How clean an output do USB ports really deliver? AudioQuest seems to think the output isn’t as clean as it should be. If you want to listen to music and enjoy a noiseless experience with a good soundstage, you’ll need to suppress electronic signals that aren’t music. The AudioQuest Jitterbug does precisely that. Perhaps you’re sceptical. I know I was. I knew my Apogee Duet iPad/Mac has dedicated circuitry to get rid of digital/electronic noise, so what would a €49 USB stick be able to improve on that?
I first read the explanation of why you’d need it in the Jitterbug user guide. I got wary when the guide started talking about stuffing up your computer’s USB ports with two Jitterbugs to make it near-perfect. That looks like a cheap and easy way to sell Jitterbugs. It was a bit reassuring to read two was the maximum number of sticks you are supposed to use.
Still, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so my next move was to plug in the AudioQuest DragonFly DAC before I would test the lot with my Duet. I first used the excellent DragonFly on its own, playing music pieces I know by heart from my collection — so I know what to expect with several devices. As expected the DragonFly performed great but perhaps a tad less full-bodied than what I remember from my Musical Fidelity days.
These days, my music experience is routed through an iMac running Audirvana Plus. After much going back and forth, I have decided this is the best setup for me.
After having listened to Cecilia Bartoli and Jeremy Fissell, I plugged the DragonFly into the Jitterbug and into the iMac USB port. There was no difference. I tried again, this time using a ballet adagio by Khachaturian of which I knew it always sounds muddled at the end. And lo and behold, the mud was gone with the Jitterbug installed. With the Jitterbug, the piece appeared to sound better, less muddy, with more clarity. But wasn’t I fooling myself into thinking it did — did it really?
I decided to switch to the Apogee Duet iPad/Mac. It performed with exactly the same difference as when I tried out the DragonFly: somewhat better with the Jitterbug, but not spectacularly so. Until I decided to turn things around and record my voice with the Duet, once without and immediately after with the Jitterbug.
This time there was no doubt about it. The recording without the Jitterbug sounded great, with very little noise but the tiny bit I — up to now — considered to be unavoidable. The recording with the Jitterbug sounded completely noiseless. There was no unavoidable tiny bit of noise, only my voice speaking, the background and clarity.
So, what I thought I heard with the Khachaturian CD wasn’t just imagination. It was truly less noisy than without the Jitterbug. Since then I have listened to a number of other music pieces and they all benefit from the one Jitterbug I got to play with. The improvements are all in the area of clarity, and as a result a better soundstage and no noise. I can’t say if two Jitterbugs would make a difference, but with what I have experienced using one, I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.