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A taste of change: Illusonic’s layer cake

  • A veteran of hifi hardware manufacturing writes: “Audiophiles don’t want to admit that properly applied DSP is as impressive as it is; especially now that really good processing chips from Analog Devices are inexpensive. They don’t want to admit that amps directly coupled to the drivers eliminate or at least mitigate a lot of what we perceive as big differences in amps…and they don’t want to admit that 24/192 A/D conversion is as good as it is. And they have problems with EQ even if done at the frequency extremes where you have the most problems..” 

    Doing things the way we have always done helps us feel safe n’ secure in a fast-moving world. We mitigate our fear of the unknown by artificially holding new technologies at arms length. The digital vs analogue debate is a prime example of change pain. That which is no longer part of an intangible, amorphous future but already upon us we purposefully blur. We like our world as it is and we don’t want it to change; even though we know in our hearts that change is inevitable.

    In Illusonic’s demo room at Munich High-End 2017, another three-box hifi system. Acoustically transparent panels obscured (what was later revealed to be) studio monitors. Only a plinth-mounted black box caught the eye. For future-phobes, an unnerving scene. What was that thing?

    Let’s step a little closer…

    IAP = Illusonic Audio Processor; 2 = stereo.

    The IAP2 is a DAC with coaxial, TOSLINK and USB inputs. Basic. The inclusion of HDMI inputs sees this Swiss company throw their arms around SACD/DVD/CD spinners and 4th Gen Apple TVs. Warmer. An Ethernet input makes the IAP2 a streamer. Now we’re cooking. Line-level and phono inputs and a front panel volume pot make it a pre-amplifier. Hot!

    The feature pile-on doesn’t end there. Illusonic’s expertise lies in DSP. All inputs (analogue –> digital) are routed via an Analog Devices SHARC processor for a range of possibilities not possible with a standard digital pre-amplifier. Number one is room correction. Not only were the active monitors already well suited to this hellishly challenging M.O.C. exhibition space but their output had been optimised by way of DSP-powered parametric EQ.

    While audiophiles continue to argue above the 99th percentile, they miss the bigger picture. Room correction offers more de-blurring than any source file format change-up could dream of. Double irony points go to those who would green light MQA but maintain an aversion to DSP. Their loss.

    Move on up to the 8 x output IAP8 (pictured above) and active crossovers become a possibility. Ditto subwoofer integration without the floor crawl.

    Here’s Illusonic’s Christof Faller with more information:

    Another slice of Future-Fi for those brave enough break free from the audiophile world’s increasingly out-moded reliance on passive loudspeakers driven by one-size-fits-all outboard amplifiers. Illusonic join a chorus of manufacturers who know that DSP is the future of home audio for those who cannot withstand the financial and physical impact of a high box count.

    Further information: Illusonic

    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. John

      Interesting article. You are probably one of the few people in the world who could compare it with the DEQX approach. Do you have any thoughts on that?

      Also I was surprised that they do not have the latest 4K HDR compatible HDMI inputs. Do you know if they are going to change that? It is so expensive and it is surprising that they do not update their HDMI board.

      • I’ve not dug deep enough to know how their tech works in practice – whether they take an impulse response as per DEQX – to know how it compares.

    2. Looking at Illusonics web site, this appears on the surface to be some powerful technology. A few questions, though:

      1. In practice (since you heard it in person), how well does the technology actually perform? Does the sound quality match the marketing quality?

      2. Is this priced at a level that mere mortals can afford? Even the web site doesn’t specify how much each of these models cost.

      3. Are they planning to enter the US market at some point?

      Thanks in advance for your response, -dB

      • As I’ve said many times this week, impossible to listen past an unfamiliar room and unfamiliar speakers and unfamiliar music. Only at home where room, speakers and music are known quantities can I/we gather insight into what this thing can really do.

        Think of this post as a show and tell, just as I see audio show exhibits. Nothing more.

    3. The trick thing in this demo was switching from plain stereo to enhanced stereo to ultimate depth, always with just the two hidden active PSI speakers and subwoofers. That 3-stage difference was *very* easy to hear -:)

      • Aha! Thanks Srajan. I’m glad you can add some insight here as the pressure of an upcoming meeting meant I only had time for the video interview. The planned revisit didn’t happen. :/ I only decided to write this up because, as you know, I’m a fan of what DSP can do.

    4. Hey John,

      Interesting read, as always.
      I have to say, that I would very much prefer, if manufacturers implemented DSP for room correction, EQ ect. in a way which still lets you choose your own DAC.

      Maybe I am wrong, but the way I see it its possible to integrate the DSP in the source(part of the super integrated), before the signal gets converted from either the on board DAC OR your favorite DAC.

      This would bring many skeptics like myself on board.


    5. The comments in this article cannot be perfected more. That is the world we live in. It has changed in exactly the way JD has described it. The rest are commentary : arguments over how many clueless audiophiles can dance on the tip of a stylus.

    6. Yeah something like that, but maybe with one zero less on the price ticket :)…
      Hopefully only a matter of time


    7. As to “manufacturers implementing DSP correction that let’s us use our own DAC”… that’s been here for ages. Just use FabFilter or equivalent as a plug-in inside PureMusic or a similar software player. Bingo, it’ll work on any DAC you want -:)

      • Yeah… Sorry for my ignorance… I’m kind of new to two channel Hifi and wasnt aware of those affordable options.

        I’ll try to apply myself 😉

    8. “Room correction offers more de-blurring than any source file format change-up could dream of”

      It’s good ol’ common sense such as the above, Mister Darko, that keeps you at the cutting edge of relevance. Thank you.

    9. In this context of DSP room correction and MQA, correct me if I’m wrong but I seem to have read that the two don’t play nice. Any such applied DSP in the data stream disables the MQA process. Could somebody confirm or denythat for sure?

      • Ok if room correcting DSP takes place after MQA decode (unfold) but MQA rendering not possible AFAIK.

        However, as you’re probably aware, my point was that room/speaker correction will bring more to the table than a switch up to MQA.

    10. Hey Darko: Not so fast !

      You speak of DSP “globally speaking” as the miraculous panacea –of all that ails Hi-Fi.
      Put on the brakes a bit –prematurely referencing cautious listener’s/audiophiles as old-dogs is unwise. And unfounded. You may wish to consider the term “collective wisdom” before declaring DSP the ‘new-age’ miracle.

      By advocating DSP, you say, quote:

      ” While audiophiles continue to argue above the 99th percentile, they miss the bigger picture. Room correction offers more de-blurring than any source file format change-up could dream of. Double irony points go to those who would green light MQA but maintain an aversion to DSP. Their loss.”

      Such a “claim” suggests both inexperience in acoustics and DSP technology. Simply put, it has its place and plays a significant role, but the panacea you advocate it to be is not, rest assured.

      Interestingly, the ‘double-irony’ goes to you: DSP Room Correction “offers more de-blurring than any source file format could dream of ” yet in the same breath, ironically, mention the highly praised MQA (de-blurring) format !
      You see, Darko, within electronic circuits, (processing electrical signals –including file-formats), clever DSP can work well. Suggesting it is so great in “correcting” physical acoustics, or other maladies concerning high-resolution sound reproduction is unwise.

      Have you had the chance to experience Meridian’s “DSP” CD/Amp/Loudspeakers?
      I rest my case. lol

      All-in-all, it may very well be you, who is missing the bigger picture.

      peter jasz

      • Peter – Nowhere do I say that room correction can correct *all* acoustic ills (or even the majority of ’em). My comment here was clearly in relation to MQA. I thought that was obvious? After all, the ‘de-blurring’ phrase was no accident.

        Allow me to clarify: I’m saying that it’s ironic that room correction can bring more of a dramatic improvement to SQ than MQA but it’s the latter that’s most talked about / fussed over in 2017.

    11. Hi John: My mistake. Please accept my apologies.

      Indeed, you are correct in stating: ” … Allow me to clarify: I’m saying that it’s ironic that room correction can bring more of a dramatic improvement to SQ than MQA but it’s the latter that’s most talked about / fussed over in 2017.”

      I truly enjoy your sensible audio coverage.


      peter jasz

    The heart of Future-fi: Innuos Zenith SE streamer/server

    Astell&Kern talk A&Ultima SP1000, modularity, MQA