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Thread: Why Do Different USB Cables Sound Different

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    Site Founder And Administrator Steve Williams's Avatar
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    Why Do Different USB Cables Sound Different

    I have seen threads here on different ethernet cables sound different and now we read here that USB cables sound different. How is this possible when all that is being transmitted are 0's and 1's.

    I am far from a skeptic because my listening experiences do suggest there is an audible difference


    I ask this question because now along comes the Master Built Ultra Ultra USB cable which I will be auditioning in the coming weeks. From everything that I have been reading this MB USB cable sonically takes things to a totally different level that is leaving listeners speechlesss. I am looking forward to the audition and sharing my experiences here. My overall experience with my MB Ultra loom has taken my sound system to a totally different level so I am more than curious about their version of a USB cable even though it has an MSRP in the ozone

    I understand that the MB engineers have done something which isolates the data but this apparently is nothing new

    So my question is whether others have been hearing improved sonics with different makes of USB cables and if so what differences are you noting
    Steve Williams
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    Addicted to Best! RogerD's Avatar
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    Hi Steve,

    I have a friend who has made his own USB cable. The design is novel in only that he has addressed the "N" part of the equation with the design. He states that the change has been dramatic in overall SQ. Just like any digital cable there are proven principles in place. I 'll attach a review of the digital coaxial cable I use from DAC to transport....I think you will find the article interesting.

    http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/nirvana/digital.html
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    [Industry Expert] ddk's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Williams View Post
    I have seen threads here on different ethernet cables sound different and now we read here that USB cables sound different. How is this possible when all that is being transmitted are 0's and 1's.

    I am far from a skeptic because my listening experiences do suggest there is an audible difference


    I ask this question because now along comes the Master Built Ultra Ultra USB cable which I will be auditioning in the coming weeks. From everything that I have been reading this MB USB cable sonically takes things to a totally different level that is leaving listeners speechlesss. I am looking forward to the audition and sharing my experiences here. My overall experience with my MB Ultra loom has taken my sound system to a totally different level so I am more than curious about their version of a USB cable even though it has an MSRP in the ozone

    I understand that the MB engineers have done something which isolates the data but this apparently is nothing new

    So my question is whether others have been hearing improved sonics with different makes of USB cables and if so what differences are you noting
    The Digital Link has always played a very important part since the early days. It's just as important as your phono cables, 0s & 1s seem to be just as picky!

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    I too have heard some differences, not always for the better. I think the MB is a bit too rich for my wallet but if they want to send me a loaner, I will surely report my findings.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Williams View Post
    I have seen threads here on different ethernet cables sound different and now we read here that USB cables sound different. How is this possible when all that is being transmitted are 0's and 1's.

    I am far from a skeptic because my listening experiences do suggest there is an audible difference


    I ask this question because now along comes the Master Built Ultra Ultra USB cable which I will be auditioning in the coming weeks. From everything that I have been reading this MB USB cable sonically takes things to a totally different level that is leaving listeners speechlesss. I am looking forward to the audition and sharing my experiences here. My overall experience with my MB Ultra loom has taken my sound system to a totally different level so I am more than curious about their version of a USB cable even though it has an MSRP in the ozone

    I understand that the MB engineers have done something which isolates the data but this apparently is nothing new

    So my question is whether others have been hearing improved sonics with different makes of USB cables and if so what differences are you noting
    The issue isn't the ones & zeroes - they are delivered as expected. What seems to be different between cables is the signal waveform of the digital signal arriving at the receiver.
    There are a number of ways this signal waveform can be different but the USB standard specifies a range of acceptable distortion in this waveform - basically the USB standard defines a 'safe' level of distortion in the signal waveform that will avoid bit errors i.e. the ones & zeroes will be correctly received by the receiver.

    Now a USB cable doesn't just carry the USB signal on two wires within the cable - it also has 2 additional wires in the cable, ground & 5V power & finally has a shield. These two wires & shield further complicate matters when it comes to signal integrity. All can carry noise between the PC & the USB receiving device - noise is just another signal waveform distortion as is jitter - neither of these issues affect the delivery of the digital bits (once within the acceptable range of the USB standard).

    In my experience when there are changes in these factors it can often have an audible effect. Cables can change the noise spectra on the cable, on the cable shield, on the signal wires, on the ground & power wires - all/some of which can have audible effects.

    I haven't listened to expensive USB cables but have used a cable which is made to suppress EMI noise - http://kgs-ind.com/wp-content/upload...SB20-Cable.pdf
    This cable is not an audiophile offering - it is made for use in airlines, I believe & consists of a flexible ferrite compound fully covering surrounding the 4 USB wires. For those addicted to measurements, look at the noise measurements on the linked page - it shows the reduction in noise in the frequency range 50MHz to 1,000MHz. Now how could reduction in noise in these frequencies have audible effects in the audible range? Objectivists need to be inquisitive enough to investigate but they don't have the necessary motivated or skills, it would appear

    This was noticeably quieter than my other USB cables but had the side effect of somewhat audibly softening high frequencies. This is not that surprising, as those who have tried ferrous rigs on USB will no doubt attest to.
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    VIP/Donor [VIP/Donor] microstrip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RogerD View Post
    (...) I 'll attach a review of the digital coaxial cable I use from DAC to transport....I think you will find the article interesting.

    http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/nirvana/digital.html
    What is the technical interesting part of the article?

    BTW, what is the N part of the equation?
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    Addicted to Best! RogerD's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by microstrip View Post
    What is the technical interesting part of the article?

    BTW, what is the N part of the equation?
    There is no technical explanation in the article,just comments on the construction that I thought Steve might find interesting.
    The N stands for noise.
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    Quote Originally Posted by jkeny View Post
    Now a USB cable doesn't just carry the USB signal on two wires within the cable - it also has 2 additional wires in the cable, ground & 5V power & finally has a shield. These two wires & shield further complicate matters when it comes to signal integrity. All can carry noise between the PC & the USB receiving device - noise is just another signal waveform distortion as is jitter - neither of these issues affect the delivery of the digital bits (once within the acceptable range of the USB standard).
    .
    The main issue is that.
    5 V. usually supplied by computer's switching Power Supply which are well known to create Spikes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by caliaripaolo View Post
    The main issue is that.
    5 V. usually supplied by computer's switching Power Supply which are well known to create Spikes.
    That's what a lot of people think but it's not the case, based on my testing - unless you have very bad ground loop noise, the main route for noise intrusion is actually via the USB signal wires D+ & D-

    I don't use the 5V USB power as I consider this a basic flaw to use this for powering any audio device - not only is this power of undetermined quality (depending on the PC it originates from) but it is also being carried in a wire alongside the two USB signal wires as are the return currents being carried on the ground wire in the USB cable. A disastrous design but easy to avoid - don't use USB audio devices that use USB power to drive them.

    The next best approach is to use a USB cable that has the power wire separated from the signal wires but this still leaves the ground wire with it's PS return currents next to the signal wires. Another variable As I said I have tested lifting ground & in my setup (which is ground loop free) it made no audible difference but isolating the D+ & D- USB signals.

    Another approach is to inject a 'clean' 5V supply instead of the USB 5V - still not optimal as there are varying current draws on this PS wire which can affect the USB signal wires if it is running next to them in the cable.

    Devices which use the 5V not for power but only for sensing when a USB device is connected are somewhat better

    To my mind the only real solution is avoid any use of USB 5V power - this means the ground wire is no longer returning cur.rents from the 5V supply - it is the return path for the USB signal currents.

    As I said, when all these PS issues are dealt with, the noise on the USB signal wires is still evident - isolate these wires & you will hear an improvement (you are likely removing what is called common mode noise) -regenerate the signal after this isolation (as it adds jitter to the waveform) & you will hear an improvement.

    USB cables can only change the sound (not always improve it) to a certain extent by changing the noise profile on the ground & shield which ultimately intrudes the signal wires.
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    Addicted to Best! caliaripaolo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jkeny View Post
    That's what a lot of people think but it's not the case, based on my testing - unless you have very bad ground loop noise, the main route for noise intrusion is actually via the USB signal wires D+ & D-
    It's not just a people's thought, is the limit of computer based system.
    I may believe on your test, but after I've replaced switching PS of my MacMini (with external PS-2 from Uptone), then selected an USB cable with separate 5V. wires and with an high isolation of D+ and D- wires (Curious USB cable) and finally by connecting an Entreq groundbox via USB cable (Ground wire pin only) connected to a spare USB port of MacMini, I can tell you which the improvement has been great.

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