TRUTH IN SYSTEMS DISRUPTOR power supply / DaBigGenius USB cable
+ Performance improvements that one need not strain to hear – improved perception of sense of space, focus, dynamics, detail; noise artifacts reduced.
– Adds one other cable dangling from one’s computer, and requires another power outlet for the power supply over a standard USB cable
THE vinyl LP revival is nicely chugging along in the second decade of the 21st century. Even the Japanese majors who canned turntables from their product line-ups are getting back into the fold.
You’d think a vinyl junkie like me would be elated, then. Well, part of me is, but the truth of the matter is it’s beginning to wear on me. Cheap/affordable, used vinyl has dried up here in Malaysia (and I suppose it’s the same where you are too, for the most part), and the price of re-issues and new albums on vinyl, coupled with exchange rates in recent time, plus the need to pay for my kids’ higher level education, all add up to mean it is sadly no longer within my means to load up on software the way I once used to.
So, what does one do? For me, I’ve decided to get back into the digital game with a renewed seriousness. No, not CD – it’s been years since I owned any dedicated CD-playing gear, having sold off my belt-drive transport and non-oversampling DAC. In the process of educating myself on what’s out there in the “new” digital frontier ie computer audio land, I even went so far as to test if claims that one could hear differences in USB cables were true. Inconclusive, so far.
I came across an audio forum on the Internet where an enthusiastic product designer was being given a very hard time (that’s an understatement!) by some of the posters in that forum. I then did more research on his product, and, being somewhat convinced of the technical explanations as to why it should improve one’s sonic results when connecting a DAC to one’s computer via USB, I moved our editor to check if he would be interested to send product samples for review.
He, in this case, is one Mr Robert Priore, whose company, Truth in Systems LLC, operates out of the state of Massachusetts in the US ofA. Truth in Systems graciously sent over not just its signature product, the USB Disruptor, the primary object of this review, but also a USB Cable called DaBigGenius (it’s spelled that way, and is trademarked). Priore is an IT software specialist, as well as a long-time audiophile. It’s only natural then that products like this would come from someone with his background.
That the computer is a noisy environment, and does no favours for the processing and reconstruction of data into music, is a known fact. As is the fact that if said computer itself was supplying the DAC with power, which it does in many USB DAC implementations, powerline noise could percolate into the externally-connected USB DAC. Dirty, noisy power thus powers one’s aspiring audiophile USB DAC.
The USB Disruptor seeks to substitute the computer’s internal 5V power supply with a cleaner 5V feed, by doing it into a short USB adapter connection. The new voltage comes from a switch-mode supply that is claimed to generate much cleaner power, though it manages to look like any other wall-wart, which you couldn’t pick out of a bin of myriad wall-warts if it had been tossed into one.
It works in tandem with its accompanying DaBigGenius USB cable (though it is not mandatory that someone using the USB Disruptor must use it with DaBigGenius). The cable’s main characteristic is that it does not allow the external metal fittings of the cable to conduct current, and there is no 5V power connection within the cable.
I had thought it would be a given that any USB DAC that had its own power supply and was not dependent on the voltage feed from the computer could be used with the DaBigGenius but I found in practice that some of the DACs were not able to lock onto the computer data source. Do consider this if your interest is towards just the DaBigGenius cable alone – your DAC may still need a fully spec’ed USB cable to achieve lock, even if it per se doesn’t need the power from the computer source.
Gearing up for this review took a bit longer than usual. As vinyl has been my primary music source over the years, I didn’t have the kind of gear lying around that would allow me to properly test the Disruptor and DaBigGenius cable. I was fortunate to be generously lent a “high-end” USB cable (Anticables’ USB cable), an inline USB re-clocker (Wyred 4 Sound Recovery), and not least, an actual USB DAC that ran on USB power from the computer, a Bladelius USB DAC.
My own USB DAC, an ADL GT-40, doesn’t get its power from the computer, so may not have been the best test platform. I also used (review forthcoming) a Soul Note SD300 DAC/headphone-preamp.
In the cans department, I supplemented my headphone line-up with a pair of Sennheiser HD650s and also Audio Technica ATH-AD700Xs on loan, to go with the ancient Sennheiser HD414s and Stax SR-30s already in my stash (the last of which connects to a power amplifier, and not to a standard headphone output jack).
I had to take a little time to get to know the characteristics of all this new gear, and also refrain myself from going back to listening to my vinyl set-up(s) too much, though in the end, as I discovered, vinyl rips (the ADL GT-40 serving as ADC, straight into Audacity freeware recorded on a Dell laptop) into WAV files, heard against the original LP playback, also helped me in forming my views.
(In use with USB-powered DACs)
To see where the USB Disruptor, used in tandem with DaBigGenius, stood with USB DACs which drew power from the USB power feed, I started first by getting to know the performance of the loaned Bladelius Design Group USB DAC, a now relatively elderly unit which only accepts USB connection and is wholly dependent on it for power. It sounded pretty good with a standard USB cable. I then moved on to another USB cable, also a freebie which came with a printer (I think), one which seemed ostensibly better than bog-standard as this one had a ferrite choke on it to suppress HF noise. A few switches back and forth later, I came to the view that I hadn’t confidently heard any differences between the two.
Okay, bar set then, I tried next an “audiophile” USB cable, one from Anticables and costing around US$200 or so. My own personal outlook is that I am not convinced that more expensive dedicated cables necessarily sound better, but yet my own experience has shaped my outlook that cables do sound different. Yes, even for digital signal cables, as I had experienced many years ago when using CD with a rather good SPDIF co-axial cable made by Stereovox… I can’t remember which model.
While I had hoped for perceivable improvement, the degree I got was rather larger than expected (I will somewhat describe this further below). The point here for including such a cable was not so much for product comparison, but to see if there was another approach that would produce results that the USB Disruptor and the DaBigGenius claim to bring. The designer of Anticables also sees USB power as a problem which needs to be addressed, but approached it by separating the wire which carries the power feed from the other three lines (data +ve, data –ve and ground).
Time for the headliners of the show to make their appearance, then. I had given quite a bit of run-in time to them before this, intentionally not listening to them in comparison with the other cables I had but to play “sleep muzak” with the main system turned on very low over several weeks. The degree of improvement heard over the bog standard cable, in use with the Bladelius DAC, was indeed significant.
In the instructions which came with the USB Disruptor’s documentation, Priore suggests tests be conducted with a specific Carpenters’ track, Top Of The World, where he suggests the kind of improvement which one should be able to perceive when installing the USB Disruptor. I found the suggested results to be indeed the case in practice upon listening, the electronic piano just to the right of singer Karen Carpenter’s voice sounding more delineated in its own (artificially created in the studio) space. The standard cable’s results, as far as image specificity was concerned, was just perceivably muddled in comparison.
Overall, the track also sounded more interesting musically, but knowing this was not the kind of track I wanted to torture myself with by doing multiple comparisons, I proceeded to do three back-to-back takes of the Cowboy Junkies’ Angel Mine. What I perceived was the acoustic guitar strums were clearer, the plucked notes in the bass line had clearer starting and fading edges, the snare, ride cymbal taps and hi-hats sounded crisper, and the keyboard backings which created the atmosphere around Margo Timmins’ honeyed singing overall let the track engage on a more emotional level.
More listening led to observations of clearer front-to-back separation and feel of dimensionality of the individual instruments and voices in the tracks played. Detail also seemed to improve, not so much as where one heard things that had been obscured before, but that louder and softer sounds now had clearer separation and could co-exist on a track without one smothering the other too much. Low-level toms and bass drum contribution were better perceived together with the double bases and cellos on certain orchestral tracks whereas they tended to be more muted and muddled with the standard cable.
The above effects would sum up what I heard both from the USB Disruptor-DaBigGenius and the Anticables USB replacing the bog standard cables, though there were differences between the former two also. Given the results, and considering the price of either solution, I would say a person using a standard USB cable would do very well to investigate both. At time of review, the price of the USB Disruptor-DaBigGenius as a combination comes in a little lower than what Anticables charge (prices vary with cable length), so I would look their way if I was looking to get improved musical as well as sonic performance.
In use with non USB-powered DACs
When paired with USB DACs which have their own power supplies, one must first determine if the said DAC units needs to see the 5V feed in order to lock onto the incoming signal from the computer. Also among the test units was the Soul Note SD300 unit, which would not lock on when the DaBigGenius cable was used on its own.
I ended up comparing the standard USB cables I had with the USB Disruptor-DaBigGenius duo in combination. Here, the improvements observed, while perceivable, were rather less marked. I don’t know how much psychological expectations played an effect here, but the idea that one had to purchase a power supply and adapter cable (in the case of the USB Disruptor) when it really had no part per se to play in supplying any juice to the Soul Note was not an attractive one.
Turning to the ADL-GT40, I was somewhat relieved when the computer showed the presence of the GT40 as a connected device in the Sounds menu for selection. In comparison with the standard cables, there were again subtle improvements in bass timing, separation of sounds and this time, I noticed more natural vocal sibilants and a smoother airier treble overall. So, if you are able to determine that your DAC does not need the voltage feed for USB connection, the DaBigGenius cable is a relatively inexpensive cable upgrade, though I must emphasise here, differences, or improvements, are subtler than when the USB Disruptor-DaBigGenius duo did connection duties with the Bladelius, again with accommodation for any psychological factors which may affect one’s sonic perception abilities.
When compared to the Anticable (and the price difference between the Anticable and the DaBigGenius as a standalone item is significant here), I have to say I thought the Anticable to show better focus, airiness and bass solidity and timing acuity. This was with a pair of Sennheiser HD650s in use. Yet the relatively smoother, if somewhat broader stroke presentation of the DaBigGenius was slightly preferred, when I plugged in a pair of Audio Technica ATH-AD700X headphones in place of the Sennheisers. So results now more mirror cable preferences when taking into account system characteristics than where one cable had a technical leg up over the other.
What about different approaches? While not the main thrust of the review, I was tempted to see if there was a different way in which the improvements heard with the USB Disruptor-DaBigGenius duo could be had. Two things tried were the plugging in of a USB re-clocker (Wyred 4 Sound Recovery) with a standard cable, and also comparing the DaBigGenius to a standard cable where the 5V feed in the cable is cut off by means of an inline unit designed to accomplish just that.
Summary observations were that the USB Disruptor-DaBigGenius seemed to better convey the intensity of the music once the degree of sonic differences were taken into account. When it came to the use of the standard cable with a USB in-line “power blocker”, things were less certain. It could well be the relevant DAC (ADL GT40) was less affected by the presence of the power line or that cable performance differences, leaving aside the 5V feed, just favoured the DaBigGenius (the DaBigGenius should be superior, given that the comparison cable was a freebie unit).
And I was not enamoured with results of some of the items when used in tandem. There may be technical explanations eg, the Wyred 4 Sound Recovery has its own wall-wart power supply which also claims to give cleaner power, and this is what flows through a USB cable when connected to its output, so adding in the USB Disruptor-DaBigGenius duo after the Wyred 4 Sound Recovery unit just didn’t do anything positive that one was probably better off with just one of the other.
Bottom line for me personally is this – yes, there may be other ways to obtain the performance improvements, but the Truth in Systems LLC products certainly do do what they claim to do (and de da da da, is all I want to say to you).
THE LAST WORD
Shoehorned into the editorial framework of articles we AudioFi writers have to stay within, there just isn’t enough space to cover every hook and cranny of what I learned from this review experience (Hasn’t stopped you, though! – Editor). The subtle differences each approach to tackling USB power corruption had taken yielded different degrees of variation and, arguably, improvement. Yet, when the smoke somewhat cleared, my own conclusion is I wouldn’t dare to stubbornly accept some others’ claim (and my own experience, until testing these products, that is) that digital cables, here USB cables specifically, do not make a difference to the musical experience.
I think many people who are in, or getting into computer audio, streaming services etc where USB connection to a DAC is involved should do themselves a favour and investigate Priore’s products as potential cost-effective upgrades to their system. I believe there is a money back policy if the purchaser is not satisfied, but it is unclear from the website whether this applies to buyers outside the United States and Canada (where they even offer to pick up the tab for freight charges in those jurisdictions). Recommended stuff.
Sources: Apple MacBook Air (iTunes), Dell laptop (Windows 7, Foobar 2000), Soul Note DAC-preamp-headphone amp; Bladelius USB DAC; ADL GT-40 DAC-preamp-headphone amp, Garrard 401-DIY “Tribute to Firebaugh” Tonearm-Denon DL-110 / Amplification: Parasound JC-3 phono stage, Naim NAC122x-Teddy Pardo power supply with Euphonic Research Amp-80 power amp / Speakers: Sonus faber Guarneri Homage, Apogee Centaurus Minor / Wires: Euphonic Research Dendrites, Axons, Cable Talk 3s, Western Electric, Canare DIN-to-RCA, Cardas Hexlink 5 and some diy stuff
Price: USB Disruptor: US$99 (Type B) / DaBigGenius USB cable: US$59 (1m)
Manufacturer sells direct.