With his XE USB card, we get the same LT3045 linear regulators and filters, Emerald OCXO clock and high-class parts working stably from -40°C to +85°C. Again we get the interchangeable brackets. Again the card can plug into an available PCI Express 2.0 slot (x1-x16) or power hrough a Molex connector or external DC power supply. Additional elements include a new generation ASM3142 USB 3.1 controller and gold-plated EMI shielded USB audio ports compatible with low speed (1.5Mbps), full speed (12Mbps), high speed (480Mbps) and super speed (5Gbps). The card supports all lossless audio formats and sample rates. The Initio 3 is a linear power supply with two outputs configurable to 5V or 12V upon order. The maximum output current is 3A regardless of whether it powers one or two devices. The nicely finished chassis is made of a single sheet of bent steel finished in black which together with the aluminum fascia ensures adequate rigidity. When developing it, the designers used a number of solutions from their top Optimo 3 Duo so the same ultra low-noise LT3045 linear voltage regulators and ultra-fast low-noise rectifier. There's a bespoke transformer with magnetic and electrical shielding sealed in epoxy resin to reduce vibrations. All components and connectors were selected for top quality. The power supply features multiple protection circuits to guarantee safe and trouble-free operation for many years including thermal and overload protection. The device is supplied with a custom 1.2m shielded DC cable.
Old and new side by side.
The USB + LAN ground conditioner looks a lot like a generic power cable because one end terminates in a quality Schuko, UK or US plug. But the other end split into USB and RJ45 plugs. Those plug into available ports of your music server. This grounds the motherboard and the conditioner's task is to lower noise generated by the computer. Inside the fairly flexible cable finished with a grey sleeve is only a ground conductor made of highest purity OCC copper surrounded by excellent shielding. Its standard length is 1.3m.
It's not often that a group of products from one maker arrive at once, each of which can noticeably even significantly influence the sound. Here all aim at improving the performance of my passive server built several years ago. Over the years it underwent gradual changes. Each brought greater or lesser improvements. From the start it hosted the original JCAT USB card later replaced by a newer Femto version which made a significant improvement. For a long time I used JPlay, the software player from Marcin's second brand. I then replaced my original SMPS with a linear HDPlex now on the NAS holding my music library, later with a Keces P8. Then I added Bakoon's external power supply to the JCAT USB card. There were several USB cable and DAC replacements too. More than a year ago I added Ideon's excellent USB signal regenerator. At some point I bought an optical LAN separator. Since at the time JCAT didn't have their own, mine is a medical-grade device I've used ever since. Switching from laptop to my custom server resulted in a significant leap in quality and the later addition of a linear supply seemed to be the icing on the cake even if the sonic gain was substantial not just decorative. As it turned out later, there still was a long road ahead in the aforementioned small steps plus larger ones of subsequent DAC replacements. All of them turned the server into my main digital source of the reference system. This digital front end combined with the outstanding J.Sikora turntable are my trusted partners when it comes to reviewing even the most expensive components. The latest upgrades to my digital system were the addition of a LAN input for my LampizatOr Pacific DAC which allows me to use either USB or Ethernet signal, replacing my previous USB cables with David Laboga versions and finally adding the Silent Angel Bonn N8 Ethernet switch with the Forester 1 linear power supply.
All these additions and upgrades make my system sound really good and I've been quite satisfied. Yet the audiophile virus won't allow me to enjoy what I have for too long. Constant testing of various things has me fully aware that no matter how good my system is, there's always room for improvement. A while ago I started wondering what I could still add/change without putting half my organs on eBay. As a fan of live music I'd tried for a long time to develop a sound as close as possible to how I remember live performances particularly in smaller purely acoustic venues. I focused my efforts on improving the signal which enters my LampizatOr Pacific. It's how today's assignment came about. I planned on comparing the upgraded USB module to its installed predecessor and the LAN card against a LAN port integrated on the motherboard. Since both new cards are a bit more power hungry, JCAT decided not to leave current quality to chance and developed their own power supplies. So my review set includes their smaller Initio 3. Simultaneously I happened to review the ferrum Hypsos so could compare it to Marcin's power supply while mainly powering his NET XE card. As mentioned often in previous reviews, one of the best USB and LAN cables I ever tried was from Polish brand StavEssence. Each of theirs feature a ground conductor with a clip to attach to a bare lead as part of a power cable terminated with a Schuko plug. With both StavEssence and JCAT, these mains lookalikes contain just ground wires. It was this unusual solution which, to at least some extent I figured, caused the exceptional sound of Karol Staworko's cables. Marcin Ostapowicz's, at least so I assumed, was the more elegant solution. But was it as effective? To find out, I asked for it too. I planned a comparison to a completely different device I'd already been using, Acoustic Revive's RGC-24 Triple C-FM ground conditioner. And that's how I arrived at the full set JCAT sent for today's review. I had to thoroughly think on proper review methodology to not confuse you. I think it will be clearest if I describe the individual duels, some of them summarized briefly, others in a bit more elaborate fashion depending on what I heard.
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