Audio Streams #8 Page 2

I then added just one JitterBug between my MacBook Pro and Auralic Vega DAC, and noted improvements: Bass definition was better, and the sound now had more weight overall, and was more relaxed and natural. These changes were also easy to hear. I found that I got the most benefit when I added a second 'Bug to the MacBook's unused USB port, which simply improved on the improvements already mentioned—not as dramatically as going from no 'Bugs to just one, but even these smaller-scale changes were easy to hear. Adding a third and a fourth 'Bug to my NAS and router offered very subtle sonic gains that I didn't feel were worth the extra $98. One JitterBug = good. Two JitterBugs = better.

Next in line was the Schiit Wyrd, which I inserted in the same system (no 'Bugs). Again, the improvements were easy to hear: a less brittle, less "digital" sound, and increased weight and body. Dysnomia by Dawn of Midi—a trio of prepared piano, double bass, and drums (CD, Thirsty Ear THI 57206.2)—sounded more convincing, more present, more engaging. Following each of these amazing musicians in space and time was easier with the Wyrd in than out, and made for a more natural, more engaging experience.

The difference between the Wyrd and one JitterBug was subtle, but through the Schiit my music had a greater sense of weight and solidity. Funkadelic sounded even funkier.

Next up was the UpTone Audio Regen, installed in the same system (footnote 2). I listened for a few weeks with the Regen in, then took it out. Wow: not subtle. Absent the Regen, it was as if my music had just come back from a week at weight-loss camp: Everything had less body and weight, and the overall spatial sound picture was reduced in every dimension. On a scale of sonic difference of 1 to 100, with the greatest difference possible in a hi-fi system's sound being 100, the Regen was a solid 15; the Wyrd and JitterBug were further down that scale.

The Regen also offered a less brittle, less "digital" sound. Subtle, beautiful music, such as Washington Phillips's What Are They Doing in Heaven Today? (44.1kHz file from Little Axe Records), sounded more heavenly, and it was easier to tell János Starker's cello from Yo-Yo Ma's—I'm talking improvements that made listening to music more enjoyable and more meaningful.

It's important to note that none of these devices changed the sonic character of whatever DAC was in use; rather, they enhanced its qualities.

I also ran these comparisons with a LampizatOr Lite 7 tubed DSD DAC replacing the Auralic Vega, as well as in my desktop system: an Audeze Deckard DAC–headphone amp driving ADAM A3X speakers and Audeze LCD-X headphones. All of the changes I heard with each of the three USB devices through the Vega I also heard through the LampizatOr; while the JitterBug and Wyrd offered some improvement, the Regen consistently bettered both in terms of overall improvement. But on my desktop, the improvements gained with all three devices were less noticeable, especially in terms of spatial performance: My desktop setup is very much a nearfield listening experience, in which images and reproduced spaces are smaller and more intimate. The same held true for listening through headphones, as images were not reproduced in free space. With this in mind, if I were to pick for this system one such device, it would be a single JitterBug: The additional improvements offered by the other, more expensive devices didn't strike me as worth the extra cost.

I found that my favorite USB cable, the Light Harmonic Lightspeed, remained my favorite regardless of which USB device I used. I swapped in a few others, including AudioQuest's Diamond USB, and found that the cable's character remained, even with a filtered, regenerated USB signal.

Combination of the Two
I know: crazy, right? If what we're talking about is reducing the amount of noise coming into a DAC, as well as reducing the amount of noise generated by the DAC itself by delivering a more stable and less error-prone signal—thus delivering less noise to the analog circuitry in the DAC—then perhaps adding more than one device will offer even better performance. At least in theory.

In practice I found that to be true. Using the AudioQuest JitterBug with either the UpTone Audio USB Regen or the Schiit Audio Wyrd offered additional improvements, including greater senses of clarity and ease, and a more natural sound. For my main system, the JitterBug-Regen pairing was the clear winner: I plan to use that combo from now on, for those times when I want to sit, listen, and enjoy music like any normal person, because they make that experience more enjoyable. If you already own a Wyrd and want to squeeze a bit more performance out of your DAC, try adding a JitterBug.

Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered
I find that the effects of cables and tweaks are most often system-dependent—but they are always user-dependent, owing to the listener's preferences and priorities. That said, I also find reviewing tweaks and cables to be a tad annoying: Obsessing over subtle changes is a sure way to kill my enjoyment of music. And I'm all about enjoyment.

Then there are those bits-are-bits guys (I have yet to meet any bits-are-bits gals) who'll tell you that this is all nonsense: after all, we're dealing with digital data. While I agree that bits are bits, if you've been paying attention, you know that's not what we're talking about here.

If you want to try only one of these USB devices, I recommend UpTone's USB Regen as the performance choice, and AudioQuest's JitterBug as the budget choice. If your big rig is very resolving and subtle improvements grab your attention, I recommend the Regen-JitterBug combo for a more bewitching experience.

Footnote 2: See Kalman Rubinson's comments on the effect of the USB Regen in this issue's "Music in the Round" and my comments on the USB Regen in this issue's "Follow-Up" section.—John Atkinson

James.Seeds's picture

Wonder why Firewire was abandoned if it was faster at transferring bits than USB and not having to contend with his noise issue

John Atkinson's picture
James.Seeds wrote:
Wonder why Firewire was abandoned if it was faster at transferring bits than USB and not having to contend with his noise issue.

As I understand it, FireWire is more expensive to license than USB. Price always trumps quality when it comes to mass manufacturing.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Joe Whip's picture

with two of these deives are most interesting to me. I don't have the Regen and have not listened to a system with one so I can't comment about it. I have had the Wyrd for over a year and purchased 2 Jitterbugs a few months ago. The DAC I was using them with was the Schiit DS Gungnir. I purchased the Wyrd to help with droputs and it works beautifully in that regard. I thought a heard a small but consistent improvement in the sounds of the system using it. Wouldn't swear to it but it seemed so to me. I used the Jitterbug in an unused port on my Macbook and I heard a consistent and much more obvious improvement. The second Jitterbug in live with the DAC made a tiny if any improvement along the lines described here. I later upgraded my DAC to the ladder DAc Gungnir a/k/a the Gumby. In doing so, I had to take the Jitterbug out of the line with the DAC as the computer would no longer recognize the DAC. When I did, no problem. All was OK with the Jitterbug in the unused USB port although the improvement in sound was not as significant as before. Perhaps the Gumby incorporates cicuitry that does a similar thing as the Jitterbug. I still hear an improvement with the Jitterbug but not as much as before. The second Jitterbug has found a happy home with the HT equipment in another room.

Johnny2Bad's picture

I don't believe it's the licensing issue that pushed USB ahead of Firewire, but instead a hardware issue. Because Firewire is a complete interface (ie it manages all aspects of the data itself, while USB requires CPU cycles to manage the data stream) the FW interface chipsets were roughly twice as expensive at manufacturer's wholesale lot quantities.

At retail, it meant, for example, that a Firewire external Hard Drive case was about $20 more expensive MSRP than USB.

Since computer anything is all about the lowest cost wins, USB won.

* There was another complication with Firewire, in that a 4-pin interface was offered by SONY to manufacturers in place of the 6-pin; the 4-pin eliminated the +12V power portion of the chipset. This meant peripherals had to add a power circuit to their products, again increasing the manufacturing cost, whereas Firewire (like USB) was intended to be self-powering.

Apple always used a 6-pin interface but many PC motherboards that included Firewire only included the (cheaper) un-powered 4-pin chip. So there were compatibility issues.