rolloff to talk about here.
 
Conclusion: If you don't have a good interface, and want to take your DAC sound to the next level, this is likely one of the best investments you could make for the money. Everything else in your upstream and your ears will thank you. :)  YMMV based on your USB implementation etc...
 
But it gets better. As you shall read.
 
2. Audiophilleo 2 (USB powered) vs Audiophilleo 2 + IFI IUSB
 
I am starting to see a pattern of what interfaces bring to the table. Take the above review of AP2 and plug in IFI IUSB. It takes everything I have described up a notch.
Blacker background, more articulation, fuller, even more refined and better extended vocals, etc... There's a further refinement in soundstage presentation. When switching back to just AP2 without IFI IUSB it's like the sound is missing a bit of that extra clarity. Also worth noting on the first day I've tested, I would have added just one point to my scale for the added benefit of IFI IUSB in the chain. I don't know if there's anything such as IFI IUSB burn-in, or simply that I have a more controlled testing environment using all stock black USB cables, but starting over and more thoroughly, I have found the impact of IUSB bigger than I initially thought.
 
To summarize, it continues enhancing much of what AP2 brings to the table. If you've got the stock AP2, yes, in my opinion the IFI IUSB does bring the AP2 up a couple of notches. 
 
 
Time to draw some conclusions here:
- Adding AP2 to the chain clearly brings about superior SQ. YMMV based on your USB solution etc. But knowing what I know now, I should've probably purchased this sooner.
- Power quality impacts SQ. Iregardless how power isolation/feed is achieved, power improvements always yield a positive improvement in my experience. 
 
3. Audiophilleo 2 vs Audiobyte Hydra-X 
 
Hi again Folks,
 
I've decided to add the comparison of the Audiophilleo and the Audiobyte Hydra-X here and updated the thread title.
 
I owned both and had to choose one as I am not the collector type. I kept the Audiophilleo. But it wasn't easy, as you may read, mainly because they are so different, but both have some very strong points. The Conductor is mostly a neutral sounding device and can swing either way via the use of an interface. That goes towards bettering the synergy with whatever headphones you are using.
 
Hydra:
This almost sounds like a classic tube lovers interface. For this reason it can have fantastic synergy with the Burson and certain headphones. I am thinking the HD800s here.
 
Pros:
- very impressive bass. Both strong quantity and good quality. If you're a bass head stop reading here
- more intimate soundstage than the Audiophilleo. Caters specific genres.
- smooth sounding
- adds warmness
- very liquid decays. It makes you feel the music flow.
 
Cons:
- Lacks some air on the treble
- Does not reproduce the finest micro details, like the finest vibration of a guitar string.
- The intimate soundstage needs to be tweaked from elsewhere around it, if you have one of those headphones or systems that benefit added space.
 
Audiophilleo 2:
In some ways the opposite of Hydra as you shall read. I don't have the Pure Power add-on, but I have a Y split cable and a linearly regulated power supply. Even without those the AP2 is inches close to my impressions below.
 
Pros:
- I think the AP is a neutral interface. To my ears it doesn't add any coloration. 
- The soundstage presentation is like no other I've heard. I've compared it with the Hydra USB/SPDIF, Burson USB, PS Audio Perfect Wave DAC 2 USB and the Audiophilleo means business. Holographic, wide, tall, deep, the full 3D.
- instrument separation is top notch. Very clearly contoured.
- well layered presentation
- exceptionally detailed. If you're looking to dig out the last inch of details from the recording that's it. Be wary that this can end up being a too good of thing in certain setups.
- tight and well controlled bass
- exceptional attack. The PWD2 is also very good here. But I feel the AP2 edges it out.
- cleanest background
- has air, spark and superbly extended treble. Not bright, unless you go overboard with too much "silverware" around it. Careful matching is key as with everything.
 
Cons:
- Because it's both neutral and detailed, it won't do a bright system any favors. 
- Being so detailed, well, not the most forgiving I guess and it goes both ways really. It doesn't add any harshness though.
 

 

Note: I have informally heard the version of the Hydra-X I had, which is probably 8 months old now, has been updated meanwhile.  The only thing I know is that the "USB is now completely isolated". To this date I don't know how the "update" affects the SQ or if at all, nor has it been announced formally to my knowledge. I know someone who has access to both "versions", but unsure if/when he'll have time to compare the two.

 
Finally, to try and quantify the results:

 

AP2 + IFI IUSB power - 10/10
AP2 alone - 9/10
Audiobyte Hydra - 7.5-8/10
Burson Conductor USB - 5/10
 
The above scale is only meant to be applied within this example and it's also subjective to some of my preferences. It doesn't mean that the Burson Conductor USB is crap or anything. I think it's a decent 24/192 async implementation in terms of SQ, notwithstanding the Tenor bugs.  Nor does it try to imply the AP2/IFI is the end of everything in interfaces, which I couldn't possibly know.

Edited by negura - 8/9/13 at 3:40am
post #2 of 49

subscribed.....

post #3 of 49

Great review.

 

IFi have come out with the new product - iLink, which is USB to SPDIF converter. Not a lot of reviews yet, they just started shipping but looks quite interesting, wondering how would it fare against Audiophilleo, lack of BNC output is a bummer though.

http://www.ifi-audio.com/en/iLink.html

post #4 of 49
I hope u don't have to wait 5 months for your toxic cables, I got tired of waiting And cancelled the order.
I have AP1 with PP and I did not like AP1 by it itself , PP made it 5 x better.
Edited by che15 - 5/14/13 at 4:29pm
post #5 of 49
Thread Starter 

I've been hearing about non-Pure Power vs Pure Power comparisons. Are folks comparing two different devices side by side: one "stock" AP vs another AP+PP? Or how is everyone comparing the two? 

 

I am not sure that once you have the Pure Power add-on you can just go back to disconnect the Pure Power, without expecting degraded quality even compared to the "stock" AP. From the Audiophilleo website:

"Either way, the Audiophilleo 1 and 2 units are modified with an additional power connector which feeds the SPDIF output stage from the PurePower. This modification requires that this power connector is fed with 3.3V to 5V, so the PurePower will be required for normal operation."


Edited by negura - 5/13/13 at 6:59am
post #6 of 49

It's obvious from reading the various threads that AP1/AP2 benefit from power enhancements, whether it is Purepower or iUSB.  I'd be interested in hearing from those who have owned or heard both options and can comment on how the 2 power options compare.  If it's close or if iUSB is better, certainly it's a better option since it cheaper and no downtime due to sending in for modification.

post #7 of 49
Quote:

Originally Posted by negura View Post

 

I am not sure that once you have the Pure Power add-on you can just go back to disconnect the Pure Power (...)

 

You can't. It will not work standalone anymore after the PS mod is done. People who are comparing the stock vs PP are mostly relying on their aural memory, which often can be deceptive.

 

That beeing said, a friend of mine had a chance to compare his standard AP-1 to my AP-1 + PurePower, and much prefered the PurePower version. He ended up sending his for an upgrade. So in this case, the aural memory doesn't fool us - PP brings an improvement.

post #8 of 49
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Elberoth View Post

 

You can't. It will not work standalone anymore after the PS mod is done. People who are comparing the stock vs PP are mostly relying on their aural memory, which often can be deceptive.

 

That beeing said, a friend of mine had a chance to compare his standard AP-1 to my AP-1 + PurePower, and much prefered the PurePower version. He ended up sending his for an upgrade. So in this case, the aural memory doesn't fool us - PP brings an improvement.

 

Thanks for clarifying.

Sounds like many folks would like to see a side by side review and I would be very happy to do this if the posibility somehow arises around London town.


Edited by negura - 5/13/13 at 1:13pm
post #9 of 49

Thx for your review.

 

I think I will buy one ... it's not very expansive anyway.

I need LONG usb cable for my need.

 

If I clean the signal from a long usb cable, I think I will have something very nice.

 

What I don't understand ... WHY software player do a sound difference with audiophilleo ... it's a complete mystery for me.

* Fidelizer + J-River bring the thing as good as JIE Extreme ...

post #10 of 49

I have one and made many tests.

 

* Cable between computer and iFi iUSB still have it's impact on the sound.

 

A) Laptop -> 3' Ultraviolet USB cable -> Audiophilleo 1 + Purepower -> BNC-BNC -> DAC

B) Laptop -> USB type A/B adaptor -> iFi iUSB -> 3' Ultraviolet USB cable -> Audiophilleo 1 + Purepower -> BNC-BNC -> DAC

 

B is better than A but not much better. Ground On or Off I don't notice something different. I "think" it's better without the ground engaged.

 

My home setup is a lot more complicated

 

C) Full tower PC -> USB to RJ45 adaptor -> 50 ' CAT6 wire -> USB to RJ45 adaptor -> USB type A/B adaptor -> iFi iUSB -> 3' Ultraviolet USB cable -> Audiophilleo 1 + Purepower -> BNC-BNC -> DAC

 

The important thing, before introduce the iFi iUSB in the configuration C, A was better than C enough to have to worry about this. I found the setup C little boring and lack engaging factor. Details were there but I was lacking depth or soundstage and a bit of microdetails.

Now C is as good as the setup B ... in fact, probably a bit better but while the cable between computer and the iFi, it's maybe this cable giving this difference of presentation of the music.

 

I am happy with my purchase but with audiophilleo 1/purepower it's not something very apparent unless having LONG usb cable.

post #11 of 49

It might be worth checking if the Burson's USB is powered by the amp itself or using the 5V input line. In the latter case it is easy to get benefits from an improved USB power supply.

post #12 of 49

I tested tonight the adaptator like

 

between computer and the iFi iUSB ... it's the worst of all !

 

The short USB cable 12 inch is better.

 

But, by far, this thing is a way better of all other cables I tried.

 

Without the iFi, the USB over RJ45 is not so impressive but with iFi, it's a total story.

It's not very expansive and 50' cat6 cable don't impact the sound at all ... it's a very convenient way to have a LOOOONNG cable.

 

It's only work at usb 1.1 (so 24/96 max). I will look a true usb 2.0 later.

post #13 of 49

An update, the setup B was using a USB type A/B adapter and was it's part that gave almost no upgrade with the iFi in the path.

I simply replaced this adaptor with USB/RJ45 (using 50 feets cat6 cable) and the setup B beat easily the setup A now.

That cheap adaptor was used in the USB/RJ45 configuration but in the way to convert USB femele type A to USB male type B. I briefly tested against the 12 inch normal cable type a/b and in that position, the little adaptor don't seem to have a bad influence.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by pompon View Post

I have one and made many tests.

 

* Cable between computer and iFi iUSB still have it's impact on the sound.

 

A) Laptop -> 3' Ultraviolet USB cable -> Audiophilleo 1 + Purepower -> BNC-BNC -> DAC

B) Laptop -> USB type A/B adaptor -> iFi iUSB -> 3' Ultraviolet USB cable -> Audiophilleo 1 + Purepower -> BNC-BNC -> DAC

 

B is better than A but not much better. Ground On or Off I don't notice something different. I "think" it's better without the ground engaged.

 

My home setup is a lot more complicated

 

C) Full tower PC -> USB to RJ45 adaptor -> 50 ' CAT6 wire -> USB to RJ45 adaptor -> USB type A/B adaptor -> iFi iUSB -> 3' Ultraviolet USB cable -> Audiophilleo 1 + Purepower -> BNC-BNC -> DAC

 

The important thing, before introduce the iFi iUSB in the configuration C, A was better than C enough to have to worry about this. I found the setup C little boring and lack engaging factor. Details were there but I was lacking depth or soundstage and a bit of microdetails.

Now C is as good as the setup B ... in fact, probably a bit better but while the cable between computer and the iFi, it's maybe this cable giving this difference of presentation of the music.

 

I am happy with my purchase but with audiophilleo 1/purepower it's not something very apparent unless having LONG usb cable.

post #14 of 49
Thread Starter 

A few updates in the pipe:

 

- I have a new interface at home I am reviewing vs Audiophilleo 2: Audiobyte Hydra X 

- after several DIY attempts, I finally have a Y split USB I am happy with. It's made with Toxic Cables Silver Poison wires and separate power and data lines.

- hand in hand with the above I have a linear regulated power supply on the way, with 5V USB output.

- if anyone has a good 75 ohms digital cable at home, I do recommend trying it with the Audiophilleo and let me know what you think. There's a little adapter in the box you can use. :) 

Edited by negura - 6/4/13 at 5:55pm
post #15 of 49
Quote:
Originally Posted by Andrew_WOT View Post

Great review.

IFi have come out with the new product - iLink, which is USB to SPDIF converter. Not a lot of reviews yet, they just started shipping but looks quite interesting, wondering how would it fare against Audiophilleo, lack of BNC output is a bummer though.
http://www.ifi-audio.com/en/iLink.html
The rca implemented isnt your typical rca output, "super digital output". Im starting to think that the ilink's "sd output" might have a viable reason behind a missing bnc connection.
Edited by DarKen23 - 7/10/13 at 5:48pm
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