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The JKSPDIF is a smallish sealed—hence no interior pictures—aluminum box with black plastic end caps. An LED and switch adorn the front. Flip the switch up and the LED shows blue indicating operational status. Flip the switch down and the LED shows red for recharging. On the rear is a Type B USB input, S/PDIF digital out on BNC and a DC power inlet. The MK3 also ships with a BNC/RCA adaptor plus an inline attenuator. More on the latter in due course.

The JKSPDIF MK3 operates completely off-the-grid from two internal rechargeable LiFePO4 batteries. The internal battery charger requires a user-supplied external DC power supply. Any 9-12V DC adaptor with a 2.1mm plug (center pin positive) and at least 1000mA output will do. No doubt most readers will have a few of those ugly little critters around. If not, a trip to the local electronics shop will be in order. Kenny recommends that the power supply be left plugged in at all times as it will charge the batteries when the JKSPDIF is turned off. The charger switches itself off once the batteries are full. Expect 20+ hours of continuous play on a full charge. If you forget to turn off the MK3, there is a low-voltage cutoff circuit that will prevent the batteries from draining below 2V. A full recharge takes about 4-5 hours as opposed to the normal one hour for battery top-up.

The MK3 uses the same Windows and Mac OS drivers as the hiFace which can be downloaded from M2Tech’s website. John suggests the 32/384 driver for their Young DAC. He and other hiFace and MK3 users claim improved sonics over the hiFace 24/192 driver. John also is a big proponent of the JPlay audio player and considers it sonically superior to the J. River Media Center I currently use. He lobbied hard for me to try it. Reluctant to add too many variables to a review, I stuck with the 24/192 driver and JRMC. However I do hope to report on JPlay and the Young 32/384 driver in the near future. Incidentally JPlay is available at a discount to JKSPDIF owners. Since I already had the hiFace driver installed and Windows and JMRC configured to use it, setup was a matter only of connecting cables. In keeping with the budget tone of this assignment I mostly stuck with an inexpensive Belkin Gold USB cable and the excellent DH Labs D-75 Digital. Occasionally I swapped in the more upscale Cardas Clear USB and the terrific MIT Magnum Digital. As I noted recently in my Calyx review, I’m digging the world of 16/44 and hi-rez music downloads. Apart from buying vinyl and hunting for used CDs, I rarely step into a brick and mortar music store these days.

Some downloaded albums that saw heavy use during my time with the MK3 included the terrific official release of the oft bootlegged Rolling Stones Brussels Affair (16/44.1 FLAC; US residents are inexplicably limited to MP3), the sexy soul/funk of Amel Larrieux’s Infinite Possibilities (16/44.1 WAV), Jordi Savall’s delicious recording of Rameau’s Orchestral Suites (Alia Vox 16/44.1 WAV), Chabrier’s cheeky opera L’Etoile (EMI 16/44.1 WAV) and a slightly disappointing albeit terrific sounding performance of Sibelius’s 2nd and 5th Symphonies (BIS 24/96).

Regardless of what cables I used with the MK3, the difference between stock hiFace and MK3 was so huge as to make it difficult hearing any similarities between the two. With the MK3 playback was bigger, bolder and more dramatic but also smoother, less aggressive and edgy. High strings had a sweeter more singing tone. Percussion had a bit more snap and impact. Textures were more fleshed out and vibrant. The sense of forward momentum and relaxed ease that had so impressed me with the Calyx was clearly evident too. The soundstage opened up in depth and width with a greater sense of space, focus and definition between vocal and instrumental images. Overall balance and flow was more analogue-like which in my experience suggests excellent jitter reduction/rejection.

Along with each JKSPDIF Kenny ships a 15dB attenuator and BNC/RCA adaptor. There has been a good degree of online chatter about the alleged benefits of using an inline attenuator on S/PDIF cables. From what I gather it has to do with reducing signal reflections which causes time-based distortion, the bane of digital signal transmission. I won’t get into how all this purports to work as I don’t quite understand it. Point your browser here to learn more. Whatever the reason, I noticed an immediate effect when I inserted the attenuator onto Silver Sonic’s D-75. Music became slightly smoother and more relaxed. Instruments displayed more natural realistic timbre. The addition of the attenuator brought performance up to a level almost identical to that of my 16 times more expensive MIT Magnum cable.