Review of Audioquest JitterBug - USB Data & Power Noise Filter.

Discussion in 'Computer Audio' started by twister6, Aug 7, 2015.
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  1. twister6 Contributor
    This is a review of Audioquest JitterBug - USB Data & Power Noise Filter.  http://www.audioquest.com/jitterbug/jitterbug .  Big Thanks to Audioquest for providing me with a review sample.
     
    Some of you are familiar with Audioquest as a company behind a popular DragonFly usb DAC, while others probably know Audioquest as a company behind various analog and digital cables.  Recently AQ expanded their product line with a release of NightHawk headphones, but in this review I will focus on something brand new – a compact usb noise filter that cleans and enhances the performance of a signal transmitted over USB bus.  Considering their focus on quality usb cables and usb DAC, It makes a perfect sense for AQ to release a product that cleans up a digital signal before sending it to external usb DAC device where it gets decoded to analog audio signal.
     
    Before I go any further, I can imagine that some of you might have a question: isn’t digital signal just 0s and 1s?  How can a wire or a filter make a difference in this case?  From my previous cable reviews, I’m well aware that some people strongly believe it’s a snake oil because they “read” about it somewhere on-line, mostly referencing a single source of some old sound engineer who ran a debunking seminar.  When it comes to cables (analog or digital) I only trust my ears, and I have a firsthand experience with cables while testing my audio gear.  Yes, I’m a cable believer because I can hear a difference, not because I read about it somewhere else.  But for those who would like a simple explanation: digital audio data transfer includes both the data and the timing info.  Degradation of a signal due to a lower quality cable will cause skew in the analog square edges of “digital” pulse (1s are just analog square pulses when you look on the scope) which results in a timing inaccuracy that will cause jitter and packet errors.
     
    If you think about USB cable design, you are dealing with a pair of data wires and a pair of power wires (5V vbus and ground).  Digital data and power from your PC/laptop usb port inevitably going to have some noise as well as being susceptible to EMI and RFI.  The attached portable USB audio device is relying on getting its power from USB port, and this “dirty” power reference is used in D/A conversion to extract analog signal.  Noisy power reference will cause errors during decoding and consequently will raise a noise floor.  That is a reason why all standalone desktop DACs/amps use a massive power supply to provide a clean internal power source independent of the power from a digital cable.
     
    The main function of JitterBug, while utilizing its dual discrete noise dissipation circuit, is to reduce the noise on the data and the power lines of usb cable, to improve the data flow by reducing the jitter and packet errors, and to shield your external DAC from EMI, RFI, and other high frequency noise coming from your PC/laptop usb port.  Plugging JitterBug directly into usb port helps with the later one, and its dual filter (discrete analog circuit) takes care of the actual filtering.  I assume it filters out a content of the high frequency noise and conditions the edges of data pulses.  It’s impossible to get rid of noise completely, but it’s quite feasible to reduce/attenuate it to the point where you can hear an improvement in sound.
     
    Since I didn’t receive JitterBug in its final manufacturing packaging, I can only describe how product looks by itself, but from unboxing experience of other Audioquest products I have no doubt it will be a colorful box with a lot of info about the product.  Out-of-the-box it looks like a small plain usb stick.  It’s a simple discrete filtering device that should operate transparently without any requirements to select or to configure anything – just a simple plug’n’play.
     
    Design details.
     
    aq_jitterbug-01_zps1bbdd9qd.jpg
     
    aq_jitterbug-02_zpsjnh3e774.jpg
     
    aq_jitterbug-03b_zpsba7ynjq8.jpg
     
    I don’t expect everybody to hear the same results using this little device, but the difference will be more apparent using higher end audio equipment (quality usb DAC or standalone DAC and less colored high res headphones) playing higher resolution lossless audio.
     
    With DragonFly (next to DragonTail usb extension cable).
     
    aq_jitterbug-04_zpstj4bvxgv.jpg   aq_jitterbug-05_zpsrd3igjlf.jpg
     
    With DragonFly and JitterBug in comparison to DragonFly alone I found a sound to be a little bit louder, noise floor to be lower which improves SNR thus having a louder sound perception.  Overall sound is a little tighter, faster, and a bit crispier.  Without JitterBug a sound from DragonFly is a bit smoother, slower, and background is not as black.
     
    With GeekOut 450 (next to DragonTail usb extension cable).
     
    aq_jitterbug-06_zpsboqvjhfm.jpg
     
    With GeekOut 450 and JitterBug in comparison to GO450 alone I found a sound level to be nearly the same, noise floor was a touch lower and sound was a bit tighter.  In comparison the change was very subtle, perhaps GO does its own internal filtering?
     
    With Schiit FULLA (next to DragonTail usb extension cable).
     
    aq_jitterbug-07_zps3rufgwgd.jpg
     
    With FULLA and JitterBug in comparison to FULLA alone I hear the same improvement as with DragonFly (a little louder, lower noise floor, improved S/N), black background, faster attack, a bit crispier.  I found the improvement to be more noticeable than GO450, but not as much as with DragonFly, probably somewhere in-between.
     
    Conclusion.
     
    I can see for sure that a lot of JitterBug testing and fine-tuning was done around DragonFly usb DAC since it yielded the best improvement in reduction/lowering of the noise floor.  The results are very noticeable when you hear a pitch black background with a clean and clear transient of notes, especially in more instrumental and less complicated music compositions where sound has a room to breathe.  The improvements are also noticeable with other usb DAC devices, but to a different degree.  In my opinion, for under $50 (JitterBug price) this will be a very valuable upgrade for anybody who has an external usb audio interface.  USB cable upgrade is something that you have to think about due to a price spread over different cable grades and diminishing returns as you go up in price, but JitterBug is really a no-brainer even if you continue to use your stock usb cables or usb cable extensions.
     
    Connected to ThinkPad T430s (Win7) with DragonTail/JitterBug/DragonFly/EL-8C
     
    aq_jitterbug-08_zpsq8pxhpbb.jpg
     
    volly and mks100 like this.
  2. volly
    Thanks Twist,
     
    I'm looking forward to grabbing a few to try out, I'm glad you've notice a difference and thanks for the review!
     
    Subbed.
     
  3. Joeybgood
    Would someone be kind enough to explain what they(Audioquest) is referring to when they talk about using a 2nd Jitterbug in "parallel configuration' to clean things up even more?
     
  4. Krutsch
     
    In many cases, USB ports share a common physical controller, so filtering electrical noise via one port will remove it for all ports. I guess...
     
  5. AGB100
    The reviewer states: "I don’t expect everybody to hear the same results using this little device, but the difference will be more apparent using higher end audio equipment (quality usb DAC or standalone DAC and less colored high res headphones) playing higher resolution lossless audio."

    The last being conjecture at best,I could not find any reference to the device having been tested using higher end DACs. I saw run of the mill cheap DACs having been the only DUTs tested. Have I missed anything, and could owners of higher end DACs glean anything from this review?

    Put another way, if an auto magazine tested WVW Beetles and Fiats, can the owner of a Lotus or Ferrari make sense of such a review?
     
  6. castleofargh Contributor
    on the website I read
    and can't help but facepalm.[​IMG]
    let's pretend the noise floor goes down or something(maybe that stuff is a 50$ ferrite bead, it's been seen to improve specs in some cases). so I might admit the dynamic and resolution claim on the basis that if the noise floor goes even 0.000001db down, technically it's true. ok for that part.
    but warmth thanks to a usb plug???????????????????? what the frog?????? now it's changing the digital signal so that after the DAC has converted it to analog, it's warmer? the nonsense marketing claim is over 9000.
     my opinion is done on the product and the marketing thanks to one sentence.
     
     
    Quote:
    sorry but that too makes zero sense. sure I read the usual "if you don't hear it it's because you don't have a good enough system or good enough ears, lol you poor 99%", that is over used in audio but doesn't actually apply as often as you'd think. but let's pretend the little gizmo lowers the noise and stuff. then shouldn't common sense make you say the exact opposite?
    it's going to benefit the bad gears a lot more than the good one no? if I have a high end system and it doesn't already deal very well with jitter and noise, then how is it a high end system? any improbable improvement from the jitterbug would be minimalistic and thus hard to notice.
     
    so how about removing that claim?
     
  7. kawaivpc1
    interesting.....
     
  8. twister6 Contributor
    Calm down guys [​IMG]  Being a headphone guy, not DAC/amp guy, I mostly deal with usb dacs and relative to my "collection" I consider DragonFly/FULLA/GO to be "higher end".  Jitterbug not going to polish a turd (but you will hear the improvement), that's what I was trying to say.  I'm just describing what I'm hearing, that's all...  Now, carry on ladies and gentlemen with more bashing [​IMG] 
     
  9. Mediahound
    Do they include the cable? Because I would certainly not want something like this hanging off my usb port (from Audioquest's Instagram):
     
     
     
    ScreenShot2015-08-13at10.54.32AM.jpg
     
     
    If they actually intend this setup, it seems like a total design fail. 
     
  10. Mediahound

    For that, they mean buying 2 and setting it up like this:
     
     
    JiterBug_2-e1433980223537.jpg
     
  11. twister6 Contributor
     
    Agree, it works better with DragonTail or any usb port extension cable, like I showed in the last picture of the review.
     
  12. Mediahound

     
    They should include the DragonTail then, since it's needed, instead of trying to sell you another additional cable...
     
    canali likes this.
  13. twister6 Contributor
     
    Definitely a good idea, to have one AQ package with JB and DT, and another package with DragonFly and JB/DT, and discount the pricing when you buy in a bundle.  I have compared dragontail to the extension cable offered with GeekOut and some of my other $1 cables from ebay, and you can hear a marginal improvement, plus build quality is top notch.
     
    Btw, I'm not hyping AQ or any other products.  Could care less if you buy it or don't buy it or if you are convinced it's a snake oil cr@p.  I write reviews (you can check out index in my profile) to share with you what manufacturers send to me for testing, and to offer my opinion about what I like and don't like about the product.  I'm not expecting people to agree with my reviews, and I certainly would LOVE to hear other people's opinion about testing the same products and sharing with head-fi community if they agree or disagree with me.  Every opinion is welcome, that's what we come here for [​IMG]
     
    zorilon likes this.
  14. Joeybgood
    So  one merely inserts the 2nd JB into an adjacent USB port(with no device etc inserted into it) and just by virtue of being connected there will clean up noise even further. Am I understanding this correctly? If so, does anyone feel that the improvement would be audible enough to warrant purchasing another unit and doing this?  Did you (twister6) have a chance to utilize this combo during your testing/review?
     
  15. Mediahound

    According to Audiquest that is correct. They also say you can put it on things like wireless routers, streaming devices, etc... 
     
    I think they are just trying to get you to buy more of them. 
     
    I would be interested to hear how it compares to the Schiit Wyrd, which I'm quite happy with so far. It seems to have more robust components and functionality. 
     
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