I thought it would be fun to share some of the tweaks I have been using with my system that have come from Intona Technology and Sonore by Simple Design LLC. These products include the new Intona Technology USB 2.0 Hi-Speed Isolator Model 7055-B and the Professional USB 2.0 Hi-Speed Reference USB cable. From Sonore, I will be taking a look at the recently released opticalModule that complements their opticalRendu and Signature Rendu SE-optical.
Intona Technology is an electronics engineering company that serves a number of different industries including industrial automation systems, medical technology, measurement laboratories, the aviation industry, and professional – audiophile grade audio systems. This German company first became known to audiophiles when they released their USB 2.0 Hi-Speed Isolator Model 7054, a product that I reviewed for AudioStream in 2016 and found to be quite effective in improving the sound of my DAC.
Intona USB 2.0 Hi-Speed Isolator 5kV Model 7055-B
With the introduction of the new Intona USB 2.0 Hi-Speed Isolator 5kV, Intona claims that they have improved upon the performance of their first product. Basically, this product provides full galvanic isolation of both the data and power lines while being able to transmit USB Hi-Speed (480 Mbit/s).
This product is an ideal solution to break ground loops, avoid noise coupling and protect ports from power surges and voltage spikes in applications which require high speed USB transfers. The galvanic isolation barrier withstands potential difference of 5,000VRMS.
The USB Hi-Speed Isolator is a phy-level receiver/isolator/reclocker/repacketizer working at a bidirectional bandwidth of 480 MBit/s. It receives and transmits USB data using a dedicated ULPI-transceiver, buffers and translates by our proprietary logic using FPGA technology and isolates using industry-leading RF-type isolators by Silicon Labs with least possible capacitance. It does not translate or distort data packets like a hub but does reproduce and reclock the original data by 100%.
- Ultra-quiet power rail isolation, linear regulation (LT3045)
- 500mA (internal DC/DC) or 2000mA (aux supply) output current on isolated side
- Status LED showing bus state and speed
- Impedance controlled high-speed circuit design
Physically, the new USB 2.0 Hi-Speed Isolator has an attractive aluminum case with black front and rear panels. This product offers an auxiliary power Micro-USB input found on the back panel that can supply power hungry devices with external power up to 2000mA. The back panel also has a USB 2.0 type B input and a USB 2.0 type A output. The USB 2.0 Hi-Speed Isolator is self-powered for most applications with no need for the installation of operating system drivers.
I connected the Hi-Speed Isolator to my Roon Nucleus+ Server with an Intona Professional USB 2.0 Hi-Speed Reference USB cable. Another Intona Reference USB cable connected the Hi-Seed Isolator output to my Playback Designs MPD-8 DAC. I also used my Ayre Acoustics QX-5 Twenty DAC for this evaluation. It should be noted that both the MPD-8 and the QX-5 Twenty claim to have very well isolated USB inputs.
Sonically, the Intona USB 2.0 Hi-Speed Isolator made a positive contribution to the sound of both of my DACs when fed from the Roon Nucleus+. The mid bass was tighter with improved definition in the overall bass. Midrange clarity and focus seemed to be enhanced with the Intona USB 2.0 Hi-Speed Isolator. The soundstage was also improved in front-to-back depth. The sonic differences were not huge, but definitely easy to hear. The Intona USB 2.0 Hi-Speed Isolator proved to be a positive tweak for both the MPD-8 and QX-5 Twenty DACs.
Comparison of the Industrial Hi-Speed Isolator Model 7054 with new Model 7055-B
I was curious to see if there was any sonic difference between the older Model 7054 Industrial Version with the new USB 2.0 Hi-Speed Isolator 5kV Model 7055-B. The new model proved to be superior sounding compared to the older Industrial Isolator. The soundstage was wider and deeper with the 7055-B. Mid bass and deep bass were better controlled and impactful sounding with the latest Intona Isolator. Superior control of the mid bass also resulted in slighter better focus and midrange clarity for the 7055-B.
Intona Professional USB 2.0 Reference Hi-Speed Cable
Intona offers 3 performance grades of USB cables: Premium, Reference, and Ultimate. It is interesting to note that the Premium, Reference, and Ultimate designations are physically the same cable. The performance grade assignment is dependent upon how each cable measures. Intona refers to their analysis as VNA (Vector Network Analysis).
One of the properties of the Intona USB cables emphasized by the manufacturer is the impedance continuity of the USB cable. Intona has engineered these USB cables to have the highest possible impedance continuity (reduced impedance variations over length) that they believe reduces reflected energy that can lead to distortion of the original signal.
The cables have another feature referred to as Intona Double Shielding Technology that reduces external EMI noise with an additional layer of outer shielding.
I will be focusing on the Reference USB cable that has its impedance versus cable length even more constant compared to the Premium grade cable.
The inner shielding consists of a carefully designed material combination (synthetic/metallic laminate plus braid) which already provides a 100% coverage of the conductors.
The additional unique outer shielding consists of a braided wire with finest filaments made out of tinned copper.
With this shielding technology Intona Technologies has created a USB 2.0 Hi-Speed cert-ready cable, which provides the best possible protection against ESD, RFI and EMI and highest possible signal integrity.
In order to provide the most reliable and stable 5V power supply for any external device, we are using stronger power lines compared to other cables.
The USB cables have OFC (oxygen-free copper) conductors with 24K gold plated connectors. The termination conductors are impressive looking with their CNC machined housings made from solid aluminum. The Intona USB cables have the look and feel of the most expensive high-end USB cables, but unlike many of the “audiophile USB cables”, the Intona USB cables easily meet and exceed the USB 2.0 specs.
I’m going to cut to the chase and proclaim the Professional USB 2.0 Reference Hi-Speed Cable to be one of the finest sounding USB cables I have heard in my system. Where I found the Reference to excel was at the frequency extremes. The detail and overall resolution at the high and low end were superior to what I have heard from many other highly regarded audiophile USB cables. The Intona Reference allows one to experience superb transient detail while maintaining a very linear and precise sound. Soundstage, dynamics, and ultimate resolution were superb sounding using the Intona Reference. What the Intona Reference will not do is provide a euphonic smoothness to the overall sound. For those of you that are looking for revealing playback of your digital files, the Intona Reference will not disappoint.
The Sonore opticalModule
Combined with the recent release of the opticalRendu and Signature Rendu SE-optical, Sonore now offers a new component in their systemOptique that they feel will elicit maximum performance from their new optical streaming USB sources.
The Sonore opticalModule is an FMC (Fiber Media Converter) that comes with its own SFP (Small Form-factor Pluggable) module that is a fiber optic transceiver. Your Ethernet network cable plugs into the input of the FMC resulting in conversion to an optical output from the SFP. I was using a TRENDnet 1000BASE-T to SFP Fiber Media Converter (no SFP included) that cost around $30.00. Sonore has stated that the opticalModule uses boutique parts and was designed in the USA—it is not a clone of another mass-produced FMC. Obviously, the design, parts and sales volume help explain the $250 price of the opticalModule. Other features of the opticalModule include 4 high-quality ultra-low noise linear regulators and a fixed frequency ultra-low jitter FEMTO oscillator.
The opticalModule needs an external DC power source rated from 5-9 volts. Sonore offers a Jameco 5v linear power supply for $50.00, or more sophisticated power supplies like the $559.00 Sonore linear ultraSupply. For this review, I used the 5v output from an UptoneAudio JS-2 linear power supply.
The opticalModule provided an optical feed to my Signature Rendu SE-optical; a product that I recently reviewed for Twittering Machines. Compared to what I heard with the TRENDnet FMC / Signature Rendu SE-optical combination, the opticalModule made a significant improvement to the sound of my system. Let’s just say that the sonic qualities that I described for the Signature Rendu SE-optical were magnified using the opticalModule. Anyone using an opticalRendu or the Signature Rendu SE-optical should, without question, purchase an opticalModule for their systemOptique. I encountered no difficulties using the opticalModule and found it to be a very stable network product.
The HeadAmp Blue Hawaii SE amp / Stax SR-009S Headphones
The opticalModule’s influence on the overall sound was easily heard with the HeadAmp Blue Hawaii SE / Stax SR-009S combination. Listening to Stile Antico’s In a Strange Land: Elizabethan Composers in Exile (DSD256) the resolution of this 12 group ensemble’s voices was outrageously real sounding. There was reduced congealing of the sound of the multiple voices that was significantly aided by the influence of the opticalModule. Substituting the TRENDnet FMC for the optical module resulted in a compression of the sound with slight image smearing.
The Entire Enchilada
While the Signature Rendu SE-optical doesn’t really need a product like the Intona USB 2.0 Hi-Speed Isolator connected to its output, I did notice a very slight improvement to the sound when inserted in the USB path to my DAC input. Sonically, the combination of the 3 tweaks heightened the enjoyment of the musical experience I heard from my system, and made the entire system more musically engaging.
As I listened to the Blue Coast Collection 2 – Audiophile Edition (DSD256), I was quite surprised at the harmonically rich and relaxed presentation I was experiencing from this recording—a compilation of acoustic instrumental and folk-style singer-songwriter vocalists. Not only did I hear purity and liquidity from the vocalists and acoustic instruments, but the ultra-quiet background contributed to the stunning realism and immediacy of these performances.
Bruce Springsteen’s new album Western Stars (24/96) sonically opened up with the new tweaks. The sound with the tweaks was big and bold with an orchestral backing that stretched from wall to wall. Springsteen’s voice had immediacy and excellent focus. The recording had a lifelike presence with a satisfying dynamic quality when heard with these 3 tweaks.
The Tweak Audio Roundup
First, a little reality injection for this review. The products discussed improve what I consider the last 5% of the system. None of these tweaks will transform an average system to a great one. Let’s just say that these products have the potential to improve the sound of an already enjoyable audio system.
All of the products evaluated in this review contributed to an enrichment of the sound of my system, but it was the Intona Professional USB 2.0 Hi-Speed Reference USB cable that had the greatest degree of impact for this reviewer. This USB cable is simply very revealing of vocal and acoustic instrumental detail along with wonderful sound staging capability.
The new Intona USB 2.0 Hi-Speed Isolator proved to be an effective USB enhancement device that was easy to implement and was found to be superior sounding to the older Industrial Hi-Speed Isolator Model 7054. Intona’s new USB 2.0 Hi-Speed Isolator’s contribution to my system was essentially improved clarity in the overall musical presentation.
Sonore’s opticalModule outperformed my TRENDnet FMC and should be considered an essential tweak for those that own the opticalRendu or Signature Rendu SE-optical if one wishes to elicit the top performance from these products.
Intona USB 2.0 Hi-Speed Isolator, 5kV Model 7055-B
Intona Professional USB 2.0 Hi-Speed Reference USB cable
Price: $765.00 / 1-meter length (other lengths available)
Price: $250.00 (power supply extra)