Paul McGowan makes a short story long

I have heard differences. It ultimately all depends on your DAC. Most DACs are not doing a very good job with regard to USB input - this is the real reason that special cables are sometimes necessary (to correct or compensate for equipment inadequacies). Unfortunately folks attribute differences to the cables instead of recognizing that their DAC is doing a lousy job on the USB input.

I’ve done the same and I think that’s the situation with most cables and most people. But the sensations so real it’s hard to accept - and a hard concept to explain. Of course it’s made harder by the fact that there’s limited measurements and hard evidence, and even when they are presented, the arguments about system quality etc come out.

I tried 7 sets of speaker cables from a dealer once. I managed to convince myself some were amazing. But when I tried blind a few days later I couldn’t. At all. So I kept what I have. But I still browse speaker cables. Because the sensation was so strong and also because I read so many people saying x cable was amazing etc. It’s hard to convince yourself none of it matters. Sure maybe there’s subtle changes in analogue cables but…

And I think slims point is the most pertinent. When we try to listen, our brains are concentrating more and we hear changes that are just there because we’re listening/concentrating harder.

And then after purchase the ‘burn in’ process is largely your subconscious trying to rationalise that in fact the sound is the same but knows you spent money needlessly. Slowly it convinces you that you didn’t do something silly by making you think you’ve got a new sound whereas you haven’t. But that takes time. Rick and I and I’m sure many others have experienced this. When you change back or do a blind test, they’re equal.

But I STILL peruse cables… can’t explsin that. I guess we just live in hope…

All IMO obvs.


That’s the point. You simply can’t cheat the physical nature of sound, but you can fool your own senses :wink:.
There are numerous of test setups proofing that our senses can be fooled quite easily. Not only our sense of hearing but also of vision, smell, pain, and more. They all evolved within millions of years. And they are limited and not perfect, but they enable us to survive.
And our ears are definitely not made for listening to power cables or to the effect bad RF may induce into an audio cable :wink:. Those tiny effects are far far far beyond any range a human being can sense.

Actually a highly qualified and well respected DAC designer says the complete opposite to this…

"USB cables can make a difference to the sound - not due to source jitter (as this is completely removed by Hugo), but due to the amount of RF noise that gets injected into the ground plane of Hugo. More RF noise, more noise floor modulation, which makes it sound brighter. Unfortunately, I suspect some expensive USB cables actually make RF noise levels worse, so it will sound brighter and give the impression of more detail. So my advice is to be careful if it sounds brighter!"

Somebody will read that quote and then say, well a better DAC will take care of all this. Isolating leakage currents (and associated RF) on USB input isn’t as easy as the common methods used for galvanic isolation… but that’s a whole other thing…

Whichever DAC you own, it’s worth having a chat to it’s designer if you get the chance (and if it interests you). I’ve learnt quite a bit from Ted Smith, Rob Watts, Andreas Koch etc.

There’s plenty of current (not old) knowledge shared out there by real experts…

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But I guess someone like Paul McGowan (or any of the quoted designers) should actually offer up hard data then if cables etc are recommended by them or they think cables affect the final analogue output of their kit?They’re some of the few people who must have the kit and knowledge necessary to measure and evaluate what effects cables have on their equipment. Then it’s actually offering something scientific, even if that’s accompanied by their subjective opinions.

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As I mentioned, if you ever get to chat with the designer of your own gear, you may (or not) learn some new information. Reach out to them and try it out.

If you don’t agree with the designer of your own gear, then you can argue directly with them :grin:

Yes, almost never any hard data when it comes to magic components. That’s the usual way.
If you worry about bad RF, why not just use optical connection and cable…?
But… we can talk and talk and talk… just compare by double-blind and false test. It’s so simple. After such tests, you REALLY know if it’s worth the money.

You hit the nail on the head!!! Thanks, Matthias.

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There used to be someone on this forum who gave 10 to 1 odds (his $10,000 against anyone’s $1000) that the participant couldn’t tell the difference between a cheap cable and an uber cable in the participant’s system of choice.

Haven’t heard from him in a while.

Guess, nobody wanted to risk 1k bugs :wink:.

Gordan Rankin, INVENTOR of asynchronous USB audio says USB cables do matter:

“A couple of years ago, I bought an expensive Tektronix USB setup. I have had protocol analyzers since designing my first USB DACS some twelve years ago. The Tektronix is useful because it allows me to see errors better both in electrical and data packets.”

“The big thing that many people don’t realize is that not all USB ports are created equal. Not all USB cables are created equal and it’s the same for devices and even operating systems. Since getting the Tektronix I have tested probably thirty different USB cables on the fifteen computers in my lab. These computers run a variety of operating systems and the Tektronix results vary between computers even when the cable remains the same. Lets just say it’s not as pretty as I thought it would be.”


Does this mean spending more on one will be better? Not in my experience, because many of the ‘high-end’ ones are not even within spec., or don’t publish their specs. It’s important to get one that has the correct impedance of 90 Ohms and has good shielding. I currently use an inexpensive Supra USB cable and like it a lot for the price.

Right conclusion.
At first, the article is not about sound quality but digital signal quality. These are very different animals. If the output bitstream is not the same as the input, we have an erroneous transmission. And as commented in the article this will result in pops and clicks.

Second, the avoidance or correction of SUCH transmission errors will NOT result in a “sharper”, “clearer”, more “transparent”, more “spatial” or what ever better sound quality. It will just remove the pops and clicks, because it‘s a DIGITAL signal.

If you hear pops or clicks, you should check all your components, may it be H/W or S/W or the digital source itself.

But, this thread is not about this bit tilting, is it? Nor should it be about using USB cables beyond their specs, esp. their lengths…

It is about injecting people with the idea that an absurdly overpriced cable simply MUST deliver better sound quality.

I’m getting a weekly digest mail featuring top forum topics.
This one just earned my weekly ‘Dunning–Kruger’ award.
Felicitations to all the experts among us.


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Some thoughts from an expert -

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Thank you so much for this very well written and very true article. There’s nothing more to say. :+1:t3:


Thanks @xxx :slightly_smiling_face:

This reminded me of something …

nothing more to say :laughing:

… an just to make my point clear.
Be stupid rich. I don’t give a damn.
Just be proud of my ‘Dunning–Kruger’ award.

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Objectively speaking, with the right equipment, differences may be heard between mediocre usb cables and well-built usb cables. That being said, expensive audiophile usb cables imho tend not to be worth the money for the benefits they might (or might not) bring.

I used to have a McIntosh MC275, properly tube rolled, which I loved. It had a fair bit of distortion being a tube amp at all but it sounded amazing, even with power hungry floor standing speakers.

One day, I tried out the Benchmark AHB-2 amp. It is literally the opposite of the MC275, as it is incredibly neutral. My system lost a little bit of the colouring I liked, but it also gained much more accuracy all throughout the bandwidth (extended bass and highs and more neutral mids) and I haven’t looked back since.

One of the things I like most about Benchmark is that they aim to make pro equipment rather than audiophile equipment and that they price and market accordingly. They are the only company I know whose manuals contain more data and stats on measured performance rather than description and marketing of features.

They have also been quite vocal about audiophile ‘myths’. On the topic of cables, they just make and sell one high quality studio grade cable per type and again properly tested and measured. All at very reasonable prices.

In the end, I chose to go from a subjective sounding system to a more objective sounding system, i.e. one that (supposedly) lets the music sound more like it did when recorded.

One thing I haven’t seen mentioned yet, is the psychology behind purchases. When you have bought something expensive, the benefits may seem bigger than they really because our minds are trying to validate the cost. In a way it’s related to the sunk cost fallacy.

My point is that at the end of the day, the best sounding cable or piece of equipment is simply the one whose sound you enjoy the most. And sometimes it’s not even about the equipment. My MC275 sounded a lot better in my apartment with a wooden frame than in my apartment with a concrete frame because of bass distortion.

If you like your expensive cable: great for you. But if you don’t hear the difference between a $50 cable and a $5000 cable in your system: count your blessings and spend the money that is more justifiable to you.

A rational posting.

My goal is two PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium HP amps, run as monoblocks and feeding Triton Ones.

It takes me awhile to amass the necessary money because my custom when spending on indulgences, and less face it any and all audio equipment is an indulgence, is to contribute an additional 25% of what I have spent to a charity.

For any others that might want to do this, I can give list of honest and worthwhile charities. End of soapbox. :smile:

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Yes this is all true. So you need to design equipment that remains unaffected by these differences in the interface. Quite simple really. Of course if you build a poor quality device then you can simply recommend a user to try various cables until the user finds something that kind of works ( a band-aid). Easier and cheaper than a manufacturer admitting a design fault and issuing a recall or new version of operating system software.

The entire audio cable industry relies on an army of sloppy manufacturers that make poor quality equipment that sounds different with different interface cables! What a scam - the user is being shafted from every angle - high priced gear that doesn’t perform well and high priced band-aid cables. What a fantastic business model for the manufacturers!

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