Titan Audio "Helen" that can be used wtih DMP and perhaps DSD . . . .


#1

Anyone heard of this product, the “Helen” from Titan Audio (China?) It purports to be compatible with HDMI output from the DMP as well as other digital sources, and also to output I2S via HDMI (possibly using the PS Audio protocol?) Here’s information from an expired audiogon ad and a link to the product page:

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http://www.titansaudiolab.com/en/products/Helen/Helen.html

Meet Helen, and transform your digital experience.
Helen is winning the “Editor’s Choice” and “Most Wanted Component” award from Stereotimes, new review pending. We have one last unit selling at introductory price $1495 (see my other audiogon ad) and starting from 2018 it will be sold at full MSRP $1699.


Helen is a high-performance digital processing unit that works between your digital sources and DAC, it enhances the performance of your current DAC, to the point that you may not have known what your DAC can really do.

Helen is the result of 3 years of relentless research on fundamental digital audio performance. It features Ultra-Fast Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA), Platinum Grade Hybrid Phase-Locked Loop (PLL), State-Of-The-Art circuit design, and first-rate fit-and-finish/craftsmanship. Helen reduces jitter to 0.6 picosecond, or 600 femtosecond (10Hz – 100kHz), and generates a bit-perfect, virtually jitter-free output to feed your favorite DAC.

Helen is not a DAC, it does not have analog output.
Helen is not a USB interface, it does not have USB input.
Helen is not a network player or server, it does not connect to your network.
Helen is not an equalizer, it passes through the digital signal in a bit-perfect fashion.
Instead, Helen is a revolutionary product that instantly upgrades ALL your digital sources, such as your CD transport, network player, music server, and USB/SPDIF interface.
A few other brands produced “re-clocking boxes”, but none of them represents a thorough solution like Helen.

What are the benefits?
(1) Eliminate digital etch/edge and make your DAC sound more natural.
(2) Enrich density and fullness, making the sound more complete and lively.
(3) Enhance the sound stage width, depth and imaging specificity.
(4) Enhance bass impact, depth, detail and tightness.
(5) Enhance micro-dynamics and macro-dynamics.
(6) Enhance overall resolution and definition.

Do I need Helen with an ultra-High-end digital front end?
Contrary to common belief, the better your front end, the more it benefits from Helen, thanks to the extra resolution and definition such systems are capable of.
Helen is itself a cost-no-objective design. Our clients use it with CH Precision/Orpheus transport/DAC, Esoteric separates, Linn Klimax DSM, dCS/MSB/Playback Designs/Emm Labs top DAC, and consistently achieve positive results. Adding Helen bettered external atomic clocks that cost 5x the price, and many audiophiles who heard Helen the first time think it should cost at least $6000.
Our demo system consists of PS Audio DirectStream Memory Player (DSMP) as the digital source and COS Engineering D1 DAC/preamp (see my other audiogon ad for detail). Consider the DSMP has a FPGA buffered output, the COS D1 has a 2-second-buffer input memory, and both claim extremely low-jitter, you would think adding the Helen in between offers little to no help. Yet it only takes 5 seconds of A/B to tell the difference.
Helen has two modes: the Standard Mode (SM) and the Precision Mode (PM). While the PM will grace a million-dollar audio system, the SM will enhance mid-Fi digital sources such as an ordinary DVD player or a digital TV receiver box.

What are the inputs and what formats are supported?
Helen has 4 digital inputs:
AES/EBU: Up to to 24bit/768k or DOP256
Coaxial: Up to to 24bit/768k or DOP256
Toslink: Up to to 24bit/192k or DOP64
HDMI*: Up to to 32bit/768k or DOP512
*Native PCM and DSD Over HDMI (LVDS Transceiver) is only compatible to Titan’s Audio Lab’s own definition.

What are the outputs?
AES/EBU, Coaxial SPDIF, BNC, Toslink, HDMI*, and (4)-SMA*
*I2S transmission via HDMI and (4)-SMA is reserved for compatible DAC from Titans Audio Lab. How much jitter does it suppress?
Normal Mode: 200:1 above 100Hz & 3000:1 above 700Hz;
Precision Mode: 8000:1 above 100Hz & 1000000:1 above 700Hz.

Dimentions: 11 x 7 x 2.3 inch (W x D x H);
Weight: 4 LB;

Finish: Silver only;
Manufacturer’s website: www.titansaudiolab.com


#2

“Subscribed”.

I also stumbled across this and was intrigued.

Anyone out there know more about it or have any experience with it…?


#3

Found this from Stereotimes…

Titans Audio Lab Helen jitter unit ($1,499): This small and unassuming device appears to heighten resolution, while creating a greater sense of depth and dimensionality through its correction of digital jitter. Very reminiscent of the Genesis Digital Lens of two decades ago. Very impressed thus far. Review in the works. (Clement Perry)


#4

I think we need Ted’s expert opinion on this one! I did notice the following “I2S transmission via HDMI and (4)-SMA is reserved for compatible DAC from Titans Audio Lab. How much jitter does it suppress?”. This would indicate you can’t use the I2S input of a DS (or any other non-Titan DAC) which to me defeats the purpose. Using I2S cuts out a couple of conversions of the digital data stream, now I have to add one (when using DMP) back in to get their improvement? Not for me!


#5

I like the amount of detail and quality of the information on their web site. I agree with them technically almost everywhere.

Their FAQ explicitly states “Titans Audio standard is not compatible with PS Audio.”

Except for the upper sample rate of the inputs (and the fit and finish) the DS meets or betters it’s specs. Also the DS’s low jitter is right where it’s needed: next to the final place where digital becomes audio not on the other end of a cable in an external box.

At the levels of jitter we’re talking about for the quality of the last interconnect / transceivers, etc. can degrade the good work done previously and in fact most of the differences we attribute to using digital different cables with the DS actually come down to how good their shielding and grounding are (and the ground loops they may add to a system) - not the jitter present.

That isn’t to say that a Helen wouldn’t make things sound a little better with the DS - I’m sure it takes care with the many things that also matter in addition to jitter. I’m not sure it’s the most cost effective way to make a system sound better, but you are paying a fair price for good technology and I’d rather have it (and one excellent short cable from it to the DS) than some expensive digital cables for the rest of the system.

BTW When using the DS you aren’t necessarily getting better jitter performance with I2S input, you are probably getting better shielding (both to and from the cable) which makes most of the difference - but that doesn’t mean you can’t do as well with S/PDIF, AES and especially TOSLink if they have the bandwidth you need. Digital processing and/or digital format conversions in the DS are “free”, don’t change the data and are all running no matter what input you are using. The jitter reduction comes after any said digital processing/conversion.


#6

Ted,what is your opinion of this product… Thanks. Mark

http://www.empiricalaudio.com/products/synchro-mesh


#7

ASRC (asynchronous sample rate conversion) is the mechanism it uses to lower jitter. I’m not a fan of that - but some like the change in the sound. My problem with ASRC is that it resamples the input with a more accurate clock - but tho the output clock may indeed have less jitter than the input, to do that it changes the data (it calculates the values needed on the output to represent the input signal including it’s jitter) - the input jitter is now encoded in the data and can never be removed downstream. Beside any philosophical issues, this breaks bit perfect playback and hence will break DSD playback, etc.


#8

IMO just a perfect reclock equipment does a perfect job. Since 2 years I use a MUTEC 3+ USB clock/reclock unit. Great stuff. Works excitingly together with Memory Player and Directstream as well as an USB input from Mac into Directstream.
Best greetings from Germany
Adi


#9

Thanks, Ted. I did not know this is what ASRC does.


#10

For the past week I have been listening with Helen installed between my Sonore Signature Series Rendu and PSA DS Dac.
I had absolutely no idea what effect Helen would have on the performance of my renderer into the DS.

Helen arrives in a plain white outer shipping box, inside is a card board sleeve wrapped around 2 boxes.
A small box containing the Meanwell power supply, 2 prong AC cord and a 4 pin XLR to 2.1 DC adapter tail.
The box containing Helen reveals a second dark chocolate colored brown box with a cream colored envelope laying on top.
It looked like a box of fine gourmet confections with a card that you would receive as a gift at Christmas, a nice presentation.
The Helen rests in a high density dark grey foam liner inside its presentation box.

The machined aluminum chassis has a fit and finish that I usually see on products approaching the 5 figure price point.
It is a very solid feeling aluminum mass with the heft and feel of a brick, nothing flimsy on this chassis.

Connecting Helen is for the most part very straight forward, just keep in mind that Helen does not accept USB or PSA I2S HDMI.
This may be a deal breaker for some, the majority of my music is PCM and if I want to listen to DSD I’ll just listen via straight I2S.
Input into the Helen is via Illuminations BNC D60 with a Black Cat XOX BNC adapter on the Helen input. ( from the Sonore SSR )
Output into the DS is via Illuminations AES/EBU Orchid.

Input selection is a short manual press of the button on the right hand side of the Helen until you have the correct input selected.
Helen will not obtain a lock until you have selected the correct source input.

Helen offers 2 levels of processing, normal and precision, it is recommended that precision be used if at all possible.
A long press of the source selection button switches between normal ( red ) and precision ( green ) flashing LED.
The LED will flash until Helen achieves a lock on your source and then will stay steady after lock.
If precision will not lock, then you are limited to normal operating mode. ( I am listening in precision )

If you change source selection or select a file to play that changes the sampling rate, Helen will have to re-lock.
In normal mode this was 2 - 3 seconds and 10- 13 seconds in precision mode for my source.
So there is a soft pop, blip of music and then silence until the re-lock is obtained changing between rates.
As long as you do not switch sources and the files that you are listening to are all ripped at the same rate, you will not experience this.
When I switch sampling rates, I mute the DS and wait for a lock and then un-mute and restart play.
Helen passed both bit perfect tests into the DS after locking ( 96k and 192K for inquiring minds ).

Helen took about 4 hours to run in, the usual roller coaster of hyper detail, boated bottom end and blurred stage until it settled in.
I really had no idea of what to expect and after 100 hours of run in I am pleasantly surprised and pleased with the improvement, but disappointed of the weaknesses revealed in my source.
The list of benefits listed in the original post/ad are all apparent in my system.
I had previously confused etch/edge/glare with first reflections or toe in issues, issues eliminated.

There are a few adjustments that I feel improved the performance of the Helen.
The feet are just standard mini feet, I removed them and placed Helen on 3 Stillpoints Ultra AL, a very noticeable increase in effect,
( most equipment exhibits this benefit ).
Inserted between the the 4 pin XLR adapter tail and the Meanwell PS, a JSGT negative ground drain lead, very very slight improvement.
I tried powering Helen from my HD Plex PS, but for some reason that was a step in the wrong direction.
Helen does not add any self noise that I can detect in my system.

Helen is a keeper for me ( at least until I acquire a source that does not benefit from it ).


#11

Previous discussion of this unit: Click.


#12

Thanks for the review! Intriguing product.


#13

Agreed. And Ted’s previous comments on the unit are interesting


#14

Further comment on the Helen regarding the I2S HDMI input and output.
I connected the Helen via the I2S input and output between my Signature Series Rendu and Direct Stream.
The Helen locked onto the SSR and the DS locked on to the Helen, but there is a strange icon that I never noticed before below the tools gear, a small circle with a wedge symbol inside it.
Both Bit Perfect tests passed.
PCM up to 352 WAV plays without issue, though I think the output level is a bit lower ( the wedge symbol? )
DSD is a no go, I was surprised that PCM even worked since the manual makes it quite clear that I2S is not compatible with PSA,


#15

The “small circle with a wedge symbol inside it” is an indication that deemphasis is being done. It should only show up on 44.1k material (it doesn’t do anything at other sample rates.) Deemphasis is a high shelving filter that starts rolling off the top at 6dB / octave at about 3183Hz and stops at about 10610Hz (where it’s approx. 10.5dB down.)

The PWT and DMP signal that the source material needs deemphasis by using the I2C lines in the HDMI connector.


#16

As I look at the code tho the FPGA only reports to the UI that preemphasis is detected on 44.1k material the UI can force the FPGA to do deemphasis with any sample rate. If the I2S inputs are asking for deemphasis then the UI probably tries to honor that no matter what the sample rate.


#17

Maybe the deemphasis was the result of the incompatible HDMI pin out.
I could hear that something was off, I thought it was just a lower level.
It did not sound good enough for an extended listening session.
I would not recommend going the I2S route with PCM on the Helen with the DS.