Reclocking is not a new thing, it was around in the 90s when the first wave of standalone DACs started to become popular and a few companies have been making USB examples for a while, Ideon from Greece among them. This is a small company made up of enthusiasts and engineers who make a range of products that are dedicated to making digital sound accessible to all, which was achieved by smartphone makers some time ago, but they do define accessible as: “to make digital music files sound as good as they can and to make our products financially accessible”. I first came across Ideon when speaker wunderkindt Karl-Heinz Fink had one of their DACs in the system he used to launch the Finkteam Borg loudspeakers at the Munich High End. However it has taken another three years to actually try something from the brand.
The rather wordy 3R USB Renaissance MkII Blackstar edition is not much longer than its name and so light that I had to Blu-tack it down so that the USB cables didn’t pull it off the shelf. What it says on the case is redrive, reclock, regenerate, what it does is to regenerate and re-clock the signal with minimum of jitter and clean up the power line. It’s necessary to regenerate in order to reclock but it’s the latter process that is beneficial, especially when using a high accuracy femto clock as is the case here. The redrive aspect refers to providing a cleaner 5V to the power line, something that DACs don’t need except as a signal that a connection has been made, but cleaning up any voltage entering an audio component seems to be beneficial.
I have to admit that I was sceptical about the 3R, I discovered a while back that coax SPDIF sounds more musically coherent that USB so have been using that to connect an Auralic Aries to iFi’s Pro iDSD DAC ever since. So I left the Ideon in its box for a few weeks, it was only when Innuos sent a Phoenix USB reclocker for review did I start to listen to a USB connection again (from an Innuos Zenith SE server). The Phoenix revealed that this approach has considerable potential, making the frankly messy direct output of the server dramatically more engaging and enjoyable. So my attention came around to the Ideon which I dropped in between server and DAC in the same fashion, initially I used the supplied switching power supply with an EU power plug (and shaver adapter). Miraculously, given the price point, it sounded rather good, very well timed with good vocal imaging and impressive bass extension that made the Grateful Dead sound pretty convincing if a little rough around the edges – but then how smooth is a live recording from 1972 going to be. The point is it made me want to listen through the usual test track and onto the next. I tried another live band in Joni Mitchell with the LA Express and that really chugged thanks to the pace it brought to the thick bass line on Big Yellow Taxi.
Inspired by the potential of this reclocker I delved into my box of old wall-warts and eventually found one that had the requisite 7.5V output and enough amperage (albeit lower than that provided by the supplied PSU). This upped the 3R’s game quite clearly, taking away some of the rough edges and opening up the soundstage enough to provide an decent image. Samuel Yirga’s Habasha Sessions was particularly good, the sax sounding sinuous and the piano good and solid thanks to the excellent bass coming through. Then I tried Ryley Walker’s Golden Sings that have been Sung and couldn’t turn it off, this is an album I always play on vinyl because I have it and nothing sounds better. But with the Ideon inline there was enough of what mattered to make the experience almost as rewarding. It comes down to timing, this is where a decent turntable has the advantage over 99% of digital sources, but this little device proves that not only can digital do great timing but that it doesn’t need to cost a fortune.
Distributor GPoint Audio also has a range of aftermarket linear power supplies called Farad (great name) from the Netherlands and they leant me an 8V example as this has been found to be the optimum voltage for the 3R. Dropping this in place of the Binatone from my box brought refinement in the form of deeper soundstaging, more layers in each recording and more precision across the board including timing. It’s a more nuanced result but no less grippiing one especially if you play Larks Tongues in Aspic pt.2 by King Crimson which did sound a little bright but the sheer power and energy is thrilling.
Given that the majority of USB streaming is done with a PC I installed Audirvana playback software on my old Macbook Air and plugged that straight into the iFi DAC, the result wasn’t too bad, a bit insubstantial and flat but tolerable. Adding the 3R and another length of USB cable into the signal chain proved highly worthwhile however, now it had life, energy, lower noise and the all important boogie factor. The Grateful Dead track which had elicited some foot tapping to begin with became a whole body experience. Michael Kiwanuka’s rather more up to date live album Out Loud went further, revealing greater depth and scale with greatly improved separation and a sound that didn’t collapse when the crescendo in One More Night came along.
The Innuos Phoenix USB is a lot more sophisticated and smoother especially in the treble and those in search of the ultimate USB audio experience should look there, but for the price the 3R Mk2 is a stonking reclocker that anyone wanting to enjoy their digital music collection should try. That includes anyone who’s designing a DAC, if this tech could be licenced and incorporated into USB inputs it would give manufacturers who do so a distinct advantage. For now computer audio has a powerful new weapon that gets you closer to the music.