Earlier this year I wrote a piece contrasting a pair of USB devices that respectively market themselves as specialists in re-clocking, re-generating and recovering. As it happens iFi products have been making a bit of a splash and in writing up one of their portable DACs earlier this year I became more familiar with the product line learning of their entry in the above category, the iPurifier 3.0 and its accompanying Mercury 3.0 USB cable.
Necessity being the mother of invention, my intrigue and desire to explore this product came about as I grappled with the hard facts and numbers of available power sockets in my 12-port international/industrial surge protected power strip. The other devices I reviewed in this category required that a wall-wart taking up precious real estate, while iFi’s iPurifier 3.0 is powered over the USB buss. Now this this was/is more like it.
iFi’s iPurifier 3.0 incorporates its REclock/REgenerate/REbalance technology to improve flow and their Active Noise Cancellation to cancel all incoming noise. These are iFi’s words not mine and you should visit this link to learn more: https://ifi-audio.com/products/ipurifier3/. Hence the beauty of online publishing: why re-write that which has been written when I can point digitally to the source. Did you see what I did there? Pretty nifty, huh?
Before jumping into the fray, let me say that the consequences of my previous piece were to have both engineers and passionate digital hi-fi enthusiasts contact me about their experiences, weighing in on matters of efficacy. The point was made by more than a few that in this day and age – read that to mean 2018 – such devices were/are no longer necessary as the USB coming out of computers is bit-perfect and that a competently designed DAC could do the heavy-lifting, taking care of any and all noise and jitter.
If the above resonates, then by all means read no further, as what follows would be of no concern. My thesis is not to prove or disprove the iPurifier 3.0 and Mercury 3.0 cable’s effectiveness but rather to describe yet another option for those looking to defeat noise and jitter. Getting back to the digital source, the hardware, responsible for the feeding of the DAC. Digital audio streamers and servers are at their core, glorified and/or stripped-down computers. Most of them employ the stock USB provided them from motherboard/circuit board manufacturers. Some manufacturers are going as far to design their own USB boards, bypassing the on-board, as they regard that which comes with as sub-optimal.
I, David Blumenstein (DB) contacted the company, (iFi) and asked some basic questions to start the ball rolling:
DB: Who is the audience for the iPurifier 3.0? Was it designed for the portable HiFi enthusiast or just about anyone using a computer as a digital source?
iFi: Not really the portable guys as it requires USB power whereas most portable devices are self-powered (battery) though can be if the right setup is deployed. It was developed for desktop users and anything where USB audio is concerned (DAC / ADC) etc
DB: Does having the iPurifier 3.0 power itself over the USB buss defeat the original purpose and intent of the unit? Does this introduce levels of noise which it is designed to purify?
iFi: It’s an active device which deploys the Active Noise Cancellation, canceling all noise.
DB: What if any effect is there when connecting the iPurifier 3.0 to one’s system via an iFi Mercury 3.0 cable? What are the benefits? And does it mitigate any issues with the iPurifier 3.0 being USB powered?
iFi: The USB cable becomes active. However, the iPurifier 3 is a ‘USB 2.0’ device, it’s not true USB 3.0 as the output is USB 2.0. So regardless of the input it will make the cable active. Though having a USB 3.0 cable is better in terms of construction etc.
DB: To what extent would it make more sense for those running dedicated stationary computers/devices using USB as their output, to opt for iFi’s Micro iUSB3.0 Power Filter?
iFi: It would make sense as the iUSB3.0 micro is the flag ship within our current range. It handles a lot more.
In my previous piece, I enlisted the aid of my own personal Baker Street Irregulars to listen to my myriad of systems here with AND without the iPurifier 3.0 and Mercury cable 3.0 attached to gauge their reactions. The listening was done blind as they were never to know when the two were connected. As such, they were asked only one question; not which is better because that would have been impossible under the circumstances, but rather and more importantly, could they hear a difference, and then what was the nature of that difference.
I had my irregulars listen via speakers and headphones as I have learned that by employing the latter, some believe they can listen more critically. Being nothing but obliging in such circumstances I made my Audioquest Nighthawks and Meze Neo 99’s and Classic 99’s available. Having separate systems in numerous rooms in my home, they listened to my primary system, desktop system in the office and fully digital system in the guest room. The systems themselves made less of a difference, and as mentioned the wearing of headphones empowered them to be more analytical. The mind works in mysterious ways.
The majority could hear a difference and all were surprised by the size of the iPurifier 3.0, the bright color of the Mercury 3.0 cable and the fact that the solution is powered over USB. Hence my questions raised with iFi and their response re: Active Noise Cancellation. This got me curious, so with some of them I removed the Mercury 3.0 cable, replacing it with a standard USB cable to better understand its effects. While the majority of those queried under these conditions noticed a difference in favor of the bright orange iFi cable, that majority was far slimmer. Five out of eight respondents noticed a difference with cable swap, while nine out of fifteen were convinced that using the iPurifier 3.0/Mercury 3.0 cable combination enhanced their respective listening experience. Rather than rehash and crib that which iFI has written so clearly and concisely on their website about what makes their Mercury 3.0 cable stand out from its competition, I am leaving this link here for you: https://ifi-audio.com/products/mercury3-0. In summary, their cable is all about the speed, shielding, filtering and separation. Read for yourself.
So, what did they notice? What adjectives were used to describe the difference? In no particular order: detailed, open, expansive, refined, distinctive, smooth, dynamic in comparison to not having the iFi gear installed. Not only were they more convinced that headphones made a difference, but they found that they heard the biggest difference from my office system, the least expensive system, comprised of a Macbook Pro computer running Roon attached to a pair of KEF LS50W speakers. Wrongly or rightly they got it in their heads that in comparison, the least sophisticated system would benefit the most. My irregulars never cease to amaze in their precious insights.
Circling back, there are those who will claim that such solutions are not necessary and that USB has evolved to the point where a properly designed DAC should solve the equation. Assuming that to be true, a fair number of Digital Audio Streamer/Solution providers would find themselves in a bit of a bind with respect to their marketing claims and product differentiation. That’s a heady assumption and one that I’m personally not yet willing to accede. If one is prepared to pursue this path, then I’d have them seriously contemplating a properly configured desktop computer and/or a much more economical solution like the ALLO USBridge (Sparky powered Linux transport), which I am currently running as a Roon endpoint in the guest room.
As for me, iFi’s iPurifier 3.0 and Mercury 3.0 cable are staying right where they are until of course something new comes my way and my responsibility to enlighten and inform my readership takes precedence. Until then I’ll be taking a cue from iFi and be rediscovering my groove.
Copy editor: Dan Rubin
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