USB cables and me

Discussion in 'DACs' started by gvl, Aug 7, 2017.

  1. gvl

    gvl Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    987
    My position on using special (read expensive) USB cables for audio has always been somewhere in between agnostic and skeptical. I always thought if the cable looked thick enough and had USB 2.0 or Hi-Speed marking on the sheathing it was good enough, it is all 0s and 1s after all. As someone with EE background who spent enough time looking at waveforms back in the days I perfectly understand what signal degradation is and why it occurs, but because of the relatively short USB cable length I thought it was a non-issue.

    Because of it an audiophile USB cable was at the bottom of my wish list but the time came and I got a short 50cm Pangea USB-Ag cable with 24AWG silver conductors. I thought $30 was a reasonable price for a peace of mind even if it turned out to be snake oil and I always wanted a shorter cable anyways. After I received it got the thing connected and didn't even bother testing it against a generic 6ft cable that I had in service for a long time. Then after a day I thought that the sound I was getting with the Pangea cable was a bit darker than I was used to, and after a quick A/B comparison with the old cable it indeed sounded brighter with more digital glare. I'm not talking about night and day difference and I don't know if I could pick one over the other in a blind test but it was clearly there, detectable on the several tracks I tried, the sound with the Pangea was darker but a notch cleaner. Surprised I grabbed a Mediabridge 6ft cable I was using on my desktop system that I never bothered to compare and it sounded different than the other 2 cables still, it had more pronounced mid-range and weaker low-end, again very subtle but noticeable.

    I don't know what to make out of this but I'm pretty convinced what I heard wasn't a fart of my imagination. I suppose this makes me a believer now that USB cables can sound different, which is probably bad news my wallet. I'm using a NOS DAC with a modern XMOS-based usb interface, there is no digital filtering or other digital trickery on the DAC that may smooth the effects of the cables, perhaps this has something to do with it. I thought I'd share, feel free to laugh and humiliate me.
     

     

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  2. Frank Sol

    Frank Sol Addicted Member

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    Interesting ...
     
  3. techguy0192

    techguy0192 Well-Known Member

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    It's a digital signal. 1s and 0s. The data either gets from point A to point B or it doesn't.
     
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  4. 4-2-7

    4-2-7 Smart Ass Sponsor Subscriber

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    I'v heard the difference in USB cables from the common freebies and $20-$30 ones you get in computer stores. Opposed to fairly cheap sub $100 audio USB cables. I'v also see issues between cheap cables types in other applications to do with camera equipment.

    I also can hear the difference between 24 bit dedicated WiFi, specifically the Audoengine D2 used for it's WiFi only. Opposed to a 3 meter Audioquest Cinnamon snaking along the floor.
     
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  5. Frank Sol

    Frank Sol Addicted Member

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    Have never auditioned $100.00 plus usb cables in my home. A good while back the manager of a HiFi salon who I am friends with told me not to *bother. He sold high end cables

    In my main system I use AQ Cinnamon

    *His opinion is just that, his
     
  6. nyhifihead

    nyhifihead Well-Known Member

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    when I bought an Ultra Fi NOS dac the seller included a synergistic research tesla tricon USB cable- MSRP $550. Shielded silver and it has separate leads for 5V and data, ran twisted. It also has an inline ferrite bead.

    It's quieter than the generic unshielded printer cable but I found no sonic differences between it and a supra USB cable ($50) that also has separate leads and is shielded.

    I found much more profound positive sonic impact from using a XMOS based interface between my PC source and USB DAC

    even using a ICRON usb over cat5 contributed more sonically by offering a darker background than the synergistic research cable

    IMO, I would invest in a great XMOS u208 digital interface & use a paul pang/LANrover USB solution to decouple from the motherboard BUS first before venturing deeper into USB cables. The supra is excellent for the money.
     

     

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  7. botrytis

    botrytis Trying not to be a Small Speaker Hoarder Subscriber

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    Not true - it is still an ELECTRICAL signal, albeit a low voltage signal. As such the cable needs to have the right amount of insulation, etc. for RFI rejection.
     
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  8. techguy0192

    techguy0192 Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    773
    A decent quality well constricted/terminated cable is all that is needed. Spending a reasonable amount of money is fine; however, spending hundreds of dollars on a USB cable doesn't make sense.

    Maybe this cable will make our network streaming devices sound better also....
    http://www.audioadvisor.com/prodinf...MI4czq9bXF1QIVxUsNCh1znw3LEAkYAiABEgL46fD_BwE
     
  9. gvl

    gvl Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    987
    Exactly, however the data is serialized on the wire and sent bit by bit. Loss of some bits doesn't necessarily result in corrupted audio but the information ends up being altered because of that. There is no error correction or re-transmission when an error is detected, the receiver is likely to just drop a sample and extrapolate the missing value from the surrounding known good samples. So it is at least theoretically possible for a USB cable to have an effect on SQ, I'm just surprised it doesn't take an obviously crappy cable to hear the difference.
     
  10. Poinzy

    Poinzy Super Member

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    I've heard that a velvet-lined wooden box, *can* make a difference, though.
     
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  11. gvl

    gvl Well-Known Member

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    987
    Network is different as error correction and re-transmission is the basis for reliable network communications, these mechanisms are absent when digital audio signal sent over a USB cable, so this analogy doesn't apply.
     

     

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  12. Poinzy

    Poinzy Super Member

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    Give me bona fide lab data, and I'll believe claims about differences in USB cable performance with respect to audio.
     
  13. gvl

    gvl Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    987
    True, I couldn't find any. However given that error detection and re-transmission is built into other USB modes that aren't used for audio means the designers of the USB protocol knew the errors do occur when sending hi-speed data on the wire, right? Unlike computer data where it is either corrupted or not audio data can tolerate certain amount of damage before it becomes completely unusable.
     
  14. botrytis

    botrytis Trying not to be a Small Speaker Hoarder Subscriber

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    Problem is there are things that we can't measure and part of that is due to how our senses work and where they are sensitive at. An example is how dogs can sense cancer in their owners by smell and we have not figured out how what chemicals are involved. Another example is the color blue. Your eyes are 1000x to 10000X more sensitive to blue compared to instruments. It is what is.

    Your sentiment is all well and good but it doesn't factor what I am talking about.

    Many USB cables are not made to the 2.0 specification so that may be part of the issue.
     
  15. Poinzy

    Poinzy Super Member

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    Thank you.
     
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  16. botrytis

    botrytis Trying not to be a Small Speaker Hoarder Subscriber

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  17. botrytis

    botrytis Trying not to be a Small Speaker Hoarder Subscriber

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    You either didn't look hard enough or used the wrong search terms. I can find them - I posted 2 above.
     
  18. gvl

    gvl Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    987
    First mainly concentrates on the speed of charging, which is a known issue due to the thin gauge wire used in cheap cables. Ohm's law at work, no surprise there. Second is just a marketing shill for Anker products with no hard data for audio applications. Neither is particularly useful for the purposes of this discussion, sorry.
     
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  19. BigElCat

    BigElCat AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    My experience is similar. The Pangea has silver plated conductors, not solid silver. It's my best sounding cable. I've done A/B (not blind) on about 7 different cables. I was able to determine the 'worst' cable, and the 'best'. There are several in the middle that sound the same.
     
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  20. botrytis

    botrytis Trying not to be a Small Speaker Hoarder Subscriber

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    But the same wires that are used for charging are used for carrying the signal. They do not change them.

    As I said, many cables are not made to the USB 2.0 spec especially the cheap ones. It is not wonder they sound different. If people say they can hear a difference, is it too much to expect people to respect their opinion? Just asking. I can't hear with their ears, so I can't possibly know what they hear.
     

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