Does the Quality of the USB cable matter?


I have a Squeezebox Touch connected to my Laptop via a 50 ethernet cable.
Also connected to my laptop is an external 1TB hardrive that my music is stored on via a 5 meter USB cable.

With this set up, does the quality of the USB Cable matter ?
ozzy
You will get different responses from different camps on whether cables make any difference. I hear a difference in USB cables. It's not as dramatic as other types of cables but it's enough, for me, to justify the extra cost.

I, too, use a 5 meter length of USB which is considered a no-no (conventional wisdom dictates nothing more than 3 meters) and I get fabulous sound from my computer, and I run another 15 feet of ICs to my stereo system with no attendant loss. I've tried all possible variations (running either USB or ICs diagonally across my room which kept the USB or IC to connect to my system to one meter) and it made no difference.

Something like a WireWorld Starlight USB would be among the cheapest you can use that is of sufficient quality. It's what I use.

All the best,
Nonoise
I answered something similar to Nonoise & Nicks over on Cable Asylum and got threatened with a ban from the moderator. I always believe in the quality of the metal( including connectors), but aren't asked to do much. It's 0s and 1s.
You'll get the range of (heated) opinions one always gets when the cable dragon is tickled. Plenty of folks on both sides. I think it makes a difference, as does at least one manufacturer of high end digital, Steve of Empirical Audio. But if you're a "1s and 0s are 1s and 0s" person, you'll disagree.

Buying an "entry level" audiophile cord is a pretty cheap experiment.

John
There's been so much discussion about 'it being only 1s and 0s' here and on other sites. It's true if all you're doing is faxing a document or printing a photo but music is much more complicated, not to mention the many and varied platforms that it's played from, the implementation, etc. On a highly resolving system, I propose that anyone can hear the difference. If one keeps to one's beliefs and limits their exposure to what's possible, then they are entitled to what they believe. They just shouldn't be so dogmatic about it when dealing with others. Sorry to hear about your experience at that other site.

All the best,
Nonoise
Mt10425 - Kable Koolaid myths keep most of the cable vendors in business. Trying to speak the truth, or at least educate people how to properly do listening tests, at a forum called Cable Asylum makes it no surprise that they censored you. With the myths busted, there's really no need for Cable Asylum, or more importantly, their sponsors.

Also, the OP was asking about the USB cable between computer and external disk drive. Even if he wasn't, the answer is still the same.

Don't you think that is somebody actually could identify the difference between two USB cables during a double blind listening test that was repeatable it would posted on all audio forums to show that there really is a difference.
The one way in which I can envision a USB cable connecting an external hard drive to a computer could make an audible difference is by affecting the amount of RFI that may be radiated from the cable into the audio system. Like most digital signals, USB signals contain significant energy at RF frequencies, as well as carrying some amount of random noise that is at RF frequencies. In Ozzy's case, though, the distance between the cable and the audio system would seem to make that effect very unlikely to be significant.

If we were discussing a USB cable connecting the computer to a DAC, though, the story would be different IMO. In addition to RFI radiation there would be the possibility of effects on jitter, as a result of noise being conducted into the DAC by the cable; ground loop effects between the computer and DAC; and effects of the cable on waveform integrity. All of those factors could conceivably differ depending on the particular cable that is being used. Their significance would be dependent on the design of the DAC, including its jitter rejection capability, and the extent to which any noise might be able to bypass the jitter rejection circuitry.

If in fact those differences were to exist in a particular system, however, IMO that would absolutely NOT mean that a more expensive cable will necessarily outperform a less expensive cable. Assuming reasonably decent cable quality, performance would depend on the happenstance of the interaction between the characteristics of the cable and those of the system and the physical setup. Which I would expect, in turn, to be essentially unpredictable.

Regards,
-- Al
I do believe in cable differences to a point. However, I find value more in analog or speaker cable quality. Digital cables, not so much. Really, quality metal and connectors and decent construction will do the job. I hear everyone, but we convince ourselves about differences (real or not), I'm no different.
Thanks all for the reponses.
I just had to test this cable question for myself so I ordered a 5 meter USB from DH Labs based on the latest review in Postive feedback. This DH cable also has a shield and I believe DH has a 30 day return policy.

But, even if it proves to have no sonic improvement for my hardrive connection, I still may keep it in case someday I get a new Dac with USB capabilities.
I actually use DHLabs HDMI cables in my HT. I like them.
Honestly and sincerely, I am quite surprised that the question of whether USB cables matter between a computer, say the MacMini, and a DAC is still a question of fact.

Even on my least res system, an Alethias USB cable makes a huge difference over other USB cables I've owned and/or tested.

Theory is theory; practice is practice. I suggest that if you are wondering, put some USB cables into practice in your system. Of course, if you don't have a system that will reveal the difference, it isn't the USB cable's problem.

jmo & jme,

:) listening,

Ed
Ed, Even if I am only using the USB Cable from my laptop to my external hardrive?
I know when I upgraded my firewire cable from the MacMini to the peripheral HD from the stock cable it made a difference that I preferred. That is true on all of my systems.

:) listening,

Ed
Ed, what kind of interface do you have between the MacMini and your DAC (USB, ethernet, S/PDIF, etc.)? And how much distance is there between the firewire cable and the DAC (and its cabling), as well as between the firewire cable and the rest of the audio system?

My suspicion is that your findings may have little if any applicability to Ozzy's situation. In his case the external drive is 50 feet away from anything that may directly impact sound quality, since an ethernet interface is used to cover that 50 foot distance, and jitter that may be induced by digital noise is essentially irrelevant for an ethernet interface, due to the packetized and buffered nature of data transmission and reception over that kind of interface.

Regards,
-- Al
Would these comments be the same if we were discussing Firewire?
Yes, cables make a difference. By a little.
Thanks everyone fo the help. I have the DH Labs USB cable and will try it out this weekend.
I tried the DH Labs USB cable for a little while Saturday, and I thought I was hearing more body to the music than I had when using my cheapo USB cable.
So to make the comparison fair I've put the Dh Labs cable USB on my cable cooker for a few days and I will insert it back into my system then.
Well, I just took the DH Labs USB cable off the Cable Cooker and I must report that for my application, I hear no difference between the DH Labs cable and my previous cheapo USB cable.
Hi Ozzy
What cable cooker did you use on the DH Labs USB cable? I didn't think they existed. I broke in my Tripp Lite USB cable by just putting a CD on repeat on my old laptop and connecting the USB cable to my DAC. I let it play for a week non-stop.
Jedinite24,

I have the Audiodharma cable cooker. Finding the right adapters was difficult but in the end not too expensive.
You need a USB to Audio adapter (L,R and Video with rca's), cost $2.39 Amazon. One of these for each end.
I also needed a USB B to a USB A adapter and a USB female coupler. About $10-15 bucks.
In my experience, I've found no difference at all between the free USB cable that came with a drive and a $200, all-silver "fancy" one from an expensive cable company. But, that's running from a Mini to an asynchronous USB DAC. Asynchronous is meant to be "more immune" (whatever that means) to cable quality due to the way, or more like where (ie, in the DAC, after the cable has done its job) it handles jitter issues. I have also read that cable quality can matter more if running USB 2.0, rather than 1.1. But, here, the "quality" can be inverted. USB 2.0 runs at 40x the bandwidth of 1.1. Hand made, bespoke, expensive USB cables -- sometimes -- are simply not technically up to the task of operating at the required tolerances, while computer/robot manufactured, cheap, high production run cables are designed to do precisely that. There was a time that at least some DAC manufacturers were affirmatively warning customers away from "high end" USB cables for 2.0 for just this reason. Think Ayre still does. Expect that this technology gap is shrinking in the shops hoping to charge a lot for "audio grade" USB cables, but it's tough to imagine how that gets done other than, at least at some level, repurposing computer-designed and manufactured wires. But that's a guess. All that said, I'd expect the cable to matter even less between the drive and the CPU. There, I'd guess it's purely binary (pun intended): either adequate bandwidth or not. You can send your bits in as fancy a wrapper as you want, but I suspect the CPU sees the same bits either way. (Put differently, I'd guess that the time and processing spent by whatever software chews up and spits out the bits in the CPU effectively renders the means by which the bits arrived there in the first place -- be it the wire from an internal drive or the wire from an external drive -- largely irrelevant, particularly if you are buffering and playing out of RAM in the first place.) Anyway, my experience for what it's worth.
I just got done auditioning USB cables. I always noticed a difference between cables. A couple were worse than stock. System synergy. But the rsad cabling made a huge positive impact. You're system has to be resolving enough, and the cabling has to compliment the set up.
Anyone tried various Cat 5, Cat 6, or Cat 7 Ethernet cables? I use these: a 50 foot cable between my WHS Server and a 1 gigabyte Ethernet switch and then a 5 foot Ethernet cable from the switch to my PS Audio PWD. I've tried all 3 cables in this setup. I thought there was a considerable difference between the 5 and 6 that being: a more musical fuller sound with the 6. When I substituted the 7 the background became blacker and quieter. I would not say these differences are extreme especially between the 6 and 7 but they were discernible and make my system just a little bit better and closer to the real thing for not a whole lot of $$$s.
I'm using a Cat 7 cable. Primarily because it looks like its built better and it cost about the same as Cat 6. Can't say whether it sounds better though.
I'm using a Cat5e is just fine. And less expensive than your other alternatives.

The quality is always matter and even when it's usb cable whatever Desktops you are using if the cable is suit to it then you're okay to go.
Remember, a high quality 1 or 0 sounds much better than a cheap 1 or 0.
Of course the quality of the USB cable matters just the same as any piece of wire or electronic hardware because it is something in the path of the signal going from source to speakers. All those things in front of the signal are creating a resistance just the same as all the other parts and all those parts impart a sonic signature which can be heard .


Gee, one wonders if USB cables are directional? You know, like HDMI cables or Ethernet cables. Or any cables, really. Say, isn’t the “digital” signal really an analog signal? Hmmmm...
As far as directionality one would think the onous would be on the manufacturer because as you know there are two different connections at either end of the cable and as it is an analogue signal wouldn't directionality and resistance be of greater importance ?
jim204
As far as directionality one would think the onous would be on the manufacturer because as you know there are two different connections at either end of the cable and as it is an analogue signal wouldn't directionality and resistance be of greater importance?

>>>>Yes, there are two different connectors at either end of the cable. Nevertheless, each separate wire involved should be controlled for directionality during the cable manufacturing process to give the signal the least resistance no matter which way the signal is going.

Correct me if I am wrong but I have read that after the drawing out process The grain sructure of the metal alows resistance to be more going one way than the other and that is presumably why the manufacturer labels their cable in the direction of least resistance.
Correct me if I am wrong but I have read that after the drawing out process The grain sructure of the metal alows resistance to be more going one way than the other and that is presumably why the manufacturer labels their cable in the direction of least resistance.
I have a found a usb cable that is the best I have tried thus far. Its made by a longtime member grannyring.

It is called the "Acoustic BBQ". He sent me one to try against my Curious usb. It was so good that I bought it ! 
It has the openness that the Curious has but with a slightly warmer sound.
And...it is available at a much lower price and shipped from the USA.
Here is a link to his ad.
https://www.audiogon.com/listings/lis9636a-acoustic-bbq-full-rack-usb-cable-new-digital

Give it try and post your results.

ozzy
Let’s set the record straight here. For your use case, this is the signal flow:

External drive --> USB --> Laptop

Laptop --> Ethernet --> Squeezebox


With this specific setup, the USB cable will make zero difference. This is why. Communication between your laptop and the external drive attached via USB will result in bit perfect transfers to the laptop _EVERY_ time due to the error correction built into the protocol used to transfer data to/from the PC and USB mass storage devices. The data is then sent from your laptop to the Squeezebox using a standard networking protocol (either TCP or UDP as I’m not sure which the Squeezebox uses). TCP has error correction built in. If the data sent from the sender to the receiver does not match the checksum, it is resent. This is GUARANTEED because of the TCP protocol. The Squeezebox then buffers the data in local memory and then processes it for output. Because of the communication protocols in use between your devices, you are guaranteed bit perfect delivery to the Squeezebox. What happens from there is a matter of exactly how the software on the Squeezebox has been programmed to handle the data it has locally buffered.

USB cables only make a difference when the signal path is directly from source to processing device (e.g. PC USB output to DAC USB input). This is because the transfer of data over USB for audio purposes does not utilize any error correction. Zero, zip, zilch, none, nada. Errors in signal transmission are never corrected because there’s nothing built into the ’protocol’ to perform the necessary operations to achieve error correction.


jeenam,

Actually today I am using the usb cable from my Bryston BDP-2 to a PS Audio Direct Stream Dac. So to me the usb cable matters.

Also, I just tried a iFi usb purifier #2 along with some AQ jitterbugs. And in both cases the soundstage shrunk dramatically. The phrase "its only as good as its weakest link" applies. The Acoustic BBQ usb is better on its own without any addons. That is within my system, my ears etc.

ozzy
Hey Ozzy have you seen that PS Audio has new firmware for their Directstream DAC called Snowmass . If you haven't already got it I urge you to get it as it brings the player to another level. I find that the levels of detail have improved and a definite improvement in the bass in fact so much that a download that I love is now giving me levels of detail that can be most annoying. I have played this file and never once noticed a very noisy pedal on the piano in fact that is what my ear goes straight to all the time. The new firmware also makes the whole sound seem a wee bit warmer than usual but in a really good way so for someone who hasn't got valves it can warm up your system.
Ozzy,

For your current setup, yes, the USB cable does matter. This is because you're directly connecting your source device (Bryston BDP-2) to the processing device (PS Audio Direct Stream DAC). As mentioned in my previous message, there is no error correction of the signal transmitted via the USB cable for that usage scenario.

Because of the error checking/correction functionality of the USB mass storage protocol, it doesn't matter what USB cable you use to connect your external storage drive to your laptop. It only matters in the scenario above.

This is an excellent article for understanding why USB cables make a difference when used for audio purposes directly between source and processing equipment:

https://positive-feedback.com/audio-discourse/why-usb-cables-can-make-a-difference/
jim204,

Yes, I posted a message about the new PS "Snowmass" firmware upgrade in the Digital section. In short, it is a very awesome upgrade.

jeenam,

Thanks for info.