Reviews

by Kevin OBrien on October 25, 2013

RMAF 2013 - YFS SHOW REPORT

Denver is a great place to be this time of year. The fall colors and the cool, crisp air remind me that the snow will be flying just around the corner.  For now though, the weather is great, the foliage is amazing, and it's audio time in the Mile High City.

We're taking the time out to give the folks who could not make the journey to Denver a peek into what went on in the YFS Room at the 10th annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. We were truly grateful for having Meitner DesignConstellation Audio, and Von Schweikert Audio support us at this year's show. Thank you Shahin, Peter, and Albert for an amazing opportunity to show the world your truly outstanding gear.

An equipment list below gives our readers a glimpse into the scene inside room 542. As always, there's a little left to be desired as far as the room layout goes but most exhibitors pretty much had the same room to work with. We were looking into renting a ballroom but that's not going to happen ANY time soon due to pricing.

 

 

The YFS Room was lucky enough to be graced by some of the hardest working reviewers in the industry including Jonathan Valin of The Absolute Sound, Stephen Mejias from Stereophile, and Mal & Kirsten Kenney from Part-Time Audiophile. I'm sure we're forgetting a few others, namely from Enjoy The Music and Stereomojo, and a few other reviewers from some other audiophile magazines we can't remember at this point.

We don't want to forget to give a shout-out to Chris Connaker at Computer Audiophile. He stopped by our room on Thursday to chat and talk computer audio as per usual and discuss the latest Pearl Jam happenings. Thank you guys for taking the time out to come listen, snap photos, and give us feedback. We truly appreciate it. We would also like to thank all the showgoers who showed up to chat and listen to our latest designs. It's always fun to catch up and describe our latest iterations of computer audio madness. In fact, this year we debuted our brand new YFS Mac Mini which we are truly excited about. Thank you folks.

We would really like to thank Jonathan Valin for taking the time to stop by our room. We don't play analog sources such as vinyl or tape at any of the audio shows we exhibit at. Unfortunately, those are his favorite sources, but he still managed to give a listen to our system and compliment us on our sound. In fact, it turns out he liked our tonal balance and presentation along with our smooth sound...

YFS has some announcements it would like to make regarding some new developments that took place this year at the show. We became Authorized Endeavor Audio dealers! Check out their brand new E-3 floor standing loudspeaker pictured above. Holy crap did these things sound good for the money. In fact, they sounded great regardless of cost. Nice work Endeavor Audio! We also ran into Mat Weisfeld from VPI who hopefully will welcome us back into the VPI family. (We were recent dealers up until a year or so ago). It was great talking with you at the show Mat. And yes, we do actually listen to vinyl.

EMM Labs will be coming out with a firmware update for their DAC2X some time in the near future which should give the Meitner MA-1 as well as the DAC2X a nice boost in performance. EMM Labs will also be debuting a new Reference DAC some time next year which utilizes a two-chassis design. One chassis houses the power supply and the other chassis is for the D to A conversion circuitry. Pricing will come in at ~ $30,000.

Overall, we had a great time at the 2013 RMAF and we hope next year is even better as far as attendance goes. If there were any complaints, that would be it. It seemed like less folks were at the show this year in comparison to last year's show. We were assuming the Broncos game and the beer fest were partly to blame but I have a feeling the recent flooding in Colorado was really the reason attendance was down. Hopefully folks will rebuild and be back for 2014.

Until next year...

-YFS Design Team

 

by Kevin OBrien on June 5th 2013

NEWPORT BEACH T.H.E. SHOW 2013 - YFS SHOW REPORT

The YFS / VSA crew is back from Newport Beach, CA and we must say it was a great show. We would like to thank all the visitors for stopping in and saying hello, and most importantly, for taking the time out to hear our gear. THANK YOU.

The weather was fabulous and the music was superb. We have some pics to share with our readers and a few notes we feel are worthy of mentioning. A big thanks goes out to Peter Breuninger, Robert Harley, Jason Serinus, and all the reviewers who came to visit our room. We'd also like to give a shout out to Peter at Constellation Audio. His amps are AMAZING. THANK YOU guys!

 

 

I also wanted to personally thank Paul Zimmer and Leif Swanson as well as Devon Von Schweikert for their help setting our room up and doing the heavy lifting. You guys are awesome! A lot of folks don't realize these are the guys that make these shows happen. Thank you!

 

 

First off, let's get everybody familiar with what we had on display. There's always some confusion it seems about what was in the show rack so we'll give you a list below.

 

 

We felt we got some pretty decent sound. The room is always a battle but things seemed to sound good right out of the gate which was a nice change of pace. We tweaked the system Thursday and then a little more on Friday and by Saturday things were sounding GREAT.

We had plenty of folks in and out of the room throughout the weekend but the main highlights for me were meeting Fred from Audio Prana representing Metrum Acoustics, Dusty from Channel Islands Audio, John Thompson from J.River, Steve from Empirical Audio, as well as a host of other non industry-affiliated folks.

 

 

After speaking with Steve from Empirical Audio, we cannot wait to get our hands on Steve's Off Ramp 6 SPDIF converter which should be coming out in the near future. It implements the XMOS USB input chip and should be compatible with all Linux, Mac and Windows based computer transports. We're excited!

 

 

The California atmosphere, the weather, as well as the really NICE cars outside of the Irvine Hilton were all reminders that we're some of the luckiest guys on the planet. We get to play with VSA speakers and mind blowing amps and DACs all in the name of providing outstanding sound for the most discerning audiophiles. What more could we ask for? (OK, a winning lottery ticket would be nice!)

 

 

Well, that pretty much wraps things up for us and we're excited to show some really cool NEW products from VSA at the upcoming Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in Denver. You'll all have to wait and see what we're referring to. You won't be disappointed!!!

THANKS for reading!

 - YFS Design Team

 

by Kevin OBrien on March 21st, 2013

YFS-VSA AXPONA 2013 SHOW REPORT


We are all back safe and mostly sound from Axpona 2013 and we have to say it was a great trip and an awesome show! Here's a 'thank you' to the city of Chicago and to Steve for putting on a great show. We have a feeling we'll be back next year for the great food, the great sounds, and the incredible gear. We also wanted to thank Albert and Damon Von Schweikert and the entire VSA family for giving us the opportunity to share the Othello Room.

The room sounded great and we can't thank VSA enough for an overall top-notch weekend. We don't want to forget to thank Joe Lavrencik from Critical Mass Systems for supplying the killer component stands in our room. A 'thank you' goes out to Shahin at EMM Labs as well. Thank you Shahin for getting us the EMM Labs DAC2X in time to get it integrated into our rack for the show. Everything sounded great!

We wanted to give our readers a glimpse of the Axpona '13 YFS-VSA component list. We figured posting it for you to see would be the easiest way to do this. Our line-up was incredible as far as the gear was concerned and the VSA VR-100XS speaker system was absolutely glorious! We were thankful for the opportunity to show our latest iteration of the YFS HD Ref-3 server, the Limited Edition. The LE version of our Ref-3 takes an already great source component and elevates it to a new level.

We keep everything the same as the Special Edition but implement an 8-core processor, our latest YFS DC power supplies, and our latest YFS Reference dual-headed USB interconnect. The DC linear power supplies can be seen in the photo above. They are the two silver boxes below the HD Ref-3 LE.

The YFS 12V DC power supply powers the SOtM USB PCI card and the YFS 5V DC power supply powers the USB power for the EMM Labs DAC2X via our new YFS dual-headed USB cable. See our EMM Labs DAC2X review for more info. We wanted to note that we were displaying a special new Master Built USB cable as well which uses Delphi Aerospace conductors. These conductors are identical to the rest of the Master Built Signature cable line conductors, hence the price.

We received some "Best of Show" awards from various reviewers so we know we're on the right track. We'd like to thank Myles Astor, Peter Breuninger, and all The Absolute Sound staff as well as the Stereophile staff for taking their time out to listen and give us their feedback. We'd also like to thank Greg Weaver, the senior editor over at Positive-Feedback who will be reviewing our HD Ref-3 SE this summer... Greg Weaver also gave us a "Best of Show" award for the Axpona event.

THANKS Guys!

The shot above shows the YFS-VSA team. Pictured from left to right: Brad Easton, Mike O'Brien, Kevin O'Brien, Albert Von Schweikert, and Damon Von Schweikert. Here's a link to VSA's Facebook page which has more info on the show awards, etc. that were given out for our Othello Room set up. And yes, we were part of the room although YFS was not mentioned specifically in the video. 

We hope to see you all at the next audio show... Until next time.

-YFS Design Team

 

by Kevin OBrien on 02/14/2017

JPLAY 6.2 SOFTWARE REVIEW

I want to personally thank Marcin from JPLAY for being so generous and turning us onto this game-changing software.

It took me a while to find the time to give JPlay a shot. About almost 2 years to be exact. But here I am and I'm writing this article to tell as many readers as I can that JPlay is the real deal. There is no need for debate on this topic any longer. All of us here at YFS start with theory and end with our ears. That's the ultimate test: what sounds best to us at the end of the day.

JPlay has transformed my system into something I could never have imagined. If you cannot hear the difference between JPlay's basic stripped down JPLAYmini stand-alone player and your current software for Windows, there's a problem with your system. It's that simple.

I've never heard my music the way it sounds with JPLAYmini. There's added dimensionality, more life-like sound, and I am hearing things I never noticed before in my favorite albums. It feels like I have unleashed a newly upgraded system with updated fully burned-in gear. The reality is the only change in my system is my choice of playback software. To me, that speaks loudly enough for me to recommend JPLAY to all my customers using Windows-based servers.

Album Player was our go-to software up until now. I still love Album Player but it sounds boring now compared to JPLAY's suite. JRiver is great for users who want to see their artwork and tag their files. If you want a very neat and tidy way to get ALL of your music in front of you with album art, artist and album names, JRiver is the suite of choice. If you want the best possible sound from your dedicated Windows-based music server, JPLAY has no competition.

Marcin gave me a few hints as to which specific settings should be used to get the best possible sound quality out of my YFS Ref-3 server. Kernel Streaming (Ultra Stream) with a PC Buffer set to 10 seconds along with the DAC Link set to 1 Hz seems to be the preferred way to set up JPLAYmini. This comes directly from the manufacturer. See the JPLAY settings window above for reference (values are not set correctly above but are shown to give end users an idea of where specific settings are located within the pop-up window). If settings are not compatible with your hardware, JPLAYmini may give you an error. It may just play your tracks and you'll get no sound from your speakers. That is how things worked for me. Until I aligned the settings correctly with my hardware, I could not switch back and forth between all formats (DSD64 and DSD128 along with PCM 24.192 files) without spitting out errors in the JPLAYmini window.

Sound quality is the utmost important factor for us when deciding on gear and this comparison between suites was no different. For 100 Euros, I cannot think of money better spent. Most of my audiophile investments cost much more and give me much smaller gains for my money.

Give JPlay a shot. Use it as a stand-alone product and you will be kindly rewarded for your efforts.  I guarantee it.

 - YFS Review Team

 Associated Equipment for this Review:

  • YFS Computer Music Server - HD-Ref-3
  • EMM Labs DA2 DSD DAC
  • McIntosh C2300 Preamp with Siemens NOS Tubes
  • McIntosh MC202 Monoblocks (1 Pair)
  • Von Schweikert Unifield II Mk3 Speakers
  • YFS Custom Room Treatment
  • YFS Custom Interconnects and Cables

 

JRIVER MEDIA CENTER 17 COMPUTER AUDIOPHILE SOFTWARE REVIEW

We know most folks in the audiophile world are afraid of drastic change and have adhered to the general audio source rules for a while now. We used to adhere to the same rules as well. A few of them are: "Computers are not good audio sources and do not sound as good as CD transports for digital." or "I listen to vinyl so why would I bother with a computer for an audio source?" or "Digital files are compressed and lossy such as MP3's and AAC files. Why would I play those types of files on my $100,000 system?" etc. I think I've heard them all and I used to say the same things until very recently. We here at YFS understand the stigma involved with using a computer in your audiophile system. It does seem scary and the software can become a nightmare to install especially if it's your first try. That is why we are writing this review. We want the folks who have been on the fence about computer audio to finally make the jump and come into the new digital age as painlessly as possible.

We would like to provide our readers some details and insight into the computer audio software that we have recently tried out called JRiver. We were using the FREE software package called Foobar 2000 for a while now with great results. Did we mention it's FREE? Hence our main reason for using it. We have been aware of the JRiver Media Center software suite for a while now but the idea of paying $50 for software when we could get another great program for free has always been a turn-off. It does pay to keep an open mind though as I'm finding out. When we were setting up our computer vs. CD transport reviews we had trouble getting the original Musical Fidelity V-DAC to accept a bit-perfect digital signal via USB so we decided to give JRiver a try. We're glad we did. Unfortunately, we have experience with PC's and we do not cover a solution for a Mac. We apologize as we know there are a considerable amount of Apple users out there. Amarra may be your software of choice if you use i-tunes although it's MUCH more expensive than JRiver.

This process is valid for USB to SPDIF converters as well as USB DAC's. Whether your converter or DAC has an Asynchronous USB input is important as well. The original MF V-DAC does not have an Asynchronous USB input. Most USB DACs on the market nowadays have Asynchrounous USB inputs so this should not be an issue for most users anymore.

As it turns out, JRiver provides the end user with many more options than Foobar, all embedded WITHIN the program. You can get to the same end-point with Foobar but it can take more time and the user must be fairly comfortable with installing and tweaking computer software. For instance, if you want to try WASAPI or ASIO you must download the corresponding Foobar plug-in and then install it within the Foobar program. This can be a problem for many users who have a hard enough time installing the main program let alone all the extras. Below you will find a step-by-step process to walk you through a typical JRiver Ver. 17 installation. The only change for your personal system will be the type of drivers you will install for the specific DAC you are using. These drivers should be downloadable from your DAC manufacturer's website or they should be enclosed on a CD-ROM with your DAC along with the rest of the accessories. (Your device may be driver-less. Such is the case with Musical Fidelity USB DAC's) We will assume here the user is running Windows 7 on their PC. If Windows XP is your software of choice, the Kernel Streaming plug-in or the ASIO plug-in for Foobar 2000 may be your only option for bit-perfect digital playback as the WASAPI plugin for Foobar is not supported in XP! WASAPI bit-perfect output is only supported in Windows Vista and Windows 7. We have not tried JRiver Version 17 in XP but I assume it works well. Another option for bit-perfect playback in XP could be the ASIO4ALL program in conjunction with Foobar 2000. Make sure to give this software a try! It matches the resolution of your digital files to your DAC resolution for maximum and optimal compatibility, all on it's own. We have had success with it running in Windows 7 in conjunction with 'another program' we're going to share with you in the near future.  

First, let's make sure we're in "Exclusive Mode" and have the Windows Sound Enhancements turned off. The user must enter the following path to get to the adjustments: 'Control Panel' -> 'Hardware and Sound' -> 'Sound'.  Make sure your proper USB Sound Device is set to default.                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Once you know you have the correct device enabled, hit the 'Properties' button in the bottom right-hand corner of the current window.

Make sure you have BOTH boxes checked under the 'Exclusive Mode' heading on the 'Advanced' tab.

Make sure you disable the Sound Enhancements as well on the 'Enhancements' tab.

  

Now, let's talk about what all these terms above mean. The user can usually install the proprietary drivers from their DAC manufacturer, install the JRiver software, select their device within JRiver, and be on their way. Unfortunately, most of the time this involves using the default output mode called direct sound.

All of the features we are about to describe are accessed by pressing "Ctl+O" to get to the "Options" main menu. Make sure you select the correct device under the "Output mode settings" heading under the "Audio Output" menu. Here the user can also change the output buffer size depending on the performance of his or her machine. You may have to play around with this a little to get it right where it needs to be.                                                                                                          

Let's get back to our "direct sound" description. This option sends your music stream to your DAC but it gets Windows involved during the process. This is not desirable for audiophile playback as it does not allow the music stream to go unaltered to your DAC. To solve this problem, the user must enable the WASAPI output or ASIO output option under the "Audio" menu. Go to the first available heading under "Audio" named "Audio Output". The user will see an option called "Output mode:".  Set the output mode to WASAPI or ASIO.  IT IS SET TO "DIRECT SOUND" BY DEFAULT.  Not all devices support ASIO but WASAPI should work for almost all devices. Just remember, ASIO is the preferred configuration if at all possible! Either  of these configurations as well as Kernel Streaming allows the user to achieve a bit-perfect digital signal out of their computer into their USB device just like a CD transport sends its digital signal to a DAC.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

If you're using an advanced music server that has a dual-core processor and 8 GB of RAM and want to take advantage of your hardware, you can tell JRiver to play your digital files in 'Memory Mode' for even better performance. This is done by checking the "Play files from memory instead of disk" box under the "Settings" heading under the "Audio" menu. This should improve your performance if your computer can handle it.

The next step would be to choose the output format you would like your digital files to be output in. We are talking in terms of bit-depth and sample rate. What I mean is, it's time to tell JRiver you want to play all your files upsampled to 24/96 even though your source files may be 16/44 or vice versa. This is one very nice feature that I have not been able to find in Foobar. You CAN change the bit-depth parameter in Foobar but not the sampling rate as far as I can tell. You can even tell JRiver to downsample your 24/192 files to 24/96. This is especially useful if your DAC only supports 24/96 files. This is accomplished by going into the heading "DSP & output format" under the "Settings" heading and telling the program to output in either 8, 16, 24, 32, or 64 bits. We were able to get up to 32 bits working but not 64. To change the sample rate of your files you need to go into the "DSP & output format" menu under the "Settings" heading and click on the associated table. Each sample rate can be set to stay the same or change to whatever sample rate you prefer depending on the incoming sample rate JRiver sees from your source files. Very slick!

With this scenario above we were able to get "WASAPI Event Style" to work. We matched our native  resolution of our V-DAC to the output resolution in JRiver. If you try and push your server/ DAC combo  beyond it's capabilities, your computer may crash as we experienced. Only now we were able to get bit-perfect digital output from our server via USB to our Musical Fidelity V-DAC MkI!  

There are a plethora of various other options the user can toggle through at his or her leisure. There's even a "Room Correction" feature as well as "Volume Leveling" and many others. We have not bothered to adjust any of these other parameters as we have tried to keep the outgoing signal as free from DSP effects as possible. Play around as you see fit.

We would like to mention that WAV files can be ripped using Foobar or EAC which preserves all of the quality in the original CD. You do NOT have to accept or put up with lossy formats such as MP3, WMA, and i-tunes AAC files in this day and age. Just don't do it! 

One thing we did notice that should interest computer audiophiles is that there is a noticeable difference in sound between Foobar and JRiver. To me, JRiver sounds a bit warmer and Foobar gives you more of that "in your face" sound. Try them both to see which you prefer. You've got options here folks which is great!

I hope this review has enlightened you as well as provided some valuable information. We really hope you try the various software suites we have touched upon, especially JRiver. I'm sure there are a few more software playback suites available and it's only a matter of time until we get to try them and report back. Hopefully this will help our readers with their installs and if there are any questions out there, don't hesitate to e-mail us and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

ENJOY!

- KOB, BJE

Associated Equipment for this Review:

  • YFS/ SCH Custom Speakers
  • YFS Custom Room Treatment
  • Musical Fidelity V-DAC
  • YFS Custom CA-60a Preamp and Custom 6L6 Tube Power Amp
  • YFS Custom Interconnects and Cables

 

by Kevin OBrien and Brad Easton on 03/27/2012

ALBUM PLAYER V5.3 SOFTWARE SUITE REVIEW

We would like to give some props to our favorite digital files playback suite called Album Player. We have touched on JRiver as well as Foobar 2000 but we haven't discussed an alternative suite yet. Sure, JRiver has an option to buffer your files to your server's memory before playback but does it really do the best job at this? By the end of this review, you'll know the answer to that question. We are assuming the user will be implementing Windows XP or Windows 7. We will not be covering any other OS in this review.

We stumbled upon two players a short while ago called JPlay and Album Player. We were pretty excited about JPlay at first and then we realized Album Player is just plain better in terms of user friendliness.  JPlay is the better player for that no frills, (no GUI) top-notch computer source playback. Although when we are done here, you may find Album Player is the playback software of choice for the foreseeable future just like we did.

Technically speaking, JPlay is not a digital files player by itself. It integrates within Foobar 2K or JRiver to accomplish its tasks (plug-in). Album Player is a totally separate, stand-alone player that does not integrate within another player. It's important to make this clear for potential customers of either suite. JPlay costs 99 Euros and Album Player will set the user back just under 30 Euros. That's quite a difference in cost!

Let's begin with the difference between JPlay and Album Player v5.3. AP is available to install as a mouse and keyboard suite or the user can decide to install it as a touch screen suite. VERY COOL!  JPlay has even better performance than AP by allowing background OS tasks to be shut down completely and therefore use less of your server's resources during playback. This is only true in the case where the user is using a laptop instead of a more powerful dedicated music server. If the user is able to implement a dedicated music server that is on the cutting edge technology-wise, the AP suite will perform just as well as JPlay but give the user a more friendly user interface.

The other reason we like AP more than JPlay is that AP is the easiest playback suite to set up that we have come across to date! Check out the screen shot below to adjust the 'Audio' settings within AP. There's only one or two options to choose from.

The user must hit the "sprocket" or "gear" button directly above the "N'" in "SOMETHIN' ELSE" in the screen shot below. This allows the user to enter the "Preferences Menu". The "stack of discs" button next to the "Preferences Menu" button points the user into the "Database Menu" where you can add your digital files and edit them. Make sure to use the "Collection Editor" within the "Database Menu" to delete albums from the AP database after you delete them from your hard disc. The "Database Menu" is somewhat tricky to use at first but it becomes easier as you continue to use it. 

Now hit the "Preferences" button about half-way down the screen shot above. The user will now set up the software for his or her specific DAC. Make sure you have installed your DAC's drivers and that your DAC can 'talk' with your server before you start AP. Also make sure the DAC is turned on before starting the AP application. If not, the DAC will not be selected as the 'Sound Device' and sound will most likely be output via your computer speakers. Select your device (aka your DAC) under the "Sound Device" heading. One important note here. It shows in the screen shot below that checking the ASIO box is the only bit-perfect scenario within AP. You must check that box and have ASIO4ALL installed on your computer. We were able to get the ASIO option to work with the Minimax DAC Plus after we installed its driver from the Eastern Electric website. ASIO is the ONLY way to get bit-perfect playback via Album Player!  We spoke with Peter van der Burg, the AP software designer, and he confirmed with us that the ASIO option is the only bit-perfect playback scenario within AP. 

Now you need to make sure you select the correct WDM device so ASIO4ALL knows which device to use. Hit the "Control Panel" button within the "Preferences Menu" under the "Audio" heading after checking the "ASIO Support Enabled" box.  The screen shot below shows the user how to select the proper audio device within ASIO4ALL. Double-click the correct device so the "on/off" switch is lit up next to the "play" button and you should be ready to begin playing files! The user can also change various playback settings in the same "Preferences Menu" window by going into the other options such as "Crossfade" and "Normalization".  We prefer our tracks to play gapless and we turn Replay Gain off (Normalization).                                                                                                                                                               

Once we were able to get AP and JPlay set up properly, we compared the two playback scenarios and we could not tell a difference between them. If there was a difference between JPlay and Album Player, it was ever so slight. The important thing to note here is that many folks will not be able to tell a difference between JRiver/ Foobar 2K and Album Player/ JPlay if they are simply using a laptop as their music server. In this case JPlay may be the best option as it turns off all background applications while playing your files.

We did notice a difference while using our YFS HD-Ref-1 server. AP/ JPlay definitely was a step up in sound quality over Foobar/ JRiver in our system. Your mileage may vary.

Another very cool aspect of Album Player was the way it handled playback among our laptops that we have used in the past. We had plenty of trouble trying to set up laptops with our various USB DAC's. We kept getting random audio drop-outs as well as other issues. When we tried Album Player on the same laptops, they played seamlessly without ANY issues. The drop-outs occurred for the first few minutes and then AP "learned" how to adapt to it's environment and the drop-outs went away EVERY time after a short while and lasted through our entire listening session. This was true for EVERY file resolution we tried including 24.192. This aspect alone was a huge selling point to us.

Hopefully we've opened some users' eyes to some new software suites for digital playback. That was our goal here. Give these software suites a try and keep an open mind and keep your CD transport turned OFF!!!

THANKS for reading!

 -KOB, BJE

 

Associated Equipment for this Review:

  • YFS Computer Music Server - HD-Ref-1
  • Eastern Electric Minimax DAC Plus
  • Quicksilver Audio 12AX7 Preamp
  • McIntosh MC275 Tubed Power Amp
  • Von Schweikert VR-5 HSE Speakers
  • YFS Custom Room Treatment
  • YFS Custom Interconnects and Cables
  • Herbie's Audio Lab Dampening Products

 

by Kevin OBrien on 05/14/2017

JCAT FEMTO USB CARD REVIEW

I want to thank Marcin from JPLAY for sending out his latest updated PCI-e USB 3.0 card, the 'FEMTO', to YFS for a test drive. He assured me this card would outperform all other 'Audiophile USB Cards' currently on the market. Let's take a look at the latest JCAT computer audio accessory and see how it stacks up to the rest of the field.

The first thing I noticed when I received the USB card was that there was a set of instructions inside the box for reference and set-up. Letting the user know how to set up the USB card is of the utmost importance and it seems this very crucial first step gets missed all too often. A simple search for the manual can be found online but it's nice to have a physical sheet of paper in your hands so you don't need to stop your install to check the manual online. See the instructions I received in the box below for reference.

 

Setting up the card was straight forward. I moved the factory positioned jumpers to the appropriate updated settings to match my system. I arranged the jumpers to use the internal Molex power connector utilizing the included filtration on the card. My 5.0 Volt 1 Amp YFS linear power supply was used to power the card. Marcin recommends using a high quality linear power supply to get the best performance out of the FEMTO. After seating the card into an open PCI-e slot inside my YFS Ref-3 music server, I was off to the races. Drivers were not needed as my Windows 10 operating system automatically detected the NEC USB controller. This is the first time I have had a computer peripheral just work without any hiccups. My hat goes off to JCAT for a making a high quality product that works the first time minimizing the need to pull my hair out during set up.

The FEMTO was played for 3 weeks continuously to make sure the new card had time to "settle in" before any impressions were made. I have used every single 'Audiophile USB Card' on the computer audio scene and the FEMTO is the only solution that did not develop some sort of issue after initial set up. Other cards I have tried would not seat themselves properly within the PCI slot and would suddenly be unrecognized by my OS. Trying yet another set of cards from an alternate manufacturer would yield more function-less hardware based on software configuration changes / Windows updates, etc. Maybe this is just plain and simple bad luck on my part? Speaking to our customers and other users, it seems I am not alone with my experiences though. I experienced none of these issues with the FEMTO and that was the greatest challenge to overcome for me personally: how do I find a USB audio output card that will be a reliable performer and sound great to recommend to my customers.

I am confident the FEMTO will work, stay reliable, and sound great for any customer I recommend it to. That's hard to come by these days it seems when dealing with the small niche of computer audiophile manufacturers. This is the main hurdle users cite when reasoning their way out of getting into computer audio.

As far as sound quality is concerned, the FEMTO can hang with any USB output card available. It can also surpass the sound quality of any USB card currently on the market if implemented with a quality linear power supply. We are excited that we now have a legitimate USB 3.0 output card solution for our Ref-3 Windows-based servers. If you want a high quality USB card and you're willing to pay slightly more than the competition, the FEMTO will deliver.

A big thank you goes out to Marcin at JPLAY for turning YFS onto the JCAT line of products for PC audio applications.

If you are interested in finding out what a FEMTO USB card can do for your system, feel free to contact us. We would love nothing more than to get a FEMTO into your hands. YFS is now an authorized JPLAY and JCAT dealer so your purchase through YFS is supported and backed by the manufacturer.

Thanks for reading...

 - YFS Review Team

 Associated Equipment for this Review:

  • YFS Computer Music Server - HD-Ref-3
  • EMM Labs DA2 DSD DAC
  • McIntosh C2300 Preamp with Siemens NOS Tubes
  • McIntosh MC202 Monoblocks (1 Pair)
  • Von Schweikert Unifield II Mk3 Speakers
  • YFS Custom Room Treatment
  • YFS Custom Interconnects and Cables

 

by Kevin OBrien on 08/02/2011

EQUITECH 1.5Q COUPLED WITH PS AUDIO PPP

I have heard from the audiophile grapevine that a sweet combination for a power reconditioning system would consist of a PS Audio Power Plant Premier reconditioner COMBINED with an Equitech Isolation Transformer for the ultimate power conditioning system for the ultimate audio and video experience. Well, I went ahead and did it. I know PS Audio has recently come out with the P5 and P10 power reconditioners but lets talk about the earlier Power Plant Premier that we are all quite familiar with I'm sure.

The premise of the PPP is that you can achieve a better audio/ video performance throughout your system by creating perfect, clean, reconditioned power for all your components. I never used to believe any of this until I tried a PS Audio P600 reconditioner back in 2005. All I could say was WOW. It made a huge difference especially in terms of soundstage width and depth as well as detail retrieval. The music just seemed to "hang" in the air in front of you when all your components were using "reconditioned" power.

Equitech provides a balanced power system by running 60V on the hot line and running 60V on the neutral line and carrying the noise on the ground. This is what recording studios have been doing for a while now. The normal convention in an unbalanced system would place 120V on the hot line and 0V on the neutral line and you still have the ground but supposedly considerable noise can be introduced into your system.

I heard a while back that an interesting audiophile experiment would be to try and incorporate an Equitech Isolation Transformer with a PPP. I couldn't help myself and I had to give it a try once the idea popped into my head. So what kind of results would this experiment yield? Pretty cool results indeed.

By itself, the Equitech 1.5Q is an exceptional product in my opinion. Unfortunately it does not remedy the problem of distortion infiltrating your system on the incoming line from your home's power. This is solved by first using the PPP to reproduce perfect, low distortion, AC power and then plugging the Equitech 1.5Q into it to achieve an even lower noise floor than the PPP can achieve.

Unfortunately, either of the products by themselves is not ideal. The PPP can control the output voltage to your components by turning the potentiometer underneath the unit. This is a dirty little secret PS Audio does not want you to know since some of the PPP units were damaged during shipping and this option could potentially be non-functional. Let's hope this isn't the case for you because 117V sounds absolutely great with tubed gear! The 1.5RQ cannot control the output voltage but drops the noise floor 20dB less than the PPP and adds the all-important balanced power output the newer power plants do not produce.

I must say, after getting my hands on an Equitech, I gave it a try and it was definitely worth it. The noise floor dropped a noticeable amount. Now whether it was the spec'd 20dB less than the PPP, I'm not certain but I know what I am hearing and it's VERY nice.

I can highly recommend the combination but I don't know how durable the PPP is since I had to send it back to PS Audio for repairs after about a year of use. I believe this is why they came out with the newer P5 and P10 reconditioners. Either way, PS Audio has been nothing but great with their customer service and I appreciate them being able to fix my unit free of charge without even asking when I purchased the unit. This is a good thing. Good customer service is a godsend in the event you need to use it. 

Getting back to the point, if you are interested in the PPP because of its ability to produce perfect, clean, voltage-controllable power but are worried about the fact at it's not using balanced power with a super-low noise floor, then this is where the Equitech comes in and saves the day. PS Audio could not keep the size down and efficiency of the PPP up without losing the balanced output. Fortunately the Equitech solves this problem by allowing the user to plug the 1.5Q into the PPP and achieve the perfect power union. I assume the newer P5 and P10 can come close to this combination but have not had the opportunity to try them as of yet so we will keep you informed as things change. Either way, this power combo is a pleasure to use and really does make a considerable difference.

 

Associated Equipment for this Review:

  • Von Schweikert VR-5 HSE (Hovland Special Edition) Speakers
  • Quicksilver tubed Linsestage and Monoblocks
  • EE Minimax DAC Bolder Cables Level 1 Modified
  • IBM Laptop with Foobar 2K Digital Audio Source
  • Theta Digital Carmen II CD Transport
  • EE Minimax Phono Stage
  • VPI Scoutmaster Turntable with VPI Zephyr Cartridge
  • YFS Custom Cables & Interconnects
  • YFS Custom Room Treatment
  • Herbies Audio Lab Dampening Devices and Tube Dampers

 

by Kevin OBrien on May 15th, 2014

YFS MAC MINI VS. CORE AUDIO MAC MINI

We somehow got our hands on the Kora linear power supply manufactured by Core Audio Technology. We wanted to take one of their modified Mac Mini's mated with their Kora power supply and compare it to our latest YFS Mac Mini and PS-12m linear power supply combination. That's exactly what we did and you can read about it in the article below. We want to thank one of our great YFS customers for his kindness and his huge heart. Thanks for letting us borrow your personal digital front end for this review. Thanks again Joe!

First of all, let's talk about what a lot of folks have been telling us for the past few years. Most folks see our YFS modified Mac Mini and they say, "All computers sound the same, why would I pay for that?" That's a great statement and a great question. Let us explain our thoughts and give you a thoughtful answer.

We've noticed each and every computer sounds different when hooked up to the same DAC. The same goes for CD transports. If you're not a believer in transports sounding different from one another then this is where you'll most likely stop reading. That's fine with us. If you feel digital is digital and all digital sources sound the same, we cannot convince you of anything we'll be touching on in this review. That's okay. If you've done the listening and comparisons as we have, you know each digital source is not created equal. 0's and 1's do depend on how they are 'extracted' from each source and streamed to your DAC. The USB cable, the digital coax cable, SPDIF converter (if you choose to go that route), as well as the transport, all come into play and contribute to how your DAC, and ultimately, your entire system will sound.

We like to ask the question, "If all digital transports sound the same, why are there so many CD / computer transport manufacturers?" If they're all the same, each transport should sound identical and there would be no reason to shell out big bucks on a transport. The user would just buy the cheapest unit and be done with it. We know folks have been spending big bucks on transports and DAC's for years and it's obvious to us and our customers that digital isn't that simple and straight forward. All 0's and 1's are not created equal.

We decided to prove this concept to a few folks local to us in the Boulder area. We set up a comparison of the Core Audio Mini / Kora PS and the YFS Mini / PS-12m and let them decide which source sounded better. We placed both units on our rack and attached two identical V-Link 192 SPDIF converters to each Mini using our YFS 'Split' Reference USB cable. We then used our Reference 75 Ohm coax cable to go from the V-Link 192's to our EMM Labs DAC2X. This was the only way we could level the playing field and actually compare transports and not some other piece of gear in the chain.

Once both units were set up and allowed to play for 8 hours, we began to switch back and forth between the two. We told the few folks that were in attendance to listen to both inputs on the DAC2X and tell us which input they liked better. We didn't tell the listeners which input was which. This way we could truly find out which source sounded better without letting any personal bias come into the equation. The blind A-B listening test is the only fair comparison in our eyes. Otherwise, you know which source you're switching to and you already have a predetermined bias in your head.

The Core Audio setup consisted of a 2010 Mach2Music Mac Mini with Ryan's internal filter replacing Apple's internal switching PS. The Kora linear power supply hooked up directly to the rear of the Mini via an umbilical. The digital playback suite consisted of Audirvana Plus (latest version) and FLAC / WAV files were streamed to the V-Link 192 via USB and from there streamed via coax cable to the DAC2X.

The YFS setup consisted of our 2012 Mac Mini with our YFS version of the internal filter which replaced the stock Apple switcher. Both Mini's were armed with SSD's for their respective OS X. Our YFS PS-12m linear power supply hooked to the rear of the Mini using our YFS umbilical. The YFS unit was also implementing the Audirvana Plus digital suite (latest version) and all the settings were matched on both units to make things fair. iTunes was disabled in both cases and FLAC and WAV files were auditioned. No DSD was played as we do not have two DAC2X's.

 

The first thing we'd like to note is that after testing each source, we realized they both sounded REALLY good! They should for the money. But, there was a clear winner every time and it was universal which unit was better. Please contact us for the results of our testing. We don't want to make enemies or hurt anyone's feelings and that's not our intention here. This test was done due to popular demand from our customers.

We strive to create the best components we can, by hand, here in the USA. We also aim to make all YFS products as robust and well thought-out as possible. It seems to be working. We have received plenty of feedback from YFS Mini customers and we can get you in touch with actual clients if you'd like to hear their opinions.

There's never any reason to over-hype things as the proof is in the pudding. Once you get your YFS source component home and you hear it for yourself, we don't want to deal with having to explain why things aren't sounding the way we hyped them up to sound. If we just tell the truth, there are no stories to remember and no lies to live up to. We're not businessmen, we're engineers and that shows in everything we do.

Feel free to contact us and we will privately lay out the major differences between our YFS PS-12m, the Core Audio Kora, the Mojo Audio Joule III, and any other PS we've got our hands on. We are engineers during the day and we are YFS creators at night. We are more than happy to show you where that extra coin is going when you purchase our YFS linear PS over the competition's power supply. Drop us a line and we can talk.

THANKS for reading and let us know if we can answer any questions you may have about our YFS Mini / PS-12m combo. We're here to help, serve, and spread great sounding digital gear to those who appreciate paying a little more and waiting a little bit longer for 'state of the art' performance.

Until next time...

-YFS Design Team

 

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