Reviewer:
Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: 27" iMac with 5K Retina display, 4GHz quad-core engine with 4.4GHz turbo boost, 3TB Fusion Drive, 16GB SDRAM, OSX Yosemite, PureMusic 3.01, Tidal & Qobuz lossless streaming, COS Engineering D1 & H1, AURALiC Vega, Aqua Hifi Formula, Fore Audio DAISy 1, Apple iPod Classic 160GB (AIFF), Astell& Kern AK100 modified by Red Wine Audio, Cambridge Audio iD100, Pro-Ject Dock Box S Digital, Pure i20, Questyle QP1R; Metrum Adagio [on review]
Preamplifier: Nagra Jazz, Esoteric C-03, Vinnie Rossi LIO with DHT module, COS Engineering D1, Wyred4Sound STP-SE Stage 2
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA30.8; FirstWatt SIT1, F5, F6, F7; S.A.Lab Blackbird SE; Crayon Audio CFA-1.2; Goldmund Job 225; ; Aura Note Premier; Wyred4Sound mINT; Nord Acoustics One SE UP NC500MB; Linnenberg Audio Adagio [on review]; Metrum Forte [on review]
Loudspeakers: Albedo Audio Aptica; EnigmAcoustics Mythology 1; soundkaos Wave 40; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Druid V & Submission; German Physiks HRS-120; Eversound Essence
Cables: Complete loom of Zu Event; KingRex uArt, Zu and LightHarmonic LightSpeed double-header USB cables; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink; Arkana Research XLR/RCA and speaker cables [on loan]; Sablon Audio Petit Corona power cords [on loan], Black Cat Cable Lupo; Ocellia OCC Silver
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all components, 5m cords to amp/s + sub
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands [on loan]
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators
Room: Rectangular 5.5 x 15m open floor plan with two-storey gabled ceiling, wood-sleeved steel trusses and stone-over-concrete flooring
Review component retail: $990 standard, $1'200 with master-clock BNC

SOtM.
Whilst the spelling is odd, the meaning is not. That's because it isn't satcom on the move but soul of the music. From South Korea like LG, Samsung and Hyundai/Kia, this hifi house does full-size components and littlins. Today is about one of the latter. It's another odd spelling: tx-USBultra. That meaning isn't USB bridge as in D/D converter which outputs some format other than USB. This meaning is kinda/sorta USB hub in that one USB goes in, two USB come out. Nothing gets converted. But unlike the generic powered hubs which are simply USB outlet multipliers or convenience appliances, the Ultra is first and foremost a performance item. It reclocks the PC/Mac signal and strips it of noise. That it can distribute two feeds at once makes it different from otherwise similar boxes like Intona, Ideon, Regen & Bros. Like standard hubs, it's driverless even for Windows.


Hubbie. From the firm's cheat sheet we get the expected USB 2.0-compliant hub controller as the interface chip which supports up to 480Mbps transfers, hence no USB 3.0 with its theoretical 5Gbps lightning. The internal reference 'super' clock is SOtM's sCLK-EX12 also available as computer module [right]. The 10MHz external master-clock input on 50Ω BNC shown above is optional and €210 extra. To bypass computer power, the Ultra uses an external 2A-max power input. That takes 6.5-9Vdc, optionally 12Vdc. Users can thus upgrade the provided SMPS with a linear variant of their choice. Internally, whatever juice arrives gets filtered, stroked and smoothed with a low-noise circuit of five regulators plus an active noise cancellation circuitry. What finally comes out on the USB sockets' power line is a standard but clean 5V; for two subsequent devices simultaneously. Whilst some USB transceivers in DACs don't need USB power, others need the 5V line. If yours is compadre without, you can turn it off with the red switch after the initial handshake.


Where the Ultra goes ultra is price. Competing devices with a single output sell for half or less. How many users will exploit the tx-USBultra's ability to distribute source signal to two devices is questionable. While on the q word, ditto for packaging devices whose purpose is to minimize noise with switch-mode wall warts which inject their own HF noise into the power line, hence partnering gear. Sure, it might motivate diehards to shell out even more for a linear or battery supply. Bravo, you get to sell them an extra box*. 'cept that the battery versions invariably arrive with their own SMPS for charging. Hey, sell them one more box. Why, argh, can't this type of kit arrive with a linear supply built in? How about this: "If you use two USB output ports at the same time, the sound might degrade so we recommend using one port." Why then have two in the first place? To run a reclocked printer? There's more: "If you don't use the product, turn off power by unplugging the power supply." Really? For $990, that's how one turns things off? No comment.
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* By the time my loaner arrived, this model had already received its first award from AudioStream's Steve Plaskin. However, "even though this device comes with a switch mode power supply for those that elect the standard 6.5-9 volt option, I do not recommend that it be used. One power supply that I do recommend... is the UpTone Audio UltraCap LPS-1." At $395, that raises the ticket to $1'385. But there was more: "The tx-USBultra... [was]... placed on a Synergistic Research Tranquility Base powered by a Sonore Signature power supply plugged into a Shunyata Triton v2/Typhon and the UpTone Audio UltraCap™ LPS-1 plugged into a Shunyata DPC-6 v2." This shows just how eloborate things can get when one starts out with a harmless little USB improver box. Announced a week prior to the Munich show were the sMS-200ultra mini server and sPS-500 power supply, making a set of identical triplets with the tx-USBultra. Voilà, a stablemate linear PSU.


With the company's track record for good-sounding kit, quite a bit of it reviewed in these pages, I naturally expected plenty of favourable comments to follow. Still, pecularities must be sorted first. Now let's plan on smooth sailing. Playing grumpy is so not fun!
... to be continued...

SOtM website