AudioQuest has been on a personal audio tear lately – from the DragonFly (USB DAC) to the NightHawk (headphones) and now the Beetle (optical / Bluetooth / USB DAC) and JitterBug (USB power / signal filter), the last of which is the focus of this review. AudioQuest’s entry is not the first – Schiit offers the Wyrd USB decrapifier and UpTone Audio has their USB REGEN signal regenerator. However, the JitterBug has the distinction of being both the cheapest and the most portable of the three. Not a bad spot to find yourself in.
The JitterBug is simple enough. It’s about the size of your garden variety flash drive, though probably approaching twice the thickness. The shell is a hard black plastic which seems to be fairly sturdy. One end has the ubiquitous USB type A male connector. The other end sports the female version. It’s strictly plug and play.
Note that AudioQuest claims that placing two JitterBugs in parallel on the same USB bus will enhance the filtering capabilities even further. If one’s good, two must be that much better, right? Well, the proof is in the listening…
I’ve found that the effects that power-related tweaks can be subtle and vary from equipment to equipment. Sometimes it’s easier to listen to the system with the tweak in place for a while and then remove it to see what changes, if anything. For this review, I used two portable DACs – AudioQuest’s own DragonFly v1.2 and the Meridian Explorer 2. Both draw power from the USB bus which makes them prime candidates for the JitterBug. I started with the Meridian.
I have to admit, it was a challenge at first to nail down just what the JitterBug was doing to the sound. After listening to a few of my usual test tracks, I finally hit on one that really spotlighted the differences. Leslie Feist’s performance on “1234” from The Reminder (Cherrytree/Interscope Records, B0008819-02), especially the introduction, can take on new dimensions depending on the DAC in use. The Explorer 2 sans JitterBug had a relaxed presentation – Leslie Feist’s voice sounding airy and delicate and the backing band portrayed with a British politeness that some might find too reserved. Injecting the JitterBug into the chain brought a warmth to the midrange that fleshed out Feist’s voice, and brought her a bit forward in the soundstage. The strummed guitar now had equal parts tone and attack. Bass firmed up, lending more rhythmic drive to the track. Yet all this didn’t come at the expense of the details. The little smacking sounds as Feist’s lips moved and the dynamic shading she imparted within each verse as well as the brassiness of the trumpet solo and spatial resolution were all preserved.
Now onto the DragonFly. Here it was a bit easier listening with the JitterBug connected first and then removing it from the playback chain. The effect the JitterBug had was somewhat muted, probably by the DragonFly’s already warmer tonal balance. Feist’s vocals again had more body but what the non-JitterBug setup lacked most was the rhythmic drive and bass impact that came with ostensibly cleaner power. Detail and clarity remained largely unchanged – a testament to Gordon Rankin’s circuit design prowess.
In both instances I also noted that the JitterBug seemed to remove a tiny degree of edginess or grain from the treble, perhaps as a result of the warmer midrange and dynamic bass, resulting in a more natural presentation.
Fortunately, a co-worker of mine also had a JitterBug so we were able to double-up on the USB bus to find out if more really is better. In this case, neither of us could really hear a difference. I tried listening to a track while it was playing and inserting / removing the JitterBug – no changes were detected. I also A/B’d entire tracks much to the same result.
Finally, I tried the JitterBug with the Aune X1S desktop headphone amp / DAC while it was in residence on its North American tour, but I couldn’t detect whether or not there was a real sonic benefit. The X1S has an outboard power supply so perhaps the power filtering capabilities of the JitterBug are more important than the data line filters.
In the end, the best kind of tweak is the one that works and in this regard, the AudioQuest JitterBug fulfills its promise, at least for USB-powered DACs. At it’s current price of about $50, it’s a phenomenal value to boot and easy to recommend. If you have a USB-powered DAC, you owe it to yourself to try the JitterBug in your system. If your experience is anywhere near the same as mine, you’ll soon find it indispensable.
Headphones – Etymotic ER-4S, NAD Viso HP50, Sennheiser HD 600
Amps / Sources – AudioQuest DragonFly v1.2, Meridian Explorer 2