Acts Two - Four. In the main system, the Intona fed a number of converters which supplied analog to the Pass Labs HPA-1 preamp which fed the Pass Labs XA30.8 power amp which drove a pair of Boenicke W11. The first DAC on deck was Aqua's Formula. It's a flagship discrete R2R affair which seemed blessedly intona deaf. As a €13'800 formula, that would have fit. Repeat A/Bs simply teased out that the same changes still factored if admittedly at lesser magnitude. That was but a small relief given how a statement converter could still be pimped. If I had to sum up what the isolator did for this setup, I'd pick juicier as though a colour saturation slider had been moved up a notch or two. My inner judge wasn't happy but the ears insisted: the German plastic box still was in business. I prepped for more beatings of audiophile pride. In moved the new $2'850 Resonessence Veritas. Same difference. Despite ESS Tech's claims that their Sabre chips are jitter immune, the audible evidence disagreed. Needless to say, this also applied to the €3'300 AURALiC Vega which runs on the earlier ES9018 where the Veritas goes ES9028Pro. The sad upshot? Price wasn't exclusionary. None of my digital kit was immune to the Intona's charms. Audibility of its inclusion increased with poorly recorded (overcooked) software where the removal of etch was more readily apparent that just the increase in tone saturation on premium productions. At first that was harder to spot until I knew where to look. Then it was plain. Score 4:0 for the German.

Intona-tion. Beginner's talk focuses on quantity. More treble, more bass, more SPL stability. As we grow into more sophisticated listeners, we learn of areas beyond basic more-ness. Some of those deal in gestalt. The quantitative basics don't change. Still, there's a difference we care about, be it in feel, flavour, lighting or mood. The music might feel more driven or chilled; drier or wetter; firmer or softer; aloof or enveloping. Different listeners use different descriptors; or key into different aspects of a shift. Eventually one might mature into favouring naturalness over all else. If one hears naturalness as an absence of artifice aka reminders of playback tech, that's when words tend to fail. Instead of saying what naturalness is, one defines it by what it isn't. The implication is that once we strip away the false or artificial, what remains can't be described as such. It just is. Once I moved the Intona from desktop to main rig, that's the realm in which it operated. The music sounded more natural. Despite being a soft term like 'musical', it's the road one now travels, leaving the basics as sorted and in the rearview mirror. Beyond the desktop, this became the stuff not very obvious during quicker swaps. It relied on sinking fully into the music and inspecting the experience; how the experiencer responded to it.

When USB improvements talk of noise reduction, it's not about transformer hum, ground loop buzz or slightly hissy tweeters that betray power supply noise. It's not about hearing anything during pause. It's about the effects the interference of noise has on specific processes. The mantra "work smarter not harder" implies better results when a certain stress lifts. This would seem to apply to USB audio as well. The injection of computer-generated electrical noise migrating across the USB ground connection adds stress to the hardware responsible for the conversion process. Why that should be audible is for the proper engineers to sort. That it is audible even subjectivists can determine. Invoking lower "audible stress" isn't just a cute extension of the tech reasons. So, the Intona 7054 USB Hi-Speed Isolator is a no-nonsense little box. It does exactly what it says; at the highest potency I've yet heard from its type. All that remains is wishing that DAC makers started to license Intona's tech to build this small circuit board into their machines. Being most unlikely of course, the second best thing is adding an Intona to what we already own. On the cost versus effectiveness scale, it's actually a steal. As such, it remains on my desktop. Working smarter not harder might just mean listening to better-sounding tunes? Cheers to German engineering!

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