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Reviewer: John Darko
Financial Interests:
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Sources: Macbook Air 2011 w/ Audirvana+ and Qobuz Hifi + Amarra SQ, Antipodes DXe music server, VPi Scout 1.1 w/ PS Audio NuWave Phono Converter
DACs: Schiit Bifrost Uber, Resonessence Labs Concero HD/HP, AURALiC Vega, Aqua La Scala MKII, PS Audio DirectStream [on loan]
Amps: Redgum RGi60 [on loan], Redgum RGi35 Black Series [on loan]
Speakers: Zu Soul MkII, Magnepan MMG
Headphones: MrSpeakers Alpha Dog [on loan], Sennheiser HD800 [on loan], Audeze LCD-X [on loan], KEF M500, MrSpeakers MadDog
Headphone DAC/amplifiers: Resonessence Labs Herus and Concero HP, Schiit Asgard 2, AURALiC Taurus MKII
Cabling: Light Harmonic LightSpeed USB cable, Blue Jean speaker cable and interconnect, Schiit Audio Pyst interconnect, Grave Science balanced interconnect
Review component retail:
€360 for 0.25m and 1m, €390 for 2m

High-frequency electrical noise
can have a detrimental effect on all manner of hifi components. It will easily pollute music’s small electrical signals and give rise to audible distortion. Music servers, DACs and amplifiers can all suffer sonically from power line noise. That includes ultrasonic switching noise fed back into the mains by cheap-as-chips wall warts and the antennae effect of many power cables. Getting more specific, the personal computer that fronts your digital audio setup is probably noisy too. The likes of Apple and Dell don’t design for audiophiles. USB really was never intended to move data signals that were time sensitive like digital audio, let alone feed such signals to noise-sensitive D/A converters whose sound can harden to agitate the listener when fed by unclean power sources.

USB converters can help. They not only re-clock the data but double as electrical noise buffers between DAC and host PC. Alas, with the vast majority of DACs incapable of DSD decoding over their coaxial inputs, this protocol diversion leads some digital audiophiles to a dead end.

Then there are the newer audio streamers and servers coming to market that output only via USB: the Antipodes DS and DXe, the Auraliti PK90 and L1000, the Aurender X100, the AURALiC Aries. Whether we like it or not, these manufacturers remind us that USB has become a de-facto standard for digital audio transmission.

The amount of electrical noise emanating from each device’s USB port(s) will vary. Depending on how susceptible each USB-connected DAC is to this noise, the resulting sound quality will vary too. Direct experience with both DS and DXe Antipodes servers has clearly demonstrated their audible superiority to an Apple MacMini pimped out with USB converter and PureMusic, Amarra or Audirvana+. The Antipodes machines have been specifically designed with electrical noise minimization in mind. If your wallet doesn’t have the stomach for such high-end music servers, there are alternate ways to deal with USB power detritus albeit after the fact (which is rarely as effective as having lower electrical noise in the first place).