A few weeks ago, Michael Lavorgna at Audiostream and I had a polite debate about the merits of certain audiophile tweaks. Specifically, we debated the whole “bits are bits” notion and the value of “regenerating” those bits as they proceed from a digital source to a high quality DAC like the Benchmark DAC2 HGC. The device in question is called the REGEN. Here’s how the popular device is described on the Uptone Audio website:
“The USB REGEN takes the digital audio stream from your computer or other music streaming device, and generates a completely new USB data signal to feed to your DAC. It accomplishes this by combining a carefully chosen USB hub chip with an ultra low-noise regulator and low-jitter clock. Importantly, it does so with ideal impedance matching—right at the input of your DAC.
If you are familiar with the variations in sound quality that come from different computer configurations, USB cables, and power supplies (no, “bits are bits” really does not apply when pursuing the audio summit), then you will immediately recognize the often dramatic effect that the REGEN can have on the connection you feel with the music.”
There is a lot more information on the Uptone Audio website. Click here to read their product description and claims of improved quality. The designer of the REGEN doesn’t believe that “bits are bits”. I do and so do many brilliant engineer/designers.
The REGEN is a very successful product for Uptone Audio. They’ve sold thousands of them at $175 each and the testimonials offered by the owners of these boxes are very enthusiastic. Can all of these customers be wrong about the perceived changes they hear? Probably not. But is the REGEN going to make a difference in a truly high-end system? No, it won’t.
The head designer of the Benchmark DAC2 HGC offered his thoiughts in an email some weeks ago. When asked whether the REGEN could accomplish what its designer claims, he wrote, “If this thing works, there is something wrong with your DAC!” I’m willing to accept that a poorly designed DAC might benefit from the REGEN, but certainly not a high-end piece like the Benchmark DAC 2.
Thanks to the kindness of one of my friends at the Los Angeles And Orange County Audiophile Society, we’re going to get the chance to check out whether the REGEN is the real deal or just another audiophile “accessory”. One of his friends is going to lend him a relatively new REGEN box for a few days. On Monday, Russ is going to bring it to the studio. He wrote, “I will bring the REGEN, Benchmark DAC2, 2 identical USB cables, XLR switch, 3 pair Mogami balanced interconnects, and laptop music server.
Least I be challenged on the procedure or technical aspects of the evaluation, I’m open to any and all suggestions about the testing. The plan is to route the signal from the music server through two identical USB cables to two identical Benchmark DAC2 units, take the outputs to the XLR switch and then to my speakers. We’ll be able to play some of my files and listen to the music via the REGEN and without it.
I also plan to capture the digital stream out of the REGEN and compare it to the same piece of music sent directly from the server to the recorder. If these two streams cancel each other out when the polarity of one is reversed, then it’s clear that the REGEN did nothing to change the bits. And if the bits are the same, then the DAC will output the same music fidelity. Game over.
I fully anticipate that I’ll confirm that “bits are bits” once again (just like the CD Illumination tweak). Although, I’m willing to accept that the REGEN and devices like it may work for some people that have substandard gear. If I find that there is no difference in the streams, then the true believers will find fault with the test, the equipment, my ears, my integrity, or the source material or something else. It happens every time.
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