Three way USB cable shootout

I recently spent several months evaluating three different USB cables on my PC audio rig, and I figured I'd post up my thoughts and impressions. It was a great experience, and I learned a lot about the sound signatures of these cables!

I used my Topping D10 DAC with a variety of WAV and FLAC files in Winamp 5.666, with the Maiko WASAPI plugin for bit perfect playback. With each cable I tested, I listened to it for a few weeks, and then swapped in the next cable, and let it break in for about 20 hours before making a final observation/judgement. I went through this cycle twice to ensure that I got a lot of time listening to each cable.


First up is the Oyaide "Neo d+ Series Class B" USB Cable - 1M - $29.95.

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Conductor: Silver plated Oxygen Free Copper / power : AWG21 / signal : AWG25
Structure: Flat (Inverted concentric structure)
Shield: Double shielding w/individually shielded pairs
Insulator: Polyolefin
Outer: Flexible PVC
Terminals: Gold plated bronze alloy
Body: PBT + Glass Fiber 30% with PVC

This cable seems to be marketed toward DJ/professional use, but Oyaide's website has a lot to say, boasting about it's HiFi performance as well. I actually used this cable the longest, as it was my first foray into aftermarket USB cables. So I had previously logged some time on this cable using previous USB DACs that I owned.

Using my insight and experienced gained from the other two cables I tested, I can now share some detailed listening impressions about the sonic signature that this cable brings to the table. Simply put, it artificially boosts and accents the upper midrange and lower highs, yet at the same time rolls off the upper highs. Additionally, it's low end is lacking - bass is very anemic.

This cable might be good for listening to classical, small acoustic ensembles, or solo vocalists, where you want as much focus on the upper midrange as possible. In a way, it allows you to "see" more into that section of the music. However, because it's so accented, I perceive the sound to lack body and have a thin characteristic to it. This characteristic, combined with the anemic bass makes me unlikely to use this cable for critical listening.

In a way, this is somewhat like the "Generic 14ga OFC" speaker cable of USB cables. It might sound fine, until you try something better.


Next up, is the Audioquest Forest USB - 1.5m - $39.95.

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audioquest_forest_cross_section.jpg

- Solid 0.5% Silver Conductors
- Solid Long-Grain Copper (LGC)
- polyethylene insulation
- triple shielded (foil/mylar/braided copper)

I'm sure everyone reading this is familiar with this popular best seller from Audioquest. It seems to have a lot going for it, with it's quality materials and entry level price! It's also garnered several positive reviews from various HiFi publications.

Just like how Audioquest's entry level "Type 2" speaker cable is an improvement versus generic stranded wire, I believe this Forest cable offers some easily heard improvements over a typical USB cable.

Top to bottom, the sound is a lot more balanced and neutral versus the Oyaide cable. I don't detect any boosted or rolled off frequencies. Musicality and smoothness are increased, with a more detailed upper frequency presentation. When I say "more detailed", I don't mean to imply that the highs are bright or in any way strident. Bass is present and accurate, with several layers of depth. Overall, the cable has a slightly warm presentation to it that works well for a variety of music.

I think this is a great "daily driver" type of cable for those looking to get something a little nicer. I would recommended it, especially considering the price.


Lastly, we have the Audioquest Carbon USB - 1.5m - $169.95

x703CARB25-F.jpeg

h703CAUSB10-o_front.jpeg

- Solid 5% Silver Conductors
- triple shielded (foil/mylar/braided copper)
- Hard-Cell Foam Insulation
- Solid Long-Grain Copper (LGC)

Again, I'm sure everyone knows about Audioquest's Carbon line of cables. It felt a little strange spending $170 for a 1.5m USB cord. Not a cheap cable by any means! Especially since my DAC only costs $90! (But, performs well above this price, in my opinion!)

The very first time I tried out the Carbon, I didn't know what to expect, and I was skeptical that it would offer any noticeable improvements over the Forest. Fortunately, my fears were quickly dismissed after logging a few hours with it! This cable definitely has a different sound signature than the Forest!

One of the first things I noticed was that high frequency information like cymbals, high hats, higher guitar notes, higher pitched singing, etc. all seemed to have an unpleasant harshness or glare to them. I tried a variety of music and I kept experiencing this unpleasant aural sensation of harshness to the treble that resulted in a physically fatiguing sensation in my ears.

I decided to break the cable in by playing music through it for 50-60 hours. After that, I'm happy to report that the harshness and glare was completely gone, and what was left is an abundance of detail. That might be the best way to describe this cable, detailed. Additionally, the soundstage shifted slightly forward and more between the two speakers. The sound was less localized to each individual speaker, and had a much more coherent presentation than the other two cables.

All of the musical information was there, top to bottom, with exquisite detail. As with the Forest, I didn't detect any boosting or enhancement of certain frequency ranges. However, since there was now so much more detail being presented, low frequency information was much more present, defined, and had more depth to it. Instead of just hearing a simple bassline, I could now hear several elements within the bassline.

For the bass heavy electronic music that I love, this was fantastic. But also for more traditional music, the advantage was immediately apparent. For example, with "Steely Dan - Peg", it was difficult to discern the great bass guitar riff when listening on the Oyaide cable. With the Carbon, the bassline was easily heard and really helped to bolster the song as it should.

Throughout my listening tests with the Carbon, I had three special moments where I just took a moment and thought to myself "I love the way this sounds!". It was a subconscious emotional reaction that I had to the music, and the way it was being presented. I did not experience this emotional sensation when listening to the Oyaide or the Forest cable.

In conclusion, I believe the additional detail, top to bottom coherent presentation, and overall musicality of the Carbon USB cable help to achieve a more emotionally involving connection to the music. Highly recommended trying this cable out for yourself, albeit after a thorough break-in! Fantastic performance!
  • "Electronic music is human sound adapting to indulge technology, and for some, it feels like the signature sound of energy. New and abstract sounds over hypnotic rhythms can conjure vast soundscapes for escape, pleasure, and transcendence."

Comments

  • gudnoyezgudnoyez Posts: 6,599
    $170 for a cable on a $90 Dac? I'm not saying that the Carbon wont make a difference, I'm sure it does, im just not understanding the cost ratio from cable to Dac. I have the Choclate AQ's 2 of them in HDMI and I'm quite pleased with them.
    Home Theater
    Parasound Halo A 31 OnkyoTX-NR838 Sony XBR55X850B 55" 4K RtiA9 Fronts CsiA6 Center RtiA3 Rears FxiA6 Side Surrounds Dual Psw 111's Oppo 105D Signal Ultra Speaker Cables & IC's Signal Magic Power Cable Technics SL Q300 Panamax MR4300 Audioquest Chocolate HDMI Cables Audioquest Forest USB Cable

    2 Channel
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  • tonybtonyb Posts: 30,571
    His purpose was to discern differences in sound between USB cables at different price points. I'd say he succeeded in that quest. Yet another testimonial to "everything matters" in the chain.
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  • gudnoyezgudnoyez Posts: 6,599
    Totally agree a great way to discern differences in sound I have a box full of different cables, it's a crazy hobby we are all looking to experiment and find that product that suits your needs. It's also the best bang for the buck, its always fun to experiment, but if your spending more and settling on cables that cost more than the your Dac then I would settle for a more expensive Dac.

    If I bought a Audio Technica turntable that was budget friendly I'm not going to spend more on the cartridge than what the table is worth, I'm sure a better cartridge would improve the sound, but do you really want to spend more money on a better cartridge for it.

    I think the OP's shoot out was a success and did help to distinguish the difference in cables, I did the same thing recently with AQ USB cables and Wireworld cables the Wireworld cable was the winner and at $100 the Wireworld was a small fraction of the cost of the Dac.
    Home Theater
    Parasound Halo A 31 OnkyoTX-NR838 Sony XBR55X850B 55" 4K RtiA9 Fronts CsiA6 Center RtiA3 Rears FxiA6 Side Surrounds Dual Psw 111's Oppo 105D Signal Ultra Speaker Cables & IC's Signal Magic Power Cable Technics SL Q300 Panamax MR4300 Audioquest Chocolate HDMI Cables Audioquest Forest USB Cable

    2 Channel
    Adcom 555II Vincent SA-T1 Marantz SA 15S2 Denon DR-M11 Clearaudio Bluemotion SDA 2.3tl's (Z) edition MIT Terminator II Speaker Cables & IC's Adcom 545II Adcom Gtp-450 Marantz CD5004 Technics M245X SDA 2B's, SDA CRS+

    Stuff for the Head
    JD LABS C5 Headphone Amplifier, Sennheiser HD 598, Polk Audio Buckle, Polk Audio Hinge, Velodyne vPulse, Bose IE2, Sennheiser CX 200 Street II, Sennheiser MX 365

    Shower & Off the beaten path Rigs
    Polk Audio Boom Swimmer, Polk Audio Urchin B)
  • ClipdatClipdat Posts: 5,682
    Don't judge a book by it's cover. The Topping D10 performs well above what it's modest price point would indicate.

    I highly suggest anyone who is even remotely curious about it's performance to pick one up from Amazon, and try one for yourself before writing it off of or prejudging it due to it's price. It's actually on sale right now for $76.47.
    • "Electronic music is human sound adapting to indulge technology, and for some, it feels like the signature sound of energy. New and abstract sounds over hypnotic rhythms can conjure vast soundscapes for escape, pleasure, and transcendence."
  • gudnoyezgudnoyez Posts: 6,599
    At no point did I call your baby ugly or dis the Topping D10. I agree with your findings a good shootout with the Carbon winning and enhancing your listening pleasure. I'm sorry if you thought my initial post was to judge the D10 it was not meant to, it was only about having to spend more money on the cable than what its hooked up to.
    Home Theater
    Parasound Halo A 31 OnkyoTX-NR838 Sony XBR55X850B 55" 4K RtiA9 Fronts CsiA6 Center RtiA3 Rears FxiA6 Side Surrounds Dual Psw 111's Oppo 105D Signal Ultra Speaker Cables & IC's Signal Magic Power Cable Technics SL Q300 Panamax MR4300 Audioquest Chocolate HDMI Cables Audioquest Forest USB Cable

    2 Channel
    Adcom 555II Vincent SA-T1 Marantz SA 15S2 Denon DR-M11 Clearaudio Bluemotion SDA 2.3tl's (Z) edition MIT Terminator II Speaker Cables & IC's Adcom 545II Adcom Gtp-450 Marantz CD5004 Technics M245X SDA 2B's, SDA CRS+

    Stuff for the Head
    JD LABS C5 Headphone Amplifier, Sennheiser HD 598, Polk Audio Buckle, Polk Audio Hinge, Velodyne vPulse, Bose IE2, Sennheiser CX 200 Street II, Sennheiser MX 365

    Shower & Off the beaten path Rigs
    Polk Audio Boom Swimmer, Polk Audio Urchin B)
  • rooftop59rooftop59 Posts: 5,047
    hey great write up @Clipdat! Very helpful. Thanks for taking the time to write it up!

    Have you happened to get your ears on the belkin gold usb cable? Seems to be another entry-level darling.

    And while i generally agree with Steve on the component to cable price ratio, I do agree with Drew that sometimes you have components that you really like that punch well above their price-point that are just begging to be connected to more expensive components and cables, and it sounds like this is an example of that. There have been times when my ratios have been out of whack, especially when I get really good deals and used gear, but even sometimes with new...ymmv
    HT Rig:
    Denon AVR-X4200w; Peachtree Audio NovaPre; B&K TX4430; Bryson BPD-1; Mains: Dynaudio Emit 10; Center - Polk cs400i; Heights, Center Surround - Klipsch KHC - 6 In-Ceiling; Surrounds - Monoprice in-ceiling; Sub - HSU VTF-2 MK5; LG UP870 4K BDP; NVidia ShieldTV
    ;
    Master Bedroom
    Marantz SR-5007; Parasound HCA-1000A, PSB Imagine B, NHT Super One CI surrounds, Martin Logan Dynamo (original), Squeezebox Touch
  • afterburntafterburnt Posts: 5,013
    edited November 2018
    CN you post a picture of your baby so I can see if he's ugly?

    Oh, nice review.
  • ClipdatClipdat Posts: 5,682
    gudnoyez wrote: »
    At no point did I call your baby ugly or dis the Topping D10. I agree with your findings a good shootout with the Carbon winning and enhancing your listening pleasure. I'm sorry if you thought my initial post was to judge the D10 it was not meant to, it was only about having to spend more money on the cable than what its hooked up to.

    All good man, I'm not upset or anything. :) I just wanted to let people know that the D10's performance isn't related to it's price. It's really a standout product, and as my listening tests have shown, it's easily revealing enough to show difference with various cables.
    rooftop59 wrote: »
    hey great write up @Clipdat! Very helpful. Thanks for taking the time to write it up!

    Have you happened to get your ears on the belkin gold usb cable? Seems to be another entry-level darling.

    And while i generally agree with Steve on the component to cable price ratio, I do agree with Drew that sometimes you have components that you really like that punch well above their price-point that are just begging to be connected to more expensive components and cables, and it sounds like this is an example of that. There have been times when my ratios have been out of whack, especially when I get really good deals and used gear, but even sometimes with new...ymmv

    I haven't heard the Belkin cable, but I would be interested in trying it out. After evaluating these three cables, I feel even stronger about my cable reviewing strategies and what to listen for. This was a great experience and I feel like I learned a lot!

    And I agree with you, it does seem silly to have a $170 cable hooked up to a $90 DAC, but I'm starting to learn that certain things in this hobby don't make a whole lot of sense, and that if you let go of preconceived notions and expectations, you can really open your mind up to what is possible in terms of high end audio reproduction. Talking with @DSkip a lot recently has really expanded my mind in this area. Sometimes things don't make a lot of "sense", but hearing is believing.
    • "Electronic music is human sound adapting to indulge technology, and for some, it feels like the signature sound of energy. New and abstract sounds over hypnotic rhythms can conjure vast soundscapes for escape, pleasure, and transcendence."
  • afterburntafterburnt Posts: 5,013
    A lot of things in this hobby don't make a lot of sense. I have my DAC hooked up to a $3500 dialysis machine.
  • pitdogg2pitdogg2 Posts: 12,308
    afterburnt wrote: »
    A lot of things in this hobby don't make a lot of sense. I have my DAC hooked up to a $3500 dialysis machine.

    and your kidneys love the tone it gives off.....
  • verbverb Posts: 4,795
    Well done Drew! Nice review. I’ve learned to trust your ears. I’m running an AQ Cinamon right now, but thinking there’s a Carbon in my near future!
    Basement: Polk SDA SRS, Rega RP1 TT, VTL 2.5 Preamplifier, Enlightened Audio Designs CD Transport, Northstar Designs DAC, Conrad Johnson MF2300A Amp, Furman 15PFi Power Conditioner, Wireworld Oasis 8 RCA IC's, MIT Terminator2 Bi-Wire speaker cables
    Office: PC, Marantz CD-1 transport, Marantz AMP-1, Acoustic Technologies Classic Speakers, SVS SB12 Plus Subwoofer, MIT AVt2 speaker cables, IFI Purifier2, AQ Cinnamon USB cable
    Spare Room: Dayens Ampino Integrated, Tjoeb 99 tube CD player (modified Marantz CD-38), Project BoxE Bluetooth Streamer, Polk TSi200's
    Living Room: Pioneer SX-N30 Network Receiver, Pioneer PD10AE CD Player, Furman M8-LX Power Conditioner, Polk RT265 In Wall Speakers, Polk DSW Pro 660wi Subwoofer
  • mantismantis Posts: 15,195
    Good job on the review. I also have Carbon USB cables. I have Cabon level cables all over my system.
    Dan
    My personal quest is to save to world of bad audio, one thread at a time.
  • ClipdatClipdat Posts: 5,682
    verb wrote: »
    I’ve learned to trust your ears.

    Thanks Dave, that means a lot to me. I'm glad you liked the review.

    I'd like to get into professionally reviewing gear, but it seems like a hard area to break into. How cool would it be to write for Stereophile?
    • "Electronic music is human sound adapting to indulge technology, and for some, it feels like the signature sound of energy. New and abstract sounds over hypnotic rhythms can conjure vast soundscapes for escape, pleasure, and transcendence."
  • MilitoMilito Posts: 320
    Nice review Drew.
    Yamaha RX-A2070, Outlaw 5000, VTF-2 MK5, Signature S55, S30, Sony BPD-S3200, Technics PD867, Audio-Technica AT-LP60, AudioQuest Type 4 Speaker Cable, AudioQuest Black Mamba II Interconnects, Furman PL-8C 15 Power Conditioner, Cullen Gold Power Cable, Sony 65" 900F.
  • jdjohnjdjohn Posts: 564
    Nice review, indeed, with pictures and all. This is making me rethink my current digital connection of SPDIF digital coax. I had always thought the coax was supposedly better since it was made for the purpose of audio, whereas USB was meant for data. But as with many things, the 'best' solution depends on the situation. I believe it may be time for some experimentation. B) Thanks, Clipdat, for raising my awareness.
    "Sometimes I do what I want to do. The rest of the time, I do what I have to." - Cicero, in Gladiator
  • tonybtonyb Posts: 30,571
    Doesn't matter which connection you use, a good cable can make a difference. The only connection I've ever had a hard time discerning differences in, was Toslink.
    HT SYSTEM-2 channel
    Sony 850c 4k
    Pioneer elite vhx 21
    Sony 4k BRP
    SVS SB-2000
    Dynaudio Audience 72
    Polk FX500 surrounds
    Cary xciter dac
    Cullen modded Sonos
    Joule la-100 pre
    B&k Ref 4420 amp

    Cables-
    Acoustic zen Satori speaker cables
    Acoustic zen Matrix 2 IC's
    Analysis plus crystal oval ic's
    Wireworld eclipse 7 ic's
    Audio metallurgy ga-o digital cable

    Kitchen

    Sonos zp90
    B&k 1430
    Tad 803 speakers
  • ClipdatClipdat Posts: 5,682
    jdjohn wrote: »
    Nice review, indeed, with pictures and all. This is making me rethink my current digital connection of SPDIF digital coax. I had always thought the coax was supposedly better since it was made for the purpose of audio, whereas USB was meant for data. But as with many things, the 'best' solution depends on the situation. I believe it may be time for some experimentation. B) Thanks, Clipdat, for raising my awareness.

    I'm working on a three way digital coaxial cable shootout review right now! What cable are you using currently? I wouldn't just arbitrarily jump to USB over coaxial. There's very different sounds to digital coaxial cables as I've just discovered first hand.
    • "Electronic music is human sound adapting to indulge technology, and for some, it feels like the signature sound of energy. New and abstract sounds over hypnotic rhythms can conjure vast soundscapes for escape, pleasure, and transcendence."
  • pitdogg2pitdogg2 Posts: 12,308
    Clipdat wrote: »
    verb wrote: »
    I’ve learned to trust your ears.
    I'd like to get into professionally reviewing gear, but it seems like a hard area to break into. How cool would it be to write for Stereophile?

    you'd likely starve to death. I just do not think it is a high paying career path.

  • jdjohnjdjohn Posts: 564
    edited November 2018
    Clipdat wrote: »
    jdjohn wrote: »
    Nice review, indeed, with pictures and all. This is making me rethink my current digital connection of SPDIF digital coax. I had always thought the coax was supposedly better since it was made for the purpose of audio, whereas USB was meant for data. But as with many things, the 'best' solution depends on the situation. I believe it may be time for some experimentation. B) Thanks, Clipdat, for raising my awareness.

    I'm working on a three way digital coaxial cable shootout review right now! What cable are you using currently? I wouldn't just arbitrarily jump to USB over coaxial. There's very different sounds to digital coaxial cables as I've just discovered first hand.
    Oh, mine is nothing special...got it at an electronics surplus store. It was thick and had substantial connectors, and I was in a hurry. You should have seen the look on the employees' faces when I asked for 'digital coax'. They directed me towards RF coax cables...like for your TV. I said, "No, it has RCA plugs on it...goes into the orange-colored jacks on the device." Deer in the headlights. I had to find it myself. I've thrown the packaging away, but I'll try to look at the brand on the cable itself when I get home.

    Interested to read your review!

    BTW: Not to be picky, but shouldn't these go into our 'Going Digital' forum section?
    "Sometimes I do what I want to do. The rest of the time, I do what I have to." - Cicero, in Gladiator
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