iFi Audio nano - iGalvanic3.0 and Mercury3.0 USB Cable

nano - iGalvanic3.0
Device Type: USB Enhancement Device
Dimensions (L x W x H): 93mm x 67mm x 28mm
Weight: 128g (0.28 lbs)
Price: $349.00

Mercury3.0 USB Cable
Device Type: USB Cable
Lengths: 0.5 meter and 1 meter
Price: $209/0.5M, $269.00/1. Available with USB 2.0-B connector and USB 3.0-B connector
Availability: through Authorized Dealers
Website: ifi-audio.com

Many audiophiles that I meet ask me about the necessity of using USB enhancement devices and suggest to me that a well-designed USB DAC has no need for these products. I have reviewed many well engineered DACs that have galvanic isolation and take considerable efforts to isolate their USB DAC from computer noise that degrades audio performance. I have found that most, if not all, benefit from the use of USB enhancement devices to a greater or lessor extent. I have had the pleasure to review iFi Audio's excellent micro iUSB3.0; a device that I found to significantly improve the sound of USB DACs driven directly by a computer. The iUSB3.0 delivered an improvement to the USB signal integrity in addition to the power supply function. The USB signal from the computer is completely re-constructed, re-clocked and re-balanced by the iUSB3.0 before being passed on to downstream devices for both USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 DAC connections.

iFi Audio spent two years researching galvanic isolation, not only for USB 2.0, but for USB 3.0 Super Speed. The new nano iGalvanic3.0 offers audiophiles many features to improve the signal obtained from a computer.

From iFi Audio's web site:

"Galvanic isolation is a design technique that separates electrical circuits completely to eliminate stray or noise currents. Signals can pass between galvanically isolated circuits, but stray or noise currents, such as differences in ground potential or currents induced in AC power, are blocked.

"It is these stray currents that create noise in the system. Although iFi audio and others have created devices that kill noise, achieving galvanic isolation on USB 3.0 is the 'holy grail' of computer audio. It has been sought by many but never actually achieved. Until now! The iGalvanic3.0 is the ultimate one-stop USB enhancement solution for every computer audiophile:"

Ifi Audio's features of the nano iGalvanic3.0:

Double REclock2/REgenerate2/REbalance2
As USB is a bi-directional protocol, the iGalvanic3.0 provides unique double REgenerate/REclock/Rebalance before and after galvanic isolation ensuring perfection of transmission on both upstream and downstream.

5.0Gbps USB3.0 Superspeed
The iGalvanic3.0 has two separate galvanic isolation stages; one for USB 2.0 and the other for USB 3.0 since their fundamental design is different.

Stealth Converter
Built-in super low noise-floor (0.5uV) audiophile grade USB power with Panasonic OS-CONs capacitors cabable of a beefy 900mA supply. For the best performance, this Stealth Converter is completely galvanic isolated too.

Ground Link
All computer audio systems are different. Therefore, the iGalvanic3.0 is dedicated for computer audio use and incorporates Ground Link (ISO, RF, DC-RF). A flick of the switch optimizes isolation in systems where there is no, one or multiple Grounds(Earths) which cause hum and/or buzz.

Zero Delay
A highly advanced isolation technology, without any added conversion, processing, timing uncertainties or delays etc.; native, Bit-Perfect with minimal latency.

iFi Audio states that the iGalvanic3.0's measured noise floor is 0.5uV(0.0000005V); bettered only by the iFi's own micro iUSB3.0 (0.1uV).

Setup of the nano iGalvanic3.0
This small device, housed in an aircraft-grade aluminum case for EMI/RFI shielding, does not depend on an external power supply, but is powered from the computer's USB bus power. Using a USB 3.0 port on your computer with a USB 3.0 cable will result up to 900mA output and 500mA on a USB 2.0 port. One can use the short USB 3.0 cable provided with the iGalvanic3.0 for connection to your computer. The only switch on the iGalvanic3.0 offers 3 GroundLink positions to optimize isolation in computer systems:

  • Full Isolation (default - center position)
  • DC to RF soft ground-link (to avoid hum in systems without earth - up position)
  • RF soft ground-link (to avoid audio drop-outs in systems without RF earth - down position)
iFi Audio provides instructions for setup, recommending to first connect the iGalvanic3.0 with the USB 3.0 cable to the computer, and then connecting the DAC. In my system, I had difficulty establishing a link with my DAC. I found that turning the DAC off and back on allowed Windows 10 Pro 64 to recognize my DAC with the iGlavnaic3.0.

There are two indicator LEDs on the iGalvanic3.0: one indicating the computer is connected and the other that a USB 3.0 / 2.0 is connected to the DAC.

The iGalvanic3.0 supports up to 32Bit/768kHz and DSD512 if supported by your DAC.

Associated Components and Software Used in the Evaluation of the iGalvanic3.0
I utilized my Asus G701VI laptop running Windows 10 Pro 64 (Version 1709) unmodified. The Asus G701VI possesses an overclockable Intel Core i7 6820HK processor with 32 GB DDR4 2400Mhz SDRAM and a very fast PCIe Gen3 X4 NVMe SSD. This laptop has 3 USB 3.0 ports as well as a Thunderbolt port (USB type- C). An NVIDIA GeoForce GTX1080 with 8 GB VRAM processes video. This powerful video processor allows significant CUDA offload processing for the Signalyst HQPlayer. The Asus laptop was plugged into a Shunyata Research Hydra DPC-6 v2 distribution center to firewall the noise generated by this computer from contaminating my AC line.

The Asus was placed on a Synergistic Research Tranquility Base UEF grounded with the Synergistic Research High Definition Ground Cable / Grounding Block as was the computer.

A G-Technology 24 TB G|RAID Thunderbolt 3 / USB 3.1 drive was connected to the Asus. The G|RAID Thunderbolt drive was powered by an HDPlex 200w linear power supply plugged into a Shunyata Denali 6000T power conditioner. The G|RAID Thunderbolt drive and its HDPlex power supply were placed on a Synergistic Research Tranquility Base.

The DAC used was the Ayre Acoustics QX-5 Twenty that was placed on a Synergistic Research Tranquility Base UEF.

The music software used for the iGalvanic3.0 evaluation was Roon Server.

Listening Experience with the iGalvanic3.0
I first used the included USB 3.0 cable to connect the iGalvanic3.0 to my computer. I connected my DAC to the iGalvanic3.0 with the iFi Audio Mercury USB cable and the Mercury3.0 USB cable.

A Positive Contribution to the Sound
It didn't take me long to hear the positive contributions of the iGalvanic3.0 when inserted between my Asus laptop and the Ayre QX-5 Twenty. The soundstage appeared larger in both width and depth with an enhancement of overall clarity of the sound. Details emerged from a deeper black background with a slight reduction in hardness or brightness to the sound. Overall, I found the sound to be more engaging and enjoyable with the iGalvanic3.0 installed.

The Addition of the micro iUSB3.0
iFi Audio feels that there is an overall 5-10% enhancement to the overall sound adding the micro iUSB3.0 to the iGalvanic3.0. In addition, they also point out that the addition of the dual headed outputs for separate audio and power lines when using a USB cable like the iFi Audio Gemini can benefit overall performance. In addition, add in the reduction of the noise floor obtained when adding a micro iUSB3.0.

iFi Audio recommended the following sequence for those wishing to combine the nano iGalvanic3.0 with the micro iUSB3.0:

  • If the DAC is USB-powered we recommend PC > iG3 > mUSB3 > DAC
  • If the DAC is internally-powered, we recommend PC > mUSB3 > iG3 > DAC
Using the iPower 9-volt power supply provided with the iUSB3.0, I did notice an observable improvement when the combination of the iGalvanic3.0 and iUSB3.0 were combined to drive my Ayre QX-5 Twenty. I observed that the bass seemed tighter and more impactful, a slight improvement to the overall soundstage size, and superior rendering of transient detail.

Intona Technology USB 2.0 High-Speed Isolator Comparison
The Intona Technology USB 2.0 High-Speed Industrial Version ($319.00) is capable of transmitting USB Hi-Speed (480 MBit/s) while providing full galvanic isolation of both the data and the power lines. For those of you unfamiliar with the Intona isolator, please refer to my AudioStream review of this product.

As good as I found the Intona's sonic contributions to be, the iGalvanic3.0 seemed to make a greater positive difference to the sound of my DAC. The iGalvanic3.0 just seemed clearer and more relaxed sounding than the Intona.

The Mercury3.0 USB Cable
Ifi Audio has reengineered their Mercury USB cable with the release of the Mercury3.0 USB cable. The cable is now a flat design with quadruple shielding that protects the cable from RFI and EMI noise. Power and audio signals are individually transferred which means enhanced shielding and no interference between them. The type of wire used are heavy OFHC continuous copper silver matrix conductors.

The use of 3 metal oxide ceramic RF noise silencers greatly broaden the range over which the RF noise is silenced according to iFi Audio. "Furthermore, the middle silencer is adjustable and can be moved along the whole length of the cable. This "detunes" the antennae formed by the cable, depending on the conditions and requirements in the system. The other 2 silencers should be kept as close to each respective end as possible."

The Final USB connectors used for the Mercury3.0 are machined from solid, aircraft-grade aluminum with gold plated connections.

IFi Audio also feels that the Mercury3.0, with its ultra-speed bandwidth of 5.0Gbs, offers enhanced function as audio transmission standards improve in the future.

I replaced the USB 3.0 cable that came with the iGalvanic3.0 and substituted a Mercury3.0 with a USB 3.0 B connector from the computer to the iGlavnaic3.0. This resulted in a nice bump-up in sound quality over that provided by the standard USB3.0 cable. I heard greater definition at the low end and a little better detail at the high end. The mid-range seemed to acquire a bit of presence that was quite complimentary to the overall sound of the iGalvanic3.0.

The Mercury3.0 USB Cable with USB 2.0-B connector
Sometimes a component delivers performance far beyond what was expected given its price - the Mercury3.0 USB cable with USB 2.0-B connector is such a product. This USB cable has wonderful midrange presence without hardness or excessive brightness. It can reproduce a large soundstage with wonderful focus and inner detail. The Mercury3.0 USB cable is very dynamic with well controlled bass.

The Mercury3.0 USB Cable with USB 2.0-B connector is a much better sounding USB cable than the older iFi Audio Mercury USB cable. The Mercury3.0 USB Cable with USB 2.0-B connector is a far more revealing USB cable than its predecessor.

Further Listening to the iGlvanic3.0
The iGalvanic3.0 added an elevated level of clarity and resolution listening to Alfredo Rodriguez's album The Little Dream (24/44.1). Alfredo's piano and the backup instruments were more alive sounding when heard through the iGalvanic3.0. The dynamics had more punch with superior definition from top to bottom.

I enjoyed listening to Tara Jane O'Neal's album of the same name through the iGalvanic3.0. This 24/44.1 recording sounded better defined with a superior reproduction of Tara's voice. The size of the soundstage was enhanced with an overall opening-up of the sound when heard with the iGalvanic3.0.

Orchestral music also seemed to benefit with the iGalvanic3.0 included in my system. As I listened to the Sibelius / Glazunov Violin Concertos performed by Esther Yoo with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy (24/96), I observed a larger soundstage with an enhanced three-dimensional presence to the orchestral instruments. Yoo's violin was a little smoother sounding with an overall relaxation of the sound. The orchestra had a more natural sound that was easier to listen to for an extended period.

Conclusion
The iFi Audio nano iGalvanic3.0 made a positive contribution to the overall sound of my system when used with my Ayre Acoustics QX-5 Twenty DAC. While the improvement was easily heard, please keep in mind that it is simply an improvement and not a transformative enhancement to one's DAC. Adding the Mercury3.0 USB 3.0 cable to the iGalvanic3.0 resulted in another, albeit small, but perceptible improvement to the general sound of my DAC. The Mercury3.0 USB Cable with USB 2.0-B connector was very impressive sounding in my system and represents a solid value considering its starting price of $209.00. iFi Audio has, once again, managed to come up with another set of winning tweaks for the computer audiophile that are affordable and easy to implement.

Associated Equipment

X