Anyone Messed With Higher End USB Cables?

prime minister

Site Owner
Staff member
Now to me, a high end USB cable is something like the Audioquest Forest. But I never have messed around a lot with audio cables in the USB world. I'm not a huge cable guy anyway, but it's not that I haven't heard differences Witt different cables of various kinds. I've just never tried it with USB.

So, if youve experimented with USB audio cables, what have you learned?
 

Ernie

My best pal, Molly
When Bill was looking for a USB cable, I visited Glenn. He recommended the Starlight 7, from WireWorld. He wasn't a dealer. I heard the 7 in a h2h with a VAn den Hul Ultimate, another 'flat' cable. The performance was the same, and the price was one-quarter of the VdH. The cable topology is designed to eliminate noise issues by separating signal and power cables. The Starlight 8 is Ag/Cu wire, the Chroma is the same design, no silver, so less money. I'd start there.
 
I recently had to set up a Roon renderer using a USB cable, and went with something along @Ernie's idea of split power and data conductors. I ended up with the Pangea Premier XL:

1599405319042.png

Nordost often does cable comparisons at the audio shows, so it's possible I could hear the difference if I put my mind to it. But for now, this will do and it's not outrageously priced. And to be honest, it sounds no different from the Bridge (streamer/renderer) in my DAC. My only dislike is that it uses up two USB ports--some DACs won't see the USB as being connected unless they detect the power conductors being connected.
 

MikeyFresh

Moderator
Staff member
Now to me, a high end USB cable is something like the Audioquest Forest. But I never have messed around a lot with audio cables in the USB world. I'm not a huge cable guy anyway, but it's not that I haven't heard differences Witt different cables of various kinds. I've just never tried it with USB.

So, if youve experimented with USB audio cables, what have you learned?
Different USB cables can and do sound different, despite what the "it's all ones and zeros" crowd says. Exactly quantifying that difference in terms of $$$ cost is difficult or impossible. Just as with analog cables, no one can make a proclamation about any particular cable's efficacy in your particular setup, unless they have that exact same setup. That said, USB cable differences tend to be more subtle than not.

This will vary with each particular setup, shorter length seems to be better, and locating a USB cable away from power cables in particular is advisable, just as it is with analog cables.

Some DACs will require no USB +5v or "VBUS" at all, while others will only very briefly require it at source/load initial handshake time, and still others will require the VBUS to power the entire digital circuit. The cable design and synergy will matter more (or less) depending on those factors.

When Bill was looking for a USB cable, I visited Glenn. He recommended the Starlight 7, from WireWorld. He wasn't a dealer. I heard the 7 in a h2h with a VAn den Hul Ultimate, another 'flat' cable. The performance was the same, and the price was one-quarter of the VdH. The cable topology is designed to eliminate noise issues by separating signal and power cables. The Starlight 8 is Ag/Cu wire, the Chroma is the same design, no silver, so less money. I'd start there.

Great choice, I have and use the WW Starlight 7, an excellent value. Not the very cheapest option, but also not stupid expensive either.
 

MikeyFresh

Moderator
Staff member
I recently had to set up a Roon renderer using a USB cable, and went with something along @Ernie's idea of split power and data conductors. I ended up with the Pangea Premier XL:

View attachment 27127

Nordost often does cable comparisons at the audio shows, so it's possible I could hear the difference if I put my mind to it. But for now, this will do and it's not outrageously priced. And to be honest, it sounds no different from the Bridge (streamer/renderer) in my DAC. My only dislike is that it uses up two USB ports--some DACs won't see the USB as being connected unless they detect the power conductors being connected.

Split cables are excellent for use with something like the new Allo Nirvana PSU to provide a super clean VBUS. This won't matter as much with DACs that are self powered, but for a DAC that is bus powered, it makes a huge difference. A split cable also allows DACs that only briefly require the VBUS for an initial hand shake to then physically disconnect the power after that handshake has occurred, you can just unplug the power leg entirely, which also makes a huge difference if that power/GND is noisy, such as with a laptop computer as the source.
 

MikeyFresh

Moderator
Staff member
With DACs that do not require any VBUS, I think the best USB cable is no cable at all, rather, it is a hard 90 Ohm adapter that allows a complete severing of the VBUS:

USPCB.jpg

Not too practical however, it has to line up between source and load perfectly to avoid undue stress at the connectors, and it prohibits many convenient locations for the streamer. Best sounding though in my case.

An easy inexpensive way to test the absence of VBUS with any particular DAC involves covering the VBUS pins (1 and 4) on any USB cable with small pieces of cellophane (Scotch) tape.
USB pinout.png
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
I tried one high end USB cable that was loaned to me and heard no difference. I did hear a difference for the better with an audioquest jitterbug, though.

not exactly an exhaustive study.
 

billfort

Administrator
Staff member
This was a tough one for me - I'm not much of a cable guy even in the analog world and found some cheap 'antique' wire based options worked better to my ears than expensive boutique cables anyway, but digital, 1s and 0s? No way wire can make a difference; if it's well built and error-free on my printer all's good right?

Well no, that's just not what I heard. Ernie putting me on to that Startlight 7 kind of gave me a problem on the logical front - damned if the thing didn't sound better - which should be enough, but the theory around grounding issues and separating power from data in some designs made me feel a little better about it. :)

Actually, I've found a whole bunch of reasons to move off my old "it's only 1s and 0s" attitude on digital which has been nice, because I never thought it could sound as good as it does now in my system. That Starlight 7 remains feeding my main DAC which no longer requires USB buss power, and I would say it made more of a difference with the DACs I've used that did, but it's not going anywhere.

So system dependent but worth a shot messing with these IMO - especially if you can actually try-before-buy or grab something on the used market after the big depreciation hit happens.
 

MikeyFresh

Moderator
Staff member
The whole power separation and USB cable construction differences topic has been taken to lunatic fringe levels with the Phasure Lush^2 cable.

Lush.jpg


Explanation.png

Comb-Examples2.png
This cable utilizes the John Swenson "JSSG 360" shielding principals, and is user adjustable to unfathomable different permutations, just mess with those tiny little jumpers to alter the shields connected.

Exactly what @Prime Minister seeks, endless fiddling with the USB cable's shielding arrangement to find USB DAC nirvana. Now that sounds like fun, can't wait for the writeup!
 
Split cables are excellent for use with something like the new Allo Nirvana PSU to provide a super clean VBUS. This won't matter as much with DACs that are self powered, but for a DAC that is bus powered, it makes a huge difference. They also allow DACs that only briefly require the VBUS for an initial hand shake to then physically disconnect the power after that handshake has occurred, you can just unplug the power leg entirely, which also makes a huge difference if that power/GND is noisy, such as with a laptop as source.
Mine is definitely a self-powered DAC but now I might try unplugging the power cable once the DAC and computer connect. Can't hurt--the worst I would do is drop the signal and need to plug it back in. That Allo power supply is certainly cheap enough that I could try one out.

I have also wondered if Schiit's Wyrd (USB Decrapifier...basically, a regenerator) would clean up the USB signal. I never needed one but now I regret not getting one or two just to keep handy. Maybe one of these days I'll look for one...
 

S0und Dragon

Moderator and Circus Hand.
Staff member
I struggle with this same issue. The Audiophool in me want to go all fancy with weird sciencey cables. The Network professional in me cringes at the thought. In the system so far, the network pro has won out....barely.
 

StevenZ

Active Member
I messed around with a few. I even attended a group meeting where they compared standard printer cables against some cables costing a few thousand. It was a blind comparison where after each on the fly, A/B style. There were even a few tricks in there where no cables changed at all. It was all done by vote and at the end of the day everyone agreed that the audio quest carbon cable was the best of the bunch. It was a real shocker for everyone especially the naysayers that thought all cables would sound the same and should sound the same.

For myself I actually use a dual headed USB cable. I find it sounds the best and supplies adequate current similar to what iFi sells but much cheaper.
 

MikeyFresh

Moderator
Staff member
I messed around with a few. I even attended a group meeting where they compared standard printer cables against some cables costing a few thousand. It was a blind comparison where after each on the fly, A/B style. There were even a few tricks in there where no cables changed at all. It was all done by vote and at the end of the day everyone agreed that the audio quest carbon cable was the best of the bunch. It was a real shocker for everyone especially the naysayers that thought all cables would sound the same and should sound the same.

For myself I actually use a dual headed USB cable. I find it sounds the best and supplies adequate current similar to what iFi sells but much cheaper.

I'm no big AudioQuest fan, however Carbon really is an excellent sounding USB cable, yes it sounds different than a generic printer cable, and also different/better than the $29 AQ Forest USB cable.

How different? Thats for each individual to decide in their own system.
 

airdronian

Radar Member
Ha, Wireworld Starlight 7 USB owner here as well. I like the brand, especially since they have a wide range which means some models @ real-world pricing in addition to the esoteric stuff. Audioquest does this too. I'm using Wireworld interconnects and power cables as well.

To be honest, I'm actually using the USB3 cable that came with my iDAC2. (Horrors !) Nice and short and fits well. It seems well made too. In general I see cables as refinements and haven't gone too far (IMO) with it. Been trying to improve the essentials.

I've been using a Mac Mini as digital source for 11 years now. My first couple DACs either didn't have USB or had a poor USB implementation so those were always Toslink or S/PDIF coax connection. So its only been somewhat recently that I've been looking at things USB.

It really wasn't all that long ago that I became interested in seeing about options for this interface. A Wyred4Sound Recovery was a first step which made me see that there are options to improve fidelity, particularly when using a bus powered DAC with a general purpose computer.

The rabbit hole continues in the near future with an Allo Nirvana power supply and a split power/data cable similar to the Pangea shown in an earlier post. Our resident enabler guru @MikeyFresh has been really helpful in this process.
 

MikeyFresh

Moderator
Staff member
Our resident enabler guru @MikeyFresh has been really helpful in this process.

I am a bad influence in all things digital.

If it were up to me, everyone would have a cool streamer, upgraded power supply, snazzy USB DAC, reclocker, fancy cable... no make that a 90 Ohm hard adapter, etc... oh and a Qobuz or Tidal subscription too. Let's see... what else can we spend some money on?
 

MikeyFresh

Moderator
Staff member
I'm actually using the USB3 cable that came with my iDAC2. (Horrors !)
I've just reported you to the Audiophile Police. They've started a dossier on you and might have to rescind your Audiophile ID card, as that throw-in USB3 cable is not an approved item.
 

prime minister

Site Owner
Staff member
When Bill was looking for a USB cable, I visited Glenn. He recommended the Starlight 7, from WireWorld. He wasn't a dealer. I heard the 7 in a h2h with a VAn den Hul Ultimate, another 'flat' cable. The performance was the same, and the price was one-quarter of the VdH. The cable topology is designed to eliminate noise issues by separating signal and power cables. The Starlight 8 is Ag/Cu wire, the Chroma is the same design, no silver, so less money. I'd start there.
I found a cheap 7 online so I put the order in. Let's see what happens.
 
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