USB Cables Redux - Personal Experience

I would be very interested and appreciative of anyone who was skeptical about differences among USB cables but then bought one that was, to them, definitively better. (Eg. Curious Cable etc)

I was sceptical, tried a fisual Havana and an audioquest usb. Aint sceptical any more, now I know it’s all bollocks :wink:

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I startet with a normal USB cable that was delivered with a DAC. Then I tried dozens of other USB Cables up to 15k :flushed:
My current favorite USB Cables are Final Touch Audio Callisto which sounds absolutely fabulous and is (almost) affordable. I would even call it a bargain.
The 15k USB Cable was a tiny hair better but I can’t and don’t want to spend that amount on a USB Cable.

Good for you :wink:

BTW. I do own the Curious Cable as well.
The Final Touch Audio Callisto is quite a lot better sounding :sunglasses:

I have speaker and USB cables from Audio Sensibility. High quality and reasonably priced as you’re dealing directly with the manufacturer. I don’t even bother looking elsewhere as I know these will do the job. Very happy with the Statement Silver USB cable in my system.

I gather that overall the latest Curious Cable is not up to the standard set by the two mentioned above. (Final Touch, etc).

I am going from an Auralic G2 to Denafrips Terminator.

Maybe there really is a significant difference, one not attributable to confounding factors (for example to very different cable lengths.) In that case, the manufacturer/seller should be eager to cite legitimate measurements or controlled A/B blind comparison tests to back up their claims. Examples, anyone?

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FWIW, I went from various stock USB cables to a Cardas USB then to the Cardas Hi-Speed USB cable. All were auditioned before purchase. The difference was real to mine and my friends’ ears (they were blind to the cable being auditioned). Let the trolling commence…

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It is not possible …

That reminds me to the story, when the developer of the famous Benz Moving Coils was at my place. We listenend on my system with his latest prototype of a Benz Ruby and a prototype of his phono preamp. He liked the transparancy of my system.

We also had a discussion about cables. He’s opinion was: impossible. I just swapped the cables between the tonearm and the phono preamp and the whole fun was gone. It sounded really shabby. Well the man stood there, saying multiple times, “but that’s not possible”. Well it was possible. We started to reasearch, why it was possible. We also found some reasons.

Well Phono was a different time.

With digital cables I’m more sceptical. I know, these cables do not alter the data, but they are responsible for ground loops, leakage current and similar things. There are DACs which are immune against this, others are not.

In my environment audio comes to the streamer by WiFi. No problem if it is reliable. The streamer is connected to the DAC using Toslink. But that creates jitter!! If you have a Studio DAC which ignores the standard and reclocks SPDIF, AES and TOSLINK signals you simply don’t care.

In the office I use a studio DAC too, little, nice, sounds good and there I do not care neither what USB cable I use. It just sounds good. Foot tapping factor is available.

So I spend my money on Tidal, Qobuz and HiRes-Audio, do not upsample in Roon, don’t care about MQA and listen what I like.

But if you hear the difference in your environment, why not swap the cables. BUT: Before you spend 15k for a cable you better buy some new DACs.

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Amen, brother!

So Peter, here is my set-up: Antipodes CX+EX -> dCS Vivaldi -> ARC Ref 40 pre -> D’Agostino M-300s -> KEF Blades + REl 212SEs.
What would you suggest that I improve?

I’m very, very sceptical about digital cables.
BUT there was a definite improvement when I swapped-out my stock-USB cable, for a Chord Sarum Super ARAY USB.
I don’t know how, but it did make a large improvement between my Nucleus and my Chord TT2.

maybe a little off-topic, but there are days when my rig sounds great, and then days when it sounds off

is there a scientific explanation for this? or is it down to mood?

or even weirder, is it due to the eternal search for a better, deeper musical experience at home?

without sliding into the realms of extravagant madness, i have invested in upgraded rca leads, speaker cables, power cords etc, all in the pursuit of better sound (a highly subjective matter) - and have managed to persuade myself it was all worth it - most of the time

my conclusion is that if we know we’ve put some decent cabling to connect the hardware, it ain’t the cables that are the issue. it’s the hardware, or worse, the mind

oh, one more thing: decently recorded source material helps, massively

cheers

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I do not feel it is off-topic. About 20% of the time my system sounds very good, often mediocre, and too often harsh and off-putting.

Some can be attributed to program source. There are simply bad recordings to be had. I realize that the room is an issue…high (22" at one point) ceilings, tile floors and hard reflective walls. The worst is the upper midrange.

Indeed, my question about a USB cable between my Auralic G2 and Terminator DAC was yet another attempt to improve the sound.

Thinking may be better served by an iPod and master recording of Iron Butterfly.

Well, now I got a problem. Such a system you cannot improve. Congratulations. I’m a little bit jealous. In your case you must spend 15k for an USB cable.

A long time ago, I would offer you my custom made, self developed cables, but I have only a few meters left, and those I do not sell.

I hope you, don’t mind if I tell you a little bit from my history.

I had a similar system like you. I was working in an IT company and I had a lot to do with some researchers. Some of them wrote the name of the company with atoms, others were working with supraconduction. When I spoke with those guys and their assistents about cables that cost 2000$ per meter they only laughed about me. So we took apart some of those fancy cables and guess what, it was far away from rocket sience.

I bought myself some books about electronics, a soldering iron, some osciloscopes, frequency generators. And I kept naging my collegues with my stupid questions. Finally I had my own cable. Oxygen free copper, teflon dielectric, foil shield. And I found a company which did produce it. The problem: because I only wanted 500 meters, it was extremely expensive. 500 meter were something like 3000 Swiss Francs.

I started to investigate, why power cable make a difference. I could not understand, why the whole wiring from the grid to your house does not matter, but in the house the last meter makes a difference. To make it short, bad design of the devices. Bad grounding, ground loops, leakage current, more resistance on the ground lead of the power cable than on the signal connection, many things like that. I learnt, everything you hear you can measure. Not everyhting you can measure you can hear.

I spent a lot of time measuring and researching. The more I was doing the more I was disappointed by the fancy brands. I had also ARC, ML, Krell, Pass, but I kicked them all out and use now Antelope Audio, Benchmark, Mytek, RME, W4S. I use only balanced non digital connections. When ever possible I use wifi or toslink. Sometimes I do use USB or SPDIF coax. I like HiRes, but I do not care about resolutions higher then 96khz. With them you create big datastreams between your devices, filled with mainly zeros and digital distortion, which needs to be filtered anyway.

Many of the big names just take a standard chip put it on the board, but ignore simple precautions or well known counter measures. Now in the audiophile environment people start to treat digital data like analog transimmsions, which is completely wrong. Digital transmission follows strict standards and is built to handle distortion. The problem is now, that some famous audio devices do not stop the distortions from entering the device. Now you need to fiddle around with accessories to fix these problems. Studio devices are not perfect, but they are used to dirty environments. And: the music you listen to cannot be better than the devices it was created with.

Long story short: It is hard, if you own a Bugatti Veyron and you realize, a Lotus Elise S is more fun.

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Peter, are you saying the first step to achieve fidelity is with the power supply (conditioner from wall socket, then power cable to device) ? if so, do you have recommendations for manufacturers who achieve this without the need for fancy marketing?

cheers

Thank you, Peter, for taking the time to give such a detailed and comprehensive response to what was, admittedly, an off-the-cuff and somewhat provocative post on my part. It sounds like you certainly have spent quite a lot of time at the bench and have accumulated a wealth of experience. I once worked in the retail end of high-end audio and I will freely admit that there is a lot of snake oil to be had. On the other hand, there are also quite a few quality products with solid research behind them. I think that we agree on many points, the point of my post was that yes, a USB cable can make a sonic difference. I’m tired of reading all of the technical arguments stating that essentially data packets are data packets and are either transmitted or not and that any USB cable that meets the technical specifications must have no effect on the end sonic result. Anyone who has done the comparison in a system that is able to resolve the differences will know that this is not true. Your comment that you don’t want to use a data stream higher than 96K because of problems with distortion would tend, in my mind, to support this notion. I have also heard supposed ‘high end’ USB cables that sound worse than stock cables. In the end, one must vote with one’s dollars, as you have. I’m happy that you have found musical bliss with a very cost-effective set-up. My wife would be happier if I could do the same. You are right about DACS; a better DAC will make more of a difference than any cable. My other DACs are a Bryston BDA-3 (for HDMI video sources) and a Brinkmann Nyquist Mk II (for music). While both are excellent DACs, the Vivaldi is in an entirely different class. I find that what the Vivaldi does for music is nothing short of extraordinary. Mind you, it had better be, when one considers the price. The change wrought by the Cardas Hi-Speed USB cable over the already better Cardas USB cable was to a much lesser degree but nonetheless quite significant, at a fraction of the cost of a new DAC. So yes, one cannot make a silk purse out a sow’s ear, if your DAC is not up to snuff then a better cable is not going to make that much of a difference. And no, I have no intention of spending $15K on a USB cable.

Sorry Patrck, I cannot recommend you a power conditioner. I still have my Audio Agile clear 3F. And I have no idea, what’s available today in the market.

One advice I can give you that is completely free. Sparate your power cables and your signal cables. Do not have them together in parallel. Do not plug in your devices in different outlets in the house. Put them all on the same extension. It has to do with potential equalisation. Phase out your devcies.

You can also do a simple check: Play a track with silence. Turn on the listening level. Now you should not hear anything coming out of your speakers. If you hear something way above your normal listening level, don’t care. If you have a hiss or a hum on your listening level, you have to investigate.

_\// Peter

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Thank you, Peter, i’ll do exactly that