Next, a top-drawer modern DAC was introduced into the equation, a T+A DAC 8 DSD, baby brother to the $22,500 PDP 3000 HV that received a very positive notice from Robert Harley in Issue 268. With the 3R between the Dell and the T+A, a significant improvement was again readily apparent. The presentation of both quartet and orchestra was more dimensional and, listening to the Beethoven, there was increased inner detail, manifested by more richly textured string sound. On “Southern Cross,” steady sixteenth notes played on a high-hat were clearly heard throughout the song—something I’d missed on a couple of dozen previous occasions. The sound quality leap-frogged over that achieved when the Ideon was applied to the Dell/Anthem pairing.
Finally, I connected the Baetis Reference 2 to the T+A. Baetis’ interface-of-choice is AES/EBU, but recently the manufacturer has starting offering, as an option, the inclusion of a pair of outputs employing the pricey SOtM USB card (connected directly to the motherboard) and the accompanying clock board. The cost of these parts is several times the price of the Ideon 3R, and the sound from the SOtM outputs on the Baetis is the best I’ve heard via a USB interface. The Baetis has eight other “regular” USB ports for the attachment of hard drives, a wireless dongle, and other peripherals. Using one of those ports to connect the computer to the DAC resulted in quite wonderful sound; inserting the 3R between them brought the sonics within shouting distance of the Baetis’ via its premium USB interface. With the Debussy, massed violins playing loudly were less astringent using the Ideon. Castanets and tambourine were farther back in the soundfield, yet crisper. Adding the 3R to the signal path originating at the SOtM output, by the way, proved to be a step backwards—the string sound with the Beethoven quartet lost some of the purity and lifelike detail heard without the Ideon.
I had on hand the two most visible competing products in the U.S. marketplace, the aforementioned AudioQuest Jitterbug and the UpTone Regen. With my “low-hanging fruit” setup (Dell to Anthem via Halide Bridge) the addition of either device brought about notable improvement. With the Jitterbug, for example, Stills’ voice was better characterized, and adding the Regen improved dynamics—there was more satisfying “snap” to snare drum. By the way, this review isn’t intended as a shootout among products of this type, but my strong impression is that the magnitude of the improvement was less than what I heard with the 3R.
Many audiophiles employ more than one of these sorts of devices connected in series to get additional incremental improvements in sound quality, and Ideon customers are no different. Because I didn’t try it I can’t comment but I know of one sophisticated listener who uses two “daisy-chained” 3Rs in his system and finds the addition of a second one beneficial. When he tried three, he reported, his DAC wouldn’t lock on the incoming data stream. Also, a good number of people who use noise-reducing/reclocking components power them with a far more robust power supply than the one provided with the device—something like the HDPlex PSU that Baetis supplies with its Reference 2. One of Ideon’s principals explained to me via email that the company will be introducing a power supply “specially tuned for the 3R and keeping a value-for-money approach.” (At press time we were told that the power supply is now shipping at a price of 399 euros.)
Improving the performance of the USB interface isn’t the only factor to consider when attempting enhancement of a computer-based system’s sound. For example, eliminating as many irrelevant operations running in the background on your machine can help a good deal; software exists for this purpose. And it’s the opinion of some, myself included, that at the present time, AES/EBU is still king of the hill when it comes to data transfer from a computer to a DAC. With the Baetis Reference 2, the sound was even better using the AES output versus one of its SOtM USB ports.
The bottom line is that the Ideon 3R USB Renaissance will step up the sound quality heard through the USB outputs of most rendering computers, and at a very affordable cost. It’s been a long time since I introduced a component into my system that brought about this degree of sonic improvement and that didn’t require hand truck usage. Sometimes, big things come in small packages. Anyone using a USB DAC, especially if the data source is a standard-issue computer, should make a point of investigating this small wonder.
Specs & Pricing
Description: Powered, single-port USB hub
Dimensions: 2-7/8" x 2-1/4" x 5/8"
Price: 200€ (approximately $212)