If there is any doubt that USB cables can make a difference then try the Heretical USB!
Review sample kindly supplied by Mad Scientist Audio
Type 1 (Regular USB cable) 2 m (as reviewed): $199
Type 2 (“Data only” cable – the 5VDC line is not connected) 2 m: $199
Type 3 (Shotgun cable, with seperate data and power connectors) 2 m: $249
Type 1 or 2 (Regular USB or Data-only) Custom length up to 5 m: $229
Type 3 (Shotgun) Custom length up to 5 m: $279
USB cables are one of those accessory types that divide opinion. There are plenty music lovers that do not believe that USB cables could or should make a difference at all. From personal experience, however, I can attest to the fact that they most surely do. I’ve not carried out experiments comparing USB cable length, but just like analog cables, USB cables can have a certain “sound” that varies from brand to brand. There are warm and smooth sounding brands and clean, articulate sounding brands, and really anything in-between. Just why this is possible? This is subject to much debate and I don’t have an answer to that I’m afraid. Mad Scientist Audio doesn’t really offer any explanation but they did notice that when making a 2-meter cable on request for a reviewer (cough – that would be me – cough), that this cable sounded better than the 1-meter cable. The carried out further experiments with other lengths and it quickly turned out that the 2-meter length sounded best. There is some more interesting info about this on their Mad Scientist website so be sure to check that out. Me, I don’t really care why. It’s easy to hear. And more expensive cables are not always better, sometimes it’s more a matter of different, rather than better. But still that can be useful, as it allows for system matching. The Heretical USB cable as reviewed is $199 and while that is certainly more than a typical standard USB printer cable costs, as far as high end USB cables go, it is actually priced very competitively.
The digital side of my system (also at this time, this is perpetually in motion) is based around the Jeff Rowland Corus + PSU preamp that for this application feeds the Rowland model six monos that in turn feed the fully refurbished Apogee Duetta Signatures. Source in this case is Roon running on a standard Windows PC, streaming via Roon RAAT protocol to an AudioAanZee Reference Flow music server with Euphony Drive.
My reference for the last couple of years has been the 699 euro AudioQuest Diamond USB. In earlier years I have had much benefit from other cables, as they catered to enhance those particular systems. Ever since my music server was on par however and certainly while I used Apogee Divas the Diamond has always worked splendidly, and there were not many other USB cables that I found to challenge it. If they did, then usually they did one thing better and another worse. And now along comes the Mad Scientist Heretical. The name kind of almost gives it away already, doesn’t it.
Coming from the AudioQuest Diamond USB, the Heretical USB provided a different perspective, as expected, but it did not sound as I expected. Looks can be, and in this case certainly are, deceiving. Looking at the Heretical USB cable I was instantly reminded of the Elijah Audio Quad Braid USB cable that had worked so well for me back in the early days of streaming, but tonally these two cables could not be more different.
Rather than being super-smooth and relaxed, the Heretical USB provided a solid and energetic performance with full tonal colour, but every bit as lively as the AudioQuest Diamond, perhaps even more dynamic. The Heretical USB not only sounds fuller and timbrally more convincing, but also has a deeper soundstage, with performers more inhabiting their own space in the soundstage not only left to right but also in the depth plane. Decays such as subtle reverbs on vocals also seem more distinct, lingering on for longer. It was a bit like switching on clock link on a Wadia transport and DAC, or using recent product examples, switching from SPDIF to I2S on a PS Audio DMP/PWD combination.
Listening to it more, and swapping back and forth (while shutting down the server to avoid damaging the Bricasti’s USB port) it’s clear that it provides a considerably more powerful delivery than the AudioQuest, with a more solid feel to it. In that respect it reminds of the Wireworld Starlight USB, and the KingRex Unanimous, which is based on a Wireworld cable. But although very solid, the sound also has a light and free touch to it, more floaty in the midrange, which makes for a more analogue feeling. But importantly, without resorting to any kind of softness or blur.
The AudioQuest is quite clean by comparison, but it has a nice airiness and light-footed transparency to it that I also appreciate. Depending on the system that it is used in, one or the other could be a better match. For example, the AudioQuest worked best with my previous speakers, the Apogee Divas, because they tended to sound overly relaxed, and tonally full enough of their own. The Duettas are much cleaner sounding and really benefit from the added tonal body of the Heretical USB. Also I wish that I had this cable when I was reviewing the Martin Logan Impression 11A for Dutch magazine HVT (a review on this site will follow). I’m certain that the cable would have worked wonders.
Comparing with the KingRex, there is indeed a similarity in bass solidity and fulness of colour, but there the similarities end. The KingRex has always had an old school Wadia kind of sound, being unusual solid and sonorous in the bass and lower midrange, and a little dark/rolled off in the treble. It is precisely this characteristic that I now hear again. It is a pleasant rendition for sure, but quite rough, seemingly lower res, and certainly not imaging as freely as the Heretical USB. The KingRex worked splendidly when I used the Magnepan MG3.6, neatly enhancing their undernourished bass and thin tonality, while the super-open sounding ribbon tweeters made sure that treble remained in balance, but now that I have a more even handed system, I much prefer the Heretical. Heck, I think I also would have preferred it if it was available 10 years ago.
Just like in the analog world, digital cables can be used as tweaking devices, matching the right cable for any particular occasion. In that sense some cables can be used to tame a harsh sounding setup and make it sound more fluid (Elijah Audio), others can be used to liven up a dull setup (Wireworld and KingRex). I’m not yet sure where to place the AudioQuest, but I am sure about the Mad Scientist Heretical USB. This is not a cable to colour your system with. It is a cable that provides more musical pleasure, no matter the tonal nature of the system.
I don’t know how the Mad Scientist does it, but it seems that each product that they issue, does something with the sound that once heard can be difficult to live without. If there is any doubt that USB cables can make a difference then all that is required is a quick listen to the Heretical USB. Unless your system tends to the very sonorous already and you are looking to un-burden the bass, the Heretical USB is bound to bring a most welcome change to digital music replay. All that, and they are priced very competetively. Not convinced by this review? Just try it out for yourself. With the 30 day money back guarantee there is no risk!