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From my grouping of five, one cable was the clear front runner. That one led decisively as much as such language fits this context. Otherwise the pack was quite a thick cluster. Frustrating to ambitions of clear-cut rankings, the intrinsic give and take of differences was audible but as such not unambiguously better or worse, just different. In keeping with Ed Meitner's position, the disparities here really were - well, cheers. Bottoms up. They did begin most noticeable and most stretched out in the low frequencies. Towards the top they thinned out to be far closer. Did this suggest that jitter was the primary source of audible differences?

In sequence of impact or severity from biggest to smallest, the most relevant differences included bass weight/definition, transient acuity/focus, upper midrange energy and depth of field. It's a well-known phenomenon with subwoofers that higher distortion sounds louder. As bass control, definition, pitch accuracy and general intelligibility improve, there can be a concomitant perception of less weight. Better separation, less mass. More punch, less mud. That definitely factored in this lineup. (For a music tip, if you like Jajgit Singh's Indian ghazals, you'll love Wael Jassar's Fe Hadret Al Mahboub for an Arabian equivalent.)

Related perhaps to minimum-phase speakers optimized for time-domain behavior, what conceptually sounded like improved timing (less jitter) impacted the perception of leading-edge precision. I think of that as transient fidelity. It's most noticeable on anything percussive (strikes, clacks, pops and related drumming noises) including string plucks, brass staccato and other sharply rising mini shock waves. Inferior timing—speaker makers talk of group delay—manifests as fuzziness or softer focus. Instead of fine pin pricks like small hail creating a beat tattoo on a tin roof, transients arrive as though covered in cotton batting. Better defined transients with less blur increase focus and beat exactitude. Curiously, higher beat precision isn't synonymous with unwelcome hyper sharpness. It's not edginess as the logical counter point to 'softer'. It's better focus. It's rhythmically easier. It's clearer and better separated out. Etchiness isn't part of the vocabulary.

Though I essentially abhor black boxes and add-ons—I much prefer integration—the most complex cable of the bunch won out. So much for catering to silly reviewer preferences. The KingRex Y-cable plus battery supply plainly worked. It had the most articulate controlled intelligible bass, the best transient definition, the most natural energy in the presence region and the best developed depth of field. Against its bench mark the Entreq was the most exaggerated in the bass and the overall softest. In general though it was mostly a matter of 4 versus 1. In particular the KingRex really was the only one to fully develop the metallic fire of singer El Pele [Canto with Vicente Amigo]. When that very intense performer pushes his voice into that very evocative scream-singing of deep Flamenco with its thick layers of hoarseness, throatiness and shifting harmonics, that fire needs to shine brightly.

Besides having the cleanest tightest most controlled* bass, the KingRex really nailed the presence region intensity for that desired but involuntary response of raised hackles. Once I'd sorted out this cable quintet into my four+one division, I also appreciated how with the KingRex I could best listen at very low levels without feeling deprived or constantly twitching to prime the pump. On pop music with gratuitous lead vocal reverb for those very delayed echo effects, the KingRex managed to stay the most unruffled. It kept such secondary events truly secondary and distinctly separate from the real foreground action. Its general advantage seemed to increase further with high-resolution fare à la Trondheim Solistene's Souvenir on 2L in 24bit/352.8kHz DXD (Tchaikovsky's gorgeous Serenade for Strings plus Nielsen's Suite Opus 1). Massed strings recorded superbly well really shone with it.

* Of course a USB cable technically doesn't control drive units. That's for amplifiers. These improvements simply mirrored what starkly improved amplifier control over woofers sounds like. Talking of 'the most controlled' bass thus creates the proper idea in the reader's mind as to the actual result if clearly not being its true cause.

The Ocellia's specialty was a particular midrange sculpting. I didn't relate to this primarily as treble roll-off as Frederic mentions in his review but more of a classic SET-type emphasis. Since that's Samuel Furon's background—he builds widebander speakers and valve electronics—it would seem a naturally fitting quality. The Telos cable in general struck me as poster child for the sound of premium copper, i.e. warm and weighty. Its subjective bass balance was less bombastic than the Entreq as though it was 'better controlled' if still less articulated than the KingRex. My first response to the Vue Cable Vu-2 was of it being very quiet and well damped for a high contrast ratio. However the only way to even pen such mini thumb nails for each of the four was to forgo A/Bs. I had to deal with each on its own terms. The exception and dominating any possible pairing really was the KingRex. Perhaps it was unfairly advantaged by cutting the umbilical of computer power dependency? In that case it was all about exploiting those advantages. Relative to each other the other four were sidewinders - subtly different but not decisively superior or inferior.

Unequivocal superiority asserted itself with the connectors. Here Telos and KingRex had the best. After unseating and reseating the lot many times, it became obvious how much more snugly those locked into their counter sockets. The rest was quite wobbly. It makes one wonder about contact integrity and whether USB connectors are truly fit for hifi in the first place. The simple upshot of this exercise became this. Engineering types will predictably scoff. Don't argue with them unless you have a solid explanation. Which I doubt we have here. Yet USB cables do sound different. In my still limited experience there is an appreciable return from junking that nasty Computer Shoppe freebie and popping a few hundred quid on something proper like any of the above. At least with the samples I had, variability within that lot was quite small. This meant that any initial 'aha' moments directly after switching would peter out minutes into it.

The real surprise thus was the KingRex Unanimous. Without going outrageous on price, it represented a very clear next tier up on performance. What might exist beyond it—and how much that would cost—I haven't the faintest. To take full unanimous advantage requires the $189 UPower with its nasty SMPS wall wart to charge the batteries. In theory that might seem fussy or overly tweaky. In practice it's anything but. Just remember to flick its switch to 'charge' when the session is over. Run down the batteries and you'll have to swap the power lead back to the computer. Oy? No, listening to just one vinyl record is tons fussier. I didn't expect I'd favor a battery-powered USB cable. In fact I had no idea such a critter even existed. From what I can tell it's a terrific concept which successfully asserted itself over quality competition. Well done team KingRex!
Entreq website
KingRex website
Ocellia website
Telos Audio Design website
Vue Cables website