I use a generic USB cable I don't remember the cost, might have come with a component. I wouldn't worry to much about it.
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USB cable shouldn't matter with the data delivery, but might inject electrical noise as any other cable connected, especially connected to noisy computer on the other side. Selecting cable with good shielding, to avoid ambient electrical noise pickup might help. I would also choose cable without power wires (+5V, GND), if not needed (self powered DAC).
If it was actually a single ethernet connection from the data source to your DAC, then it would be the last meter of multiple hundreds of thousands of miles, but in this case, the digital network connection is passing through numerous digital devices which buffer and reclock the data. Each of these removes some noise and anomalies from the signal and adds others.
So in reality, each connection between every piece of equipment has it's own affect on the signal integrity and noise.
In this case, the last meter doesn't even use the same protocol and electrical characteristics as the preceding hundreds/thousands of miles. USB has it's own issues compared to ethernet and the cable requirements are different.
It's unlikely that the USB cable is going to affect the integrity of the digital data unless it or the two devices you are connecting have a badly flawed design. But it is more likely that noise and waveform integrity affected by the cable could influence the sound of the DAC.
Whether it's worth spending $500, $1000 or more on a USB cable is up to you. While I personally believe that cables make a difference to the sound quality, I also believe in balanced investment. For example, I don't think spending $2000 on a USB cable to connect to a $500 DAC is ever going to make sense. I've generally found that, after a point, spending my budget on better electronics results in more improvement than spending a ton on cables. Where you draw that line is obviously a personal decision.
I used to think USB cables did not matter. I can't remember the brands but I tried a few including "High Speed" etc.... To make a long story short, I went back to the best sounding one, a very thick well shielded cable that came with a printer for my office 10 years ago. It sounds simply wonderful and I have no idea what it is. The moral of this story is that every cable matters. I could hear the difference even when wanting the new cables to sound good. If your system is resolving, and you listen well, you will figure out what you like.
If you use a fiber network, the line is clean compared to copper. Also if you go with the 1G fiber network, the latency is very very low and the bandwidth is huge.
Also, USB is a terrible interface to a dac. As for power cables, I think this is 1 of the most important cables out of the few that you need. Just like dedicated circuits to your audio equipment make a big difference.
USB is not a bad choice for many DACs and setups. I have fibre to my home and shot out 3 DACs from my streamer and straight from my phone to them. Outside of the "most" critical listening, both werw very, very good with the biggest attribute being ease of use. Good sounds all arounf but my SACDs played through my CDP was always superior. (Different dacs and such)
I am a tube fan. Dont care about "what measures best." So in my world...keeping it a bit syrupy as that is my jam.
Hope others can find their ideal stream.
How right you are. Just the same as the last meter of power cable when the power comes from a substation 400 yards away and thence from a source that may be a hundred miles away or more.
Active cleaners - yes, to get some of the noise off the line.
Passive wire. Anything thick enough to pass the current will do. The rest is snake oil.
Douglas: How do you know the digital signal wasn't 'destroyed' long before it got to your street?
My electronic engineer friend tells me that the various electronics and noisy switch mode power supplies in your home will inject noise into the signal, as well as all the components, from the modem onwards, that the signal passes through. Hence why a good quality network switch, linear power supplies, well-shielded Ethernet cable and well-designed usb can make a difference.
I have tried various usb cables at many price levels and some make no difference to my system, whereas one my friend made himself, makes a big improvement. As someone above said, the key to his USB cable is to not use the 5th wire in the cable, the one that delivers the power, as this is not required in self-powered DACs.
Good lord. Take a generic USB cable make sure it works, cover pin 1 which is the + with a small piece of electrical tape. Cut very small strip use tweezers cover only pin 1. Compare to the $ 400 cable to the covered pin cable and a regular cable get a friend to help do it without knowing which is which.
Note. If your DAC can't cope with pin 1 it's garbage.
djones51, what you have suggested in terms of sound enhancement, I have no comment, as I have not done so. However, as to methodology, if you do not treat all the cables similarly, you are not showing superiority one cable over the other; you are showing a potentially efficacious method.
What if that method was applied to all the cables? Have you tried such a comparison?
BTW, have you actually done the comparison you suggest?