Bugs, Uptones and regens

August 16, 2015
 by Paul McGowan

John Atkinson, in September's Stereophile Magazine, waxes poetic of Audioquest's new $49 Jitterbug USB 'thingie'. And others I know, including my friend Arnie Nudell, use similar devices that have come to be known as USB regenerators and isolators, of which there are a growing number. I haven't yet tried the Jitterbug in my system, nor the others, though I did hear a demo of the jittered bug at a tradeshow that impressed me, but left my socks on.

I wrote yesterday of hearing miracles on the system and promised today to reveal at least what I was listening to with hints of how you too can get closer to what I heard. Our engineering department has been experimenting with these USB isolation devices and I was asked to try out a very different and specialized approach to the problem of USB cable length. To explain the function of this new device, I'll first need to give you a bit of background. USB is a two-way communication protocol. Simply put, musical data sent from the computer to the DAC is first broken into packets - similar in concept to how DSD is sent over PCM (DoP). Each chunk of music data is preceded and followed by identity and veracity bits that must reach back to the source to give the OK to send the next chunk. If the cable is of poor enough quality, or too long, or both, the return packets fail to get home and the connection is lost. This limits USB cable length to less than about twelve feet.

The prototype PS Engineering asked me to audition removes this limitation, allowing cable lengths of hundreds of meters and, in one setup, miles. Clearly, what I used was not entirely similar to the Jitterbug and other isolators and signal regenerators, though close enough I bring the entire group into the discussion. What are the isolation and regeneration devices I first mentioned? Our Ted Smith explains:

The Regen is trying to generate a USB signal that's clean enough that the DAC's USB PHY (the PHYsical layer, the part that drives and receives the signals over the wire) doesn't have to "work as hard" and hence doesn't add as much noise to the power supply.  To go at higher and higher speeds it takes more signal conditioning.  These days many PHYs dynamically change their parameters to better send and receive signals and using those features can use significant current.  The Regen tries to take on the work (with the resultant changing current draws and resultant noise) on the input side so the DAC's PHY doesn't have to and then the Regen sends a much more consistent quality signal so that the DAC doesn't make noise in itself trying to accommodate a signal that's changing quality.

Like jitter it's another way that a relatively little known effect can end up being manifest noise.

I cannot tell you with any honesty that what I was listening to is in any way better, worse or the same as these other USB devices: the Jitterbug John Atkinson reported in print, Michael Lavorgna and John Darko on the web, or the Uptone Regen, or Schiit Wyrd, but from all accounts, adding one of these devices can bring wonderful improvements for little money.

The technology I auditioned last week set me on my rear and removed my socks in one swell foop. Easily as big as the difference between a S/PDIF input and the Network Bridge and perhaps even bigger. I haven't yet taken measure of the size, but oh my gosh, this requires more investigation and, perhaps more importantly, it shall never leave my system, despite the fact I haven't much need of longer USB cables. Perhaps most significant to me is the nature of the change itself: simply ground breaking. As I wrote yesterday the new USB interface removes whatever was blocking the three dimensional origami shapes of instruments in the music.

I have never heard anything quite like it.

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32 comments on “Bugs, Uptones and regens”

  1. I'm currently experimenting with four JitterBugs in my small Room 2 system. One JitterBug is connected at my laptop USB output to my DAC, one on the laptop's spare USB port, one on my NAS, and one on my wireless router. That should max out the possibilities in my small system. I have perceived a small improvement, not a sock removal. There is a greater ease in the sound which is desirable. For the cost, less than $200, it is looking (sounding) like a good value. I'll try them next on my bigger Room 1 system in the near future.

    Meanwhile per the JitterBug manual, "JitterBug is designed to remove unwanted noise currents and parasitic resonances from both the data (communication) and Vbus (power) lines of USB ports." Sounds like their claim is true. And as usual YMMV.

  2. This article is a bad joke to me. More than two ago I posted in these forums and other ones of the vast improvment of USB converters . It seemed to have little interest yet it Inproved things several levels up , almost no one answered my postes in the ps audio forums of them this was done with a the pwd mkii dac at time . The devices helped every device I used them with. This led me to a better understanding of digital audio and how important source was . This then led me to a forum computor audiophile . Where servers for music were being posted about as well,as the USB converters. I have ordered the up tone REGEN it's all,the rage now ,. But I wonder if there will be any improvment over any good music server I use . Lastly I tried all,of my USB converters on the DS dac and the Hugo both fpga , neither of them improved and made both worse . It removed the top end its shine so to speak . Made the music flat sounding. I posted this in many forums including here with no answer . Yesterday I replied to teds post of how it's not needed is this a joke Paul ?? Am I just very confused here as always when what I hear is obvious only to me here .
    I have said to you and most here make a server even a cheap one and here the vast improvment In sound , ted acts as if there is no such need for one , that's a joke right ? Also I have posted many times that there is far better audio to be had without using the PWT something that is nice to use but tire sound never compared to a USB converters or a good server .
    If what ever you are trying or making is such a device that's a great idea and cheap in comparison , simple to use just plug and play to anyone's existing system . A great idea more than 2 years old , did you ever hear any of the other devices I have posted of after all Stevens offramp uses your hdmi pin out surly he must of consulted your company ? Sorry Paul no more filters for anything .

    1. Some of us are slow on the uptake Al, I am obviously late to the party. But your posting on the forums, coupled with others, sparked interest in this area. Few of us operate in a vacuum and we need comments, postings, opinions like yours and others to help point us in directions worth taking.

      I read every one of the comments and posts and yours are among the best and most informed. I am sorry you don't spend more time on the forums anymore but appreciate your inputs here.

      As to your question about the Uptone, having never tried it I cannot answer that one. Also, Ted and I don't always see things the same way, so don't take his lack of interest in a server as shared by me.

      Lastly, I did not try the Offramp you suggested, sorry. I try my best to work with as many as possible, to learn what I can and experience as much as I can, but I don't have as much exposure and time as many. My apologies.

  3. Thanks for delving into this, Paul. I ordered a Jitterbug after reading John Atkinson's review. His description of it removing the "ethereal" sound quality of his Mac Mini had me intrigued, because that is a good description of something that bothers me with my system, which is also built around a Mac Mini.

    I had switched from a Bel Canto DAC with a matching, external USB reclocker to a Lynx Hilo in order to get a seamless integration with Pure Vinyl for LP ripping. The Lynx sounded excellent, but over time I became bothered by a slight "ethereal" haziness. I'll let you know if it does for my system what it did for JA.

  4. ???? Paul, are you and Atkinson saying that a $6000 DAC can be improved miraculously by adding a $49 device to it?

    You know what I think of Atkinson already. How can I take any man who believes in demagnetizing phonograph records seriously?

    BTW, any idea about how it works or are all of us digital tyros supposed to take more voodoo science on pure faith? I'd offer to swap you my brilliant pebbles for one of these thingies but I don't have any brilliant pebbles and I don't use USB for audio.

    1. I think you're mixing up reviewers as I never knew Atkinson to subscribe to the degausser, but maybe I missed it.

      I think Ted's description of less work for the PHY probably helps understanding. If you have a chance to read the review, once it's printed on the web, I think you'd find it interesting, replete with measurements and doubts of how it works or if it does, though he doesn't deny what he hears.

      1. Au contraire mon ami. A' Montreal il ya six ans.


        Atkinson says "where does the science end and the silliness begin?"

        IMO he should have asked it the other way around, where does the silliness end and the science begin? I don't think it does. Certainly not between the covers of Stereophile Magazine. You actually take anything these people say seriously? Every issue it's the best speaker, amplifier, wire, DAC, brilliant pebble in the world....for that month. Read the reviews of 10, 20, 30 years ago. Same reviews, different products, different words but the same. Gotta go out and hear it for myself, gotta get one. It never changes. I must admit though, audiophiles never seem to be at a loss of enthusiasm for something new no matter what it is. And they always seem to find the money to buy them.

        1. Well, something has happened in the past 20 years as my music sounds a whole lot better now than it did in the mid-'90s and virtually everything in my system has changed or been seriously tweaked since that time. I've read a lot of issues of Stereophile and visited a lot of audio shows in that time, so I don't think the improvement is purely by chance. Just like with this forum, sometimes it is just a tiny bit of information or a single idea that can lead to a significant improvement. Today's post, here, may be a prime example.

          1. I'm glad your equipment sounds better and not that your hearing is worse. However, you might consider that your older equipment might have sounded as good....if you had just given it enough time to break in. 🙂

            1. Actually, my equipment is better AND my hearing is worse. That's the consequence of being a survivor, I guess. Fortunately, the improvement and tweaking of my equipment has out-paced the degradation of my hearing. 😎

            2. Hi,
              Sound mind your posts from August 16, 2015 at 8:11 am and 11:14 am - brilliant.
              I admit, I first try to find your posts everytime a new thread starts. Sometimes I am ashamed to be called an audiophile what I'm not really.

  5. Hello soundminded. So glad your here and have sanity replacing voodoo although sometimes voodoo works lol.
    It's funny how sometimes if the right person makes a suggestion it's golden !
    I wonder of has tried any other devices that I know really work big time. But they do not work on the Hugo or DS dac and not even the makers or dac makers had an answer .
    But what really cooks me is pauls buddy and a man I have the most respect for is using a USB converter of some type and now Paul sees it from Atkinson . Anyway I am doing garbage now post later happy to read all posts here from all including Paul . Amd Paul I am not meaning to be sour just completly honest as I hear things . Do you plan to make one soon ? Also any upgrade path coming for the PWT ?
    Thanks for the kind words as well. Your a good soul

    1. Al, I'm sorry you don't post very often anymore. I enjoy reading your posts.

      Read my posting on yesterday's thread about depth. I just added it. It may help explain why you get more depth from the Infinity IRS than from the Beta.

  6. I always wondered why it was that some folks could understand that power line noise and garbage could be so detrimental to music (ergo power regenerators and Noise Harvesters), while refusing to believe that conceptually similar artifacts could exist on the digital/computer side of music in the devices and on the cables/wires themselves. Empire Audio makes some wonderful devices that truly improve the quality of music. Same with other jitter removal devices, of which the Digital Lens is a type. As are its modern progeny. I learned long ago that I am not golden-eared, but I can hear the quality of music improve with (successive) removals of noise and other factors affecting the music. We used to refer to these impairments as veiling the music. Now I see that some refer to an "ethereal" quality (which I find frankly a bit odd as "ethereal" is ordinarily not a negative quality, but I get it). Whatever. If it actually removes "bad stuff," it is likely to contribute to an improvement (though sometimes a perceived loss of quality if other elements in the chain were already compensating for the bad stuff). What is great about some of this USB stuff is that it is not voodoo. Computers are notoriously noisy as Al and others have pointed out. I have been passionate about the potential of digital audio since I heard my first good and bad CDs 3+ decades ago. We've lived through some pretty terrible stuff getting to where we are now (not necessarily worse though than some of the dreck foisted on us in our analog days), but now we can have thousands of albums of music at our fingertips playable on a moment's notice with no rigmarole of cleaning machines, cartridge alignment, tone arm drops, putting the albums away, protecting it all from small children, etc. I used to enjoy all those rituals, but no more. Many still do, and that's great for them. Our speakers and amplification have progressed as well, allowing in-home music repro I could only dream of in the 80s, and as we get closer to the illusion of reality, the little bits, so to speak, that impair it, become ever clearer. And so, Paul's post about a device that improves three-dimensionality and undresses us at the same time is pretty darn tantalizing.

    I have over 12 TB of music on my NAS, almost all of it in bit perfect rip. Right now, it is served through an Auralic Aries, which feeds my DS through—ta da!— a USB cable. A very short quality USB cable. I am not likely to do any USB improvements on this arrangement though. I am waiting for my Bridge II, and will then hopefully complete my return to network service of the DS. I have been frustrated by the PWD's and then the DS's relatively poor performance as a true network player. I also own a Lumin network player which is simply wonderful and reliable on a network. It was good enough to be side by side with the PWD, maybe in some ways better, and definitively easier.

    I have never liked relying on USB, precisely because of all its vulnerabilities as an audio device. Correcting those shortcomings is a very good thing to do. The DS is a wonderful player, and what it does for basic Redbook is amazing. Anything that improves its upstream material or signal can only be a good thing.

      1. That's great to hear Paul. I followed Bridge II development in the forums, and as soon as it was available, I put my order in. It's scheduled to be delivered here next Wednesday, and by the time it arrives, the last hard lines of Ethernet should be in place. I wish there was something other than JRiver to rely on for our DS, but it is what it is. I actually liked eLyric and mostly had success with it. The Lightning DS player is not bad, but hands down for me, Lumin has the best player, but it is, not surprisingly, dedicated only to Lumin players. The upside is it makes a wonderful interface for headphone listening. Lightning DS is not horrible, and it has a nice setup routine. As good as JRiver is, because it sort of tries to be everything to everyone, it almost offers too much. More than once, I have tried to remember "what that setting was" when JRMC suddenly stopped delivering tunes. Anyway, JRMC will be set up on a dedicated Mac mini later today, exclusively as a music server for the DS->Merrill Veritas->Legacy Aeris system. Though the Aeris is anything but "simple," that is as simple a system as I can make my listening room. For now, video is served in the home theater from another JRMC install on a Baetis Revolution [I tried to integrate listening and watching into one system for 5 years; gave up, choosing to make the audio as tolerable on the video as possible]. I am not a Windows guy, but i use it when it makes sense, and I think JRMC really shines as a theater manager on a good Win machine, and the Baetis is definitely that.

        BTW, I first learned about Minim Server in the PSA forums, and I am very glad I did. It remains the one constant in all this experimentation, ever since I got my first NAS.

    1. The reason that the term "ethereal" struck my fancy is that that I normally associate "veiled" with either a dark veil or a light veil, and this is neither. And it's not exactly a lack of transparency either. And yet this ethereal quality is a kind of veil and a kind of transparency loss. Instruments and vocals are focused and stable but almost subliminally ghostly or see-through rather than solid. Does that make sense? And as Paul mentioned yesterday, there may be depth, but too much of the image is on the back wall rather than being realistically and solidly spread from front to back.

      1. Hey Mark, what I wrote may have sounded like criticism, but it wasn't meant to be. Apologies if it came off that way. I understand what you mean. Thanks for that clarification.

  7. I have to wonder if you are experimenting with the Corning Optical USB cable.
    I picked up one awhile back with USB A male and female, never got around to trying it out because I didn't have the correct USB adapter.
    After the installation of YF my interest in the optical USB cable picked back up.
    My ReGen came with an extra USB adapter dongle that would work.
    Holy colorful explicative!
    Talk about removing even more noise from the data signal.
    More chill, thrills and toe tapping than I had ever thought possible!

  8. I've got a question. First, this is from Audioquest's web site;

    "All computing devices—laptops, smartphones, Network Attached Storage devices (NAS drives), media servers, etc.—inherently generate a significant amount of noise and parasitic resonances. Additionally, computers contribute a considerable amount of RFI and EMI pollution onto the signal paths—all of which can easily find its way onto your USB cables and into your audio system. This noise and interference has many negative effects. Noise-compromised digital circuitry increases jitter and packet errors, resulting in distortion that causes a comparatively flat and irritating sound. Noise-compromised analog circuitry also damages the sound’s depth, warmth and resolution."

    If this were a problem, isn't it odd that every second of every day countless trillions of packets are transmitted and received not just across town or across a state but around the world without any apparent problems? These packets are broken up, transmitted along different paths through every conceivable method including land lines, fiber optics, microwaves, satellites, through countless telephone switches and they reach computers where they are reassembled in the correct order with no distortion or errors. Imagine what would happen to say an open heart surgery operation performed by a robotic arm in India being controlled by a heart surgeon in New York City watching on a high definition TV screen. Yes they do things like this these days, in fact it's nothing new anymore. So why is it so hard to get packets to move a few feet from one component to another in your room on a single cable? Maybe I just don't get it.

    1. There are allot of counter-intuitive issues in audio. For example, how can power cables matter with all the wire in the power grid? Based on MY experience, power cables attached to equipment can have a profound impact on system sound quality, but that is another discussion...

      The JitterBug, talked about in this thread is TWO products in one. It is both a USB power filter (Vbus) as well as data communication filter. As such when used in every component in the data chain such as NAS>Wireless Router>Computer>DAC, impact of plugging in a JitterBug into each devices USB port (even if it is not in the data path), provide subtle improvement in system sound quality and is apparently cumulative (with each JitterBug added). It's much about the noise and impact of power supplies I think, as well as the intrinsic nature of "universal serial bus" operation which is not a dedicated data transmission technology.

      Another interesting thing is USB 2.0 versus USB 3.0. The Audioquest JitterBug manual suggest that although USB 2.0 us much slower than USB 3.0, USB 2.0 sounds better. So there are variables in addition to just routing packets of data.

      1. Yes but what I don't understand is how can a state of the art DAC that costs $6000 be improved upon by a $49 gizmo? What does it do that the DAC can't? And why is anyone using USB anyway? By now I'd think everyone would be using real fiber optics and I'm not talking Toslink. Toslink is not glass fiber, it's plastic. It's junk. Sooner or later the phone company, cable company, everyone will bring fiber right up to your TV set, computer, whatever. Glass fiber has no bandwidth issues, no noise issues, no grounding issues, no nothin' issues. A few feet and they can't even give you real glass fiber. And this is supposed to be the high end. Go figure.

        1. When you listen to your music system, well, your are hearing the "system" with all of it's related parts all at the same time. When you are listening to a digital source like with the DirectStream DAC, you are actually listening to a digital source sub-system consisting of computer>digital interface>DAC. Each of the digital pieces preceding the DAC have an impact on sound quality.

          Single box solutions like the Lumin combine a computer with dedicated interface and DAC/analog output in one compartmentalized box. The best solution in my mind is to simplify component design and any potential source of compromise. The best interface between computer and DAC is not optical, it's no interface at all.

    2. Again, I'm on your side!
      I do not want to write my serious opinion on some thing going on in audio business.
      You do it in a much more polite way, than I ever could.
      You complain about a $ 49 gizmo?
      What about these wonderful 1m USB cables for 2 kilobucks?
      Better for me to stop right here.

    3. I am with you on this one Mark. I have never seen evidence of packet error or data loss unless it simply disconnects in USB. I am sure there is noise and jitter added, it's what I hear, but actual errors? I am suspicious of this claim.

      1. Paul, I still don't get it. We can argue about whether or not digital jitter in audio of 2 parts in 10 billion is audible all day but that is besides the point. Direct Stream was supposed to fix all of that. It would seem that by adjusting the software the results are very malleable. However, from what you say this add on device does something you like very much Direct Stream doesn't or can't do. What is it? What does it do? How does it work? Inquiring minds want to know a little more than how it just fixes errors I see no evidence for. I just can't take people's word for anything. I've lived in three of the worst scam capitals in the world, New York City, California, and Europe. So I've got a little Missouri in me. Missouri is the "show me" state.

  9. I have been using a Jitterbug (actually a pre-production prototype) since March. I like what it does. It certainly delivers $50 worth of value, but not, for example, $1,000 worth.

    Regarding USB, I have always thought that the USB protocol, which requires a cable delay spec of either 18ns or 26ns (not sure which figure is correct), fundamentally limited the cable length (light in a vacuum travels at ~1 ft/ns; electrical signals through cables go a little slower). Maybe you could clarify that for me?

    1. Hallo bitperfectrichard,
      a question easy to answer.
      Depending on the geomety and resistance of the cable the speed of an eletrical signal is about
      ~ 8 inch/ns.

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