Home  |  Audio Reviews  Show Reports   Partner Mags  News 

 

January 2015
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
JCAT USB Card, Battery Power Supply And USB Cable
Great USB audio gear for those obsessed with sound quality.
Review By Jonathan Lo

 

 The word JCAT is not exactly a household name, but it is rather well known among the hard-core group of audiophiles who are both feet into computer audio. JCAT represents a system of audio hardware that are meant to advance the science and art of music played through the computer. Perhaps it would ring more bells if it was explained that JCAT is the brainchild of the same enthusiasts who have brought JPLAY into the world, which is computer audio playback software designed to play music files as optimized as possible within the Windows operating system environment. The products under review here include the JCAT USB card, battery power supply, and USB cable. The test bed is the CAPS v3 Micro Zuma with HDPlex linear power supply, providing the bits to the excellent-sounding Eastern Electric MinimaxPlus DAC modified with DEXA discrete Op-Amps in all positions.

 

JCAT USB Card Before The Fun Can Start
Renesas USB 3.0 Host Controller Versus Microsoft USB Controller
JCAT USB card is designed from ground-up to maximize the sonic potential from computer-based music servers, utilizing "ultra-low noise linear regulators, high quality filters, and high precision ultra-low phase noise oscillator." It also provides an external DC input jack on outside of the card that can be used with better power supplies such as battery or linear power supplies. But before fun can start, a few matters need addressing. When a PCI-E USB card like JCAT is installed in a computer, it requires a driver to work. When the JCAT USB card is installed in the computer's PCI-E slot, the Microsoft USB 3.0 PCI-E host controller driver will usually be sought and downloaded by the operating system automatically. However, for USB cards like JCAT that use the NEC uDP720201 USB controller chip, the Renesas USB 3.0 host controller driver can be downloaded and installed in place of the default Microsoft driver.

JCAT USB Card, Battery Power Supply And USB Cable

Why on earth would anyone do this and not leave well enough alone, and how could a mere PCI-E host controller make any sonic difference anyway? Fortunately or unfortunately, the Renesas driver was the preferred choice for sonic reasons in this reviewer's system, and the fact the driver is free somewhat makes up for the extra effort involved. The degree of sonic difference was not dramatic or mind-blowing, but it was noticeable and worthwhile, clocking in at somewhere around the 5 to 10 percent range like many computer software and hardware changes tend to produce.

Renesas driver could be described as revealing a little more vibrancy and texture in the instruments and vocals. Vibrancy is brought to fore by allowing the musical colors to become a bit more saturated and fresh, akin to a red sports car that was just washed five minutes ago versus one day prior. Both look great, but the one just washed is more vibrant-looking. Perhaps because of this effect, textures and closely mic'ed lip-smacking sounds come across clearer and freer. In this system, the Renesas driver added just a smidge more reality to the musical proceedings and is recommended to try for the end user.

 

The System Approach
JCAT USB Cared, USB Cable And Battery Power Supply
After the JCAT USB card is installed in the PCI-E slot and the preferred driver is installed, the real fun can begin. Do not worry if the brand-new JCAT card and USB cable initially sound congealed, murky, and dark. Although some users have reported that a week's worth of break-in is needed, in this system, things started to open up quite rapidly even after several hours of play to the point of becoming enjoyable.

JCAT USB Card, Battery Power Supply And USB Cable

The calling card of the JCAT combo seems to be solidity of musicians set against a jet-back background, combined with very high overall resolution. While there was plenty of warmth and the desired "analogue" feel richly inhabiting the room, what the JCAT combo did better than others was to present a very high degree of musical details, not in the sense of certain frequencies being accentuated but in the way vibrations and textures of instruments jumping off the musicians into the room with startling speed and urgency. This is a very dynamic combo that throws a bouquet of colors and rhythm right to the listener without brakes or filters in the way. The attack of notes including drums can be so explosive and impactful; it was difficult to believe how the same combo delivered the full measure of crooning, subtlety, and deep warmth when such music called for it.

Experimenting with different USB cables, the JCAT USB cable especially seems to possess tremendous "pop" and rhythmic drive, bringing life and forward energy to rock, pop, and dance music. This cable also delivers "pop" and vibrancy to upper-midrange/midrange area, and since the combination of well-filtered USB cards and battery power supplies tend to enhance calmness, smoothness, and liquidity, the high level of vibrancy provided by the JCAT USB cable actually synergized exceptionally well in this scenario. High jump factor would mean very little if the Deep Tone was missing, and the JCAT combo dug deep, very deep, into the tonal verisimilitudes, to the level this author did not think was possible out of digital medium or computers just several years prior. This is the sound almost completely opposite to the "digital sound" one thinks of when remembering the 80's and 90's when CD players came and took over the market, giving the world the ubiquitous digital sound that, in hindsight, was granular, chalky, with chromed outlines filled with pale colors just hinting at the real thing at best. At their worst, especially when someone tried to lift the rooftop off with early solid-state gear and speakers with early metal domes, the result was often rock-hard tension in the shoulders, tightly grimaced teeth, and the eventual headache along with the desire to go get some vinyl.

One of the nice features of JCAT USB card is its ability to engage or disengage the internal power filter for the 5V USB output. This is easily done by moving a jumper on the card to either "Filter" or "No filter," and since there are two USB ports provided, one can engage the filter on one USB port and off for the other port, allowing the user to easily try both and pick the one that fits better with a given system configuration.

JCAT USB Card, Battery Power Supply And USB Cable

Today, with the aid of well-designed asynchronous USB DAC's not dependent on the digital source for the all-important clock information, more and more audiophiles are able to assemble computer sources with various software and hardware tweaks to achieve a sound that bears more than a fleeting resemblance to high-end vinyl or even reel-to-reel sources, with the overall gestalt built from ground up on solid, warm foundation, giving rise to tonal and textural involvement that belies the format. The JCAT combination belongs in this rarified category of musical reproducers, as they produce the most "analogue" sound using the most "digital" parts and software one could imagine.

 

A Word About JCAB USB Cable
It may be the prudent thing to just consider the JCAT USB card, USB cable, and battery power supply as a system, as they synergize so well together. However, since not everyone will be using them all together, it may be worth spilling some more ink on the JCAT USB cable.

JCAT USB Card, Battery Power Supply And USB Cable

On its face, the materials utilized do not seem all that fancy in audiophile terms, as it uses multi-core, multi-stranded silver-plated copper conductors in Teflon dielectric. The build quality is very high with solid aluminum USB connectors and immaculate fit-and-finish, but certain audiophiles may have preconceived notions regarding silver-plated copper conductors and may demand pure silver or perhaps even UPOCC (Ultra-Pure Ohno Continuous Cast) silver. While such worries may be justified when used in analogue interconnects, when digital data is transferred over USB 2.0 protocol at maximum of 480 Mbits/sec, it is not the same thing. The JCAT USB cable presents music in a highly detailed, robust, dynamic, and involving manner. This is not one of those delicate, ethereal-sounding cables that have anemic foundation and water-color type of editorialization. Images are center-of-earth solid and dense while not miniaturized or overblown in size. Performers occupy space in a 3-D manner, with image size that falls somewhere between the Wireworld Platinum Starlight 7.0 pure-silver USB cable and Cardas Clear all-copper USB cable which has the largest image size.

The top-of-the-line Wireworld probably has the most obvious top-end "air," similar to how pure-silver cables tend to have, but the JCAT fights back with more apparent detail in the midrange and more punchy dynamics. Cardas has more of a rounder, smoother, yet rich gestalt, which can be quite pleasant, but JCAT simply sounds more resolved and dynamic. Some older recordings or those mastered a bit hot, e.g. some of RVG Jazz remasters, can come across a bit unforgiving via JCAT USB cable, but no one fixed system will serve all recording variables equally well.

 

Enter TheJCAT Battery Power Supply
The JCAT lithium battery power supply is made by the well-respected company Bakoon out of South Korea. It distinguishes itself from other battery supplies via the use of "SATRI analogue automatic charging circuit", which cleverly switches between the two batteries inside such that one is being charged while the other is used to power the component. This allows the battery charger to be plugged in at all times without the need to unplug the charger when the power supply is used. More importantly, one never has to worry about the battery running out in the middle of a listening session. The whole circuit is analogue, thus avoiding any EMI/RFI that may be generated if switching components are used.

JCAT USB Card, Battery Power Supply And USB Cable

JCAT USB Card, Battery Power Supply And USB Cable

The magnitude of sonic improvements from powering USB audio cards like JCAT should not be underestimated. The sound without the battery power supply was very nice. The sound was already warm, clean and musical without obvious digital brightness or haze. However, once the battery took over the juice delivery, it was like one's eyeglasses were updated with new prescription. Image outlines snapped into focus with more density and palpability to musicians, and the already-low noise must have dropped further because there was simply much more clarity, resolution, and vibrancy. Bass also snapped into focus with better definition and pitch, keeping rhythm a lot more "on time." There was no downside to using the battery supply, except for the substantial cost obviously.

There is one caveat to the JCAT battery power supply, however. As supplied, it comes with a cable loom that has a dual-head, an LP4 molex connector and a SATA power connector.

JCAT USB Card, Battery Power Supply And USB Cable

The LP4 molex is meant to be connected to the back of the JCAT card inside the computer, and the SATA connector can be used to power an internal hard drive. Some users have reported that battery powering an internal SSD, preferably with the operating system on it, improves the sonics significantly. The review system could not test this since the operating system resides on an m-SATA card. The problem was that CAPS v3 Micro Zuma does not have the room inside for the battery power supply, and there were no holes to thread the battery cable into the computer if the battery supply sat outside the computer. I was able to make a DIY cable with a DC barrel connector to power the JCAT USB card from its outside DC barrel jack, but a stock cable loom that included the DC barrel connector would have been very welcomed.

 

JCat’s Meow
The JCAT system of USB card, USB cable, and battery power supply is a significant achievement in the annals of audiophile advancements. Just a few years ago, there were simply no options for audiophiles looking for purpose-built, high-quality, audiophile USB soundcards to use in their reference home systems. Even today, there are really only a few options available, but the good news is that the JCAT system is built by people who are obviously as obsessed with sound quality as the insanely picky audiophile customers. It is quite apparent that no stone has been unturned and no shortcuts were made when the JCAT system was conceived and built, which has resulted in gloriously organic, rich, warm, yet extremely detailed and dynamic sound quality for those of us who do not spin physical disks any more. While each component of the system is worthy of serious consideration, they really should be used together as a system in order to extract that last ounce or two of musical realism that can catapult a system past that illusive line, short of which one is not really listening to music but constantly tinkering and tweaking due to the lack of that certain something...the magic.

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear  
Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise N/A

Value For The Money

 

 

Specifications
USB Card
Ultra low noise design for noise sensitive audio applications
Ultra low noise linear regulators and high quality filters
High precision ultra low phase noise oscillator
Two USB 3.0 connectors
JCAT USB Card Price: €397

 

Battery Power Supply
Battery type: Li-ion
Battery recharge: Patent Pending Automatic Control
Output voltage: +5V DC
Output current: 1A (nominal) 1.5A (peak)
60cm output DC cable with LP4 and SATA power connectors
JCAT Battery Power Supply €389 (or €339 if purchased with USB Card)

 

USB Cable
Standard length is 1 meter
Silver plated copper
Multi-core conductors
Multi-stranded 
Teflon coated
Connectors made of solid aluminum
90 Ohm impedance (USB standard)
JCAT USB Cable €349 (or €299 for JPLAY customers)

 

Company Information
JCAT
Website: http://jplay.eu/jcat/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
Quick Links


Audiophile Review Magazine
High-End Audio Equipment Reviews

Equipment Review Archives
Turntables, Cartridges, Etc
Digital Source
Do It Yourself (DIY)
Preamplifiers
Amplifiers
Cables, Wires, Etc
Loudspeakers/ Monitors
Headphones, IEMs, Tweaks, Etc

Superior Audio Archives
Ultra High-End Audio Reviews

Videos
Musician Series
Enjoy the Music.TV

Music Reviews
Classical Music
Jazz, Bluegrass, Blues, Etc.
Rock, Pop, Techno, Metal, Etc.

Columns
Editorials By Tom Lyle
Editorials By Steven R. Rochlin
Viewpoint By Roger Skoff
Audiolics Anonymous
Nearfield By Steven Stone
Various Think Pieces
Manufacturer Articles


Partner Magazines
The Absolute Sound
Australian Hi-Fi Magazine
NOVO (CANADA HiFi)
hi-fi+ Magazine
HIFICRITIC
HiFi Media
Hi-Fi World
Sound Practices
VALVE Magazine

Show Reports
LAAS 2017 Show Report
High End Munich 2017 Show Report
AXPONA 2017 Show Report
CanJam SoCal 2017 Show Report
Montreal Audio Fest 2017 Show Report
CanJam NYC 2017 Report
CES 2017 Show Report & Videos
TAVES 2016 Toronto Show Report
Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2016
CanJam 2016 Denver RMAF
Audio Engineering Society 141 LA
CanJam London 2016 Show Report
Hong Kong AV Show Report 2016
Capital Audiofest 2016
Click here for previous shows.

Resources And Information
Music Definitions
Hi-Fi Definitions
High-End Audio Manufacture Links

 


Daily Industry News

High-End Audio News & Information

Internet Browser
Audiophile Internet Browser V12

Mobile Phone Apps
Android Audiophile App

Other
Audiophile Contests
Cool Free Stuff For You
Tweaks For Your System
Vinyl Logos For LP Lovers
Lust Pages Visual Beauty
300B Tube Comparison

For The Press & Industry
About Us
Press Releases
Official Site Graphics

Contests & Join Our Mailing List

Our free newsletter for monthly updates & enter our contests!

Our Social Media & Video Channel
     

 

 

     

Home  |  Sitemap  |  Industry News  |  Equipment / Music Reviews  |  Press Releases  |  About Us  |  Contact Us

 

All contents copyright©  1995 - 2017  Enjoy the Music.com®
May not be copied or reproduced without permission.  All rights reserved.