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USB Card Femto vs USB Card XE both with INITIO 3. I've used the Femto USB card almost since it was first introduced. In my server it replaced the original JCAT USB card. I started this listening session by replacing the Bakoon power supply with the Initio 3 on the Femto. There was a small difference in flavor. With the JCAT supply the sound had a little more weight, there was a blacker background and small subtleties became more important plus the presentation seemed a bit more intense in terms of timbre. The sound was better no doubt but enough to spend quite a lot of money? With my limited budget I'd probably not select this particular upgrade if I owned the Femto USB card and Bakoon. The latter is a really good solution for the JCAT card which doesn't require more current than it can supply. Changing the card to the XE version did require the JCAT power supply then Hypsos as its power consumption is higher. At this stage it was about comparing both Femto and XE cards with Initio 3. I still remember that switching from the first JCAT card to Femto resulted in a very clear improvement in almost all sonic parameters. The rule of diminishing returns is unfortunately very real but in the case of JCAT's USB cards did not quite apply. The advantage of the latest top version was clear from the start. The sound became more focused, precise, resolved and transparent. Another effect of using the XE card that's not obvious in theory but almost immediately in practice was a more natural smoother sound where emotions dominante over just the sound and its individual aspects. This is what I always look for in any audio component and system.
It may seem that even these advantages combined amounted to not much but the scale of changes/improvements meant almost another league. The Femto card was very good, the XE fantastic. Certainly a lot will depend on the DAC receiving their signal and the USB cable used to transfer it. My LampizatOr Pacific and the top David Laboga Digital Sound Wave Ruby cable represent a very high level so emphasized the card differences. The Femto wasn't crushed so the difference was smaller than between integrated LAN port and NET XE card. That's because Femto was already great and its more current competitor benefited from the same Intimo 3. But no doubt XE is yet another big step in the right direction. I call it right because the sound of a digital system becomes less digital.
USB+LAN ground conditioner. From the very beginning of this test, I connected it to unused USB and LAN ports of my server. This was in line with its maker's suggestion that it would present its full potential only a few days after being first connected. For some time now I've used the Acoustic Revive RGC-24 TripleC-FM. The JCAT version plugs into the server whilst the Acoustic Revive connects to the DAC's ground post. The Japanese device also is a round box with detachable cable, not just a cable. While assessing the other J cats, I didn't even attempt to ascertain whether Marcin's ground cable did anything audible at all. Only when the above rounds were completed did I look at that. The problem with assessing the ground conditioner is that quick connects/disconnects are pointless. So I left it in and started plugging/unplugging the Acoustic Revive. I played select songs, paused them every few dozens seconds in Roon and used the pause to switch the Japanese in our out. The improvements from adding it were easy to spot. Yet the scale was not comparable to when I'd replaced the Femto USB with the XE card. Yet Acoustic Revive's product seemed to complement JCAT's. When comparing the sound with just the JCAT ground conditioner then adding the RGC-24, the latter increased sonic weightiness. The sound became more tangible and present and everything seemed clearer. Another aspect was even greater fluidity and smoothness so another small step towards what is often called an analog sound.
The second part of these sessions focused on just Marcin's ground conditioner without the Acoustic Revive. Then I disconnected even it. A deterioration in sound quality is usually more obvious than an improvement. That's why it was almost immediately clear that the sound without any ground conditioner definitely wasn't as clear, focused and precise. Some minor details and subtleties got lost in the background, resolution was lower, richness and fullness less. The intensity of colors faded a bit, textures weren't as distinct. The presentation lacked some openness and had less air, the stage wasn't quite as expansive and spatial cues in many live recordings lost some of their significance. The performance without ground conditioner was still really good so no sonic catastrophe occurred by disconnecting it. It's just that once I'd gotten used to a still better sound, even the smallest degradation annoyed and at least at first seemed bigger than it really was. The use of both grounding devices raised the bar even higher. So is it worth spending a not insignificant amount on the JCAT USB + LAN ground conditioner? A lot depends on how good your system is. Contrary probably to appearances, the better it is, the more noticeable this product's impact will be. If I were to replace either the Femto USB card with an XE or get a ground conditioner for the former, I would first replace the card and treat the conditioner as later icing on the cake.
Summing up, I believe that replacing the Femto USB card with the XE is definitely worth the additional cost although the latter may require one of JCAT's power supplies or one of equal quality to really sing. If you already own such a power supply, a card upgrade is a no-brainer. In the case of the NET XE, I wasn't able to compare it to its predecessor since until recently, my DAC had no LAN input. Compared to my motherboard's integral RJ45 port however, the XE card simply offered far higher performance. Of course the difference was compounded because the card required an external high-class linear power supply. This Initio 3 worked perfectly with both cards, making them both sound fuller, richer, more powerful and dynamic. The competitor was a Hypsos ferrum which steered the sound towards greater purity, transparency and precision but at the cost of bit less richness and saturation. As to the JCAT USB + LAN ground conditioner, if you as yet use no ground conditioner in your PC-based system at all, the JCAT will do a really good job. Just give it and yourself (!) a few days before fully appreciating the small but quite significant changes/improvements it makes. If you already use one especially on your DAC like my Acoustic Revive RGC-24 TripleC-FM, you should still try the JCAT. It may turn out to be better or as I found, two different solutions could perfectly complement each other to become the final touch your digital system wants.
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