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Already the first impression purely on construction, appearance and overall sturdiness was good. The same was true for the sound despite the fact that some engineers and folks in the computer industry insist that USB cables should make no difference. It’s enough however to conduct a sensible listening session to hear that they do – and not by a small margin.
We should remember that short quick auditions can be deceptive. The very first impression does count very much but only if we know what to focus on from the very beginning to eliminate time for getting acclimated. In this instance and for me, changes introduced by the USB cable were clear and unanimous. I know the opinion of fellow engineers whom I respect. They believe that a well-made digital receiver and even more so a USB receiver should counteract jitter and minimize all RF noise riding on the USB cable. This is a very insistent perception. Nevertheless I trust my ears. I also know that eventually engineers routinely revise their theories to account for a mounting body of contradicting evidence and finally approach a subject from a different angle. In the case of USB audio I believe this will happen too.
Thus far I’ve not encountered a cogent rationale why one encounters such changes in USB cables. I’m not talking about specific items brought about by individual cables or specific converters but a wholesale attempt to describe the issue more in general as something which repeats itself in each and every such case to define the particular technical requirements a better USB cable should conform to.
A lesser cable (converter, USB DAC) washes out the soundstage. This is probably the strongest artifact of bad USB sound. This is not the kind of washing out we know from lesser loudspeakers. It is something more profound, a kind of diffusion which undermines precise contours. It also affects stage depth since everything flattens out and diminishes dynamically.
For me in fact dynamics are the giveaway discriminator for USB cables. They act like a precision gauge for jitter. The higher the jitter the worse the dynamics. It is surprisingly easy to show how even asynchronous USB receivers are very sensitive to cable and signal source quality. With lesser combinations dynamics devolve exponentially.
But in this case a clear and simple solution was at hand. A better cable captures more and more individualized sounds. These aspects really are a manifestation of the same problem and a precise indicator whether a USB interface (cable, transmitter, receiver) is better or worse. Interesting is the fact that on timbre things are more complicated and less unanimous. With a laptop we really cannot talk about the same solid repeatability and homogeneity of playback as we can with CD which for that reason remains the reference point for audio designers due to its consistency. A computer is different. Each session is affected by settings, file types used and the actual load on the microprocessor. This is why I omitted timbre as a qualifying element. Though better cables increase transparency and lower colorations, these timbral changes are not as consistent as those already isolated above.