In general, I prefer to deal with power supplies, power cords, and power conditioners as little as possible. I try to find what I think are great ones that do the job and then forget about them. They do not excite me as do (say) speakers, amplifiers, DACs, and preamplifiers. But they do play a fundamental and important piece of the puzzle in creating any high-end audio system. So audiophiles must, from time-to-time, pay serious attention.
For my part, for a power supply, I have been using a Mojo Audio Joule V linear power supply for several years now to power my Mac-Mini as player for my DAC (and as the Joule V’s second output, a secondary external hard drive for some of my digital music files) and I have been very pleased with the sound quality it yields. I had previously used the Joule III, and the Joule V offered significant improvement. I assumed a Joule VI might come along one day, and I would check it out.
Well, however fine it was, the Joule V will be replaced by a new one, and this review is about that new one—and it is not a Joule VI.
Mojo Audio’s Owner, Benjamin Zwickel, contacted me almost a year ago with news that he was working on a new power supply. I assumed it would be yet another upgrade in the same spirit as the Joule V. So, I told him, yes, I would be happy to check it out when it is available. Months went by but nothing happened except an occasional email from Zwickel filled with passion and enthusiasm about the development of this new power supply. I kept encouraging him, and just waiting. Finally, he let me know that it was even going to have an entirely new name: The ‘Illuminati’; the Joule series was to be discontinued.
I paid little attention to the technical details provided by Zwickel, so when a heavy, large box arrived from Mojo Audio, and I took its contents out, I assumed this was something other than a power supply: It was a large classy-looking black metal rectangular box built like a tank, it’s dimensions were 13”(L), 6.75”(W), 6.75”(H) , it weighed 22 lbs, was fitted with four Stillpoints as footers, and was about three times the size of the Joule V! ‘Holy cow!’, I thought, what is going on here? Well, this was a completely new design by Mojo Audio, an attempt to be the ultimate top-tier ultralow-noise linear power supply as compared to the Joule V (or any other power supply):
(1) A new SPRU ultraslow-noise high-dynamic regulator developed for Mojo Audio by Belleson.
(2) A massive choke input that more effectively filters line noise while lowering heat and extending component life.
(3) Several new fool-proof self-resetting protection circuits including an optocoupler controlled over-current protection. (Standard AC fuses have been upgraded to Thermistors.)
(4) Externally user accessible features, such as the DC ground lift and three option selectable output voltages.
(5) A 5-pin XLR dual voltage output that allows more sophisticated components to be powered with one cable.
Besides the importance to sound quality that (1) should provide, Zwickel told me the following about (3):
`What we are most proud of is our opticoupler controlled over-current protection circuit that took literally three years to develop. Not only does this circuit protect any component powered by our Illuminati, it also protects the sensitive high-dynamic regulator. You can literally dead short the output of the Illuminati and all that would happen is the blue LED in the front would turn red. Turn it off and wait a few minutes, turn it back on again, and all is reset.’
Admittedly (embarrassed, I am) I did at one point mistakenly dead short the output when the Illuminati was connected to my Mac-Mini during this review (e.g., I pulled out the power cable from Illuminati to Maci-Mini when both were powered on), and the only thing that happened was exactly as Zwickel just said. Quite something. BTW, that tiny blue light on the front of the Illuminati itself is new, it lets you know that the unit is powered on (and working properly); the Joule V by comparison has no light whatsoever. This little feature is so damn useful; I am very pleased that Mojo Audio finally added that on to their power supplies.
As for (2): I can attest to the fact that the Illuminati gives off essentially no heat, whereas the Joule V gets pretty darn hot especially when using dual outputs.
Pricing and Options
The Illuminati is not cheap; at least twice as expensive as the Joule V was. But it uses much higher quality components, more sophisticated technology and is huge in comparison.
There are two main models:
Single voltage ($2, 000), and dual voltage ($2, 500); and an extra $320 for the set of four optional Stillpoints footers.
They all come in silver or black and there are further options for fixed or 3-position switchable voltages–all at no additional cost.
There are also options for several different DC power cables all with different pricing starting at $149.95: Single cable single voltage, Single cable single voltage high-current, Single cable dual voltage, Dual cable single voltage, Dual cable dual voltage.
So, depending on the power requirements of your devices, you can potentially power up to six different components of up to two different voltages with one Illuminati. An example might be to power a preamp/headphone amp or DAC + a music server + a network audio endpoint or USB device. The one sent to me was dual voltage set to 12 Volts each (and with Stillpoints). But my Mac-Mini uses more than 25Watts, so the advice was to use it for the Mac-Mini and (as a second component only, if need be) a less needy device such as my external extra hard drive; that I did in this review-with exemplary results. But: Mojo Audio also sent me later on, to help with the review, yet another Illuminati to be used with a wonderful microZOTL headphone/preamp, by Linear Tube Audio (vacuum tubes front and back end), modified by Mojo Audio to be able to use the Illuminati, or the Joule V, in addition to other external power supplies. Luxury. More on that later when I discuss sound quality.
Testing Sound Quality
The power switch of the Illuminati is on the back, and one keeps it off while attaching the DC power cables between it and devices; then it is OK to turn it on. That little blue LED light on the front shines, letting you know all is well. I kept the Illuminati on always unless needing to swap out/add another device or swapping out the Illuminati for the Joule V. When swapping out the Illuminati (for comparison purposes) I powered off the Illuminati first. If my Mac-Mini was attached, I turned that off then unpowered the Illuminati.
Powering the Mac mini
My main testing with the Illuminati was for powering my Mac mini; comparing sound quality yielded by the Illuminati versus using the Joule V. I discuss that here. I point out that a lot of burn-in is necessary; in the beginning the sound was thin–but with hints of what was to be; be patient. I kept at it for about 1 month; I report here how things sounded by that time.
My DAC (PS Audio Direct Stream with Bridge II) allows for ethernet which is my reference method of connecting the Mac-Mini to the DAC, so for me that was the most important testing for my system. But theoretically replacing the Joule V by another high-end power supply when using ethernet should not have made a difference (let alone a significant one): The DAC’s Bridge II has a microprocessor built in and that is the actual ‘player’. So the Mac minii and the ‘player’ are seriously separated which is the beauty of using ethernet (instead of USB or S/PDIF, etc.). On the other hand, using USB for comparison should theoretically make a difference; there is jitter, distortion and the lot that comes when using USB.
Well, you can imagine how surprised I was to find that although the improvement in sound quality using USB was significant, it also was so for ethernet (but not as pronounced): really dead quiet when there should be, and new inner detail exposed in recordings. The damn Illuminati was unforgiving in that it revealed that some of my self-proclaimed ‘reference’ recordings were not so reference quality after all. But others shined like never before. In general, the sounds of acoustic instruments were tightened up and more articulate and transparent (so clean) with a more live-sounding quality. The inner details revealed were such that more often than usual I would think someone or something was at the door or outside in the street making sounds; it was just interesting sounds in the recording that I had not noticed before—I guess that is what it means to have ‘ultra-low noise’.
As an acoustic bass and piano example: ‘Portrait in Jazz’, Bill Evans Trio (2001, originally recorded in 1960). The bass coming from the right channel was strikingly live sounding, just incredible and so was the piano. The Joule 5 was excellent, but it could not compete with this. As another example for bass and voice: Diana Krall ‘Love Scenes’ at 24/96. Huge soundstage, deep, unusually more articulate and tight bass now, lovely textured voice. For classical, I used the new (2016) Deutsche Gramophone CD release of Bach’s ‘The French Suites’, with Murray Perahia on piano (CD rip) (recently reviewed by the Editor). One of its very short movements from Suite N. 5 in G major, ‘Gavotte’, is special, it made me think he is right at my side with his grand piano in a perfect acoustical venue, and if it does not put you in the highest of spirits, nothing will. Finally, as another example, one that truly played tricks on me concerning inner details exposed: ‘Love’ (2006) by the Beatles (CD rip). What a trip.
When queried, Zwickel explained to me why he thinks the Illuminati improved my Ethernet performance despite the fact that my DAC has a microprocessor at the Ethernet input:
`Computer audio happens in real time without the opportunity for the bi-directional communication required for error correction. This means that if a bit error leaves the computer it can not be corrected by another component. An ultra low-noise power supply like our Illuminati improves computer audio performance by providing error prevention as opposed to error correction.’
Powering the microZOTL2 Headphone/Preamp
The microZOTL2 Headphone/Preamp by Linear Tube Audio is a highly regarded all tube unit, and already comes with an external power supply ($1695 with a linear power supply). ZOTL refers to their ‘patented Zero hysteresis Output Transformer-Less (ZOTL) technology’. But Zwickel wanted to raise the ante by allowing it to be powered by other power supplies. So he sent me a combo of another Illuminati with a modified (by Mojo Audio) microZOLTL2 that can be powered by either the Joule V or the Illuminati. The point was for me to get a sense of what the Illuminati does to an analogue unit as opposed to a digital one (Mac-Mini). Well, It does wonders. I only used it as a headphone amp. That combo is superb, and yes the Illuminati bests the Joule V with it, but again the Joule V is excellent. Same effect as when I used the Mac-Mini but perhaps even more pronounced. But keep in mind that for me to use this combo, I still had to use the Illuminati to power my Mac-mini which sent its digital media to my DAC (ethernet) which then sent it (RCA interconnects) to the microZOTL2. One expensive headphone kit!
With the Illuminati, Mojo Audio has created a super low noise power supply that yields a significant improvement in sound quality both for analog devices and even digital ones such a Mac-Mini (and even when using ethernet instead of USB): Clean, transparent sound with dead quiets when should be and remarkable inner details exposed. It gives off essentially no heat, has many flexible options, and has an innovative over-current protection circuit. It is also a classy-looking built-like-a-tank unit using very high-quality components and it is meant to last.
Further information: Mojo Audio
Associated Reference Equipment
Speakers: Alta Audio Celesta FRM-2.
Amplifiers: 2 Merrill Audio Veritas Monoblocks Special Edition (SE).
DAC: PS Audio DirectStream(with Bridge II) and Torreys firmware; Roon Ready/Roon Endpoint.
Preamplifier: PS Audio BHK Signature
Music Server: Mac Mini (Upgraded by Mojo Audio, with Joule V power supply).
Music Player Software: Roon (1.2, Build 161).
Turntable: VPI Scout (upgraded with Ortofon 2M Black cartridge, and 1 and 3/8" platter)
Phono stage: PS Audio NuWave PhonoConverter.
Interconnects : Anticables Level 4.1 Reference PLUS Xhadow (with cryo option), Waveform Fidelity, Antipodes Reference.
USB Cable: Wireworld Platinum Starlight 7.
Speaker cables, jumpers, power cords: Waveform Fidelity.
Power generator: PS Audio P3 Power Plant.