For what it's worth, I was unable to hear any difference between the the stock USB and one made one of the "name" cable companies that cost $130 retail and I can certainly hear and appreciate the difference between brands and types of Interconnects and speaker wires.
And....We're off! ; )
This, like any other "does cable make a difference" related question, will likely generate strong and polar opposite replies.
In MY experience, In MY Opinion... Digital cables including USB make little to no difference. In fact I've done a/b switching with Optical versus check coax versus, etc. and found little to no difference between them.
Don't waste your money on "high quality" USB cables...use that money on a better DAC...that's where you can definitely can hear a difference!
Now detractors (from my belief) will say that I don't have the system or savy to hear the difference...Not true.
Don't agree. I went from a 35.00 USB that came with my HRT Music streamer to a more expensive WireWorld USM and found a pretty big difference. Much smoother and fuller sound. I could not beleive it my self. The Wire World StarLight is a nice cable design. YMMV
It is obvious that the first 2 responders don't have the system or savvy to hear the difference.
Just kidding, like was pointed out above, you will never get the answer you seek by asking that question. When you ask these cables questions, if you get enough responses, some will respond that they hear huge differences and some will say they hear none. That means the only way to tell is to try it yourself which basically means all threads of this type are worthless except as a means to waste a little more time on these forums.
I completely agree with Ml8764ag on this. I hear differences in almost ALL cables and tweaks, and have a system capable of showing off the tiniest differences. But I can not hear any difference in my cheap Belden Gold USB cable and the much more expensive Wireworld Starlight USB cable ... Save your money.
This is between a drive and computer. Most claim no difference in this application. I would be more concerned with using a USB drive w/ a USB DAC, if indeed you are...
I've spent a small fortune on interconnects and speaker wires and do think I appreciate good cables. I agree on the DAC comment as well. I didn't try the Wire World product but did try Cardas, Kimber and Audioquest and could not hear any difference between those and what came with my Mac.
Just my two cents. I can think of a dozen better (more Pareto optimal) uses for the money just in terms of tweaks and the like.
I've noticed a significant difference to the upside with a Ridge Street Audio 9 pin firewire cable between the peripheral HD and the MacMini music server. Richer, fuller, more complete sense of the music than the stock Oyen 9 pin firewire cable (which is very good imho)... this even using full memory mode using Pure Music.
Just my experience,
I have recently bought a Mach2 mini and an Empiricle Off Ramp 4(ultraclocks, Hynes Regulator). This is my first try at computer audio. These were put into my system inplace of my transport a Krell MD10. The computer system (Pure Music) beat my transport and I was quite happy with the results. I was using a belkin gold usb cable when I saw an RSA Enopias come up for sale here on AG. I did not expect much of a difference if any at all. Empiricle advises cables before the off ramp matter little. That being said I sometimes like to try things for myself. I felt I could resell the cable and not loose anything at the price offered. After installing the cable I noticed how much more extension the bass had. The sound stage was larger as well. The cable made a very nice improvement to my system. The cable I bought has no power. Perhaps that's the reason for the improvement. Anyway I will be keeping the cable. These are my findings YMMV.
The rest of my equipment:
MIT MA X Digital Coax
SFD2 MkIII 24/96
MIT MA Proline
MIT MA Proline
MIT Magnum MA BiWire
RSA HZ Crown Jewel (PC)
PSA AC12 (DAC)
PSA AC12 (PRE)
MIT Oracle AC2 (AMP)
Perhaps it depends on the components in the system and their configuration as to whether the USB cable makes an audible difference or not.
I have a standard commercial USB cable, a Belden Gold and a Nordost Blue Heaven (on loan). While I believe the Belden Gold is an improvement over the commercial cable I haven't heard a difference between the Belden and Nordost USB cables. I have a high end headphone system as follows:
Computer > lossless > iTunes > USB > Belden/Nordost > Cary Xciter DAC > Nordost Blue Heaven RCA/Blue Jeans RCA/DIY RCA > three channel beta22 amp with sigma22 power supply/Woo WA6SE > Senn HD800
I'm also using a Nordost power cord on the amps and Jellyfish PC on the DAC. I have found better results with the PCs and ICs than I have found using a pricier USB above the level of the Belden Gold.
Only difference I found was the conector's firm fit on the computer side. No other disernable difference to my ear. Not sorry that I spent $100 for the cable for that reason though.
I had a top audio guy in the industry tell me something interesting when I asked him this very question. He told me to use a Belkin Pro or Gold series USB cable; that's what's being used in the studios when the music is recorded, engineered etc. I can't say that I've experimented with USB cables myself, but it's certainly an interesting perspective.
I don't see where the audio industry guy's position is relative. We're concerned with playback, not recording. They use many devices and techniques in the studio that don't apply to home listening. For instance; some argue that balanced gear is a must for optimum performance because that's what studios use when the truth is a studio is a very different beast due to to the sheer amount of equipment, the electrical noise, the extremely low level signals from the microphones, and the interconnections between all of the gear.
In fact, most recording engineers and artists don't own audiophile systems and are therefore the last people I would seek advice from about setting up my system.
Going back to my original comments; by my count we have 6 that say no difference and 4 that say it does matter. Like every other post about any kind of cable it always ends up like this and the bottom line always ends up that you have try it for yourself.
A thousand more people could post with their findings but you still wouldn't know until you tried it.
I'd like to quote Herman because I agree entirely:
>>...the bottom line always ends up that you have try it for yourself.
A thousand more people could post with their findings but you still wouldn't know until you tried it.<<
I agree. Give different cables a try. The tuition is not that expensive! And the point is you will educate your ears when you do try these things out.
And realize that USB and firewire cables do need time to break-in and settle-in (but that's a whole new can of worms!).
And don't forget to restart your computer every once in awhile to reset. Makes a difference in playback.
This is like asking "will a different S/PDIF cable make a difference"
Like with all audio gear, the answer is: It depends.
It depends on the USB interface you are using.
It depends on the rest of your system - is it resolving and low-noise enough to hear the difference?
Everyone believes that they have a super-resolving, low noise system, but IME it simply isnt the case. These types of systems are extremely rare. It takes decades of dedication, tweaking and modding, as well as deep pockets to achieve such a system, and one must have a good ear and patience to avoid going down the garden path along the way. Cables, tubes or the wrong preamp can easily cause one to go down the garden path, regardless of price. Even designers go down the garden path ocassionally.
"It depends on the USB interface you are using "
Hello Steve: Do you mean USB 1.1 versus USB 2.0 or something different. For example none of the posters noted what kind of data they are transmitting: WAve 24/192 OR MP3 X bits /Y kHz - which will place enotmously different burden on the transmission line..
Looking forward to your explanation.
I am currently using an Audio Research DAC8 connected to an usb music server and I can tell you there is a big difference in sound quality of usb cables. I have been using an Audioquest carbon usb cable. It is a very good usb cable and I would recommend it. I have just purchased an Audioquest Diamond usb cable and there is a big difference in my system. The Diamond usb cable is so much better ,it is across the board better than the carbon usb cable. The top end air, the transparently and better defined bass are easily distinguished differences. DonÂt let anybody kid you there is no difference among usb cables. The difference to me is just like all the rest of the cables. They all sound different.
Does it matter where the USB is used?
In my case, I am using a Squeezebox Touch with its digital to my Dac.
But, I am using a USB cable from my computer to my 1 TB External hardrive where my music is stored.
Would a higher end USB cable be useful in that application ?
I only know about running a usb cable from the computer main board to the DAC8. My music server only has an internal 2 TB disk drive SATA II connected and no external usb disk drives. So I can't help you Ozzy. If you figure it out report back as I would like to know also.
"It takes adecades of dedecation". We are not learning to play the music on an instrument or be the next beethoven, just through our audio system. Some times it takes a long time to afford, but that is the beauty of a computer based music system, it lowers the entry costs. Now instead of spending 10's of thousands of $ on a front end you can do it for a few $1000, which leaves more for the speaker and amp side of things. You do not need to be a sound engineer or a wizz kid. Just a true enthusiast with the desire. Oh,and the money but with a lot less needed. Speakers, line stage, amp, dac and a computer. How much easier can it be. Don't waist your $ on expensive digital cables no real impact for the $(moving 1's and 0's). Spend it on the body of the system. MY OPINION!
correction; decades of dedication
"Hello Steve: Do you mean USB 1.1 versus USB 2.0 or something different."
Certainly async USB protocol using USB 2.0 is better than adaptive mode, but this is not what I'm referring to.
I'm talking about circuit design, implementation and oscillator choice. These are all critical to achieving good performance. Somehow people are under the impression that all Async USB interfaces are alike, just get the cheapest one. This could not be further from the truth. Even after you have a solid circuit design on a schematic, the IC's you use and PC board design are actually critical, as well as the oscillators and power supplies. You can buy $1 oscillators or $200 OCXO oscillators. You can have a 3-terminal regulator or a fast discrete regulator. You generally get what you pay for. Dont expect to pay $100 and get vinyl quality sound. When it comes to digital, this design is even more critical than the DAC itself.
"Certainly async USB protocol using USB 2.0 is better than adaptive mode "
Certianly it is widely accepted now - however, the emphasis is only in receiver i.e. USB port of USB DAC or USB/SPDIF adaptor.
Assuming that you have already USB DAC with async USB prototcal - do you need special (async?) protocol for the sender i.e. your USB 2.0 computer port ???
" Even after you have a solid circuit design on a schematic, the IC's you use and PC board design are actually critical, as well as the oscillators and power supplies."
Again, you refer above to the DAC (or USB Adaptor) or to the computer(server) ???
I cannnot build either one but at least I want to know what is required. Today's fashion is to match cheap computer with expensive and very good USB DACs and I wonder how your comments are related to this fashion.
Empirical Audio, for example, does not manufacter servers at all - only digital audio componenents.....I am trying just to learn...
Thank you in advance
"Assuming that you have already USB DAC with async USB protocol - do you need special (async?) protocol for the sender i.e. your USB 2.0 computer port ?"
The computer device driver takes care of this, either native or custom device driver, and the USB port controller hardware in the computer.
"Again, you refer above to the DAC (or USB Adaptor) or to the computer(server) ?"
What I'm talking about is the DAC or converter USB interface design, not the computer.
"Today's fashion is to match cheap computer with expensive and very good USB DACs and I wonder how your comments are related to this fashion."
The cost of the computer is not usually significant. The only requirements are USB 2.0 compliant port and a reasonably fast I/O structure inside. Either of these can be compromised at any price. The latter has been poor on certain PC laptops, including Dells. Mac Mini has very good I/O using USB.
The more critical thing is how the USB interface was designed on your DAC or USB converter. With the advent of async USB interface, the role of the computer is much less significant.
The Diamond usb cable is so much better ,it is across the board better than the carbon usb cable. The top end air, the transparently and better defined bass are easily distinguished differences. DonÂt let anybody kid you there is no difference among usb cables. The difference to me is just like all the rest of the cables. They all sound different.
Sorry, but it's just not possible. Keeping it simple, USB is a digital data transport bus, not an analog port. All it moves in the data path is 0s and 1s. If a different USB cable results in a change anywhere downstream then you have a major problem somewhere in your system. I know that you think that you are hearing what you say that you think you are hearing, but all of my 30+ years experience in the physical sciences, data collection and computer systems design leads me to believe otherwise.
Br3098... please, please, please speak from audio experience. i.e. actually using different USB cables on a quality DAC with a quality computer such as the MacMini.
Give it a try... actually build some real listening experience with this equipment and cabling... and then come back to us with your listening experience on your own system, with your own DAC, your own computer, and your own music... not your book learning and theory derived thereof.
I respect learning from the academy. I am a product of it and an active member of it myself. But it has its limits, and this is one.
If I sound annoyed, I am.
I am frankly so tired of "authorities" who have not taken the time to gain their own audio experience misleading newbies with the "truthiness" of their book learning and university degrees on chat forums such as this one and in other places.
>>all of my 30+ years experience in the physical sciences, data collection and computer systems design leads me to believe otherwise.<<
Listening experience matters. This is not an article of belief or faith as in your statement >>leads me to believe otherwise<<.
I have done exactly what you suggest Istanbulu and I could turn this arround on you. I agree with Br3098! Not just because of some education or the science of electronics but from experiance. I am not going to argue with what you say you hear, just that for most "newbies", as you call them, they are MUCH better off putting their money in the best equipment they can afford in the body of their system! Body= speakers, amp, line stage and dac. If I sound annoyed, I am.... for at one time I was a newbie and listen to such gibberish. If a usb cable makes a real difference it is so limited to my ears I can not hear it. Now that is not to say that if your cable has a loose connection or is so poorly made it may not hinder the transpher of digital information. It does not take an expenssive cable to complete this task. But, as long as the digital info is transphered completly, the sound quality is determind by the dac/clock conversion, the line stage's ability to magnify and transpher, without any added harshness or denigration to the amps, which must do the same for the speakers. Spend your money where you wish. It is your money. IN MY OPINION, Not on digital cables. Take it or leave it!
"Sorry, but it's just not possible. Keeping it simple, USB is a digital data transport bus, not an analog port. All it moves in the data path is 0s and 1s."
I'm afraid that this is a tired argument. I've read the same argumant dozens of times on the forums. This shows a misunderstanding of the difference in audio streaming and other data transfers.
This is real-time. All other transfers from a computer are not real-time, except maybe some video.
Because it is real-time, it is subject to timing variations. These timing variations can have an impact on the USB interface, ranging from direct jitter affects, power effects, grounding effects, RFI effects and transmission-line effects.
If you are in my neck of the woods, come by and take a listen for your self. I have both cables and don't plan to get rid of one.
Ed, do you know me or anything about my audio experience? I worked in the audio business for several years in the 1970s, and while I am in the computer business, for the last 20 years my firm has specialized in systems for the A/V and digital media industries. We design and setup systems every day for recording studios, editing houses and post-production facilities. We have also designed audio DSP systems for the Air Force and the Navy. I hate to make posts about me, but I have tested, used and LISTENED to a larger variety of analog and digital cables, probably more than you ever knew existed. If you want to believe that a digital cable can make a difference in a small section of the (converted) analog signal, be my guest.
1- If it's true to you, it's true (to you).
2- Just because you want it to be so doesn't make it so.
Sakahara, I apologize for hijacking this thread for my own selfish purpose.
Steve, I didn't read your post until after my little rant. Please keep in mind that USB is not an audio interface - it's a source to peripheral device connectivity bus. As far as USB is concerned, there is no difference between audio files and jpeg photos, an Oracle spreadsheet or java code. The "audio interface" part starts on the outbound side of the DAC.
I agree with you about timing variations. There's also latency, packet loss/corruption, and a host of other issues that can affect USB (or any almost any other data connectivity protocol). But I was responding to a poster that claimed that changing USB cables provided " The top end air, the transparently and better defined bass are easily distinguished differences." That's not a phenomena that can be attributed to error correction, or timing, or latency, or voltage regulation, or phase lock, or... whatever.
It's easy to say ignore or dismiss the science involved in audio. Over the course of human history, anything we can't explain (or didn't want to take the time to understand) is described as magic. Well, guess what? There is no magic in audio, just a lot of science. Circuit design is a science. Tube design is/was science. Acoustic speaker and cable design is science. Transformers, resistors, capacitors - all based on good, hard scientific principles.
About two years ago we had a job for a major aerospace company, designing a system to collect and sample broad spectrum analog audio feeds some remote sources. Very remote. Anyway, when we used USB 2.0 for part the low-res portion of the system, and in our testing we found that for cable runs of up to 20'-25', the actual cable (manufacturer, country of origin, jacket, etc.) made no difference. The connectors use for the USB cables made a measurable difference in the amount of packet error correction that was required. Upgrading the USB connectors on the source systems and target devices made a huge difference, dropping the packet error rate down to almost zero; even if used with the least expensive commercial cables.
My last word on this incendiary topic: all this information is available online. Anyone who wants to can find and read Gordon Rankin's excellent white papers on USB and specifically asynchronous mode operation. They provide an excellent explanation on how USB works, so nobody has to guess.
My thoughts and expressions exactly!
Br3098...personally I think it's hilarious that you would lecture Steve Nugent in your post... especially suggesting that Steve is one of those who >>...has to guess<<.
My suggestion to anyone reading these posts is to pay your own tuition (it's very modest compared to Koegz's suggestion of >>putting their [your] money in the best equipment they [you] can afford in the body of their [your] system! Body= speakers, amp, line stage and dac.<<): try several modestly priced, reputable USB cables... get them previously owned and used on Audiogon for a fraction of their original cost... and decide what works for you.
Listen with your ears, not your eyes and reading, and you will find what satisfies you.
The bottom line is that some of the above posters are suggesting that you can use just about any industrial USB cable out there... ones used for printers and any other utilitarian purpose... and you will receive the same musical qualities that a more expensive audio USB cable will provide. That might turn out to be the case, but it's not my experience and not the experience of many other DAC-based music lovers.
I agree with Steve Nugent; some of the arguments made in this thread are >>tired<< and I might add, tiring.
My only concern in this is the misleading (and disinformation) of those new to computer-based audio, specifically USB DACs. There's many promises made out there by DAC designers and manufacturers, and there are many adequate, good, very good, and outstanding designs. Newbies will not realize the full potential of the DAC of their choice without careful experimentation to find the cabling, particularly USB cabling, that will maximize the musicality of their chosen DAC source.
"I agree with you about timing variations. There's also latency, packet loss/corruption, and a host of other issues that can affect USB (or any almost any other data connectivity protocol)"
No, I think you missed the point. Its the cycle-to-cycle timing variations, the jitter that sets audio streaming apart from other applications of USB. This is not about missed packets or data errors. These are extremely rare.
"Anyone who wants to can find and read Gordon Rankin's excellent white papers on USB and specifically asynchronous mode operation."
Gordon does understand a lot about the software and protocol aspects of USB. That is his strength IMO.
I, on the other hand have strengths in high-speed digital design, transmission-line effects and other relevant design areas. Gordon is not the only one with async USB interface designs.
I have found that none of these async USB interfaces are completely immune to the benefits of a good USB cable, not Gordons, not mine. I have not discovered the exact mechanisms, but I know its true.
"Gordon is not the only one with async USB interface designs."
I'm pretty certain he was the first though!
"I'm pretty certain he was the first though!"
I believe Ploytec and other Pro Audio designers had async designs out first, resulting in products from EMU and Tascam. I interfaced these to my Pace-Car.
Streaming data is streaming data, whether it's audio files or instrumentation data. It's either bit perfect and time correct or it's not. Yes, jitter is problematic but, as I'm sure that you would agree, not nearly as much with USB2 as it was with USB1. I'm sure that my next comment will further endear me to the peanut gallery, but frankly, I will say that I believe that most audiophiles can't discerne jitter (w/ USB2), and wouldn't know what it sounded like even if if they could. What's the worst jitter you have measured for USB2 gear that was in spec? Probably not more than 125uS or so, and I don't know anyone who can detect that. I believe that most of the sound effects that are erroneously identified as jitter are in fact the result of elasticity buffer stack overflows.
Re: my comment for Gordon Rankin - I was not making a wholesale endorsement of Gordon or his products. I have never met the man, but I'm sure that he (like you) is a smart guy. I was simply recommending his whitepapers to another poster as a good primer on USB, since there seems to so much misinformation bandied about on this forum.
Dude, did I run over your cat or something? I apologize if I inadvertently besmirched one of your audio idols. But I would appreciate it if you would stop lecturing. As I have said previously, you don't know me or anything about me. Your assumptions and guesswork are both incorrect. If you want to know something about me, just ask. I am an open book.
Some people will remember some of my posts and it's no surprise I agree with Br3098. Any thing that a USB cable can do to "impede" bit flow is probably negligible compared hard timing realities in a PC or adapting the clock in the DAC for non asynch implementations. Interesting point about the connectors.
Also, I'm tired of people saying "trust your ears" or something to that ilk. Yes, if you like what you hear that all that matters. However, when you have to compare two things, you have to rely on your brain. And it's been proven that you can't trust your brain to accurately recall small differences in audio frequencies especially after a few seconds of time elapses.
I especially enjoy those who dismiss the possibility it is the cable yet make unsubstantiated guesses like "I believe that most of the sound effects that are erroneously identified as jitter are in fact the result of elasticity buffer stack overflows" or "I believe that most audiophiles can't discerne jitter (w/ USB2), and wouldn't know what it sounded like even if if they could."
BTW what difference does it make whether or not they can identify the source of the distortion as long as they can hear it. I bet you could inject an audible level of measurable distortion like THD into a system and most couldn't tell you what it is and furthermore wouldn't care as long as they had a way to reduce it.
So to sum it all up, yet another gigantic waste of time. I could search the archives and come up with hundreds of threads exactly like this one. The engineers can't explain it so they refuse to believe it exists while others don't care a hoot about explanations as long as they are convinced they hear it.
Oh yeah, and once again it has deteriorated into a pissing contest between the two factions. Who could have seen that one coming :>)
It's my money and I can spend it or not spend it. They're my ears and I hear what I hear. When I state an opinion I'll say it's my opinion. When I state a fact I'll say it's a fact that is verifiable. As I've stated earlier in this thread I have listened to a commercial USB cable, a Belden Gold cable and a Nordost Blue Heaven cable. In my opinion, to my ears, I couldn't hear a difference between the Belden and Nordost.
What bothers me is when others tell their opinions as fact. Or don't qualify them as their subjective view. Both objective and subjective views are both valuable tools for evaluation for me. I weight the beliefs of others depending on who's making them. Sometimes I even value some's opinion that is contra to mines if I know their listening preferences are opposite of mine. I don't think I've read any evidence within this thread that has convicted me that different USB cable makes a significant difference between each other above a quality build. YMMV
Over the years, the basis of my listening experience with USB cables is reflected in this incomplete list: Belden, Cryoparts, Locus Design, WireWorld Starlight, stock Oyen Minipro USB cable, dbaudiolabs The Essential Signature, Ridge Street Audio Poiema!!! (two different versions), Ridge Street Audio Alethias (two different versions), Virtue Audio, and tomorrow I'll receive a Ridge Street Audio Enopias from Robert.
My experience is that the use each of these cables results in a significantly different audio experience depending upon which of my three systems they are on, which DAC is being used, and which MacMini (2,1 and 4,1; how much memory each has, and whether they have the stock HD or SSD drive) and what peripheral hard drive is being used and its cabling.
Over the years, my experience is that selection of USB cables matters.
IÂve gained this experience by buying different cables, breaking them in properly, listening to a variety of music through them for extended periods of time, taking notes, listening with other music lovers, comparing, contrasting, and using them on three significantly different systems over which I have complete control. I have my favorites on my systems right now, and IÂll see what the Enopias has to offer in the weeks to come.
My suggestion to those audiophiles new to USB DAC-based music systems is for them to listen to several different USB audio cables and determine what satisfies and pleases.
Your experience might be similar to mine (in which there are large differences to be heard and experienced), or similar to Baka1969 (in which, evidently, no differences were detected), or uniquely your own.
In addition, I can say, based on my experience, that the more the cable is played/used, the more of its inherent qualities are revealed. A simple 1 hour playing/listening will not reveal enough information. Why this time is required (in my experience, sometimes hundreds of hours), I have no idea, but on my systems it is very obvious.
One final comment: when someone contributes to these discussions who has "skin" in the game, e.g. Steve Nugent, I think this makes a difference than say my commentary.
I'm a person who loves music and wants a reasonably good quality reproduction of that music.
Within the limitations of my time and budget, I gain experience by trying out equipment and cabling. I gain perspectives and ideas by "listening" to others with greater knowledge and experience than I have.
When someone has their business and their professional reputation in this adventure, that's quite another thing. Audio is a very small community. Should Steve or someone similar in the engineering, manufacturing, and sales of these devices write something that is not accurate or valid, they pay with their livelihood and reputation. If I say something inaccurate or ignorant, I can apologize and move on without much impairment.
Paying attention to those who have their "skin" in the game, imho is a bit different. After all, contributors like Steve N. could just let audiophools blabber on in ignorance and misinformation and in the process mislead those new to audio.
I appreciate what Istanbulu said. He qualified it as his experience. On a similar note I have found different interconnects and power cords soud different to varied degrees. I still have the three different USB cables with me and will do some listening over the next few days just to retset what I've heard before. I have a very wide variety of genres I listen to (rock, prog, jazz, classical, blues, hip hop to name just a few of the many) so it will give me a decent idea what the USB cables do and don't sound like to me.
Baka1969... I'm interested to hear your experience.
One of the things I've discovered is that it takes some considerable time for an audio USB cable to settle in and reveal its inherent qualities. For example, some cables attached to my MacMini/DAC combo that seemed pretty harsh and sibilant in the beginning hours, over considerable playing time lost that attribute and revealed others more pleasing.
Why? Do not know, but I've heard changes like that with USB cables many times.
It is your ears/brain that are adjusting and not the cable. MY OPINION
I've been using the Nordost USB as my default for some time. I figured that since I have it that it can't hurt. I use two songs to do my A/B comparisons with the Belden Gold. Pink Floyd's "Echoes" and Tool's "Third Eye". They're both long, well recorded and dynamic. Plus I know them well. I've used short passages and listened to the songs in their entirety. Here's the setup I used to listen:
Laptop>lossless>iTunes>Nordost/Belden Gold USB>Cary Xciter DAC(Jellyfish power cable)>Nordost Blue Heaven IC>b22/s22 headphone amp(Nordost Blue Heaven power cable)>Sennheiser HD800
When I change out ICs or power cables I can detect differences between them to various degrees. Try as I might though the past day or so I haven't been able to distinguish any significant changes. Of course it's not a blind test and if attribute if there are any minute variations they could be placebo. I'll continue to listen but if there are any changes between the two cables I haven't found them. YMMV
Bafa1969, I'm wondering how things are going with your listening comparisons (although it might be a bit early to ask).
The significant thing that attracted my attention regarding your setup (as described above) was your computer source. Most computer-based music enthusiasts that I converse with suggest the avoidance of laptop computers as music servers. Now the reasons for this have been explained to me extensively, but IÂm afraid many of them are currently beyond my ÂkenÂ and I'm very reluctant to post things I don't fully understand. Perhaps someone here (Steve N, perhaps) can address this for our benefit. My "takeaway" understanding of this has to do essentially with noise, other applications competing for memory and hd action, etc.
Having said that, my thoughts are that if you were to switch from a laptop to a Mac Mini (either a 2,1 or 4,1 with Pure Music as the playback software in memory mode) that you would begin to hear the nuances which different USB cables afford. My suggestion is to find someone locally with a Mini and a peripheral HD for music file storage, invite them over with the computer equipment, and take a listen for yourself. That should illuminate things far more for you.
Another factor that might be affecting your experience of USB cabling has to do with playback into headphones. I have nothing against them whatsoever, but IÂm sure that most people would agree that the headphone listening experience and its aural dynamics are much different than the experience of listening to music from speakers in a properly setup listening room.
If you could take your computer and DAC and USB and interconnect cables to someone who has a good setup with quality speakers, you probably would begin to notice differences in the listening experience as well as those that relate to the USB cables themselves.
I fully realize that this post might sound to many readers and to you to be a Âred-herringÂ approach to your questions and interest, but I assure you I have no need or interest in distracting you from your concerns.
I simply think that these two factors, your computer source and your headphones, might be affecting the discernible differences in USB cables.
So, in short, what I am saying is that your listening experience with USB cables is probably accurate: for you listening to your system, there is no difference between USB cables, but that might be because of the computer source and the use of headphones.
I hope this makes sense and is helpful. If anyone could please add their insights as to why the selection of computers makes a difference to the experience of DAC-based music, that would be most helpful.
Let me address the headphone part of what you were mentioning. Two channel speakers and headphones do things a bit differently. That doesn't necessarily mean one is better than the other. Speakers obviously have "real" soundstaging and imaging while headphones have "perceived" staging and imaging. While headphones can be highly resolving. As for timbre, tonal balance, transparency and coloring it's more or less a wash between them. There are too many variables. Especially with speakers that rely on a room's acoustics and speaker placement. I've heard enough two channel systems and headphones rigs (both low, mid and high fi) to know. I also know that a properly set up two channel system and headphone setup can both be extremely revealing of source and music.
The terrific thing about headphones is it's fairly easy to bring your entire setup with you. So, I've been to meets and listened to a wide variety of different gear. Systems that cost $100's, $1000's and even $10000's. Even headphones can cost in the $1000's. The top tier headphones sound amazing and rival very high quality speakers in many ways. I'm not talking about the cheap crappy things you get with your iPod here. Hyperbole aside, the Senn HD800 has been compared to speakers costing $40000. Your mileage may vary but you get the idea. My point is that high quality headphones are more than capable of detecting minute system changes. Some even better than certain speakers. So that's not the issue.
Moving on to having a laptop vs a tower, again I believe there are too many variables. I have directly compared my setup with other setups including analog and CD players. Let me say that I think, and others that have heard my system have said it's an excellent system.
Even with amplifiers, headphones amps can be of extremely high quality. I have two excellent amps capable of detecting system variances.
The last part, one you didn't mention, is, is my hearing up to the task? Without having to submit proof I'll say my hearing is probably at least on par with someone in their 40's. Although I think it's a bit better.
The thing is that although I've tried to hear significant differences in the two higher quality USB cables I have, I just can't say with certainty I hear any.