iFi micro IUSB3.0 – Review
In the last years I’ve been using different tweaks for the usb input that considerably improved my listening experience. The first thing that I noticed was that the 5v USB power matters a lot.
You can read all about that here.
After that I combined the solution above with other USB regenerators including Schiit Wyrd which I ended up using for a while in my system as it improved the sound once again.
iFi managed to capture my attention with its latest product in this area, the micro iUSB 3.0, and I am happy to say that I managed to get my hands on a test unit which I’ve been testing in my system for over a month now.
Specifications and Technology
I was overwhelmed when I checked the product page on the iFi Audio website. This product seems to have a lot of features and technology packed inside and some of it sounds pretty impressive!
You can find all the details on the product page mentioned above. I will specify some of them right here.
Total USB Solution+® banishes ALL USB audio gremlins
The micro iUSB3.0 addresses all 8 significant USB audio gremlins that lead to poor
quality computer audio in one fell swoop:
• Corrects signal balance
• Suppresses frame noise
• Suppresses packet noise
• Ultra clean power
• Eliminates ground noise
• Corrects impedance mis-match
• Eliminates USB Jitter
• Restores signal integrity
All-new, tack sharp technology
The noise floor of the micro iUSB3.0 has been improved upon and is an astonishing 0.1uV (or 0.0000001V). This is at the edge of what is measurable – even the mighty Audio Precision only just about manages to measure the micro iUSB3.0.
Active Noise Cancellation +® drawn from military radar technology
Drawing from the military field (specifically the Thales Spectra radar cancellation system deployed in the French Dassault Rafale jet fighter), iFi adapted this technology to exclusively introduce the Active Noise Cancellation+ ® (ANC+®) audio power system. It is so revolutionary that the ANC technology is now a cornerstone of the ever-improving iFi USB audio technology range.
An air defence radar is transmitting at a certain frequency; the signal is bouncing off the aircraft; a receiver on board the aircraft picks up the signal and a computer analyses its base frequency/modulations and an identical, out-of-phase signal is generated by an onboard system to cancel out the enemy radar signal.
By generating a signal identical to the noise signal but in the exact opposite phase, it actively cancels all the incoming noise. ANC+® is the perfect ‘antidote’ for power supply noise, the bane of USB audio.
With ANC+® the power line is filtered for audio band and RF noise. The measured noise floor of 0.1uV (0.0000001V) is at the measurement limit of what even the most sophisticated Audio Precision equipment is capable of.
Measured noise drops by 100 times or 40dB in comparison to the common noise filters.
Sonically, the background and inner resolution to recordings is brought to the fore and no longer hidden. Sonics are much smoother, just like how good analogue should be. Nothing comes close.
A whole new signal： REclock® /REgenerate
The micro iUSB 3.0 re-clocks/re-generates/repeats USB audio datastream. For any and every downstream DAC, REgenerate creates an all new USB signal and then employed a precision master clock with the REclock® technology to completely eliminate computer jitter. Music flows better; is cleaner, deeper and more accurate, just like the real thing.
The signal is now balanced: REbalance®
USB signal is inherently a balanced signal, however most USB signals are unbalanced to some degree and contaminated by noise. By removing the DC offset and ‘re-balancing’ the USB audio signal, it is now perfectly balanced and noise-free.
Computer Audio ‘IsoGround®’ and ‘On/Auto’
The ground connection on the computer is contaminated with noise. The original micro iUSB cleverly solved this issue with IsoGround® without falling foul of the USB standard (simply breaking the computer ground connection is NOT USB compliant and often results in USB connection problems). The new micro iUSB3.0 features not only this but also ‘Auto/On’ USB power line options to further enhance the user experience.
So, as you can see, iFi iUSB3.0 is quite amazing on paper, so let’s see what it actually does to the sound.
The tests were performed with MSB Analog DAC with Quad USB + custom lps , Audio Gd Master 9,Audeze LCD-4, Sennheiser HD800, Audio GD Master 10, Martin Logan Theos speakers .
Vivaldi – Autumn – Allegro (La Caccia)
The difference between the direct usb and with iUSB3.0 was very apparent. With iFi the stage and all the sound decompressed, becoming more natural, immersive and detailed in the same time. The attack on every chord was more apparent but also followed by a more detailed, more complete and natural decay.
Pink Martini – Donde Estas Yolanda
The stage became more holographic with iFi and all the instruments had more space between them and were also easier to pinpoint in the scene. The voices were smoother, cleaner and more transparent with iFi.
The plucks of the guitars became more apparent with iFi because of a swifter and more energetic attack, but also because of the detail of the extension of the chords. The details are more apparent all together. When the artists breathed or catched up with his breath is considerably more apparent with iFi than without it. The voice is decompressed and has a better presence in the scene with iUSB 3.0. It also flows with better musicality and transparency.
Oh yeah, this bass is just amazing with iFi iusb 3.0. It goes deep, has incredible control, speed and punch. What I also love about this song with iFi is that even though it improved the punch, energy and speed of the whole song it also took away from the digital harshness and removed the 2d flatness the direct usb has, transforming it in a 3d experience.
All the instruments became more lifelike with iUSB3.0 showing better textures, less digital glare and details. The flute flowed with better musicality and texture and when the taps begun it was like I was there, in front of the scene, showing excellent clarity on the leading edges and a very fast and energetic sound.
The bass with iFi gains more speed, detailed extension and control, but also a very powerful punch and slam. I just can’t get enough of it!
The midrange becomes more natural and detailed but also more transparent and clean. Everything from instrument and voice sounds more lively and natural.
This is another area where iFi shows a very good improvement, as it manages to take away the glare, digital harshness from this area, leaving it crystal clear, smooth but very detailed and extended.
The voices become more present in the scene, cleaner, smoother and more natural. It’s like they decompress into a more lifelike experience.
Leaving the whole sound cleaner and taking the digital glare/harshness away also had a major effect into the details department, meaning that I’ve noticed things in the songs that were missing or weren’t catching my attention without iFi.
Soundstage & Instrument Separation
The sound without iFi seems 2d and flat now. iUSB3.0 offers a considerably more holographic, immersive and bigger soundstage. There are more layers of music and every instrument is better positioned in the scene.
The transients are also improved with iFi iUSB3.0. The attack becomes more powerful and the decay gains in detail & extension but still offering a very fast transient response overall. The leading edges are clearer and and the overall sound becomes more energetic and fun.
The sound becomes more clear with iFi iUSB3.0 and this is quite apparent as it’s like taking a veil off the music.
Another very important aspect gained with iUSB3.0 is the natural tonality, as it manages to take away the digital glare/harshness that the direct usb output from your computer usually offers.
Very small comparison to Schiit Wyrd
Wyrd is a little more organic with fuller voices while iUSB3.0 wins in terms of details, speed, clarity and leading edges. The treble on iFi is more detailed and extended with more sparkle but without being harsher.
While Wyrd is a good product, especially for the price, but iUSB3.0 is in another league.
I’ve been using the iFi iUSB3.0 in my system for more than a month now and I’ve grown very accustomed to it. Now making the switch to the direct usb output from my computer made me realize I was taking all the improvements for granted lately. Not sure how I can go back to the normal USB output right now. Well, these improvements don’t come cheap, but they are very apparent.
Depending on your usb output, iFi iUSB3.0 might be a great addition to your sound system. I can surely tell you that it made a big difference in mine.
iFi iUSB3.0 is the best USB regenerator I have ever tested.
- Better bass speed, control , detail on extension and punch
- More natural and cleaner midrange with better textures and details
- Smoother, more natural, crystal clear treble but also very detailed and extended
- More details across the whole spectrum
- Bigger, more holographic soundstage
- Fast, more energetic transients with stronger attack and more detailed decay
- More natural sound, taking away digital harshness/glare
- More natural, present, smoother and cleaner voices
- Quite expensive
Congratulations for this insightful review, but in my opinion it’s a shame that MSB’s Quad USB (a device that also costs a lot money) still leaves such significant room for improvement in terms of sound quality; I’m wondering if, instead of purchasing Quad+iUSB, using the money for getting the latest (Hydra + LPS) / (AP1/2 +Pure Power) would yield same results or better…after all I think these factors should neatly resolve the USB issue neatly and “end game”: USB galvanic isolation, clean power, high precision oscillators; both above products have this.
Thank you Constantin! Well, no, not even close. I have tested the old usb from MSB with different usb converter interfaces. Quad is a major improvement on its own, like a new DAC.
However it seems that it doesn’t fix all the issues, and indeed it would have been nice at that price, but I am not sure it is possible in that size, or to fix all the problems that your computer’s usb output has which can be very problematic, trust me!
Some of them are really really bad ! My old lenovo (quad core i7, ssd, etc) has extremely sucky usb quality.
It actually has intermittent lag, clicks, pops and not even the iUSB or any other usb interface can fix that.
One issue I see here, is that at times, you will consider laptop upgrades (I have mine for almost 8 years, but that’s just me, most people upgrade more often), and if that holds, you will never have control over the quality of the USB ports no matter how good the laptop will be; so why not just give up using the laptop as a source ? you can get a very decent NAS and a streamer like the SoTM you’ve reviewed some time ago, and that one has good quality USB ports you can use with MSB’s Quad USB input; you can get SoTM for less money than iUSB.
I had a SOTM card on my desktop. Now I have a small gigabyte brix instead of the desktop.
The sotm was a good addition, but if you don’t have a desktop you must choose something like this. Even sotm has an external version of that usb card.
Have you tried the iUSB3.0 with Yggdrasil? How does it improve upon it?
I don’t have yggy here, so I didn’t have the chance to test it yet. However, I am pretty sure it will improve the sound. The usb input from MSB is better compared to the one in Yggy and ifi improved the sound nevertheless.
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What would be the best avenue, improving USB with a solution like this one or using a converter to AES such as the PUC2Lite for example ? In the end, we’re still using the DAC USB with a product like this.. I’m not sure if it matters
Improving the USB is quite important with some DACS and could bring you a very noticeable upgrade to the sound.
In some cases this would also fix some of the digital glare.
Can’t tell you fore sure which would make a bigger difference in this direction, but I think that improving the usb should bring you more details, better timing, faster transient response and transparency.
Could you please share with us what USB cables you used between the player and the iusb3.0 and from iusb3.0 to the DAC ? Did you tried also the built-in cable ?
The tests were made with the stock cables. Now I am using a forza hybrid split usb cable from computer to ifi and a wireworld ultraviolet from ifi to dac.
Very cool info! Thx for sharing
Have you experienced with the original iUsb power 2.0? If so is there a big differenve compared to this new version?
Im having some crazy usb noise with my new burson dac… unbearable, literaly, to the point where im having bad ear fatigue… interestingly ive compared it with the matrix x-sabre that i had .. back and forth, and the x sabre has a much much darker/stable background noise.. very obvious…
Now the the burson actually sounds better, more organic and full! Very immersive sound, but that background usb noise is ruining everything, x-sabre sounds extremely clean but is dryer and kinda cold! If that make sense
Im thinking the iusb 2.0 and/or ipurifier would fix this issue with the burson
Let me know what you think
Btw, do aftermarket usb cable can fix these noisy usb issues?
Well, there could be a multitude of problems. Ifi could solve them but there is no way of knowing fore sure.
There could be other solutions. Some of the noise may be coming from the 5V power line in the usb cable, especially if the mobo doesn’t have clean usb power.
This issue could be addressed with something like this:
Also, the problem could also be coming from a ground loop transmitted from into your mobo by another peripheal on the signal line from the usb output (in my case, the monitor).
BTW, in the post above, the DAC was Burson Conductor.
Please tell us if this helped or how you solved the issue.
Yea ive actually read the “usb noise” article, very nice aswell, it really sounds like the noise im having, especially when i run a game, the noise become unbearable! So probably something with video card! But the thing is that i dont have any of this issue when using my matrix x-sabre DAC! Could it be that it has an integrated usb “cleaner” and the burson doesnt?
Burson was indeed more susceptible to these issues. Using Hydra usb converter fixed the problem, as it isolates the usb.
I’m really interested in this little device. Is it even better than the Audiophilleo1 with the PurePower upgrade? I have Audiophilleo2 and PurePower in my system right now. They supposedly sound the same.
Audiophilleo 2 has a somewhat different purpose as it also converts the usb to spdif. It takes the signal from usb and converts it to spdif.
For example I have a DAC that has a very good USB input, the msb analog dac with quad usb module. It seems that even this input scales up with with cleaner usb input.
I don’t have a preference between usb and spdif, i just thought they made the Audiophilleo a converter at the same time, namely because most usb dac’s are so poor. I’m simply after what sounds best. 🙂
Btw i seem to have posted my comment twice somehow. Feel free to delete the other.
It very much depends on the DAC and the what performance it offers on its inputs.
Indeed, a good USB interface like audiophilleo 2 or hydra z can make a huge difference.
However in some cases, very rare indeed, like with MSB, you can get very good performance on the usb input, in this case the quad usb.
i am using PC > DAVE. you think i need this? because you know PC. or? looking to buy it yet i don’t know if it will improve DAVE’s clarity or sound.
I haven’t tried it with Dave. Tried it with Chord Mojo and it improved the sound, however I cannot be sure it will be the same with Dave.
I have the I USB 2.0 which I find makes a big difference to my HRT HD DAC. I have since upgraded the wall wart power supply to the latest version which also helped. For a while i was simply using this by tapping into the power only USB outlet using a double headed lead back to the PC for data.
however I find i get best results running the data through the IFI and using the “music and power” USB outlet in a single lead to the DAC.
I find the quality of USB cables also has an influences sound quality quite noticeably.
Great review thank you.