Review: Ultra Fi Ultra Fi Abisque USB Filter DA converter
The Ultra Fi Abisque USB Filter
In the past, I’ve written a couple reviews of Ultra Fi products on Audiogon and elsewhere, most notably the recent Ultra Fi iteration of the DAC-41 (with TWIN REG power supply) which continues to please day in and day out. It’s very satisfying, often jaw-dropping.
For awhile now, I thought that this is it: for my budget and my system, I’ve reached the sweet spot: most everything I play, whether downloads from iTunes or AIFF files from ripped discs, seems to be in that Goldi Locks space: just right. Exceptional detail, pleasing PRAT, and a really gratifying overall musicality. Digital music, more often than not, sounds very similar to music I hear live in house concerts and other small venues, and the DAC-41 TWIN REG is the main reason why. So, why mess with perfection?
As the holidays of 2012 approached, I sent an email to Larry Moore of Ultra Fi wishing him well during the holidays and into the new year. The next day, “I’m sending you something I’ve just completed work on. Tell me what you think. Happy new year!”
So, I thought, “OK, there goes that snug comfort zone,” expecting an Amazon-sized 1A5 box delivered by UPS/FedEx.
Much to my surprise, a couple of days later in my USPS mailbox I saw a plain-brown USPS 7 x 9 padded envelope with Larry’s return address on it. I thought to myself, “He’s making DACs awfully small these days.”
When I opened it, I found a tubular device with Type B USB connectors (male and female) on either end, and a brief note (a la Alice in Wonderland), “I’m the Ultra Fi Abisque USB Filter. Connect me to the DAC-41.”
And so I did.
Once again, my world of recorded music changed. For the better. The permanence of that sweet spot vanished; in its place was something sweeter.
After a few hours of listening with it installed, I called Larry to ask him for some details behind the magic. But first, I’ll explain the dimension of change the Ultra Fi Abisque USB Filter has brought to my experience of recorded music.
Last fall, I traded my iPad2 for the latest iPad with retina screen. Recently, I acquired a MacBook Pro, also with retina screen for digital photography use while traveling. The previous iPad was outstanding; my 2012 iMac continues to be a great workhorse for my digital photography. But, “Whoa Nellie!” Put the same photo files (whether shot with the iPhone 4S or my Leica M9), and I see wholly different photographs, ones filled with previously unseen rich subtleties of texture, contrast, and color.
This experience is Ultra Fi’s Abisque USB Filter in audio.
If you know what I’m talking about with the Apple technologies, you can imagine what I’m talking about with the music experience with the Abisque USB Filter.
If you are unconvinced, you don’t have to buy one to “get” the difference. Just take a thumb drive of your best digital images down to the Apple store. Look at your images on the MacBook Pro’s regular screen and then look at them on a retina screen MacBook Pro: that’s the difference you’ll experience in audio with the Ultra Fi Abisque USB Filter. This is a simple way to evaluate the difference. If it works for you in the Apple Store, it will work for you with the Abisque. If you’ve already had the “Apple retina experience” as I have, you know what I’m talking about.
Now to some technical notes I was able to log while prying them from Larry’s locked jaws:
First, some info related to installation of the filter in the system.
The Abisque USB Filter is installed after the male “type B” USB cable end and into the female USB “type B” DAC connector. The Type B end is that small square shaped connector/receptacle end of the USB cable whereas the Type A or computer end is the end that has a rectangular shaped or mostly flat connector.
The only reason I mention this is that Larry tells me that there really are no Type B male circuit board mount connectors. He modifies a cable Type B connector for his filter, making it into a circuit board mount. This places the filter as close as possible to the DAC where it matters most.
So how is this thing made? I wondered since it is tiny. Very small stuff.
Ultra Fi’s Abisque is built using only surface mount components on a circuit board that fits inside that Type B connector. Larry tells me that this circuit board measures 4.7mm wide (about 3/16’s of an inch) by 20mm long (about ¾’s of an inch). Yeah, it’s small. I can’t imagine doing that myself. Again, pried from Larry’s jaws, these surface mount parts measure on the order of less than 1 mm and are the only type that create the characteristics necessary for the optimum amount of filtering for both data and power.
One last thing: According to Larry, the Abisque USB Filter works with all DACs irrespective of whether or not they use or require USB power.
Technical stuff aside, some audio tweaks are so good, as this one is, that they reveal flaws in the original system that sounded just fine before the tweak was introduced. With the Abisque USB Filter, it’s very gratifying to hear the music anew, recognizing and realizing that all of the choices, all of the selections of equipment and other tweaks, the whole audio system in its unique synergy, sounds better than ever imagined.
In my experience, the Abisque USB Filter makes as big a jump in musicality, openness, and detail as the DAC-41 TWIN REG made over the Tranquility SE.
During a break while I was testing Abisque on one of my systems, I turned on another system that previously had it installed, and, well, I turned it off. I just had no interest in listening to music without the filter installed. That was true for each system I tested. Without the filter, there was no point in listening. I've never quite had a tweak "ruff me up" and “turn my ear” like that before. It's pretty ridiculous what this little device does.
If you're feeding your DAC with a computer using USB, you'd be very, very silly to not try this on your system.
It cleans up everything, but especially the interior of the music.
You can listen into the music in even more depth. The sound of instruments in really good systems reveals more of each instrument’s “curve”; this device opens that ability to hear the entire instrument, in its location and relation in the composition, without that dry analytic sound that often comes with hi-res. This device clarifies and defines but doesn't kill the soul within the music itself; in fact, it becomes liberated. And don’t get me started talking about its effect on bass.
Yeah, this is big flowery stuff, a really big gush, but tell me it isn't true for you after you install an Ultra Fi Abisque on your USB DAC.
Ultra Fi DAC-41