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Best USB cable to use between computer and dac?

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Essentially, our computers are doing exactly the same job as CD transports used to. If all that mattered were zeros and ones, what was the difference between a $100 transport and a $10,000 one? Not just a stable platter, for sure.


The Wadia 170 iTransport is just a digital transport too: yet modifications and upgrades make a huge difference to its performance, even without changing the power supply: shuffling zeros and ones about the place is not as simple as naysayers imagine it to be.


It's a very bold claim to make: that digital cables CANNOT make a difference: it implies that the speaker literally knows all there is to know about the subject.


I know of no-one who has widely auditioned digital cables who feels the differences are irrelevant, subjective or even subtle. But I hear plenty of skeptics who haven't heard differences - or usually even the cables in question! There's nothing like an informed opinion . . .


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"As anyone who has listened just accepts the fact they do, and moves on."


Unless they want to know why, or


unless they enjoy debating, regardless of the facts, their position or the opinions and observations of others.



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For curiosity sake, we did a lot of try-outs with dozens of USB and power cables , few fireware cables from plain stock stuff to very expensive "fancy" stuff, several different analogue setups (also top of the line headphones) and several DACs.

People from different background, some musicians, an organist from the local church, young people, male female etc took part.


As long as the impedance of the wire and the terminals are right, wire with 100% shielding (minimum being less then price-wise average stuff) there is no conclusive sonic difference (no matter what computer system) GIVEN PEOPLE CAN NOT SEE WHAT IS PLUGED IN (we did not tried the coat hanger wire though, at this occasion) - i.e. Blind testing !


Again, I do not argue about so called power-cleaner devices between the net current and the power cables or power supplies (I can accept this might make a difference especially with weakly designed electronics).


Wire is a wire, "hose pipe thick" or stock. I am asking you how you did the testing, for what you are saying has no scientific or other backing ?


Just think : How can a meter of fancy power wire between your box and the wall outlet and kilometers of stock cable/wire to your distributor, make a difference?


Also if you have a look inside the most boxes (amps,dac) and/or speakers - surprise, surprise (in most of the cases: NO FANCY WIRE INSIDE) . So it remains on the good design of the electronics unit (amp, dac, etc ) to take care of any disturbances, interferances, ghost-auras, blah, blah, blah if any at all.


I do not want to insult anybody , but just maybe help some people not to throw their money at nonsense !

Nobody can change "You & Co" religion, for if this would be possible, the fancy wire producers would be long gone - bankrupt, and you would wonder where to spend your money...


So enjoy your hobby, but do not expect you can mesmerize people with your "Golden ears" and take them to Fantasy World of SnakeOilMagic...


I hope I leave you in good health.








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Must come from my ears, I never managed to identify cables of any kind while doing blind tests. I thought I could make some different with some XLR and RCA cables and speakers as well, but no certainty. Never managed to identify any difference with any kind of digital cable, including usb. Oh, and the other people who were there during these tests didn't succeed either.

Never did power cables but I definitely have a PS Audio PPP conditionner and the difference with no PPP is clear.

Listening to most of you, it seems we miss something, but then it makes life simpler and we save some money.

Sorry to have disturbed this cosy and consensual thread, my objective was not to troll.


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testing is irrelevant, as it is entirely unnatural. As someone who was paid partially to listen to new audio components to test their sonics, I almost never used blind testing to evaluate anything. Blind testing introduces stress factors, which makes close listening very difficult.

Additionally, listening tests should be conducted with experienced audiophiles, or audio engineer professionals-not people off of the street, and especially not most musicians (unless they are also audiophiles). Musicians have so much experience listening to live, real music, that their brains are much more adept at compensating for poor audio reproduction. Listening tests should be done by experienced audiophiles who have practiced the skills of listening.

An example from another field: Consider wine tasting, an experienced wine lover, or sommelier can tell the differences between wines easily, and also has the language to describe those differences. The average person off of the street, not used to discerning the differences between fine wines cannot tell the differences.


SO/ROON/HQPe: DSD 256-Sonore opticalModuleDeluxe-Signature Rendu optical--Bricasti M3 DAC--DIY Purifi Amplifier-Focus Audio FS888-JL E 112 sub-Nordost Tyr USB, DIY EventHorizon AC cables, Iconoclast XLR & speaker cables, Synergistic Orange Fuses, Spacetime system clarifiers.                                                       

                                                                                           SONORE computer audio

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There can be a number of reasons that a given person may not be able to hear differences in cables / interconnects in the audio chain. 1) they could have inferior equipment; a certain performance is required before cables / interconnect differences can have an effect. Generally the better the system the larger the differences that a cable / interconnect will make. This makes sense since a fine audio system is like a highly refined instrument; small cable differences have a startling effect. 2) Bad component synergy. An audio chain is a system. A non-complimentary set of electronics can sound poor regardless of cost. Hence not reveal differences in cables. 3) Hearing impairment. Must be in both ears and pretty significant to mask the difference. 4) Overwhelming interest in the music (notes, structure, etc) to the point of making the sound irrelevant. I had a friend that was so “into the music”, the notes, words, and structure, that it could literally be coming from a transistor radio and it would make no difference to him (kind of the opposite of audiophile that is only into the equipment and sound and not the music, 5) Strong biased desire to hear no difference. (strong prejudice against, connoisseurship, expensive things, nuances, fine wine... your meat and potatoes, pickup truck, hit me with a baseball bat kind of guy). But what I don’t understand is, if you are one of the later three… what are you doing in an audiophile forum expressing ignorant or bias comments about something you clearly can’t hear, or don’t want to, or wouldn’t admit if you did. Why aren’t you commenting on some “I hate pretentious people website”? Some of us are interested in learning more about the nuances of computer based audio systems. JD


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@JD Flood


From my experience, the worst, repeat, worst evaluators of audio system performance are (1) performing or recording artists and (2) equipment designers! It's like they're practically deaf. So JD's points are well-taken.


It's quite ironic that persons who could tell the sound of a Bosendorfer from a Bechstein at 100 yards seem to be unaware of differences in sound quality, coming from an electronic playback system, that many casual home listeners could spot in a moment. As suggested, performers think about the musical experience from their perspective, and they're not paid to listen! They're listening to features that have little to do with overall sound quality, but which are critical for successful onstage performance.


That cabling doesn't make a significant difference in how a system sounds (timbre, clarity, neutrality, soundstaging and so forth) is so obviously untrue that one supposes such people are bringing up the assertion just to be provocative. Provocateurs!!!


However, for those who are sincere in this belief, and I have no problem with that at all, please consider my recommendations, which would be to spend more time in a concert hall, and then listen to your stereo. How does it differ? How is it the same? If making major changes to cabling doesn't result in audible differences during playback, it could be that the system is really, really badly set up (poorly-positioned speakers come to mind) or the source material is poor quality. Both are very real possibilities.


Get some help with respect to these two issues, and as OP have suggested, at that point, differences in cabling should be completely obvious.


This is in a category similar to that of absolute phase. If reversing absolute phase isn't clearly audible, there are major problems somewhere in the overall setup.


However, if you go through all the grief to tweak things up, you'll learn a great deal both from progress and mistakes, but then you'll also have a lot more confidence in your ability to hear and enjoy.


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but IMO it probably time to move on. JDFlood, you make some good points, but FWIW you might as well be asking why are there atheists, agnostics, and God loving people in the world and why would they interject themselves into each others forums.


Whatever your position, some people get it, some people don't but there's hope, and some people never will. Their loss, my gain and yet we can't resist the impetus to educate the other side. As they say such is life or c'est la vie.


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I know a few musicians as well. You are very correct, it is not uncommon for them to take no note (on purpose) of sonic details. It is funny. There are also a few that take great interest. Listening to live music and your own system is a great way to educate your ears and begin developing the language to describe what you hear. Great way to enhance your appreaciation of the sound as well as the music. JD


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Good point, these long essays rejecting reality are basically religious. I get tired of them when they become long rants, that interupt the flow of information and my turn off or sidetrack people new to the pursuit. But, as you say their loss. JD


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Is try them out. Look, I think debating is fun, and quite frankly, I'm the very best there is. I rule. The school. Ta-da.


But this is a silly debate. A Wireworld Starlight USB is $90 retail. Compare it to a $10 Belkin. Just do it. And when you're done, feel free to post.


A. You will hear no difference. If not, hooray! Keep the Belkin and return the Wireworld -- feel free to go spend that $80 on music.


B. You will hear a difference. Boo! Use the Belkin to hang your laundry and feel securely depressed in the knowledge that all that snake oil neither came from a snake and isn't oil, actually.


As to why things fall either way, well, there are theories, but no knowledge. Get over it. If you're curious, test it. YMMV. But armchairing this one will yield nothing.


Next topic ....


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.....I just couldnt bring myself to spend anything more than say $10 on any USB cable.


I couldnt spend $90 on a USB cable knowing that the core components cost 75 cents and the rest is garnish.




Meridian 551 amp / Meridian 507 CD / Zune Mk1

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Once again, the cables are what glues everything together. High-quality electronics can (and often do) sound lousy because of inferior cabling, power, placement, etc. Low-cost electronics with high-quality electronics can be heavenly, and represent a much lower risk, so to speak, approach.


As mentioned by BP, the analogy to the semiconductor industry is instructive. A CPU might cost a dollar to manufacture, in some kind of incremental cost analysis, and sell for $400, but remember this part is the product of a multi-hundred-million-dollar fab line, driven by an equally expensive human design facility, marketed and sold and supported in quantity millions. The parts cost doesn't really mean very much at all in terms of the market value and utility of the product.


The cabling industry is analogous. What you're paying for the embodiment of human intelligence (very costly, when you can find it) and a huge capital investment over years (most cable companies have been at it for decades). Many of the USB cables that we have in-house are hand-manufactured and individually tested.


If, because of skilled engineering and manufacturing practices, a cable that commands a high price in the marketplace because of its excellent performance, can be made with inexpensive parts, more power to the cable company. And the market is extremely competitive, so that anomalies in pricing don't last for long. And eventually such a technology comes down in price as other companies adopt it, further benefitting the consumer.


On the other hand, Robert Harley recently evaluated some new dCS components, driven with a garden-variety USB cable, and got excellent results. This is encouraging.


What we're all seeing is that while some USB DACs are touchy with respect to cabling, others are not. This disparity creates confusion in the minds of consumers, which is not a good thing. On the other hand, that good USB implementations exist that can be used with ordinary cabling is a positive sign for the product category.


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I understand you feelings. I remember long ago, when I first found out there were "high-end" patch cords. 89 cents... seemed right, but $50 or more? My God, what a rip off.


1) This is a place that a do-it-yourselfer can do things. Buy 10 different kind of wire and some terminators, then cover in diferent materials. Teflon, Pvc, etc. Remember, each sample needs to be burned in at least a hundred hours. Anyway, you'll learn a lot about different materials, and how they sound. Also, after several weeks, you may start to think, there are better things to do with your time (or not, you may hit on a new material combination that sounds great). So, some of the cost is, R&D, this is very time consuming business.


2) Cables above $50 or or so, tend to be market priced. The company making them will make comparisions between how their cable sounds and competitors and attemp to price them at what they are "worth" on the market. May products are 10% or so materials, or less... look at semiconductors.


3) Finally, you have to look at the value in your system. Lets say you have a $500 DAC and a $500 Amp. Moderately priced interconnects (I would say below $100) tend to be an excellent value in your system. In other words, you would have to sink, say $300 or more additional cost into components to get the amount of improvement you would get for a $78 cable. So, whether or not you like paying the money, it can easily be worth it. If you are assualting the state of the art, then you have to put money into cables and interconnect or you just plain can't get there. My main analog system cost around (assembled over many years) $50K and about $10K are cables and interconnects. I could not have gotten the sound to that level without the interconnect cost, unless I put probably 25K or more into components.


So, I have to agree, it is urksome to think of spending so much on so little. But, those are the breaks, it's just plain worth what you get. (But it is system dependent, you just can't plunk money down and expect to achieve this, you have to be diserning in all your choices, but if you are, then it is worth it).




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Once again I emerge from a long period of lurking(and learning) to post an observation.

For the past year and a half I've been switching between my Valab DAC and the

internal DAC in my AVI ADM9.1's. My first DAC, the Cayin iDAC, has been sitting unused on my desk.

About a month ago, I decided to give the Cayin another listen and...aaah!..the sweet sound of tubes!

Seems to be a good match with the AVI's, which some say are too cold. But something just didn't sound right,

so I decided to upgrade the USB cable that came with the Cayin with a Kimber USB cable. Now, to be honest,

I really didn't expect to hear a big change. WOW was a I wrong! This cable made a major improvement

in the sound of the Cayin. I've got to say that for the first time, with the combination of the Cayin and

the XXhighend software, I am REALLY satisfied with what I'm listening to. Any doubts I had about a USB cable making a difference have been blown out of the water!

I shall now retire to my lurking.



Rich W


Rich W

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Cool. Glad to hear your experience. I remember my first time. It is hard to judge with the conflicting views you can sometimes get on these forums (same discussions used to be carried on letters to the editors columns in Stereophile and The Absolute Sound thirty years ago). But once you hear it for yourself, all the relevant discussions of sound quality of differnt interconnects become useful. Shows how important component and interconnect matching is in a "system". JD


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  • 2 weeks later...

Rather than trying different USB cables & reporting on which sounds best (in your system), has anybody tried a systematic analysis of the factors that might be responsible for the good sound of some cables rather than others? Now I know that taking apart an expensive cable is not a good move but what about trying to make something whose parameters can be controlled?


Firstly, I would think that limiting the testing to just 3 wires D+, D- & GND so eliminate the 5V USB supply as this is too variable & running a current carrying wire in a cable that also carries high frequency signals is questionable. So limiting the variables might give a clue to what is important for clean signal transfer in USB cables.


A candidate cable that springs to mind would be a shielded microphone cable - there are probably better choices. Has anybody experimented along these lines?


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Unfortunately, most (if not all) USB implementations require the power leg to function, so simply lifting it may not be an option. That said, there are differing ways to provide that leg, including running a separate wire. And, IMHO, this separation of the wires is the only logical reason as to why one USB cable "sounds" different than any other.





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While this sounds reasonable. I think interconnects have to be looked at as a complex system with all components intereacting with one another. Otherwise, a simple analyisis would have been formulated decades ago. Too many variables, some non-linear, and many interactions. Then you have to standardize on the equipment on both sides of the wire (another complex system), so you end up drawing general conclusions on the cable in question by listening. Then that characterization may apply to someone elses system (that is what we hope. Anyway, I have found threoretical discussions interesting, but don't help in choosing a good sounding cable... unless at the broadest sense. But, trying will not hurt... although cable companies have put a large amount of money into this. JD


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I'm not expecting the answer to this to be simple but like the jitter issue in digital cables, the more that's known about the actual causes of jitter the more it can be reduced & analysed. It's not purely a theoretical discussion but an attempt to grapple with identifying parameters that might be significant i.e. learning about reflections & transmission line issues in cables carrying SPDIF signals allows one to define the cable parameters that matter & choose accordingly (if the cable manufacturers publish the relevant information needed?). Don't get me wrong here, I'm not purporting to be a cable expert or RFI expert but my readings have led me to this conclusion.


I'm suggesting an approach that might reveal some guidelines/parameters that could be of value. Relying on cable manufacturers to advance understanding is like expecting the old travelling medicine shows to advance the scientific understanding of medicine :)


I know the USB 5V may be necessary in a lot of implementations but I'm suggesting that maybe this is one way forward in teasing out some issues. I'll be trying to create my own USB cables for use with a HiFace that will have no need for a 5V supply. All PS will be 3.3V & externally supplied. I'm sure there are other implementations that can dispense with the USB 5V & get it's necessary PS externally. As I mentioned I'll be trying a Belden microphone 2 twisted wire shielded cable. Anybody know a source for good shielded USB connectors?


Hey, when I'm done you can all buy one at $300 per foot :)


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Cool, if you are planning on building your own, different strory. Then some theoretic questions are good place to start. In addition to co-ax, then I would purchase about 5 diffent kinds of wire and a bunch of vary different things to wrap them (teflon, PVC, etc) with (choosing selectively, if you get any good theoretical feedback) and make up a first test group. Have fun. I used to work as a design engineer. I learned pretty quickly, depending on the challenge, you either embrace theory or abandon very quickly based on how complex the system is. I believe there are high-end audio cable companies that do both. When you come up with that $300 cable that sounds better than the $500 commercial ones, I'll be first in line to buy. JD


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  • 2 months later...

I’m curious if USB isolation will yield better results than a hi-end USB cable?


There have been some discussions about the benefits of “galvanic” USB isolation. I’m not sure that galvanic is the correct term (see definition: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galvanic_isolation), but it has become a buzzword in the world of USB isolation.


Isolating the electrical connection between a computer and USB DAC makes sense to me. However, there are different approaches to accomplish this. I’m interested to know if one approach is better than others.


On the one hand, there is a chip that has been developed by Analog Devices, Inc. I think the chip was created for medical use with USB hospital-grade peripherals in mind (think of a heart monitor and similar devices that must be isolated from electric spikes and noise). Here is a link to the chip:





A product called the USB2ISO uses the chip in a small and rather inexpensive device:





Analog Devices also has an evaluation board that uses the ADUM4160 chip. According to engineering support at Analog Devices, the evaluation board can be used in an audio system to isolate a USB DAC from a computer:


iCoupler ADuM4160 USB Isolator Evaluation Board



On the other hand, optical fibers seem to be an effective way to isolate a computer from a USB DAC. I think fiber optics generally have good EMI and RFI isolation properties.


I’m not aware of a desktop fiber optic device for USB isolation. However, USB cable extension products that use fiber optics can essentially perform the same function (if you don’t mind extra cable):


Opticis M2-100-03 USB Extension Cable 3m (9 feet)



Does anyone have experience with any of these products? If so, how do they compare to USB cables that separate data from voltage, like the Tesla Tricon?


Is anyone using an alternate approach to isolate the signal feeding a USB DAC? If so, how are the results?


Thank you in advance for sharing your thoughts.


Best regards,



Note: For what it’s worth, I have zero affiliation with all of the products listed.



Amarra 3.0.3/iTunes-->AQVOX USB PS-->Acromag USB Isolator-->Ayre QB-9-->Ayre K-5xeMP-->W4S SX-500-->Tyler Acoustics Linbrook Super Towers-->SVS SB12-Plus (L&R). Cables: Nordost, Transparent, LessLoss, Analysis Plus & Pangea. Dedicated line with isolated power conditioning per component: PS Audio & Furman. Late 2012 Mac Mini 2.6GHz Quad-Core i7 (16 GB, 1TB Fusion, 6TB ext via Tbolt). External drives enclosure http://www.computeraudiophile.com/f7-disk-storage-music-library-storage/silent-enclosure-external-hard-drives-7178/

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I also have an Ayre QB-9 and I have been very happy with the Transparent USB cable that I am presently using. Approx. $90.00 retail. I don't have anything to compare this cable to. Steve at Ayre is the one that told me about this cable and I am glad he did. The combonation of this DAC and cable sound as good or better to me than most high end CD players I've heard.


Good listening, Russ


HP laptop;Windows 7; JRiver Media Center 18, WASAPI Event-Style; Transparent USB cable, one meter; Ayre QB-9 asynchronous USB DAC; Sony 6400ES AV Reciever, analog direct; generic copper speaker wires; Bowers & Wilkins 683\'s; all stock power cables; Android Gizmo remote

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Thanks for the recommendation Russ. I also listened to Transparent’s USB cable. I agree it pairs well with the QB-9.


If I can’t find a better approach, I may go with Transparent (link below):



I would still like to explore isolating my iMac from the QB-9 DAC.


Here is an interesting article that discusses some of the issues surrounding USB isolation (assuming a medial viewpoint):



Below are two additional product links:


Shorter Fiber Optic USB Isolator STD 1.5 LWL



Compact Desktop USB Isolator



Has anyone listened to these products?


Thank you,




Amarra 3.0.3/iTunes-->AQVOX USB PS-->Acromag USB Isolator-->Ayre QB-9-->Ayre K-5xeMP-->W4S SX-500-->Tyler Acoustics Linbrook Super Towers-->SVS SB12-Plus (L&R). Cables: Nordost, Transparent, LessLoss, Analysis Plus & Pangea. Dedicated line with isolated power conditioning per component: PS Audio & Furman. Late 2012 Mac Mini 2.6GHz Quad-Core i7 (16 GB, 1TB Fusion, 6TB ext via Tbolt). External drives enclosure http://www.computeraudiophile.com/f7-disk-storage-music-library-storage/silent-enclosure-external-hard-drives-7178/

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