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USB Cables: Thoughts About The “High End”

KEF R Series

There are a bunch of USB cables out there, and a whole lot of opinions about those cables — whether they’re “worth it”, whether you can actually discriminate between any two cables, and so on and so forth. In fact, there’s enough fire in this debate to stop all but the most foolhardy and require a second, hard look. What do I mean? Well, for an illuminating set of discussions that showcase how much passion surrounds the issue of USB cables in high-end audio, just do a search on Computer Audiophile. Be prepared, there’s a lot to read. 😉

So, let’s avoid all that for now and discuss what it is that is actually different between USB cables.

As far as I can tell, there are several things to avoid. One is ferrites as they can actually introduce transfer errors (a failure to receive all your bits). Two is really long runs (6m+) for the same reason. Other than that, the design differences tend to be small and typical of most cable manufacturers — nicer connectors, better conductors, silver vs copper, oxygen-free this that and the other, &c. While not trying to trivialize these things (because, yes, everything matters), it occurs to me that given that the differences aren’t large might also imply that their sonic differences aren’t either.

Paying big $$$ for small improvements is a sucker’s game, IMO. The research alone takes forever. So, loading for big game, I started looking for game changers. Interestingly, there was one (but only one).

The one major difference I’ve been able to pick up on is this: some very few specialty USB cables do not run their power along the same cable. The obvious benefits to this approach would be less/no interference b/w the power/ground and the signal wires. Seems almost intuitive. While no power at all is probably best, it seems that most USB chipsets require it to function, so eliminating the power/ground line isn’t really an option.

Anyway, this power separation is in contrast with commonly discussed USB cables like Belkin, Kimber, Wireworld, which while very nicely made, all pretty much rely on spec.

This first class of cables, with the separate power run, is comprised of a small class of manufacturers: Locus Design (Axis, Nucleus, Cynosure — but not their Polestar), the RSAD Alethias and Enopias — but not their Poiema), and the Synergistic Research (Tesla Tricon). Each of these cables is expensive but oddly similar in price (at lease until RSADs current 30% off promo pricing runs out) at exactly $550 (plus or minus $1) for 1m.

Every review of any of these cables (or their more expensive stable mates) quickly waxes into typical audiophile language hyperbole. Each blows away the second class of cables. They’re revelatory. They’re amazing. They’re the single greatest improvement yet to their system’s sound. Blah blah blah.

Interpretation: there *is* an improvement and you don’t need golden ears to hear it.

Good enough.

So, for those of you looking for a “great” USB cable (again, putting aside the question of whether or not this quest is utterly wrongheaded to begin with), this might be a your place to start.

Just thought I’d throw that out there.

About Scot Hull (997 Articles)
Founder, Editor and Publisher at Part-Time Audiophile and The Occasional Magazine.

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