Ideon Audio – 3R USB Renaissance
USB Redriver – Reclocker – Regenerator
Its Greek and its a unique Audiophile USB Conditioner !
Before I describe my experience with Ideon Audio’s 3R “energizer” it would be a good idea to give you a quick blast from my past i.e. my experience using re-clocking and re-energizing devices on digital signals – both S/PDIF or USB. That way, you will get an idea of how I see these little “thingies” and better put my review into perspective…
In the distant past (how time does fly!) when coaxial ruled musical data transfer (remember S/PDIF?), a number re-clocking devices began to hit the market, from manufacturers such as Theta Digital (TLC), Audio Alchemy (DTI), or Genesis (Digital Lens). Theta’s TLC was the most reasonably priced and offered simple re-clocking using the most basic design elements. The second of the lot (DTI) came in various flavours, starting at simple re-clocking and spanning the full gamut up to signal re-creation with single and dual lock clock signal circuits. The third one was by far the most complex and expensive of the lot; lavishly constructed with discrete power supplies, it offered all of the above as well as full signal decoupling from the transport using a FIFO buffer. Despite its sophistication, however, adding re-clockers before the Lens still improved the sound; common logic dictated that this shouldn’t be happening. Having seen what the Lens and its ilk can (and cannot) do, I have been sceptical of contemporary offerings with such circuits added into the DAC and marketed as powerful improvements…
At the time, daisy-chaining such devices did offer sonic benefits: better imaging, improved dynamics and timbre, and enhanced musical detail. It was a complex set-up, comprising a heavily modified Theta Data Basic II (with a Philips CDM9pro transport mechanism, possibly the best such transport ever made), a modified Theta Pro Gen V 96k DAC (with double stacked Burr-Brown R2R chips – 8 in total-, Teflon circuit boards, and discrete class A output stages); internal cabling was all 75ohms micro-coax, Canare BNC connectors were used throughout as Canare HDTV 75ohm digital interconnects with guaranteed bandwidth up to 2GHz.
I invested time and effort researching and discussing this improvement brought about the addition of re-clockers onto the basic re-clocker / re-generator chain, trying to confirm the effect, on the one hand and understand the reason why on the other. The no-brainer conclusion was that daisy-chaining the devices certainly improved the sound, no doubt about that; as to the why, it remained a mystery. I remember the designer of Audio Alchemy admitting that even he himself could not explain it! I even remember Audio Alchemy daisy-chaining about 30 or more DTIs during one of the hi-end shows, somewhere or other! In my case I stopped at a more modest 17 devices (at certain points I used I2S transfer which is an even more effective way to minimise jitter); had I found at the times market more devices to add, I freely admit I would have added them.
So, what were my conclusions from this adventure? 1) Any device containing crystals and clocks are very sensitive to vibrations, so serious support, decoupling, and vibration control (e.g. at least placing a weight on the chassis) is a must; 2) the devices need to reach an optimum operating temperature, so it will take time from switch on before we extract the best sound.
Forward one decade to around 2015 when USB signal regenerators began to hit the music-reproduction shelves; no longer a fad, the computer has become the source of choice for music playback, so extracting the best sound became the name of the game (some may disagree – to each their own). We had already witnessed the launch of “designer” aftermarket USB cables – another story, in and of itself (as is the difference between USB raw data transfer and music reproduction data transfer through that channel in real time). At the time, a new device surfaced called “Regen” (regeneration) by Uptone Audio; Regen promised to improve the computer-based sound reproduction system when placed between source and DAC. Indeed, some people, myself included, daisy-chained two, even three Regens and reported improvement with each device addition – using the very basic switching PSUs supplied with the item. Other manufacturers quickly followed suite promising to do a better job; manufacturers such as ifi quickly launched their particular improvement device, and even manufacturers from different industries entered the game (such as the USB isolator from Intona originally designed for medical applications). They all provided improvement to the sonic result.
Extensive comparisons between two slightly different set-ups left no doubt about the improvement in sound – despite the added complication (daisy-chained devices, external PSU’s, multiple boxes, cables, etc). Set-up A comprised of a Celeron based netbook with Audiophile Optimizer/Fidelizer/MusiCHI suite player; set-up B had an i3 based PC with linear PSU/Audiophile Optimizer/Fidelizer/MusiCHI suite; more or less identical amplification, different but same makers speakers, similar based DACs (one with CMedia circuit & the other with the top of the line Wave I/O USB to i2S, with a heavy regulated linear PS. In system A (my system where jazz and more modern stuff are heard most of the time) I daisy-chained three of the latest spec Regens (orange LEDs) with an ifi purifier at the beginning, while in system B (belonging to my friend Philippe who listens to classical 10+ hours per day, every day) we daisy-chained two Regen plus one Intona at the begining. Subjectively (subjective being the operative word), system A was more immediate and dynamic and system B more laid back, very detailed. In both cases the addition of external devices benefited the sonic result. All the devices ran off on my own design, very low-noise (4uV) linear power supplies except where it was not needed since they functioned better than the stock switching PSU’s. And that’s how things were for quite a while.
Then, at the end of 2016, Ideon Audio, a start-up company in Greece, presented its own USB channel signal regenerator and re-clocker, called 3R. Worth noting, it uses the latest Texas Instruments chip, a very low-noise voltage stabiliser and it sports a very low-jitter crystal – in the face of it, the best recipe for some serious sonic improvement. In fact, the designer took the recipe a tad further, following the re-clocking and regenerating procedure with a re-drive circuit, thereby minimising the effect of the cable that follows (a cable which does, unfortunately, affect the sound quality). As Ideon designer Vassilis Tounas explained, this last stage acts as a “signal booster”, pushing the dynamics and the stereo imaging to another level. My friends call me a jitter-minimisation maniac and, true to the name I quickly asked and got three 3Rs to try in my system.
Many lengthy trials later, here are the results in a nutshell:
- ONE 3R, alone, easily bested the existing daisy-chain in both systems above (ifipurifier2+Regen+Regen+Regen; OR, Intona-Regen-Regen) on all accounts: better dynamics, better sonic balance, impression of increased speed, wider soundstage, low-level detail and contrast became more marked. Bass became better defined, deeper and more natural with much better harmonic content; high frequencies also became more natural. All this with the bog-standard wall wart PSU supplied by Ideon – things improved further using my own ultra-low noise after-market linear PSU’s.
- As “good” always fears “better”, we tried TWO 3Rs in series. Since it worked with the Regen, why not with the 3Rs? Well, admittedly there was an improvement, but to cut a long story short, it was a lot less compared to the magnitude that I got when we exchange the original set-up for the first 3R; if pressed I would vaguely rate it a relative 15% improvement all in all. Of course all this is relative and depends upon source, etc. etc.
- From better to worse: 3x 3R: in my case, three 3rs in a row gave a worse result. We had reached the limit (in the second system three 3Rs did not even lock, so it is a system dependent procedure)! Back to the 2x3R configuration…
No worries, as my Ozzie friends say: we both stuck to two 3Rs each, hooked up to independent ultra-low noise linear PS we inherited from the previous set-up (Regen, Intona, etc). Warm-up and vibration control both contribute to sonic bliss. But, more so, we discovered that break-in is instrumental – give it 7-10 days’ operation; don’t ask me why, I haven’t the faintest idea (and I’m an EE) and no, it’s not an impression, either. We switched the run-in devices with brand new 3Rs (warmed up of course) and the difference isn’t subtle at all.
Since Ideon Audio suggests the use of 3R improves the ADC connection between the ADC and the PC I used a 3R with my LP archiving set-up also: i.e. inserting the 3R in the other direction. To archive, or “digitalise”, my LP collection I use the m2Tech Joplin ADC, an excellent device on its own. I tried it with the Regen and the 3R. There, again, where benefits to be had: sweeter sound (i.e. it lost a slight edginess that we often associate with digital), instruments gained weight, and the image became wider and better focused. Here again, the benefits were definitely more pronounced with the 3R in the system. I did not try daisy-chaining two – but why not try it yourselves…
Ultimately, the conclusion is simple: IF you use a computer as your source, a 3R is probably mandatory in order to extract the best possible sound from your source. As a device, the 3R has proven itself to be better (to a varying degree) than at least three similar, very reputable and globally acclaimed solutions. It will benefit from an aftermarket ultra-low noise power supply (as do the other devices as well). Ideon Audio offers a six (6) days’ return option for the 3R in as good as new condition – so it is risk free.
Not to put a too fine point on it: I wholeheartedly recommend the 3R; buy one and, when that one is broken-in, try inserting a second one in your reproduction chain, and listen. You will be impressed. I, now more than ever, believe that we have not really heard yet what beautiful sound our digital music collections are capable of…
Ideon Audio 3R USB Renaissance Redriver / Reclocker / Regeneration. Retail Price: 200,- euros. Made in Greece. Ideon Audio website
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