Let’s be clear, a wonderful listening experience begins and benefits most from proper speaker positioning. A great system means little if the speakers are crammed into a corner, shoved against a wall, trapped between cabinets, or stuck in a space with all hard reflective surfaces. Add in proper room acoustic dampening items (panels, traps, area rug, a plant or two, etc.). If this is confusing you, drop the $50 and get Jim Smith’s excellent book, “Get Better Sound”. It’s still an invaluable source when I change listening rooms. Only when this is done should you jump into audio tweak-ville!
Onto the USBe Perfect
If history teaches us anything about technology it is that after every advancement or new design, others come along improving, modifying, as well as making sub-discoveries. This is the case with the $299 Core Power Technologies USBe Perfect. The metal cased, 1”w x 1.5”d x .75h rectangular device’s first function is that of jitter remover, but as the designers knew, there are other areas where noise leaks into the signal. The USBe Perfect also attacks crosstalk, and inter-symbol interference. The USBe Perfect has been programmed to have selective equalization of the input channels based on 1-3 meter length of cable. The same holds true for the output stage as well with USB 3.0. Finally, since the USBe Perfect draws power from the source USB jack, the designers included power regeneration.
Definitely, a tremendous amount of activity is happening within the two-Lego sized black box. The true question in the end is always, does it actually improve or just change the sound? To determine which is correct, I used the following setup: Server is an iMac using either Amarra or Tidal for sourcing music. For this review, I decided to run the USBe Perfect output thru two different DAC’s, the built-in unit of a Parasound P6. The rest of my system included amplification from a Parasound A23 or the Peachtree amp500 powering Magnepan .7, Paradigm Prestige F75, or Totem Model 1’s. In comparing the USBe Perfect between the two DACs, I went back and forth with and without the device inserted in the signal path over several weeks.
To be honest, normally listening to tweaks requires a high level of focus, usually because the changes, if they occur, are quite small. Not the case in this review as the USBe Perfect difference is immediate and obvious. The improvement from the mid bass and lower is head-turning! The clarity of bass instruments increased dramatically. Listening to “The Voice” from Alan Parsons Project, the bass line is note definitive rather than a boom. This allows the tom roll to take the listener on a ride. A surprising bonus is the bit of extra color in the vocal line “He’s gonna get you”. In “I Wouldn’t Want To Be With You”, the hi-hat is more focused, with the sealing of the two cymbals more distinct. Virtually every piece of bass-obvious music improved with the USBe Perfect.
The jazz ensemble Fourplay’s various recordings only confirms the improvement across the lower registers, whether by electric or acoustic bass instruments. A real treat is hearing the effortless ring of the triangle in “Fields of Gold”. The lead guitar’s distortion-free high string notes unencumbered from the haze, come to the listener with a spring sense of color.
The instrument that tests audio gear more than any other in my humble opinion is the piano. From the top to bottom frequencies the hammer hits on wire test equipment like no other. The Piano Guys have truly expanded on the sounds this glorious instrument can fuse into musical beauty. The finger taps on the strings of the opened cabinet sound purer in the mid-song transition of “Sky Full Of Stars”. Other instruments benefit as well, the chirping of the violins in “Hello/Lacrimosa” came to my attention far more than previously noted.
One of my frustrations with many classical recordings is a sense of haze hanging over the music, seemingly flattening all but the best recordings. In Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz Of The Flowers” on Tidal, the solo harp introduction doesn’t get lost in the large recording space. The USBe Perfect I found by way of its clarity-improving circuitry brings out additional sweetness to the french horns and oboes.
As the days turned into weeks with the USBe Perfect a side benefit kept coming forward, the additional character of human vocals. In this day and age of ProTools destroying uniqueness, the haunting, rough beauty of Lucinda Williams is an honest pleasure. The track “Fancy Funeral” exemplifies the pain of the lyrics matched with the years of gritty nights spent touring small venues. The USBe removes the grunge that takes away the rawness of her vocals. “Unsuffer Me” marries the howls of Williams guitar with long keyboard notes. The little black box flushes out the clarity of this musical gem.
The funk of “Apollo” from St. Paul and the Broken Bones with its staccato big band horns never sounded clearer in my system. The track “Waves” illuminates the USBe Perfect’s ability to remove the sonic film, the various percussion notes distinctly tell where on the instrument’s skin the hits took place. Just as impressive are the various micro details that can be heard and precisely distinguished in songs by Mark Knopfler. His aging vocals have additional gravitas that the track “Mighty Man” with its intimate recording serves in stunning candor. Not to be outdone, Knopfler’s guitar never has sounded better in my system than the album Tracker.
The Core Power Technologies USBe Perfect is a revelation. The improvements are absolute. This is not snake oil audio fans, never have I heard such a noticeable improvement in an electronic add-on device. What is happening inside the screw-sealed metal container is a positive auditory experience. The semantic terms of what the USBe Perfect does may sound cliche: removing the veil, peeling away the layers, removing the film, washing away the haze. All of the above apply and for good reason, it truly makes the music sound cleaner, clearer, more natural. Not only is this diminutive wonder not leaving my system, but I’m planning on buying a second for my other system, the USBe Perfect is absolutely worth every penny!