Super Duper Features 1.4
Femto Clocks – Picky about Phase Noise
All Femto clocks are good, very good in fact. They exhibit jitter levels lower than most clock crystals which leads to better sonics. An oft quoted benchmark for accuracy is Femtoseconds (Fs) / parts per million.
Back in 2008, before the word “Femto Clock” became all the rage, AMR developed a special type of clock in DP-777 as part of the “Global Master Timing” (GMT) and “Jitter less” technologies (why special? See below, because not all Femto clocks are the same).
We called it the GMT Clock platform (which is comprised of specialised hardware+software) as it is not just buying a “clock in a can” and job done.
Having worked with all sorts of clocks, including discrete, Rubidium, Superclocks and not the least Femto clocks over the years, we know them quite well.
All Femto Clocks exhibit excellent low phase-noise (measured jitter within the clock). However, as their origins lay in being part of SONET (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synchronous_optical_networking), the popular SONET targeted “Femto-clock” is less desirable as its best phase-noise performance is concentrated in the > 12KHz region (read: at the very top and way above the audible band, so benefits audio less).
As an example, this link highlights the use of Femtoclock technology in the telecommunications sector where they are spec'd for:
The ubiquitous Femto (SONET) Clock
This is an Optical Comm system (aka SONET - which is a Subset). We added the blue line to highlight the -70dBr region so that when referenced to the AP2 chart in the next section of the micro iDSD, it is more of an “apple to apple” comparison.
The spike at 50KHz is the "signal" As you can see, for quite a few KHz around this region, phase noise is low, this is what matters in this application.
However, the area around the green arrow is the most crucial human audible range of 20Hz > 20kHz where phase noise performance is less impressive in the region of -100dB to -70dB.
Therefore, the key for AMR was to design a new system, the “GMT” clock platform which not only exhibits the lowest phase-noise in the crucial audible band, but offers precision (< 0.004ppm tolerance) adjustability with literally millions of possible frequencies (as per the DP-777 "GMT" Technical Paper).
The GMT Clock system designed into the micro iDSD measures <280 Fs, comparable to many Femto-Clocks (because it was designed to give low jitter).
From the AP2 graph of the micro iDSD below, you can see that jitter in 9kHz > 15 kHz is very good, the micro iDSD noise floor goes all the way down to -150dB which is virtually across the board.with no spikes.
AMR/iFi GMT Clock Platform
How this benefits the user
Consistent, across the board negligible jitter means timing is supreme, with just the right amount of attack/decay and of course, tonal accuracy. We are really pleased with the very low jitter performance of the micro iDSD in the most crucial audible range – in fact, we would not mind if customers pit it against significantly more expensive DACs.
We hope you found this interesting as it sheds some light on the particular attention we have paid to parts performance and custom design in the micro iDSD (actually, we took it from the DP-777!).
Addendum: What about Rubidium Clocks?
Below is a chart of several types of rubidium clocks. What they all exhibit is many sharp spikes in phase noise. Even though they measure well, some down to -150dB, when they spike, noise levels jump up to -70dB to -90dB.
This is far from ideal which is why we have not used such clocks, neither in iFi nor AMR products. It all boils down to paying close attention to the specific clock/s used and its performance in the audible range.