Originally Posted by bobeau
Just out of curiosity, have you guys played with a variety of usb cables?
I was thinking about picking up a Moon Audio Blue Dragon. I'm somewhat dubious to their effect and I'm not looking to start a war, just want to see if people have tried out upmarket cables and experienced a nice audible improvement. An outboard PS is too much to lug for me.
In the spirit of getting the most out of what seems to be a wonderful new portable DAC from a company that has tremendous credibility, I want to answer bobeau's question...
I am so impressed with my Moon Audio Blue Dragon that I have, until now, avoided posting anything about it for fear of carrying on so wildly I would lose credibility. I'm going to leave it at that, except to say that I've got four cheap USB cables, two that came with CEntrance products, and two run-of-the-mill USB cables, none of which come close to sounding as good as the Moon Audio Blue Dragon. I honestly believe the USB cable was the last weak link in my audio chain, that once upgraded, released every other component to its full potential.
WAV on SD cards (not HDD) > Windows 7 > CEntrance Universal Driver > Foobar > Moon Audio Blue Dragon > CEntrance DACmini CX > Audioquest Golden Gate interconnect > Burson Soloist > Toxic Cables' Silver Poison > LCD-2 rev.1 or Beyerdynamic T1 (with everything powered by a Tripp-Lite LC1200 Line Conditioner)
Lastly, I had held out on buying an expensive digital cable, really out of ignorance, because it didn't make sense that a cable could corrupt a stream of 1's and 0's, but what I had missed was that a cable can corrupt the timing of a stream of 1's and 0's.
Here's an excerpt from a Galen Carol Audio page, on why USB cables can make a sonic difference (in the absence of error-correcting protocols):
IT’S NOT JUST ONES AND ZEROS, IT’S THE TIMING!
There is a fundamental difference between the transfer of computer data and digital audio signals. Computers are able to transfer digital data without loss, because the data moves in the robust form of blocks, which do not depend on specific timing between the sending and receiving devices. However, digital audio signals are continuous streams of data, which are quite fragile, since the digital processor must remain perfectly locked onto the timing of the signal to avoid data losses.
The limitations of digital audio processors and cables create timing errors known as jitter, which remove portions of the audio signal and replace them with noise and distortion. Cables tend to round off the square waveforms of the signal, making them less clear to the processor, thus increasing jitter. This rounding effect varies greatly among cables and a truly superior digital audio cable can make great improvements in sound quality.
Wireworld digital audio cables utilize unique designs specifically developed to minimize jitter by providing sharper, cleaner leading edges on the digital waveform. At each price level, they provide the lowest jitter available, producing distinct improvements in clarity, image focus, smoothness and dynamic range.
Ironically, instead of buying the $99 1-meter Wireworld Starlight cable advertised at Galen Carol, I ordered the $100 1-meter Moon Audio Blue Dragon, in part because of this seemingly over-the-top review by Andy Schaub of Postive Feedback. (When you read stuff like this, you start wondering what part logic plays in selecting a cable):
...the Blue Dragon USB made the vibraphones ring like magic and there was not the slightest trace of harshness to the sound at all. I found it musically very involving and often found myself surprised by the strike of the mallet on the vibes as if they were sitting in my living room itself.
The more it played, the more it opened up and the piano took on a lovely sense of treble extension.
I'll let Andy Schaub stick his neck out with poetic commentary while I wrap this up by adding that I believe a good USB cable, just like a good headphone cable, can't really shine if there's something else in the component chain holding everything back. My chain still has room for improvement, but it's certainly good enough for me to have been startled by the impact of a Moon Audio Blue Dragon USB cable. I really didn't want to go here, but rather than end this with no description of sonic improvements, I'll say this: Everything is improved - clarity, dynamics, imaging, naturalness of timbre, bass pitch discrimination, everything - I cannot identify a trait that has not improved. There, I've gone and done it. I can only conclude that my other USB cables were causing a lot of signal-destroying jitter and I never had a clue what I was missing!
When I had previously upgraded a dual RCA interconnect that runs between the DAC and the amp to an Audioquest Golden Gate, not their most expensive, to be sure, I heard no improvement whatsoever - money down the drain. That's not the case with this USB cable upgrade. No one could be more surprised than I was. I was a huge skeptic going in, but my ears have won me over.
(Edit: Updated the component chain to include the interconnect cable and add mention of the Tripp-Lite line conditioner.)
Edited by zilch0md - 2/16/13 at 8:52pm