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$695 USB cable wins TAS's editors' choice award (theabsolutesound.com)
82 points by sz4kerto on Jan 15, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 163 comments

It's nice when you can have a self-aware laugh occasionally.

This is clearly self-parody from a publication that I gather is serious about audio hardware, right up to the edge of woo-woo imperceptible stuff, but probably not over that line.

A lineup of digital interconnects, which by definition are either perfect or have obvious signal dropouts, combined with language like "neutral without sounding bleached, dynamic without sounding piercing, detailed without sounding analytical" is a comical amplification on what I'm guessing is their usual review style.

This is The Absolute Sound's equivalent to the fake HN frontpage that makes the rounds now and then.


Evidently, I was too quick to give them the benefit of the doubt. It seems most of the defense around audiophile-grade digital cables is that they "reduce jitter" (which somehow then translates to noticeable changes in different areas of the audible spectrum that can be described in wine-spectator terms) – does anyone have a good link or explanation on this principle?

Erm… here's a normal TAS article: http://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/transparent-referen...

This is an RCA coax cable for ~$3000 a meter. The article is not about laughing at such a silly idea.

Unless TAS is actually The Onion of the audio world, I don't think the editor's choice linked here is self-parody or self-aware.

Here's an other one, $1700/m: http://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/enklein-prairie-fir...

Or these $5000/m pieces of wonder: http://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/enklein-orion-relea...

Please note that all three of these cables are intended for digital interconnection (AES or SPDIF), not analog. These "reviews" are not uncommon, and yes you'll get the same stuff for HDMI[0]. You'll also get recommendations for $7200 speaker power chords: http://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/crystal-cable-absol...

[0] for a mere $350/m for instance http://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/nordost-releases-fi...

The idea of jitter is simple, due to noise on your clock signals there's bits that get flipped. When the circuit on the other end is dumb that means a little distortion which reduces the 'clarity' of the sound you hear.

The solution is obvious, buffer, error correct and reclock your data before you turn it to analog again. Expensive USB dacs do this.

People thinking digital can be forgetful of the fact that with a regular USB connection, 8% loss on the channel is no problem because corrupt data is simply resent. Audio has a realtime constraint. Another problem with defending based on jitter is that jitter is pretty hard to measure, you need expensive specific measuring hardware.

Anyway, this explains why shielding can be important for audio USB cables. It does not explain why the cables are over $15. A reasonable explanation could be that the demand for very high quality cables is so low that it's unfeasible to sell them for less than $100.

But, if the world of audiophiles was really so rational. Then these reviews would go like this: This $10 cable is nice, but it sounds muddy. This $100 cable is nicer, it has more clarity. This $1000 cable is really good, the sound is very clear.

There would be only 1 sonical property, the clarity, lack of which would be caused by jitter. But, that's not the case. The reviewers describe the cables as if at a wine tastery where every wine has different ingredients and qualities.

I have no explanation for that, but the implication of malice.

How can jitter on a cable be hard to measure if it is actual bits being flipped?

You say it's clearly parody, but they post breathlessly positive reviews for cables on a regular basis. So unless you're suggesting that the entire site is an extended parody...





This isn't a parody.

For another example:

One of the best value rooms in Munich featured Marten Django L loudspeakers at €6900/pair, Nagra electronics, and the surprisingly affordable Purist Audio Genesis Series cables including a $300 interconnect, $375 speaker cable, and $250 Vesta power cord.

from here - http://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/a-quartet-of-new-ca...

Here is that power cord on sale - https://www.thecableco.com/Product/Vesta

Oh my god that is a premium $275 15A wall plug. There's just too much wrong with this. I don't know where to start. Electrical engineer brain. Is. Exploding.

They are by a nuclear bloke from Texas called Jim Aud apparently, who also does a $900 USB cable. http://www.thecableco.com/Product/Ultimate-USB

edit - I'm going to stop looking through that website, it is making me upset. They have a 1m power cable called avatarII for $16,950 from some criminally deranged outfit called pranawire - http://www.thecableco.com/Product/Avatar-II

Luckily you can customize the lenght of that Avatar-II cable. the maximum input it allows is 1010 meters. For the low low price of: $10,006,050.00 ...

[Add to cart]

Jitter is definitely a real phenomenon: http://www.tnt-audio.com/clinica/diginterf1_e.html. It's easy to forget that these "digital interconnects" are all fundamentally analog. Whether you can hear the distortion created by jitter or not is an entirely separate issue.

That may be true, but this is a USB cable and (IIRC) USB is packet-based. There is no way that clock jitter can influence the final result.

(edit: upvoted for the informative link, in any case)

USB is packet based, but USB Audio still recovers the clock signal from the timing of bits on the wire. This recovered clock is used to drive the DAC, which produces the final analog waveform.

Interesting! Just read up a little on that, and from here http://www.edn.com/design/consumer/4376143/2/Fundamentals-of... it appears that is only one of several options (and acknowledged as a bad choice)

It is only one of several options, but it's also the most common one. It's a lot more expensive to build a device that operates in isochronous. You need to have a local buffer, extra compute capability, a high-quality local clock, etc.

This was much more important in the early days of CD players, when there was no buffering between the signal and the D/A converter. The timing of the signal could definitely influence the timing of the conversion, which would change the waveform in a subtle way that could be audible.

An amazon reviewer reviewed this cable on his blog:


He says the difference is "subtle".

Since everyone who will ever buy a $600 USB cable is totally price insensitive when it comes to audio equipment, this review is "mission accomplished" for any company selling those cables. "Subtle" is at least something. Expensive speaker cables are a Veblen good, but nobody wants to knowing plow money into Veblen goods; they need to believe there is some return on the investment.

I want the painted on 'shield pattern' on the cable which keeps outside interference out of the cable :-)

I had an friend who made up some 'artisan' Ethernet cables on a whim, they had arrows indicating the direction of enhanced data flow, so you plugged the arrows facing "in" to your client, and "out" for your server. There were some cables that had been balanced for both in and out packets but they were twice as expensive.

The sad part is I'd love to buy a $30 cable thats indestructible cable shielding and jacket, plenum rated insulation (just because) perfect dimensions so it fits great, anti-corrosion plated, visual and tactile indication of which side is up (which I can do with a paint pen but for $30 I want it done for me). Oh and superflex so in my car at -20F like last week its still flexy. And of course totally waterproof or at least if it gets wet, once dried out it'll work perfectly and undamaged.

But no, all we're allowed in a supposedly free market is $3 DX junk, $3 DX junk marked up to $15 at the brick-mortar store, or $700 audiophool stuff.

I've found some of that audiophool stuff on Aliexpress for the sort of prices you're talking. Of course for $600 a cable it's complete bullshit, but for $20 that sort of thing is quite nice to use.


I've a big thing for cables with braided outsides, so the audiophool stuff fits the bill when it's priced sanely.

While our market may not be as free as I would like it to be, the lack of USB cable selection is separate from the issue of market freedom.

I like the cable you're describing. If you start selling them, I might buy one.

You might know this already, but I'll mention it anyways because I was looking at it recently: there exists something called "ultra flexible wire" that has a very high strand count compared to normal stranded wire. For example, standard 28 AWG wire has 7 strands of 36 AWG, but ultraflexible 28 AWG has 41 strands of 44 AWG. This makes it considerably more flexible.


USB/headphone cables made from this wire could be quite a compelling product.

A cousin of the superflex antenna wire the "trail radio" ham radio guys use, or "litz wire" which is handy for certain RF coil purposes WRT skin effect.

I would imagine ultra tiny diameter wire would suffer from strength issues and fatigue failure. Something like copper plated steel "copperweld" made into litz wire would be pretty awesome. OR would it? Gold plated into ultra fine diameter stainless steel insulated individually and braided into a LITZ wire.

Litz wire is not cheap, even the Chinese stuff is significant fraction of a buck per foot.

If you'd like to see a cable that costs $600 and is fairly priced the Pasternack company sells truly exotic aerospace microwave cables that are quite expensive. You know, to hook up the antenna on your space probe, that kind of thing. Built by hand, individually tested and swept on a network analyzer, that kind of thing. I buy .mil surplus stuff, made by them, from ebay (not new). And going the other way if you do broadcast engineering, $600 is a rounding error when installing a 100KW rated feedline for a TV station. $600 worth of high current service entrance cable for AC power is a depressingly short length. But $600 for a USB cable is impressive in a totally different way.

> But no, all we're allowed in a supposedly free market is...

What's more likely: that the lack of such a cable is the result of market disruption, or that there simply isn't a market for a cable like that?

Do you need your cable for digital or analogical signal? The digital signal can be corrected if there is no too much interference, for an analog signal the shielding can be more usefull.

From an electrical perspective it would merely squirt an amp or so around 5V to my charging cellphone in my car. It would do so in a physically indestructible, infinitely long lived and perfectly mechanically reliable manner in any imaginable environmental condition. Rather than value engineered so I have to buy a new one with each phone (roughly).

Most likely I'll get a wireless charger for the phone before I'm able to buy my "super cable". At that technological point, audiophiles will discover that taking a green magic marker and drawing a circle around the wireless charger unit makes the battery charge quicker...

The market is people; the market responds emotionally; .: the market often gets distinctive products in preference to functional ones.

If you can handle a death metal analogy, it's why more people listen to In Flames than Sacramentum.

I love that this is still alive and well in 2014.

Psychoacoustics are still very much apart of the audiophile world; although, the internet has helped reduce the hype to some degree. People believe whatever they perceive and aren't inherently objective.

A/B tests do crop up from time to time in various audio / video communities (AVS and some car audio forums hold some pretty objective events) but science doesn't always provide an answer people want to accept.

> Psychoacoustics are still very much apart of the audiophile world

Psychoacoustics[1] is the study of how people interpret sound -- things like loudness, limits of perception, how localization works...

I think what you're talking about would better be described as placeboacoustics.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychoacoustics

> A/B tests

FWIW the standard of audio and video is double-blind ABX[0] sessions, not merely A/B (and ABC/HR[1] for "fine-grained" comparisons)

> AVS and some car audio forums hold some pretty objective events

HydrogenAudio's community is (or was when I still visited) all about objective testing.

[0] http://wiki.hydrogenaudio.org/index.php?title=ABX

[1] http://wiki.hydrogenaudio.org/index.php?title=ABC/HR

In 2012 I attended an A/B blind test for speaker cables... https://sites.google.com/site/audiosocietyofminnesota/Home/a...

It was interesting that there was a preference for the higher priced cables. It is too bad that I did not save my votes to see if my poorly trained ears matched what the others preferred. It is hard to say if there is justifiable benefit in spending big money for cables but I would say it is worth spending a little bit more than the cost of lamp cord based on this test.

With the digital cables to me it seems like a high data rate, low error rate and decent buffering system is all that is necessary for good sound. Given the data rates required for audio (even SACD is in the low MiB/s range) a cheap USB cable should do the trick.

Speaker cables are analog so they're going to have some impact on sound, and the study mentions a measurable difference in capacitance (the highest capacitance cables ranked best, the lowest worst — although the middle two are flipped).

It makes sense if there was an audible difference with speaker cables, particularly if the amps were high power and the cables represented a range of gauges. Trying to power a line array with 22 gauge speaker wire isn't going to work very well.

The stuff in that article makes monster cable look like a bargain.

No, but you can do some pretty straightforward electrical engineering math to determine that 22-guage speaker wire will fail in that case. Show me the physics and math that show failure with a USB cable. One of the major issues here is that USB is like the AK47 of the interconnect world, designed to work it some pretty terrible places. So when you experience jitter, it not actually the GD cable, it's most likely one of the devices on either side using a shitty controller and not handling data loss gracefully.

Audio is so subjective anyway. You'll never win an argument with these people. You just have walk past them and try not to laugh. It's the same as the issue on wines. Doesn't matter how many double-blind tastings you do, some assholes will just sleep better knowing they're not drinking shit I made in my bathtub, even if it tastes the same a Bogle sauvignon blanc.

What's the difference between an audiophile and a musicophile?

"An audiophile uses music to listen to stereos."

Can't tell if joke or not.

Have audiophiles gotten The Onion treatment yet? Seems like such low hanging fruit.

> Can't tell if joke or not.

It's not. "Audiophiles" are generally off the deep end, the only serious (as in seriously committed to reality) community I've ever seen is on Hydrogenaudio's forums. And they're generally strongly disliked[0] by those roaming sites like TFA.

Christopher “Monty” Montgomery, the creator of Ogg and Vorbis and founder of Xiph, is also awesome. He's slowly but surely doing a series of videos + article support on digital media which is accessible to anybody and very interesting: http://xiph.org/video/

[0] due to stuff like http://www.hydrogenaudio.org/forums/index.php?showtopic=1144..., how dare they require ABX testing?

Reddit's /r/audiophile is improving and generally highly rational. Recommended (disclaimer: I'm a mod).

Repeatedly and exhaustively. This is old hat.

Really, "laugh at the audiophiles" is a fun game that comes along every so often, but nothing really changes and people stay irrational. This comes as no surprise to a few people and for some reason continues to surprise the vast majority.

Meanwhile, sane audiophiles make reasonable purchases and still manage to enjoy music immensely. There's a fine line between sane quality and insane irrationality.

> people stay irrational

In this case I take comfort that the irrationality is self-punishing. If you're that dumb, you deserve to be sold a $700 usb cable.

I'm always fascinated by how willingly we discriminate against the less intelligent (at least down to a certain threshold).

Few people would ever say something like, "if you're that blind, you deserve to not be able to read books". But what's the difference, really?

I'm not claiming to be better, here. I do the same sort of thing myself. But I find it very damned weird that we've decided this one attribute is acceptable to discriminate against, while so many others are not.

I like the way you think. It is a systematic problem, not an individual one. These people think this way because they haven't been educated well enough to think otherwise, especially in the comprehension of their own psychology; nothing more.

I wish we would treat all social issues in this manner. The world would be a better place. Provably, I think.

I see where you're coming from, but in this case, it's "I can't believe you're so dumb with your purchases, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

I don't understand, why does that second part make it OK?

Well, it's slightly different anyways. Blind people don't have a choice.

Many of the people here are seeing evidence to the contrary (such as the reviewer trying to "refute" ABX testing) and saying LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU, so I don't know what more anyone can do.

Dumb people don't have a choice either. Part of being dumb is not being good at understanding evidence, such as evidence against an opinion you hold.

Hmm, I concede your point. I interpreted it a little incorrectly in the first place. :)

(I'm still not sure whether people rich enough to afford these cables wouldn't be smart enough to listen to evidence, but that's entirely another point)

Your parenthetical is a proper mystery. Clearly, "dumb" is not a single dimension, but it still amazes me to see, for example, people with both a steady job and a car covered in "UFOs are real" stickers.

I don't know about them being dumb. It's a choice, and if you have the money to spend on it, and it's important to you, why not?

> It's a choice, and if you have the money to spend on it, and it's important to you, why not?

You're thinking of diamonds, but we're talking about tarot cards.

Diamonds are just as worthless.

Importance would play a factor if there was any difference. Yeah, I wouldn't buy a $150k 14.2 audio receiver. That's way overkill, and way out of my price range. But a theater owner might, because it has the hookups he needs and provides incredible sound quality. That's what's important to him, and there's a difference between that receiver and an iPod.

In this case, there's no difference between this $700 cable and a $5 cable from Amazon Basics. It's not about what's important to the person, it's about them not realizing they're being ripped off.

Actually some people objectively (as in 'visible on MRT scans') enjoy certain things more if they know they are somewhat superior, even if the 'superior' thing is the very same thing as the control 'inferior', just labeled differently.

There are examples and references in "Thinking fast and slow" by Daniel Kahneman.

So the sellers of the $700 digital cable actually sell more enjoyable experience to certain (gullible) people, and do it exactly by putting an exorbitant price tag and raising hype around an otherwise ordinary USB cable. They are not in business of selling exact sound reproduction; they are selling exquisite experiences. And for an experience, emotional details are more important than the dull objectivity of spectrograms.

Imagine that you receive a pen as a gift from your loved one, nicely wrapped and solemnly handed. Compare it with an experience of owning the very same pen model which you hastily bought in a store for $10 because you needed something to jot with. The elevated joy of using the gifted pen is not in the pen, but in you and your experience, your memory. Same applies to audiophile equipment, collectible postal stamps, etc. The material thing just serves as a reminding token.

Sort of the placebo effect of the audiophile world.

Now, the question is do the people who buy $700 cables not knowing it's equivalent to a $10 cable get more enjoyment than the people who know they're equivalent and buy the $10 cable?

If so, that's somewhat sad for us educated people. Ignorance is bliss, I guess.

I assume you heard about status consumption. The fact of paying $700 (and people around knowing it) may be the enjoyable thing; for some it's even worth the $700.

The buyer might even never need to plug the cable in :)

Imagine getting a handwrapped solemn gift that you later find out was dug out of the trash and spun into wrapping paper on an assembly line.

Memories are nice, but I want them to be mostly real.

It's impossible to satirize audiophiles because the real thing is already so extreme that there's no room for fake humor on top of it.

It's possible, but you have to veer sharply off into the surreal. Things like claiming the cable ripped a hole through the fabric of space-time, Elvis popped through said hole, then personally endorsed the cable.

Satire is better when it has some air of plausibility, but as you said, audiophiles have already taken up all the material there.

For reference see the Amazon reviews of the $10,000 Denon Cat-5 cable [1].


Demonstration: http://www.elitediffusion.com/catalog/product_info.php?produ...

> The Ultima Signature Mat incorporates unique hand laid-up polarizing filaments creating tremendously rapid vibrational energy decay and a new ultra-thin metallic coating which dissipates static build-up in real-time while the disc is spinning.

Yes, you put that thing on your CD before you put said CD in the audio player, magic happens and sound is good. $250. According to "user tests"[0] it improves CD and SACD sound quality, fails to improve DVD image quality but succeeds in improving DVD audio quality.

[0] http://www.enjoythemusic.com/audiophileaudition/0705/margiol...

They're a perfect example of Poe's law.


The comments on TFA seem to be taking it seriously. The linked "audioquest" manufacturer's site is too extensive to be a practical joke, though it's also quite slow.

well the old saying is, audiophiles listen to equipment, not music

I remember mercury filled speaker cables being discussed briefly in the 80s. [1]

Hypothetical review of such cables:

"This wire lends a liquid transparency to strings. The fluid quality of horns has to be heard to be believed. There is a silvery quality to the brass, with no sign of the hard-edged, coppery sound normally associated with speaker cable...."

[1] https://groups.google.com/forum/?hl=en#!topic/sci.physics/Ba...

Hmm, at what point does a wire become a hose?

Also, I am in love with that superconducting cable idea. You could make a fortune with the razor-blade model selling audiophiles "special" LN2 on a subscription basis.

For that price I would expect the cable to follow me around the house/office, like a snake, and respond to my telepathic commands about where to plug in.

I would pay that much for a USB cable that, whenever you blindly reached behind your PC or monitor to plug it in, would always be oriented correctly with the plug. Think of all the time saved.

Take a look at all of your USB cables. Check to make sure that the top side of each connector has the USB logo cut into it deeply enough that it's easily felt by your thumb, and that there's no such engraving on the back. Throw away any cables that don't meet this test. It then quickly becomes very easy to tell when you grab a connector whether your thumb is on the top or bottom, and it becomes second nature to always plug your cables in correctly.

The USB-IF should deny a USB license to every cable manufacturer who doesn't do this right.

Except when the socket is vertical instead of horizontal.

Or the device is reversible top to bottom: horizontal is gone then, too.

(USB power plugs, for example)

For that kind of thing, you need the Denon AKDL-1:


And of course, it would always plug in the right side up, first time

Personally I think you should start a kickstarter for that idea.

For the cost, you could hire an orchestra to live in your basement. Of course, you'd need to wear electrum goggles and a visor of pure onyx for the best sound reception, because quantum mechanics.

Don't forget to burn them in by having them play 48 hours of noise

Please, this is nonsense.

It has to be 12 hours of brown noise, followed by 12 hours of pink noise, followed by 24 hours of white noise.

Really, the amount of misinformation around here about basement orchestra break-in procedures is astounding.

I still wonder why the people who design and sell these products aren't all in jail.

"Audiophile" nonsense is a prime example of how consumer protection laws don't work if you invoke any kind of pseudo-science in your marketing.

A salesguy in an audio store once tried to sell a bunch of pseudoscience to a friend of mine. My friend said (truthfully), "Ok but I think you should know, I'm a grad student in physics." Salesguy didn't blink, just said "Oh, then you already know all this stuff!"

The thing is, there are real psychological effects that come from your beliefs. For example, it's well established that wine tastes better when you think it's more expensive. Likewise, audio really does sound better when you're using what you merely think is better equipment.

If you think about this stuff as changing the physical sound, it's completely bogus. If you think about it as changing the subjective experience of hearing the sound then it works for some people.

And that, to me, is a really interesting point: anybody who would buy this stuff is automatically in the category of people for whom it can actually work. Those of us who recognize that the "science" behind it is complete crap won't get any benefit from it, but we won't buy it either.

In the UK companies carefully craft ads to comply with the advertising codes.

Certainly audiophile advert sniping is fun if you're bored and have the time available to do so.

I would say that the bullshit audiophile products are in a minority and there certainly are legit audiophile products.

As a former professional recording engineer, I'd say the opposite.

Eh, there's plenty of cheap garbage that you really want to avoid, at least in the world of analog cables. I've used so many instrument cables that don't make good contact. At some point I wound up just soldering Neutrik connectors on to good quality bulk cable.

The advantage Monster has is that their stuff is reliably good and widely available, even if it is obscenely overpriced.

Re: Monster. I haven't bought any of their stuff in years, but IME their interconnects were fine, but speaker cables not so much. I ended up terminating the speaker cables myself after the connectors on the originals and on the replaced (by Monster) cables fell off.

yes, but we are talking about digital cables. big difference.

> I still wonder why the people who design and sell these products aren't all in jail.

Because it's not illegal, and it would be ridiculous for it to be illegal.

The buyer is led to believe they are spending $695 on a device which will improve their audio quality. In fact, it will have absolutely no benefit whatsoever. They will feel ripped off for the extra $694.

The seller knows damn well their device does absolutely nothing to improve audio quality. They know they are profiting from deliberately misleading buyers. Every time this happens, they make almost $695 profit.

So, why is this not illegal?

> The buyer is led to believe they are spending $695 on a device which will improve their audio quality.

The problem is, there's probably no good way to legally argue that it doesn't improve their audio quality, since audio quality is obviously incredibly subjective, especially when most of the buyers are probably very satisfied.

No, there is a good way to argue it: it is provable that there is no improvement.

That is exactly what's wrong with this industry: it convinces people that something entirely provable and quantifiable by math and physics, is in fact unmeasurable and qualitative. It's not limited to "audiophile" nonsense of course - there's all sorts of herbal remedies flooding shelves at your local store which rely on this non-exist fuzziness.

Most buyers are probably very satisfied, but I'm sure if it were a painkiller they were buying, they would be horrified to learn later that it was just sugar. The difference is that in "audiophile" nonsense land, the manufacturers would still be openly advertising it as containing sugar.

> it is provable that there is no improvement.

I don't think so. I genuinely believe that these people do perceive more enjoyable audio from their systems than if they had purchased cheaper components. Sure, you can prove that they would fail blind listening tests, but that goes for the vast majority of things (cars, clothing, perfume, computers, etc.).

> The difference is that in "audiophile" nonsense land, the manufacturers would still be openly advertising it as containing sugar.

That would depend highly on the exact wording the manufacturers used. I doubt they tend to lie about the actual chemistry of the cables. They probably do use gold, or silver, or whatever. Claims about "smoother" or "clearer" sound aren't really disprovable, and are essentially claims (often accurate) about how the owner will perceive the sound. Even the directionality crap is basically a subjective claim. I haven't researched the exact wording of many manufacturer's sites with a lawyer's scrutiny, but this one seems pretty innocuous from a legal standpoint: http://www.audioquest.com/hdmi/hdmi-slinky

Lying this badly about the product you're selling may be over the line into fraud.

Where are the lies? I see subjective claims.

This is ridiculous, but its amusing to me that collisions between audiophiles and computer folks often unearth ignorance on both sides. E.g. The number of people who think that digital audio means that the signal on a spdif cable is always identical (ignoring clock recovery). Can you hear it? Who knows. But all cables are fundamentally analog.

It's a cable. It can't do anything weird to the data. If it gets through intact, it will be identical.

Factors like attenuation and shielding matter in certain circumstances, but not for a meter of USB.

I'm not really talking about the cable, but the idea that digital interfaces like SPDIF/USB Audio/HDMI are "bit perfect." The digital phenomenon of bit perfection, as programmers see it, is a fiction created by buffering, retry, and error-correction. SPDIF doesn't do any of these, and USB Audio doesn't do all of these in all modes. SPDIF receivers (and depending on the mode, USB Audio receivers) will recover the clock signal from the input signal, and use that clock signal to drive a DAC. So it's not just the sequence of ones and zeros that is relevant (a digital phenomenon), but the timing of their appearance on the cable (an analog phenomenon). Variation from the ideal timing will cause a distorted clock to be recovered by the receiver, which will cause distortion in the analog signal produced by the DAC. Whether or not these distortions are audible, they are certainly measurable.

In over 100 audiophile bashing posts, at last someone who actually understands the issues. USB cables have an 'eye pattern' which affects the timing of the signal presented to the DAC.

If USB cables make a difference, then there is probably an argument for doing something else (not ignoring the problem because USB cables must be 'perfect'). Like putting the DAC and computer driving the DAC in the same box and connected by I2S with the DAC as the master.

There are some good articles on the Audiostream site about why 'bit perfect' doesn't cut it in the context of audio:


What kind of insane hardware depends on CPU timings and doesn't have a hardware buffer that always plays at the same speed? Jitter in the intermediate steps doesn't matter when you're moving digital data from one place to another, as long as the buffers are larger than the amount of jitter.

DAC is hard. Moving a couple megabits of data five feet over a cable with multi-millisecond buffers is not hard.

I don't think it's even possible to use USB for 100%-throughput unbuffered data. I call bullshit on the eye pattern affecting playback.

Just because a difference technically exists in some circumstances with an oscilloscope does not mean it makes a difference in normal use cases.

Also wow that site called wireless a 'potential long-term health risk'.

What you're describing isn't as easy as it sounds. In order to have a "hardware buffer that always plays at the same speed" you need a high-quality locally generated clock, plus a decent amount of local buffering. But in a USB audio device or SPDIF device, you can't run a totally independent clock, because it will get out of sync with the clock on the host device sending the data. There are various tricks to get around this (e.g. having a feedback loop using a sideband), but it's actually a non-trivial problem. See: http://www.cypress.com/?docID=45044 for one approach. Most USB audio devices don't even attempt to do this. They try and recover the host machine's playback clock using the timing of USB SOF packets (which are sent every millisecond-ish) plus the timing of the USB audio data packets it receives.

Yes, sure, those things are hard, and they have nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of passive components like cables, as long as they are not in the failure range. Or anything to do with working-transceiver quality except when it comes to the clocks that the transceivers are using.

When you talk about jitter introducing significant distortion based on packet timing, that's something that can only happen in two ways: either the audio receiver is using an absolute garbage clock, or it's using an absolute garbage and shortsighted algorithm for adjusting its clock rate, and not trying for a stable sync. The quality of transceiver and cable components is not a factor.

Unless your cable is broken, there will be no retrying or high level error correction going on. And buffering will be independent of the cable chosen.

A passive cable can't change timing. The only question is whether the signal gets through in an intact form and can be locked onto. Any kind of difference you can have from working-cable construction is completely overshadowed by things like cable length.

I'm not saying that the cable can change timing. My post really wasn't about the cable. It was about the more general misconception that people have that digital audio/video interconnects (the whole system, cable + transceivers) are somehow "bit perfect."

> Can you hear it? Who knows.

There's no "who knows" about it. The change in output due to changes to the signal on the cable is well understood.

The reason this sort of thing is considered to be ridiculous is not because the signal on the cable can't change. As you say, it's all analog at the bottom. However, with a digital system, any change is either corrected in the receiver or shows up as a massive error. That is to say, you never get subtle errors. You either get perfect data transmission, or you get a horrible glitch that even the most tone deaf person can hear.

Digital interconnects generally do not have error correction. Signal degradation with digital interconnects generally shows a cliff effect, but it's a myth that you get either a perfect picture or no picture. At some point the receiver loses lock, but before that you get a gradual escalation in bit errors that may or may not be obvious: http://www.audioquest.com/resource_tools/downloads/whitepape... (see page 6).

And with audio, errors caused by digital transmission, mainly clock jitter, can be quite subtle: introducing low-amplitude unwanted signals into the analog reconstruction.

I'm well aware that there are intermediate states between perfect and no picture. My point is that the errors are always going to be obvious, not that they'll destroy everything. If any errors at all are happening on your HDMI cable, you'll see obvious errors in the picture. If errors are happening in a digital audio cable, you'll hear obvious errors in the sound. If you can't hear or see any errors, then there aren't any. Not every error will produce a discernible visual or audio artifact, but if they're happening with any regularity, then you'll occasionally get one in a high-order bit instead of a low-order bit that will make its presence obvious. It's not possible for the errors to only show up in the low-order bits.

Clock jitter is an interesting point, but I can't see how the effect could possibly be perceptible, given that the clock in question is running at an order of magnitude or two faster than the audio sample rate, and any jitter in the signal due to the physical cable will be orders of magnitude smaller than that. Those "low-amplitude unwanted signals" would surely be in the megahertz range, far beyond any possible human perception.

Poked around their site, it's definitely caters to the rich who are dumb and think a 600 dollar usb cable will make their digital sound files sound better on their 60K speakers driven by their 100K amp. I've seen references to a $300 dollar power cable that they think is a steal. The site is real, just ludicrous.

Link to audiophile-cable vs coat-hanger-used-as-audio-cable blind test:


thanks for that, i lolled :)

Has anyone on HN been tempted to pander to the audiophile crowd?

Making some simple one metre long cables would be cheap enough, even using exotic materials, and the markup is huge.

Make it heavy too. Heavy things seem like they are higher quality. You might be able to get away with weighting the connector ends with lead or something.

You'd have to justify it, so... maybe say the lead shields the cable from cosmic ray strikes?

Pandering to audiophiles, conspiracy theorists, homeopathy users, and similar is a constant temptation that I ward off by thinking about how I'd probably feel bad about doing it after a while.

I'm into it. Want to start a business?

I'd go with maglev cables. Have some sort of base or track on the floor that would keep the cables levitated. Less strain on the metals inside. A clearer path to your audio purity.

I guess it must be a joke.... Ha.

This reminds of some guys I knew in the 90's when CD burners were newer that swore that the gold cdr's sounded better then the blue ones. I tried to tell them how digital audio works, but it didn't help. One of them decided the gold ones had a lower error rate. Conclusion in search of a mechanism/hypothesis.

If 16 gauge lamp cord was good enough for Paul Klipsch, then it's good enough for me.

Diamond USB has a relaxed quality that fosters deep musical involvement.

It's a parody.

You wish: http://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/enklein-orion-relea...

> The overall result is an extremely musical, vinyl like sound, even from CD resolutions. You don’t know what you are missing until you audition the Orion.

This is a "review" for a $5000m/m cable for digital (AES or SPDIF) interconnect.

From one of the reviews:

"The difference is that cables are forever. They get better with age while components will always need to be replaced do to wear or upgraded because of improvements in technology."

I definitely like to view my artisinal cables as an investment...

That, and they have a $15 Belkin cable at the bottom.

Even better (or worse depending upon whether this is actually a parody or not.. sadly I don't think it is) is that they refer to the $15 Belkin cable as "ridiculously inexpensive". I feel like a chump when I'm forced to buy a a USB cable for more than a couple of bucks (usually because I need it right now and thus monoprice, et al aren't an option).

I think I have had exactly that cable in the past, and it was a quality piece of cable. I know most people vote "buy the $0.02 cable", but after buying some truly cheap cables, I have come to appreciate cables with decent construction. Yes, they both pass data the same, but only one falls out and falls apart.

Oh, and shielding. You never get shielding on cheap cables. Doesn't matter for USB, but I've never appreciated my stereo or headphones picking up an incoming call to my cell.

As a guitarist, I've played with many, many cheap cables. They all sound the same, except when I take a step to the side. At that point, there's two types of cables: the ones that continue carrying the note you're playing, and the ones that cause your amp to emit the most godawful sounds you've ever heard.

The difference in the cables, of course, being the quality of the construction on the plugs.

I've gone through a ton of cheap guitar cables, and then one of my housemates got a Canare cable. Ever since, it's all we buy -- insanely high quality construction, and it has a sheath over the sleeve of the guitar side, which cuts off signal when you unplug. No more having to kill your amp to disconnect your guitar. They're a bit on the pricey side, but not bad at all considering what you get. (What I normally buy: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004I46DS2/ref=wms_ohs_prod... )

Nice, I'll take a look at those. The cables I'm using right now have to break at some point.

I'm sure it is a fine cable. Monster cables are fine too, there's nothing wrong with them construction-wise.

But I've bought a large quantity of cables (USB, TOSlink optical, ethernet, HDMI, etc, etc) both from Monoprice and Amazon (the "AmazonBasics" ones) and all of them worked perfectly, had sufficient shielding when warranted, didn't fall apart, etc. I've literally never had a single problem with any of these much cheaper cables.

AmazonBasics are actually pretty solid, I like them. They are not what people mean when they say "buy the cheapest cable you can find".

I don't buy $15 USB cables anymore precisely because of AmazonBasics, but in general I mean, don't feel bad for spending more than $0.50 on a cable.

Sadly, it's not a parody. I have audiophile friends, they follow the site. It's (to them) serious stuff.

Suggestion: buy a friend one of those 'record your song in a day' experiences. Get them into a commercial recording studio, and sit with the person who does the final mastering...

...unless of course they only buy direct to disc vinyl analogue recordings, or 96KHz sampled 24bit digital ones!

PS: One of my retirement ideas is to knock up monoblock 'boozehound' amplifier based on 6j5/6v6 and locally wound 'special' output transformers...

> 96KHz sampled 24bit digital ones!

Surely you mean 192KHz!

No, really: http://xiph.org/~xiphmont/demo/neil-young.html

Hey, pretty good explanation on that site. Will bookmark and read more later articles, thanks!

Monty is a boss. He's creating a series of videos on digital signals which I heartily recommend: http://www.xiph.org/video/

"ridiculously inexpensive"

And an old one, at that.

The best example of this kind of crazy thinking is the massive volume of articles you'll get from the audiophile community about how Blind AB audio test are flawed because when they do the test blinded they can't hear the difference between the expensive and the cheap components but when they do the test unblinded they can instantly hear the difference.

It's funny every time.

The thing is, they will always say that the device doing the A/B switching will interfere in the signal path.

Better cables == sharper corners on your bits. Fact.


But it that's exactly what you don't want: sharper corners means greater chance of getting snagged on the inside of the cable bends or against other bits.

What you really want is data that is all zeros... nice round, rubbery, flexible zeros, that can bounce off each other. That's impractical though.

Did you ever wonder why the zero has a line through it? That is to avoid a one going through the center and changing the parity and checksumming when bits get reordered.

While this has absolutely nothing to do with audiophile bullshit, bit corner sharpness is a thing (it's not called that though) in high-speed digital signalling. Basically, each conductor pair has a certain degree of capacitance so making a transition from high to low or vice versa is not a discrete, instantaneous event but takes time. If your signal is changing rapidly enough that this transition time is in the same order of magnitude as the length of each bit, you get blurry bits, and unreadable signal. And in this case, better conductor layout, with less capacitance, does give you sharper bit corners! So yes, fact.

They enhance your Word documents! Really!

Support for Excel documents is coming in a future version. Upgrade pricing will be available!

Well that is going to make for more ringing on the line, better pick up some USB terminators for the other ports.

Back before I was married, in 1999 or so, I fell for the "premium" cable ruse. I spent $150+ on some component video cables for my Sony XBR high-end, CRT TV (this was pre-HDTV). I didn't believe in the audiophile stuff (they were crazy), but video quality could certainly be distinguished by an "amateur."

One month ago, my Comcast DVR's HDMI port failed, and I had to dig out my old component video cables for my 7-year-old plasma TV. They worked perfectly, after 15 years. But the quality is no different than the $2 Amazon-branded HDMI cables. My lesson: 1) premium audio cables are bullshit; 2) premium video cables are bullshit too.

The top rated comment and its subsequent discussion are golden:

I am a retired sound engineer who spent a lifetime in major sound studios and I can state categorically that there wasn't a one cable in all those recording studios that cost more than a dollar or so per foot. Keep in mind that I'm talking about recording studios that cost in the millions and where the search for the right sound is an obsession. A cable's only function is to carry what goes in one end out to the other. To talk about the sound altering effects of cable is heresy. They can't and they don't. It's marketing hype.

My favorite part is where the $275 USB cable is described as "mid-priced".

I subscribed to The Absolute Sound for many years, and found it to be useful in many respects. If you're going to put together a sound system that sounds anywhere close to realistic you need to be open minded and insanely dedicated. In this case though it seems clear they've gone off the deep end.

If this is parody...then it's golden!

No, unfortunately it is not a parody!

There is so much bullshit going on... It's really really sad.

Do some research on jplay for example: http://www.hydrogenaudio.org/forums/index.php?showtopic=9285...

It is hilarious ... a friend of mine builds high end, custom, all-digital (Class D) amplifiers. Basically, if you want a good review, you have to give the reviewer a free unit.

I decided to check the prices on those cables and was surprised to find that some are even more expensive. For example, an AudioQuest "Diamond" USB to iPod cable runs $1,495! Here's the link: http://www.bestbuy.com/site/audioquest-diamond-16-4-usb-a-to...

You can all laugh, but I use these types of cables to copy data to my portable HD and I have never experienced any data loss since I started using them. So there.

In a slightly related story, our CMS team believes that there's a problem unique to PNG files that prevents them from being stored in alfresco.

Strewth. What exactly do these people think they're getting for their money? And how do their beliefs proliferate? Is it like religion, where the guy who misinforms you doesn't believe he's misinforming you? Or crack-pushing, where the guy knows he's doing wrong?

If you were asking seriously, the best analogy I can think of for audiophile / consumer electronics is the car biz, its merely the traditional conflict between marketing and engineering.

I recently bought a really nicely engineered car, I researched the history of the engine development and last decade of its production, its awesome, long term reliability, the power train is awesome but the rest of the car is pretty good too. But marketing advertisements claimed it came with not one but two attractively dressed hot young women, donuts, and a park pass. Trying to analyze how they thought those three items will excite every member of the general public is amusing. Anyway I think one department may have been lying to me / ripped me off.

Yeah, I was absolutely asking seriously :)

It's easy enough to see how someone who doesn't understand the basic science could be taken in by some of the claims made for these cables - what I can't make my mind up on is whether the people selling them know and understand that they're lying.

(edit: to be clear, I'm as sure as I can be that the people producing the things must know that they're liars)

Seems like the whole industry can be explained by the Asch paradigm (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asch_conformity_experiments)

Audiophiles should just say they buy these for the aesthetics. Then nobody can mock, er, I mean, argue with their buying choices. Some of the stuff does look good.

I'm picking up strong readings on my douchiness radar.

Ha... Now, they could at least tell us how their tests were done.

Something tells me that they could se the price tag and brand while they were testing them.

I wonder if there is a correlation between religious people and audiophiles.

I'm still not sure if I was reading something like The Onion.

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