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It seems like such an obvious thing. Be sure to suffer the disease before you pursue its cure. Promises of better so often compel us all to self medicate when there's nothing substantially wrong with our hifi. Case in point. Over the weekend Christof Faller of Illusonic took the 3-hour train ride from Switzerland's northern German part to visit our southern French-part digs. I'd stopped in their Munich HighEnd 2014 exhibit—the following photos are from that—and expressed interest in their proprietary DSP. This was him following up.

Illusonic have licensed some of their de-noising algorithms to Sennheiser and Schoeps microphones and today Logitech is one of their biggest clients. Their tech also shows up in mobile phones and Illusonic's multi-channel DSP wizardry has found its way into numerous high-end processors. Surround-sound mavens apparently are well familiar with the brand. Under their own name, they offer up to 16-channel hardware. Obviously my interest was solely on what it might do for 2-channel clients like myself and by proxy our readers. Hence Christof brought a pre-production 2-channel box to Mount Pèlerin plus a mic, mic stand and his Macbook to run their usual multi-point test protocol for some basic room correction.

As it turned out, I won't formally review his product. At CHF11'500 it didn't do enough and it did too much. For a computer user with Mac/PureMusic, Windows/JRiver or equivalent setups, a pre-existing USB DAC is a given. Our sort already owns one. Here Illusonic do too much. By not offering a digital output, they force us to use their built-in DAC. Nyet! All we really need is Dirac-type software with the necessary plug-in like Fabfilter. For less than $1'000, that embeds directly in PureMusic or whatever other music player we might use. No need to invest in costly hardware. We already own what is required for playback and 64-bit signal processing power: our existing kit and computer. What's more, Illusonic's digital-domain volume control probably won't compel the majority of us invested in top-quality preamps to sell them for pennies on the dollar.

At present, their DSP expertise remains tied to their hardware. If you commit, kiss at least your present DAC good-buy. And, Christof's sample didn't yet do USB. Or BNC. I still needed a USB bridge from which to exit coax, HDMI or Toslink to meet his component half way. His analogue RCA and XLR outputs of course did accommodate my Nagra Jazz. Here one isn't locked into using Illusonic's volume control. For someone not pre-committed and heavily invested into bespoke hifi, Illusonic's integration of D/A conversion, volume and advanced signal correction in a box roughly the size of a Metrum Hex could be very appealing. It's simply a question of what you already own and how locked into keeping it you are.

But that as yet wasn't the reason for my medicinal opener. Whilst my room isn't perfect—the very fact of being a room affects any sonic outcome—its geometry, size, layout and suitably matched speakers meant that Christof's demo of basic room correction was far too subtle to represent any reasonable ROI. In medical terms, I wasn't unwell enough to need his costly yet demure-looking spa treatment. This extended to Christof's subsequent demonstration of their proprietary depth and immersion features. Very self-explanatory given their titles, depth combats the usual effects of close front-wall proximity (the soundstage flattens out). Immersion counteracts some of the stuck-to-the-speakers-over-yonder effect for a more immersive feel in the room.

Even set to max to individually demonstrate their effects, then combined at lesser potency for a compound result, my speaker distance and room's spaciousness conspired against any must-have reaction. Mind you, these differences I could clearly hear. They weren't subtle. I could even extrapolate that in a more handicapped setup (smaller room with the usual parallel walls, lower ceilings and far closer boundary proximities), these DSP enhancements could be a real God sent. My issue was that in our circumstance, the differences were mostly that - different but not categorically superior. Again, I wasn't sufficiently ailing to need a remedy. Why write a review about an expensive component when I already knew that its effectiveness in situ wasn't powerful enough to justify cost? If one commits to a review without such upfront exposure, this type of conclusion becomes par for the course. In this instance I simply didn't think my scenario provided the proper circumstance for this black box to really strut its stuff. I had too decent of a room.

If Illusonic's software became available like a Dirac plug-in, I would revisit the depth/immersion subject at greater length. For code not hardware coin, I thought it very promising. Until then I'll take a rain check. But Illusonic the name is truly artful. That's exactly what all of hifi really is on about. Illusonic. It hits at the very heart of it. And to improve that illusion is clearly where the heart of these Swiss is at. If your room is of the small and boxy sort—and let's not forget, if you're sufficiently liquid—this company might have the right colour pill for you already...
Illusonic website