Curious USB Cable
A Curiously Great USB Cable
Review sample supplied by CuriousCables
$340 for 80 cm (as reviewed)
$380 for 100 cm
$420 for 120 cm
(Other lengths available)
There’s no lack of debate about whether or not USB cables can make an audible difference and also no shortage of “proof” offered as to whether they cannot. I’ve added my point of view on this matter in various places on this site and hope I’ll be excused for not repeating myself here. Let me cut to the chase: Yes, for whatever reason, USB cables matter. What’s more: they can have considerably more impact than one might assume. Here’s a brand that I had not heard of until a reader asked me about it in the comments: the Curious USB by Curious Cables. I’m glad they asked!
The cables are manufactured under license by Mike Lenehan from Lenehan Audio – Queensland, Australia. Curious Cables’ Australian owner and designer Rob Woodland spent 12 months examining every aspect of USB cable design and offers the following explanation for why his USB cable performs the way that it does.
Cracking the code of the humble USB cable… (by Rob Woodland)
Why does the humble USB cable make such a difference to sound quality in a computer-based Hi-Fi system? When I started using a computer server, people said “You won’t have to sweat over USB cables – they don’t make a difference! It’s packets of data – it’s not analog.” Nevertheless, I continued to question why I was getting a flat, lifeless, edgy and uninvolving sound from my system – despite using the best processor, USB card, power supply and so on. And yes, I did try a number of high-end, highly regarded USB cables – with similar disappointing results. This required investigation. From a previous career as an audiophile cable and connector manufacturer, I had plenty of wire on hand to start the experimental process. And what do you know? Just about every wire combination I tested had an immediate, yet varied impact on sound quality.
So began a 12-month quest to discover a USB cable design that would deliver a truly three dimensional, musical sound – like the real thing. I left no stone unturned. I tested different diameters of wire, different metallurgy, shielding, dielectrics, ground techniques, how to deal with the 5V power leg and so on. All the time listening. And after a while, I built up a set of parameters for a USB cable that worked for the delivery of music, rather than just the delivery of data.
The result? Music from my computer-based audio system sounded significantly better – in every way! Much cleaner than before, more open and spacious, more detailed, smoother, more dynamic – and more involving. Some may even use the word “musical”!
But hang on – USB cables aren’t supposed to make a difference? All I can say is this. To my ears and those of experienced audiophiles – the new “Curious” USB cable offers a superior listening experience to many other USB cables.
The relativity of USB Cable sound
So far, the USB cables that have impressed me most are the AudioQuest Diamond USB, the Mad Scientist Heretical USB and more recently the MadScientist Black Magic USB. The AudioQuest has been my reference for a long time when I still used the AudioAanZee Reference Flow music server with Jeff Rowland amplification and Apogee Diva speakers. With this system, the cable’s neutrality and impressively articulate sound were precisely what was needed to obtain the right balance. The Mad Scientist Heretical USB was a revelation in terms of smoothness and liquidity and it produced an immediately likable sound that was never aggressive, but it arguably also compromised transparency, impact, and pacing. While I was fond of this cable, it was not the ideal match in the aforementioned system. Somewhere in between, I changed the setup and its position in the room entirely and added room treatment. The new CH Precision and Wilson Watt/Puppy 8 set up is much more dynamic and also more articulate and precise. In this system, I could still hear that the Mad Scientist Heretical USB cable rounded off the sound a bit but it actually worked quite synergetically. The Black Magic USB finally, which is the Mad Scientist’s current USB cable, improved on their former model by sounding more confident and upbeat, more transparent and more lively, while retaining the richly colorful, fluid and relaxed sound that made its predecessor so pleasing. It will come as no surprise that this cable worked like a charm in the new setup. It provided all the transparency and neutrality that I needed while still enhancing the sound with a pleasing smooth liquidity.
Or is it not relative at all?
Now, of course, one can ask the question: Was the aforementioned smoothness a lack of glare or degradation of the digital signal? And another question might be: Should cables be used as tweaks or should one strive for technical perfection, regardless of the results are pleasing or not?
Naturally, I have my own ideas about this and must admit having changed my views a bit from what they used to be. Currently, I believe that finding the best combinations of cables and components in a given room for a given taste is still important but it is of equal importance to use cables that do not subtract too much from the signal. When I was younger I cared more about refinement and fluidity than anything but these days I care most about dynamics and timbre. This is why I now prefer cables to ideally transfer all the energy in unaltered form and not being used as equalizers because whenever a cable is used as a filter, you lose some presence in the sound. However, it is a delicate balance. One can also go too far and the sound can become overly controlled and then you can lose the natural flow and as a result have less of an emotional connection with the music.
When Garmt of AudioIngang brought the CH Precision equipment for review, he also brought along a Melco music server. The Melco is, in essence, a high-specced NAS with two network environments: the input (dirty) and the dedicated player output (clean). As it turned out, the direct Ethernet connection to the CH Precision C1 Renderer/DAC made for a leap in sound. The Melco can also be connected using USB but sounds best using Ethernet. In this combination, it sounds rhythmic, fast, nimble and dynamic yet also fluid and free-flowing. The Melco via USB, by comparison, sounded more strident and less involving, no matter which USB cable I used. To cut a long story short, I was so impressed with it all that I decided to take the leap and switch systems altogether.
Getting on with it
The Melco N1ZH is a low-power UPnP-only server that cannot run Roon, but the Antipodes EX does. The EX is a pretty special server, too, and its USB output really is the best I’ve heard so far. And because I prefer to use Roon for my day-to-day music listening, the matter of USB cables is still of great importance! When connected with the AudioQuest Diamond USB it has a very detailed sound but the stage is constrained to the speakers and the whole sound is not as engaging as it is with the Ethernet-connected Melco, which at this stage is my point of reference. The EX actually comes much closer to the Melco’s presentation when connected using the Mad Scientist Black Magic USB cable rather than the AudioQuest Diamond USB. And this brings us full circle, back to the initial question: should cables be used as tweaks?
Curious USB sound
Using the Antipodes EX and CH Precision C1, changing the Mad Scientist Black Magic USB for the Curious USB, made for a startling difference. To be honest, I kind of expected this cable to sound very tight and precise and potentially relatively technical, but I was proven wrong on all accounts! Yes, it was technically better: more articulate, tighter, faster, nimbler and more open and more dynamic but it was also airier and had a more freely flowing soundstage with more clearly defined focus and layering. How about that? This cable clearly did not act as an EQ or filter and it sounded even more upbeat and precise than the AudioQuest, yet it did not sound overly controlled at all. In fact, with the Curious USB cable, the EX now sounded closer to the Melco in presentation than with any USB cable that preceded it.
There you have it: the Curious USB cable was indeed technically better, but also musically more realistic and involving. I definitely did not see that coming.
In order to lessen the influence of system dependency, I also repeated the test using my second system in the other room. This system is subject to constant change but currently consists of an AudioAanZee Reference Flow music server with Euphony Drive as the basis with two DACs to choose from. The Ayon Stealth DAC/Preamp and the Aqua Formula xHD DAC. The Stealth is used with its own tube preamp section in combination with the NuPrime ST-10 power amp and the Formula xHD is used with the Line Magnetic LM-88IA integrated amp which is on visit as part of another review. The speakers, in this case, are the Gustavson LS-Ones.
Above left: Line Magnetic LM-88IA Integrated Amplifier, right: Ayon Stealth Preamp/DAC. At the bottom is the AudioAanZee Reference Flow music server.
Above: the Gustavson LS-One speakers with a range of Line Magnetic amplifiers that were on visit for another review.
Using the Ayon Stealth DAC/preamp and NuPrime power amp, the Curious USB cable again was like a breath of fresh air and it sounded so convincing that I did not want to remove it anymore. However, when I tried it anyway, in this system, the Mad Scientist also worked beautifully. Sure, the upbeat foot-tapping quality was diminished and the whole delivery was more rounded and definitely less precise but nevertheless still very pleasant. This is probably a good example of system synergy: the Gustavsons are highly communicative and the NuPrime’s energetic character also injected so much energy into the system that the smoother USB cable still provided a well-balanced, musically highly engaging sound. While I still preferred the Curious USB because of its more lively delivery I can also imagine people choosing the smoother balance in this setup. In this case, it is a matter of perspective.
Changing from the Ayon/NuPrime combo to the Aqua Formula xHD DAC with the Line Magnetic LM-88IA integrated amp, the situation would turn out to be more clearly decided. With the Mad Scientist Black Magic USB cable the sound was again very pleasant but also remarkably refined and highly resolving. If I did not have the other cable at hand I would probably not even have any desire for further experiments. Swapping for the Curious USB cable, however, improved the sound on all levels: a fuller tonality, more convincing timbre, more dynamics, bass with more bite and body and all while retaining the overall refinement and airiness in the treble as well as the musical flow. Going back again just to make sure, the Mad Scientist cable was certainly still pleasing with its seductively warm and smooth sound but now I found it also to be less realistic and exciting than the Curious USB. This cable is quite the stunner!
As a final test, I brought the Curious USB cable with me when visiting audio buddy Niels. His system consists of an AudioAanZee ReferenceFlow music server, Jeff Rowland Aeris DAC, Jeff Rowland Concentra II integrated amp and Martin Logan Spire electrostatic speakers. Don’t mind the PrimaLuna amps, these were part of another review. Niels’ long-standing favorite USB cable is the KingRex uART which was an early favorite of mine too. The KingRex is based on OEM cable provided by WireWorld and the cable did indeed have a similar character to the WireWorld Starlight 7. To allow for a blind test of sorts, I did not inform Niels about what to expect and we first listened to a few tracks with his usual setup. When swapping the KingRex for the Curious USB cable, the first thing that stood out was that there was now a better flow, in terms of rhythm and pacing as well as in terms of soundstaging. Images leaped out and forward more than they did with the KingRex cable. Along with this came the aforementioned perks of better resolution, more airy treble and an overall more realistic and lifelike sound. Meanwhile, the typical (classic-) Jeff Rowland smoothness and liquidity were not diminished in the least. The Curious USB cable made such a good impression that Niels is going to order one. And me? I’m absolutely not sending mine back!
That USB Cables can change the sound of a system is still a controversial concept in some circles but really it should not be. For me, it is clear that they do and the tests done as part of this review certainly further solidify my convictions. A given music server with a standard USB cable can certainly sound pretty good. It’s not that a cheap USB cable will sound crap. But you might be surprised how much there is to gain. After using the Curious USB cable, you won’t ever want to go back to that flat and uninspiring sounding regular cable.
As my experiments showed, system-dependency something to take into consideration when selecting (USB) cables. But who would have thought it possible to improve the performance in audiophile parameters such as dynamics, tightness, focus, and articulation (to name just a few) while retaining all the fluidity, flow, and musical engagement by using a different USB cable? I certainly did not. But there you go. Here is a USB cable that works wonders in three very different systems. Well done Curious Cables!
Wow, very detailed and very diverse test!
I don’t know what is the secret about Curious, but it seems that it just works!
Did you need some burning-in time and did you notice any differences eventually?
Hi Marek, I’d say that there’s no real big secret (unless I missed it:-) – they’re actually being quite forthright with the information. It’s a matter of using the materials that sounded best in their tests and to pick the right ones for each of the format’s 4 conductors. In general, I find that digital cables (USB or otherwise) have no burn-in period. Either that, or if they do, the change must be so small that I never noticed it.
Yes, they gave the information how they made it, but still, that it sounds so good in a variety of informations..E.g in my systems i would not call it upbeat, although yes, there is more foot-tapping with CC than witout, but it sounds just right, the music has more soul, no matter if it is Triode-amp or Class D.
Btw. Curious Cable has Evolved, if the new version is better than FTA USB?
Although I’ve not heard the new version Curious Cable, assuming its sound is in line with the version I reviewed, I would not say CC is better than FTA because they sound so different.
I have 2 Evolved Curious Cables in the meantime in my chain. I changed from standard Curious Cables, and I must say, it sounds a bit (a lot!) like changing from Cardas Golden Reference to Clear. Also Curious Evolved takes a long time to burn in, first forward in my system, after 100 hours becomes pure magic. Standard Curious Cable took a bit less.
Hi Marek, ok, you got me “curious” now. I’ve requested a review sample Curious Evolved and will review it soon.
Haha Christian, well you know, you gotta Evolve! 😉
It’s been one week since I have been burning in the 2nd cable – Hugo Link, and i am frustrated – so forward! Now the sound is slowly starting to go back. But i have 2 Evolved, with one it was not so much forward in the beginning, and later it settled down in the background, it was magic. But it takes around 1 month – in my system. But already on the 1st listen you will hear more details, not the kind of details were highs are exaggerated, so you get sharper images, yes you get that too, but there is more inner details, which means more texture. And the main word is Neutrality.. Except lots of details, it seems as if the cable vanishes. I listen to lots of ambient electro, and the relaxed stuff is as slow as it gets..The fast beats are super-fast. New HiRez 24/192 Moments in Time by Stan Getz you can hear it is and old recording and not as dynamic as more recent. It will not make it fresh and super-dynamic. Some over-produced recordings – i have lots of electro-beat music -after 1 week still sound over-produced. I guess it will become more listenable after 1 month. Because the current that flows through USB cable is weak, it takes actually a few months after it is burned in.
I also experienced similar burning in phenomena with the 1st Evolved, but to less extent, since after it in the chain was already burned in standard Curious cable, which is not that neutral, but more a “Schönzeichner” so it softened the input of its Evolved brother. Now 2 Evolved in the chain – i can hear every 2 days sound becoming more loose (in a good sense).
Basically, Curious Evolved makes even most of my mp3s sound better – you hear more – but you also hear if mp3 is compressed, and you hear it is a mp3.
So it has been a bit over two weeks of burning in my 2nd Curious Evolved cable, and the sound has finally started to recede in the background. In my system, it also depends a lot on the power cable. the 2nd Evolved goes from W4S RUR into EC Designs XTOS. The RUR is being fed from a custom made LPSU (Little Pimkie from Scotland ), so the current that flows through the Curious Evolved comes from the LPSU. Having a WW Stratos there, the sound is more recessed in the background, (which is a good thing!) but also a bit muffled. But having a WW Aurora, the sound was first two weeks a lot more clear, but also a lot of more forward, with the highs being most prominently forward and also sounding a bit sharp or metallic. The reason – 1: Evolved was not burned it 2: WW Aurora has silver over copper conductors, and this silver apparently came very much to prominence. Now the sound is getting calmer, with lots of layers and depth. I burn it mostly with Dub Techno. It is electronic, very ambient music. So the sound is right when there are lots of layers, depth, ambience and clarity.
Maybe i will have to change the Aurora for Cardas Golden Reference, which was here in the 1st place but i sold it. For now there is still some time to pass before Evolved is burnet in, at least two more weeks.
Hi Marek, thanks for your descriptions, I’m sure they will help other readers. I’ve not yet received the cable but when I do, I will pay extra attention to the burning in process.
Well then you will get a good present in the New Year!
I am sure that the burning-in in your system will not be as drastic as in mine due to different cabling, components and e.g. power supplies.
As said, if i had Cardas Golden Reference feeding my LPSU that provides current for the RUR to which the Curious Evolved is connected, the effect with forward highs would not be the same as with silver-over-copper WW Aurora.
However, can’t find a single Golden Reference power in Europe at the moment so i just gotta going on burnin’ in. But the sound already became very very addictive! Better than i had it from CDP via Cardas Clear IC. The colours and textures are amazing.
Well this is interesting, based on reviews:
AudioQuest Diamond < Mad Scientist Heretical < Mad Scientist Black Magic < Curious.
I wonder how it would compare with the Lush^2 🙂
Interesting cable for sure. But while I don’t usually shy away from tweaking, this cable, like the XXHighEnd application, is a bit too tweaky for me.
PS I wouldn’t say that that this the definitive order as it also depends on the application. That said the Curious is currently the most accurate as well as most engaging USB cable for me.
You guys need to try Sablon Elite USB and their new LAN cable. Really! If you want to try please get in touch.
I agree that Ethernet cables make a difference but I prefer to use (selected) standard ones. The Sablon USB cable, however, could be interesting. I may approach Sablon sometime. But first, I have to finish another USB cable review and a whole range of other equipment:-)
Hi Christiaan, For a long time I have been using the Audioquest Diamond but was never completly satified with the sound. In September I have bought the Curious cable , the cable improved the sound but I was still enjoying the music played from the cd player more then played from the streamer. I have recently upgrade the Sotm sms200 streamer with the sms 200 ultra neo. During the burn in period I only have connecteonnected the cables to the new device.
It sounded flat and it emphasized the mid-high frequency to much. It became beter but I stille was not satisfied. When I connected the Audioquest cable to the new streamer the sound was not as open as the Curious but it was more relaxed and natural sounding. So i prefer the Audioquest Diamond. Perhaps you can review in the future the following usb cables : Clarity Cable Natura, Purist Audio 30th Anniversary USB, Totaldac USB GIGAFILTER, Sotm dbcl uf usb cable.
Hi Ray, The Curious Cable is quite open and lively which can work really well in some systems but no single cable is ideal for all systems. It’s always a matter of system synergy and personal taste. Reading about your experience I think you may really like the Mad Scientist Black Magic USB cable. It has a refined and smooth sound and is nicely relaxed. Or perhaps Elijah Audio, that’s even smoother, yet also less powerful. I am a bit busy currently but I may look into the Purist Audio 30th Anniversary USB and Totaldac USB GIGAFILTER after finalizing the current reviews that I am working on.
Hi Christiaan, at the time that I compared the Curious cable with the Diamond usb cable my Hegel DAC was connected with the Audioquest NRG-1000 powercord. After I swapped my Audioquest NRG-1000 with the cheaper NRG-5 power cable the sound became a little bit dull.
The system started to shine again when the Curious cable replaced the Audioquest Diamond usb cable. I know it’s hard to belief that a power cord can make a difference
1.DAC- Curious USB – AQ NRG 5 : More relaxed , less detailed, I
can listen non-stop to all kind of music
2.DAC – AQ USB – AQ NRG 1000 : Vivid but with some bad
recorded music it can be too much.
3. DAC – AQ USB – AQ NRG 5 : a little bit boring
4. DAC – Curious USB – AQ NRG 1000 : The high/mid are too much
Hi Ray, aside from the idea that USB cables can indeed make a difference, I can certainly imagine the things that you are describing. After all, in audio, balance is key en this means that all the components and cables need to work together to create the sound that you like. The Curious USB is an infectiously lively sounding cable but I can imagine that it may be too much if the system itself is also a little forward in the upper midrange.
Found a text from 1995 from Stereophile. Even then, they knew what it is about – It turns out that the timing of those ones and zeros is critical to a digital system’s sound quality. Unfortunately, the very design of the S/PDIF and AES/EBU interfaces creates such timing errors, called “jitter,” in digital audio. The problem with the interface is that it must carry the left and right audio data and the timing clock in the same signal. The digital processor must “lock” to this clock, which is buried within the digital audio data. Timing errors in the interface are thus passed to the digital processor, where the errors affect the accuracy of the D/A conversion process. This is why transports and digital cables can sound different, even though the binary ones and zeros representing the music are unchanged.
Read more at https://www.stereophile.com/content/sumo-axiom-cd-transport-theorem-ii-da-processor#KHRx9drFX3otxqis.99
Hi Marek, thanks for adding this. Indeed, this has been known for quite some time. However, critics argue that a decent DAC should re-clock the signal and thus get rid of any timing issues. In reality, this turns out not to be the case. But why?
Engineers tell me that my DAC must be faulty or ill-designed if it is sensitive to this. Well, then literally all the DACs that I reviewed so far must be faulty or badly designed… It’s a never-ending discussion, I’m afraid.
I was just curious as to the process by which the cable physically rearranges the bit-stream to make the music sound different. I had assumed that USB cables are pretty dumb wires that just carry a signal.
I have been data network designer for some years and even I didn’t realise that some USB cables could ‘read’ the data that they are carrying and make the sound, for instance, ‘warmer’. I guess that is why they are so rediculously expensive.
That is the million dollar question. There are many theories but precious little in the way of lab tests. I’ve commented on this in various places on this site and don’t want to get into this too deeply again here but in short, the main suspicion is not that the signal itself changes – it really shouldn’t, but that parasitic signals that travel along are affecting the audio component’s circuitry on the receiving end. Mark Jenkins of Antipodes has written a bit of text on this subject which I published at the end of the CX+EX review. PS There is no such thing as a “Best” cable or best anything. It remains a relative matter, dependent on system synergy and personal taste and a more expensive cable certainly does not guarantee better results in all systems.
Thanks for the reply, but it does not address my question.
I know more than most about how cables work, or I thought I did.
You said in your article that the cable can “improve the performance in audiophile parameters such as dynamics, tightness, focus, and articulation”
To do this, the digital data that the cable is carrying must be changed.
I can find plenty of information on how to do this using software and ‘better’ DACs, amps and speakers, but I can’t find any information on how these special USB cables achieve this.
A passive cable, no matter how well constructed can obviously not do this so the cable must
1) know that the data contained in the signal that it is carrying is audio and not any other form of data
2) have some sort of circuitry in the cable to derive the original audio, adjust the dynamics, etc and re-convert it to a new digital stream.
If it can’t do this then the data that the DAC receives will be exactly as stored in the file on my hard drive and will sound exactly the same
I am just interested to know how the cables acheive these, and how do I know which cables have this circuitry and which don’t
Mike, nice to know that you are a data-network designer. i have a Master in Computer Science. It is not that simple as you think. Have you been working with real-time systems?
1) the cable does not carry digital data, but analogue signals of varying voltage.It gets “digital” on the target end by encoding/rearranging the more or less complying analogue ranges into other protocol-appropriate analogue ranges
2) USB standard was never meant for transporting real-time audio-data, which is time-dependant and differs in this dimension from data transmitted in the computer from e.g. HD to processor, which if error happens, will be transmitted once again. Real-time algorithms are much more time sensitive than simple USB-standard. So what is done here is a real-time transmission and conversion over non real-time protocol. This adds more overhead in encoding/decoding then simple I/O operations within computer.
3) So digital end does a lot of encodings, first from phy-layer into USB-protocol, and then from USB into PCM, then comes the DAC which does PCM into a single ended signal or 2 balanced halves.
4) The quality of the cable can influences the speed of the signal whereby this depends on the frequency and material and isolater..
5) The signal transmitted from the computer is not pure. There is noise on power lines that often run next to data lines and influence them in turn. It is not critical enough so that any USB 5m cable will manage to copy data, but not any USB cable will be able to transmit data in equal manner needed for a real-time system. Depending on this, all upstream layers/encoders will have to do much more work than when the signal comes without jitter (practically impossible) into the DAC. And this introduces again new jitter, if the device does not have appropriate means to fight it. THis is the reason also why all DACs do not sound the same if they convert all the same 0S and 1s.
And the arrival at DAC happens after phy-usb-pcm conversions at the transmitting end.
This is just the very basics and there is much more written in detail how it works and what do you have to take into account if you want to design low-jitter cable or device. It takes at least a year or two.
Thanks for your lengthy reply but I already know exactly how USB transmission works, . What I really need to know is how these special ‘audiophile cables’ change “parameters such as dynamics, tightness, focus, and articulation ” of the digitally encoded audio without decoding it first. I have been involved in data and audio transmission for more than 30 years and I really can’t see how this is possible.
Hi Mike, just how it is possible I do not know, but that there are differences is pretty easy to hear. The CAD USB cable contains a filter but otherwise, generally, in USB cables, there’s no fancy stuff going on, only conductor and dielectricum material- and construction decisions that are made and together these make for the perceived differences in sound. But I’m afraid there’s nothing I can say that will provide a satisfactory answer for you. All I can say is to just try it out for yourself. For the clearest distinction, compare the Curious USB with the Mad Scientist BlackMagic USB cable. Who knows, the manufacturers might be willing to supply loaner cables for you to experiment with.
Mike, the data stored on your hard-drive does not have jitter nor clock associated with them.
Again, you are failing in the first place to associate the time-dependent dimension with the data and neglecting real-time problems arising when dealing with audio-data over non-real time protocol like USB. So al your thinking process afterwards is simply wrong because you over-simplify at the very beginning.
Hi Marek, it’s great to learn that you have a Master in Computer Science. Clearly, you are in a better position to comment on this matter than I am. For me, it’s the sound that counts. When I hear a certain difference then I double check and then just accept it. I don’t reject it because I cannot explain the reason for it. Some people, however, are more technically inclined and they need explanations such as the ones you supplied, which I hope should be sufficient to lay some of the worries to rest. So, thanks for that!
My original post was a genuine query as to if these cables have the processing power to be able to decode, change and re-encoded the audio they are carrying. This, of course, being the only possible way that “parameters such as dynamics, tightness, focus, and articulation ” could be changed.
You may be making the rookie mistake of confusing modern digital technology with old, and mostly redundant, analogue technology
In my own experiment where I made a USB cable with bare wires and wound it round an active power lead a few times, it sounded exactly the same as an expensive “audiophile” cable that I had borrowed. But it is nice to have your confirmation that differences are only “perceived” and not measured.
Thank you, I can now happily save my money in the sure knowledge that there is no USB cable in existence that can improve the audio being transmitted (or for that matter video or print or anything else transferred by USB), I will only be imagining any difference.
Please note that no cable can make a signal better, but they can change it and depending on the system and personal preferences, one cable will therefore make a better fit than another. I am not confusing anything and am certainly no rookie, I am just using my ears, without prejudice. If you ever repeat your comparisons, listen for midbass speed and transient sharpness. There are easy to hear differences in those fields. Maybe there is not so much difference between a standard USB cable and a test cable made of bare wires, I’ve not tried this so cannot say, but depending on sleeve material and dielectric thickness and -material, USB cables can definitely sound different.
Ok back again. Sorry about the delay, we needed the time to set up the test equipment to bottom out this question. Very accurate sound analysis equipment could not detect any difference between the output from the same speakers when playing the same tracks played by the same players using both cheap and expensive cables. As we thought, it is purely imagine by the listener. And yes, even though the equipment was proving there was absolutely no difference, out of 5 human listeners… 2 preferred the first cable, two preferred the second and only one realised that there was no difference
Ok, well, thanks for keeping an open mind and trying this. Did those extra listeners know what cable was used? All I can say is that I also have carried out blind tests and I do hear the difference. And again: it’s not about cost as very expensive cables can indeed sound very similar to ordinary cables. You need to find two cables with different characters, as mentioned before.
I once was at a demonstration in Munich back in 2001, they want to know which amps was the preferred amp for the JMlab Utopia speaker . I preferred the Passlab amp , some preferred the Kronzilla tube amp and some didn’t hear any differences in sound. The outcome is that the differences are so negligible that you might conclude that everything sounds the same.
On Youtube you will find some people who are testing MP3 and Flac files, most of the people use
Headphones to hear the differences. Perhaps there are no differences when using headphones but
when using loudspeakers the soundstage difference is perhaps better noticeable. It is easy to make a certain conclusion but it doesn’t mean that your or mine observation is the right one.
Hi Ray The demonstration to which you refer was analogue equipment which can make a massive difference to the resultant sound. Digital is completely different. The cable manufacturers rely on long time audiophiles applying analogue theory and practice to digital. Digitally encoded audio (or video for that matter) will always ‘sound’ exactly the same at the point of decoding. These cables will probably last longer but they can not change the fidelity of any given digital recording
You are right but when somebody hear differences between two cables which connects digital sources it’s very easy to say that they imagining things. I would expect not to hear a different sound between two different CD transport but I did. When comparing my Wireworld S/PDiff cable with a Audioquest cable I hear strangely enough differences even with USB I can hear differences ?? I can’t explain this but have stopped searching for an answer and have accept this. I also stopped wondering when somebody tells me that they favor a “ Wav” music file instead of a “flac” file.
It’s seems obvious from all the posts that two ears and a brain can detect more than even the best analyzers. Mike’s experiment shows that much. I commend his honesty in telling the results with no prejudice. Maybe we are measuring the wrong things to start with. Measurements can be tricky at times, but unfortunately that’s all we have for now. I too, can hear the differences between 3 USB cables and my MS in electrical engineering did very little to explain it convincingly. I just had to take it on faith. I am not one to disregard reality because I cannot explain it. I know it sounds weird but…it turns.
“Maybe we are measuring the wrong things to start with.” Well, I think we are measuring relevant parameters but there are apparently more parameters that matter.
I cant recal the chronical order of the changes but it’s possible that I have changed the normal fuse for Synergistic blue fuse a year ago into the Hegel DAC . Last week i replaced this for the normal fuse which turned my digital gear innto a very dull sounding system. I then installed the Furutech fuse into the DAC. The effect of this change has changed sound dramatically . The Curious cable sounds much better now , much better then the Audioquest Diamond. The Diamond is now sounding flat , the Curious cable very coherent and organic. Also the Coax Wireworld cable is now the prefered cable instead of the Audioquest 75ohm cable. In the month May I also have changed my power cable from Audioquest to Psaudio cable .
Good Lord. I came across this searching for a well made USB cable which would last a few years of constant movement and I find that there are people who beleive that a fuse and a USB cable can alter the sound in a system ? Reflections of the good old analog days when people were hoodwinked by the manufacturers and ‘reviewers’ and ‘experts’ into believing that power cables could afect your system. It is digital people, DIGITAL !!!! It works or it doesn’t
Digital = digital… if only it was that simple. Honestly, I wish it was. If that was the case then all CD transports, music servers, streamers, and the lot would sound the same and things would be really simple for us now. But even in the analog world, it was never black and white. People only think it was. Turntables should only rotate at the right speed and that was all there was to it… Speaker cables are of no importance and only need to be able to conduct the current required for the application… All same-principle amplifiers sound the same… Now we know better.
A USB cable is a bunch of wires with absolutely no perception of, or influence over what is being passed over it. It could be a digitised music track (.mp3, .wav, etc), a digitised photograph (.jpg, .png, etc), a digitised document for printing (.doc, .pdf) or any digital file being read from, or written to storage. What goes in one end comes out the other. For digital sound a bad cable will either produce nothing at all or a possible ‘click’ every few minutes or so. It is no more impossible for a bunch of wires to make music tracks sound “more open and spacious, more detailed, smoother, more dynamic” than it is for that cable to produce richer tones in a picture being printed. The sound software in your PC and the DAC can make a difference but not a bunch of wires. I have read a lot of mumbo-jumbo by cable manufacturers, and their paid reviewers, trying to claim that things like ‘jitter’ are a problem in a usb cable. What nonsense. I speak incidentally as a sound engineer. I use $25 usb cables on professional set-ups. They do exactly the same thing as the snake oil versions
Jordan, you’ve just proved to everyone your deaf.
So explain to me how a cable can affect the audio that is digitally encoded into the bitstream it carries ……. not the analogue signal carrying it thankyou
There are Sound Engineers who also belief what Power cables can do with the sound. Streaky Mastering : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T03w3tls8BU
His suppliers think differently but he hears the differences between the powercables. You can also buy an ethernet switch which can change the sound.
Look for Silent Angel Bonn n8 switch, unbelievable but I could hear difference played on a Magico speakers with Dan D’Agostino amps.
Maybe I am wrong. I am always willing to learn
So I would like you to answer a question for me
Let’s say that I want to play my 16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC of ‘Take 5’ (brilliant BTW)
I play to USB on my Linux system bypassing any EQ or otherwise. Bits from file sent to USB ‘as is’
If I use the Curious USB cable, will I acheive bit for bit transport of the digital stream being sent by my USB port to my DAC.
i.e will the DAC see the same digital stream that was presented to my USB port
(I am guessing yes, otherwise the cable would be totally useless because with my current ‘cheap’ cable the answer is yes)
but please confirm YES or NO (just yes or no for now please, no drifting into clocks and jitter and other stuff)
Hi Jordan, yes, the Curious cable will transfer signals bit-accurately, as would pretty much any other cable. But there can still be an audible difference between two cables that both transmit bit-accurate signals. Yes, I see the theoretical discrepancy there but, alas, I can still hear it. Also in blind tests. Why? I don’t know, I can only guess based on certain theories. But I do know that we as humans tend to think at any point that we have explained everything, until a new discovery is made that proves previous theories wrong. Remember discussions about all DAC chips being equal some 20 years ago? As long as they successfully converted analogue to digital no chip could ever be better than the other. A simple truth now not true any more. In any event, my views and reviews are provided based on what I hear for those who find them helpful. It is not my intention to convince anyone one way or another and I have no desire to get stranded in a yes/no argument.
Thanks for that,
OK, so the DAC has now received the bitstream EXACTLY as sent from USB port
Here is the bit (no pun intended) that I do not understand Christiaan
You said that the Curious cable gave “a fuller tonality, more convincing timbre, more dynamics, bass with more bite and body and all while retaining the overall refinement and airiness in the treble as well as the musical flow.”
All of those things could only be applied before the audio was encoded or after it was decoded so how does this cable instruct the DAC to do that ?
I am totally willing to admit that I may have missed something, but my years of designing communications networks, tell me it is impossible
Well, as said by Sherlock Holmes: when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. So, the cable must be capable of changing the signal in a way that does make sense in the traditional digital realm. That said, it is entirely possible to measure differences as induced by cables if you measure the right things but if you maintain that the digital signal cannot be altered in this way or at least this could not result in a different sound then I guess we’re stuck.
With the greatest of respect Christiaan you are stuck in the analogue world. I believe you can hear a difference with different amps and speakers, and even with the cables connecting them, but you must get to grips with digital.
A huge benefit of digital, (and why the film, photography and audio industries standardise on it), is that, once digitised, a file will remain bit perfect, however you transport it (regardless of propagation, timings, jitter, reflection, interference), and it will decode exactly to the original. That is how digital works
I will try to explain, as simply as possible for the non technical, how digital audio works with DACs.
Take streaming music as an example. I can have a digitised audio file streamed real time from an online server through countless runs of generic ethernet cable and switches, through countless nodes on the internet to my local exchange, where it is then delivered to my house as an audio signal (muxed with the telephone call I am on) along 2 miles of unprotected twisted pair alongside my power supply (and a local hospital’s generator). My micro-filter splits it from the telephone call and then my modem extracts the digital data and my router sends it (mixed in with a lot of other traffic) to my A/V server which then sends it down some wires (USB cable) to my DAC.
My DAC is receiving the bitstream EXACTLY as it left the online music server. That is the beauty of digital. (I can do the same with Ultra High resolution movie with cinema sound from Netflix) Both are ‘real time’
Now to the DAC (again very simplified) In my example FLAC file, the DAC takes the first 16 bits and decodes them to the first 0.00002267573696145120 seconds (1/44,100) of audio. It then takes the next 16 bits and decodes them to audio in the next 0.00002267573696145120 seconds
etc, etc (if a bit is flipped, there will be a ‘mistake’ for one 44.1 thousandth of a second in the playback. Exact timing is built into the digital file. This produces the audio for my amp EXACTLY as recorded to the online music server. If the DAC is not doing that, throw it away. If ‘noise’, ‘interference’ or anything else is somehow getting from the USB port on the DAC to the Audio out, return it for a refund. It is broken.
Apart from all of that, should I find that a USB cable (or any other component) is altering my beautifully recorded ‘Take 5’ (the FLAC version sitting on my A/V server), as you claim Curious will, I will immediately replace it with one which doesn’t. Why should I spend thousands to have my DAC and audio system reproduce this audio to sound exactly as it did in the studio, only to have a cable change it?
I work in the TV broadcast industry where I have had countless conversations on this subject already. Trust me, in the last 15 or so years, I have heard it all. It’s a subject that no one ever seems to settle on. Some engineers I spoke with are like you and maintain that it is impossible, and I understand why. But there are also those that agree that cables can indeed change the sound of a digital transfer. I am not an engineer myself and I’m sure I can’t reproduce those theories here in a manner that would be satisfactory to you. Anyway, as I said before, I don’t intend to convince you one way or another. You seem intent on making me see your point but you seem to miss that I already get your point all along. I understand what you are saying but my ears just tell me differently. What more can I say?
Although I find it dificult to believe that there are engineers allowed to work in TV broadcast that do not know how digital transmission works we will agree to diasagree.
Either way I will not be purchasing a Curious cable as………….
If it can’t affect the audio then it does exactly the same as a generic $20 cable
If it can affect the audio then I do not want it altering my currently perfect reproduction of the source
Thanks for a fascinating, and civilised, exchange Christiaan
…….. and now for HI-FI tuning fuses and those pebbles that you tape to your speaker leads 🙂 🙂
Why do you insist that if one hears differences between digital cables then one must not know how digital works? These things are not mutually exclusive. Some engineers came to my place where I demonstrated, for example, Toslink versus coax or something similar. And indeed, even those that are technically thoroughly schooled, heard differences. Oh well, in the end, as long as we’re all happy with our systems. The upside for you is that you get to spend less on it for the same amount of enjoyment and less headache:-) Isn’t life great!
He has done some measurements on several DAC devices but also usb cables.
If that equipment is measuring on the ‘audio out’ side of a DAC, then that DAC is very poorly designed and/or constructed to allow anything through from the usb cable except the data it is carrying
That’s the same anwer I hear from most engineers/technicians when I tell them I hear differences with digital cables: the DAC must be faulty or ill-designed. So, either all the DACs that I used (the majority of popular models on the market ranging from entry-level to absolutely esotereric as well as some professional ones) must be faulty or flawed… or… perhaps there’s something else going on.
Supposing that I beleive this thing about jitter finding its way through to the audio out of my DAC and affecting the music playing, and that this cable will suppress it.
This still does not explain how the Curious cable can give “a fuller tonality, more convincing timbre, more dynamics, bass with more bite and body and all while retaining the overall refinement and airiness in the treble as well as the musical flow.”
That is the bit I am really stuck on
Stop press…….. I have just visited the Curious Cable web site where they claim that one of their cables between a Hard Drive and computer will make a difference to the sound !!!! Surely this is is the point at which most sane people will stop beleiving anything they claim?
I understand what you’re saying Jordan. I guess it is like tasting chocolate and other things in wines or certain cirtrus fruit flavors in IPA beers that are not actually in there. It’s interpretation. Mostly, with digital cables, it distills to tighter or looser bass and faster or softer transients. Internal HDD’s are not much different from external ones and I, too, have heard differences there (again tighter versus woolier). It’s just that I decided not to be distracted by that and accept whatever’s inside, especially since plain regular cables seem to work just fine. Ultimately, in audio, pretty much everything matters and it’s only where the individual draws the line.
So anyone heard the new and Evolved Curious USB?
Jordan, if you can’t hear a difference in sound between USB cables ( or any cables for that matter) then that’s fine, most audiophiles can hear a difference. Let’s agree to disagree. I’m currently testing 6 different USB cables and each one I can tell you sounds different from each other. Earlier this year I tested four different USB cables (Curious, Lush, Vovox and Sablon) and they all had a different sound. Sablon btw was best imo in that test and is my current reference.
Quote from Christiaan …. “Internal HDD’s are not much different from external ones and I, too, have heard differences there (again tighter versus woolier)”
Are you in all seriousness suggesting that different disk drives will changer the file contents ?
Quote from toetapaudio “most audiophiles can hear a difference”
… but isn’t it odd how identical cables will sound totally different to different ‘audiophiles’
Fortunately I do not suffer from these imaginary differences as I am technically aware music lover, not an audiophile. My generic USB cable and generic disk drives connected by generic cables deliver bit perfect files to my DAC where the codecs reproduce the music as it was recorded. Exactly as I want it, not ‘altered by a cable’
The digital data is not changed. The interpretation of this as the stream is decoded in real-time, apparently, is.
Quote “The digital data is not changed. The interpretation of this as the stream is decoded in real-time, apparently, is.”
You therefore have a faulty DAC
So apparently all the DACs that I used are faulty. Fine. Or all audiophiles are hearing things. Also fine. We don’t need to agree on this.
If you say so.
But honestly, I do recommend a little reading on how digital music differs from the analogue on which you base all of your suppositions
You seem persistent in seeing this in black and white. As I tried to explain before, I have a good understanding of how digital works and am also in contact with people who are actually officially trained in this, but still, my ears (and their ears) are telling a different story. I actually don’t mind about that.