KLEI gZero3D (Digital/SPDIF) Interconnect Review

3D Digital Background
The KLEIgZero3D (Digital/SPDIF) Interconnect arrived in the same package as the KLEI gZero2D (Digital/SPDIF) Interconnect (previously reviewed), so this review is more about the relative performance of these two excellent SPFIFs.

However, discerning the improvements that the
KLEI gZero3D Digital/SPDIF Interconnect should be able to provide, based on it's elevated stature in the KLE Innovations product line, was actually not that simple - why?..
  • even though the KLEI gZero2D may be the more affordable SPDIF of the two in the current KLE Innovations product line, it is far from "entry level", a term normally used to denote the “most affordable" and in general, the "least capable" model in a product line.
  • but, the KLEI gZero2D is an extremely adept SPDIF Interconnect in its own right and capable of competing with many of the very best boutique and esoteric brands already out there.
  • its entry level position has no real bearing on it's actual capabilities.
  • But like all things from KLE Innovations, there's always room for improvement. Happy

So, how did the KLEI gZero3D Interconnects perform?

On initial installation, the
KLEI gZero2D lacked the fullness it was to reveal after some 25-30 hours of “settling-in” time, whereas I did not experience that aspect on installing the KLEI gZero3D.

From
“settling in” onwards, it was going to prove far more difficult to discern why the KLEI gZero3D should warrant my recommendation and why it should have a place in anybody's audio system, over the KLEI gZero2D.

The capabilities of both of these cables is extraordinary and initially appeared extremely close, i.e. when installed on my modestly priced system.

Perhaps improvements could be more easily observed if the
KLEI gZero3D were installed on a system offering higher resolution?

Well, as it turns out, it just took some extensive and focussed listening to
“live performance” recordings to really appreciate exactly what the KLEI gZero3D has to offer ...
  • sure, there was a small improvement in the speed of the dynamics - they were a little crisper
  • the image was a little deeper, but the spread in that deep image was a little more discernible
  • there was a slightly improved isolation of performers with improved details between them
  • there was a little more texture in the bass performance
  • there were improvements in extremely fine detail, such as the delicate whispery tonal qualities of voice
  • strings and soprano voice sounded a little less shrill and fuller (i.e. smoother)

But the most appreciable improvement for me was how the
KLEI gZero3D interconnects seemed to tear down the walls of the 12' x 15' room where my system is located and transport me into a more appropriately sized venue.

On many tracks I could not help but think this is exactly what the sound engineers were listening to as the recording was being made.

Albums of note include...
  • Laments, Dances and Lullabies, Suite for Guitar, by Miroslav Tadic - the sound engineering on this album is superb and the conveyance of venue's acoustics placed me in a small church, the acoustics of which, matched perfectly to Miroslav’s guitar and technique.
  • Buenos Aires Madrigal: Argentine Tangos & 17th Century Italian Madrigals, by La Chimera - I've never been to Argentina, but I close my eyes and I'm transported into a smokey nightclub in downtown Buenos Aires, watching two slim dancers, both dressed in black, perform a perfect sultry Tango
  • Mozart's Violin Concerto no.4 in D major (the Allegro track), by Marianne Thornsen + TronheimSolistene - this was just one of many tracks that far exceeded the walls of my audio room, but Marianne's passion for this piece shines more with the KLEI gZero3D

I also found that the
KLEI gZero3D to have come the closest to conveying the much sought after "analogue feel”, that I have heard from digital music reproduced on a solid state system to date.

But is it worth it?...

Well, on reviewing my observations of each individual metric (dynamics, image, clarity, etc...), I found most of the improvements when compared to the
KLEI gZero2D, are what I consider to be "marginal”.

However, in this case, the
"whole" was very much greater than the sum of the parts.

Factor in the pricing of the
KLEI gZero3D, i.e. being only $100 more than it's more affordable sibling, (an increase of only 40% ) makes it a far more attractive proposition.

The Caveat's...

1. Please ensure you burn-in this cable for the recommended period on the
KLE Innovations web site
  • the cable I tested was already burned in, but it still took a couple of hours to settle before performing its best.

2. They perform their absolute best when the other Interconnect and Speaker Cables are also from the
KLE Innovations product line.
  • it is not just that KLE Innovations products are capable of conveying the finest of details
  • their Ground Zero Architecture prevents the induction of noise into the signal conductor
  • but more importantly the architecture keeps the Neutral side of the circuit of any attached component at zero volts, thus allowing the component to perform to a significantly high level
  • other than the obvious improvements in fidelity, another noticeable side effect of using KLE Innovations products is that solid state components actually run cooler than with other cables

CONCLUSIONS...

Well, I tend to be very pragmatic in my component/cable selection and price plays largely into any recommendation I may make.

In this case,
KLE Innovations offers two exceptional SPDIFs ...
  • both perform extremely well.
  • neither will disappoint
  • both are modestly priced, i.e. compared some of the more expensive cables from other brands that attempt to offer similar abilities

From a pragmatists perspective...
  • If you are serious about enhancing the abilities of the digital reproduction components of your audio system the KLEI gZero3D will not disappoint and bring you that much closer to "analogue nirvana"
  • If your digital components are used more for background music then the KLEI gZero2D may suit your needs better. But you might just find that will change your views on digitally sourced music once you hear them.

What has not really been addressed in this review is how the
KLEI gZero3D Digital/SPDIF Interconnect compared to other SPDIF Interconnects from other brands. Unfortunately I only have one other SPDIF to compare it to, suffice to say, the other brand did not fare well at all.


The KLEI gZero3D Digital/SPDIF Interconnect expands on the very serious capabilities of the KLEI gZero2D Digital/SPDIF Interconnect, providing the most convincing “analogue feel” from a digital source observed to date!

Congrat’s again to the guys at KLE Innovations, the KLEI gZero3D Digital/SPDIF IC, just like the KLEI gZero2D Digital/SPDIF IC, is not just a winner, it’s a REVELATION!


My Review System:

  • Custom built turntable with a Soundsmith Denon DL103 phono cartridge mounted on and Audiomods Arm with one piece silver litz harness + KLEI Absolute®Harmony RCA’s

  • Simaudio MOON LP5.3 RS phono stage

  • iMac (Music Server)

  • Musical Fidelity V-Link192 USB/SPDIF Converter.

  • Schiit Bifrost USB DAC with UBER analogue upgrade and Version 2 USB interface Upgrade

  • NAIM 5i integrated amp (with passive pre-section).

  • Gershman Acoustics Sonogram speakers.

  • KLEI gZero6 Speaker Cables

  • KLEI gZero20 Interconnect Cables


page6_blog_entry61-page6_blog_entry60-page6_blog_entry52-page6_blog_entry40-two-thumbs-up-2 A highly recommended product!

KLEI gZero2D (Digital/SPDIF) Interconnect Review

2D Digital Background


It wasn't until recently that I had any need for a SPDIF cable. My Schiit Bifrost DAC came equipped with USB, SPDIF and Optical inputs, but up to that point I had only been using the USB option.

However, during my research into the various aspects of the many pitfalls associated with digital music reproduction, I had become aware of the notoriety that a company called Musical Fidelity had achieved, in particular for their USB-SPDIF converters, specifically the V-Link192.

Acquiring this unit necessitated the use of a SPDIF interconnect and the only one I had available at that time was "THE NAME", a 75 ohm interconnect from Van den Hul, that is sold as an analogue interconnect pair, but was also designed to function as a SPDIF interconnect.

The performance of “THE NAME” was adequate and the marriage of the V-Link192 and the Bifrost DAC proved to be extremely successful, so I tried adding the KLEI Absolute Harmony RCA's to THE NAME, which resulted in noticeable improvements across the board.

After further experimentation, I finally settled on a SPDIF interconnect of my own design that utilize the
KLEI Absolute Harmony RCA’s, which provided a significantly better performance than “THE NAME”.

Shortly thereafter,
KLE Innovations announced the release of the KLEI gZero2D and KLEI gZero3D digital interconnects.

Fast forward to last week, when the package arrived at my door with both the
KLEI gZero2D and the KLEI gZero3D inside for my review...
  • Closer inspection of the KLEI gZero2D revealed it utilized the KLEI Copper Harmony, which then had me doubting it’s abilities, since my own SPDIF design required the Absolute Harmony RCA's in order to maximize it’s performance.

But as with all things audiophilia - the proof of the pudding is in the listening...

Compared to the Van den Hul “THE NAME” SPDIF, there was nothing
"subtle" about the improvements observed...
  • i.e. I didn't have to play album after album looking for some indication that the cables were better in some way
  • it was more like a swat team bursting through a door!

Dynamics were far crisper across the board, from rim shots that sounded like the crack of a whip, to the startling thud of a bass drum

The improvements in clarity were clearly audible, as observed in a performance from Ray Brown, who
"do-be-do'd" along with his double bass instrumental intro on the Oscar Peterson track "You Look Good To Me"

The combination of both dynamics and clarity, easily revealed more improvements, such as the clash of a cymbal followed by it's considerably longer decay on pretty much any track with a cymbal.

The overall presentation sounded much more complete, which had me wondering just how much data I had previously been loosing by using “THE NAME” SPDIF, even after I had installed the KLEI Absolute Harmony RCA’s on it.

Then there were other improvements that highlighted a specific style of an artist, such as...
  • a much improved bass performance with significantly more textured detail that was revealed on albums by artists such as Peter Gabriel, Sarah McLachlan and Nelly Furtado.
  • the more delicate whispery vocal tones on albums by Norah Jones and Diana Krall
  • and by contrast, the pure grit in the voices of Adele and P!nk
  • the sheer crispness of the attack in various tracks from The Police
  • compared to the more delicate and softer presentations of Sting's solo works.

But for me the most significant improvements were revealed by albums recorded in
"Real Venues" as opposed to studio recordings.
  • The improvements in clarity revealed extremely delicate venue acoustic details, making the venue appear much larger, even than the confines of my listening space.
  • the extremely subtle reverberations and reflections that now fill the void between and around performers and blend from left to right and front to back.

What KLE Innovations has achieved with the
KLEI gZero2D Interconnect is provide stunning performance capabilities at an amazingly low price point! i.e. especially when compared to the more esoteric competition.

The Caveat's...

1. Please ensure you burn-in this cable for the recommended period on the
KLE Innovations web site
  • the cable I tested was already burned in, but it still took a couple of days to settle before performing its best.

2. They perform their absolute best when the other Interconnect and Speaker Cables are also from the
KLE Innovations product line.
  • it is not just that KLE Innovations products are capable of conveying the finest of details
  • their Ground Zero Architecture prevents the induction of noise into the signal conductor
  • but more importantly the architecture keeps the Neutral side of the circuit of any attached component at zero volts, thus allowing the component to perform to a significantly high level
  • other than the obvious improvements in fidelity, another noticeable side effect of using KLE Innovations products is that solid state components actually run cooler than with other cables

CONCLUSIONS...

The only conclusion I can come to is, if you, the reader...
  • is serious about the reproduction of digital music and need a SPDIF Interconnect between two digital components
  • wants a SPDIF Interconnect that performs way above it's price point (who doesn't)
  • then, purchasing the KLEI gZero2D, at a minimum - is pretty much - a no-branier!

Whether playing tracks recorded in 16/44, 24/96 or 24/192, they all sounded simply amazing.

This is possibly the best value for money in hi-fi right now and will elevate the performance of your existing digital components to levels normally only achieved by investing in a significant component upgrade.

If you've read the other reviews on the
KLE Innovations web site, then you've heard other reviewers rave about the abilities of their product line.
  • But the KLEI gZero2D SPDIF Interconnect for me, has made the biggest impact of all their products to date.

Congrat's to the guys at KLE Innovations - the KLEI gZero2D Digital/SPDIF Interconnect is not just a winner - it's a revelation!


My Review System:

  • Custom built turntable with a Soundsmith Denon DL103 phono cartridge mounted on and Audiomods Arm with one piece silver litz harness + KLEI Absolute®Harmony RCA’s

  • Simaudio MOON LP5.3 RS phono stage

  • iMac (Music Server)

  • Musical Fidelity V-Link192 USB/SPDIF Converter.

  • Schiit Bifrost USB DAC with UBER analogue upgrade and Version 2 USB interface Upgrade

  • NAIM 5i integrated amp (with passive pre-section).

  • Gershman Acoustics Sonogram speakers.

  • KLEI gZero6 Speaker Cables

  • KLEI gZero20 Interconnect Cables


page6_blog_entry61-page6_blog_entry60-page6_blog_entry52-page6_blog_entry40-two-thumbs-up-2 A highly recommended product!


Musical Fidelity V-Link192 USB-S/PDIF Converter

1213vlink

I purchased this unit on a bit of a whim, since it had received many accolades on forums and in the press.

But all I really wanted to know was, just how good my Schiit Bifrost DAC could really perform.

However, I was not expecting the level of performance improvement this very affordable unit brought to the digital side of my system.

Turns out, the guys at Musical Fidelity know a thing or two about USB interfaces, but the guys at Schiit also know a thing or two about DAC’s and discreet analogue output stages Happy

Combined, these two components really know how to make superbly detailed and spacious music from a bunch of zero’s and one’s!

Unfortunately, the V-Link192 is no longer in production, but they can still be found on E-Bay for $135 US.

My only complaint is the placement of the outputs...
  • it would be easier to connect had they all been placed at the same end as the USB port
  • but at this price and performance - I’ll live with it!

If you have a DAC with a USB interface that is older than a year I would recommend getting one of these units, because it will probably elevate its performance to levels you probably thought would require a significant DAC upgrade.

It is even much better than the Gen-2 USB upgrade available from Schiit, for both the Bifrost and Gungnir, which I have also tried Embarrassed

I have found the Dual USB Cable and Power Adapter identified in this post,
Overcoming USB Streaming Issues, to work extremely well with this unit.

I have also found my own DIY S/PDIF cable design, which can be found at the end of this post -
RCA Interconnect Construction Techniques, outperformed some very pricey boutique brands.

This level of performance improvement seldom comes at such a modest price in the world of hi-fi...


It’s a real bargain!


UPDATE: I’ve since removed the DAC and V-link192 and replaced it with the Blusound NODE 2, connected via an ethernet cable to the NAS drive.

This eliminated the need for USB cables and computer software updates - a much simpler approach with better sound quality



page6_blog_entry61-page6_blog_entry60-page6_blog_entry52-page6_blog_entry40-two-thumbs-up-2 A highly recommended product!


My Digital Streaming Choices

The following diagram depicts the various components I have implemented in my digital playback system.
page1image1824
The NAS Drive is used to store all my music files primarily because it offered a facility called "Raid Mirroring".
  • This requires two hard drives and maintains a copy of each file on each drive
  • in the event of a hard drive failure you simply replace the defective drive and the NAS unit populates the new drive with the content from the other drive automatically
  • It is recommended that when implementing RAID, you to use high quality drives such as those used in servers, in order to minimize disk failures. Normal hard drives are not robust enough for this kind of use.
The Ethernet Router provides a "hard wired" link from the NAS drive to my iMac
  • I chose this method over a wireless link for reliability.
  • In my neighbourhood there are a lot of wireless routers that seemed to cause dropouts during playback of the larger hi-res files.
  • It is also the fastest method of transferring data between computers.
The DSL Internet Modem provides my link to the internet and provides wireless capability for other ancillary computing devices such as tablets and smart phones
  • I use both my tablet and smartphone to control playback of digital content via my iMac
  • I use an Android App called Retune, which interfaces very nicely with iTunes that is running on my iMac
  • My Windows computers can also access and play content stored on the NAS drive by using iTunes for Windows
The iMac is the computer I use to stream digital content via it's USB interface into the DAC via the V-Link192.
  • There was a time when USB was considered to be a poor choice for streaming digital content to a DAC, primarily because the USB interface was not really designed for music, unlike other digital interfaces such as S/PDIF and Toslink interfaces.
  • There were issues that caused jitter, which resulted in poor sound quality
  • The introduction of Asynchronous USB has remedied many of the issues, together with better USB interface circuitry that is present in most current DAC designs.
USB Related Issues.
  • The USB circuitry in my V-link192 USB/SPDIF converter utilizes the power provided via the USB cable. As a result of this design, there can still be noise pollution created in the USB cable itself.
  • Therefore, I have chosen to use a Double USB Cable that consists of two separate cables that are joined only at the USB plug that connects to the V-Link192.
  • One cable transfers only the digital signal and the second only provides the USB power.
  • The power provided via the computer's USB port can also be noisy, so to remedy that I have chosen to use a separate USB power adapter in order to provide a very stable and noise free 5 volt supply to the V-Link192
  • This ensures that the V-Link192 is getting the cleanest digital stream possible and the cleanest most stable USB power.
The Musical Fidelity V-Link192 USB to S/PDIF converter
  • This is purpose built to handle USB issues related to timing and jitter
  • It is significantly better than the USB port in the Schiit Bifrost DAC and many other DAC’s for that matter
  • It provides significantly better sound quality, but only if the quality of the S/PDIF cable is capable of hi-res transfers also - many are not.

DAC/Computer Compatibility Issues.
Ensure you know the maximum sample rate for each input/output (i.e. USB, toslink and S/PDIF) - on both your DAC and Computer
  • e.g. on a computer, the USB sample rate may be 24/192, but the S/PDIF sample rate may only be 24/96
  • likewise, on a DAC the sample rate for USB port may be 24/96 and the S/PDIF is 24/192
  • Net result of this combination is a maximum sample rate of only 24/96
  • Be Aware: some brands of DAC and computer only advertise the upper limit - e.g. 24/192.
  • So download the manual before you buy if there is not enough information available on hand to determine the max resolution for each interface.
So that is my digital rig explained in a nutshell - what else is there to know?

To start with there are issues that many people might not be aware of pertaining to the copying of digital content from a CD.
  • When copying, some "Ripping Software" does not actually copy all of the raw data, but compresses it in an attempt to save space.
  • Unfortunately this fact is not always apparent and generally goes unnoticed.
  • I found this out the hard way and now use a program called dbPoweramp to copy the raw format from my CD's
  • The improvements in sound quality are quite noticeable.
Then there are issues with the type of digital file you elect to use for storing music, such as WAV, AIF, FLAC, ALAC, MP3 etc...
  • The best method of storage would be to use the format that is on the CD, but WAV presents a problem if you are using iTunes, because iTunes does not really handle the WAV metadata very well.
  • The net result is that if iTunes ever corrupts it's internal database then it is unable to rebuild the library from the metadata associated with every WAV track
  • You have to reload every CD in order to rebuild your library if you do not keep it backed up on a regular basis
  • Because of that I use AIF, which is Apple's version of a WAV file and is not compressed
    • and in the event of some iTunes “anomaly”, it is able to rebuild the library from metadata on each AIF music file
  • Some formats are slightly compressed and other like MP3 are very compressed - it really does affect sound quality!
Then there are issues pertaining to the programs used for playing digital files, where the program you use to control playback may alter the digital content before sending it onto the DAC - e.g. up-sampling, digital volume and Tone Controls
  • Up-sampling is where the playback program will insert "interpolated data" into the digital stream before passing it onto the DAC.
  • Interpolation is an approximation between two known data points and those that use it believes it enhances the sound.
  • Fact is, it can actually degrade the sound quality in many cases.
  • To ensure that this does not happen I use a program call Audirvana, which bypasses all internal Apple programming and passes only the raw data from the file to the DAC
  • The Bifrost DAC also processes at the sample rate imbedded into the digital file
    • many DAC’s simply Up-sample without you knowing.
  • volume and tone controls, although handy, can degrade sound quality considerably

Think That’s It?

Not Quite - there is one last thing to consider.

The designers of early DAC technology believed up-sampling within the DAC was a good idea.

However, as with all things in this hobby, things change and the latest approach is to allow the DAC to process the file in it's "native resolution".
  • Many believe for the "purest" level of playback you should be looking for a DAC that does not up-sample
  • often referred to as a non-oversampling DAC or “NOS DAC”
  • I have owned both types of DAC abad both are very good performers
  • But the NOS DAC seems to offer the best sound quality with crisper micro dynamics and imaging
So What do I mean by resolution?

The resolution of a digital file depends on it's bit depth and sample rate...
  • bit depth - is the number of bits used to represent "a sample"
  • Sample Rate - is the frequency at which samples are taken
  • Together they define the resolution of a digital file - e.g. CD's are generally 16 bit at 44.1 kHz or commonly referred to as 16/44
  • Other sample rates include 24/44, 24/48, 24/96, 24/176, 24/192 etc...
  • The higher the resolution the larger the file and the longer the download!
  • if you increase the sample rate you should be able to recreate a more realistic analogue signal
  • Up-sampling is the process whereby a 16/44 digital file is converted to a 24/96 file by filling in the missing samples with approximations calculated by the process of interpolation - it's an educated guess, but it affects the sound
  • For more information you should really refer to Wikipedia

What about ...

Streaming internet radio is accomplished via my iMac using iTunes - it's pretty simple

Spotify and similar music services - I do not currently have any experience with - yet Happy
Downloading hi-res music files from the web can present issues, e.g. iTunes does not play FLAC files
  • Audirvana does play FLAC files, but not easily in my implementation, so I simply convert FLAC to AIF
  • DSD in my implementation is handled automatically in real time at playback by Audirvana, so I have no need for a DSD compatible DAC
That's about it
Needless to say, this is but one example of a digital music reproduction architecture. There are limitless other possibilities, each with their own foibles to be overcome.
At least you now know of some of the pitfalls
Happy

UPDATE: I’ve since removed the DAC and V-link192 and replaced it with the Blusound NODE 2, connected via an ethernet cable to the NAS drive.

This eliminated the need for USB cables and computer software updates - a much simpler approach with better sound quality

Overcoming USB Streaming Issues

There’s a lot of discussion on the web about why the USB interface is not suitable for streaming music.

Much of the discussion promotes solutions that require the use of additional components that strip the music related data from the data stream, reassembles it with new clocking data and presents a squeaky clean version to the DAC.

Some even converts the data stream to a format supported by either the S/PDIF or Toslink interface.

The bottom line is, that you end up spending lots of money on a new component, related power cables/adapters and the various interconnects required, when in fact your own personal listening requirements may be satisfied with a less complicated solution

So let’s look at some of the issues...

Three issues I consider the most serious with respect to the degradation of the digital stream when using the USB interface are...
  1. EMI between the power and signal conductors inside the USB Cable - i.e. noise in the data stream resulting in jitter and noise in the power conductors effecting DAC performance.
  2. the unstable and noisy USB power supply - can effect DAC Performance
  3. the quality of the USB interface in the DAC you are using - unable to handle noise in the data stream effectively

Addressing #3 is not covered here since it is manufacturer specific and dependent on the DAC you are using.


Issue #2 may also related to the DAC you are using because some DAC’s utilize the USB power supply to power their own internal USB circuitry. Those that use their own internal power supply are much better equipped to handle a USB Data Stream.

Issue #1 boils down to the USB cable you select - not all cables are equal!
  • The most effective solution is to separate the data and the power conductors by using a cable like the one below...

The Power supply and USB with cable separate audio signal cable from Doukmall on eBay
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Now, you can still insert both USB cables into the computer, but for the best solution a separate power supply should be used.

Once again there are a myriad of solutions out there, but after trying several different power adapters I have opted to use...

The ENERCELL AC to USB Power Adapter 5VDC 1000mA 2730414
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I have found that using this adapter is as effective as using a battery power supply, which is perhaps the most stable 5 volts you can get.

Now, this IS NOT the be-all and end-all of solutions for USB interface issues, but for those of you looking for a cost effective solution that will address many of the most severe problems without adding even more components and cables to your rig and more importantly, without breaking your bank - then give it a try.

I hope you found this useful Happy