Review sample supplied by Pink Faun
Retail price in the Netherlands: 750 euro (ex VAT)
Its official name is “Pink Faun Digital interlink USB” but to keep matters simple, I will refer to it simply as “Pink Faun USB cable”.
In a market flooded with USB cables, just what makes the Pink Faun cable special? The Pink Faun website does not really explain this but what’s mentioned is that the cable is hand-made using proprietary Pink Faun non-inductive tin-plated extruded wiring with cotton/Teflon insulation in 3 sections separately optimized for the signal and power part with multiple layers of HF and LF shielding.
The cable certainly looks very well made and while it may appear heavy and stiff, it is actually light and very flexible.
The Pink Faun USB cable will be compared with a range of other USB cables as well as to a direct Ethernet connection using the Antipodes CX+EX server/renderer combo and the CH Precision C1 DAC. For the direct Ethernet connection to the C1, I only use the CX but for USB connections I prefer using the CX+EX combo. Because the CX and EX have a different sonic presentation, to maintain equal circumstances, I used only the CX for the USB to Ethernet comparisons. Once that comparison was sorted I retained the CX+EX combo for the remainder of the USB cable comparisons. The amplifier used is the CH Precision A1.5 and the speakers both the Martin Logan ESL15A and Magico S1 MkII.
Initial Listening (1/3)
Although I was forewarned that the cable requires quite a long time before it arrives at its intended level of performance, I just had to connect it right after taking it out of its box for the first time to obtain some first impressions.
Newly connected to the CX, the Pink Faun cable had a full-bodied, sweet and rich delivery that contrasts starkly with the tight and articulate delivery of the direct Ethernet connection. However, despite the latter’s very precise presentation, it made for a more emotionally involving delivery. Although voluptuous and rich, the Pink Faun USB cable’s delivery (at this stage) was a little static, the bass lacking precision, the overall resolution a little rough and the treble lacking some air. Well, I was forewarned that running in would be required. So, Roon Radio was engaged and the cable put to work continuously for over a week while I tended to other matters.
Continued Listening (2/3)
If ever a cable proved that running in is an actual phenomenon, and even for digital cables, it is this cable. After having been used between CX and C1 while continuously running music for more than a week, I conducted another comparison. Sure enough, the Pink Faun still sounded fuller and more sonorous than the direct Ethernet connection but the static aspect had vanished and the delivery was now highly involving. This was encouraging! At this stage, the Ethernet connection was still purer and more articulate and the Pink Faun darker and more voluptuous but both connections now delivered a technically and emotionally pleasing performance.
As comparing an Ethernet connection to a USB connection can be tricky I added the Final Touch Audio Callisto USB cable to the mix. Still using the CX as the server+renderer, I felt that the Callisto, while different again, was closer to the Ethernet connection than the Pink Faun USB connection. The Callisto’s main allure is its ethereal and super-refined treble. But its feathery treble behavior is mimicked in the bass which is fast but not as incisive and expressive as the Ethernet connection. The latter remains the purest and most coherent solution for this particular pairing. I hasten to add that I have also heard Ethernet connections sound softer and blurrier than USB connections so it really also depends on the implementation on the receiving end. In any event, the Callisto USB cable confirmed the Pink Faun USB cable’s sonic signature at this stage as being full and dark, rich and very involving but lacking some nuance and treble refinement.
A part of me feared that the cable had reached its maximum performance but another part of me figured “what if” and so, I allowed the cable to “cook” some more.
Final listening when fully run-in (3/3)
After have given it more than two weeks of extra playing time, adding up to over three weeks in total, I returned to the Pink Faun cable and this is when I noticed that it was still full-bodied and powerful but now also articulate and highly refined!
I also found that the cable is a little sensitive to handling. After disconnecting and reconnecting, some of the treble air and refinement were diminished, as if briefly returned almost to the state as described in step 2, but it doesn’t take long for it to come back on song. By the way, the Pink Faun isn’t the only cable that behaves like this, there are others that prefer to be left untouched.
While the CX yields the most transparent sound via Ethernet directly into the C1 DAC, I find that USB connections sound much more involving when the EX is added to the mix. This magnifies the sensation of spaciousness and natural flow. The Pink Faun USB cable tied in perfectly with the EX, further enhancing the streamer’s 3D-imaging and soundstage depth. Also, it further emphasized the streamer’s already earthy and solid character and sense of scale but without going overboard. There was lots of impact but combined with a lushness and free-flowing naturalness.
At this stage, I played lots of music over the course of many days without ever feeling the need to change cables. There may have been no need indeed but in order to fully plot the Pink Faun cable’s performance, I simply had to compare it with a few other USB cables. First up is the Final Touch Audio Callisto. Until it was fully run-in, the Pink Faun cable could not quite match the Callisto in terms of treble airiness and overall refinement but now that it was fully on song, it had become almost as precise and every bit as refined. Where the Pink Faun remained different from the Callisto was in the last bit of bass articulation and treble air but otherwise, the cable was just as free-flowing, gentle and fluid and every bit as involving. What’s more, in terms of solidity and dynamic impact, the Pink Faun was even more impressive.
As regular readers will already know, I tend to obsess over bass performance and here I’m slightly divided. Via Ethernet, as well as via the Callisto USB cable, complex bass lines are a tiny bit crispier and thus easier to follow than with the Pink Faun cable. On the other hand, the Ethernet connection can sound a little cool and matter-of-fact, the Callisto is not as harmonically rich nor as impactful and the Pink Faun is always involving so maybe I’m being a bit of a nitpicker.
What I feel makes the Pink Faun USB cable special is its ability to match solidity and slam with nuance and a hint of luxurious richness. It really is just a hint and certainly not a romantic “blanket” that covers all the proceedings but it narrowly prevents the cable from being considered the proverbial open window. Nevertheless, at this stage, instead of a single favorite USB cable, I now had two.
Now that we’ve established the overall performance in comparison with my references, let’s see how the Pink Faun USB cable plots against a couple of other, perhaps more familiar, USB cables.
The previous USB cable that I reviewed is the Curious Evolved. Even-handed and neutral, this cable’s transparency and tightness hint at the sound of the Callisto but more “down to earth” and dynamically a little bit polite. Both the Callisto and Pink Faun are more free-flowing and have deeper soundstaging and between the Curious Evolved and the Pink Faun, my vote would go to the latter for its more expressive dynamics and more involving delivery.
The regular Curious USB cable has the slam and impact that the Evolved is missing and its enthusiasm is certainly enjoyable, but otherwise, its successor has indeed evolved. A little rough and lacking resolution, this is a great cable to try as a first upgrade from a standard cable but it falls outside of the scope for cables of the Pink Faun’s caliber.
The Computer Audio Design (CAD) USB 1 is another favorite that originally wowed me with its solidity and dynamic slam but then got surpassed by the Callisto in a couple of other areas that ultimately worked more synergistically in my system. Tonally and in terms of bass solidity, the CAD is actually very similar to the Pink Faun but drier and a little darker. Between these two, my vote goes to the Pink Faun for its more fluid and refined sound even if it is a touch more romantic.
An older favorite is the Mad Scientist Black Magic USB cable. At that time the only USB cable to pull off that kind of lush and organic, free-flowing sound and admittedly still a favorite for its particular skills especially at its price, the Pink Faun takes everything the Black Magic does and takes it to a higher level while dotting several technical I’s. It’s just as magical yet nimbler, more impactful and more expressive.
Just for good measure, I threw in an old favorite, the AudioQuest Diamond USB. On this, I can be brief: in the context of this comparison, this cable sounded mediocre. When I first reviewed it, it outperformed others I had tried but in the context of this comparison, I just find it to lack much of what makes a great USB cable.
While I know that there is an expectancy for a ranking order, I find that this would not do most product justice and also that it is impossible to do. Yes, some cables are clearly less endowed than others (see the Additional Comparisons section above) but then, what remains are a couple of cables that are different yet truly great performers. So far, I have not heard a USB cable that sounds precisely the same as a direct Ethernet connection, or even two Music Servers that sound exactly the same. The trick is to identify what makes the music sound most convincing and involving, in other words, what will work synergistically in a given setup and choosing the cable accordingly.
With all that said, for me, the Pink Faun Digital Interlink USB ranks among the very best cables I have heard and it has established itself as one of my top favorites.
Manufacturer: Pink Faun