iFi Micro iUSB 3.0 & Gemini USB Cable Reviews 
Home Theater Accessories Accessories
Written by Andre Marc   
Friday, 13 November 2015

iFi, the U.K. based high end audio company, has fleshed out their product line over the past few years at a pace that is impressive by any measure. iFi was founded as the more affordable arm of Abbingdon Music Research, who are known for some heavy hitting, and state of the art components. iFi has captured the imagination of many audiophiles and the press with their too good to be true prices, and original designs. The best part is even though they now enjoy a loyal customer base, they have continued to improve the products.

In both my systems I currently use the Micro iDSD DAC, which costs $499 and may be one of the great bargains in digital source components today. I use it with the $229 Micro iUSB power supply as well. On my desktop I use the Nano iDSD, a more portable solution, that costs $199. To illustrate the amazing feature sets these units have, they both decode everything up to Quad DSD, have built-in analog volume controls, and have both headphone and RCA outputs. The headphone outputs are customizable, and both units even have mini jack analog inputs.

http://www.avrev.com/images/stories/equipaccessories/ifi/geminipic03.jpgAlong with the Nano and Micro lines, which also include a tube buffer, a phono stage, USB enhancements, a USB cable, power supplies, and even a mini rack. Their “retro”, all-in-one integrated amp and speaker set has given me gear lust, something I rarely encounter. It is a return to the classic “hifi console” approach, similar to what I wrote about with the Marantz M-CR611.

The subjects of this write up are the brand new Micro iUSB 3.0, an upgrade to the iUSB, and the dual lead Gemini USB cable, which starts at $189. The iUSB 3.0 is significantly different product in some ways, and the price has increased to $399. The build quality on both is superb, and both are made in Asia to iFI’s rigorous standards. I must also say the packaging for all iFI products is first class.

The Gemini USB cable is the execution of a concept other cable makers have explored, splitting the data and power lines. However, in my opinion iFI has a unique execution of this design. According to iFi, “critically, the special geometry adheres to the 90 ohm impedance specification better than even the USB 2.0 standard. Resistance is 4x lower than textbook. The FINAL USB machined connectors provide impeccable shielding from end-to-end.”

iFI stresses the importance of the connector. They say “the connector must be as exceptional as the cable. Most USB Cables use moulded plastic covered connections. Plastic cannot shield the high frequencies present in the USB Data link, so noise will radiate out. Durability is also compromised. The FINAL USB connectors provides impeccable end-to-end RF shielding, being machined entirely from solid aluminum. Gold-plated connections make for years of steadfast service.”


 

iFi was especially concerned about RF (Radio Frequency) noise as well, and according to them, “the Gemini cable is fitted with three custom-made metal oxide ceramic RF noise silencers. Each with different effective ranges; thus they greatly broaden the range over which RF noise is silenced.” I adjusted the noise silencers as iFI suggested, at each end, and in the middle of the cable. They easily slide in either direction.

The Micro iUSB 3.0 is housed in the same compact chassis as the iDSD and other Micro components. One difference from the iUSB, is there are two identical USB ports on the side of the chassis. According to iFi, what the iUSB 3.0 does is essentially purifies the USB signal going into the input of our DAC. They say it does this by correcting the signal balance, suppressing frame and packet noise, eliminating ground noise, and correcting impedance issues, It sends ultra clean power to DACs that require it. All of this creates lower jitter and a higher signal integrity they say.

iFi also has some far out sounding technology in the iUSB 3.0 in regards to its noise suppression. They say some of this implementation is drawn from esoteric military radar technology. It’s beyond me, but sure sounds impressive. Essentially, noise is cancelled by matching the noise signal in the opposite phase. This is applied in warfare by doing the same to the enemy radar signal, therefore making it disappear, so to speak. It should be noted the iUSB 3.0 also ships with iFI’s iPower 9V power supply, which itself retails for $49. iFi claims their iPower supplies, which are available in other voltages as well, are quieter than batteries.

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Set Up & Use

I used the Gemini cable and the iUSB 3.0 with the iFI’s own Micro iDSD DAC in two different systems. System one consisted of components far more expensive than the iFI gear, including a Simaudio 760A power amp, a CIAudio passive controller, Bryston Mini T, and Magnepan .7 speakers, a Bryston BDP-2 file player, and Transparent and Acoustic Zen cables. System two consisted of a SOtM sMS-100 file player, a CLONES Audio 25p power amp, a Tisbury Mini Passive II, and Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 speakers.

Installation was simple. I plugged the iPower into the iUSB 3.0, ran a DH Labs Mirage USB cable from the source to the iUSB 3.0, then ran the Gemini cable from iUSB 3.0 to DAC. All that was left is to stream tunes. And once the listening began, I could clearly hear what the iUSB 3.0 and Gemini bring to the table. With those those two components in place, there was more body, more weight, and less hash on every recording I played.

The improvement in presentation was there regardless of musical genre or recoding vintage. The great Richard Thompson’s new album, Still, produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, in 24/96 FLAC, is a clean, upfront production. Thompson’s baritone sounded rich and well recorded, and his sublime guitar playing was as present as I have ever experienced. Sticking with guitar players, Buddy Guy’s groundbreaking Damn Right, I’ve Got The Blues album sounded better than I ever remember it, and the song “Five Long Years” was so visceral I could practically see the sweat pouring off of Guy’s forehead and he milked this slow blues track.

 

Singer and multi-instrumentalist Rhiannon Giddens, of the revivalist band Carolina Chocolate Drops, sounded ever so present on her solo album, Tomorrow Is My Turn (24/96 FLAC). It is an old school, nicely-produced recording and the emotion in her performances really came through. It really was hard to believe that all of this I was experiencing was through a digital front end costing just about $1000 even, when the cost of the Micro iDSD, Micro iUSB 3.0, and the Gemini cable area all added up.

One of my final listening sessions with the iFi digital bundle was Seal’s magnificent album, System, from 2007. Great songs, great recording. The three pieces working together in my opinion, extracted the most from the music and allowed me to lock into the fusion of acoustic guitars and very tasteful electronica, with Seal’s voice riding on top. It could be the noise floor was kept to an absolute minimum. It could be jitter was reduced to vanishingly low levels. I’m not sure but I know that I find both the iUSB 3.0 and the Gemini essential parts of my system now.

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Conclusion

iFI makes a lot of claims about the iUSB 3.0 USB solution and Gemini USB cable. My ears tell me all the engineering has paid off. Not only are the sonic improvements palpable, but the build quality and attention to detail, for such relatively inexpensive high-end audio products, are easy to see.

There is currently a lot of competition in the USB audio enhancement market, and iFi is up to the task. However, according to James Haner, of Avatar Acoustics, iFi’s US distributor, “iFi originally created this product category four years ago with the original iUSB Power. The new iUSB3.0 is a complete reimagining and reiteration of the original meant to be the absolute best in the entire category.”

I would also note that the iUSB 3.0 and Gemini should work with the majority of DACs there, regardless of price, and not just their own. Providing the cleanest signal to the USB input lightens the processing load of even megabuck DACs. Of course, as always, if possible, try before you buy. But I suspect very few audiophiles will not satisfied with the improvements.

Specifications


iFi Gemini USB Cable: $189
iFI Micro iUSB 3.0: $399

www.ifi-audio.com
www.avataracoustics.com

Review System 1


Server: Bryston BDP-2
DAC: iFI Micro iDSD
Tape Deck: Revox A77
Server: Bryston BDP-2
Preamp: Linear Tube Audio MicroZOTL 2.0, CIAudio PLC-1 MKII
Amplifier: Audio Research VS55, Simaudio 760A
Speaker: Bryston Mini T
Cables: Stager Sound, Acoustic Zen, Element Cable, DH Labs
Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks and Svelte Shelves, Shakti Stone, Bryston BIT-15, Salamander rack

Review System 2


Music Server: SOtM sMS-100 w/ Battery XPS,
DAC: iFi Micro iDSD w/i Micro iUSB
Power Amplifier: CLONES Audio 25p
Tape Deck: Sony TC-350
Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3 Magnepan MMG
Cables: Stager Sound, Transparent, DH Labs
Accessories: Cable Pro Noisetrapper, Sound Anchors Stands, Audience aR6










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