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J KENNY ISO-HUB REVIEW
Stellabagpuss posted a topic in DAC - Digital to Analog ConversionHi All, Just thought i would submit a review of one J Kenny’s new products “The ISO-HUB”. In fact John has just released 5 new units, and at the same time has a lovely new website https://www.ciunas.biz/ In terms of trying to keeps my review a simply affair, I suggest you take a quick visit, as it will give you a better understanding of his products. Like many others, I swapped my CD Player a few years back for Computer Audio, it had all the current technology of the date, Trichord Clock 4, Never Connected Supply. I still remember plugging in a cheap Musical Fidelity USB to SDPIF , into my Musical Fidelity XDAC V3 DAC, using my sons laptop and JRiver.....Wow, in my view, time to say goodbye to CD’s. I Enter PC based audio, where there are so many tweeks from units, changing power supplies , let alone PC software, it’s a paradise for improvements, in many ways it’s Geek Hi-Fi. At present, I’m on my 2nd PC based HI-FI setup, I personally don’t like to stream from other devices, so call me old fashioned, I like my Hard Drives in the same box as the PC. Having tried many different software players, jRiver, Monkey Media, I have ended up using Foobar 2000, I find it offers better replay quality, reliability. In tandem, I use Windows 10 OS, Fidelizer, Process Lasso and JPlay software. My amp is a Pioneer A300R “Full Monty” modded by Tom Evans, and my Speakers are Monitor Audio Studio 20SE, all modded with 99.99 Pure Silver Cables. Ok, so now that I have painted a brief picture of the set up.... I first stumbled upon J Kenny products on various HI-FI forums, one of the things that drew me towards if designs is that they where battery power, and although at this early stage of HI-FI PC based knowledge, I was fully aware of how noisy power supplies effect the environment. One of my other hobbies I have enjoyed for other 35 years is DXing, what’s that you may ask? I have been a member of the BDXC (British DX Club) from 14 years old, (I am now 48 eek!) Anyway the hobby is similar to being a Radio Ham, the only difference being you listen for weak signals from foreign countries, one example, during winter periods and when the “Space Weather” is good, you can listen to USA on medium wave, so it’s a listen only hobby that covers frequencies. Over the years, it’s become bordering on impossible to enjoy the DX hobby, it’s all down to modern devices, SKY Boxes, Computers, Switch Mode Power Supplies, LED lighting, and PLT internet that uses your homes electrical wiring to extend your broadband network anywhere in the house, kiss goodbye to your hobby. You can try this out for yourself, go outside to the end of your garden with a portable radio on medium wave, tune to fair medium wave signal, then work into closer to your house, it’s swamped in noise. So with it was my experience with noise that had a major influence on purchasing a Ciunas DAC, and it’s been in place with my set-up through all those tweek’s over the past few years. As I stated, I like to read the comments on various HI-FI forums, and although I was very late at noticing this, there had been what’s haled at the time a major breakthrough product called by Uptone called “The Regen”, and without going into the complexities of reformatting a USB signal etc, it was clear to everyone’s ears that this brought an audible improvement when patched in between your PC motherboard USB output and the input of you USB DAC. As I had stated, I entered this at a late date, and a I read through the many pages of comments, it was apparent that many people where , pushing things further, better power supplies, and this is where John Kenny seemed to enter into the discussion, what about battery powering “The Regen” ?, and with friendly help, that’s what happened, more reports of reports of improvements. I have to thank all those Moderators on those forums, no egos, all in the name of discovering improvements for HI-FI, positive thinking, brings positive results. Then other units started appearing on the market, but no of them battery powered. Something that surprised me at the time is why any manufacture hadn’t jumped on this improvement that battery powering devices didn’t can bring. I actually emailed John Kenny about the idea of a all in one unit that reformatted and had Ciunas DAC built in, of course John was all over this, and he had plans to release new products. And so I waited, and waited ....Tick Tock, for probably 20 months, John was busy at his end testing refining. In between I purchased some Audioquest Jitterbugs, that improved, things , and a few months ago , a JCAT Femto Card, which was a massive improvement. Then, out of blue, a email from John, errr what’s this.. Five New Products! That’s would be why it’s taken so long to turnaround. Like all of John’s products , you simply power the units via a 5 Volt DC power supply, in my case a Samsung phone charger, this keeps the batteries topped up, like the Ciunas DAC once you power up the ISO-HUB it runs on battery only , disconnecting from the noisy mains environment. The ISO-HUB unit I purchase is the Internal battery Type, as it didn’t make financial sense to purchase the other units, already owning the Ciunas DAC. The ISO-HUB design is in keeping with John’s other products, so you can stack units if you wish. For my first test I ran the ISO-HUB straight from my USB 3 on my Asus MB to the ISO-HUB then DAC. In my opinion this sounds better than Jcat femto to Ciunas DAC. Then secondly the Femto to ISO-HUB , this was even better, not a surprise, as the Femto is far superior usb output than a motherboard. The ISO-HUB has pushed up the audio quality up another notch, to be honest, after the purchase of the JCAT Femto card, and the improvement in sound it gave, I wasn't expecting another improvement, it's great to be proved wrong and surprised. The biggest improvement, is a weird, add hock method of connection, which feeds my music HD sata data cable into a small esata to usb 3 bridge, into one of the Femto inputs, and with the other output that the femto has, it runs to the ISO-HUB then into Ciunas DAC. This is the same method l used before the ISO-HUB. I think with the ISO-HUB patched in, it's sounds far superior, sonically, I can only suggest that by plugging your Hard Drive direct , is a shorter signal path, than on your motherboard. Low level details are cleaner, and you can really hear room acoustics on vocals, it's not that they are new, it's the way it's presented, the timing, the air, it's when you revisit those old 1980's CD's, and you realise that your getting more sense, of what the producers vision. What is oblivious, that things have taken a big leap in audio quality. I really take on board the fact I have never tried “The Regen”, and I can only speak from the heart, my set up sounds amazing, so I am very happy. There really isn’t any point listing music played, as it needs to be something in your collection, that your used to listening too. I would say that old CD transfers that, just didn’t sound quite correct, is a bit of a ear opener! Whatever method you go with, the ISO-HUB sounds to my ears better than the Femto, to DAC option,which is no mean feat, it just happens to sound better again if you feed the output from the Femto, and if you use my add hock method, even better again. This I am guessing is similar to playing USB files direct from a USB pen. Am I painting a everything is picture perfect image, well of course, nothing is totally perfect, we seek to improve, don’t we? I am not a fan of where the voltage input connector is placed, I personally would have preferred it on the rear, by the USB connectors, I believe this is to fit in with the other units, again this a small thing really. And lastly I have found you need to be patience when powering up the Ciunas and ISO-HUB, with the exitcement of a 6 year old on Christmas day, I power both units up at the same time, and nothing would play! Eek, whats gone wrong, well being impatience , that’s all. I found the method of waiting for your PC to fully boot with your programs etc ready go first, then turn on ISO-HUB, wait about 6 seconds, then switch the Ciunas DAC on wait another 6 seconds, for the units the lock together, then you are ready to go, this process also works if you turn the Ciunas DAC on 1st, then ISO-HUB, just be patience, and get into that 6 seconds rule. Of course if you purchase the new ISO-DAC this operational delay would never happen, and you get the bonus of less boxes, and a shorter signal path, so in theory the ISO-DAC could been even better? In terms of service and back up, John is only a small outfit, it’s not Sony Corporation, and this is great news, I have found his customer service skills superb, always replies to emails, honest answers, no issues on repairs, returns. I had a early issue with the Ciunas DAC, which John was very patience with, it resulted in a return to base issue. I can laugh now, but slowly my ASUS motherboard at the time as dying, due to overheating, and some how, it changed the Ciunas to Speed Camera ! Of course, it was all very confusing, but once I released it was the motherboard , it was all sorted, at the same time while the Ciunas was back at base, he kindly upgraded the internal wiring with 99.9% Pure Silver Wire I provided, this improved things again. By now , I guess you are getting a clear picture, to say John customers service is superb, is nearly a understatement. John offers a 30 day trial on his products, so it’s well worth checking out. Just try looking for any used products on ebay etc....good luck, they rarely come up, as like myself, owners very rarely part with them, they are keepers! I hope you have enjoyed my review, it’ passionate, goes off track, has poor grammar ,but helps build a general picture, the bonus it’s something to read while the Mrs is watching the soaps LOL! Regards Damien Read
Hi all, I'm wondering if anyone has had a chance to compare these two DACs head to head, and could share their opinions. They seem to share a key design characteristic - they are using an integrated battery to power the critical conversion components, which can be "trickle charged" via a USB power supply connection so you're not constantly having to recharge it, turn it on/off etc. Budget wise they are fairly similar - the Proton coming in a bit cheaper at $600 US vs the Ciunas at $750. Build quality and polish is clearly better on the Proton, and of course there is the proprietary Async USB code that Wavelength has, that is a big part of their claim to fame in the USB DAC category. Plus in the Ciunas column is that it supports sampling rates up to 192k, vs. the Proton's 96k. Realistically, I think this doesn't mean much as there isn't a lot of high res music out there, but I am betting this changes in the not too distant future so Ciunas might get the nod for being a bit more "future proof." But the real question is, how do they compare in terms of sound quality? Anyone tried them out on the same setup, to do a side by side comparison? I think most everyone could live with the more homebrew casing of the Ciunas if it sounded a whole lot better... Would love to hear the collective wisdom of this particular crowd - I have learned a lot reading this forum, I'm hoping someone out there can share some insight. (And if anyone has ideas about a better USB DAC than these two in the $500-800 range, please chime in!)