USB cable comparison

oscroft

Member
I was drawn to a YT video the other day, comparing an expensive iFi USB cable to a decent quality computer USB cable. I'd normally dismiss any claimed outcomes, but the guy reckoned he got a big improvement that he could identify 100% in 16 blind tests. I can't do blind testing, because I don't have anyone daft enough to waste their time humoring me. And A/B testing is problematic when you have to wait for cables to be swapped. But this YT person reckoned his CD player sounded a lot better than the same music streamed via standard USB to his DAC - and that with the iFi USB cable, streaming sounded better. So is it worth doing A/B tests between my CD and streaming using one cable, then repeat with another cable?

I connected my Audiolab 8000CD via coax spdif to my M-DAC. My Mac Mini is already connected to the same DAC via USB. I made a FLAC rip of a good CD, got the sound levels the same, and I could swap sources quickly on the DAC. I tried three USB cables... I have a cheap one that had previously been giving me occasional dropouts (which sounded like clicks), a better made computer one (with ferrite rings), and an Oyaide "digital audio" one that retails for ~£40 (I got it for £15 on eBay, and thought that was a price worth paying just to be able to compare).

The differences? None whatsoever. Switching between CD/spdif and computer/USB, it sounded identical - and the same with each of the three cables.

Anyway, I don't know if anyone is interested, but I just thought I'd share my lockdown boredom.
 
Last edited:

Nico72

Active Member
Thanks for sharing.
I did the same with three different DACs connected to three inputs at the back of my amp a while ago.
Logitech squeezebox classic feeding the amp directly via RCA, and at the same time sending digital out to Arcam ir-DAC II via optical and Audiolab M-DAC via coaxial.
I used variable outs on the DACs, so I could match level as best as I could by ear.
Switching between sources was seamless. No cutting, no delays. I played several songs of different genres, all ripped to FLAC.
Result? After a while I got bored and decided that there was really not much in it, if anything at all.
The lesson I learnt is that, "to my ears", decent DACs sound about the same and it is not an area where I can find big improvements. I am not surprised that you did not hear any difference between USB cables. Some people claim they do hear big differences between all types of digital cables. Good for them. It justifies their spending.
 

Khankat

Well-known Member
Interesting. I am considering cough, splutter, getting a DAC. A Topping E30 as I wish to experiment and also play what is on my PC on my analogue system.
 

BT Bob

Distinguished Member
I've got myself into a few "frank exchanges of views" on a number of forums about this.
A USB cable is moving 1s & 0s and as long as it's made properly, I cant see how spending £££ can make a difference.
Similarly, network cables and switches. As long as a cable or switch is made to an industry standard, writing "Audiophile" on then front and adding a couple off 0s to the price, just seems like snake-oilery to me.
 

oscroft

Member
I did the same with three different DACs connected to three inputs at the back of my amp a while ago.
Logitech squeezebox classic feeding the amp directly via RCA, and at the same time sending digital out to Arcam ir-DAC II via optical and Audiolab M-DAC via coaxial.
That's interesting. I did have a Squeezebox Duet, and I do find my M-DAC is an improvement on that - but the Duet is thought to have an inferior DAC to the Classic. But yes, I do think the difference between DACs is far smaller than the difference in other components.

As an example, I also sometimes play my Audiolab 8000CD through its analogue output, using the internal DAC. Mine's an early generation player, using Burr-Brown DAC chips, so a DAC from the 90s, I think.

And I really like the sound. It is different from the M-DAC, with the M-DAC sounding sharper at the top end and better at transient response (so percussion sounds sharper). But there's something nice about the old built-in DAC, especially playing vocals - hard to describe, but I get a more relaxing feel from it.
 

Khankat

Well-known Member
That's interesting. I did have a Squeezebox Duet, and I do find my M-DAC is an improvement on that - but the Duet is thought to have an inferior DAC to the Classic. But yes, I do think the difference between DACs is far smaller than the difference in other components.

As an example, I also sometimes play my Audiolab 8000CD through its analogue output, using the internal DAC. Mine's an early generation player, using Burr-Brown DAC chips, so a DAC from the 90s, I think.

And I really like the sound. It is different from the M-DAC, with the M-DAC sounding sharper at the top end and better at transient response (so percussion sounds sharper). But there's something nice about the old built-in DAC, especially playing vocals - hard to describe, but I get a more relaxing feel from it.
I can understand that. Much was made at the time they were new, of the Audiolab sound quality. Still commanding a fairly hefty price today, are early CD players with a T-something or other processor. I think think elderly Arcam Alpha has it.
 

oscroft

Member
I've got myself into a few "frank exchanges of views" on a number of forums about this.
A USB cable is moving 1s & 0s and as long as it's made properly, I cant see how spending £££ can make a difference.
Similarly, network cables and switches. As long as a cable or switch is made to an industry standard, writing "Audiophile" on then front and adding a couple off 0s to the price, just seems like snake-oilery to me.
Yes. There is a smidgen of truth in the effect a poor "digital" cable can have. And what they carry is not actually 1s and 0s at all - it's voltages, with those voltages just interpreted differently in digital equipment. Also, USB carries +5v and ground lines, which can be noisy (especially coming from a computer) and can, if the DAC is not sufficiently well designed, introduce jitter (and perhaps other nasties if it can leak into the analogue circuitry).

But providing the DAC is well enough designed to keep any input noise away from the analogue circuitry, and any noise on the data lines is not sufficient to damage the voltage levels that represent the 1s and 0s, then as far as I can see any reasonably well made USB cable should work equally well. And the upmarket nonsense all stems from exaggerating the smidgen of truth.
 

dannnielll

Well-known Member
I was drawn to a YT video the other day, comparing an expensive iFi USB cable to a decent quality computer USB cable. I'd normally dismiss any claimed outcomes, but the guy reckoned he got a big improvement that he could identify 100% in 16 blind tests. I can't do blind testing, because I don't have anyone daft enough to waste their time humoring me. And A/B testing is problematic when you have to wait for cables to be swapped. But this YT person reckoned his CD player sounded a lot better than the same music streamed via standard USB to his DAC - and that with the iFi USB cable, streaming sounded better. So is it worth doing A/B tests between my CD and streaming using one cable, then repeat with another cable?

I connected my Audiolab 8000CD via coax spdif to my M-DAC. My Mac Mini is already connected to the same DAC via USB. I made a FLAC rip of a good CD, got the sound levels the same, and I could swap sources quickly on the DAC. I tried three USB cables... I have a cheap one that had previously been giving me occasional dropouts (which sounded like clicks), a better made computer one (with ferrite rings), and an Oyaide "digital audio" one that retails for ~£40 (I got it for £15 on eBay, and thought that was a price worth paying just to be able to compare).

The differences? None whatsoever. Switching between CD/spdif and computer/USB, it sounded identical - and the same with each of the three cables.

Anyway, I don't know if anyone is interested, but I just thought I'd share my lockdown boredom.
Yes but ... And still more buts. With USB one has the chance of earth loops forming. , And very poor quality ones will have dropouts ..all problems I have had with various generations of cable. Intermittent glitches and totally annoying restarts with iffy connections on a usb terminal, and a faint hum when the power supply on the laptop was connected, totally absent when using optical.
 

oscroft

Member
Yes but ... And still more buts. With USB one has the chance of earth loops forming. , And very poor quality ones will have dropouts ..all problems I have had with various generations of cable. Intermittent glitches and totally annoying restarts with iffy connections on a usb terminal, and a faint hum when the power supply on the laptop was connected, totally absent when using optical.
Oh yes, there are definitely potential problems with USB connections, and I believe they were worse back in the USB 1.0 days. I'd have used toslink from the start - but I can't get it to work between my Mac Mini and M-DAC, and I've no idea why.

With USB, I've experienced dropouts that cause clicks and pops, and once or twice I've had connections dropped and reset. But I've only had those problems with a very cheap cable, and no problems at all with two of the three cables I used in this test. Yes, you need at least a minimum quality of USB cable, but I think the threshold is far more modest than the upmarket cable sellers would have us believe.

A lot of audio people apparently rate Belkin Gold USB cables highly (sold for computer use, for £5-6 or thereabouts for a short cable). Those are probably around the same quality as my good computer USB cable, which is indistinguishable from my "audio" one - I've not had any problems with either.

As with all cable controversies (USB, interconnect, speaker, mains, etc), the claims are based on a background of truth - but blown out of all reasonable proportion by profit margins.
 

The latest video from AVForums

Podcast: The Best TVs of 2021, plus our favourite & memorable reviews of the year
Subscribe to our YouTube channel

Full fat HDMI teeshirts

Support AVForums with Patreon

Top Bottom