• WANTED: Happy members who like to discuss audio and other topics related to our interest. Desire to learn and share knowledge of science required as is 20 years of participation in forums (not all true). Come here to have fun, be ready to be teased and not take online life too seriously. We now measure and review equipment for free! Click here for details.

Intona USB 3.0 Isolator Review

amirm

Founder/Admin
Staff Member
CFO (Chief Fun Officer)
Joined
Feb 13, 2016
Messages
35,320
Likes
134,849
Location
Seattle Area
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Intona USB 3.0 (compatible with 2.0) Isolator. It is on kind loan from a member. It costs US $360.

If you have been around here you know of a number of "audio" companies selling USB filters, cleaners, regenerators, etc. I have shown all of these to have no value at all and in some cases, actually making things worse. Intona is different. They have been building these isolators for industrial applications where a high voltage device is being controlled over USB and you need full isolation in case something goes bad (you don't want that high voltage to travel back through USB to your computer). Folks landed upon them and started to use their products to "improve" USB DAC audio.

The Intona 3.0 has no bling which is fine with me:
Intona High Speed USB 3.0 2.0 Isolator Audio Review.jpg

The back side has the connectors you expect:

Intona High Speed USB 3.0 2.0 Isolator Back Panel Connectors Inputs Audio Review.jpg

Look carefully and you notice that there is no input for power supply. The Intona uses the incoming USB power and regenerates it on the isolated side. This is very good because there is no risk of ground loops created (common problem with typical USB audio tweaks with external power). And of course much more convenient to use.

Also, until recently all such isolators were USB 2.0 so having a 3.0 version is quite cool. Not that this matters with Audio DACs since they almost all are USB 2.0. And that is how I tested the Intona.

Audio Measurements
I literally spent hours trying to find DAC whose performance could be improved with this device. None of the high-end DACs cared one way or the other. They continued to work just as well as they did without Intona. After much frustration, I pulled out my old and discontinued Schiit Modi 2 USB which I know is sensitive to USB (power) noise and managed to eek out a bit of difference. Here is the Modi 2 directly hooked up to my PC:

Schiit Modi 2 Audio Measurements.png


The main tone at 1 kHz is all that we want to see. Instead we have some harmonic distortion (to be expected) and a ton of other junk from low to high frequencies. Here is what happens when I route the USB cable through Intona:

Schiit Modi 2 with Intona High Speed USB 3.0 2.0 Isolator Audio Measurements.png


We still have the spray of that junk but the floor of them has moved down. That impact improves SINAD by just 0.4 dB which is nothing to write home about.

The inline nature of the Intona has a light cost in that it saps some USB power resulting in slightly reduced output level in the Modi 2 (from 1.62 volts to 1.56 volts).

That's all I have for you all.

Oh wait, the owner wanted to know if it added latency to pipeline. This is tricky business to measure. The PC is not a real-time system. My analyzer sends bits over ASIO interface to USB/DAC and that interface has its own latencies. In addition, the Audio Precision analyzer lacks a simple delay measurement for digital sources. There is a test that can approximate it but has its own quirks. After some struggle, I managed to get somewhat reliable latency numbers:

Schiit Modi 2 with Intona High Speed USB 3.0 2.0 Isolator Latency Audio Measurements.png


Whatever latency the Intona adds must be in microseconds and lost in the noise of latency elsewhere. So I would not worry about it.

Conclusions
Intona knows what they are doing when it comes to proper, professional USB isolators. As much as audiophiles are running to them to buy their products, I cannot recommend it for this application. Any half-decent DAC -- and I am talking $99 and above -- produces great performance by filtering its own USB power. And isolating its digital stream from the DAC output.

What is that? You hear an improvement? Have a loved one put the isolator in and out of the loop of the USB connection 10 times. If you can tell reliably 8 out of 10 times and can document it in a video, I will pay you $350 so you can buy this product. Otherwise, it is not the spoon that is bending. It is you!


Think hard as to whether you want to live in the Matrix or reality. The choice is yours!

------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Need mulch for the garden. I am too cheap to buy them in bags so I plan to chip them myself from the branches around the yard. Have a chipper already. But I need gas money for it. So please donate what you can using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 

JohnYang1997

Master Contributor
Technical Expert
Manufacturer
Joined
Dec 28, 2018
Messages
7,005
Likes
15,753
Location
China
A fair review. Appreciate the work. The price of this thing though is still a bit too high.
 

renevoorburg

Member
Joined
Jul 9, 2019
Messages
29
Likes
58
Still, it probably will help fix SQ issues when there is a ground loop over USB (as I experience with my NUC; regardless the DAC I use: SQ problems manifest themselves when using the phono input on the amp ; regardless the amp I use).

But as Amirm shows; it will not magically solve problems you don’t have in the first place...
 

solderdude

Grand Contributor
Joined
Jul 21, 2018
Messages
10,113
Likes
22,179
Location
The Neverlands
It is a good thing audio quality does not change.
Quite certain it does what it is designed for: breaking ground loops/electrical isolation from the PC yet using the USB for convenience.
 

pavuol

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Oct 2, 2019
Messages
1,171
Likes
2,858
Location
heart of EU
Thanks for a nice review, as always.

This other review with measurements is linked in Intona webpage. Someone should translate :).
If I get it right, they got different results with two different DACs tested, not mentioning models.
 

solderdude

Grand Contributor
Joined
Jul 21, 2018
Messages
10,113
Likes
22,179
Location
The Neverlands
That may well be because of ground loops being present.
Chances are Amir doesn't have any ground loops.
Common mode signals would have to be 'injected' using a clamp and EMC generator to find out.
I am quite sure Intona already did those tests and you can probably request the EMC report from this device.
 

Wombat

Master Contributor
Joined
Nov 5, 2017
Messages
6,726
Likes
6,223
Location
Australia
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Intona USB 3.0 (compatible with 2.0) Isolator. It is on kind loan from a member. It costs US $360.

If you have been around here you know of a number of "audio" companies selling USB filters, cleaners, regenerators, etc. I have shown all of these to have no value at all and in some cases, actually making things worse. Intona is different. They have been building these isolators for industrial applications where a high voltage device is being controlled over USB and you need full isolation in case something goes bad (you don't want that high voltage to travel back through USB to your computer). Folks landed upon them and started to use their products to "improve" USB DAC audio.

The Intona 3.0 has no bling which is fine with me:

The back side has the connectors you expect:


Look carefully and you notice that there is no input for power supply. The Intona uses the incoming USB power and regenerates it on the isolated side. This is very good because there is no risk of ground loops created (common problem with typical USB audio tweaks with external power). And of course much more convenient to use.

Also, until recently all such isolators were USB 2.0 so having a 3.0 version is quite cool. Not that this matters with Audio DACs since they almost all are USB 2.0. And that is how I tested the Intona.

Audio Measurements
I literally spent hours trying to find DAC whose performance could be improved with this device. None of the high-end DACs cared one way or the other. They continued to work just as well as they did without Intona. After much frustration, I pulled out my old and discontinued Schiit Modi 2 USB which I know is sensitive to USB (power) noise and managed to eek out a bit of difference. Here is the Modi 2 directly hooked up to my PC:

View attachment 51764

The main tone at 1 kHz is all that we want to see. Instead we have some harmonic distortion (to be expected) and a ton of other junk from low to high frequencies. Here is what happens when I route the USB cable through Intona:

View attachment 51765

We still have the spray of that junk but the floor of them has moved down. That impact improves SINAD by just 0.4 dB which is nothing to write home about.

The inline nature of the Intona has a light cost in that it saps some USB power resulting in slightly reduced output level in the Modi 2 (from 1.62 volts to 1.56 volts).

That's all I have for you all.

Oh wait, the owner wanted to know if it added latency to pipeline. This is tricky business to measure. The PC is not a real-time system. My analyzer sends bits over ASIO interface to USB/DAC and that interface has its own latencies. In addition, the Audio Precision analyzer lacks a simple delay measurement for digital sources. There is a test that can approximate it but has its own quirks. After some struggle, I managed to get somewhat reliable latency numbers:

View attachment 51766

Whatever latency the Intona adds must be in microseconds and lost in the noise of latency elsewhere. So I would not worry about it.

Conclusions
Intona knows what they are doing when it comes to proper, professional USB isolators. As much as audiophiles are running to them to buy their products, I cannot recommend it for this application. Any half-decent DAC -- and I am talking $99 and above -- produces great performance by filtering its own USB power. And isolating its digital stream from the DAC output.

What is that? You hear an improvement? Have a loved one put the isolator in and out of the loop of the USB connection 10 times. If you can tell reliably 8 out of 10 times and can document it in a video, I will pay you $350 so you can buy this product. Otherwise, it is not the spoon that is bending. It is you!


Think hard as to whether you want to live in the Matrix or reality. The choice is yours!

------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Need mulch for the garden. I am too cheap to buy them in bags so I plan to chip them myself from the branches around the yard. Have a chipper already. But I need gas money for it. So please donate what you can using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/

Re the units on the latency graph above:

mS or uS? : https://physics.nist.gov/cuu/Units/prefixes.html
 

KSTR

Major Contributor
Joined
Sep 6, 2018
Messages
1,538
Likes
3,262
Location
Berlin, Germany
A device like this does not improve the gear it's connected to in a simple loopback test, or if so, only to some miniscule amount (unless you have, say, a DAC with a really broken implementation and PCB layout).
It does break mains balancing currents which can have a huge impact on the error produced in the cables connected to a DAC, notably unbalanced ones. If you have a DAC with a good, low-leakage power supply the Intona insures you get virtually zero shield-current induced noise, the only current on the shields will be the audio return currents. This gives a much better measured noise floor at the remote end of the cable. And that noise is quite often audible as well. I have at least one set of active speakers where audio ground is bonded to mains earth and with longer (5m) RCA cables fed from a DAC fed from a laptop with standard SMPS power brick (with a ton of mains leakage) they buzz audibly. They don't when the Intona is introduced.
 

Veri

Master Contributor
Joined
Feb 6, 2018
Messages
8,045
Likes
9,801
This new usb 3.0 Intona also allows power over the 'aux' input though, won't that again introduce noise issues?
 

KSTR

Major Contributor
Joined
Sep 6, 2018
Messages
1,538
Likes
3,262
Location
Berlin, Germany
This new usb 3.0 Intona also allows power over the 'aux' input though, won't that again introduce noise issues?
Yes, depending on the power supply of the device that feeds the 'aux'. So one should use the aux power input only when absolutely needed -- if the reduced 5V output current does not suffice to power the attached USB device correctly -- and make sure it's a low leakage power source (power bank, for example, zero mains leakage) not to spoil the isolation properties of the Intona.
The internal converter is based on LT3045 regulators so we can assume the 5V output of the Intona is extremely clean, another point that makes us wanting to use it if any possible.
 
Last edited:

Wombat

Master Contributor
Joined
Nov 5, 2017
Messages
6,726
Likes
6,223
Location
Australia
added delay apears to be 500µs (0.5ms)

The text refers to micro. and the scales to milli. I would like to see consistency in test result presentation. No interpretation required.

But then, I am an old fashioned Engineer grounded in most systems of units and consistency in their use.
 
OP
amirm

amirm

Founder/Admin
Staff Member
CFO (Chief Fun Officer)
Joined
Feb 13, 2016
Messages
35,320
Likes
134,849
Location
Seattle Area
The text refers to micro. and the scales to milli. I would like to see consistency in test result presentation. No interpretation required.

But then, I am an old fashioned Engineer grounded in most systems of units and consistency in their use.
If you can't understand the topic, nothing will help you...
 

ABall

Active Member
Forum Donor
Joined
Jan 5, 2020
Messages
261
Likes
140
Location
Reading (UK)
Still, it probably will help fix SQ issues when there is a ground loop over USB (as I experience with my NUC; regardless the DAC I use: SQ problems manifest themselves when using the phono input on the amp ; regardless the amp I use).

But as Amirm shows; it will not magically solve problems you don’t have in the first place...

I had problems with noise which was driving me crazy using a NUC for HT, I could fix it for a while moving interconnects and swapping them out but it kept coming back. In the end I cut the plug off the power supply and put a new plug on leaving off the earth, this fixed it. I figured the NUC doesnt have earth protection as its power plug is a 2 pin device so its for the brick which is made of plastic. I could be wrong but Its now silent so I am happy.
 

Purité Audio

Major Contributor
Industry Insider
Barrowmaster
Forum Donor
Joined
Feb 29, 2016
Messages
4,785
Likes
3,765
Location
London
Thanks as always Amir , I experimented with Intona’s earlier 2.0 version, in fact my avatar is an eye pattern measured by Matthias Carstens ( RME) of an Intona unit, but I only ever found one com-one time where it made an audible difference an AudioNote Uk DAC, a poor design.
Keith
 

Veri

Master Contributor
Joined
Feb 6, 2018
Messages
8,045
Likes
9,801
I experimented with Intona’s earlier 2.0 version, in fact my avatar is an eye pattern measured by Matthias Carstens ( RME) of an Intona unit, but I only ever found one com-one time where it made an audible difference an AudioNote Uk DAC, a poor design.

Not susprising :/
 
Top Bottom