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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
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Desktop system: Source: HP Z230 work station Win10/64 with Audirvana Origin and Qobuz Sublime; Headamp/DAC: iFi Pro iDSD Signature; Headphones: Final D-8000; Powered speakers: DMAX Super Cubes on Gravity stands
Review component retail: £244.16/1m delivered from the UK's FutureShop
USB v.3.2. Geek train pulling up. Released in 11/08, USB 3.0 was the third major revision of the universal serial bus standard. That's up to ten times faster than USB 2.0 so supports 5Gbps transfer rates. By 07/13, v3.1 added SuperSpeed+ transfer mode good for up to 10Gbps. By 09/17 we had v3.2 which, over the USB-C connector, added 20Gbps. In short, ancient but fast news. Yawn. Meanwhile in casa Ebaen, USB 2.0 kept doing the PC to USB bridge business without hiccups. Then my desktop's trusty Audiobyte Hydra X+ bridge gave up its ghost. Full Viking funeral with burning long ship sinking in the Shannon river across the road. Now the USB cable exiting my Win10/64 workstation entered iFi's Pro iDSD Signature DAC directly. No more extra buffer/clocking stage. Having previously labored upstairs off an SD card transport, I'd never bothered the Pro with any USB before. Then my new Slovakian DMAX Super Cubes bumped off my prior desktop actives. With their outboard amp accepting only analog XLR, the RCA-only COS H1 skipped the scene as well. Now the iFi took its place downstairs. Done. For jollification familiar from upstairs, I again set it to on-the-fly DSD1'028 resampling. That duly forgot all about installing any Windows USB driver. Most my locally hosted files are Redbook. My occasional Qobuz Sublime hi-res streams topped out at 24/96. Being limited to USB 1.0's 96kHz really wasn't an issue. And here the case would have closed had it not be for that old fuss pot the audiophile devil.
Just to shut him up, I eventually caved in to download and install iFi's driver. As Audirvana Origin's windows below show, now the iFi accepted up to 768kHz incoming PCM; not that (strenuous cough) any music comes so natively. But curiosity being a cat of nine lives, I did what any self-respecting audiophile would. I set Audirvana's upsampler to max just for giggles. I banked on at best zero giggles. More realistically I expected the other thing for unnecessarily stressing out my USB pipeline across exploded bandwidth. Surely that would cause higher jitter? But nothing ventured nothing maimed.
Et voilà, higher clarity and more expansive soundstaging. I was a bit gob smacked. Back and forthies followed should overactive imagination need chopping down. No dice. Reckless Autobahn speeds down the USB offramp had the advantage. Again like any self-respecting audiophile, my brain demanded a reasonable explanation. Buttress up (butter up?) subjective hearing. The best I could come up with in my defense was that my Win10 workstation's far stronger computing powers had choked out iFi's Cassiopeia FPGA. Rather than upsample in the downstream receiver, I now upsampled in the upstream sender. Hello 705.6/768kHz PCM dispatch. Same-day delivery? It wasn't long until Old Faithful the Fussy One reappeared. Surely I left mega crumbs under my work desk by not exploiting USB 3.0's far superior speed. The devil can be persuasive. Seeding doubt is a powerful weapon. So it came to pass that I acquired a 1m stretch of iFi's Mercury3.0. If nothing else, its superior in-house built B connector would seat more firmly than the ever-wobbly receiver plug of USB 2.0. I like firm connections. I too can be fussy.
Serious readers already faulted my jumped-up casual style. I remind them that I consider most digital filter settings virtually inaudible. Their subtle changes are utterly buried under the comprehensive erosion effects which our speaker/room interactions have on the time domain. In my best headfi system meanwhile—Raal-Requisite's SR1a ribbons—and with the desktop's close proximity plus effective frequency/phase compensation by DMAX designer Andrews Startsev, rather higher resolution finally digs deep enough to hear things that otherwise are pure theory and abstract idealism. Granting those dubious fellas undue importance leads all of us astray. Hence today's style. If one goes down these roads, one must start with maximal system resolution. That invariably means sorting out the far biggest offenders: speakers and room. Most of us are stuck with our room unless we install comprehensive treatments; and add compensation EQ for where the treatments stop working in the bass. Now headfi and close-proximity desktop listening are really our two best options to eliminate or seriously minimize room, crossover and distance issues. Even then this kind of stuff will never become a main course or even tasty starter or salad. It'll just be a glass of water. But will it be chlorinated tap water or pure designer water from some famous mountain spring¹?
¹ On a more serious note to do with actual water, one of the very best small investments into our health we made is Osmio's counter-top reverse osmosis water filter. Its quad of filters lasts our 2-person household 6 months of daily use before needing replacement. Having instant hot filtered water for chai is extra brilliant. Being a freestanding unit, this model requires no under-the-sink integration with any plumbing. Just fill its 5-liter tank and you're good to go. Being comprehensively filtered, the water also tastes seriously better. And as we learnt, our water from a deep well on our prior rental facing Ireland's holy mountain Croagh Patrick contained… yes, naturally occurring trace amounts of mercury. Nicht gut. Now our programming returns to the Mercury3.0 cable hopefully very good for us.
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