The hard-wood display box
was posher than what had accompanied a recent €6'000 headphone loaner. Each cable was the thickness of my index finger, its braiding and wood ends done to perfection. The send end's casing holds its USB plug not centred but below the wood's clam-shell seam. With the tight spacing of my iMac's four USB ports, the wider side thus covered up its neighbouring slot unless I seated the StavEssence in the most inside port. Easy. Getting sound with the Aqua Hifi Formula DAC wasn't. Whilst PureMusic and iOS could 'see' it to be selected in their respective 'sound device' windows, PureMusic either would refuse to go out of pause altogether; play but output no sound; or produce sound with heavy clicking, then pause itself after a few seconds of stammering. Whilst AURALiC's Vega worked fine even with the ground drain clipped to the metallic Artesania Audio rack, that made no difference with the Formula. No matter what, the Polski twins were a no-go on the Italian.

With the StavEssence on the innermost port, the next one over wasn't obscured to take a standard cable for my iMac's infrared receiver.

I was reminded of the early days of USB double-header cables with their separate signal and power legs. Not all of them worked with everything; or at all. In fact, I once had Scott Barry from Computer Audio Design over with ten different such prototypes. He knew how they behaved with his own DAC. Now he wanted to explore them with the converters I had on hand. Each of his proto wires had its ground executed slightly different. With my DACs and iMac, only three of the ten worked. I couldn't be certain that the Formula refused to play because of a USB ground or other issue. The combo simply transferred no signal I could hear. With an actual ground post installed, I expected no such fantods with the COS Engineering D1. And the audio gods smiled. I had glorious sound. Likewise for the tube-buffered Fore Audio Daisy1 and Audiobyte Hydra X+ USB/SPDIF bridge. With my tally of three out of four sorted, the COS became sonic judge for the sheer convenience of its ground post.

As I'd put it in my review of Audiophilleo's USB/SPDIF processor, "Audiophilleo first wrestled the StavEssence Apricity: £999 battery-powered filter versus €1'250 USB cable. I made out no difference between the two. However, both were fuller and richer than generic USB cable direct. Meanwhile StavEssence's Eunoia cable was genuinely different. It had less transient bite for lower rhythmic pep and energy. It acted warm, limpid and languid, not coiled and springy. It was soft, not pungent. It behaved as mood alterant. It shifted curry flavours from Madras to Korma by dialling down the heat and upping the cream. This action was surprisingly easy to hear. It proved that designer Karol Staworko really had two discrete cable flavours on tap. As a gestalt shifter, I heard from it the most pronounced change. Between the minor cable spaghetti of Audiophilleo's hanging box versus the simple if thick stretch of Apricity cable, I'd favour the latter. The obvious proviso must be that a DAC has to cotton to its non-standard external ground drain." I had also said that "the generic USB cable really was coarser, grittier and etchier. USB through the Audiophilleo [and by extension, the indistinguishable Apricity - Ed] was rounder, smoother and mellower. This mode of more blended transients with reduced edges and softer transitions is routinely called more 'analogue' simply to distinguish it from needlier pricklier jerkier 'digital'. Whilst such terminology is artificial and far from correct, its use is widespread enough to translate. Accordingly, the Audiophilleo played it more analogue and stately. By the same token, it's fair to say that some listeners will be so used to 'typical' digital that such a smoothing and blending effect could translate as sex with a condom. It erases some desirable friction and intensity." And there you thought hifi was safe for youngsters.

But make no mistake. This distinction very much applied to Apricity and Eunoia. Even their names indicate it. Say them aloud. The former sounds crisper, more percussive and slightly sibilant on the 'ci'. The latter rings out round, mellow and warm like a summer's eve in Kauai. Which one you will favour is unpredictable. It's also system dependent. Staccato and legato aren't superior or inferior. They're two core modes of musical expression. They occur all the time alternating or together. Today's cable choices simply shift their relative emphasis by a small but meaningful bit. If digital transmission was just about being bit perfect, this should be impossible. Yet there it was, loud and clear.* The remaining question had to be, how would Apricity as the more standard tuning compare to my trusty KingRex uArt Y? The latter was the clearly more damped. This had a few effects. Its blacks were inkier for more pronounced silence between and behind the notes; a bit like an AC isolation transformer. By the same token, ambient recovery—the tiny reverb trails which light up recorded or artificial venue—was reduced. That's because the same higher damping effect cut short fades. With it, tonal elasticity and micro reflections subdued in tandem. The KingRex behaved tauter but energetically a tad restricted and seemingly smaller. The StavEssence behaved looser, energetically more generous and subjectively freer or bigger. With the uArt having survived all previous challengers to remain my long-term default, that was an excellent showing for the Apricity.

* On this count, I made an observation which proved, undeniably, how USB cable quality diverges. The clock of AURALiC's Vega, after one hour of play when its circuits are thermally stabilized, can be set to 'exact' if source jitter is low enough. Otherwise one uses 'fine' or 'coarse'. With the generic USB cable included with Audiophilleo's 2MkII, 'exact' caused dropouts every 2 seconds like a lazy metronome. With clock sensitivity dumbed down to 'fine', that metronome slowed down to about every 8 seconds. Only in 'coarse' mode did the stuttering disappear altogether. With the StavEssence cables, 'exact' worked flawlessly. Because the clock settings respond directly to incoming jitter severity, the obvious conclusion must be that the throwaway cable caused significantly higher jitter.

The plug's thicker wood side could intrude over a neighbouring computer USB slot to prevent it from accepting a standard plug.

For those in an even mellower warmer darker mood, the Eunoia is a simple plug'n'play away. There's no denying that these StavEssence leashes cost serious money. But in my setup, they were just as effective as going from a throwaway USB strip to a USB/SPDIF processor like the Audiobyte Hydra X+ or Audiophilleo 2MkII with PurePower battery supply. Either of those active solutions involved more cables. That made these Polish links the most elegant and simple of the lot. And because a USB cable won't convert formats, 384kHz and higher data pass straight to your DAC. The USB bridges were capped by S/PDIF's 192kHz limit; if max upsampling or rare hi-rez files matter to you. Especially about costly digital wires, it's easy to be cynical. By sounding undeniably fabulous, these also pretty links challenge you to bring on your best spleen, piss and vinegar and whatever other gnarliness you can muster. As far as your ears go, none of it will matter. I so wasn't expecting to have my well-fed inner cynic defeated so thoroughly. What a show!
... to be continued with Part II and Marja & Henk's findings on the matching Ethernet cable when the time comes...

Stavessence website