The Mad Scientist does it again!
Review sample supplied by Mad Scientist Audio
Retail price: $399 for all lengths
Once again the company issued a newer version of a product that beats the previous incarnation by a sizable margin, no matter if that previous product was already marvelous! Of course, I am referring to the Heretical USB, which I raved about in this review.
While developing the Heretical USB cable, Mad Scientist Audio found when making a 2-meter cable on request for me, that this cable sounded better than the 1-meter cable. They carried out further experiments with other lengths and it quickly turned out that the 2-meter length sounded best. While developing its successor, the design brief was to make it look better and sound better and, importantly, irrespective of length. Thus, the new Black Magic USB cable is available in 0.8, 1.2 and 2.0-meter lengths.
Left: Heretical USB cable; right: Black Magic USB cable. Fair is fair: the new model really looks the part.
The Black Magic USB cable comes with a nice pouch, which you will never use because the cable will never leave the system!
Since the last review, my system has changed entirely. The speakers have changed from Apogee to Wilson W/P 8 and the front end and amplification, formerly divided over many separate elements, has been replaced with only two components from CH Precision: the A1 stereo amp and the C1 DAC/Endpoint/Controller. These components are incredibly transparent and can deal with any source, including Ethernet and USB. The Ayon Stealth preamp is used in combination with the Thorens turntable, outside of the scope for this review. As digital music sources, I use a Melco N1ZH via UPnP and an Antipodes EX with Roon via USB.
For the longest time, my reference has been the 699 euro AudioQuest Diamond USB. Even today, I still feel that this is a very good, highly neutral and highly transparent cable. However, the Heretical USB cable, by comparison, makes the Diamond sound a bit, well, normal. Normal is good, for sure, but sometimes you just want a little extra magic, right? When I compared the Diamond to the Heretical I noted that the latter sounded timbrally fuller and richer, without being less dynamic than the Diamond. But it isn’t better on all accounts.
For this review, I connected all three USB cables one after the other using the same playlist on the Antipodes EX, starting with the Heretical USB. Yup, this cable still sounded very convincing and highly engaging, encouraging the listener to forget about technicalities and just enjoy the music. But compared to the Melco server via UPnP, the EX + Heretical USB combination sure was a bit on the fulsome side. Now that’s actually a good thing most of the time, but a deviation from neutrality all the same. Sometimes that’s just the price you pay for a nice dose of magic and swapping to the AudioQuest Diamond further substantiated this feeling. However, the Diamond did sound slightly more upbeat and articulate.
In came the Black Magic USB cable. Well, I think I can express my feelings best by English-izing a Dutch phrase: it simply made sausage of the other two cables. Not only did the Black Magic USB cable sound more dynamic and alive than the other two cables, it also sounded more delicate, more transparent and more detailed at the same time.
Going back to the Heretical the music is still intact and still communicating, but not quite as clearly and vividly. And going back to the Diamond… well, that’s an even bigger leap. In absolute terms, it is still a great cable, but somehow, it just seems to be missing the fun and expression that the Black Magic USB cable delivers so effortlessly.
The Antipodes EX is a highly capable and supremely musical server but also with this server, the influence of USB cables really should not be underestimated. The Mad Scientist Black Magic USB cable, however, plays to the EX’s strengths, and then some!
The Black Magic USB cable is here to stay!
Normally, certain positives come along with some negatives, but, amazingly, there are just no downsides with this cable that I can find: no glare, no hardness, no loss of detail, no slowing of speed or rounding off of articulation. Simply just glorious, communicative music. The Mad Scientist is spot-on when summarizing the sound of this cable with two words: Clarity and Musicality.
Oh boy, what am I to do if they develop the next USB cable? I’d be flat out of superlatives!
This really is as no-brainer a situation as they come. The Heretical USB was already a breakthrough product but the Black Magic USB cable simply improves on it, literally on every aspect. Trust me: this is THE USB cable to get. Just try it, with their return policy there’s no risk but I guarantee that you won’t be returning it!