News

We are moving! Just not very far. September 25 2016

About one year ago, after the wildly successful launch of the USB REGEN, and with the continuing monthly sell-out of every JS-2 we could build (which has gotten up to about 30 every six weeks), it became apparent that it was time to make plans to move production out of my garage.  

It is a well organized and dedicated space—and quite convenient located right next to my office/studio and the small vestibule space where our part-time bookkeeper has been set up.  But it has become crowded—with boxes of parts along with completed and in-assembly products.  Plus, where we live it gets hot in the summer and cold in the winter—and the garage is an uninsulated space.

So with the business expanding and several new products in the works (including the now about-to-ship groundbreaking UltraCap™ LPS-1), I faced the choice of either renting in town (a 10-minute drive) or building an addition to our house.  Despite the cost and headache that comes with any building project, that is the course I decided to pursue.  Having worked from home—and at all hours wearing whatever I please—for the past 28 years, I just don't think I would be as happy or successful building the business in some other location.

Yet the particular siting of the planned addition meant that we would be forced to finally tackle many long deferred utility upgrades to the main house—chief among them being replacement of our inefficient, 25-year old whole-house heating/air conditioning system. I won't bore you with the details of what this took—suffice it to say that there are now a great many criss-crossing conduit lines (water, electric, sewage, gas, and refrigerant) underneath the tall slab of new concrete that is the foundation for the addition.

The new space is not quite finished, but we are close to move-in anyway.  It will have a bathroom for my assistants, a deck and walkway for the separate entrance, its own heating/cooling system, and even a kitchenette with sink, refrigerator, etc.

Interior painting starts tomorrow, and the wood flooring should be installed within a week.  Although the space is only 500 square-feet, the 10-foot walls, sloped ceiling, and ample windows makes it feel much larger.  Plus, while my wife will soon get to park her car in the garage again, we will still use about half the garage for storage of bulky business items such as product boxes, foam, and other large parts shipments.

Yes, our famous ping-pong table is going to get moved into the new space too!  It is just such a great large surface for production—and it will be fun to once in a while play on it if we ever stop work long enough for a game.  A nice sound system will come later, so maybe then we can have a party.

So enjoy a few photos of the project.  We broke ground on May 1st, and with the terrific and friendly group of local sub-contractors I hired this has actually been a fun and educational building affair.  However, I am a bit tired of making decisions and picking materials, equipment, and decor.  That aspect took a lot of time (and money!) away from the business. Once we comfortably cranking out great products from this new space it will all have been worthwhile.

 


USB REGEN updated. Amazing bass! All unshipped orders will be the latest. May 08 2015

RESISTANCE IS NOT FUTILE! 

Let's cut right to the chase:  
We have added $0.40 worth of tiny resistors to the circuit board of the USB REGEN and increased its musical performance by 40-50%—most especially in the bass! Anyone who has a REGEN will be astonished by the improvement, and anyone who hears the new one for the first time will be even more amazed. Given the already unanimous rave reviews being heaped on the REGEN by people around the world who got one from the mid-April first run—it is hard to fathom how the thing could get that much better. But it has. And John Swenson and I are feeling rather gleeful about it.  It really is a huge advancement for this already extremely effective device.

[If you wish to skip the below story and just find out about what this means for the REGEN you either have in your hands or on order, just jump to the very bottom of this post.]

Actually, some of you have heard a bit of exactly the improvement made to REGEN, and there is a story behind that. It involves the recently popular Corning 3.Optical USB cable which some of you have bought (and some struggle with for compatibility/reliability reasons).  

The Corning is interesting, and is a more complicated device that it might seem. Corning engineers had to design a small ASIC circuit to translate the semi-differential USB signaling to a format that could work with the timing of their optical transceivers. And the receiving end of the Corning cable needs a small voltage to run (which may in fact be 12 volts converted with a switching regulator at the send end, as the USB 5V from the computer would not survive their shortest 10 meters length), so there is a pair of 28awg wires run alongside the optical fiber.  

So not only does the Corning not provide galvanic isolation from the computer, but there are some other things going on with its power and USB ground wires. (As many of you know, the REGEN ignores the pin 1 +5VBUS wire from the computer or the Corning and does not connect it to anything since the REGEN has its own power and also makes clean 5V for DACs that need it.) Still, aside from the REGEN as hub often helping the Corning work with computers and DACs, having the Corning feeding the REGEN sounds good—especially in the bass as many have reported.  

Now John had speculated that cutting the Corning’s wires and feeding cleaner power to the receiver near the DAC end might help it further, so he bought one to listen to and planned to then dissect it. When I was at his place last weekend (before and after the fun ComputerAudiophile Berkeley lunch get-together), we were listening to the Corning with the REGEN (I brought a thumb drive will all my favorite test tracks), and indeed the Corning seems to significantly increase bass detail. Quite a nice combination.

Then John began speculating about the extra resistance that 10 meters of 28awg wire presents to the USB ground wire. The typical ground path in an audio system measures between 0.3-0.5 ohms. But that 33 feet of thin wire is going to be more like 3 ohms, and that forces some of the USB ground currents to take other paths. Maybe that is a good thing? So he carefully cut open one of the 6-inch USB cables I supply with the REGEN kit (for those who can't use the solid adapter), disconnected the shield entirely, and inserted a resistor in series with the black ground wire.

Now we had just listened to that same, unmodified, 6-inch cable feeding the REGEN (straight from John’s Squeezebox Touch just inches away—so it was Touch>6” cable>REGEN>solid adapter>Bottlehead DAC), and as I have posted elsewhere, I don’t like the sound of that 6” cable at all—even before the REGEN.

But now we go and put the same short cable—with resistor in series with the ground wire—back between the Squeezebox Touch and the REGEN. Oh my!  Exactly the same sort of benefit we heard from having the Corning cable feeding the REGEN. Wow! No doubts at all. So we turned to each other and then raced to his engineering bench room to do the logical thing: Lift USB input pin 4 of the REGEN and put the resistor between it and ground. (The data +/- pair of USB really does need a ground reference to work reliably.) Back to the studio to listen to it fed by the much smoother Supra USB cable instead of that nasty 6-incher. Nice.

After that, we of course wanted to hear what if any benefit the Corning might still have feeding the REGEN. And guess what, to our ears it sounded a little worse.  We think that the Corning’s benefit previously (before modifying the REGEN) overshadowed whatever effects its complex circuitry has. 

So as far as we can tell, the Corning benefit was all about that extra resistance in the USB ground. The resistor we chose to use is greater than the 3 ohms John calculated that the Corning inserts, but I’d prefer not to say what value we settled on.

On my drive home I realized that while we cut the shield with the 6-inch cable, when we first modified the REGEN we did not lift or insert resistance on its input jack shield contacts (virtually all USB hosts and devices end up connecting pin 4 ground to shield at some point), thus some ground currents were finding a path over the shield. I asked John why we still heard such a big difference, and he thinks it is because USBshield wires are far more symmetrical around the +/- data wires and thus they are more equally affected by whatever ground-noise currents and cancel out. I think very few USB cables shield the data wires separate from the power and ground, so the ground wire is not symmetrical about the data lines.

So that night John drilled out the ground vias for the jack, and listened with and without resistors there too. The board we had modified with the one resistor was one of the pre-production prototypes (not a production REGEN board with the layer stack-up he optimized impedance matching for), and I took that one home with me to listen to. Thus the REGEN John further modified and listened to was the production unit I gave him (his first with a case!), and he said it sounded even better when he was all done.

So that’s the long story. Maybe you will or will not continue to like the Corning cable with the updated REGEN. But you WILL be absolutely delighted by the sound of the new version.

 

Okay, now you all want to know what this means both for the USB REGENs you have on order, and for those 95 units already in use by the earliest adopters.

Well I scrapped 150 bare boards that were about to be populated at my board house. The new version, with the 3 added ultra-low noise resistors, is at the PCB maker now for a 500 unit run. And I just mailed a 5-figure check to the assembly house to cover those 500 bare boards and parts and labor to stuff 350.

Previously, if your web order number was between 1091 and 1223, the promised shipping dates were from May 29th to June 3rd.  Orders in that range will now be shipped by June 10th. Only a 1-week slip. Worth the wait I promise!

If your order number is 1224 or above, then the hold-up is not the new circuit boards, rather it is the aluminum cases. Japanese “Golden-week” holiday ends this coming Monday and so next week we will have an answer regarding delivery of the case order that will cover these latest orders. People in this group, beginning with order 1224, already saw—at the time they ordered—a promised ship date of June 18th. So for this group there is no further delay at all. In fact, your REGENs may ship 2-3 days earlier than that.

So once again: All unshipped REGENs will be of the awesome new version!  

Some of you who already have a REGEN have ordered another (or several!) more—thank you. How will you tell the difference between the first version and the new one? Well, sonically you will hear it right away. But just to make it easy, and to not have to change the case markings (too late for my enclosure vendor), I selected an amber LED to replace the green one. Maybe that will match the amber dot LED of our JS-2 and in the “p” of UpTone on the web site. I am trying to avoid calling the new version “REGEN Amber,” but I know some of you might and that’s okay.

 

Read this section only if you already have a USB REGEN in your hands.

Let's discuss how existing, “REGEN Green” owners can update to “Amber.”  This section is just for the 95 people who have been enjoying the benefits of an UpTone USB REGEN for the past few weeks:
I have thought long and hard about how to offer an upgrade to your devices in a convenient manner and at the lowest possible cost.  We are going to subsidize a part of the cost, but to do so we also have to put some strict guidelines in place so that time involved in the process is kept to a minimum. So here is the deal:

$45

What does this get you?
One new, pre-tested REGEN circuit board; One T8 Torx wrench for removing one end-cap of your REGEN case. You just slide the old board out, slide the new board in, and screw the faceplate back on.

What do you do with your old board? Whatever you want! You can use it bare without a case, but you will need to provide your own power supply for it, and your own cables/adapters. Or you can just stick it in a drawer. But I bet you will first want to compare it to the new one. Remember the power-indicator LEDs are different colors so you won’t get mixed up.

Okay, so what are the rules and restrictions for this deal?

1) Wait until June 10th. But don’t wait past July 10th as this upgrade offer expires then.

2) No e-mails about it. E-mailed questions or requests about the upgrade will go unanswered.

3) PayPal $45 to my account (account is the same as my e-mail address; I don’t publish it here, but you can get it from the e-mail also being sent out; it is easy: my last name @sti.net). This upgrade offer is not being handled through this web site. I’ll just receive the PayPal notification and I already have everyone’s address on file from when we shipped you your REGEN (put a note in the PayPal if you must have it to go to a different address than before). No invoice will be issued as I don’t even plan to run this through my accounting system.

4) Absolutely NO ADD-ONs; Don’t ask to order cables, extra USB adapters, power supplies, or more REGENs with the shipment.

5) No other special requests regarding shipping. The $45 price includes first-class postage (not Priority Mail) for a small box. There is no insurance and no tracking number (well maybe there is some sort of tracking, but I’m not going to lengths to send that info out). For international I’ll probably declare the box to something low (yes, some value must be declared, please don’t ask for any special value).

6) If you do not already own a REGEN with a green LED, do not try to get in on this program. I know who all the owners are of the first units. A couple of you have 2 REGENs—yes, you are allowed to upgrade both of them if you wish.

I think that about covers it.  
Some of you are handy with a soldering iron and may be thinking about performing the upgrade yourself. Sorry, but we can not support that since to do it right one would have to drill out 2 ground vias, de-solder the contact wing of one USB jack, and install 3 resistors, finding good grounds for them.
Just buy the new board and end up with an extra one to play with.

I hope this all sits well with everyone. Product updates/upgrades are a fact of life in high-end audio, and it is always tricky to please everyone while not making a mess of business in the process.

All the REGENs which will ship early June will have the changes, so those users will never know what a crazy sonic breakthrough this silly simple change has brought. But those of you who upgrade will get to compare.

Thank you all for your enthusiasm and support.
ALEX

2nd production run of USB REGEN sold-out! April 29 2015

And then there were none.

Well, it is official: USB REGEN fever is spreading around the world!  If we did not ourselves know just how effective the REGEN is at improving everything about USB audio playback, then we would be shocked at the unanimous, effusive outpouring of praise for it from everyone who received their unit from the first 100.  (And at least 30 of those 100 units have yet to arrive at their destinations.)

People have sent me links to listening impressions and comparison threads from forums around the world, and it is always the same.  There is of course this thread at ComputerAudiophile.com, the forum where I make my home, but French, Italian, Australian, and Singapore forums are also abuzz about REGEN.

This of course accounts for the sell-out—in just 2 weeks—of the 150 due to ship the last day of May/first few days of June (sorry, could not be helped as more cases don't arrive until mid-May, just days before a long-planned family vacation).

To be very clear about if an order you placed for a REGEN will among the 150 of the forthcoming batch:

If your order number is 1223 or below, then your REGEN will ship between May 29-June 3.

If your order number is 1224 or above, then your REGEN will not ship until approximately June 18th (we will know more after our case customizer in Japan reopens at the end of their "Golden-week" holiday May 11).

Yes, we are planning for larger and more regular production runs.  But it is always good to get your order in early.  

Thanks to one and all for making the UpTone USB REGEN such a success.  Keep spreading the word.

And remember: It's great to REGENerate!

ALEX


USB REGEN launch: Status, links, and gratitude April 16 2015

At long last we have lift-off! The little REGEN birdies have begun their flights around the world. By the graces of some I.T. guys who fixed the past 24-hours USPS.com disaster (even the clerk at my local PO counter had heard all about it), I was able to—with our youngest son ditching his school homework to help--get 40 REGEN kits and a JS-2 out in time for the 4:15 postal truck departure from our small town. The rest of the first 100 units will leave in the next few days.

Here's proof (and notice the time on the clock):
I'm usually a clean-shaven guy, but many such humane things fell by the wayside this week. 
 
A few of you asked to purchase a JS-2 to ship with your REGEN. That was a nice surprise. I'll get back to you folks this weekend.

By the way, we have chassis, R-core transformers, boards, etc. for only 5 more JS-2 units—which will be ready for shipping April 30th. After those 5 go, we won't be back in full production of JS-2 until June due to parts lead times. So get your order in now. (JS-2's must be ordered by e-mail or phone.)

People often enjoy hearing about a product's design process directly from the engineer. John Swenson, talking both about what lead to the REGEN and what design details make it special, made another of his always clear and interesting posts in the REGEN thread at ComputerAudiophile.com.

A "REGEN Listening Impressions" thread was started, so after you receive yours and play with it for a while, maybe head over there and share some thoughts about what you hear. Don't be surprised if what you hear with the REGEN confuses you at first. Go back and forth a few times, and listen at length. Your "aha" moment will come—and then you won't want to go back!

Thank you all for your patronage, encouragement, and enthusiasm.
Enjoy the music and the weekend,

ALEX

New web site now accepting orders for USB REGEN and other UpTone products! April 08 2015

We are excited to simultaneously be going live with a modest web site (at long last!) and to begin accepting orders for the highly anticipated USB REGEN.  

Shipments to customers of the first 50 units will begin April 15th.   Cases and circuit boards for the 2nd 50 units are here, but more boxes and power supplies for REGEN kits don't arrive for another week or two.

This first run is just 100 units, so get your orders in now to be assured of receiving one this month.

Please remember, even if you wrote an e-mail, sent a PM through ComputerAudiophile.com, or made a post saying you wanted a REGEN—placing your order via this site is the only way to get one!

Feel free to e-mail any questions.

If you wish to order a JS-2 LPS at the same time, put a note in the special instructions in your shopping cart or send a message via the Contact Us page. (Having your postal code is key to providing a custom shipping quotation.)

As of today there are just six JS-2 units left available (for early May shipment since the REGEN launch is occupying us). With all the over-the-top reviews of the past month these won't last long.  Chassis, transformers, boards, etc. for another run of 50 JS-2 units are going on order next week.  This is all a balancing act, but rest assured this train is not stopping!

Many thanks and best regards,

ALEX